In the Critics this week

Autumn books with A M Homes, Jonathan Powell, John Banville and others.

It’s the Autumn Books special in the Critics section of this week's New Statesman. Our lead book reviewer is Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff from 1995 to 2007. Powell reviews Kofi Annan’s memoir Interventions. “I don’t think Annan has anything to apologise for,” Powell writes. “The problem is not with the man but with the international community.” Former Conservative foreign secretary Douglas Hurd also considers the future of the international community in his review of Governing the World by Mark Mazower. “The UN has endorsed the notion of ‘the responsibility to protect’”, Hurd notes. “As on many similar occasions, the baptismal name is misleading. The responsibility to protect is not so much about protection as about intervention.”

In the Books interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to D T Max about his biography of the late David Foster Wallace. Max considers the charge that Wallace fabricated details in his non-fiction. “David’s stuff is taught in journalism classes and I do feel a bit uneasy about that,” he confesses. “Of all David’s pieces, the falsifications that bother me most are in his long essay on John McCain”.

In her “Personal Story”, the American novelist A M Homes explains how growing up amid the tumult of Nixon-era Washington DC shaped her fiction. “It was a strange time and place to be a child,” she writes. “A multi-layered existence with shifting standards, exceptions, and different rules for different people.”

Also in Autumn Books: the Business Editor of ITV News, Laura Kuenssberg, reviews John Gapper’s Wall Street thriller A Fatal Debt; former controller of Radio 4 Mark Damazer reviews How Do We Fix This Mess? by Robert Peston; historian Richard J Evans on History in the Making by J H Elliott; the NS’s pop critic Kate Mossman reviews Philip Norman’s biography of Mick Jagger; poet Christopher Reid on The Collected Poems of Samuel Beckett; Linda Grant reviews Colm Toibin’s retelling of the story of Mary, mother of Jesus; and John  Banville pays truibute to Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, “the finest novel ever written by a far-right sympathiser”.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Ryan Gilbey is impressed by Walter Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Rachel Cooke reviews the BBC2 documentary I Was Once a Beauty Queen; and Antonia Quirke is entranced by a Radio 4 programme about the Irishness of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Jonathan Powell, left, with his former boss Tony Blair (Photograph: Getty Images)
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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

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