All Reviews

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]

Ismail Kadare’s House of Mirrors

Ismail Kadare, trans. John Hodgson, A Dictator Calls

reviewed by Bronwyn Scott-McCharen

Ismail Kadare’s latest offering in English is a cross between a game of telephone and a crime scene investigation. The crime: an alleged phone call between the feared Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and the famed Soviet writer Boris Pasternak, in which Pasternak either bravely stands up for or cowardly denies any connection to his friend and fellow writer, beleaguered poet Osip Mandelstam. In A Dictator Calls, Kadare serves as chief investigator, continually dissecting and revisiting these three... [read more]

Murder to the Minute

Seichō Matsumoto, trans. Jesse Kirkwood, Tokyo Express

reviewed by William Davies

Since the beginning of the Golden Age of crime writing, trains have provided countless opportunities for excitement and tension. Whether it is trains caught at the very last second, events glimpsed through the windows of speeding carriages, or trains shuttling from the city to the countryside, where, if you agree with W. H. Auden, the best murder mysteries take place, trains have long been a source for drama. Trains can also be their own little worlds of hope and peril. When Agatha Christie put... [read more]

Intimate Vitality

Caroline Magennis, Northern Irish Writing After the Troubles: Intimacies, Affects, Pleasures

reviewed by Archie Cornish

In Anna Burns’s first novel, No Bones (2001), the protagonist Amelia watches as her big sister and a gang of friends deliberately poison themselves. The grown-ups have left the building but there’s not much to do in 1980s Ardoyne. So Lizzie and ‘the Girls’ divide out a ‘twelve-year old nutmeg’ and wash it down with ‘an ancient packet of mustard and a rusty tin of peas’. Amelia watches them laugh in delight as the bad peas explode, ‘one by one inside them’. The violent... [read more]

Just Like a Person

Henry Hoke, Open Throat

reviewed by Tia Glista

In 2013, a National Geographic photographer named Steve Winter captured a now-famous image of a Los Angeles icon: lit by the twinkle of the city below, the mountain lion dubbed P-22 slinks past the Hollywood sign, his muscles surging and amber eyes trained on the path ahead. P-22, also known as the Hollywood Cat, is said to have lived in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park for some ten years before being euthanised by scientists in late 2022. When he was officially laid to rest earlier this year in... [read more]