:: Reviews

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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Housing Haunted Housing published 04/09/2020

After an amorphous and seamlessly integrated evocation of Modernism’s principles, such as the reminder it was ‘unfettered by traditions of the past’, other — more complex — presences emerge. Though the poems are varied in style, length, and layout, as one reads a through-structure soon emerges based on the use of concrete in each building’s construction. With a nod to the Anthropocene the ubiquitous material is portrayed as part of a ‘pastoral’ landscape, as a natural rather than man-made disaster. Concrete becomes some kind of endless glacial formation smothering the world’s surface, which is neither present, nor absent, neither dead nor alive.

Matthew Turner reviews Oscar Mardell‘s Housing Haunted Housing.

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The Appointment published 26/08/2020

The Appointment is written in the form of a monologue: one woman vents her emotions to a silent doctor in what will turn out to be a life-changing medical appointment. Her narration ranges from wilful provocation to pensive eloquence, often in the space of a single sentence. This conflictual style, which allows for musings about people ‘who are sometimes admitted to hospital with half their living room up their ass’ to lead to the quite profound observation, ‘that’s what loneliness does to people, Dr Seligman; they forget how to articulate their ideas’, fully justifies those more provocative lines. Thanks to this brave authorial decision, the hypocrisy of modern British prudishness is displayed to the reader with unrelenting candour.

Charlie Stone reviews Katharina Volckmer‘s The Appointment.

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On Wrong: A critical Biography of Dennis Cooper published 22/08/2020

Out of immense archival research and a prodigious control of language, Hester patiently assembles what amounts to be a cosmography of the fifty-year career of the multimedia artist and author. Though remarkably ambitious in scope and conducted with vigor, Hester’s large-scale arch unfolds with a surprising elegance that relationally considers Dennis Cooper’s work simultaneously as an oeuvre and as discrete, individual pieces. Hester goes further, and where I believe he undoubtedly succeeds is his positioning of Cooper’s work against historical backdrops of aesthetic, political, and critical theories.

Evan Isoline reviews Diarmuid Hester‘s Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper.

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Sharing Grounds: A Commonplace published 10/08/2020

Through poetry, A Commonplace stands for access and empowerment, for freedom from state intimidation and enclosure, and for ownership of the lands we live from. It argues for—by celebrating—the vitality of poetry: its vivid, living nature and its empathetic necessity in our critical matters. This concern, and his apparent disdain for politics which seek to turn Britain inwards, is what guards Davidson’s work against the significant risk of seeming pastoral, or over-invested in the ‘old’ features of English life which dominate his work: apple orchards, country roads, bicycles, bricks. A Commonplace elevates whichever common things are yours, without insisting that apples and bricks are everyone’s grounding.

Fiona Glen reviews A Commonplace: Apples, Bricks & Other People’s Poems by Jonathan Davidson.

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Sex and Drugs and the Major Arcana published 02/08/2020

The whole novel is about being seduced. These seductions are manifold — desire and addiction, power and pleasure, the material world and the occult, the obsessions with sex, the tarot and the body. In the background, the threat of fascism, Nazis, General Franco and de-individualisation by the state. Maria and Martin rebel against ‘power’ by enacting their own events of bondage and domination, the fear instilled by fascism elaborated in the horror movies they watch obsessively and the Dark Grimoire Tarot — based on H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon — they use to divine their own ‘reality.’

Steve Finbow reviews Stewart Home‘s She’s My Witch.

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A Twenty-First Century War and Peace published 28/07/2020

war’s proximity to fiction
the way it all felt like a script
like déjà vu to those at Stalingrad

the sense that they were
not just soldiers in the fight
but players in some old Tolstoyan epic
a myth to justify a state
that couldn’t be sustained

in this we find
another mirror image

Oscar Mardell reviews Vasily Grossman‘s Stalingrad.

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