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This article is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

Indices Andrew Hadfield
Dennis Duncan, Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure (Penguin) £20

I usually find reviewers who start off a review by writing about themselves insufferable and rarely get beyond the first paragraph. I am afraid, however, that Dennis Duncan’s book has inspired me to indulge in a series of rather self-regarding reflections. Although there are many superficial differences between types of writers, in the final analysis there are fundamentally two sorts of authors: those who like doing indices and those who do not. The former group are decent and diligent souls who spend hours worrying that they have probably left out a stray reference to ‘London’ on p.27; that they may have not quite developed the proper range of pages dealing with an inchoate conceptual category such as ‘Woolf, Virginia, thoughts about the future’, and need to go back and include some earlier references, or even rethink the nature of divisions and sub-divisions in the draft index (‘Woolf, Virginia, projections? fears?); and they know that they will often wake up at night miserable and filled with self-loathing because their own haste and carelessness has deformed their otherwise lovely creation. The latter group simply find the index a bore and pay someone else to do it: in universities they send in unreasonable and selfish applications for vast sums to research committees then complain pompously that they are too important to have to waste their time on such trivia when the Rottweilers who have overseen the application turn their request down.

Reader, I confess, ...

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