Communism on the Second Floor

by Owen Hatherley

This is the authentic voice of post-1968 squatland, and it is not a shrill or hysterical one. It is found also in the famous Christiania in Copenhagen. A former barracks was occupied by young leftists, who then invited locals to come see 'the forbidden city' – and create it. Their manifesto called for 'a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible for the well-being of the entire community. This society is to be economically self-sustaining, and its common aspiration is to be steadfast in the conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted'. This is not the same thing as squatting a row of bombed-out terraces, and different even to the CPGB's 1940 occupation of the Savoy. It was not intended to draw attention to housing poverty, but to something else – that 'psychological destitution', represented by the entire post-war world of 9-5 work, technocracy, full employment, Fordism, predictability, the nuclear family, advertising, property development and municipal housing. [read full essay]

Sinister Shapes Emerge

Ann Quin, The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments

reviewed by Liam Harrison

Ann Quin’s writing has been largely neglected since her untimely death in 1973. She died by drowning in her hometown of Brighton, just as her precursor Virginia Woolf had died in the same county 32 years earlier. Quin was part of the British avant-garde scene of the 1960s, which included BS Johnson and Christine Brooke-Rose, who were interested in pushing beyond the narrow confines of ‘realist’ literature. She travelled to Mexico, Greece and the US, and the landscapes of these countries... [read more]

Shadows and Flights

Rupert M. Loydell, Talking Shadows

reviewed by Martin Casely

Anyone who’s keen to follow the many publications of poet-artist Rupert M. Loydell needs to pick up on his limited-run, small press productions as well as his more accessible, orthodox publications. Fugitive editions abound, mail-art proliferates and every so often, a nicely-produced booklet like Talking Shadows appears in the letter-box. Loydell has been wildly productive ever since his days running Stride magazine in the 1990s and the recent Stride website, and he shows no signs of... [read more]

Nobody's Muse

Whitney Chadwick, The Militant Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism

reviewed by Xenobe Purvis

Look through the work of the male surrealists in the first half of the 20th century and you will find a wealth of female bodies. An orgy of them. They are objectified by the artists’ lustful gaze. They are sliced up, decapitated, and distorted. They are reduced to children, to Alices in Wonderland. Over and again, we see how significant women were to the surrealist movement – as muses, giving their bodies up to be picked over by the men. Max Ernst’s collage novel Une Semaine de Bonté,... [read more]

Unravel, ravel, unravel

AK Blakemore, Fondue

reviewed by Jenna Clake

‘If you are a woman, writing about your experience of being a woman, you are part of one of the most avant-garde literary movements there has ever been,’ writes AK Blakemore in her manifesto for the Poetry Review. Fondue, her second full-length collection, explores the experience of being a woman: what it means to desire, to be desired, and to try to reconcile this desire with feminism and feminist thought. The title, Fondue, suggests dipping into something, oozing, being covered; it... [read more]

In the Absence of Facts

Alex Pheby, Lucia

reviewed by Genevieve Sartor

The shadowy figure of Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s supposedly schizophrenic daughter, offers a fascinating and underdeveloped topic ripe for imaginative reconstructions of who she was and what she may have experienced. A number of fictive portrayals of Lucia have been instigated by the only biography written on her, Carol Shloss’s Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (2003). This text remains a principal reference for those curious about Lucia despite the fact that it has been unfavourably... [read more]

One Guided Meditation

Will Eaves, Murmur

reviewed by Oscar Yuill

‘My own predicament – a mathematician and homosexual who has done serviceable work in logic and computational theory but who has run foul of an illogical system of justice – seems very unremarkable.’ Readers in search of anything as straightforward as the above had better avoid Will Eaves’s fourth novel, Murmur, for it has achieved the holy grail of modern prose: conveying consciousness. And being in the stream of another’s mind would not be a coherent experience. ‘What is it... [read more]

Who is Kathy?

Olivia Laing, Crudo

reviewed by Matthew Turner

It’s often said that we don’t read anymore, but look around any coffee shop, park or commuter train and people are constantly scanning and reading various feeds on their phones. Even people reading a physical book will often have a phone perched in front of it – hidden in the gutter margin like a dirty magazine – reading from both as if they are conjuring a real-time cut-up or montage between screen and page. It seems there’s a distinction between reading a novel and something such as... [read more]

A Companionable Fit

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

reviewed by Laura Waddell

Asymmetry, the title of Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, could refer to its unconventional structure, where two seemingly unrelated stories are joined together by a coda at the end, or the disparate lives of the characters of Alice and Amar, who respectively star in each section. It could describe other themes of the book: an age-gap relationship, the right of different nationals to travel undisturbed. It is an excellent title for an excellent book that examines the lives of characters trying to... [read more]

It Has the Character of Destiny

Giorgio Agamben, trans. Lorenzo Chiesa, The Adventure

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, best known still for his 1995 study of biopolitics, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, has concentrated in recent years on increasingly slender essays on some of philosophy's biggest questions. In lesser hands, these could easily turn into the short introductions and bluffer's guides in which trade publishing has established a lucrative sideline. Nothing could be further from Agamben's intention. His technique is to begin with an arcane scholarly... [read more]


Megan Dunn, Tinderbox

reviewed by James Cook

About halfway through Megan Dunn’s memoir, Tinderbox, there is a scene in which she recalls her interview for a master’s in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her questioner, the acclaimed novelist and poet Michèle Roberts, offers aspiring author Dunn a sage piece of writing advice: ‘Play with your shit’. This she does, metaphorically speaking, throughout 150 pages of this wonderful, restless, formally daring first book. Tinderbox is such a shape-shifter, such a sui... [read more]