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

The map is not the territory published 26/12/2013

Critics of UE highlight the staunchly white, male and middle class demographic of what Garrett refers throughout as the ‘scene’. While Garrett’s own role as recent PhD researcher documenting it fits squarely in this bracket, the scene itself and the internet activity associated with it is without question bound entirely by one-upmanship and the fetishisation of photographic equipment (which join seamlessly in the ‘hero shot’ now associated with media reports of the groups’ activities e.g. masked solitary poses in sewer outfalls or on the ledge of tall buildings) and climbing kit, the book does little to dispel this.

Andrew Stevens reviews Bradley L. Garrett‘s Explore Everything: Place-hacking the City.

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Beyond Stonebridge Park published 21/12/2013

Keiller is often lumped into the psychogeography camp but here he reminds us that “the dérive is not an end in itself”, something often overlooked as urban walking has become synonymous with psychogeography as if it would merely be enough to go for a wander round the East End to shatter the Spectacle. He points out, “In London now, psychogeography leads not so much to avant-garde architecture as to gentrification”, and relates the way the Surrealists appropriated buildings and areas to the mechanics of modern property development as estate agents dream up new names and narratives for run-down districts to boost prices and draw in house-hunters looking for the new up-and-coming investment opportunity.

John Rogers reviews Patrick Keiller‘s The View from the Train.

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love and loss in ¾ time published 18/12/2013


In this novel, Trabal draws on modernism’s interest in psychological representations, surrealism’s delight in the unexpected, and a cinematic flair to tell the story of a young man’s sexual and romantic coming of age. Trabal’s comically incisive representation of middle-class society, combined with his unrelenting depiction of his 19-year-old protagonist Zeni’s missteps and misjudgments, make Waltz a delightful read, particularly for readers interested in a Catalan classic of modernism.

Kristine Rabberman reviews Francesc Trabal‘s Waltz.

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Notes on Aspirational Dating: Identity & Belonging in The Flamethrowers published 13/12/2013


Many of the book’s most poignant vignettes relate, in one way or another, to traces left behind: whether it is the protagonist photographing the tyre-marks of her motorcycle on the salt flats of Bonneville; or a colleague at the film lab relating his wonder at the macabre discovery of a real-life execution (of an Italian fascist by partisans in World War Two) among reels of stock footage – those ‘small integers of life’ preserved forever; or a fleeting description of an Asian pin-up girl on a 1950s calendar, ‘her face faded to grayish-green, smiling under all that lapsed time.’

By Houman Barekat.

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The Body as Society, Prison, and Torture Device: José Donoso’s Fiction published 11/12/2013

José Donoso (1924-96) is a vast writer. Though considered part of the Latin American “Boom” of the 1960s, Donoso remained on the periphery of the movement, little known until he produced his masterpiece The Obscene Bird of Night in 1970. Though Donoso’s work shares some superficial surrealist, political, and indigenous touches with the famous writers of the era (Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Cortazar being the big four), Donoso’s achievement is considerably different from theirs, and in my opinion inestimably greater, fit to stand alongside the equally brilliant Juan Rulfo.

By David Auerbach.

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The Laing Cross-examination: Why Writers Drink published 10/12/2013

The subtitle of Laing’s book is Why Writers Drink but trawling through her catalogue of suicide, psychosis and broken homes, the reader is faced with a chicken-egg question: do people drink to excess because they are fucked up or are they fucked up because they drink to excess? The cruelty of alcohol’s relationship with mental illness is that drink offers short term relief while feeding greater demons. Those who have journeyed into the darker reaches of mental distress may be familiar with the term depersonalisation – literally, when you are so hammered by hungover anxiety, you actually doubt your own existence.

Max Dunbar on Olivia Laing ‘s The Trip to Echo Spring.

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Review of Ravi Mangla’s Understudies published 04/12/2013

Ultimately, Mangla’s narrator has to confront these deeper questions of authenticity and meaning. As Understudies goes forward, he becomes more and more enamored with watching the actress, looking to her as the embodiment of all his conflicted and unfulfilled feelings about fame. His fascination, though, is really just a fascination with semblance.

Michael Jauchen on Ravi Mangla’s Understudies.

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Hello Daddy, Hello Mom published 02/12/2013

To portray the ills of Western civilisation in a work of fiction without sounding prudish or reducing the narrative to an opinion column is a tall order, requiring the author to concentrate and pick only the most relevant threads. Despentes, best known for her shocking debut novel, Baise-Moi, later turned into a controversial film, chose to blend thriller elements into her social commentary, presumably to make the pages turn faster. But the two genres don’t mix seamlessly: one can never keep up with the other, so when the detective yarn inevitably overtakes the more contemplative passages, you have no time to fully appreciate the latter.

Anna Aslanyan reviews Virginie DespentesApocalypse Baby.

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Materialities of Myth published 19/11/2013


Oulipan tricks and intricacies abound: from the recurring April fool’s fish motifs, to the Sisyphean circularities of Harold playing himself in a play which re-enacts his own escape. The layered formal framework adds convoluted threads which put pressure on the authenticity of the narrative with amusing but sometimes unnecessary flourishes. These distractions are underpinned by something more interesting however: an uncomfortable examination of the constraints of the shifting modes of narrative presentation. And it is here that the novel truly stretches past its formal constraints, allowing the process of ‘fabrication’ (both literal and metaphorical) to be continually interrogated.

Daniel Fraser reviews Philip Terry‘s Tapestry

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Writing in Built Up Areas published 11/11/2013

In contrast to the pictures, the text is full of details, both visible and invisible to the eye; there are plenty of historical facts and everyday trivia unearthed by Rogers as he plans and goes on his expeditions that take him as far as Erith Pier in the east and Hounslow Heath in the west. Some of this information comes from books whose titles range from the esoteric The 21 Lessons of Merlin: A Study in Druid Magic & Lore to the practical County of London Plan, 1943; the rest is obtained through fieldwork. On one such occasion, eager to find out what wassailing is, Rogers joins a group of locals in Hackney for this fertility ritual, which involves singing and drinking to fruit trees, an unorthodox way to explore the Lea Valley on a cold January day.

Anna Aslanyan reviews John RogersThis Other London.

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