This is Michael Caines's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Michael Caines's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Michael Caines
Assistant editor, Times Literary Supplement
Interests: Reading, writing, etc
Recent Activity
Those sentences are precisely where I'd hoped that – entirely conventionally, having established that I was glossing Litt – it might be apparent that I wasn't speaking for myself.. That knotty problem you've identified interests me because there is a whole subgenre of historical fiction dedicated to the "real person" (oh, but isn't all history just storytelling?), as well as walk-on parts in the fiction about imaginary characters grafted onto historical settings. I suppose there is a crucial distinction to be drawn between that biopic-style approach and the other in which supposedly imaginary characters participate in momentous events and all that.
Toggle Commented Sep 6, 2016 on Making history at The TLS blog
Michael, it's Toby Litt's idea that I'm describing in the opening paragraph above, and nobody else has suggested to me that it looks like I'm calling it mine. I don't claim to have the critical acuity to have come up with it myself. But you're free to go on regarding it as mine if you really need to! In any case, the nod to F. Jameson towards the end was meant as a reminder that there is already a vast literature on the subject of what history is, but what I'm reflecting on here is the way history was discussed specifically at the HNS. It mattered less that history means one thing or another, in this context, than that it was being defined against something else – ie, that equally vexed category known as fiction – and that historical novelists themselves rely on this distinction. In answer to your point about linguistic authenticity: yes, but isn't your point about Latin merely accepting that an "absolute" historical fiction is an impossibility? At some level, novelists tend to accept that it can't be done – hence Melvyn Bragg's pragmatic approach to the question of using an historically accurate but (to his readers) inaccessible lexis. That's an interesting point about style. But the weird workings of literary influence, don't necessarily rule out a living author having more in common with Dickens than Beckett, do they? So I'm not sure I can agree with you here, either..
Toggle Commented Sep 6, 2016 on Making history at The TLS blog
Thanks very much for these comments, everyone; they're most welcome! Michael: it is not *my* idea that history is "what was"; and English words are not tied to French counterparts, are they? I'm aware of "c'est des histoires" but idiomatically we wouldn't use the word "histories" in the same way. Also, 120 years, even "about" 120 years, is still an interestingly specific prescription. How do you arrive at that date? I agree with Margaret that a writer is free to try to write in the manner of any era. Artistically free at least – commercially, well, is the opposite true? La Fabulogiste (I acknowledge the excellence of this nom de plume, by the way): thanks very much for that Ruskin reference, which I'll look up; but please note that I didn't say that irritation with historical fiction is a recent phenomenon..
Toggle Commented Sep 6, 2016 on Making history at The TLS blog
David, I don't think you're missing the point at all; I agree with you about both of those novelists. Are you missing the spirit of this hypothetical exercise, though? Unless I've misunderstood it myself. I took the OHNE's lists to be an argument for the variety of post-war literature, drawing attention to the variety of novelists who were contemporaries (if not necessarily novelists at the same stage of their artistic development). If the old-style, Cambridge-centric Granta had decided to compile a list in 1943, it wouldn't have included John Braine – but it wouldn't have included the pre-Godot Samuel Beckett, either, with one published novel to his name. In their places, you'd have found a couple of young guns who were fashionable at the time, right? On the other hand, aren't the OHNE editors technically in the right? Granta has included at least one writer on its list who had yet to publish a first novel at the time: Adam Thirlwell. Two more incidental points. Faber *accepted* Lord of the Flies in late 1953; they *published* it in 1954, but it didn't make any great impact on the world then. That came later. So you could go further and say Golding wouldn't have been Granta-ized at all, which shows up the dubious nature of the exercise. (Relatively late bloomers deserve recognition just as much as young guns do..) And secondly: you've reminded me that a few novelists have made it onto Granta's list more than once (Adam Mars-Jones, Zadie Smith, Adam Thirlwell). They're brilliant writers, but does that defeat the purpose of the exercise? Again, assuming the idea is to seek out new voices and all that.
Toggle Commented Aug 1, 2016 on BG (Before Granta . . .) at The TLS blog
Interesting – I didn't spot that elsewhere, but the word is "flocks" in both Fuller's Sonnets and his source...
That sounds acceptable but less descriptively slowed down and weighed with effort than the version above, maybe? "When" looks to me like a smoothed-out version of Clare, dating from his lifetime certainly (at least 1821 if not earlier) but not necessarily the most interesting or authoritative reading.
Your reading makes sense to me, and I've seen it reproduced elsewhere. John Fuller is perhaps elaborating on Eric Robinson and David Powell's edition, in which these two lines appear without punctuation: "& whats more wonderful–big loads that foil / One ant or two to carry quickly then". I like the slight shifting of emphasis here, in terms of the rhyme scheme suggested by Fuller's semi-colon after "quickly" (assuming that is his deliberate choice). There's something clunkier about "quickly then / fellow men".
Thanks, Michael; on the authority of the 1984 edition of Clare's poems, the Oxford Book of Sonnets prints the line as "And what's more wonderful, big loads that foil". I've altered it accordingly, but would be glad to know if that's simply a transcription error I'm passing on.
I would buy that, Michael. (Would your 101 really rather good plays match Michael Billington's greatest ones?)
Thanks, Michael. "It depends . . ." – I agree. Among the current top ten male players, according to the ATP rankings, Federer and Wawrinka are the only two single-handers. There is only one player in the WTA top ten with a single-handed backhand, Carla Suárez Navarro. Regardless of the outcome of today's semi-finals, let's hope that the example set by Federer and Gasquet has a good influence on others.
Toggle Commented Jul 10, 2015 on Fair-weather Federers at The TLS blog
Well, it looks like a few people wanted to read more than just "In and Out", since the few copies of How It Turned Out that were for sale via Abebooks at the start of the week are now even fewer (The Rialto may still have copies). Here's a distinction Sean O'Brien draws between these two Hull poets, in his introduction to that collection, that perhaps partly explains why they might appeal to different readers: "Redpath's work has none of the underlying nihilism from which Larkin's poetry seems to grow. . . . He can be pessimistic, but he is continually fascinated by people and life in general, and grateful, as Larkin was often unable to be, for any inspiriting occasion."
Toggle Commented May 29, 2015 on Oh Hull at The TLS blog
It should be back up again later today; I'll add a link here when it's fit to be seen in public again. I think it's good, too – and I hope not just because of who I thought its author was . . .
Toggle Commented May 26, 2015 on Oh Hull at The TLS blog
Alexander, I'm afraid the tell-tale word in your highly inventive comment is "show". To whom does any of this "show" that this is De Vere? To people keen to spot him anywhere and anyhow. So, yes – funny that!
Toggle Commented May 22, 2015 on Shakespeare, naturally at The TLS blog
Absolutely desperate stuff, William. You do not "personally" see a spear, but you do find a laughably convoluted way of reading "deux-vier" via the "teaser video"? Come back when you're serious.
Toggle Commented May 22, 2015 on Shakespeare, naturally at The TLS blog
Thanks very much for all of these extremely interesting comments – except for you, Dennis. Your comment is a poor effort, even by anti-Shakespearean standards. Miriam, apologies (again, following our exchanges elsewhere) for getting your name wrong . . . I've corrected that now. James, thank you very much for those links; Dioscorides it must be, and (of course) not Shakespeare. Aren't the differences between the title page of Rariorum plantarum historia and that of The Herball curious, though? Dioscorides is named on one and not the other; he seems to be crowned with flowers, appropriately enough, in one, but with laurels (replacing the book as a sign of authorship, and maybe atypical for depictions of D?) in the other; he leans on a book (De Materia Medica?) in one, and brandishes those pesky plants; while The Herball's Dioscorides could be anyone (ie, not a portrait..), doesn't he look younger than is usual – Dioscorides reborn for a new age, perhaps? And I suppose we need to try to see this fourth man in context, alongside the other three: how do the Antwerp t.p.'s Adam, Salomon and Theophrastus correspond to the equivalent figures in The Herball? I hope these plodding/ignorant questions won't be mistaken for a defence of the Shakespeare identification. My point is rather that, while the early modern crowd have been having great fun tearing the Griffiths theory to shreds, it's good to see J. Gerard and his book – which don't need a Shakespeare cameo to make them more interesting – receiving some attention.
Toggle Commented May 21, 2015 on Shakespeare, naturally at The TLS blog
Good question, but self-promotion, alas, does not invalidate a person's academic credentials. Country Life describe Mr Griffiths in these terms, and claim that: "As a historical investigator, he works mostly within Oxford University, where, for the past decade, he has focussed on the relationship between botany, medicine, politics and literature in the English Renaissance". Make of that what you will. . . .
Toggle Commented May 19, 2015 on Shakespeare, naturally at The TLS blog
True, Michael, she didn't need anyone to attack her for using "narrative"; they have done so all the same. I'm not sure the rest of the piece is so badly written, as disputable as much of it clearly is. Also, all cycnicism aside, we can be fairly sure that certain people were only there in Paris to give a good impression of themselves:
Toggle Commented Apr 30, 2015 on PEN pals at The TLS blog
Both links work for me, Michael; just take out that final ")" and ").". Anyway, thanks for these comments. Michael, I don't know how you can know the mind of every Parisian who held a "Je suis Charlie" placard; Jonathan, I'm not sure that seeing the whole of the Charlie Hebdo pie chart prevents one from seeing that it has a religious component. I agree with the fundamental point, however, that this is a freedom of expression award and PEN is free to give it to a publication that has stood up against the "assassin's veto". My interest lies not so much in whether CH deserves to be lionized or not, though, as in the vicious nature of the responses to those who have dared to dissent from that view. Those six authors have been on the receiving end of some notably wayward attempts at vilification, don't you think? I wouldn't expect anything else from Salman Rushdie or Adam Boulton, but – for example – Nick Cohen attacking Francine Prose through the highly original device of punning on her surname seems just a little bit desperate to me.
Toggle Commented Apr 30, 2015 on PEN pals at The TLS blog
I guess he does; thanks, David. On a related note, Martin Amis has a story about his early days at the TLS, beginning something like: "Almost my first review was of a new edition of Coleridge's verse with an introduction by Empson. I read the book, then sold it, then reviewed it. . . ." There's more to it. I'll have to dig out the whole thing some time.
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