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

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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Absalon, Absalon! published 25/07/2013

There is a danger that Okotie will not reach the readers he deserves, and that those who do pick up the book, attracted magpie-ishly by its McCall-Smithesque blurb and brightly coloured cover, will be left feeling baffled and annoyed. There will be others, however, who will see the ambition, originality, thoughtfulness and, crucially, the humanity in Simon Okotie’s writing, and in Absalon the making of a modern classic. Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon? might not be for everyone…but who wants to read a book that’s for everyone, anyway?

Adam Biles reviews Simon Okotie‘s Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon?.

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24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep published 10/07/2013

So chapter 2 put me in the bummer mood I feel when reading books like Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman. That sort of over-reach-scare rhetoric can’t help feeling but like the over-heatedness of a delusional gold sales-pitch scam right wing fanatic. As both of us are, or were, based in New York City (The City That Never Sleeps) the claim that “the marketplace now operates through every hour of the clock, pushing us into constant activity and eroding forms of community and political expression, damaging the fabric of everyday life” feels to me more like provocative pumpkin hyperbole than a threat to the sensibilities of human perception. Yes we can shop on the internet all day long every day, but you are not required to do so.

Joseph Nechvatal on Jonathan Crary‘s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep.

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The Observer Effect published


George Saunders’ peerless collection of delicate modern tales is set in an instantly recognizable America—one of former mining towns and pick-up trucks, burger chains and credit-card debt. Old houses are ‘re-purposed’ as 7-11s, or else undergo foreclosure. Saunders’ characters talk lovingly of ‘ma’ and ‘pa’. This is a world of words made simple by corporate promises and trademarked slogans, in which feelings may be glossed over with pills and casual oblique phrases: ‘I guess’.

Pascal Porcheron reviews George SaundersTenth of December.

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The Unknown Nabokov, part 1: Poetic Prose or Prosaic Poetry? published 08/07/2013


It’s easy to overlook the extent to which verse pervades Nabokov’s entire œuvre. When we cast together the words Nabokov and poetry, Pale Fire, the author’s so-called literary ‘Jack-in-the-box’, is surely the first (and, for some, perhaps, only) thing that springs to mind. But there is in fact a substantial corpus of the verse-writing to the author’s credit. Whether overshadowed by the dazzling brilliance of his prose work or neglected on a premise of lesser quality or import, there’s no denying that poetry was integral to Nabokov’s output; indeed, it was almost omnipresent, a constant apparition throughout his art as it was his life.

The first part of Bryan Karetnyk‘s exploration of neglected aspects of Nabokov.

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