:: Reviews

Erik Martiny’s The Pleasures of Queueing published 14/06/2019

The author, like the narrator, was born in Cork, Ireland and grew up speaking French at home. This dual heritage inscribes itself on every page of this Bildungsroman. It may be that Martiny’s bilingualism in both language and culture allows him a more than ordinary awareness of the potential playfulness and variety of English as spoken in Ireland – the novel abounds in verbal play with choice renderings of the speech patterns and pronunciations of Corkonian school kids, interspersed with diction that ranges high and astonishingly low.

Peter Harris reviews Erik Martiny‘s The Pleasures of Queuing.

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The Runaway Combinatorics of Mac’s Problem published 12/06/2019

In your standard Vila-Matas outing, a relatively humble, aloofly outcast narrator takes the reader on a tour of a certain subset of literature, culling quotes and anecdotes from a wide variety of texts, while the framing narrative is tinged by some thematic cornerstone relevant to the chosen texts. Bartleby & Co., for instance, follows a mildly aggrieved clerk as he reviews the literature of so-called “artists of refusal,” including Robert Walser, J.D. Salinger, and Herman Melville. The latest addition to his idiosyncratic oeuvre, Mac’s Problem, largely fits this mold, but is one of his looser endeavors. It’s similar in some ways to 2014’s The Illogic of Kassel, but whereas that book was aerated by travel and movement—set in the titular German city during the documenta festival, the book traces its narrator’s wanderings between various abstruse exhibits and avant-garde performances—Mac’s Problem lacks a similar mechanism that might salvage its narrator’s self-involvement.

Bailey Trena reviews Mac’s Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas.

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In the Shadows, Some Light Shines Through published 07/06/2019

The final story, “One Night Stand” is a winner. When we meet Rafe, the protagonist, he comes off as arrogant and self-centred. He has, much to his chagrin, allowed a woman to spend the night and as she messes up his immaculate home, scrounging some breakfast for them, setting her (gasp) bare buttocks on his pristine white cushions, he quietly fumes. He is, of course, a business development executive, and she, it turns out works at the rape crisis centre. Oil and water, save for the wild sex, but it should have ended there. As he is driving her home, his mother calls to remind him of an upcoming family dinner, asking, with faint hope if he might be bringing someone. Understanding the subtext, his female companion suggest she could come along, just to get his mother off his back.

Joseph Schreiber reviews Breanne McIvor‘s Where There Are Monsters.

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Cinema of Interface: Metahaven’s Digital Tarkovsky published 05/06/2019

Metahaven maps a / change of means / rather than experience / in other words / we have not entered a world without idle time or waiting / we have entered a world where idle time is performed differently / not sitting in silence or walking in nature / we are waiting for the next series of notifications / the next excitation in the wave of news and information / Bergson’s duree sprouting a new visual arm / rendered tactile on your feed / where timestamps fluctuate / from past to future to present / a cycling collage / this fragmentation likened / to Tarkovsky’s slow cinema / where time becomes a dream / ambiguous in its movement //

Mike Corrao reviews Digital Tarkovsky by Metahaven.

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The nasal symphony of Jean-Baptiste del Amo’s Animalia published 27/05/2019

Animalia is not just about barbarism. It is also about time. Smells become a vector of historical change. When Marcel returns from the war, with a sewn-up eye socket and ruined impression of a face, his experience is contained within his smell: ‘The smell of straw, of animals and sweat has given way to that of alcohol and ether, of morphine and oil of camphor, of stale tobacco and hooch.’ This game of olfactory compare and contrast can be most profitably played between the book’s two halves, when the peasant farmland of 1914 gives way to the intensive mechanized operation of 1981. Before, the fields ‘smell of hay, wild garlic, broom and warm stones’; now, the brothers breathe ‘shallow gulps of ammoniacal emanations’ and ‘the acrid stench of Cresyl [a disinfectant] and slurry’.

Daniel Marc Janes reviews Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo.

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The Cross, the Crosshatch and the Swoopy Lines published 25/05/2019

The novel begins and ends with a hiccup. The first of a whole patchwork of intertextual winks and nods; Hodgson invites us to draw comparisons with Proust’s madeleine. Only, where Proust’s reverie is particularly French and particularly sweet, Hodgson’s traumatic spiel is kicked off by a bodily function that is universally embarrassing. In an interview, he has spoken about the hiccup as a legacy of mankind’s aquatic ancestry — a memory buried in the genes, perhaps — but it is also undoubtedly overcoded with a whole range of social presumptions. We think of nerves, of drunkenness, of our own bodies rising against us. Hiccups disrupt language. They are always inappropriate. There is never a good time for them.

Joseph Darlington reviews Andrew Hodgson‘s Mnemic Symbols.

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Uninvited: Emotional Distance in Gabriela Ybarra’s The Dinner Guest published 22/05/2019

The extent to which The Dinner Guest is a novel, however, can be debated. The narrator shares a name and history with the author. The major facts surrounding the two deaths don’t appear to be exaggerated either, at least beyond that which is verifiable by public record. Presumably, the most baldly fictionalized portions are the minute details of the hours after Ybarra’s grandfather’s kidnapping, which happened before Ybarra was born, but even those moments, such as the narrator’s father struggle to free himself of handcuffs, feel culled from conversations, hardly out of line with the type of imaginative re-creations often seen in nonfiction.

Kyle Callert reviews The Dinner Guest by Gabrela Ybarra.

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Above the Fat published 10/05/2019

‘Bill Mathers’, meanwhile, satirises the figure of the curmudgeonly ageing novelist, presented by an amanuensis, a young man who responded to a classified ad: ‘Old man, blinding writer. Seeks reader for short walks and zero conversation’. His pearls of wisdom are a mixture of boastfulness, pub bore wisdom, fishing chat, ignorance, gossip and name-dropping. Ted Hughes: ‘shit at fishing’. Walter Benjamin: ‘people go round quoting him like he’s a pal. They miss the point: you’re not meant to think he’s your pal’. Zadie Smith: ‘she farted once at the Booker ceremony. Cleared the room. Still didn’t win though’. The smug satisfaction and complacency displayed by Mathers is the same energy behind a thousand opinion pieces bemoaning the death of the novel, or the popularity of Sally Rooney.

Thom Cuell reviews Thomas Chadwick‘s Above the Fat — the Republic of Consciousness Book of the Month.

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A Kind of Entertainment published 08/05/2019

First-person fragmentary “novels” are very hard to pull off. At their worst they curate a list of readings and names for show, in a sort of ego-display to the reader which doesn’t entail much introspection, uncanniness or experimentation, let alone the courtesy of character and plot building. (I still like these; call me old-fashioned.) The latter may well be dispensed with, but if so, something must replace them to maintain interest. An urgent message, or a beautiful or interesting use of language, would cut it.

Jessica Sequeira reviews Human Matter by Rodrigo Rey Rosa.

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Christian Petzold’s Serious Music published 07/05/2019

What went wrong?—the question, wrenching and unanswerable, echoes through the work of the German director Christian Petzold. Even in his student films from the 1990s he seemed to be asking this of each one of his bitter, remorseful characters, and in his mature 21st-century films, he seems to pose the same question of his country: from Dachau to Baader-Meinhof, from the Iron Curtain to the disillusionment of reunification, what went wrong?

Jackson Arn reviews the feature filmTransit by Christian Petzold.

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