Matthew Reynolds

Matthew Reynolds is a fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford. His new novel, The World Was All Before Them, will be out early next year.

Der Jazz des Linguas: Diego Marani

Matthew Reynolds, 8 November 2012

Diego Marani works in the Directorate-General for Interpretation at the European Commission, and he writes fiction full of ideas prompted by his day job. New Finnish Grammar, translated last year, is heavy with fear at what it might be like to lose language altogether. The hero is discovered in Trieste in 1943, with no words, memory or identity. He is thought (mistakenly) to be a Finn called...

A Smaller Island: David Mitchell

Matthew Reynolds, 10 June 2010

David Mitchell’s new novel is set on and around an artificial island called Dejima, constructed in the bay of Nagasaki to house representatives of the Vereenigde Oest-Indische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company), the sole official conduit for European trade with Japan during almost all of the rule of the Tokugawa Shoguns (1603-1867). Dejima is tiny: ‘two hundred paces along its...

The Taste of Peapods: E.L. Doctorow

Matthew Reynolds, 11 February 2010

The American historical novelist E.L. Doctorow has spoken of the adventure of his process of composition, of the excitement of not knowing where he is going to end up. For a reader, too, the feeling of being searchingly led forward is one of the pleasures offered by his fiction. But another impression it gives is that the environment being explored comes ready structured. In the work of Dos...

His and Hers: Robert Browning

Matthew Reynolds, 9 October 2008

Browning’s contemporaries agreed he was a genius, but they were not all sure he was a poet. Wilde’s quip – ‘Meredith is a prose Browning, and so is Browning’ – expresses a view shared by admirers such as George Eliot and Henry James, doubters like Carlyle and Hopkins, and a chorus of others. But the history of poetry is a history of revolutions in what...

Most Himself: Dryden

Matthew Reynolds, 19 July 2007

Of all the great English poets, Dryden must be the least enjoyed. Once honoured ‘rather in the stiffness than in the strength of his eminence’, he was soon ‘laid carefully away among the heroes’, according to Mark Van Doren, the critic who is still, nearly a century on, the most persuasive of his would-be resurrectors. The same melancholy afflicts his most authoritative modern biographer, James Anderson Winn: ‘Any candid teacher of English literature must admit that many students find little pleasure or stimulation in those few selections from Dryden we now ask them to read.’ The difficulty is not confined to students, or to recent times.

Play Again? Douglas Coupland’s ‘JPod’

Matthew Reynolds, 3 August 2006

Douglas Coupland’s new book is both more than a novel and less. There is a JPod website where you can see the six main characters represented as Lego figurines, hear some of their favourite songs, and join in ‘pod pastimes’ – not much at present beyond selling yourself on eBay, but more is said to be ‘coming soon’. A ‘special edition’ of the...

Someone Else’s: translating Cesare Pavese

Matthew Reynolds, 6 October 2005

Does an Italian poet need translating even when he writes in English? Two of the poems in Disaffections make you wonder. Pavese addressed them to Constance Dowling, the American actress with whom he was involved in the months before his suicide in 1950, and they now frame the sequence published posthumously as Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi (‘Death Will Come and Will...

So Much More Handsome: Don Paterson

Matthew Reynolds, 4 March 2004

You might expect a landing light to be bright, a herald of safe arrival, but the light Don Paterson had most in mind when naming his new collection is weaker and less sure. ‘The Landing’ (one of two poems echoing the title) locates its protagonist halfway up the stairs, between the ‘complex upper light’ and ‘the darker flight/that fell back to the dead’....

Nicely Combed: Ungaretti

Matthew Reynolds, 4 December 2003

In Italy you can buy poetry T-shirts featuring lines by Dante, Leopardi and others. The Ungaretti shirt is good value: it gives you a whole work, though not a very long one. ‘Mattina’ (‘Morning’) reads in its entirety as follows:

M’illumino d’immenso

In books, those words are tethered to a particular location, Santa Maria la Longa, 26 January 1917; but there...

“The great merit of his translation is that it employs a language as mulitple and fragmented as Dante’s Italian – perhaps more so. It sounds less like an epic and more like The Canterbury Tales. Everyday insults – ‘up yours’, ‘you little squit’ – jostle grandiose phrases such as ‘convocation of melodic air’; markedly Irish and Scottish words (’stirabout’, ‘tawse’) come up against venerable poeticisms (’the bosky chase’) and Sloaney exclamations (’O such an awful nook!’).”

‘Dante in English’ is an anthology of English translations of passages from Dante (most of them from the Commedia); it also includes poetry in English by authors who have been...

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