Between Utopia and Dystopia: Encountering Marshall Berman and Mike Davis

by Andy Merrifield

In Marshall I saw my shadow self. In Mike Davis I recognised my angrier part, the undertow that tugged with my Marshall part, the loving part. These were the two souls dwelling in my breast, dwelling in my feeling and thinking about cities as well. I was more dystopian than utopian. Funnily enough, this is what I wanted to discuss with Marshall, who’d become a friend. We’d agreed to see each other, to talk about a letter he’d sent me about an article I’d sent him. [read full essay]

Reading the Room: On Cultural Empathies at the 2018 TS Eliot Prize Readings

by Stephanie Sy-Quia

‘Welcome to our safe house!’ Thus began the 2018 TS Eliot Prize readings, which were hosted ten days ago, as they always are, in the the most eminent of the arts bunkers stationed on the South Bank. It was a Sunday night, and the Royal Festival Hall, capacity 2,900, was full, enthralled by the booming Doncaster tones of compere Ian McMillan. This year the prize was more diverse than ever before: full gender parity had been achieved, and not one but three non-white poets were included. There was even an Irishman. They were all excellent. [read full opinion]

‘What We Need is a Revolution’

Édouard Louis, trans. Lorin Stein, Who Killed My Father

reviewed by Adam Scovell

Édouard Louis’s third book, Who Killed My Father (Qui a tué mon père), begins by setting out the blueprint for another form. ‘If this were a text for the theatre,’ he writes, ‘here is how it would begin. . .’ Ever since Louis’s debut novel The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, 2014),the writer has pushed against the limitations of his medium, in particular its reach and its potential to instigate change. He has since jumped between forms, his work being heavily... [read more]

An Evolving Narrative

Annie Ernaux, trans. Tanya Leslie, Happening

reviewed by Xenobe Purvis

In April 1971, the weekly Parisian news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published a letter submitted by 343 women. In a few brief paragraphs, the letter declared that the undersigned women – including, among many others, the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Sagan, and Agnès Varda – had all undergone illegal abortions. The letter attempted to remove the shroud of secrecy surrounding abortion and champion its legalisation; it undoubtedly contributed to the eventual... [read more]

Young Mannish Bull

Michael Levitin, Disposable Man

reviewed by Stoddard Martin

In the 1950s and even as late as the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was common for American Jews to be reluctant to say where their families came from. To be asked about ancestral background could be inferred as suggesting that you were somehow ‘unAmerican’, to use the ugly McCarthy era term. If now ensconced in bourgeois comfort, many immigrant Jews had indeed been Marxists in youth. Names had been clipped or otherwise altered – Krumkotkin to Krumm as for the grandfather of the protagonist... [read more]

It does not look like a poetry collection

Sophie Collins, Who Is Mary Sue?

reviewed by Rosanna Hildyard

Who Is Mary Sue? is a collection that views itself but refuses to comment. It ranges over forms of poetry, essay, confessional writing, witness statement. (It is even part-review itself, for example in ‘a whistle in the gloom’, which considers Pauline Réage’s The Story of O.) Specifically, as in this example from ‘As bread is the body of Christ, so is glass the very flesh of the Devil’, it is aware of the way in which readers view both a text written by a woman and the female writer:... [read more]

A Panorama of Death and Vanity

Curzio Malaparte, trans. Jenny McPhee, The Kremlin Ball

reviewed by Marcel Inhoff

The Kremlin Ball is an extraordinary book – flawed, incomplete, mad. As literature it is nowhere near Malaparte’s best, and yet its inadequacies make it the pleasurable rarity that it is. It is an unfinished novel, found among the writer’s papers after his death. Composed in large part between his two better-known masterpieces, Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949), it breaks new ground for the novelist and scandal-monger. Rather than describe – as the other two books did, often in... [read more]

Self and the City

Ferdinand Addis, Rome: Eternal City

reviewed by Nicolas Liney

By all accounts, the city of Rome should have passed into the footnotes of history long ago, a sad victim of multiple sackings, internecine division, depopulation and egregious neglect. Case in point: in the early fifth century, a roaming military force of Visigoths crept uncomfortably far into Italy, bypassing the new capital Ravenna, and encircling Rome. Negotiations faltered, and in 410 CE the city was systematically, scrupulously levelled. The sacking was, by the standards of its age,... [read more]

Mexico’s Fraternal Republic

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, A New Hope for Mexico

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

On July 1st Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is more commonly known, and his National Regeneration Party, MORENA, won 53% of the vote in the Mexican elections. Their victory came as little surprise to those who had followed the polling, which had put them as the front runners for some time. Having run twice before – 2006 and 2012 – and lost out marginally, under circumstances where electoral fraud was likely used to overcome him, AMLO now has a governing majority that even the... [read more]

Sound and Form

Andrew Wynn Owen, The Multiverse

reviewed by Liam Bishop

William Blake saw, in the age of scepticism, Enlightenment philosophy heralded as damaging to what he thought was the unifying power of the poetic vision. Should the sun and moon be overcome by doubt ‘they’d immediately go out’ he wrote in ‘Auguries of Innocence’. Andrew Wynn Owen, in his collection which draws on images and arguments from religion and science, also questions what scepticism might mean for our aesthetics. He takes us to a similar time of wonder and trouble. ... [read more]

Reassuringly Optimistically Deranged

Paul Ewen, Francis Plug: Writer in Residence

reviewed by Hugo Brown

Francis Plug, the protagonist of Paul Ewen’s novel series of the same name, is ‘a brilliant, deranged new comic creation.’ On the cover of most novels, there is always one quotation like this that stands out against the rest. Looking back through my recent memory; Philip Roth’s American Pastoral is ‘raging and elegiac,’ Gonzalo C. Garcia is ‘a deep and hilarious new literary voice’ and Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is ‘one of the strangest books in memory.’ At their best,... [read more]

Strings of Letters and Names of Warehouses

Edouard Louis, trans. Lorin Stein, History of Violence

reviewed by Stephanie Sy-Quia

There is something suspicious in the ways Edouard Louis’s 2014 debut novel, The End of Eddy, has generally been discussed, in its branding as a novel of growing up gay and poor in post-industrial Northern France, which even appears in the blurb. The phrase is now de rigueur for reviewers: ‘growing up gay and poor’ (James Macaulay in The Washington Post), ‘growing up gay in a violent, neglected town in Northern France’ (Kim Willsher in The Guardian), ‘growing up gay in industrial... [read more]