All Reviews

Centrist Sensibility

James Ball & Andrew Greenway, Bluffocracy

reviewed by Peter Mitchell

Anyone acquainted with the history of the British state, whatever that is, has some idea of the Northcote-Trevelyan report, the 1854 document that catalysed the creation, overseen largely by Sir Charles Trevelyan, of the modern Civil Service. To a lot of civil servants it’s a kind of Year Zero, to be spoken about in reverent terms; to historians it’s a bit more complex, but still the presiding single moment of the consolidation of the liberal-bureaucratic state in the UK.... [read more]

Desert Island Risks

Jack Robinson, Robinson

reviewed by David Collard

'Jack Robinson' is a pseudonym of the poet and novelist Charles Boyle who also runs CB editions, an enterprise regarded by many admirers as the best of all British independents. In 2017 he took time off from publishing other writers to concentrate on publishing two books of his own, the first of which, An Overcoat: Scenes from the Afterlife of H.B., is about the 19th-century French novelist Stendhal (real name Marie-Henri Beyle, something of an obsession with his near-namesake Boyle). Of this... [read more]

Immanent – though sadly not imminent

Franco Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility

reviewed by Alexandre Leskanich

Organised around three interconnected themes of potency, power and possibility, Marxist media theorist Franco Berardi’s latest book offers a sharply lucid and penetrating (if not always adequately elaborated or defended) diagnosis of our present predicament, summarised as the ‘age of impotence’. Berardi presents the current political malaise as merely the latest stage of an entropic decline, the self-destructive decay of a system long irredeemable, yet which effectively obscures the means... [read more]

Fine-grained Hybridity

Vahni Capildeo, Venus as a Bear

reviewed by Jack Belloli

They’ve been busy. Venus as a Bear arrives scarcely two years after Vahni Capildeo’s last full collection, the Forward Prize-winning Measures of Expatriation, and even then it doesn’t contain everything we’ve seen from them since, an 'agender [writer] in a female body', Capildeo takes they/them pronouns. For their funniest turn in last year’s 'Persephone in Oulipo', they offer a parody of ‘mainstream English lyric’. A lyric ‘I’ narrates the experience of sitting down to write... [read more]

Fleeing Babel

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Call Me Zebra

reviewed by Liam Bishop

After reading Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s second novel, Call Me Zebra, I was reminded of a piece by the artist and sculptor Mel Chin. In ‘Circumfessional Hymenal Sea (Portrait of Jacques Derrida)’ an ivory tower, within which further towers appear to be enclosed, rests under a ‘sea’ of books. The perimeter is enclosed with hardbacks, and in the centre are reams of pages rolling and concertinaed into one another. According to Chin, the work originated from a dream based on... [read more]

Reason and its Discontents

Martin Jay, Reason after Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory

reviewed by Simi Freund

The last few years have seen a renewed interest in the work of the Frankfurt School. With the ongoing political turbulence affecting the liberal societies of the Western world, people are seeking theoretical tools to lay bare the insidious underpinnings of Western modernity, the coercive tactics sewn into apparently emancipatory concepts like Enlightenment, progress, freedom, democracy, technology and capitalism. With an increasing awareness of the darker side of these concepts, and as the... [read more]

Prospects for Connection

Ian Holding, What Happened to Us

reviewed by Jacqueline Landey

To read Ian Holding’s What Happened to Us is to be drawn into a state of suspension, to hover with a child, a family and a country on the edge of possible unravelling. Set in suburban Harare between the hey- and dying- days of Robert Mugabe’s presidency, the novel circles around the night a family home is shattered by a brutal break-in. Far from being a one-dimensional portrayal of crime in sub-Saharan Africa, this novel’s depiction of family trauma is presented within a context of a... [read more]

Various Images of Truth

Olga Tokarczuk, trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

reviewed by Antonia Cundy

Reading a novel when you know that you are going to review it is an odd thing. No matter how many times you approach the exercise – whether you diligently insist on reading it once through like a ‘normal’ reader, saving note-taking until a second read, or not – it is impossible to completely escape the reviewer’s mindset. Whilst the story unfolds, another narrative begins to write itself in your own head, the narrative of your review itself. This is particularly true when what... [read more]

Prisons We Choose To Live Inside

Lara Feigel, Free Woman: Life, Liberation and Doris Lessing

reviewed by Emily Bueno

‘There were too many weddings that summer,’ writes Lara Feigel at the opening of Free Woman. Forced to endure a succession of bourgeois nuptials – all take-home marmalade and hand-sewn Liberty print bunting – Feigel, a reader in modern literature at King’s College London, becomes increasingly truculent. Why does it bother her so? In large part, it’s the oppressive uniformity: the ‘apparent assumption’ that marriage ‘remained the only way to live’, with the entire room... [read more]

Meaningful Unreason

Philip C. Almond, God: A New Biography

reviewed by Neil Griffiths

If I were to say, ‘God, I love this book’ a few things are clear: (1) a reviewer (2) is advocating (3) in an emotional register (4) the book under review. What cannot be known is what is what I mean by ‘God’, beyond upping the declarative nature of the sentence and taking the Lord’s name in vain. However, if you’re reading this in the Anglophone West, there will be an assumption. Something around an outmoded intercessionary being that church / synagogue / mosque goers have decided... [read more]