:: Reviews

‘The immense entanglement of everything’: reading Olivia Laing’s Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency under lockdown published 08/04/2020

Olivia Laing could hardly ask for a more rigorous environment for her essay collection Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency to land in. In it, she pursues a similar argument to Staying Alive. Art, she contends, ‘provide[s] material with which to think: new registers, new spaces.’ Art opens vistas; it makes space. Following John Berger, she makes the case of the ‘hospitality’ of the creative act, its ‘capacity to enlarge and open, a corrective to the overwhelming political imperative … to wall off, separate and reject.’ Writing, painting, photographing, making—these are gestures towards horizons, she argues. They are emancipatory.

Alex Diggins reviews Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing.

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Mother Tongue: Notes for Mid-Birth and The Human Condition published 06/04/2020

If a person is unaware of the autonomy they do not have, if it is unfathomable that they could make decisions over their own body and future, and if cultural conditioning and legal restrictions on bodily autonomy have become so pervasive that they don’t even recognize their own subjugation, then that person cannot be free. This phenomenon exists within a self-perpetuating cycle of erasure from history—not being conditioned to expect to have access to the attainment of freedom of decision-making as a result of a historical, linguistic, and cultural normalization, this same person will remain excluded from the creation of history. They will be unable to free themselves now or in the future.

Katherine Beaman reviews Nootes for Mid-Birrth by Karolina Zappal.

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A Complicated Fondness: Bohumil Hrabal’s All My Cats published 25/03/2020

The obsessional thinking on display in All My Cats ultimately becomes a cosmology characterized by paranoia. Thinking thoughts that seem alien leads Hrabal to the conclusion that: Everything came at me with its sharp edges forward, and I felt then that the hand writing my destiny was not my hand. . . .  Everything seemed to have been prepared for me long ago, even things I believed I’d done of  my own volition, because when I thought about it, it seems as though it had been made ready to happen long ago, and all I had done was to slip the key into the door, which although it was opened by me alone, had also been prepared for me alone.

Andrew Griffin reviews All My Cats by Bohumil Hrabal.

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Modern Times published 16/03/2020

A friend of mine once asked me why I had gotten so excited about a new Cathy Sweeney story appearing in the Dublin Review. I think I said that it was because her writing is “properly perverse”. Up until my friend grimaced and looked away down at their shoes, the natural fact that this would mean different things to different people hadn’t really occurred to me. I think maybe they thought I was saying Sweeney was a pervert, or calling myself one. I don’t know, and anyway the subject was changed quickly.

Christopher DeVeau reviews Cathy Sweenet‘s Modern Times.

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The Limits of Love published 13/03/2020

The narrative mode shifts between Jon and Vibeke’s streams of consciousness from one paragraph to the next with no dividing spaces. The effect is one of confinement and proximity, at once marking their inevitable closeness and persisting distance. If reading too quickly, one might lose track of which character the paragraph relates to, demanding a zooming attention similar to that which Vibeke brings to her nails, her outfit and in her projections, perhaps deployed to direct herself away from the reality at hand. But while Jon is largely absent from Vibeke’s mind, Jon is very much driven by the expectation of being reunited.

Denise Rose Hansen reviews Hanne Ørstavik‘s Love.

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The Camera Obscura of Gerald Murnane published 04/03/2020

Murnane is able to continue writing and publishing fiction because the writing itself continually negotiates its terms in increasingly complex layers of digressive self-exploration. The inspiration for this kind of essayistic writing is not Montaigne, who declared “I myself am the subject of my book”—though the rhyming of Murnane with Montaigne would likely be of interest to the writer for whom names carry kabbalistic significance—but Proust, with echoes of postmodernists Calvino and Borges, and metaphysical support from Alfred Jarry.

Dan Shurley reviews Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs by Gerald Murnane.

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Keep Yer Big Apple: The New New York vs. Jennifer Jazz’s Spill Ink on It published 07/02/2020

Instead of attacking this ‘myth’ on, say, factual grounds, Spill Ink simply confines it to the wings. Centre stage is given to ‘the shadows who move in and out of the projects’ — to the anonymous eccentrics who didn’t go on to fame and fortune, and who would never be namedropped on hip hop records. Spill Ink records them all — in loving, lyrical, and non-linear detail. As such, it succeeds in ‘upending Uncle Sam’ without ever feeling like a ‘marketing campaign’ — in presenting a radical vision which remains wholly incompatible with the ‘dramatic arc’ of capitalist self-fashioning.

Oscar Mardell reviews Jennifer Jazz‘s Spill Ink on It.

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An Edible Flow: Ed Atkins’ Old Food published 28/01/2020

This constant flow / can turn the book / into an ambient kind of literature / where the reader enters a trance / is carried through the text / not quite reading / really just looking at the words / grasping onto different anchors / familiar words / um’s / the unexpected appearance of a name / Hannah or something similar / entering the dreamscape of the text / there is no true chronology / only the streaming rhythm of the sentence-structure //

Mike Corrao reviews Old Food by Ed Atkins.

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Glitch published 13/01/2020

Glitch is a perfectly realised novel — one which never wastes a word, nor loses sight of its central theme. In the Guardian, Jude Cook suggested that it was ‘occasionally overschematic with its central metaphor,’ but this is precisely the point. In constantly returning to its eponymous subject — in its obsessive replaying of flaws and errors, of recessions and disappearances — Glitch presents an exact imitation of the cyclical repetitions of trauma, and of an increasingly familiar mindset, therefore: one which doesn’t just see catastrophe and loss as divergences from the ordinary course of life, but as the defining features of its fabric.

Oscar Mardell reviews Lee Rourke‘s Glitch.

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Picture Cycle published 07/01/2020

Sometimes I thought about the way film boys kissed film girls and wondered if film girls and film boys did things differently — kissed differently — offscreen. Does one act a kiss the way one acts everything else in a movie? Kisses are always vérité. Kisses are how actors blur the line. How much of a person is in an actor and how much isn’t?

Nicholas Rombes reviews Masha Tupitsyn‘s Picture Cycle.

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