INTERVIEW My Camera is My Notebook: An Interview with Harriet Mercer

by Jess Payn

Mercer's book, Gargoyles, is a memoir of the nightmarish side of sudden, life-threatening illness. Describing her convalescence at Charing Cross Hospital, Mercer follows ‘the thing that slips and slides through the fingers of your mind when you try to pin it down with words.’ Straying to the dark, wounded places of her life, the book is a tale of loss, change and endurance, but joy, too. Mercer celebrates the kindness of family, friends and strangers, and the beauty of the surrounding green-hued world. [read full interview]

COLUMNS Maimes at Groin

by Jack Solloway

Most authors enjoy wordplay, and the worse the better it seems. Writing mischief into French, English and every other language under the inevitable sun, Samuel Beckett (LES MEAT BUCKET) knew a thing or two about name games. His play Not I features — not an eye — but a mouth, suspended 8ft off the stage in total darkness. In Krapp’s Last Tape, as Beckett himself explained in a 1960 letter to Alan Schneider, he pits white against an anagram of ‘darke’ in ‘Bianca in Kedar Street’ and there’s plenty more of this interplay between light and shade strewn throughout (‘darke’ means dusky or dark-skinned in Hebrew). [read full column]

An Enduring Solidarity

Naomi Ishiguro, Common Ground

reviewed by Leon Craig

Naomi Ishiguro’s assured, sensitive debut novel, Common Ground follows the intertwined lives of Stan and Charlie, who meet as teenagers on the common in Newford and reunite by chance as adults in London. Thirteen-year-old Stan is bookish, small for his age, and being bullied by bigger, posher boys at school. His father has recently died and he doesn’t feel he can talk to his busy, emotionally-distant mother about his troubles. In other words, he is desperately in need of a friend. The... [read more]

A Taste in the Brain

Ben Pester, Am I In the Right Place?

reviewed by Tom Conaghan

The stories in Ben Pester’s debut collection are surreal and disturbing, and yet also somehow an uncanny depiction of how we live now. In the same way we don’t notice when we are dreaming, his stories teeter on a margin between the conceivable and the extremely crackers — the ‘just the sort of shit that would happen’ margin. In fact, you might say his stories are less surreal or unfeasible so much as merely unlikely — although who could recognise what’s likely these days as we... [read more]

Speak No Evil

G.L. Trevelyan, Appius and Virginia

reviewed by Guy Webster

In the early 1900s, a chimpanzee named Peter toured the world as a vaudevillian performer. Peter would smoke cigars on stage, shake hands, dance, and even speak English. The only word he knew, or had learned, was ‘Ma-ma’. Advertisers soon declared him ‘a monkey [that] made himself into a man’. Born in 1903, author G.L. Trevelyan would have been six years old when Peter’s performances became the subject of psychological study at the University of Pennsylvania. She would be 14 when,... [read more]

A Pair of Ragged Claws

Jackie Ess, Darryl

reviewed by Dominic Fox

Among the several eccentricities for which the Canadian Professor Jordan B. Peterson has become widely known is a peculiar choice of example to illustrate the formation of dominance hierarchies outside the sway of human society and culture. Peterson might have settled on rutting stags, or chest-beating orang-utans; instead he picked a non-mammalian species, the European lobster, whose outsize claws serve a primary purpose not of predation, but of violent competition for mating opportunities.... [read more]

Old Cages, New Bodies, New Scrutiny

Paul B. Preciado, Can the Monster Speak?

reviewed by A.V. Marraccini

Paul B. Preciado’s Can The Monster Speak? is the text of a lecture delivered pre-pandemic to the L'École de la Cause freudienne in Paris in 2019. I should say partially delivered; Preciado was heckled off the stage, called ‘Hitler’ by a woman in the audience, and subjected to jeers and boos before he could finish. It was partially filmed, and circulated online in choppy parts, like an illicit porno for anti-Lacanian theory kids everywhere. The importance of Lacan here cannot be... [read more]

Some guy, sitting in a room

George Saunders, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life

reviewed by Mathis Clément

The last time George Saunders’ thoughts on writing and the writer’s life appeared on bookshelves, they came filtered through the oddball idiom of Aldo Cummings in ‘The Falls’, one of six stories that make up Pastoralia (2000). Aldo is walking along a riverbank, feeling pleased with himself. He thinks of himself, ludicrously, as a great writer; ludicrous because of the way he thinks: To an interviewer in his head, Cummings said he felt the possible rain made the fine bright day even... [read more]

Someone Call Hollywood!

John Sutherland, Monica Jones, Philip Larkin and Me: Her Life and Long Loves

reviewed by William Poulos

Poetry studies are becoming more like Hollywood. I don’t mean that they’re becoming more accessible or more entertaining. Rather, they’re becoming more and more obsessed with poets’ lives, as if poets were as glamorous or as interesting as Cary Grant or Marilyn Monroe. As the mounds of biographies, letters, memoirs and diaries increase, the poems lie neglected, foxing in some untidy spot. Back in the dark days, critics, deprived of the light of biographical scholarship, were forced to... [read more]

Strange Half-lives

Tabitha Lasley, Sea State

reviewed by Jennifer Thomson

‘Grab ‘em by the pussy.’ This is, we are told, how men talk when women aren’t there. Vulgarities. Sexual boasting. ‘Locker room’ chat. Ex-journalist Tabitha Lasley sets out to discover if this is really the case in her first book, Sea State. ‘I want to see what men are like when no women are around’, is how she explains it to two separate individuals, in conversations that bookend Sea State. Both point out the irony in this aim. It won’t work. She, a woman, will be there too.... [read more]

This Le Carré Stuff

Chris Power, A Lonely Man

reviewed by Nicholas Harris

One has to worry when writers write about unhappy writers, especially when the (fictional) writer is similar to the (actual) writer. Martin Amis has confessed that the narrator of The Information (an impotent, dejected man, and failed writer) was an outgrowth of his own mid-life crisis. This is not evidence of cloudless self-esteem, and on first acquaintance with Chris Power’s writer-narrator Robert Prowe — who while almost being called Power is, like his creator, approaching middle age and... [read more]

A Good Listener

Lucie Elven, The Weak Spot

reviewed by Eliza Goodpasture

We are often told that listening is a skill — thoughtful listeners are treasured as friends, children are disciplined for failing to listen properly, and straight men are stereotyped for always talking and never listening on first dates. Lucie Elven’s debut, The Weak Spot, takes these tropes of listening and inverts them, interrogating the power dynamics and dark intentions hidden behind the facade of a good listener. In the opening pages of the novel, the narrator, an unnamed recently... [read more]