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This report is taken from PN Review 171, Volume 33 Number 1, September - October 2006.

Henry James and Cabbages Neil Powell

 I read a good deal of James Shapiro's justly admired 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare one sunny May morning, sitting on Lowestoft beach. This was a strange place to be reading it, or anything at all, really. But I'd taken my car in for a service at the large and expensive VW garage by the roundabout at Pakefield and walked, as I usually do, the two or three miles into Lowestoft along the seafront path. Both Pakefield roundabout and Lowestoft town centre are among the unloveliest places in England, yet the stretch in-between – jumbly suburbia, surprising little greens, tall cliffs and a path that snakes eventually along to the spotlessly clean South Beach, where a gang of decorators were repainting beach-huts in a sequence of brisk primary colours – is always interesting. In the rather downmarket Ottakars (Wottakars? Swottakars?), they were doing a stock-take and half the books were lying on their sides, as if they'd died. Shapiro, however, was jauntily face-out and in multiple copies, a bit ambitiously for Lowestoft, I thought; the least I could do was to buy one. I walked back, past the varyingly prosperous seafront hotels, desperately manic gift-shops and unamusing amusements, until I found a clean and quite comfortable bench; later on, I dived into a nicely shabby old pub for a decent pint and some lunch before heading back to the garage. It was better for me, and for the environment, than driving a courtesy car ...


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