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Michael Caines
Assistant editor, Times Literary Supplement
Interests: Reading, writing, etc
Recent Activity
Some great examples, thanks very much. A couple more flung my way show the unhelpfully wide range of books the term can be said to cover: Cain's Book by Alexander Trocchi, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, In Transit by Brigid Brophy, Amalgamemnon by Christine Brooke-Rose, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rilke . . . Plus I've been directed to this LA Times piece which suggests the novel of ideas is far from being dead and buried (at least, it *was* far from being dead and buried in 2012): Maybe it helps to think about the "content and form" point and the rhetorical question of whether it's possible to have such a thing as a novel without ideas in combination. Ie, there are novels in which the ideas/content lie embedded in the form (as in the existential literature you mention, Neil, but also as in historical romances and thrillers) and at the other end of the scale there are novels in which the ostensibly fictional setting merely serves as an excuse for the open discussion of ideas, for the rehearsal of a philosophical argument (as in the very playful but hardly-the-point setting of a Socratic dialogue, right down to, say, Nicholson Baker's Vox). And those two extremes won't ever meet, but along the same spectrum lie books that blend the two, such as The Missing Shade of Blue (which I'd like to write about a bit later when I have a chance to look at it again). To put it another way: just because there are novels *of* ideas, it doesn't that other novels lack ideas altogether, it's just the means by which they express them, the conscious-or-not focus they place on them, vary so considerably. Talking of Baker, here's a line from an Amazon review of The Anthologist that seems relevant here, and leads me on to a further point: "When someone describes a book as a 'novel of ideas' it's almost a sure bet it's boring and lacks believable characters (think Ayn Rand) . . ." "Citizen of the World" goes on to give The Anthologist five stars, though; in his eyes, it's a bright exception to the rule. This interests me because I've been searching around, as mentioned above, for both recent examples of the genre and, basically, a dictionary definition - and there doesn't seem to be one. Wikipedia files "novel of ideas" under "philosophical fiction" but doesn't go into much more detail than that. A quick Amazon search doesn't reveal, say, a Cambridge Companion to the Novel of Ideas... yet the term is hardly unknown, is it? It appears in blurbs, reviews, lists like Rebecca Goldstein's. The implication is we all know, or ought to know, what we're talking about. I'm not (yet) so sure that we do, but it's just that I haven't yet come across the (not so?) obvious authorities on the subject.
Toggle Commented Jan 28, 2015 on The novel of oh dears at The TLS blog
Michael, I agree: some books do disappear more suspiciously than others. Isn't that why Larkin organized his library (at home, not the university) to discourage browsers from dropping hints in the hallway about borrowing books, perhaps indefinitely, that he wanted to keep to himself? Dropping an article, indefinite or otherwise, is still quite acceptable in the TLS, depending on the context. I wouldn't object to "Shakespeare evinces some odd notions about spiders and bears in his Winter's Tale" on grounds of style. A straight-off-the-bat allusion to "Churchill's Number", however, might be better off as "A Number by Caryl Churchill". I suppose it's a question of whatever sounds natural.
Toggle Commented Dec 12, 2014 on Great stations and modest journeys at The TLS blog
Thanks very much for these further examples of poets (and musical double acts) on trains. I like the "subplot" here about things not quite happening or only being bound together for a moment (Larkin's "frail / Travelling coincidence"?). A to B by rail sounds potentially quite free of such potential, doesn't it? But here it is all the same. English Heritage's grand stations aren't just functional blocks, like the old derided London Bridge. And A to B seems to come with an unexpected glimpse of C, D, or E . . . Michael: I don't have your copy of Whitsun Weddings, honest. Do you have my copy of The North Ship?
Toggle Commented Dec 11, 2014 on Great stations and modest journeys at The TLS blog
Thanks for explaining the mystery of "Owen Ketherry", David. I particularly admire "his" postscript. As we're on the subject of Butler, Tennyson and authorship, here's one commenting on the other – as Kenneth Hopkins imagined it, that is. (I wrote a piece for the TLS a while ago about Hopkins's pastiches of Butler being mistaken for the real thing..) "I once said I must remember some time to call Tennyson the Darwin of Poetry, but when I found occasion for this I could not bring myself to do it. I decided that Tennyson was not the Anything of Anything, and Jones agreed. So then of course I could not call Darwin the Tennyson of Science as I had intended. Darwin will undoubtedly be remembered. But I cannot think that Tennyson will enjoy any remembrance after a few years, unless he is buried in a very conspicuous tomb in some public place, with his name cut on it [in] letters six inches deep; and I dare say even that would get filled in eventually with tram tickets and pigeon droppings." Michael, your arithmetical accuracy would be lost on the ST. Follow the link and you'll see what I mean (without having to sign in/pay up). Assuming I've not misunderstood your point in turn.
Toggle Commented Oct 9, 2014 on Author, Author at The TLS blog
Good question, David. Pincers for pulling vampires' teeth, you might think.. In fact, Jonathan Ferguson has kindly explained that they're a standard-issue bullet mould – hot lead in, bullet out. So I guess that explains its position in the same tray as the pistol. The right-hand end must looks something like this when you get up close to it:
Toggle Commented Oct 6, 2014 on A (fake?) stake through the heart at The TLS blog
Thanks, Gigi, I'm glad you like the photo. It would be more accurate to say there was a Red Scare than fear of direct military action, I think. Vietnam was more "sustained" in the sense of lasting for years rather than months, as Gallipoli did. I'm sorry you find something irritating and false in a foreigner's use of the term Kiwi; perhaps I read the sports pages too much, but newspapers here seem to use it all the time. I almost didn't use it, in fact, but the Times style guide reassured me - as do whole Yahoo forums - that it wouldn't be a problem. Sure enough, though, now I've gone ahead and used it, a couple of people have pointed out that it's not particularly complimentary to liken people to small, flightless birds... and another suggests the difference is basically generational. Is that it? In any case, it's a country I'd love to visit again, so I'd better get it right next time.
Toggle Commented May 21, 2014 on ANZACs real and imagined at The TLS blog
No, you haven't misunderstood – I've muddled my letters. I'm thinking of the Eliot letter, which is of greater interest to me and apparently remains unpublished; I was wondering if you could say something new about it. Interesting, too, though, that despite the difference between his private and public statements concerning "the principle" of intellectual property in a play (is a dramatisation not also a play, by the way?), Dickens should refer in both letters to his reluctance to do so against a theatre manager he actually respects – Sam Lane of the Britannia Theatre. Principle outweighs respect, it would seem.
Thanks for the clarification, Leslie, about A Message from the Sea. You've uncannily almost succeeded in restoring an overlong sentence from my first draft, including the point about the contrast between Dickens's private uncertainty about what would happen if such a case went to court and his fairly graceful public assertion of principle. Does your reference to the dates mean that you've seen the unpublished letter for yourself, by the way?
It's now at Coventry Cathedral, I'm told, after languishing for some years in Battersea. The photos at the NPG give you odd glimpses of such works, ie not portrait busts, looming in the background..
Toggle Commented Apr 5, 2013 on Jacob Epstein’s party in bronze at The TLS blog
Gary, I agree with you about the complexity of Britten's choral works - they're a great pleasure reserved for those who listen beyond the hit parade. There's a letter in this week's TLS, incidentally, from L. A. Yeats, who was present for the 1963 recording of the War Requiem; apparently, Britten wasn't "entirely pleased" to learn that the producer had secretly recorded his "comments, instructions to the orchestra etc", but was otherwise gracious and, perhaps unsurprisingly, made for a charismatic conductor of his own work.
Toggle Commented Apr 4, 2013 on A Britten top ten at The TLS blog
Andrew, that's a sprightly recording of the Gloriana dances, isn't it? I particularly like the Pavan, with its sly modulations. Incidentally, the copy you bought came out, I think, before a complete and official recording of Gloriana was made. There's a long note about it in one of the books Ian Bostridge reviews. Gigi, I don't think you're wrong, but where Britten goes, Pears is bound to follow. It's chosen here for the personal connection more than the tonsil-stretching. A TLS facebook friend also recommends this, the Scherzo from the Ballad of Heroes:
Toggle Commented Mar 25, 2013 on A Britten top ten at The TLS blog
Michael Caines is now following Thea Lenarduzzi
Jan 10, 2013
Michael Caines is now following Catharine Morris
Jan 10, 2013
Michael Caines is now following Adrian Tahourdin
Jan 10, 2013
Michael Caines is now following Toby Lichtig
Jan 10, 2013
Michael Caines is now following David Horspool
Jan 10, 2013
Michael Caines is now following Peter Stothard
Jan 10, 2013
Behold: one horrible junkie cover, added 5/11/12 . . .
PS Apparently, it's an oil painting, about 40 x 60 cm.
Toggle Commented Aug 31, 2012 on An Ira Aldridge mystery at The TLS blog
That makes sense of the comment from The Ant - thanks very much, Jan. The ODNB must have it wrong when it says that Aldridge was "generally described as tall and well built". If this is a painting of Aldridge, perhaps it's trying to convey something of his charismatic stage presence by making him a bit taller than he really was...
Toggle Commented Aug 31, 2012 on An Ira Aldridge mystery at The TLS blog
The review was written by the journalist, poet and classicist Charles William Brodribb, who was St Paul's School and then Oxford (at a different college) at the same time as Thomas. So a personal connection does seem possible, doesn't it? And maybe it's not a coincidence that Thomas wrote a couple of reviews for the TLS, of books with rural themes, around the same time.
Toggle Commented Jan 26, 2012 on Happy-go-lucky Edward Thomas at The TLS blog
Great idea – although all the indignant/supposed "Shakespeares" would probably need a room to themselves. At least these two would be able to pass the time a little more happily than the rest of them:
Thanks, of course, that makes sense of the "Victorian" bit - but I wouldn't have minded if the BBC report (linked above) had made it clearer that Paula Byrne was describing the copy rather than the original. . . .
Toggle Commented Dec 23, 2011 on The unseen Jane Austen? at The TLS blog
As mentioned earlier - here's Alan Jenkins's review of the Beckett Letters:
Toggle Commented Nov 2, 2011 on Samuel Beckett's disease at The TLS blog
Thank you very much, Neil, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the review. As far as I know, Powys's original publisher, Chatto & Windus, took great care over the look of their books; Faber Finds look a little more functional... and no, they don't run to extra material (prefaces, etc). But they're handy to have around, as second-hand copies in (very) good condition can be quite expensive. Looking at the Faber edition of John Cowper Powys's "Autobiography", by the way, I see a few typos ("peoole" for "people", "interet" for "interest") - admittedly, very few, in the course of a long book - but perhaps that's an aspect of the way the text has been reproduced by Faber rather than a faithful representation of the original publication...
Toggle Commented Oct 25, 2011 on The prolific Powyses at The TLS blog