Thorpe, Adam 1956–

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Thorpe, Adam 1956–

PERSONAL: Born December 5, 1956, in Paris, France; son of Bernard Naylor and Sheila Thorpe; married Joanna Wistreich (a teacher), November 23, 1985; children: Joshua, Sacha, Anastasia. Education: Magdalen College, Oxford, B.A. (with honors; first class), 1979; studied mime/physical theatre at Desmond Jones School of Mime, London, 1982–83.

ADDRESSES: Home—France. Agent—A.M. Heath Ltd., 79 St. Martin's Ln., London WC2N 4AA, England.

CAREER: Writer, novelist, poet, short-story writer, and playwright. Cofounder of and actor with Equinox Theatre, 1980–86; teacher of mime at East London College, England, 1983–87; Polytechnic of Central London, London, lecturer in English, 1987–90; full time writer, 1990–. Cofounder of Newbury Campaign against Cruise Missiles.

AWARDS, HONORS: Eric Gregory Award, 1985; Whitbread Prize for Poetry finalist, 1988, for Mornings in the Baltic; Winifred Holtby Prize, best regional novel, 1992, for Ulverton.



Mornings in the Baltic, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1988.

Meeting Montaigne, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1990.

From the Neanderthal, J. Cape (London, England), 1999.


Ulverton (novel as linked stories), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1992, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.

Still, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1995.

Pieces of Light, J. Cape (London, England), 1998, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1999.

Nineteen Twenty-One, J. Cape (London, England), 2001.

No Telling, J. Cape (London, England), 2003.

Nine Lessons from the Dark, J. Cape (London, England), 2003.

The Rules of Perspective, J. Cape (London, England), 2005, H. Holt (New York, NY), 2006.


Shifts, J. Cape (London, England), 2000.

Is This the Way You Said?, J. Cape (London, England), 2006.


Just Not Cricket, first broadcast by BBC-Radio (London, England), 1988.

The Fen Story, first broadcast by BBC-Radio, 1991.

Offa's Daughter, first broadcast by BBC-Radio, 1993.


Couch Grass and Ribbon, produced at Watermill Theatre, Berkshire, 1996.

Contributor to anthologies, including New Chatto Poets, Chatto & Windus, 1986; The Gregory Poems, 1985–86, Penguin, 1986; and Neighbours, Peterloo, 1988. Observer, London, poetry critic, 1990–96; Poetry Review, regular contributor.

SIDELIGHTS: Adam Thorpe began writing and publishing as a poet. His first novel, Ulverton, had its origins in a story he composed in 1986. Although he conceived the idea for the novel at that time, he abandoned it for several years before embarking on the project. Ulverton, which appeared in 1992, takes both its title and its starting point from a fictional English town on the chalk downland of the Berkshire/Wiltshire area. The book consists of twelve chapters that chronologically trace the growth of Ulverton from its existence as a rural village in the seventeenth century up to 1988. The chapters concern themselves with different characters, events, and stories, and are written in styles and voices reflecting the periods in which they take place, the connecting link being the changing face of Ulverton over the centuries. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented: "Thorpe's attempt to portray a changing England solely through changing literary conventions is more than admirable. However, it is sometimes less than readable." However, in a detailed analysis of Ulverton in the New Republic, praising among other things the book's depth, humanity, and restraint, Marc Robinson concluded: "Thorpe is able to make crystalline music out of the English language, but it is the silences and gasps and lurching missteps in his prose that make Ulverton such a searching and always tactful novel."

The protagonist and narrator of Thorpe's second novel, Still, is a British film director named Ricky, who is living in Houston, Texas. He teaches film to college students whom he sees as far below his artistic level. His 600-page monologue not only relates his current predicament, but ranges over his past and also describes his plans for the future, including the details of a grandiose movie he hopes to make. The book dramati-cally divided the critics: it was "the interminable ravings of a complete bore," according to a reviewer for New Statesman, while John Fowles in the Spectator found it "a rich and allusive book," comparing its "gusto of language" to Ulysses and its "quirky humour" to Tristam Shandy. "If you want to claim that you have lived through this century," Fowles concluded, "here is your book." While David Robson in the Sunday Telegraph reckoned it a "reader's nightmare," Literary Review critic Hal Jensen found it "a much-needed reminder that the novel still offers possibilities which have barely been glanced at after more than three hundred years of practice."

Reviewing Thorpe's novel titled Pieces of Light, a Publishers Weekly reviewer stated: "Thorpe's accomplished novel begins with a beautifully sustained evocation of a childhood in the Cameroons, circa 1925." Readers are first introduced to the book's central character, Hugh Arkwright, when he is only seven and growing up in equatorial Africa, where his father, a World War I veteran, is stationed. Hugh's mother, according to the reviewer, is portrayed as "a jazz-age flapper." Hugh is shortly sent away to school in England, where he spends his holidays in Ulverton with his strange Uncle Edward, who is something of a celebrity in occult circles. After Hugh's mother is reported missing in the jungle, the novel skips ahead nearly seven decades to the present and takes an epistolary form. Hugh, now in his seventies, is composing letters to his long-lost mother. The letters discuss Hugh's life as a theater director, and also the loss of his one true love, Rachael, a woman who married his Uncle Edward. The plot grows more complex when Rachael and Edward die and Hugh returns to Ulverton, where he uncovers evidence that his mother's life might not have ended in Africa, and becomes more complex still when a man is found murdered on Hugh's property and he becomes the prime suspect. The Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked: "Thorpe's intensely evocative prose, and his poetic imagination, create a mesmerizing narrative."

Shifts, Thorpe's first volume of short stories, takes work as its linking thread. The characters range from a tire mechanic in wartime France to a sawmill manager in colonial West Africa. The job and life are seen as inseparable. Daniel Johnson in the Daily Telegraph found Shifts "no less virtuosic than the three novels with which [Thorpe] established a reputation of experimental brilliance in the 1990s," while Jane Shilling in the London Times praised its "subtle imagination and … intensity of empathy."

Is This the Way You Said?, Thorpe's next short-story collection, is a "brilliant series of observations of a whole range of menopausal, or pre-menopausal men," commented John Burnside in the London Guardian. The characters in Thorpe's fifteen stories pursue the outward symbols of success—the cars, the houses, the jobs—even as they struggle against the soul-numbing banality accompanying such pursuits. In "Dead Bolt," security specialist Duncan finds himself dominated by his business partner, sexually frustrated at home, and finally cognizant of the fact that the status-symbol house he had bought was beyond his means. In another story, a corporate worker is harassed into working late rather than heading home to be with his wife and premature baby. In another, a psychologically fragile timpanist suffers scorn and insult from his wife. In the book's title story, which begins with the tragic drowning death of a child, ends with further tragedy after a young novelist meets with his editor. Alexander Larman, writing in New Statesman, called Thorpe's prose "lucid and inventive," and noted that his characters are "deftly portrayed" throughout the range of his stories. "Full of humor and warmth, this is an impressive, at times brilliant, work," concluded Larman. Burnside noted that "what raises both story and collection to the highest level is the combination of Thorpe's extraordinarily keen ear, sharp humor, and a remarkable, direct prose" style.



Daily Telegraph, January 22, 2000, Daniel Johnson, review of Shifts.

Guardian (London, England), June 10, 2006, John Burnside, "Man on the Verge," review of Is This the Way You Said?

Literary Review, April, 1995, Hal Jensen, review of Still, p. 22.

New Republic, April 26, 1993, Marc Robinson, review of Ulverton, p. 42.

New Statesman, April 21, 1995, Laurence O'Toole, review of Still, p. 36; July 10, 2006, Alexander Larman, "Human Behaviour," review of Is This the Way You Said?, p. 59.

Publishers Weekly, September 28, 1992, review of Ulverton, p. 66; November 1, 1999, review of Pieces of Light, p. 73.

Spectator, April 29, 1995, John Fowles, review of Still, p. 40.

Sunday Telegraph, April, 1995, David Robson, review of Still.

Times (London, England), January 22, 2000, Jane Shilling, review of Shifts.