In the Critics this week

William Trevor on V S Pritchett, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst on Dickens, and David Harsent on insomnia.

The Books Essay in this week's New Statesman is by the novelist William Trevor, who pays tribute to V S Pritchett's mastery of the short story form. Pritchett, Trevor writes, "indelibly left his mark on it". He praises Pritchett's "exploration of the human condition", noting that "the unusual as a human quality appealed to him, as mild eccentricity did".

In Books, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, author of Becoming Dickens, reviews The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens , edited by Jenny Hartley. He is as taken with Hartley's editorial efforts as he is with Dickens, comparing her achievement to writing "the Lord's Prayer on a grain of rice". Douglas-Fairhurst notes Hartley's judicious selection from Dickens's correspondence of "a good cross section of Dickens's different epistolary moods and modes". Alluding to Dickens's comparatively early death, Douglas-Fairhurst says "Reading how much he crammed into his life, the only surprise is he lasted that long".

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Jodi Kantor about her new book The Obamas: a Mission, a Marriage. Speaking as much about the First Lady as about the President, Kantor says of Mrs Obama: "She's the worrier in the family. She's often quicker to anticipate problems than he is".

Also in Books: Yo Zushi reviews the late Gil Scott-Heron's The Last Holiday: a Memoir. Zushi is beguiled by Scott-Heron's "delight in telling his story" and his "dazzling command of language". Other reviews: Kate Saunders on The Revelations by Alex Preston; and Leo Robson on The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker.

Elsewhere in Critics: Ryan Gilbey on Carnage; Rachel Cooke on The Fixer (BBC2); poet David Harsent on the reality of insomnia; Antonia Quirke on The Secret Catacombs of Paris (Radio 4); and Alice Gribbin on "Golden Spider Silk" at the Victoria & Albert Museum. PLUS: Will Self's Real Meals.

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“The Hole-Up”: a poem by Matthew Sweeney

“You could taste the raw / seagull you’d killed and plucked, / the mussels you’d dug from sand, / the jellyfish that wobbled in your / hands as you slobbered it.”

Lying on your mouth and nose
on the hot sand, you recall
a trip in a boat to the island –
the fat rats that skittered about
after god-knows-what dinner,
the chubby seals staring up,
the sudden realisation that a man
on the run had wintered there
while the soldiers scoured
the entire shoreline to no avail –
you knew now you had been him
out there. You could taste the raw
seagull you’d killed and plucked,
the mussels you’d dug from sand,
the jellyfish that wobbled in your
hands as you slobbered it.
You saw again that first flame
those rubbed stones woke in
the driftwood pile, and that rat
you grilled on a spar and found
delicious. Yes, you’d been that man,
and you had to admit now you
missed that time, that life,
though you were very glad you
had no memory of how it ended.


Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon was shortlisted for the 2007 T S Eliot Prize. His latest collection is Inquisition Lane (Bloodaxe).

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt