All Reviews

Maximum Truth; Minimum Honesty

Aea Varfis van-Warmelo, Intellectual Property

reviewed by David Collard

A poem is a kind of conspiracy between the poet and the reader, and not simply in the sense of a plot or secret plan. ‘Conspiracy’ (from the Latin conspiratio) has the literal meaning of ‘I breathe together with others’ and that, metaphorically, is what we do when we read a poem. We share the poet’s thoughts and feelings, their position in the world. We share their air. In her long poem ‘Lachrymatory’ (which appeared in issue 3 of Tolka magazine last year) Aea Varfis-van... [read more]

More or Less Nothing

Michel Chaouli, Something Speaks to Me: Where Criticism Begins

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Michel Chaouli opens his study of the techniques and functions of criticism with a startling confession. Some years ago, while teaching a standard module on the modern European novel at Indiana University, in a lecture focused on Franz Kafka's The Trial, he read out a paragraph from the text and promptly found he had nothing to say about it. Improvising desperately, he skipped to another passage and read that, and another, but always with the same result. The emotional dynamics of the scene... [read more]
 

The Long Road of Contradiction

Serge Daney, trans. Nicholas Elliott, Footlights: Critical Notebook 1970–1982

reviewed by Sam Warren Miell

After his premature death in 1992, aged 48, Serge Daney’s unpublished notes were collected in a volume entitled L’exercise a été profitable, monsieur, after the French translation of a line repeated in Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet: ‘The exercise was beneficial, sir.’ Daney, who was at his death the most important writer on cinema in France, had explained that it was this film, beloved in France and more or less ignored everywhere else, that best allegorised the trajectory of the... [read more]

Several Lives

Emmie Francis & Mark Godfrey (eds.), Five Stories for Philip Guston

reviewed by Patrick Christie

Philip Guston lived several artistic lives — as a muralist employed by the New Deal Works Program Administration to create anti-fascist art on public buildings; as a figurative painter combining his passions for Giorgio de Chirico and Piero della Francesca to make tableau pictures responding to the Holocaust; as a respected Abstract Expressionist and member of the New York school alongside childhood friend Jackson Pollock; and finally, as a political satirist producing pastel-coloured... [read more]
 

‘What is a bag?’

Holly Pester, The Lodgers

reviewed by Trahearne Falvey

‘A ledge of any kind got me going,’ Holly Pester’s narrator declares on the first page of the poet’s debut novel The Lodgers, revealing a childhood fantasy of ‘climbing inside a small case or container, like a piano stool or matchbox’ to live a ‘pretend little life’. A life can’t be built on a ledge — it is, by definition, narrow and temporary — but anyone who rents in the turbulent UK housing market will recognise the narrator’s constant searching for something to hold... [read more]

Awakened Connections

Han Kang, trans. Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won, Greek Lessons

reviewed by Megan Jones

Desire is an emotion Han Kang returns to in Greek Lessons, the fourth of her full-length works to be translated into English, following UK publications of Human Acts (2016), The White Book (2018) and the International Booker Prize-winning The Vegetarian (2015). In The Vegetarian, desire manifests as a yearning akin to starvation — the deprivation of meat, of sex, of sustenance. In her latest novel, it takes another form: loss. Greek Lessons returns readers to the metaphorical... [read more]
 

The Gift of Misgiving

Angela Leighton, Something, I Forget

reviewed by Jack Barron

Angela Leighton’s latest collection of poems — her sixth — comes to us under a sign that dissolves at its edges, inaugurating a finely-tuned vagueness, a structural ambiguity; it is a collection framed by those minor oblivions that dog us all: Something, I Forget. And indeed, within its pages, variations on the theme of memory (and its failures) abound: they are poems that, through their rich emphasis on sound and acoustic patterning, repeatedly describe the fringes of language as it... [read more]

Because They Wind Us Up

Daisy Lafarge, Lovebug

reviewed by Vittoria Fallanca

In an evocative passage based around John Donne’s famous poem The Flea, Daisy Lafarge discusses what she terms ‘the difficult meshwork of infection and intimacy’. The flea of Donne’s poem has sucked on the blood of the speaker and his beloved and acts as an opportunity for him to persuade her of a different kind of corporeal exchange. While feminist critiques of the poem note the silence or erasure of the female beloved, for Lafarge this interspecies interaction highlights how our... [read more]
 

Something Strange and Distressing

Matthew Bowman, The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill: Alien Encounters, Civil Rights, and the New Age in America

reviewed by Alexis Forss

On June 25th 2023, at 13:37 BST, Matthew Bowman became probably the first author in the history of the Yale University Press to have their work plugged by the Daily Mail website. Before anyone starts wondering at the new slant of MailOnline’s TV & Showbiz coverage, here’s the headline: ‘We were abducted by aliens: The unbelievable story of suburban churchgoing couple Betty and Barney Hill, the first Americans to claim they'd been snatched by a UFO.’ This macabre story may endure as the... [read more]

The Power of Suggestion

Witold Gombrowicz, trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, The Possessed

reviewed by Gertrude Gibbons

Witold Gombrowicz, Polish novelist, essayist and playwright, observed, commented and critiqued contemporary society and the human condition. His writings are eccentric, unique, and though they are rooted in Poland they extend beyond these borders, held in high esteem by writers such as Susan Sontag, Jean-Paul Sartre and Milan Kundera. His first novel, Ferdydurke, published in Warsaw in 1937, caused a stir for its controversial depiction of Polish society. His international recognition grew in... [read more]