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Reports from Britain and America

by Andrew O'Hagan

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-15-101378-4
Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Assorted opinions on literary and cultural matters by critic and novelist O’Hagan (The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, 2007, etc.).

The best of these pieces are not about books, though most of the author’s new collection is built on essays occasioned by them. One highlight is a searching piece that looks at the parallel lives and deaths of two soldiers in Iraq, an American Marine and a British guardsman who fell on the same day; both seem like Icarus dropping into the sea in Brueghel’s famous painting, ignored by the plowmen—and feuding relatives—surrounding them. A piece on gardening opens on a slyly Proustian note: “For a long time, England used to go to bed early.” That was, of course, before the English came over all postmodern and ironic about gardening, which O’Hagan sorts out nicely: “Scots get into trouble for not being flowery enough, although they are catching the bug; and the Welsh prefer vegetables.” Other pieces are less fresh, especially the reviews disguised as essays. An examination of Lee Harvey Oswald yields only stagnant Mailer-isms; Mailer, who figures in the piece in question, could have handled that duty himself. And does anyone need still another piece on the cultural phenomenon that was the Beatles (“Even people who don’t care about popular music…are conscious of how these English songwriters may have harnessed the properties of their own time”)?

A mixed bag with some very good lines (if often spoken by others) jumbled up with some rather stale ephemera.