:: Criticism archive ( click for articles pre-2006)

Return of the Why: A review of Sophie Hannah’s The Telling Error published 26/06/2014

There is an endless audience for this kind of murder. There is even a crime subgenre, ‘cosy crime’, defined by Waterstone’s as ‘exactly as it sounds, cosy, relatively gentle and always satisfying.’ No other genre puts as much emphasis on the experience of the reader. George Orwell described the ideal condition: ‘Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder.’ Are you sleeping comfortably? Let us peruse the shattering of other lives.

Max Dunbar reviews Sophie Hannah’s The Telling Error.

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now we are all angry published 16/06/2014

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In the UK, the mantle of urban guerilla was taken up by a group who called themselves the Angry Brigade – the subject of Carr’s considerate and in-depth account, which describes the group’s history from genesis to conviction. It is a journey that follows the protagonists from their radicalization and rejection of society’s values, through the wild underworld of freedom fighters and libertarian politics, to their eventual entrapment and prosecution by the law. Part-history, part-noir detective story, the reader can hardly help but hold their breath as the story relentlessly progresses to its inevitable climax.

Gyorgy Furiosa on Gordon Carr‘s account of the Angry Brigade.

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Knausgaard: norse dwarf, norse god published 25/05/2014

He conjures up an immense solipsistic myth of fears and furies, monsters and agonies, a perpetual fury against a realisation that death is his fate and that his life, each viciously wounded and maimed moment of it, from childhood to the present, is precariously hovering at the brink of a terrifying emptiness, a meaningless hole into which everything is falling. In a state of panic he rages against this and chases a world through improvised language written down at speed that runs out towards the primitive vivacity of his own subjectivity. It is against erasure that he casts his spells and as he does so he becomes both terrifically powerful and knowledgeable and at the same time small and ugly and strange. Who wouldn’t want to read this?

Richard Marshall on Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

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Kinks and Quirks published 18/05/2014

When you first learn of her desire for suffering, it seems to be caused by her numbness, the only way out of which, for her, is to experience physical pain. She goes down this route, first self-inflicting it, then resorting to the help of others. Things swiftly progress from clothes pegs to nipple clamps, with a nail torn off in between, and then to a dominatrix’s whip. It appears that Cora is, after all, able to feel things: she usually needs a fix after realising she has failed on all fronts, or when overcome by anger towards her family. The numbness is still occasionally mentioned, although its significance is somewhat diluted by emotions raging inside. Perhaps this is what happens when you are deeply troubled; reading about other people’s conditions is a bit like listening to their dreams: to be able to interpret them you need a degree.

Anna Aslanyan reviews Heidi James‘s Wounding.

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Buildings Must Die published 03/05/2014

Zizek writes: ‘The feeling for the inert has a special significance in our age, in which the obverse of the capitalist drive to produce ever more new objects is a growing mountain of useless waste, used cars, out-of-date computers, etc, like the famous resting place for an old aircraft in the Mojave desert. In these piles of stuff, one can perceive the capitalist drive at rest.’

Richard Marshall reviews Stephen Cairns’s and Jane M. Jacobs’s Buildings Must Die. A Perverse View of Architecture.

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Another day, another dollar published 02/05/2014

A good rule for good literature might be this: that the best writing is that which renders the inconsequential with the greatest consequence—since what else would be more worthy of merit? This logic appears to find its apotheosis in Gustave Flaubert’s striving to create an aesthetics of “nothing” (after all, “the finest books are those which have the least subject matter.”) That this impulse is not only perceivable through an investigation of the question of time, but that time itself (as both an experience and concept) structures this very impulse from the beginning, is precisely what Michael Sayeau sets out to prove.

Marc Farrant reviews Michael Sayeau‘s Against the Event.

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Types of Silence published 30/04/2014

The silence of forgotten shrines. The silence of open manholes. The silence of a perfectly turned epigram. The silence of a ball aloft in the air. The silence under stars. The silence outside a raucous bar. The silence in the movement of an electron. The silence an astronaut must hear if he lets himself hear outer space.

Jeffrey Zuckerman reviews Jenny Offill‘s Dept. of Speculation.

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The Numb Also Rises published 27/04/2014

On arrival in Buenos Aires, Brown’s relationship to narrative momentum, never secure to begin with, collapses completely. The city itself is well described, but nothing actually happens. The reader has time to notice My Biggest Lie‘s multiple flaws as a book. The banal, mannered cod-philosophy:’Knowing how to dress themselves is one of the reasons why women are indubitably, objectively, more attractive than men, whatever one’s sexual preference’. The clunking dialogue: ‘It is one of the most popular deviancy among young women: their attraction to old men’. The zero-dimensional characters: Brown’s women are interchangeable add-ons — even the ex who his narrator mourns is barely a cipher. The publicity material compares this stuff to Philip Roth. Surely Lord Leveson should set guidelines down about such comparisons. Put it this way: if Russell Brand ever gets round to writing a literary novel, it will be like My Biggest Lie. Brown makes taking drugs sound boring.

Max Dunbar reviews Luke Brown‘s My Biggest Lie.

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The Register of Candied Decay published 10/04/2014

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These three books have much in common. Each can be read through the lens of the parapornographic, and, each is voiced in Glenum’s ‘register of candied decay’. This register, which infects Pop Corpse, is also at the heart of Fatty XL’s desire to eat only ‘one nutrilett bar a day’ so she can lose weight. Bad, diet food is the ultimate horror here – predicated on an industry which sells addictive chemical junk in the place of real food. The excess and decadence in The Parapornographic Manifesto also takes place in this candied decay—the ultimacy of luxury is discovered equally in recreational murder and the pistils of a flower.

Laura Joyce reviews works by Carl-Michael Edenborg, Tytti Heikkinen and Lara Glenum.

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losers published 29/03/2014

How should we read? In circumstances where disasters are daily presented like a statement of accounts then the recommendation to read inattentively has appeal. Of course when Beckett did make the recommendation he read Proust as a writer on the prowl for laws and Kafka plain alarming. ‘Nothing is sure but emptiness and error,’ writes Beckett, ‘ … nothing but this idiotic race that every man seems condemned to engage in for no gain and which seems rather, as in Kafka, to be the effect of some divine curse.’ Readers crawl over their pages like across a burning globe, and our futile wheels turn in dying fires.

Richard Marshall reviews Brittain-Catlin’s Bleak Houses.

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