:: Reviews

The Real Thing published 24/01/2021

Even in the face of the histrionic Royal Mail suspension of deliveries to Europe over Christmas, or Donald Trump’s claims about postal ballots leading to voting fraud in the U.S. election, a novel dedicated to the question of whether competition should be permitted for letters weighing less than 50 grams hardly seems evocative. And yet, Hjorth’s novel is a jolting tour de force impossible to put down, gleaming with philosophical insight and tenderness in the most unexpected places.

Denise Rose Hansen reviews Vigdis Hjorth‘s Long Live the Post Horn!

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On Care published 11/01/2021

Tom Allenʼs ʻPreliminary Notes After Care Homesʼ touches on the idea that once upon a time moving into a care home might have been seen as entering a community. Now, he reflects, Care Homes are a microcosm of capitalist society; in which those citizens who are no longer productive have to use the capital built up over their working lives, embodied in their own homes, to pay for care. Allen adds that because of the increasing vulnerability of the ageing body to accident or internal failure, ʻthe care home is a place in which the senselessness of a certain notion of fairness, itself a historical relative of the illusionary logic of the age, is omnipresent and, as such, a care home is a place in which the prattle about dignity, work and earning are at their most intense and their most obviously false.ʼ

Bridget Penney reviews On Care edited by Rebecca Jagoe and Sharon Kivland.

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Words, words, words published 28/12/2020

McMullan has crafted an impressively taut, thoughtful novel from these exuberant materials. He writes with a muscular lyricism; the book’s moral gaze is both pitiless and ambivalent. The idea for the village’s great wall came to McMullan, a journalist, when he was teaching in rural China. In one small village, he found a building scrawled with the misdeeds of the community: a palimpsest of slights and sins. It was a relic of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a communal purging of bourgeois sentiment.

Alex Diggins reviews The Last Good Man by Thomas McMullan.

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Post Void Dribbling: On Rebecca Gransden’s Sea of Glass published 16/12/2020

When literature correctly strives to be gonorrhea of the throat, each book should burn till the chords melt. Sidewalk chalk in a storm as your magnum opus, an erasure more meaningful than birth. A little dribble in the void never killed anybody. The novella seeps from ileum to Iliad. Cavities keep congested with mythic creatures and quests.

David Kuhnlein reviews Sea of Glass by Rebecca Gransden.

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Architectural Possibilities of Renee Gladman’s Prose Architectures published 10/12/2020

Gladman’s work registers that “space as such,” whatever it is, is probably not the affectless cypher to structure but a structure already structured, “geometric or morphological.” Yet its implications are rangier than what might be summarized by a curator as those pertaining to “genre-bending.” Architectures makes to unravel the religious and industrial facing that is empty space. As such, the often pathetically ambivalent “post-ironic” spatially-charged genre of the installation is not just the spelling-out of a-s-s-e-m-b-l-a-g-e or c-u-l-t-u-r-a-l p-a-s-t-i-c-h-e across a gallery room.

Albe Harlow on Prose Architectures by Renee Gladman.

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“Murie Sing Cuccoo”: Folk Horror and The Lighthouse published 22/11/2020

The nearest thing to a real woman on this island is a bit of scrimshaw that YOUNG finds hidden (presumably by OLD’s previous second) in his mattress — a carving of a buxom mermaid, to which YOUNG spends no small amount of time jacking off. For YOUNG, then, the female body seems to be no more than this, a masturbatory prop. And in this respect, the mermaid is, for YOUNG and OLD alike, the female body par excellence: because she has a tail in place of a vagina, she cannot be involved in the reproductive process.

By Oscar Mardell.

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A Glass House in the Age of Criticism published 18/11/2020

This “being aware of what today’s reader is aware that the writer is aware of” makes for a smörgåsbord of postmodern capers—some familiar, some original. The fourth wall has long been broken in film and literature and it is in no better shape here. The narrator is the writer of the book we are reading, though not necessarily Jeff Bursey. Subversive, irreverent punctuation abounds, beginning with the title. Almost all place names are lower-case (charlottetown, tignish, victoria, prince edward island, canada), yet people names are conventionally capitalized (even though the author refers to his characters as “things”). After one salacious scene we are told: “And, yes, I am interested in getting the Bad Sex in Fiction Award”.

Chris Via reviews Unidentified man at left of photo by Chris Via.

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Penny For Our Thoughts published 24/10/2020

Encomiums should engender enquiry. High praise should raise our suspicions of cant. However, the title of ‘Queen of London Noir’ has been bestowed deservedly upon the novelist Cathi Unsworth. A former music journalist, now a writer, lecturer and creative writing guide, for her the darkness which underlies human behaviour is a key to the hidden files of the mind, enlightening us about what makes human beings tick. This reissue of a novel, originally published in 2009 and with the addition of an Introduction by noted cultural commentator Greil Marcus, gives us a chance to reacquaint ourselves with one of the major steps leading to her enthronement.

Nicky Charlish reviews Cathi Unsworth‘s Bad Penny Blues.

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The Crab Fractal: A Review of David Hollander’s Anthropica published 21/09/2020

Given its subject, the reader might expect the novel to be grim and fatalistic. What it achieves rather is a smiling nihilism, nicely aphorized as: “Everything you do is unimportant, but it is very important that you do it.” Hollander has described this as “the toggle,” switching back and forth between impossibly meaningful experiences in an otherwise utterly meaningless world, and the novel’s dialectical movements dramatize this beautifully.

Jared Marcel Pollen reviews Anthropica by David Hollander.

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The Reek of Human Blood Smiles Out at Me published 20/09/2020

Michel Foucault — channelling Immanuel Kant — wrote that, “Criticism consists of analyzing and reflecting upon limits”. If that is so, then this book questions the regulations of text and image and surveys the extent of restrictions on our bodies — and its publication incorporates the immanence of crossing-over. In his informative introduction, Jack Sargeant states, “Each text pushes thought in new directions” and “These photographs emerge from, and seek to return to, a moment of timelessness in which the body is opened and recontextualized”. Taking Georges Bataille’s obsession with the photographs of the execution by Lingchi (death by a hundred — sometimes a thousand — cuts) of Fu Chou Li in China in 1905, Martin Bladh’s violent abuse of his own body retextualizes the writing of others on pain and this, in turn, is documented by Karolina Urbaniak’s photographs which aestheticize the abhorrent.

Steve Finbow reviews Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak‘s The Torture of the 100 Pieces.

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