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Articles & Extracts

Finding a Family

Finding a Family

Michael Cunningham is best known for his third novel The Hours (1998), later made into an equally successful film. But it’s his second, A Home at the End of the World(1991), which I consistently reread, knowing that its lyrical voice and profound insights will never fail to move me. The story is told by four voices, two male and two female, with such tenderness and sympathy that it’s clear how much the author loves his flawed characters. Bobby and Jonathan are young men growing up during the 1960s and ’70s, in Cleveland, Ohio. Bobby has a conventionally happy home with an adored older brother. His life has been infused by the ordinary and the actual – meals, school, parents. But by his early teens, his life has imploded.
SF magazine subscribers only
The Man Who Stopped at Nothing

The Man Who Stopped at Nothing

Some writers lead us into lives we’d never otherwise imagine; Michael Herr, writing on the fear and madness of war, was one; Thomas Merton on monastic seclusion, another. Oliver Sacks was one as well. He was an explorer of mind and brain, where words like inconceivable, or magical, or sometimes alas tragic, are not overblown but just plain fact. Everyone’s heard of the man, his wife and the hat – but Sacks met many, many others whose lives were just as much sources of wonder. He was open to them because his own experience was extraordinary too. His writings and his life are almost equally absorbing.
SF magazine subscribers only
At Sea with Slocum

At Sea with Slocum

Books can be ill served by the company they keep. In my childhood home they were shelved in the only bookcase and consisted entirely of anthologies published as Reader’s Digest Condensed Books plus the several volumes of Churchill’s The Second World War. None was ever read or even consulted. They were just part of the furniture. Something as slight as Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone around the World was lost amongst them. ‘That was Dad’s favourite book,’ said my mother as we cleared the house after his death. I’d no idea he had a favourite book, and it was not till some years later that, hoping to understand him better, I began turning its pages.
SF magazine subscribers only
Against the Current

Against the Current

Wallace Stegner seems on the brink of being forgotten. Half a century ago he was acknowledged as a major figure in American letters; one of his novels won the Pulitzer Prize, and another the National Book Award. He was highly regarded, not just as a novelist, but also as a pioneering teacher of creative writing and as a mentor to a generation of younger writers. Yet when I asked around recently, not one of my bookish acquaintances recognized his name. I had never heard of him myself until a friend recommended him on a pandemic relieving country walk.
SF magazine subscribers only
Verse and Worse

Verse and Worse

If the name Baring-Gould seems vaguely familiar, perhaps you grew up as I did, exposed every Sunday to Hymns Ancient and Modern. The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924) wrote many of them, including such traditional favourites as ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Now the Day is Over’. He was a hagiographer and an extraordinarily prolific writer, credited with over 1,240 publications on various subjects. He also found the time to father fourteen children, one of whom emigrated to America where his grandson, William Baring-Gould, was born in Minnesota in 1913.
SF magazine subscribers only
Such Devoted Sisters

Such Devoted Sisters

I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) one summer as a teenager. It’s a work of gothic horror, and a mystery novel. More specifically, it’s a strange, haunting story about a town that fears and is obsessed by two of its residents following the fatal poisoning of their family. I have always thought of it as a book about sisters, about Merricat and Constance, ‘two halves of the same person’. Endlessly self-absorbed, I spent my first reading thinking of my own sister. Our relationship was the most important and the most constant in my life, as we moved back and forth between the homes of our divorced parents. And so, of course, in the heat of the summer, with my sister my main source of company, I felt that this book had been written specifically for me.
SF magazine subscribers only
An Unusual Case

An Unusual Case

Richard Cobb’s memoir A Classical Education (1985) opens on a spring day in 1950. He is at St Lazare station in Paris awaiting the arrival of an old schoolfriend he’s not seen for fourteen years. Cobb has spent much of that time on the Continent, first as a soldier in the war and then as a historian researching various French archives. His friend, by contrast, has been shut away in a Dublin asylum for the entirety of those years, serving out his sentence for the murder of his mother.
U and I and Me

U and I and Me

I hadn’t read much John Updike when I picked up Nicholson Baker’s book on him during lockdown; but then neither had Baker when he wrote the book. This is one of the novelties of U and I. Where most non-fiction strives for mastery of its subject, this little book pursues that ‘very spottiness of coverage [that] is, along with the wildly untenable generalizations that spring from it, one of the most important features of the thinking we do about living writers’. The result is a funny, profound meditation on what writers actually mean to readers as opposed to what academics tell us they should mean.
SF magazine subscribers only
1st September 2023

Slightly Foxed Issue 79: From the Editors

New contributors to Slightly Foxed sometimes ask us which issue their piece is going to appear in and the truth is, we’re usually hard put to tell them in advance. One pleasure of SF is that we’re not bound by publication dates for new books, so we rarely plan a piece for a particular issue but instead welcome good contributions and select from what we have. We’ve always worked on the bran-tub principle that we’d like readers to dip in and find something unexpected that they wouldn’t normally have been looking for. But despite this, each issue does seem to come together with a particular atmosphere and character of its own.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors
When I Was a Little Boy | Chapter 4: Suitcases, Corsets and Curls

When I Was a Little Boy | Chapter 4: Suitcases, Corsets and Curls

Dresden was a wonderful city, full of art and history, yet with none of the atmosphere of a museum which happened to house, along with its treasures, six hundred and fifty thousand Dresdeners. Past and present lived in perfect unity, or rather duality, and blended and harmonized with the landscape – the Elbe, the bridges, the slopes of the surrounding hills, the woods, the mountains which fringed the horizon – to form a perfect trinity. From Meissen Cathedral to the Castle Park of Groszsedlitz, history, art and nature intermingled in town and valley in an incomparable accord which seemed as though bewitched by its own perfect harmony.
The Wine Lover’s Daughter | Chapter 1: Thwick

The Wine Lover’s Daughter | Chapter 1: Thwick

My father was a lousy driver and a two-finger typist, but he could open a wine bottle as deftly as any swain ever undressed his lover. Nearly every evening of my childhood, I watched him cut the capsule – the foil sleeve that sheathes the bottleneck – with a sharp knife. Then he plunged the bore of a butterfly corkscrew into the exact center of the cork, twirled the handle, and, after the brass levers rose like two supplicant arms, pushed them down and gently twisted out the cork. Its pop was satisfying but restrained, not the fustian whoop of a champagne cork but a well-bred thwick. He once said that the cork was one of three inventions that had proved unequivocally beneficial to the human race. (The others were the wheel and Kleenex.)
Last Waltz in Vienna Extract | Part Two | Youth and Freedom

Last Waltz in Vienna Extract | Part Two | Youth and Freedom

Kirtag in St Gilgen was a very different occasion, and though my memories of that Day of Atonement visit long ago were somewhat vague, it still seemed impossible to believe that this was the same building. Austria’s best stage designers had changed it into a very life-like imitation of that famous holiday resort not far from Salzburg. They could not, even if they wanted to, put a good part of Vienna under water and bring the St Wolfgang lake into the Konzerthaus, but the White Horse Inn, the lakeside hostelry known to operetta lovers all over the world, had been reconstructed inside the building, so had the village square, maypole and all, and on various levels there were farms with real cows and horses in their stables, country-inn gardens with buxom waitresses in old-style peasant costumes serving wine and beer, and any number of bands from the genuine ‘tara-ra-boom-de-ay’ to modern ones playing the swing hits from Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers films by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, evergreens that have outlasted my youth.
Adrian Bell | The Hungry Gap | A Countryman’s Spring Notebook Extract

Adrian Bell | The Hungry Gap | A Countryman’s Spring Notebook Extract

‘April is the cruellest month,’ stated a famous poem in its first line. T. S. Eliot, who wrote it, was as townee a poet as ever lived, and hadn’t the faintest idea of the literal truth of it for the countryman. ‘Breeding lilacs out of the dead land’ he goes on, and generally making things look deceptively pleasant in a doomed planet. Not since Browning have poets exuded cheery notions, unless it were G. K. Chesterton in a pub.

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