Leo Robson

  • Season of the Pitch

    “THE MINDSET WAS PREDISPOSED TO BE NEGATIVE,” the writer Pete Davies said not long ago. We were discussing English attitudes in the run-up to the 1990 World Cup—Italia ’90—the subject of his elating travelogue, All Played Out, often described as the greatest book about soccer. The national game had been in a bad way—the playing style primitive, the supporters feral. An article by Brian Glanville, a prominent reporter, carried the headline “England Abroad: Shame and Mediocrity.” The general prognosis was that the team would be, in Davies’s word, “shit,” that “we’d be an embarrassment” both on

  • The Past Is a Southern County

    SOONER OR LATER, every great novelist, however ornery or eremitic, is portrayed as an observer of their times. “Flaubert’s Politics” must have sounded like a joke title, a parody of revisionism, when, in 1937, an essay with that name, arguing that the supposedly rarefied author had in fact engaged extensively with public affairs, appeared under Edmund Wilson’s byline in the pages of the Partisan Review. But the expansion of universities—and the explosion of academic publishing—has long since rendered the zany-looking intervention a commonplace occurrence. During the 1980s, for instance, a period

  • Rabelais in Prague

    “Everyone thought my husband was a happy person that a husband like mine must make me the envy of every woman that life with my husband must be nothing but fun and games,” says Bohumil Hrabal’s wife, Eliska, the narrator of Hrabal’s novelized biography Vita Nuova: “But it was something else entirely.” In a series of interviews given in 1984 and 1985, published in English as Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp, Hrabal said that he was eager, in “the trilogy I’m working on now . . . told with great mirth by my wife,” to avoid creating an image of himself stylized “too much in the direction of greatness,”

  • Troublesome Dream

    Chris Adrian’s prose is so alive with sweet and quirky phrasing, so comfortable with the sexual and the theological, and so optimistic in the face of putative certainties that readers may find cause for gratitude even in a novel that is foolish in conception and inept in structure. Such grateful moments are certainly rarer in The Great Night, Adrian’s latest, than in Gob’s Grief (2001) and The Children’s Hospital (2006), and they become rarer as the novel progresses. The Great Night is hampered by technical decisions rather than Adrian’s sentence-by-sentence conduct; there are flaws of narrative