All Reviews

Well Made Austerities

Nathalie Olah, Bad Taste: Or the Politics of Uglines

reviewed by Alice Brewer

Much of what concerns Bad Taste, Olah’s second full-length book, is traceable to a chapter of her first. Exploring the cultural impoverishments of New Labour and the decade of austerity that followed, Olah’s Steal as Much as You Can (2019) argued that tastefulness should be understood as the uncodified aesthetic of the risk-averse. Her focus was arts programming: how unwilling our middle- and upper-class cadre of editors, commissioners and marketing executives are to take risks in times of... [read more]

Not All Allegories Are Equal

Adam Biles, Beasts of England

reviewed by Peter Adkins

I’ve always felt George Orwell was hard on sheep in Animal Farm. Presented as a mindless indistinguishable mass, ready to unremember the past and change their allegiances on the slightest of porcine instruction, Orwell drew on farmyard clichés that anyone who has spent five-minutes with a sheep will know to be wrong. Sheep are wilful, resourceful and clever animals, inquisitive and cautious, independent and companionable. Or perhaps, I am the one who is wrong. After all, the beastly... [read more]

Let Our Voices Mingle

Tom Conaghan (ed.), The Poet & The Echo

reviewed by Phoebe Tee

Birdsong caws and chirrups through the stories in Scratch Books’ new anthology, The Poet & The Echo, each of which was written in response to an existing poem as part of Radio 4’s programme of the same name. Harry Josephine Giles’s gothic tale, ‘The Grey Eagle’, whistles with ‘the wicked cries of innumerable gulls’. In Hannah Lavery’s ‘The Idler’, the narrator’s son listens ‘to the birds. Not for the credit, but because they’re singing'. But it’s not only birdsong... [read more]


Stanley Corngold, Expeditions to Kafka: Selected Essays

reviewed by Meindert Peters

Be warned: you will not be able to escape Franz Kafka in 2024. After the centenary of Marcel Proust's death in 2022, with an exhibition in Paris and several new books, 2024 marks the centenary of Kafka's passing and this will not go unmarked either. The London Review of Books is publishing a special diary, filled with past Kafka criticism from their pages, by authors such as Elif Batuman, Anne Carson, and Colm Tóibín. Oxford scholar (and my colleague) Karolina Watroba will publish a new book... [read more]

Hold the Pose

Wes Brown, Breaking Kayfabe

reviewed by Richard Smyth

Some time in the 1980s, the journalist Rick Broadbent interviewed the Halifax wrestler Shirley Crabtree, better known as ‘Big Daddy’, and asked him if wrestling was real. Crabtree sighed and replied: ‘The pain is real.’ This is how we justify our fictions (the formalised dishonesty of literature, the sweaty moral pantomime of wrestling). There’s something in here that’s true, we think, turning life over in our hands, giving it a shake, holding it to our ear. There’s something... [read more]

A Homecoming

Maya Binyam, Hangman

reviewed by Patrick Christie

After living in America for 26 years, a man returns to his native country in sub-Saharan Africa to visit his dying brother. Both the narrator and the country he is visiting are left unnamed in Hangman, Maya Binyam’s debut novel. Proper nouns in general are missing from the text, with the places and people the narrator encounters given labels such as ‘the yoghurt man’, ‘the town where I was expected’ or ‘my son’s mother’s brother’. Absent too, are any substantive descriptions... [read more]

Morality and Its Discontents

Life Ceremony, Sayaka Murata, trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori

reviewed by Tim Murphy

In January 2023, the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, made a speech suggesting that the very existence of Japanese society was being threatened by its steadily falling birth rate. While Kishida said that support for child-rearing was now his government’s single most important policy, it is not surprising that Japanese artists have responded to the demographic situation in sometimes provocative ways. Chie Hayakawa’s futuristic 2022 film, Plan 75, for example, concerns a government... [read more]

‘And we were pitiless’

Jeremy Seabrook, Private Worlds: Growing Up Gay in Post-War Britain

reviewed by Charlie Pullen

On 9 January 1969, a new play called Life Price premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square. Starring June Brown, a young actress who would go on to become famous as Dot Cotton in Eastenders, Life Price was about the murder of a child on ‘a council estate in the Midlands’. With its hard-hitting themes and working-class characters, the play owed something to that bold social realist tradition that had emerged in British culture following the Second World War. Over a... [read more]

Swept Away With Them

Robert Selby, The Kentish Rebellion

reviewed by Ben Leubner

Our general sense of ourselves in relation to time has us moving along an x-axis, horizontal, linear, and elongated. To look back into the past is to turn one’s head around, squint, and test one’s power of vision to its fullest, especially if one is trying to discern events from almost 400 years ago. Yet this isn’t the conception of ourselves in relation to time that Robert Selby is working with in his second book, The Kentish Rebellion. Reading these poems, one gets the feeling that... [read more]

‘after it all went’

Jorie Graham, To 2040

reviewed by Jack Barron

Samuel Beckett was something of a fortune-teller. That is, so much of his textual surface takes place on the pages and stages of uncertain futurity: think, for example, of Endgame’s possible apocalypse occurring without; of the brightening terror of ‘Imagination Dead Imagine’; or of Krapp’s Last Tape, our eponymous clown flitting about his den, enveloped by some ‘late evening in the future’. Beckett will never properly disclose these subjunctive zones, which is their power: their... [read more]