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

The Only Murderer Is the Reader published 18/02/2014

Should a science-fiction story be discounted for presenting us with implausible scenarios? The contradiction inherent in the generic label—verifiable “science” against untrammeled “fiction”—implies that authors should be granted carte blanche to imagine anything they wish so long, of course, as they can convince their readers of their constructs’ solidity. When a novel presents us with a world visibly different from our own, but fails to convince us that this fictional reality still adheres to a coherent set of rules, the spell is broken. The muddy foundation becomes disappointingly visible through the timber frame.

Jeffrey Zuckerman reviews Marek Huberath‘s Nest of Worlds

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The Post-Feminism Mystique published 11/02/2014

Eat My Heart Out has been compared to Bret Easton Ellis, Kathy Acker, Lena Dunham’s Girls and early Amis, but transcends all these influences. Contra Fay Weldon, literary fiction has little time for people born post 1980, let alone people born post 1990. There is a world of struggling emergent youth out there that is simply unrepresented. Despite their first-class education Ann-Marie and her contemporaries are fighting for service jobs and floor space in a rigged game. Pilger started young — she is 29 and began writing this novel in late 2010 — and so is able to capture parts of London life that don’t even register on the establishment literary radar.

Max Dunbar reviews Zoe Pilger‘s Eat My Heart Out.

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The Utter Silence of the Andalusian Refugee published 09/02/2014

The feeling that everything was broken and ruined, that desolation and exile were the true realities, was rooted in his own experiences in Andalusia, and his subsequent life as an exile and refugee. He referred to himself as ‘The Spaniard’ or ‘The Andalusian.’ He wrote to a Yemenite sage: ‘ I am one of the humblest scholars of Spain whose prestige is low in exile. I am always dedicated to my duties, but have not attained the learning of my forbearers, for evil days and hard times have overtaken us and we have not lived in tranquility; we have laboured without finding rest. How can the Law become lucid to a fugitive from city to city, from country to country? Have everywhere pursued the reapers and gathered ears of grain, both the solid and the full, as well as the shriveled and thin. Only recently have I found a home.’

Richard Marshall reviews Moshe Halbertal’s Maimonides.

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The Private Life published 04/02/2014

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The private life isn’t simply what we do when we’re at home, but owes more to the fact of not being at home … This is the wisdom of Freud, and of Blanchot. For the latter, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is about the passion for the invisible; Orpheus’s impossible desire to see Eurydice not when she is visible and worldly, but when she is invisible and obscure. This, for Cohen, is the private life. It’s that which can’t be brought to light because that’s precisely where it hides; that which can’t be paraded on TV or kept discretely behind closed curtains. ‘This isn’t a secret lurking in the dark. It’s right there on the face across the breakfast table, in the mirror.’ Arendt’s logic finds an unexpected corollary in tabloid snooping; both imagine that the private life can be reduced to secrecy; they simply differ on what is to be done with it. Both rub balm on a more unsettling fact: the less we hide, the more we’re hidden; even from ourselves. Aren’t your closest friends, your family, your lover, so much stranger to you than the person you pass on the street? Like that difficult book you held so close to your face that its long words blurred and became incomprehensible, the closer we draw people towards us, the more they confound us. The less you conceal the stranger you become.

Will Rees reviews Josh Cohen‘s The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark.

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Time, History and Literature published 10/01/2014

Auerbach located in Dante a profound cultural change. Where ‘… the indestructibility of the whole historical and individual man turns against the divine order… and obscures it. The image of man eclipses the image of God. Dante’s work realized the Christian-figural essence of man, and destroyed it in the very process of realizing it.’ Here is another version of ‘reversal and continuation’, an extreme form that knows that the paradoxical realities embedded in religion are secular truths – and vice versa. To speak them threatens to erase everything, or walk you back to the start again for another attempt.

Richard Marshall reviews Auerbach’s Time, History, and Literature.

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Stewart Home’s po-mo homer published 29/12/2013

Stewart Home’s ecstatic absurdity is an assault on modern culture bringing a Homeric pre-Socratic anti-Platonism to the table on the twin-back fun-ride of the funky German materialism started in the 1850s and the materialist-based Marxism a little later.

Richard Marshall on Stewart Home’s Proletarian Post-Modernism.

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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

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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

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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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