Giles Harvey is a Contributing Writer at The New York Times Magazine. (April 2020)


Storm Warning

Jenny Offill; illustration by Ellie Foreman-Peck


by Jenny Offill
In August 1968 The New Yorker published Donald Barthelme’s short story “Eugénie Grandet,” a two-page absurdist parody of Balzac’s 1833 novel about a wealthy provincial miser’s only child and her tragic efforts to defy him. A bit like Borges in “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Barthelme takes a hefty …

Publish and Perish

Guillaume Canet (left) as Alain and Vincent Macaigne as Léonard in Non-Fiction


a film written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Non-Fiction, the new film by Olivier Assayas, is about publishing and the people who work in it. To publishing professionals, who find their industry a source of inexhaustible fascination, this will come as welcome news; to everyone else, it probably sounds as interesting as a film about tax law or …


John Lanchester; illustration by Joanna Neborsky

The Wall

by John Lanchester
“Political language,” George Orwell said, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.” He might have added that literary language is often used for the same purpose. The verbally prodigious English writer John Lanchester is a case in point. His characters, Lanchester has said, are people “who can’t …

Future Man

Ben Lerner, New York City, 2012


by Ben Lerner
Ben Lerner’s new novel tells the story of a young American writer (“Ben”) who, like Lerner, lives in Brooklyn. Ben has recently published a very well-received first novel, never named, but which even the most casual observer of contemporary literature will struggle not to conflate with Lerner’s own very well-received …


Talking Without Speaking

John Turturro, Alvin Epstein, Daniel Davis, and Dianne Wiest in The Cherry Orchard

Nabokov described a fictional play in one of his stories as “essentially idiotic, even ideally idiotic, or, putting it another way, ideally constructed on the solid conventions of traditional dramaturgy.” We all know the kind of thing he is talking about. The lengthy, character-revealing speeches, the unannounced guests who throw everything into confusion, the “dramatic irony,” the “rising action,” the over-neat ordering of life into three brisk acts—these are the solid conventions that keep us away from the theater or that make us wish we’d stayed away when we do end up there. Chekhov, whose plays hardly seem to coerce life at all, boldly broke ranks with this wearying regimentation.

Steve Coogan’s Grand Ambitions

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip

Like many of the masterpieces of Western culture to which it humbly invites comparison—Ulysses, Endgame, Pierrot Le Fou—Michael Winterbottom’s new movie, The Trip, does not sound promising in paraphrase. Two successful middle-aged actors take a tour of high-end restaurants in the North of England in order to write an article for The Observer newspaper. The pair bicker, trade impersonations of their cinematic heroes, struggle to come up with interesting things to say about the finicky and pretentious meals they are fed (“Hotter than I would’ve expected,” etc.), and that is more or less it. It is hard to say exactly how Winterbottom and his two leading men transmute this rather lenten premise into the artistic feast The Trip becomes, but humor certainly plays a large part. After a comparatively tame first quarter of an hour, the theater where I went to see it was engulfed in a ninety-minute tsunami of laughter.

Geoffrey Rush’s Antic, Gibbering, Flailing ‘Madman’

Geoffrey Rush in BAM's production of The Diary of a Madman

Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) was literature’s great confidence man. Like a Ponzi scheme or a magic trick, his best work is founded on the cornerstone of deceit. In The Inspector-General a young rake inadvertently gulls an entire town into thinking he is an influential government official, then gleefully accepts the bribes and favors that flow his way. In Dead Souls the diabolic anti-hero buys up the names of serfs who have died since the last census in order to pass himself off as a landed gentleman. In the famous short story “The Diary of a Madman,” by contrast, the protagonist seems to play a kind of confidence trick on himself.

John Lennon: Bull in Search of a China Shop

John Lennon, Liverpool, circa 1961

When the Beatles called on Elvis at his rented Bel Air mansion in August 1965, the odds of a pleasant evening were always going to be long. Whereas the Fab Four, with five number one albums behind them, were currently basking in the high noon of their creative prime, Elvis had spent the past half-decade squandering his prodigious talents on awful movies and now, at only thirty, looked to be in permanent eclipse. And so, having taken a seat beside a sun-bronzed Elvis on the sofa—where, like any other night, he was simultaneously watching TV with the sound off and listening to music—John, Paul, George, and Ringo suddenly found themselves with nothing to say. “If you guys are just gonna sit there and stare at me,” said Presley at last, “I’m goin’ to bed…I didn’t mean for this to be like the subjects calling on the King.” The evening seemed to turn a corner, though, when Elvis proposed a jam session and summoned the guitars. “This beats talking, doesn’t it?” said John Lennon, once the music was underway and it seemed as though they would get along after all. Later, however, Lennon began to press Elvis on why he’d abandoned rock ’n’ roll for Hollywood. The star of Tickle Me and Kissin’ Cousins bragged defensively: “I’m making movies at a million bucks a time and one of ’em—I won’t say which one—took only fifteen days to complete.” “Well, we’ve got an hour to spare now,” replied Lennon, unable to help himself. “Let’s make an epic together.”