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

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


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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Poetic Resonance published 26/03/2014

Park’s prose has been justly compared to poetry; his writing also has a vividness and urgency that makes you want to feel what his characters feel. What is it like to be married to a poet? Can one share his vision when “all that is visible […] is the wet gleam of the shingle and the sea that stretches to the sky”? What happens when a woman realises that “the poem is water entrusted into her hand to carry and she must not spill even a drop”? How does it feel to read your husband’s lines about “unbroken constancy of love” knowing the poem is to someone else? As you ponder these questions, chronology matters less and less. The book leaves you with the impression of poetry as a vast space where voices echo across the years, ringing in your ears longer than any acoustics would permit, a poetic resonance riding its wave.

Anna Aslanyan reviews David Park‘s The Poets’ Wives.

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GDP published 16/03/2014

‘Acceptance of the new measure for this period [pre 1950] would involve a major reinterpretation of American history.’ US productivity would be shown to be lower than the UK in 1914, and growth of GDP was lower than the UK by 1929. In the 1970s Thatcher came to power on the back of a calculation of the GDP that showed the UK economy in crisis. But later recalculation showed that things weren’t as bad as had been originally thought.

Richard Marshall on Diane Coyle’s GDP.

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Borges’s funes the memorious published 09/03/2014

In 1887 John Langdon Down lectured on what he called ‘idiot savants’ . The film ‘Rain Man’ features a character with this syndrome. The film is based on Kim Peek who is said to have the most astonishing memory on earth. It was estimated that he knew the content of 12,000 books. He could read different pages of a book with different eyes. He read eight pages in 53 seconds and recalled 98% of what he’d read. He couldn’t filter. He had limited capacity to reason. Any problem not based on memory stumped him or proved difficult. He only read factual books. Multiple interpretation and ambiguity was avoided. He processed information literally. He ended talks around the world saying, ‘We are all different. You don’t have to be handicapped to be different. Treat other people like you would like to be treated and the world will be a better place.’

Richard Marshall reads Quiroga on Borges and Memory.

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why fight poverty etc published 23/02/2014

We need a much better understanding of how we support each other, and how money – and other support – is passed around and within families before we can think about reducing poverty. We need to understand the very different experiences of poverty, and how gender, disability and ill health all influence someone’s chances of becoming poor. We need to know more about the role of culture, attitude and behaviour in shaping people’s experience of poverty.

Richard Marshall reviews the new Perspectives series.

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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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