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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

UNCLASSIFIED Idris Parry, Speak Silence (Carcanet) £16.95

For the British Library classification this book is described as "Critical Studies. Fiction in European languages circa 1820-1978". Not only is the "circa" a very rough one here, when one piece is mainly about Winckelmann's writings on ancient art of the mid-eighteenth century - writings never previously classified as "fiction", for that matter - another about Rudolf Raspe's Baron Munchausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns, published in 1786, and even Goethe's Werther goes back to 1774; but the single word "essays" comes much closer to being an accurate description of the contents. That this description is no longer admissible for the purposes of classification points to the demise of a kind of writing very much part of English and European literature for some four hundred years. It also points to Idris Parry's defiance of that state of affairs and his distinction, as a writer of something other than "critical studies".

This something comes closer to being essays than anything else, because Parry's collection is held together not by the consistency of his subject matter but by the consistency of his manner and his concerns. Few of his prose pieces are confined to a single author or to a single work. It is in their nature to leap from one period to another, one national literature to another, one literary genre to another, with a marked preference for works that are suigeneris If they fall short of the essentially peripatetic freedom of the essay - a ...

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