Edmund Gordon

Edmund Gordon is the author of a biography of Angela Carter.

The steps along the way are at once depressingly small and forbiddingly vast. Learning to swallow again. Learning to match the word ‘cat’ with a picture of a cat again; learning to say the word ‘cat’ again. Learning to write his name again. When my father was at the start of this process, my wife and I took our two-year-old son to visit him in hospital. I watched as Dad struggled to say ‘hello’, encouraged by the child whose own recent breakthroughs in speech had been a source of uncomplicated pride.

‘Didn’t I tell you,’ a character asks halfway through C. Pam Zhang’s first novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, ‘that you should always ask why a person is telling you their story?’ In a series of essays and interviews around the time of the book’s publication, Zhang tried to explain why she was telling this one. When she was four her family...

Porno Swagger: ‘Cleanness’

Edmund Gordon, 16 April 2020

InU&I (1991), his book about John Updike, Nicholson Baker imagines explaining the appeal of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library to his literary hero. ‘You know, once you get used to the initially kind of disgusting level of homosexual sex, which quickly becomes really interesting as a kind of ethnography, you realise that this is really one of the best first...

Helter-Skelter: ‘Melmoth’

Edmund Gordon, 3 January 2019

Sarah Perry​ was raised a Strict Baptist, with a number of exotic beliefs – in the literal existence of the devil, the creation of the earth in six days, the sinfulness of women wearing trousers – whose most visible legacy is her interest in ethical and existential questions. That makes her rare among her generation of British writers. She abandoned the sect in her twenties over...

Save the feet for later: Leonora Carrington

Edmund Gordon, 2 November 2017

What​ Leonora Carrington remembered most clearly about being a debutante in 1935 was her tiara ‘biting’ into her skull. In her short story ‘The Debutante’, the teenage narrator hates balls, ‘especially when they are given in my honour’ (Carrington’s parents threw one for her at the Ritz), so she engages a hyena to take her place: the animal is about...

The Hero Brush: Colum McCann

Edmund Gordon, 12 September 2013

Colum McCann has described Jim Crace as ‘quite simply, one of the great writers of our time’, Aleksandar Hemon as ‘quite frankly, the greatest writer of our generation’, and Nathan Englander as ‘quite simply, one of the very best we have’. He has called Emma Donoghue ‘one of the great literary ventriloquists’ and John Boyne ‘one of the...

Like a Failed Cake: Keith Ridgway

Edmund Gordon, 6 December 2012

Keith Ridgway used to be compared to John McGahern for his dourly lyrical stories of a changing Ireland. (‘Fr Devoy nodded his head and sipped his tea and waited. He watched the sky move and thought he saw rain in the distance but could not be sure.’) That stopped with the publication of his third novel, Animals, in 2006. It begins with a 19-page description of poking a dead mouse...

A Very Modern Man: William Boyd

Edmund Gordon, 8 March 2012

Lysander Rief, the hero of Waiting for Sunrise, arrives in Vienna in 1913 to undergo psychoanalysis, and stays there for a few months; after his final session he goes to a café, where he notices ‘a man a few tables away, wearing a tweed suit and an old-fashioned cravat tie, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar … His beard was … trimmed with finical...

Dude, c’est moi: Padgett Powell

Edmund Gordon, 3 February 2011

In a letter of 1852, when he was working on Madame Bovary, Flaubert told his mistress Louise Colet that what he really wanted to write, what he saw as ‘the future of Art’, was ‘a book about nothing’, ‘a book without external attachments, supporting itself by the internal force of its style’. From the start of his career, the American novelist Padgett Powell...


Not a Woman in Flight

3 January 2019

Sarah Perry writes that her novel The Essex Serpent ‘doesn’t specify the year in which it is set’ (Letters, 24 January). The cover of my paperback edition does: ‘1893’. By then, Perry says, women had for several years ‘been admitted to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge’. But they couldn’t actually matriculate at Oxford until the 1920s, or at Cambridge...

A New Kind of Being: Angela Carter

Jenny Turner, 3 November 2016

Rick Moody remembered his first encounter with Carter at a creative writing seminar: ‘Some young guy in the back … raised his hand and, with a sort of withering scepticism, asked, “Well,...

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