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

Kafka’s Insight published 08/09/2013

What is the difference between the last insight and the last attempt at rescue? Happy in his unhappiness he forges a condition of profound dislocation from the world where ‘everything has fallen apart’, where ‘no voice can reach out to him clearly any longer and so he cannot follow it straightforwardly.’ He perfects a calm and laconic tone to express catastrophes. A way in to understanding Beckett is to begin by noting that Beckett hated this tone and expressed his catastrophes in a different register. Beckett’s characters are all wreckages, Kafka’s aren’t.

Richard Marshall reviews Reiner Stach‘s Kafka: The Years Of Insight.

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In Praise of Martin Millar published 07/09/2013


Whenever I read Martin Millar, I think to myself: How is it possible that a writer of such warmth, talent and narrative gifts remained so obscure for so long? It is one of the last great literary scandals that Millar has spent twenty years bouncing from one ramshackle independent publisher to another, while his idiotic contemporaries dominate books lists and broadsheet reviews. And if this sounds a bit fanboy, I should tell you that Neil Gaiman agrees with me. He says that ‘I [don't] understand why Martin Millar isn’t as celebrated as Kurt Vonnegut, as rich as Terry Pratchett, as famous as Douglas Adams . . . I’ve been a fan of his work for almost twenty years.’ Here’s the thing: if the market really was the ultimate indicator of talent, Martin Millar would right now be poolside in his Van Nuys estate, and Dan Brown would still be in Exeter, writing crosswords.

Max Dunbar reviews The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf.

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The Weight of an Aphorism published 28/08/2013


The aphorism, by virtue of its musicality or its lapidary concision, is always an instrument of seduction, and often its truth is not proportionate to its beauty; aspects of the second are apparent at first reading, while the first is only rendered clear through the application of the aphorism to the decidedly unaphoristic matter of life.

By Adrian West.

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Hidden Behind Walls published 16/08/2013


Bauca (1940-2005), a reclusive Catalan writer troubled by alcoholism and schizophrenia who believed that the writer should lead a furtive life, placed great, possibly excessive, value on enclosure. Bauca, a self-confessed “apartment hermit,” needed walls. He hid behind them where they existed, erected them where they didn’t, and much of the action in the three novellas collected here takes place within the hermetic confines of inescapable rooms in which his obsessive narrators spool out uninterrupted monologues on everything from the mysteries of the female sex to the value of corporal self-punishment.

Stephen Sparks on Miquel Bauçà‘s The Siege in the Room

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Turning the Novel on Its Head published 14/08/2013


Throughout the novel, Adam has referred to the successive phases of his “project”—the first phase, second phase, and so on. The project is never clearly defined, and it is possible, indeed probable, Adam has not been at work on any project at all, has only been pretending to be at work on a project in order to validate his identity as a poet (to himself) and justify his position in a prestigious and remunerative fellowship program (to others). The illusion comes crashing down in the book’s final sections.

A critical study of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station by Alex Gallo-Brown.

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Niven’s Great Escape published 12/08/2013

The LA scenes have a sense of overfamiliarity, but it is the passages of provincial academia that had me laughing aloud as I read this in the pub on an early evening, to the bemused consternation of regulars. Niven really does capture the pretensions of litscenes outside the London loop extraordinarily well, with their little quarrels and intrigues and envy that always comes to the ball as something else. Kennedy’s appointment at Deeping causes great alarums among the various bluestockings and obscurantists tenured at the university, ideologues and failed authors who would never dream of ‘patronising the reader with anything as Empire and demotic as an interesting or arresting sentence.’ When Kennedy’s appointment is confirmed, one lecturer comments: ‘Why not elect some sordid little thriller writer… Why not Stephen bloody King?’

Max Dunbar on John Niven‘s ‘return to form’, Straight White Male.

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“Debate is Idiot Distraction”: Accelerationism and the Politics of the Internet published


The technological fetish condenses and simplifies political complexities such as organisation, struggle, sustaining strategic modes of resistance over a period of time, and representation, into one problem to be solved: information. The problem is simply that we need to be better informed. Persistently framing the debate in terms of information, as WikiLeaks-enthusiasts and advocates of participatory media regularly do, does not pay adequate attention to media hegemony and the way in which narratives are deeply embedded in the social psyche, despite an abundance of information that contradicts those narratives.

Eugene Brennan on Robert McChesney‘s Digital Disconnect.

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Surface Detail – Lottie Moggach’s Kiss Me First published 04/08/2013

But technology is only as good as the people who use it and while the internet is often a place of joy and kindness it has also given the vicious and small minded creative new ways to be evil. The misogynistic hate campaigns against seemingly any woman who has an opinion about something is the obvious example here. A more esoteric take on the problem is given by Lottie Moggach in her devastating debut, Kiss Me First.

By Max Dunbar.

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Origin Myths and Incongruous Realities published 30/07/2013


Aira has written an extensive oeuvre, over 70 published books and counting, based on his own forays into the incongruities of daily life. Weaving together myriad influences, from great works of Latin American literature to B-movie monsters, from canonical works of philosophy, history, and science to dime store novels, Aira creates realities in which the fantastic and the mundane are linked. In an Aira novel, you can expect plots to wander and veer off course, because the resulting diversions are more engaging and relevant to Aira than any typical conclusion could ever be.

Kristine Rabberman reviews César Aira‘s The Hare.

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Paul Morley’s Lost Kingdoms published 29/07/2013


The other problem with the book is Morley’s focus. Of the entire region he focuses mainly on Stockport, where Morley grew up. Many people who know the town might ask why it deserves the greater part of Morley’s attention. Also, early on Morley tells us that ‘I have not lived in the north since the late 1970s’. He left before your present reviewer was even born. It slows the book down: by the time you get to page 273, young Master Morley has just turned ten. And this means that when Morley writes about the north, he is writing about the lost kingdom of clichéd social history. His book is a stereotype bingo session: Woodbines, George Formby, Eccles cakes, A Taste of Honey, Crackerjack, Victoria Wood, Andy Capp, the Smiths, Mark E Smith, the Beatles, punk rock (which I believe was a London movement, but by this point, who cares?) We need something new. Morley offers us a feast of nostalgia. His full title is The North (And Almost Everything In It). To paraphrase Philip Roth: the amount we don’t know about everything is astounding. Even more astounding is what passes for everything.

Max Dunbar reviews Paul Morley‘s The North (And Almost Everything In It).

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