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Dear Who Gives a C**p

Lydia Davis, 7 January 2021

... Dear Who Gives a C**p,Thank you for the recent shipment, which arrived promptly. I’m glad to have it. I feel good about using recycled toilet paper, even if it does not always tear off the roll neatly and is a little coarse, though we quickly got used to that and may even come to like it. In any case, I would rather suffer a slight discomfort than be complicit in the felling of old-growth trees in Canadian boreal forests merely in order to enjoy virgin toilet paper that is softer and tears more neatly ...

One French City

Lydia Davis, 12 August 2021

... What​  follows is part of an ongoing piece of writing which I can best describe as being the elaborated notes of what I have been discovering in my explorations of the history of the city of Arles – a history which goes back nearly three thousand years, so there is a lot to read. This essay began as notes taken during a visit to Arles in November 2018, when I gradually came to notice how, within the small area of the old city, over the centuries of occupation by different cultures, so many of the structures remained intact and were reused, adapted, enlarged, rebuilt etc, or if they were dismantled, the materials of which they were built were reused for another construction – this repetitive progression very well embodying the principle taught in basic science that no matter is either created or destroyed ...

The Rear-View Mirror

Michael Hofmann, 31 October 1996

The End of the Story 
by Lydia Davis.
Serpent’s Tail, 231 pp., £8.99, October 1996, 1 85242 420 6
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Break it Down 
by Lydia Davis.
Serpent’s Tail, 177 pp., £8.99, October 1996, 1 85242 421 4
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... of ‘narrator’ and ‘first-person speaker’, but I need to begin by saying that what Lydia Davis proposes to us – even if (fat chance!) it’s a hoax from first word to last – is utterly compelling. As Auden would first look at a poem as a ‘contraption’ before going on to assess the kind of thing it might be, so one has to say of The ...

Things they don’t want to hear

Clancy Martin: Lydia Davis, 22 July 2010

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis 
Hamish Hamilton, 733 pp., £20, August 2010, 978 0 241 14504 3Show More
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... down the embankment but couldn’t dislodge it. Then I remembered I had The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in my backpack. I put it under the jack, it held – paper is much denser than you think, it’s the reason moving your books is such a pain, they’re heavy – and I changed the tyre. I was back in my truck, with the heat blasting out, turning ...

Writer’s Writer and Writer’s Writer’s Writer

Julian Barnes: ‘Madame Bovary’, 18 November 2010

Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways 
by Gustave Flaubert and Lydia Davis.
Penguin, 342 pp., £20, November 2010, 978 1 84614 104 1
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... Commune), as is the very latest, by the American short-story writer – and Proust translator – Lydia Davis. In between, most of the 15 or more versions have been made by men. The best-known of them are Francis Steegmuller and Gerard Hopkins; and though Steegmuller did write some fiction – including mysteries under the name of David Keith – it’s ...

Reality Is Worse

Adam Mars-Jones: Lydia Davis, 17 April 2014

Can’t and Won’t 
by Lydia Davis.
Hamish Hamilton, 304 pp., £16.99, April 2014, 978 0 241 14664 4
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... In her approach​ to story-writing Lydia Davis might almost have taken a vow of chastity, of the aesthetic sort publicised by the Dogme 95 group of filmmakers. Dogme principles included shooting on location, recording the soundtrack at the same time as the images (so as to exclude music other than what the characters could hear), using natural sources of light and a hand-held camera ...

Alphabetophile

Michael Hofmann: Eley Williams, 7 September 2017

Attrib. and Other Stories 
by Eley Williams.
Influx, 169 pp., £9.99, March 2017, 978 1 910312 16 2
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Frit 
by Eley Williams.
Sad, 35 pp., £6, April 2017
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... In the reader, it produces a kind of constructive estrangement from words. Think William Gass, Lydia Davis or Anne Carson, and you won’t be too wrong. Now I feel like someone who thinks there’s a shower on the way, and then it rains for ten days straight. Williams is just full of alphabets. The first story is even called ‘The Alphabet’, and ...

The Thing

Michael Wood: Versions of Proust, 6 January 2005

In Search of Lost Time: Vol. I: The Way by Swann’s 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Lydia Davis.
Penguin, 496 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118031 5
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol.II: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by James Grieve.
Penguin, 576 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118032 3
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. III: The Guermantes Way 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Mark Treharne.
Penguin, 640 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118033 1
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. IV: Sodom and Gomorrah 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by John Sturrock.
Penguin, 576 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 9780141180342
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. V: ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Fugitive’ 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Carol Clark and Peter Collier.
Penguin, 720 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118035 8
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In Search of Lost Time: Vol. VI: Finding Time Again 
by Marcel Proust, edited by Christopher Prendergast, translated by Ian Patterson.
Penguin, 400 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 0 14 118036 6
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The Proust Project 
edited by André Aciman.
Farrar, Straus, 224 pp., $25, November 2004, 0 374 23832 4
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... space in our lived life than the country we physically inhabit – and both Scott Moncrieff and Lydia Davis settle for it. ‘Like a halcyon’s downy nest’ sounds distinctly Edwardian. This must be Scott Moncrieff’s language, and it is. It’s Clark’s too. But then, to stay with the same passage, an elaborate evocation of the narrator’s ...

Carthachinoiserie

Paul Grimstad: Flaubert’s ‘Gueuloir’, 23 January 2014

Flaubert’s ‘Gueuloir’: On ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Salammbô’ 
by Michael Fried.
Yale, 184 pp., £25, October 2012, 978 0 300 18705 2
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... of extravagant self-conception doomed to mediocrity in the banlieue of Yonville – someone, as Lydia Davis put it, ‘whose character fatally determined the course of her life’ – is mirrored in a prose in which intention and automatism, will and fate, are themselves indissociable. The question of authorial intent has always preoccupied Fried. In ...

Surely, Shirley

J. Robert Lennon: Ottessa Moshfegh, 21 January 2021

Death in Her Hands 
by Ottessa Moshfegh.
Cape, 259 pp., £14.99, August 2020, 978 1 78733 220 1
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... is driven by a kind of grim joy, nor do they have the animated interiority of Lynne Tillman or Lydia Davis, whose currents of thought sweep up the reader and carry them along. Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation are exercises in psychological realism, but with most of the pleasures removed.Death in Her Hands is different. All the Moshfeghian ...

Sex on the Roof

Patricia Lockwood, 6 December 2018

Evening in Paradise: More Stories 
by Lucia Berlin.
Picador, 256 pp., £14.99, November 2018, 978 1 5098 8229 8
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Welcome Home: A Memoir with Selected Photographs 
by Lucia Berlin.
Picador, 160 pp., £12.99, November 2018, 978 1 5098 8234 2
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... her friends Ed and Helene Dorn. The lack of variety is puzzling (why not a few of her letters to Lydia Davis, say?) and the letters are not interesting in themselves, but they are worth reading to hear how much more herself she is in the stories. In the letters, curiously, she sounds like just anyone. She even goes through that phase where you open with ...

Hmmmm, Stylish

Brian Dillon: Claire-Louise Bennett, 20 October 2016

Pond 
by Claire-Louise Bennett.
Fitzcarraldo, 177 pp., £10.99, October 2015, 978 1 910695 09 8
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... Krapp, but stuck brooding on bananas and potential pratfalls. The more pressing comparison is with Lydia Davis. A few of the stories seem to ape the crisp, elliptical quality of Davis’s short, very short, texts. They are among the funniest pieces in Pond. ‘Oh, Tomato Purée’ is a half-page ode to a tube of ...

I’m here to be mad

Christopher Benfey: Robert Walser, 10 May 2018

Walks with Robert Walser 
by Carl Seelig, translated by Anne Posten.
New Directions, 127 pp., £11.99, May 2017, 978 0 8112 2139 9
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Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories 
by Robert Walser, translated by Tom Whalen, Nicole Köngeter and Annette Wiesner.
NYRB, 181 pp., £9.99, October 2016, 978 1 68137 016 3
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... preference for short, fragmentary forms (which can seem to prefigure those used by a writer like Lydia Davis, who has translated some of Walser’s writings on art) over the epic and ‘mature’ monumentality of the novel. With Hannah Arendt’s advocacy, Kafka’s bureaucratic nightmares were seen as having predicted the rise of the Third Reich, and ...

His Secret Opening

Joe Dunthorne: Revism, 2 April 2020

Childhood 
by Gerard Reve.
Pushkin, 160 pp., £9.99, October 2019, 978 1 78227 459 9
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... of the past hundred years, and there have been a number of failed attempts to translate it. Even Lydia Davis had a go before admitting that ‘there are stylistic subtleties that I would not be equal to.’ Happily, in 2016 Pushkin published a wonderfully fresh rendering by Sam Garrett, the success of which has led to his translating two more of ...

Tocqueville in Saginaw

Alan Ryan, 2 March 1989

Tocqueville: A Biography 
by André Jardin, translated by Lydia Davis and Robert Hemenway.
Peter Halban, 550 pp., £18, October 1988, 1 870015 13 4
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... When Americans test the health of their republic, scrutinise the civic virtue of their fellow citizens, or worry that religion is playing too large or too small a role in public life, the text from which they draw their standards of political health and psychological well-being, and the text from which they draw their hopes and fears is a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old treatise written by a French aristocrat of 30 who had spent barely nine months in the country ...

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