:: Criticism archive ( click for articles pre-2006) 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

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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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

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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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honest work: an experimental review of an experimental translation published 09/11/2013

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If you want the real review, you’ll have to hire a camera crew to follow me for the rest of my life. Pretend you’re the book’s author and translator searching for evidence you’ve had an effect on me. If you see no effects, you’ll have your answer. If you do see effects, you’ll have to ask yourself whether my reactions were genuine or if I performed for you and your readers’ benefit.

Matthew Jakubowski on Chantal Wright‘s translation of Yoko Tawada‘s Portrait of a Tongue.

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Raw Power published 07/11/2013

What’s most interesting about Science Fiction, some would say, is its dystopian bent. The genre twitches if not bulges with works containing a pulse-pounding progressive inclination complete with overarching themes that speak of anxieties about and enthusiasms for the unraveling of society. Eschewing pseudo rationality and techno fetishism such works deal not so much with prediction, but instead hold a mirror up to the present. Radical ideas are applied to fantastic narratives by writers like Orwell, Dick, and Dave Wallis (Only Lovers Left Alive). But the grooviest, hottest and horniest of these is surely Robert Anton Wilson, high and fly and way too wet to dry.

So, why is the late RAW largely forgotten and overlooked these days? This is the teasing question raised by John Higgs, the main speaker at a recent event at London’s Horse Hospital to celebrate Wilson’s life and achievements.

By Richard Cabut.

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Levinas Defaced published 25/10/2013

Sparrow brilliantly captures [Alphonso] Lingis’s work: it reads as though ‘William James and Levinas were coopted to author all of the guide books in the Lonely Planet series’. ‘The time’, he writes incontestably, ‘is ripe for Lingis studies to be extended.’ Lingis is the itinerant philosopher, the Levinas that Levinas sometimes — but all too rarely — seems to be; an evil twin, a deviant Levinas, a Levinas perverted by spending too much time with Nietzsche and Bataille. His appeal for Sparrow is obvious; perhaps more than anyone he has reinvigorated the concept of sensation for phenomenology.

Will Rees reviews Tom Sparrow‘s Levinas Unhinged.

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