All Reviews

Inhabiting the Slash

Emerson Whitney, Heaven

reviewed by George Ttoouli

Several years ago I attended a reading by Alan Hollinghurst at which Germaine Greer was in the audience. During the Q & A, she expostulated the impossibility of authentically representing one’s other: straight people couldn’t write gay relationships, nor gay men lesbian relationships and so on. After this lengthy outlay, she left the provocation hanging with, ‘Well, what do you think?’ Hollinghurst replied, ‘I’ve never really thought about it,’ then turned to another raised hand... [read more]

Rubbish History

Emily Cockayne, Rummage: A History of the Things We Have Reused, Recycled and Refused to Let Go

reviewed by Anna Parker

What is it that is so beguiling about used things? One of my favourite writers is Barbara Pym, whose novels include extremely sharp observations about the social lives and manners of the middle class in post-war England, always delivered with warm humour and a unique generosity towards the ordinary spinsters that serve as her principal characters. I lent a friend one of her books. ‘These jumble sales are hotbeds of intrigue,’ she texted me later. Nearly every Pym contains a scene at a... [read more]
 

‘They punish men for the things they do’

Megan Hunter, The Harpy

reviewed by Venetia Welby

I first encountered Megan Hunter’s dark magic in Libreria, a bookshop off Brick Lane in London. She was reading from her debut novel, The End We Start From, the haunting story of a new mother fleeing flooded, apocalyptic London. In 2017 the book had just come out and Hunter was in the middle of writing a second – a quite different experience, she said. The first one happened very quickly; in some ways, authors have been writing their first novel all their lives. She was reluctant to say... [read more]

Both Ancient and New

Sam Riviere, After Fame: The Epigrams of Martial

reviewed by Frith Taylor

Confessional poems have been a mainstay of Western poetry since the middle of the last century. People love the theatre of confessions; it's exciting to think that someone is telling you the truth, or telling a secret. In its original religious meaning, to confess is to avow one's faith in spite of persecution. In Old French confesser had a figurative meaning to 'harm, hurt or make suffer.' Go further back and you find that the root bha, meaning to speak, tell or say, has another meaning, which... [read more]
 

Cross-contamination

Moyra Davey, Index Cards

reviewed by Daniel Fraser

Hegel speaks of language in terms of contagion. Language transmits subjectivity like an infection. This virus passes between speaker and listener, meaning resonates. With terms like transmission and reception, we see the taxonomic ground shared by language and disease. That this descriptive metaphor feels more pertinent today might be ascribed to a kind of accident, a reflection of present socio-historical and biopolitical conditions. These two ideas, contamination and accident, flow throughout... [read more]

Debunking Liberalism

Pankaj Mishra, Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race and Empire

reviewed by William Eichler

In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that the post-Cold War liberal settlement represented the apotheosis of humanity’s political development. The time was ripe for such bold pronouncements. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, public intellectuals in Europe and America became convinced liberal democracy and capitalism had triumphed for good. Fascism had been defeated by the Allied powers and half a century later, faced... [read more]
 

A Consistent Line

Alexander Zevin, Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

The challenge of writing coherent histories of what Duncan Bell has termed ‘the plurality of actually existing liberalisms’ has bedevilled many historians. By focusing on a single remarkably durable periodical, Alexander Zevin’s Liberalism at Large avoids both the danger of a restrictively canonical accounting of well-known figures, and the temptation to rigid boundary-policing of liberalism, instead giving us a remarkably contextualised account of what liberalism has looked like from the... [read more]

Between Life and Death

Esther Kinsky, trans. Caroline Schmidt, Grove

reviewed by Daniel Baksi

In his 1953 essay ‘Les Tombeaux de Ravenne', the French poet Yves Bonnefoy remarks upon a frequent motif found in the ornamentation at Ravenna that decorates the many resting places of the dead: ‘It represents two peacocks. Erect and facing each other, skilfully done and yet simple, like hyperbolae they drink from the same chalice and peck at the same vine. In the tangle of the mind that takes up and completes the one in the marble, they stand for death and immortality.’ Together... [read more]
 

Avian Histories

Richard Smyth, An Indifference of Birds

reviewed by Alexandra Marraccini

Just before the pandemic, nature books were a bookseller’s table lure in London. Urbanites in Foyles and Waterstones wistfully turned over copies of H Is For Hawk, various titles by Robert MacFarlane, and even Ali Smith’s seasonal novels, with their tempting Hockney-landscape jackets. There was a certain yearning for escapism there; the need for another England secreted just outside the M25 from our own. Then the lockdown hit. It turned out that with everything shut down, shut off, and a... [read more]

The Sole Substance of Politics

Theodor W. Adorno, trans. Wieland Hoban, Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism

reviewed by Stuart Walton

In April 1967, the Frankfurt theorist Theodor Adorno gave an invitation lecture to the Austrian Socialist Students' Association at Vienna University. He had been asked to address the growing challenge presented by the resurgence of far-right movements and parties in both Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany. The National Democratic Party of Germany, founded in 1964, and uniting right-wing constitutional conservatives and avowed racial supremacists, was on the advance, winning seats in... [read more]