All Reviews

Between Romance and Reality

Jenna Clake, Fortune Cookie

reviewed by Ben Leubner

The poetry in Jenna Clake’s debut volume, Fortune Cookie, is a poetry of combinations. It’s part exuberant, Whitmanesque catalogues, part absurdist, Beckettian permutations. Given Clake’s interest in the Feminine and Feminist Absurd in 21st-century British and American poetry, though, it’s quite likely that my advancing Whitman and Beckett as influences right at the outset is problematic. So I shouldn’t say influences, perhaps; I should say, instead, ‘Things I thought of while I... [read more]

‘Spare a thought, toast munchers’

Sam Fisher, The Chameleon

reviewed by Venetia Welby

There is a fashion in contemporary fiction to scorn the idea of the disembodied third person narrator. Who is it who knows all this, one can’t help but ask. And why are they hiding in the shadows, writing this book? Samuel Fisher turns this issue on its head in his debut novel by having his narrator be the book itself, writing itself. Not just any book, but any book: ‘every word that is written . . . every great work and every pulp entertainment, every suicide note and every shopping... [read more]

Old Frontiers Seen Anew

Samuel Bolin, Three Pioneers

reviewed by Guy Stevenson

The press release for this complicated and blackly comic book pitches it somewhere between Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and JM Coetzee’s 1974 debut Dusklands. Though less accessible than James’s Booker winner, Three Pioneers follows in its ambitious footsteps by updating postmodernist methods and ideas most current writers lack the patience, skill or inclination to go near. Through three bizarre, unconnected narratives – from a researcher of black sites in... [read more]

Setting the Ship Aright

Horatio Morpurgo, The Paradoxal Compass: Drake’s Dilemma

reviewed by PK Read

Whether going east or west, a northern maritime route skirting the Arctic was long a European fever dream. Northern passages have recently become more realistic due to declining levels of sea ice, and nations are bringing to bear their territorial claims along with the latest exploratory technologies for mineral and resource exploitation. Drilling and shipping are already on the rise, even before biologists have had an opportunity to learn more about the undiscovered life present in newly... [read more]

Tomorrow is Always a Day Away

Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley (eds.), 'Tomorrow Belongs to Us': The British Far Right since 1967

reviewed by David Renton

The editors of this book are also authors of previous accounts of British fascism. Nigel Copsey's Anti-Fascism in Britain (1999) told the story of the conflict between fascism and anti-fascism since the 1920s; Matthew Worley's No Future (2017) explored how the left and the right related to post-punk after 1979, lengthening the story of the relationship between politics and music beyond the demise of Rock Against Racism in 1981. This volume is intended to showcase the work of a generation of... [read more]

Was it all futile?

John Kelly, Contemporary Trotskyism: Parties, Sects and Social Movements in Britain

reviewed by Ian Birchall

Among the many moral panics aroused by Jeremy Corbyn's accession to the Labour leadership has been the return of the spectre of Trotskyism. Lord Hattersley has warned that ‘the old gang is back’, referring explicitly to the Militant grouping of the 1980s; Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson has produced ‘evidence’ that Trotskyists were exerting influence within Momentum, the pro-Corbyn organisation. It makes good headlines; whether it bears any relation to reality is another... [read more]

‘Metaphors sustain us’

Hilton Als, White Girls

reviewed by Aida Amoako

In ‘You and Whose Army’, the penultimate essay in White Girls, Hilton Als writes: ‘We find truth – human truth – by pretending to be people we’re not. That frees us to explore the metaphor of being.’ Als pretends to be several people in White Girls, writing about his subjects with an emotional intimacy that is occasionally provocative but always illuminating. What Als has often referred to as a ‘Stanislavski’ method of writing is what makes the New Yorker theatre... [read more]

The First Rehearsal

James Attlee, Guernica: Painting the End of the World

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

Pablo Picasso’s extraordinary commemoration of the bombing of the historic Basque town of Guernica is an iconic image. In Guernica: Painting the End of the World James Attlee explores the work in depth, and shows how the meanings of each figure on the canvas have been remade in every age and place. So powerful are its resonances that when Colin Powell announced the launch of Operation Shock and Awe at the United Nations, where a tapestry reworking of ‘Guernica’ was normally displayed,... [read more]

Essential Oils

Catherine Maxwell, Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Sillage is a French borrowing adopted by the perfume industry. Originally meaning a ship's wake, it refers to the vapour-trail of scent left in the air when its wearer passes by. Some perfumes have a delectably – or perhaps notoriously – long sillage that appears to cling to and infuse everything in the vicinity, evoking the olfactory equivalent of an electromagnetic image of the departed presence. The long-posited alliance between scent and memory, ratified by investigations in the brain... [read more]

Anything Else Is Make-Believe

Rachel Cusk, Transit

reviewed by Matthew Parkinson-Bennett

A reader coming to Rachel Cusk’s work for the first time with Transit may find their reception of the book influenced by certain preconceptions. For a writer of novels mostly confined to the safe literary territory of middle-class England and constructed out of spare, minor-key sentences, Cusk has a gained something of a dangerous reputation. She is, we are led to believe, a radical and rager against tradition; a hardened realist whose rejection of artifice might undermine the edifice of... [read more]