COLUMNS The Art of Everyday Life

by Nina Ellis

Everyday life is my new escapist fantasy. I recently started reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet books, day-to-day epics which now feel like portals to delicious normality. They centre on tasks like cleaning up after a party or packing the car to go visit your sister: ‘He was back again, standing in the bedroom doorway, waiting with exaggerated patience for her to shut her suitcase,’ Howard writes of someone’s annoying husband. Her characters are immersed in the mundane actions that make up their lives — and after a year of not being allowed to throw proper parties or visit my sister, I’m loving being immersed in them too. [read full column]

ESSAY ‘The Story, I mean. History.’

by Luke Warde

Laurent Binet is a novelist, but also, perhaps, something of a historian manqué. He’s fascinated by the way the raw facts of history become, or are moulded into, narrative(s). A large measure of contrivance and ruse are par for the course. No wonder readers have mistaken him for yet another metafictional chaos theorist, high on Derrida and Barthes. Yet as James Wood pointed out in an extended review of HHhH (2010), Binet’s insurgent early novel, the latter seems sceptical not of history or our ability to document its complexities, but of literature and the value of verisimilitude. [read full essay]

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]

Weird Women

A.K. Blakemore, The Manningtree Witches

reviewed by Jess Payn

A.K. Blakemore’s poem ‘MAY’, published in The White Review in 2018, begins: you slid into my life as though a witch’s smock – a sun poem. It’s not really a poem about witches or witchiness; still, the witch’s presence intrudes by way of displacement, powerful and cunning. Her smock arrives on the sly slidings of sibilance, a suspect garment which makes a (s)mockery of the naked body and sabotages our ideas of consequence; the analogy that began with ‘you’ is startled by... [read more]

Literature of the Future

Roberto Bolaño, trans. Natasha Wimmer, Cowboy Graves: Three Novellas

reviewed by Josh Weeks

Given their proclivity for narrative open-endedness, it is fitting that the works of Roberto Bolaño should continue to emerge long after his death. The latest iteration of the Chilean’s eternal return (or what many have perceived as a literary barrel-scraping) is Cowboy Graves: a trio of novellas first published by Alfaguara in 2017 (Sepulcros de vaqueros), now finally available in English thanks to the ever-dependable translation of Natasha Wimmer. Like most of Bolaño’s fiction, we... [read more]

Society's Invisible Workforce

Sam Mills, The Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer

reviewed by Matthew Turner

Along with shouldering the burden of mortality on a daily basis, doctors regularly report psychological hardship associated with conducting procedures they know might not make a patient ‘well’ again and may not even improve their quality of life — that grey area between matters of life and death. However, a lesser told story, one perhaps with more ethical indeterminacy, is of those thousands that care for sick relatives and friends, without knowing if their actions are ameliorative.... [read more]

Radical Decency

Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History

reviewed by George Ttoouli

Hoping it wouldn’t be terrible, I picked up Rutger Bregman’s Humankind between lockdowns n and n+x. I say hoping, for the white dustjacket reminded me too much of similar-looking titles like Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style or Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile, for example, which, with their gazy, photo-polished authors and minimalist designs, somehow merge into a tub-thumping, masculine drone-choir: an exercise in voice over insight. And so, predisposed as I am to judge a book by... [read more]

Enter the Galaxy Brain

Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This

reviewed by Becky Varley–Winter

At the opening of Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel, titled No One is Talking About This, we find her main character wrapped in the gossamer-like web of the internet, which she refers to as ‘the portal’. ‘She lay every morning under an avalanche of details, [. . .] the spiderweb of human connection grown so thick it was almost a shimmering and solid silk, and the day still not opening to her.’ The portal, which had promised to deliver her from isolation, into communion with the lives of... [read more]

The Ratless Countryside

Sebastian Truskolaski, Adorno and the Ban on Images

reviewed by Stuart Walton

An enduring caution that has underlain utopian thinking in the materialist tradition is that it should not, in the present world at least, assume an appearance. Whatever shape a reconciled or transformed society might take cannot be conjured out of the present morass, as though being constructed from the IKEA flatpack. This disinclination, attributable to Marx's famous reticence about the lineaments of a liberated world, contrasted favourably with the embattled liaisons of Nathaniel Hawthorne's... [read more]

Becoming Indigenous

David Anderson, Landscape and Subjectivity in the work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair

reviewed by Niall Martin

Footage of a wrecking ball demolishing a coal store in London’s Nine Elms Lane, looped and ‘projected onto an unplastered white-painted brick wall’ takes on an almost totemic function in David Anderson’s Landscape and Subjectivity in the work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald and Iain Sinclair. Shot in the winter of 1979-80, this GIF avant la lettre was the first film exhibited by Patrick Keiller, and, in Anderson’s words, embodies ‘a melancholy bound up with the act of settling for... [read more]