3:AM Magazine is delighted to announce the appointment of Eley Williams as co-editor for fiction. Eley is a former recipient of the Christopher Tower poetry prize, and has twice been shortlisted for The White Review Story Prize. Her work has been published in The White Review, Ambit and Night and Day journals, as well as at 3:AM Magazine. She has a chapbook ‘Sketch’ available from Annexe. She is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. She lives and works in London.
-Joanna Walsh, Fiction Editor
For a limited time, 3:AM is pleased to welcome submissions of fiction and prose for online publication.
The editors share a particular interest in writing that is linguistically and formally experimental. We value the bold, the considered and the deft.
The window for submissions begins today 9th February 2016 and will remain open for five weeks: the closing date for submissions is 15th March 2016 (GMT). Any work sent after midnight on this date will unfortunately not be considered.
Please find a list of guidelines as per the submissions process below. We look forward to reading your work.
— Eley Williams, Fiction Co-Editor.
If we go back to Beckett, or to various bits by Thomas Bernhard, these examples seem to represent an exception. One wants to find the new. And, in finding it, do everything one can to fight for it. There was a time when I was far more bellicose than I am now. I loved getting on panels and saying, ‘Well, piss on you all: if you haven’t read a Raymond Carver story, you haven’t read the best thing in short fiction’. They’d say, ‘Raymond who? Raymond what?’ Now, to be sure, I wrote those stories. But they dismissed Carver. They only came around to him when he was officially approved, by the New York Times and so on. No one’s approving Jason Schwartz, I can assure you. And we know why. A Carver story is teachable. You can put it in front of a class of high school kids, and they’ll get it. Not so with Schwartz. He presents certain problems. These arise doubtless out of his being smarter, and being concerned with telling the truth – his truth, uniquely.
I want people who can make magic. That’s what the job at hand is. To take the elements of the language, to take these tarnished and exhausted entities, and to cause them to move in a way they’ve never moved otherwise. To imbue them with movement through the particular imposition of one’s will, one’s desire. To say, ‘Can I make it do that? Can I make it do that?’ When I’m reading, I want to be swept away; I want to feel that I have seen what I would otherwise never have seen. I want to be made to say, ‘I must change my life’. The New Yorker recently ran a really vicious piece about my classes, distorting my idea of ‘seduction’. Needless to say, I wasn’t talking about sex. What I meant was that art should lead people away from being-in-the-world by conventional means.
Tom Jenks, Spruce (Blarts Books)
One of most overlooked poets in the UK, doing the work conceptualism should be doing, getting to the heart of uniquely British ennui through splicing methodology and jet black humour.
Sandeep Parmar, Eidolon (Shearsman Books)
High modernism powerfully maintained and redeployed by one of the most interesting poets crossing the American / UK scene.
Tom Chivers, Dark Islands (Test Centre)
One of the clearest voices in British poetry in his finest work to date, beautiful rendered, written and designed.
Emma Hammond, The Story of No (Penned in the Margins)
Powerful for it’s immediacy, incredibly sophisticated for it’s lack of pretension in the face of profoundly personal poetry. Amazing book.
Christodoulos Makris, The Architecture of Chance (wurm press)
This is the future of a poetry which reflects our world of language without dispensing with the expressionistic skill of interpreting that language. Found text lies with lyrical poetry, a thorough achievement to balance them to such effect.
Clever, resonant and profound, as all of Peter Jaeger’s works are, a fine example of the possibilities of contextual, process-orientated thinking getting to the heart of contemporary poetry.
Brilliant collaborative poetry collection (of which there are far too few) taking on a necessary issue in necessarily disjunctive ways.
Michael Thomas Taren, Eunuchs (Ugly Duckling Presse)
Best possible example of what is possible in contemporary American poetics of my generation. Excessive, authentic, ambitious.
Rebecca Perry, Beauty/Beauty (Bloodaxe Books)
Reflective and observational in the most well conceived way, a clear poetic experience as a book, it accumulates and resonates as a collection.
Lee Harwood, The Orchid Boat (Enitharmon Press)
The last work by one of the most interesting poets in the English language in the latter half of the 20th century, a typically beautiful book.
I’ve got a problem with best-book-of-the-year lists. I can’t really articulate what that problem is – they’re egotistical? it’s not the end of the year yet? I’m doubtful anybody cares? that they seem to somehow dovetail into the frenzy of Christmas? Whatever it is, they fill me with a general discomfort. So in compiling my list I thought: why not give that discomfort an even deeper skewering? Listed below are the books that are my most memorable from the year. Incidentally, they’d all likely make my best books list anyway (with a few others: Pond by Claire Louise-Bennett comes to mind, Hotel Andromeda by Gabriel Josipovici, Cassandra by Christa Wolf etc.), so maybe I’m sort of cheating.
On, then, to memorability: I read the sequels to The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf this year and think about them often enough. About how Kristóf totally upended the first and how brave I thought that was, but mainly about how shocked I was by the difference in tone and narrative style. So why aren’t they on the list? I wish I hadn’t read them at all. That’s not why they’re not on the list, but I hope it goes some way in explaining why the books below are. Wishing I hadn’t read them is a personal response, and Kristóf’s books are memorable, but their memorability is not, in this instance, linked to the personal; their prominence in their intersection with my life is negligible. When it comes to these lists I find myself more interested in reasons why. Reading, it hardly needs to be said, is a personal act. Maybe, ironically, most of these best books lists strike me as impersonal. Here are the books that have stayed with me – and, maybe, why.
— Tristan Foster is a senior editor at 3:AM.
My books of the year, all published in 2015, and in no particular order…
Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond (Stinging Fly/Fitzcarraldo)
Words build spaces for living in Bennett’s genre-defying meditation on creating and practicing a solitary life in rural Ireland.
Gavin Corbett, Green Glowing Skull (4th Estate)
An ecstatically energetic, linguistically inventive, moving, and very funny novel of strange bodies, Hibernian nostalgia, love, and New York.
Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women (Ahsahta Press)
The poet’s essential lyric essay on surviving as an artist and a mother in contemporary America.
Marlene van Niekerk, The Swan Whisperer (Cahier/Sylph Editions)
A couple of unreliable narrators inhabit an unreliable format (is it a lecture, a story an epistolatory novel?) in this slim, gorgeously-produced pamphlet, by the Man Booker International Prize-nominated South African author.
Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Harvard University Press)
Ngai nails the affective categories that define what we really care about, and how.
Clarice Lispector, The Collected Stories, trans. Katrina Dodson (New Directions)
A vital new and complete translation of the stories of the giant of 20th century Brazilian literature.
Bae Suah, Nowhere to Be Found, trans. Sora Kim-Russell (Amazon Crossing)
A bitter slip of Korean Nouveau Roman that plays with the difficulties of coherent identity in an atmosphere of repressed violence.
Kathy Acker & McKenzie Wark, I’m Very Into You (Semiotext(e))
An intoxicating, sexually and intellectually stimulating correspondence between the two writers.
Gregory Howard, Hospice (University of Alabama Press)
Using the tropes of fairy tale and horror movies, Howard creates a delightfully uneasy narrative floor that shifts and collapses like a fairground haunted house.
Susana Medina, Philosophical Toys (The Dalkey Archive Press)
Medina’s Nina, a philosopher in high heels, takes a playful and invigorating re-evalutative tour of Freud, Buñuel, sex, and sex objects.
I consumed books in two very different modes in 2015; the tension between the two shaped my reading year in a number of ways. As a critic adhering to a review schedule, much of my reading was necessarily driven by a need for angles and fertile connections, the controlled epiphanies of interpretation. There is certainly pleasure in treating a book this way, as an engine of discrete meaning awaiting articulation; however, when not on assignment, I experienced a kind of wanton gratification in striking out into literature’s fecund jungle without map, compass, or specific motivation. I followed trails of intuition that proved mainly worthwhile, explored recommendations, dove into the silver sheen of the past, re-reading Woolf and Lawrence and Lowry, their supple familiarity never less than revelatory. I devoured almost all of Gass, again. I read poetry and criticism and the letters of Conrad Aiken. It was either buttoned-up or a delicious blur. Perhaps I can better blend the two reading styles in 2016; though, for whatever it’s worth, the binary created my favorite reading year in recent memory.
Likely my favorite book of the year, Black Sparrow’s reissue of Testimony ensures this Objectivist masterwork will finally receive the praise and readership it deserves (glowing reviews in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books certainly aren’t hurting either). Spare, haunting, plainspoken poems drawn from decades of court records depict a broken, enervated America, one in which a concentrated aesthetic witnessing—the titular testimony itself—becomes a profoundly moral act.
James Salter, Light Years (Vintage)
James Salter’s Light Years—impossibly beautiful, virtually unimprovable—bears frequent returns, as a kind of life-giving water when the reading consciousness becomes arid. This is the work of a master prose stylist, one whose exquisite depictions of the drift and decay of marriage remain somehow both sumptuous and vigorous, a structure made of song and steel. Not since To the Lighthouse has time, in its rich melancholy and prismatic joy, been summoned to greater effect.
Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories, trans. Katrina Dodson (New Directions)
There was a definite “Lispector Moment” experienced in 2015—and lucky us readers. New Directions’ release of her complete stories was perhaps the literary event of the year, a gathering of attention for one of the great (and scandalously underread) geniuses of modern letters. Lispector’s work exhilarates and arrests in its unruly beauty, insisting convincingly that there is a porousness between the metaphysical and the mundane. “Coherence is mutilation,” one of her characters thinks. “I want disorder.” After spending time with her stories, you, too, will be duly seduced. A gorgeous, exhausting, sui generis collection.
Susan Howe, The Quarry (New Directions)
Enamored of historical minutiae, inhabitor of dusty university archives, Howe’s rigorous, probing essays unfurl like unreasonably gorgeous microfilms, granting voice and contour to lives and objects obscured by national (and personal) history. If she appears preoccupied with specificity—what she calls “the nature of a particular”—her essays are nonetheless underpinned by both formal restlessness and lyrical ambiguity. The end result is something of a photographic negative: history refreshed and personalized by virtue of its own estrangement.
Mark Greif, The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-1973 (Princeton University Press)
The first book of literary criticism I read in 2015 also turned out to be the freshest and fiercest. In a sprawling, erudite study, Greif delivers a rich and idea-intensive prehistory of our fraught contemporary moment as viewed through the prism of midcentury American intellectual history. Greif proves especially, even thrillingly, able as a cartographer of the generative nature of crisis discourse, particularly in his lethally intelligent literary criticism; the chapters on the fiction of Thomas Pynchon and Flannery O’Connor alone are worth the price of admission.
John Williams, Stoner (NYRB Classics)
The farthest thing from a hip outré pick, John Williams’ quiet masterpiece commanded a surprising number of thinkpieces and counter-thinkpieces within the literary internet—a fascinating development, particularly for a book that simply follows the daily routines of a reserved college professor, from dirt-farm childhood to fading expiration. But what a life is contained in these humble pages! With anatomical precision, Williams constructs a novel that channels the violet-gray sadness of day to day existence, its small victories and long disappointments. In William Stoner we are reminded that one of the dimensions of heroism is dignity, the ability to endure apace with the elemental cruelty mere living promises.
Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories (Oxford)
Virginia Woolf wrote of Mansfield “I feel a common certain understanding between us—a queer sense of being ‘like’.” They are usefully read side by side, I think; yet whereas Woolf mastered the voice of time’s ineffable rhythm, Mansfield seems to me better able to aestheticize the sexual and social tensions of her age. She could be as lyrical as Woolf, but also urgent and earthy. Unfairly put aside due in part to her preference for the short story form, this collection places her squarely in the company of the modernist masters.
Max Blecher, Adventures in Immediate Irreality, trans. Michael Henry Heim (New Directions)
In her beautiful introduction, Gretta Muller locates the pleasure of Blecher’s shimmering prose in the dialectic between substance and ornament, word and thing: “the eroticism that lurks in every ordinary object, waiting to ensnare a person.” That eroticism of perception gleams on every page of this sleekly liquid work, the poetry of seething matter itself.
Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Chekhovian in pacing and structure, Berlin’s work possesses the grace of specificity. These forty-three stories create a kind of rangy diorama of poise and catastrophe, presented in a prose of lyrical economy that one can (and will) obsess over. An astoundingly assured collection to be read and read again.
Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography (Belknap Press)
An ambitious marvel of sustained love and attention, Schmidt’s The Novel: A Biography traces the history of the form without ever dipping into stale chronology; rather, this large, warm study mixes astute criticism and colorful anecdotes with the erudition of a literary historian. One reads Schmidt with confidence, leaping assuredly from the epistolary to the postmodern, secure in the intellect and ability of one’s guide. In prose that is never less than elegant, The Novel (at a towering 1200 pages) makes a strong case for being the definitive study of a cherished literary form.
— Dustin Illingworth is a contributing editor at 3:AM.
As always, I wish I could have read more in 2015. That said, it is still hard to cut down to only 10 titles. It needs to be done, though — people love lists. Here is mine, in no particular order.
Michel Mourre, In Spite of Blasphemy (John Lehmann)
A remainder from last year’s summer reading list, In Spite of… is an autobiography that deals with the aftermath of the infamous Notre-Dame affair, and beyond. An interesting and odd book about the prehistory of the Situationist International.
Susana Medina, Philosophical Toys (Dalkey Archive Press)
A witty, funny, and sensual novel, with an unlikely balance of fetishism and philosophical rumination. Medina is one of the most remarkable contemporary writers in London.
Nicolás Mavrakis, El recurso humano (Milena Caserola)
Sadly not translated into English, yet, El recurso… imagines a near future where marketing succeeds in taking over every single aspect of our lives. A dark and funny book from a talented Argentine writer and critic.
Jean Cocteau, The Holy Terrors, trans. Rosamond Lehmann (New Directions)
A strange and slightly disturbing story about a brother and sister living in a fantasy world. Imagine The Cement Garden but by a writer with a sense of humour. This translation has been praised many times, with reason.
Michel Houellebecq, Soumission (Flammarion)
A highly problematic but challenging and well-crafted read, from one of Europe’s most acerbic pens. Undoubtedly reactionary, Soumission also posits very pertinent questions about the future of Europe and French Republicanism.
Darran Anderson, Imaginary Cities (Influx Press)
A fantastic journey through a constellation of ideas about that most familiar and yet alien of spaces, the city. If I believed in miracles I would call Imaginary Cities a miracle. Imagine a book with the wealth and depth of research of an academic monograph, but well-written.
Joachim Schlör, Nights in the Big City (Reaktion Books)
Nights in London, Berlin, and Paris, from 1840 to 1930. Schlör’s book traces the changes in the imaginaries of the city at night, in an engaging and well-researched way. Part of the sadly discontinued Topographics Collection. The good news is that it will be re-released by the publisher in 2016.
Stuart Braun, Berlin, City of Exiles (Noctua Press)
Another well-researched and well-written book, Berlin… explores the radical history of this city through a large parade of exiles, from all walks of life. A rare example of a city’s history recounted mostly through the histories of its immigrant population.
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (Penguin)
An exploration of images of suffering and death mainly through war photography, by one of the most brilliant writers to have dealt with the power of images.
Robert Sproat, Stunning the Punters (Faber)
Nine accented London stories by a very sensitive and witty writer. At times it is hard to determine whether the focus of these monologues is London life or language itself. Sadly a rare book and an obscure writer. Hopefully more people will read him.
– Fernando Sdrigotti is a contributing editor at 3:AM.
Top image: “Old book bindings” by Tom Murphy VII – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –
Steve Roggenbuck, LIVE MY LIEF (boost house)
Bust out a tab on the roof of your mouth, finger your belly button with a bump of brown sugar, crank up the looney tunes and purse open your eyes to a Ryan Trecartin video, and it may feel somewhat akin to the experience of reading Roggenbuck’s definitive poetry collection, LIVE MY LIEF. Many of us know Roggenbuck from his flamboyant youtube videos, immersing us into a paradoxical world in which it appears as if a tragico-comic poet first encounters the heights of a mad and dizzying existence, conflicted by the coercion of the modern subject into forms of contemporary representation along with an entrenched penchant to access the domain of the romantic amid such an ‘unromantic’ world. His written verse is no different, and the affinity with which Roggenbuck pairs his style with forms of modern communication is to be commended, often writing in tweet-like limericks and an ungrammaticality that Michael Riffaterre would no doubt applaud. Roggenbuck’s work is unpretentious and unassuming, relevant and authentic.
The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends (Semiotexte)
The Invisible Committee’s bracing polemic expands on the territorial parameters for the practices of dissidence and revolution in contemporary capitalism. The group’s determination of the epochal features of our time is broad, strategic, and informed by an erudite reading of matters such as the inter-subjectivity of networked control, the imperative to govern the horizons of apocalypse that overshadow our current aesthetic moment, the manifestation of power as a homogenous organism both fluid and flexible to the majoritarian economic agenda, and the historical difficulties of the left to mount an effective and practical opposition to such.
Sam Pink, Witch Piss (Lazy Fascist Press)
Pink’s writing is some of the most refreshing prose I have encountered in a long time. Witch Piss is colored in a Linian / Pynchonian shade, drawing on the flat world that the contemporary subject finds himself cocooned in, yet contracted to the spontaneous and extemporaneous encounters that the cornucopia of the Western metropolis proffers. The enduring sensation salvaged from the delicate yet liberating scenes that Pink animates for us, a master, as Pynchon was, of the ‘party’ setting, is that of the absurdity of contemporary experience and the humor to be mined from the mundaneness of quotidian interactions.
Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics (The Feminist Press)
Preciado’s indomitable document on the ‘pharmacopornographic regime’ is buttressed by a practical experiment in which, over a three-month period, she douses herself daily in Testogel. Preciado ruminates over a sexual politics as mediated by a biomolecular disturbance, reinforced by the agenda of a society bent on the dissemination of desire as articulated by the determination of the role of the gendered body in techno-capitalism.
François Laruelle, Intellectuals and Power (Polity)
In an wide-ranging interview with Pascale Petit, Laruelle pursues his ‘non-standard’ confrontation with the majoritarian fetisization of the ‘media-intellectual’, (as also explored in General Theory of Victims) in institutionalized academia, as well as the victimological relationship that the philosopher contracts him/herself to in abiding by the historical liaison between narrator and subject.
Nelson Algren, Nonconformity: Writing on Writing (Seven Stories Press)
In a characteristically antagonistic and, dare I say it, nihilistic crusade against the role of the writer in society, Algren reminds us why writing should above all be a veritable act of nonconformity against the domineering bastions of a socio-political regularity that attempts to extend their instruments of influence into the diegetic narratologies of the literary project.
Dan Duggan, Luxury of the Dispossessed (Influx Press)
Duggan’s debut poetry collection is a cut through to the bone of the modern poetic subject. As a former patient of the psychiatric institution, The Bethlehem Royal Hospital, Duggan’s verse, interspersed with sporadic furrows of illustration, charts his often melancholic and self-reflexive experiences in incarceration. Not only are we acquainted with the undercurrents of a chattering pathos that bequeath this tragic writer amid his captivity in an institution bent on the administration of judgment and control over its patients, but we are also witness to certain matchbox moments of delicacy and gentleness only ever shared between the disenfranchised and the dispossessed.
Francis Dupuis-Déri, Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs?: Anarchy in Action Around the World (PM Press)
To oft has the formation of the Black Bloc been considered as politically impoverished by the overassertive echelons of media and academia. Yet Dupuis-Déri’s defense of the strategy as a viable form of resistance is both convincing and eruditely researched, drawn from a capacious stock of first hand experiences. To advocate direct action in the form of property damage and vandalism is no easy feat in the age of a flaccid, pacifist neoliberal doctrine that secretes the social imperative to remain at all costs in control of one’s socio-judicial conduct, and Dupuis-Déri presents an impassioned cry to the dissident movements of today to consider applying the Black Bloc stratagem in seeking a viable and effective tactic against the citadels of corporate capital.
Peter Krapp, Noise Channels: Glitch and Error in Digital Culture (University of Minnesota Press)
A comprehensive spectrum of sources come under scrutiny in Peter Krapp’s examination of glitch-culture; disturbances and noisy interferences across systems of finance, communicative discourse, cybernetics, computational networks and digital spaces are those in which Krapp identifies as encompassing reserves of productivity and creativity. His research is impressively patterned and he adroitly expands on particular schools of thought within systems theory in heralding the indeterminacies and imbalances, the ‘mistakes’ of the ghost in the machine, which define and encompass the location of the human amid a hyper-technological epoch.
Maurizio Lazzarato, Governing by Debt (Semiotexte)
Lazzarato builds on previous assaults into the neoliberal / ordoliberal condition of western market economies in situating the ‘indebted man’ as subservient to the logics of crisis and fear as disseminated in cultural discourse. Governmentality in this instance is a practice predicated on the machinocentric individualism of the worker, who believes he is to bear the burden of the fiscal irresponsibility of the finance sector. As often with Lazzarato’s work, we become well acquainted with the subject-as-victim paradigm, an individual who is seized within the morass of a culture predisposed to the productive propensities of representation and control that serve a particular economic agenda.
– Sam Stolton is a contributing editor at 3:AM.
So my top reads of 2015 mostly represent “classics,” both in the canonical, hackneyed sense and in the noncanonical, lamentable sense: texts and authors that should be regarded as classics and yet which still remain under the radar. Interspersed with these, of course, are a couple of more contemporary texts, all of which—on a far from arbitrary, though alphabetical, list I whittled down from 25 brilliant books I read in 2015 to a mere 10—are literary gems and singular stylists, wholly deserving of the “classic” company they keep below.
Charlotte Brontë, Villette (Penguin)
The only re-read on this list, Villette is a book I read almost yearly, getting more out of it on each latest journey through. (I honestly couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read the novel by now; it’s probably something like twenty times.) Perhaps the most anti-Victorian of Victorian novels, as well as the one most leaning toward modernist techniques—starring what is likely the most bewildering, maddening, perplexing, and yet somehow empathic narrator in fiction, ever—Villette should be better known than Jane Eyre. Not only that, but it’s a novel that truly should be considered a necessary step toward literary modernism: little wonder George Eliot was so enamored of Villette, finding “something almost preternatural in its power”; no surprise that Virginia Woolf called it Brontë’s “finest novel.”
Kay Boyle, Year Before Last (Virago)
After finding Boyle’s work in 2014, and being so entranced by her prose in Three Short Novels that I picked it as a top read last year, I wanted to delve into her massive oeuvre as much as I could in 2015. Refusing to be stopped by the fact that her books are all out of print (a fucking shame that needs to be redressed now, please, indie publishers!), I devoured all the Boyle I could. It seems that the literary world this year has even caught a bit of of a Boyle bug, with The Scofield theming their second issue around her work, and I hope this spotlight on her continues to shine, ensnaring more readers who have yet to experience her fiction for the first time.
Despite what I wrote in The Scofield on Boyle’s novel Avalanche, I think Year Before Last might well be her finest; if not, it’s certainly her most stylistically innovative, placing her in the company of giants like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, both of whom she counted as friends during her expat years in Paris. Boyle’s work is always structurally innovative, but Year Before Last is a stylistic performance extraordinaire, spiraling ever further downward as her portrait of a parasitic husband and interdependent marriage (it strikes me now that I have several of these kinds of titles below: make of that what you will) reaches a denouement that will, in all seriousness, leave the reader gasping. If you don’t know Boyle’s work, do yourself a favor and scour used bookstores or your favorite online shops for secondhand copies of all her work, not just this novel—and read The Scofield’s second issue cover to cover as a Boyle primer, while you’re at it.
Danielle Dutton, S P R A W L (Siglio)
A kind of Mrs. Dalloway in objects, a kind of performance piece melding stream-of-consciousness with commentary on photographer Laura Letinsky’s domestic still lifes, and at times one of the most philosophical accounts of contemporary suburban American existence and the ever-trenchant fetters of gender roles, Dutton’s S P R A W L is a book a reader might read in one sitting, but it will resonate for days to come—if not longer. Dutton is already a promoter of women’s writing via Dorothy, a publishing project; however, while some of the writers whom Dorothy has published or reprinted—e.g., Nell Zink, Amina Cain, Barbara Comyns, and 3:AM’s own Joanna Walsh—have been receiving deserved praise, to my mind, Dutton’s own work has slipped past readers’ attentions. S P R A W L is that rare kind of book that will change one’s perception of what fiction can do, of what narrative can accomplish, and just how many voices make up one lone voice: it’s a celebration of the incessant interior chorus that is the examined, literary, artistic life.
Belén Gopegui, The Scale of Maps, trans. Mark Schafer (City Lights)
Another book that seems to have fallen under the radar, Gopegui’s debut novel is so impressive and unique that the translated literary world should be wringing their hands in impatient anticipation for her next work in English rather than not knowing her name. Any novel whose narrator begins by admitting that he’s lying is sure enough to get my attention, and The Scale of Maps—with its Borgesian/Nabokovian exploration of desire and place; loneliness and connection; and Sergio Prim’s attempt to “map the void” so that he and his lover can withstand it all—never disappoints. Gopegui’s prose moves seamlessly from philosophical diatribes to poetic passages that are infinitely quotable; Schafer’s translation is superb. A book for lovers, dreamers, readers, and those who are more than a little obsessed with maps.
Elizabeth Harrower, The Catherine Wheel (Text Publishing)
After James Wood’s 2014 assessment of Harrower’s work in The New Yorker, I set myself the task of reading several of her novels, all published by Text Publishing. The Catherine Wheel is perhaps her most atypical in that it takes place in London—all the others take place in her native Australia—but it, too, focuses on themes of central across Harrower’s work… themes that are harrowing indeed but told in what Wood rightfully calls Harrower’s “exquisite stylishness.” Increasingly claustrophobic, by turns an outsider’s view of 1950s London’s inhabitants and culture as well as an internally focused portrait of interdependency, The Catherine Wheel is a great starting point for those new to Harrower’s work, those readers who are unafraid to face the darker aspects of desire we’re sometimes too ashamed to acknowledge.
Betty Miller, On the Side of the Angels (Virago)
Another buried author, Betty Miller was an eye-opening discovery for me this year. On the Side of the Angels is one of the finest examinations of gender and war from early-twentieth century Britain, and it rightfully deserves to be placed alongside Rebecca West’s much better-known The Return of the Soldier, another consideration of these themes, albeit dealing with the previous World War. Miller examines two couples’ different reactions and responses to gendered expectations during wartime, resulting in a sly critique of masculinity and hero worship in the name of nationalism, with writing so effortlessly flowing that selecting even one quote out of context would do the rest of the novel a horrific injustice.
Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage (Virago)
I suppose I’m cheating a bit here since Pilgrimage is really 13 short novels, not one; but Pilgrimage is a sequence of novels in the same way that Marcel Proust’s Recherche is—indeed, Richardson began writing the first volume of Pilgrimage before Swann’s Way was published in 1913, even though it appeared after. And Richardson was grouped among such formative modernist writers like Proust and Joyce in her lifetime, garnering the respect of Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, William Carlos Williams, and others.
For those readers whose knowledge of modernist fiction begins with Joyce or Woolf, do yourselves a favor and read one of the most original works of modernist fiction—and, sadly, one that is out of print… although Oxford University Press will be bringing all the volumes of Pilgrimage back into print beginning in 2018. A sequence about protagonist Miriam Henderson’s experience of life, running the gamut from everything and nothing, from life and love and loss and the trappings yet simultaneous freedom of female identity, Richardson’s Pilgrimage is one of the first examples in English of innovative shifts in point of view, the use of interior monologues, the emphasis on fragments above all else. Pilgrimage should be all of our journeys, really; I guarantee if you begin with Pointed Roofs, the first volume, you will continue on your way through the rest of Miriam’s pilgrimage through life… likely long before Oxford has had a chance to bring the other volumes back into print.
Mercè Rodoreda, A Broken Mirror, trans. Josep Miquel Sobrer (Bison Books)
Because I lack the words to properly describe the experience of reading Rodoreda’s A Broken Mirror, I’ll leave it to Paul Kerschen to entice you, from his wonderful consideration of her work in The Quarterly Conversation:
“[A Broken Mirror is] constructed to look, at least in its beginning, like a nineteenth-century family chronicle. A marriage is made, an inheritance is secured, a house is founded, and then—the novel’s great surprise—nothing happens but life, and the slow transition into death. Along the way we pass all the components of melodrama: theft, adultery, concealed parentage, murder, the possibility of incest. The war too makes a background appearance. But the book is so determined not to assemble these elements into a consecutive plot that its effect is of a series of set pieces: serving girls bathing outdoors, the aged master straightening the spines in his library… Rodoreda has been master of her form for some time now, and the project of Mirall trencat [A Broken Mirror], like that of Lampedusa’s The Leopard, is the slow disassembly of the nineteenth century.”
Magda Szabó, The Door, trans. Len Rix (NYRB)
“Dogs and cats; intellectuals and domestics; gods and godlessness; fantasy and reality; privilege and strife; the younger and the older generations; what lies exposed and what lies hidden behind locked doors—Szabó’s The Door covers all of these elements, and then some. The ease with which she positions her narrator Magda and her mysterious housekeeper Emerence in opposition to one another speaks not only to intimacy among women, but also reflects on how knowledge can be shared (or suppressed) across generational, political, and social boundaries.”
This quote of mine sums up my thoughts on The Door, but please read my full review of it in Words without Borders wherein I attempt to analyze Szabó’s complex portrait of two very different woman, in a book that is much about the process of writing and storytelling as it is about gender, class, and generation gaps.
Elizabeth Taylor, A Wreath of Roses (Virago)
In Full Stop, I reviewed Taylor’s A View of the Harbour, recently reissued by NYRB Classics, attempting to situate it within the context of some of her other work. A Wreath of Roses, though, is without a doubt Taylor’s masterwork: a synthesis of art, longing, alienation, and the myriad ways we all try to forge connections with others across the many chasms that separate individuals. I would direct those new to Taylor’s work to my Full Stop piece for a more in-depth examination of her central themes than I can offer here; and, if you’re not only new to Taylor’s work, but her name is new to you: use 2016 to remedy that, please!
While A View of the Harbour might be a good starting place to see how Taylor takes other writers’ work—in this case, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse—as a germ for her own vision, a stepping stone as she treads off in another (sometimes more radical) direction entirely, A Wreath of Roses is her crowning achievement. A humane meditation on what it means to be human, on what it means to long, on what it means to want to leave pieces of oneself behind… in short, Wreath encompasses the whole of human experience in such a brief space that not only is Taylor’s vision on display, but so is her skill at the economy of language.
– K. Thomas Kahn is 3:AM‘s editorial director.
Brian Dillon and Esther Leslie on Walter Benjamin (podcast). * Walter Benjamin, our contemporary. * Claire-Louise Bennett in conversation with Brian Dillon. * My review of Claire-Louise Bennett‘s wonderful Pond for the Guardian. * Claire-Louise Bennett interviewed in The Skinny. * Lydia Davis reads from a work-in-progress, a fake autobiography (video). * Lydia Davis on one of her father’s stories. * “Fifty-Seven” by Rachel Kushner. (More here.) * Marina Warner on the history of the destruction of art. * The ageing of art. * An extract from an interview with Gordon Lish: “I saw in Carver’s pieces something I could fuck around with. There was a prospect there, certainly. The germ of the thing, in Ray’s stuff, was revealed in the catalogue of his experience. It had that promise in it, something I could fool with and make something new-seeming”. * On Marianne Moore. * Happy birthday Viv Albertine! (podcast). * Julien Temple‘s Punk Can Take It (video). * An excellent radio interview with Richard Cabut. * Tom Overton on John Berger. * Tom Overton on Josef Koudelka. * A brilliant, in-depth interview with Gabriel Josipovici by Victoria Best. * The first issue of Barthes Studies. * Roland Barthes at 100. * The Telegraph on Barthes. * Michael Wood, Penny Sparke, Nick James, Andrew Hussey, and yours truly on Roland Barthes (The Essay, BBC Radio 3). * The second issue of The Scofield is devoted to “Kay Boyle & Love“. * Max Porter on Little Atoms (Resonance FM). * Writing grief: an interview with Max Porter. * Kenneth Goldsmith interviewed: “I tell truths that people find disturbing, but I never do it to disturb people purposely”. * Jeremy Allen reports back from the Stade de France. * Andrew Hussey on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. * The Guardian and LRB on Le Bataclan. * Jeremy Harding on the New Normal. * Writers respond to the Paris attacks. * Joanna Walsh on gaps and surfaces. * Noy Holland on writing fiction: “Listen for the voice, I say, that escapes, and comes around behind you”. * Female writers and the anxiety of influence. * A beginner’s guide to Jean-Luc Godard. * Richard Hell. * Christopher Tayler reviews Tom McCarthy‘s Satin Island in the LRB. * Charlie Brown and Peanuts: “Certainly, Ibsen and Strindberg made a lot of sense to me as an adult because I was raised on Peanuts. Even now, if I look at Munch’s The Scream I can imagine what Charlie Brown would have looked like had he ever grown up – bald, wizened and existentially demented through worry. Just as well he never did grow up.” * Charles Schulz and loserdom. * Ezra Pound. * Will Self on why looks matter (audio), Bristol, the infamous Cereal Killer cafe, and the Trafford Centre. * Will Self and Hanif Kureishi on the suburban consciousness. * Snatch. * Bob Stanley on Jon Savage‘s 1966. * Jon Savage in conversation with David Hepworth (podcast). * Karl Ove Knausgaard: “All of a sudden, I understood that the people coming across the sea were not people in the plural, but in the singular”. * Knausgaard reviews Houellebecq‘s Submission. * Remembering Chris Marker. * A new Proust biography. * Carlo Mollino‘s Polaroids. * Geoff Dyer and others on the fine line between fact and fiction. * Writers who reveal all. * Richard Lea on the rise of the present tense in fiction. * The odyssey of the sentence. * Why you should read William H. Gass. * Tim Parks on a novel kind of conformity. * On Joan Didion. * The history of the pea-souper. * Tod Wodicka on Nice. * Punk revisionism at Mont-de-Marsan. * On bilingual people. * A 2003 interview with David Foster Wallace (video). * Lars Iyer on his Wittgenstein Jnr. * Shane MacGowan‘s new set of gnashers. * “Five Parties” by Ned Beauman. * TS Eliot and the sexual wasteland. * Zadie Smith on Dante‘s Inferno — a perfect rendition of nothing. * Rediscovering Bette Howland.