:: Reviews

The Truth of Others: Javier Mariás’s Berta Isla published 21/10/2019

It’s typical of Marías to begin with an enigma—how is her husband not her husband?—and it’s also typical of Marías to worry away at the confused scene, parsing and re-parsing a scenario, attempting to narrow-in precisely on the scene’s most salient characteristics.  The turns and additional clauses here ultimately perform the sort of intellectual uncertainty that the sentence describes: from uncertainty, we get a subtle taxonomy and phenomenology of sleepy thoughts.  The sentence clarifies with real accuracy Berta’s state of mind while also preserving the enigma at the outset. We, as Berta frequently says of herself, remain “in the dark,” a condition of gradually expanding blankness as the novel proceeds.

Andrew Griffin reviews Berta Isla by Javier Mariás.

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Grand Union published 18/10/2019

None of this feels very inviting, to say the least. This is the problem with Grand Union: individual pieces of talented writing are undercut by an author who refers to “the people” in quotation marks, and twice repeats the phrase, “This is a metaphor”. In other words, an author who seems conflicted about our presence in her domain.

Andrew Hungate reviews Zadie Smith‘s Grand Union.

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So Real It Hurts published 05/10/2019

Since first emerging from the No Wave scene of late-70s/early-80s New York that also spawned seminal artists like Sonic Youth and Swans, Lunch has remained an uncompromising figure in music, literature, film and spoken word. Undiminished by ever-shifting cultural trends, she continues to challenge, provoke and disturb. As she puts it herself, ‘If all this is just too brutal for you to bear…just remember; it’s going to get worse before it gets better’. Life is short, the world dangerous, time precious, and Lunch doesn’t hold back. If you don’t get it — ‘tough shit’.

Chris Brownsword reviews Lydia Lunch‘s So Real It Hurts.

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No Extraordinary Space: On Ambai’s A Kitchen in the Corner of the House published 02/10/2019

Most notably, many of Ambai’s stories are characterized by a reinjection of physicality into the process of love. The female body is typically the source and subject of her sharpest, most lacerating descriptions—a harsh realism coupled with extravagant imagery at once depicts the body as mercilessly flesh-bound, beset by the termite-gnaw of time, and markedly discarnate, a locus of rhapsodic and ethereal sensations. In her relentless investigations of the physical forms of her female characters, Ambai effortlessly annotates the prismatic nature of the female body, which is at once a node of suffering and a tool of liberation; a record of time and the imprint of the distaff and the sovereign engine of domestic life; a source of quiet sorrows and ecstatic longings; a thing both persistently public and achingly private.

Bailey Trela reviews A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai.

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Bodies in spaces: On Chantal Akerman’s My Mother Laughs published 23/09/2019

Akerman’s narration, which oscillates between monologue and reported speech, often hovering ambiguously between the two, is fluent in the rhythms of understatement. There’s an off-handedness which becomes the ally of those dealing with profound trauma, but who really don’t want a fuss. The sort of linguistic acrobatics which momentarily reveal suffering but manage to pull themselves together before they arrive at the end of the sentence, smiling. For instance: “She hurts all over but her hair has grown back. It’s a miracle”.

Lucy Holt reviews My Mother Laughs by Chantal Akerman.

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Loudhe Sing Cuccoo: Folk Horror and Water Shall Refuse Them published 13/09/2019

Why, in recent years, have so many been tempted to try their hand at this hitherto obscure aesthetic? Because the awkwardness of our relationship to nature has never been so acutely felt as during climate crisis. Today, it is more obvious than ever that we are: on the one hand, a part of nature, organic organisms dependent on the Earth for the continued existence of our species; on the other, apart from nature, divided from it by our societies’ reckless and destructive uses of the Earth’s resources.

Oscar Mardell on folk horror and Lucie McKnight Hardy‘s Water Shall Refuse Them.

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Missives from a Parallel Dimension published

Despite her reliance on medical institutions to save her from suicide or out-of-control addiction at the most desperate times of her life, her view of these environments was understandably jaundiced. Her chosen isolation as a writer meant that the physical world in which she lived bore some resemblance to the one that the rest of the human race inhabits; but it became hallucinatory and nightmarish as the doors of perception distorted. These extremes of experience she captures in her chilling and precise prose, often tempered with a wry black humour.

Des Barry reviews Machines in the Head by Anna Kavan.

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Essays One published 11/09/2019

A very short story cannot help but associate with other short forms — poems, dictums, parables, and dreams — that are typically ripe with meaning. Encountering such a story on its own, then, means determining its importance, especially when it is a lone sentence engraved in a setting of outsized significance. Does the task change if you are told that the story originated as an email or a dictionary definition? What happens when you have read a dozen very short stories, and then you come across a longer one, full of characters and grief? This may be the lesson of reading Lydia Davis: the origin of writing is infinitesimally mundane, until the moment it is not.

Andrew Hungate reviews Lydia Davis‘s Essays One.

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The Offing published

The title of the novel refers to the place where sea and sky merge, the novel itself representing a fold in time and space, fixed in the past yet speaking to us of the present, a kind of invocation that Eros, the creative spirit, might awaken and prevail in a volatile age that once more appears poised upon the brink of desolation. As Dolcie instructs Robert, ‘Let poetry and music and wine and romance guide the way’. Well, sure, at this point in the barbarous tragedy and absurd comedy of human affairs, why the hell not?

Chris Brownsword reviews Benjamin MyersThe Offing.

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I Do Indeed Feel Damnation Now published 09/09/2019

Professor Andersen’s Night first appeared in Norway in 1996, and if there’s a more striking depiction of the Baby Boomers in their prime, I’d like to see it.

Nathan Knapp reviews Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad.

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