July 8, 2011 10:07 pm

Tretower to Clyro

Tretower to Clyro: Selected Essays, by Karl Miller, Quercus, RRP£20, 240 pages

A founding editor of the London Review of Books, Karl Miller has long been one of our foremost literary critics and this collection of essays – loosely arranged around the theme of place in contemporary British writing – is imbued with his usual eloquence and insight.

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When appraising a novel he always seems to find the right phrase (Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach is “a Kama Sutra of clumsiness and deferment”), and his bold comparisons shed light on familiar authors (as when he yokes Irvine Welsh with 19th-century poet James Hogg).

But Miller is worth reading for more than just his opinions of other people’s books; his criticism attains an artistic quality of its own. His prose is limber and aphoristic, and his essays take off in unexpected directions – a survey of pastoral fiction ends, delightfully, with a paean to the urban fox: “There they go, down my street of an evening ... a mere streak, grey on grey, a trick of the half-light.”

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