California Literary Review

Great Britain

The Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall

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March 11th, 2008

By the end of that lecture, Roget had concluded that one of the causes of “the slow progress of human knowledge” was “the imperfections of language, both as an instrument of thought and a medium of communication.” It was on that June morning that Dugald Stewart implanted in his disciple a mission which was to occupy him for the rest of his life.

The Life and Art of J.M.W. Turner

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February 26th, 2008

Nature in the form of searing sunlight and raging storms increasingly blotted out the works of man in the later paintings of Turner. This was an ironic juxtaposition of his painterly vision with the spirit of his times. For the progressive spirit of early Victorian Britain was propagating a world view whereby the industrial juggernaut of railroads, steam ships and factories would reshape the world to suit humankind’s fancy.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

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November 12th, 2007

There is also something conversational about the way he writes, a straightforwardness, and a beguiling, gentle rhythm. And of course, there is that dry wit. Bennett has a genius for the sardonic one-liner, his timing is immaculate.

Plucked from Perdition: One Who Lived To Tell Her Tale

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September 5th, 2007

I was told in Prague at midday that I had to be at the Wilson Station at 5 pm that afternoon, to take only one small suitcase and nothing which could identify me, not even newspaper as wrapping. At the station, the lady explained through an interpreter (another refugee living in the same house as my mother), I would see people I knew, but I should on no account appear to know them.

Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

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August 30th, 2007

The Arlington Park of the title is a ‘green, ruminative, inchoate suburb’ with ‘avenues and well-pruned hedges’. We follow five married women who live there, all of whom, we are to imagine, are in early middle-age. They have young children and live in nice, comfortable houses. They do not want for money. But each is beset by worries as to the nature and meaning of their domesticated, suburban lives.

So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor

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July 16th, 2007

David and Eleanor’s story is an unremarkable one. But their ordinary disappointments and frustrations are precisely what make the novel memorable. McGregor generates great poignancy by naming each chapter after various fragments of the characters’ lives, a letter, a photograph, an old wooden boat. Like Roddy Doyle, McGregor takes uncelebrated lives and invests them with dignity and depth.

Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins by Rupert Everett

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July 12th, 2007

The universe appears to have cheated Rupert Everett. By rights, he belongs to the Edwardian age, the gay with a capital “G” nineties, Oscar Wilde and the pursuit of beauty, art for arts sake, and to hell with propriety.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson

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July 9th, 2007

…essentially, the book remains a story of British upper classes and the author has seemingly trawled an impressive body of memoirs and biographies so as to bring to life any number of entertaining, if gossipy personal vignettes. For example: “Life without champagne was inconceivable for Winston [Churchill].” “Henry Crust joining Lord Curzon in a nude tennis doubles tennis match against George Wyndham and Wilfrid Blunt.” “[The Earl of Lonsdale]…a man apparently incapable of enjoying a healthy sex life with a member of his own class: he collapsed, dead of a heart attack while in action in his own private brothel.”

The Yorkists by Anne Crawford

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June 28th, 2007

To be sure, the fifteenth century was one of the most politically unstable periods in English history and most modern readers’ view of the period is heavily colored by Shakespeare. He portrayed the bitter civil war known as the Wars of the Roses as divine punishment for the Lancastrian usurpation and the murder of Richard II, and in his portrayal of Richard III he created one of the most magnificent villains of the English stage.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

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June 21st, 2007

Repression, fear and even loathing run through her mind as she braces herself for what is to come after their meal. We are told in the first sentence that they are ‘young, educated and both virgins’ and she is unwilling to alter this state. Her only knowledge of sex is derived from a manual and she has convinced herself that she is without desire.

Believers and Infidels

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June 12th, 2007

For the first time there was a feeling that technologically, economically and politically, as well as culturally, the British had nothing to learn from India and much to teach; it did not take long for imperial arrogance to set in. This arrogance, when combined with the rise of Evangelical Christianity, slowly came to affect all aspects of relations between the British and the Indians.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the British Blues Revival

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June 11th, 2007

Interest in Rosetta in Britain was part and parcel of a larger trend: the postwar blues revival, which saw the emergence of a white public who “sought a heightened reality in the realm of black American song.”

Tommy’s Honor by Kevin Cook

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June 11th, 2007

Sheep wallows eventually became sand traps and the first greens were nothing more than somewhat level overgrazed patches of grass that were often covered with the residue of the feeding rabbits.

Be Near Me by Andrew O’Hagan

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June 11th, 2007

This is a broad ranging work as it manages to be poetic whilst drawing on current events in the news, such as the war in Iraq, teenage delinquency and paedophilia in the Catholic Church.

The Union: England, Scotland And the Treaty of 1707 – by Michael Fry

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April 24th, 2007

The story of modern Britain – at least one of the stories – begins some three hundred years ago with the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland.

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