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Culture Vulture: reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on Iris Murdoch, Nick Kent and Joshua Ferris.

Iris Murdoch: a Writer at War (Letters and Diaries 1939-45), edited by Peter J Conradi

"Reading Murdoch's letters during this period is something like being plugged into the national grid," writes Frances Wilson in the Sunday Times. Yet, in her view, this is no thanks to the editor: "Murdoch's youthful mind is as sharp and polished as a sword, but Conradi's editing is not. Random footnotes pop up like glove puppets interrupting a soliloquy, to explain that 'Je t'aime' means 'I love you' and that Baudelaire is a French poet."

Adam Mars-Jones in the Observer also has quibbles, finding the collection "a strange volume, poorly conceived as well as thoroughly self-sabotaged". There is "little here which couldn't have been written by anyone of the period sufficiently bright and smug". In the Telegraph, Claudia FitzHerbert appreciates Murdoch's evolution "from the jejune chrysalis of her student experiences".

 

Apathy for the Devil: a 1970s Memoir by Nick Kent

Nick Kent, writes Robert Sandall in the Sunday Times, "had a Zelig-like knack for being in the right place at the right time. Wherever the action was, for most of the 1970s, the dandyish Kent with his notepad and drugs stash was never far away." His memoir is "in a compulsively readable class of its own".

Tom Horan in the Telegraph is less than impressed with this former NME writer's vocabulary: "A kind reading of his prose style would be to say that it perfectly suggests the era that it is describing . . . Bands are always 'combos'; songs are not written, they're 'penned'; nothing begins, it 'commences'; almost everything is 'ongoing'." However, it is also a "fascinating read", which becomes most fascinating when "Kent reveals a side to punk that has been given a gloss of glamour down the years: the mindless violence that surrounded it".

 

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Ferris's second novel is described as "strange" by Christopher Tayler in the Guardian. He compares the protagonist Tim's life to "something out of early Paul Auster -- resonant but opaque, Europeanly alienated but firmly located in an American landscape".

For Catherine Taylor in the Telegraph, "Ferris spreads the malaise on thick by tackling the subject of inexplicable mental illness". But by the end, "the story has long since run out of mileage". Peter Parker in the Sunday Times concurs, finding the novel "intriguing but ultimately disappointing".

For Robert Epstein in the Independent, this follow-up is also a disappointment due to overwhelming expectation, deeming it "distressingly bleak rather than distastefully blithe; staccato-sentenced rather than sardonically satirical".

Reviews of Nick Kent and Joshua Ferris appear in forthcoming issues of the New Statesman.

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