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This review is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.

UNELFISH FRANK KERMODE , Pleasing Myself (Allen Lane: The Penguin Press) £20

Frank Kermode is a lucky man. Without, or so it seems, particularly trying (for he has, after all, enjoyed a distinguished career as professor and academic author), he some years ago became one of very few literary reviewers who can regularly land both kinds of plum assignments - books which are obviously right for him as well as books which are quite wonderfully wrong for him. Moreover, he has the luxury of writing for that most generous of periodicals when it comes to dispensing space, the London Review of Books. And, as if that isn't enough, his assorted pieces are here gathered into a themeless book, of the sort that none but the tiniest subsidised house (on a good day) will take on, by a major commercial publisher. In hardback, too, and with elegantly spacious setting. He'd better be worth it. He is.

Pleasing Myself is subtitled 'From Beowulf to Philip Roth' but, unlikely as it may seem, this proves to be insufficiently inclusive. There are, for instance, pieces on the sexuality of Christ (in which Kermode discovers, among other oddities, a bowdlerised watermark), on the search for a perfect language (Umberto Eco, we're told, 'is polymathic to an extent most will regard as practically inhuman'), and on the meaning of money. Kermode is, or so he affects, pretty clueless about money - leftish disapproval and academic disdain playing their expected parts - and consequently he turns out to be the ideal reviewer for a book about ...

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