Liz Lockhart

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  • Neverwhere

    'Fire and fleet and candlelight'

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    Here the strength of Gaiman's imagination is surely beyond doubt. The warmth of the narration is also striking. There are a number of extremely impressive passages in _Neverwhere_, not least those dealing with the crooked logic of London Below, which I like very much indeed. Nevertheless, I would argue that some of the characterization is rather thin (Serpentine, Lamia), and occasionally individuals act without sufficient motivation. Could this be due to overzealous editing? While the novel

  • Last Street

    Compelling, yet somewhat disjointed

    Although I agree with you that the brutality of the world evoked in Last Street demands a particularly fast-paced narrative, I wondered if you'd thought about revising the chapter structure? While I certainly feel gripped enough by the story to read on and on, it must be said that some of the chapters 'come quick as bullets', just like the words. As Anna mentioned in her review, for example, I felt that the first chapter could be made more substantial. Perhaps you might consider combining some of the chapters, separating some of the various sections using asterisks rather than beginning a new chapter for each one.

  • An Introduction to English Poetry

    Not a Word Wasted

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    With characteristic clarity and concision, Fenton describes poetry as 'language to which a special emphasis has been given'. Impressed by the writer's exploration of the origins and forms of English poetry, in addition to his demystification of the functions of metre, rhyme, rhythm, and so on, I should like to place 'special emphasis' on this invaluable work. Not only is _An Introduction to English Poetry_ an excellent tool for the reader, it may also come to the aid of the writer. We are all 'aspiring poets', asserts Fenton in his chapter 'The Training of the Poet', and there is much pleasure to be had in investing time, patience, and energy in poetic composition.

  • Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London

    Reading Between the (Cartographic) Lines

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    Next time you find yourself reaching for the A-Z, think on this: 'we have to recognise', asserts Iain Sinclair in defence of _Lights Out for the Territory_'s pursuit of unorthodox means of navigating London, 'the fundamental untrustworthiness of maps'. Far better to cast aside the streetplans and well-thumbed guidebooks in favour of losing (or finding) oneself in the terra incognita, it seems, than to trust documents peddling the 'official' vision of the cityscape. Sinclair stalks the streets of the Capital, staying resolutely off the beaten, touristic track (London's most familiar landmarks are succinctly dismissed as 'over-referenced') and compulsively records his findings to produce a series of nine dark, dense, and occasionally paranoid essays. Observing London from ground level - 'Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city' - the writer engages with and offers his interpretation of the sights and sounds competing for attention in the concrete jungle. Fascin...Next time you find yourself reaching for the A-Z, think on this: 'we have to recognise', asserts Iain Sinclair in defence of _Lights Out for the Territory_'s pursuit of unorthodox means of navigating London, 'the fundamental untrustworthiness of maps'. Far better to cast aside the streetplans and well-thumbed guidebooks in favour of losing (or finding) oneself in the terra incognita, it seems, than to trust documents peddling the 'official' vision of the cityscape. Sinclair stalks the streets of the Capital, staying resolutely off the beaten, touristic track (London's most familiar landmarks are succinctly dismissed as 'over-referenced') and compulsively records his findings to produce a series of nine dark, dense, and occasionally paranoid essays. Observing London from ground level - 'Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city' - the writer engages with and offers his interpretation of the sights and sounds competing for attention in the concrete jungle. Fascinated by the secret history of his adopted home, Sinclair treks through disused, ostensibly forgotten areas of London in order to construct his personal cartography of the city based on what he sees as its alternative - and all-too-often overlooked - sources of power: the alleyways, the cemetries, the margins, and so on. The nature of this quest, characterised by the writer's own peculiar brand of psychogeography, perhaps explains _Lights Out_'s fondness for the rhetoric of the occult. In this light, London (or, at least, the areas of the city with which Sinclair concerns himself) can be viewed as a 'theatre of obelisks and pyramids, signs, symbols, prompts, whispers'. Whether or not the writer truly believes in the dark forces of the supernatural or merely wishes to whip the audience up into a frenzy as he performs his part in this 'theatre' (the poet's mystique, characterised by 'occult markings invisible to the naked eye', is discussed by Sinclair in the same breath as twenty-four-hour psychic telephone hotlines, after all) is ultimately less important than his desire to shake off the influence of potent 'high capitalist black magic' by envisaging an alternative London. The writer's disdain for the conventional, the mass-produced, the popular also extends to his taste in literature. Denouncing the prolific P.D. James's urban crime-writing, for example, Sinclair attacks the literary establishment in order to portray himself as one of the relatively small number of (predominately male) occupants of a literary outpost in which publishers' rejection letters are brandished like badges of honour. For Sinclair, only the most uncommercial, unknown, and unpromotable of creative endeavours (his own included, naturally) are worthy of the discerning reader's notice; and his essays are liberally sprinkled with in-jokes pointing to his membership of a little-known creative cult, alongside Oliver Caldecott, Aidan Dun, David Gascoyne, Mike Goldmark, Stewart Home, and Peter Whitehead, among others, all of whom are frequently name-checked in the text. Sinclair mythologises the activities of 'the boys' - poet Dun 'polishes each cerulean fragment before setting it into the mosaic pavement' of his verse - as if to prove his point. Appropriately enough for a collection of essays inspired by its author pounding the city streets, _Lights Out_ coerces the reader into participating in a great deal of intellectual legwork. Like the city on which it is focused, the text yields its meanings gradually. 'Difficulty exists only when you insist upon it' is Sinclair's mantra; the cryptic prose of _Lights Out_ can be unravelled only if the reader engages closely with the work before him. Sinclair invokes difficulty as the 'oldest ally' in the war against cultural atrophy - he 'insist[s] upon' its presence throughout the series of essays - challenging his audience, rather than pandering to them. While _Lights Out_'s frequently obscure frame of reference ('mind control, psychic theft, alchemy, numerology, dragon lines, [and] Arthurian mysticism', anyone?) may alienate some readers, others will seize the opportunity to become acquainted with Sinclair and his colleagues in their literary outpost, no matter how inhospitable the terrain leading towards it. (more)

  • William Morris: A Life for Our Time

    Engagingly Eccentric: The Life of William Morris

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    The artist Edward Burne-Jones's kindly wife Georgiana 'remembered with shame [...] often falling asleep to the steady rhythm of [William Morris's] reading voice, or biting her fingers and stabbing herself with pins in order to keep awake' while attending the regular (and lengthy) poetry readings held by her great friend for his circle. Thankfully, readers of Fiona MacCarthy's biography of Morris - the designer, engraver, illuminator, translator, traveller, political activist, writer, and so much more besides - are unlikely to have to resort to such an extreme approach as pricking their fingers with the contents of their sewing boxes in order to tackle this impressive work. During five years of painstaking research, MacCarthy clearly immersed herself with great enthusiasm in the life and times of her subject. (Since Morris had a lifelong passion for traditional crafts, for example, his biographer took to 'scrutinizing [and] stroking' artefacts made by him, in the hope of gaini...The artist Edward Burne-Jones's kindly wife Georgiana 'remembered with shame [...] often falling asleep to the steady rhythm of [William Morris's] reading voice, or biting her fingers and stabbing herself with pins in order to keep awake' while attending the regular (and lengthy) poetry readings held by her great friend for his circle. Thankfully, readers of Fiona MacCarthy's biography of Morris - the designer, engraver, illuminator, translator, traveller, political activist, writer, and so much more besides - are unlikely to have to resort to such an extreme approach as pricking their fingers with the contents of their sewing boxes in order to tackle this impressive work. During five years of painstaking research, MacCarthy clearly immersed herself with great enthusiasm in the life and times of her subject. (Since Morris had a lifelong passion for traditional crafts, for example, his biographer took to 'scrutinizing [and] stroking' artefacts made by him, in the hope of gaining insight into 'his own sense of tangibility'.) Certainly the task of producing a coherent overview of Morris's astonishing array of achievements might have left a lesser writer quaking in his or her boots; MacCarthy prefaces her work with the oft-repeated anecdote about the response of Morris's doctor to the passing of his famous patient aged just sixty-two: the cause of death, asserted the physician, was 'simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men' could hope to manage. Having attempted to balance private anguish (Morris's marriage to Pre-Raphaelite muse Jane Burden faltered almost immediately, as MacCarthy acknowledges, while the couple's eldest daughter, Jenny, suffered severely with epilepsy) with an ever-increasing number of public commitments, it seems that Morris exhausted himself. His youngest daughter, May, was indeed forcibly struck by the 'incessant toil' that characterised her immensely talented father's existence. MacCarthy handles her charge admirably, seizing with Morris-like gusto the opportunity to discuss each facet of his personality, creating a biography almost as complex and compelling as the man himself. The account of Morris's relations with the Burne-Joneses, in particular, is skilfully and sensitively told, not least when focusing on the strain under which Morris's emergence as a socialist towards the end of the nineteenth century placed this long-standing friendship. What's more, I found MacCarthy's disussion of her subject's socialist activities rather more accessible than that offered by either Morris's authorised biographer J.W. Mackail in 1899 or E.P. Thompson in 1976. The involvement of May Morris - who would later undertake the formidable task of editing the accomplished poet's literary works single-handedly - in her father's career is carefully explored. One of the most influential craftswomen of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, May Morris (whose own life, it must be said, is ripe for detailed re-examination) was the near-constant companion of her father's later years; and it is to MacCarthy's credit that she, alongside several other notable, yet all-too-often overlooked, women connected to the great poet, are allowed to play their part in this account of a truly unforgettable, 'overwhelming personality' (May Morris's words). While retaining a sense of what she calls the dynamic William Morris's 'strangeness', MacCarthy strives to present her subject as deeply engaged with the socio-political issues of his time (his life spanned almost the full extent of Victoria's reign, and he witnessed the degradation of the working classes with horror), haunted by the vision of street urchins pressing their gaunt faces up against the windows of his comfortable, tastefully decorated townhouse. (more)

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Interests the nineteenth century, life-writing, writing, theatre, herbal tea, vintage fashion dolls, word games, shoes, journalism, art history, drawing, organic/vegetarian cookery, gender, the development of the novel, and exercise

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