All Reviews

Hunger for Connection

Adam O’Riordan, The Burning Ground

reviewed by Paul Johnathan

‘There is no home here,’ reads the epigraph by Christopher Isherwood that sets the scene and tone for The Burning Ground, the prose debut of poet Adam O’Riordan. It’s an appropriate prelude to this impressive range of short stories. O’Riordan’s poetic vision explores the male experience by juxtaposing a dreamy Californian landscape and a dreamlike romanticism with rather purgatorial characters and a blurred sense of narrative endings. This isn’t a typical debut. There is no... [read more]

Targeting the Vulnerable

Vickie Cooper and David Whyte (eds.), The Violence of Austerity

reviewed by Abigail Rhodes

At the turn of the century an obscure home office poster was discovered in Barter Books, a shop in Alnwick, Northumberland, with the motivational slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. It had been prepared in 1939 for use in case of a coastal invasion of the UK by the Nazis and was designed to steady the national nerves in the face of such a calamitous event. The poster was never used in these circumstances but became a fashionable, ironic, comedy catchphrase after its unearthing in 2000. The... [read more]
 

It lived and died on Grub Street

Brian Dillon, Essayism

reviewed by Dan Barrow

The essay began – notoriously – as a denizen of the scrap-bin of literature. Montaigne called his efforts, which established the form in European writing, a collection merely of 'tentative attempts' at philosophy, focused on his self, 'a topic so frivolous and so vain' as to waste the reader's time. Addison and Steele's pieces for the Tatler and Spectator were commercial products, dashed off to fill column inches. Samuel Johnson's alternately wandering and stentorian essays for The Idler... [read more]

‘The accident is never an accident'

Laurent Binet, trans. Sam Taylor, The 7th Function of Language

reviewed by Marc Farrant

Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language has all the hallmarks of a romp. It features murder, international intrigue, factional strife, exploding train stations, not to mention a compelling historical conceit. The year is 1980, French philosopher Roland Barthes is strolling through Paris after a luncheon with the French presidential candidate Francois Mitterand when he is mowed down in the Rue des Ecoles by a laundry van. An accident? Is it possible that sheer chance would bring to an end... [read more]
 

'This little mite, this godhead'

Eley Williams, Attrib. and Other Stories

reviewed by Leonora Craig Cohen

The word that most immediately springs to mind when considering Eley Wiliams’s debut short story collection is ‘abundant’. From personal observation, most contemporary collections of short fiction contain 10 to 12 stories – Attrib. clocks in at 17. Williams’ use of language strains the limits of intelligibility with its polysemy, inventiveness and sheer brio. This is how one character describes a landmine-detecting rat: ‘I’ve personally raised this little mite, this godhead, this... [read more]

Celebration and Disturbance

Kassia St Clair, The Secret Lives of Colour

reviewed by Polly Bull

The first thing a reader interested in colour and design will be struck by about Kassia St Clair’s new book, The Secret Lives of Colour, is the physical beauty of the publication. The book offers ‘potted’ histories as of 75 shades of colour that have interested her the most. The cover is white and speckled with colour dot imprints. The reader is greeted with a spectrum in the frontispiece. We then get graphs, charts and quotes of famous minds describing colours. Each potted history has a... [read more]
 

‘Home is the first / and final poem’

Les Murray, On Bunyah

reviewed by Alex Assaly

The rural home of poet, editor, and critic Les Murray lies around three hundred kilometres north-east of Sydney, Australia. The area known as Bunyah – a native word meaning ‘bark’ – is a hilly landscape with dense forests, expansive paddocks and farmland. Bunyah Creek, which becomes the Wang Wauk River before reaching the Pacific Ocean, cuts across this landscape and sources many of the sandy lakes characteristic of the area. The place Murray calls his ‘spirit country’ is... [read more]

‘A swooning, a thrill’

Gordon Lish, White Plains: Pieces & Witherlings

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Is there anything to be said for old age? It all depends on what is to become of us. Will it be recollections in tranquillity or futile raging on the blasted heath? 'We breathe, we change,' Beckett's Hamm says to his servant Clov. 'We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals!' – the living reassurance that Nature hasn't forgotten us. A second childishness and mere oblivion, sans everything, doesn't sound too bad when weighed against the terrors of the first childhood, adolescent... [read more]
 

‘What Hath God Wrought!’

Robin Boast, The Machine in the Ghost: Digitality and its Consequences

reviewed by James Draney

What are we to make of this machine, the computer? Indeed, what is this device, whose operations are forever obscured behind its slim outer casing? Perhaps this is what the literary critic Fredric Jameson meant when, in 1991, he wrote that our digital technology does not possess the same capacity for representation as the older, analogue machines. Turbines and steam engines, of course, posses a certain visual power. Consider the ‘kinetic energy’ of Futurist sculpture, or the ‘mimetic... [read more]

Hold on to Your Shit

Rachele Dini, Consumerism, Waste, and Re-Use in Twentieth-Century Fiction: Legacies of the Avant-Garde

reviewed by Rona Cran

In 1539, according to Dominique Laporte’s eccentric and provocative History of Shit (1978), King François of France, patron of the arts and instigator of the French Renaissance, issued an edict to the city of Paris: Hold on to your shit. Dispose of it only in the dark night. Remove your pigs from sight beyond the city’s walls, or I will seize your person and your goods, engulf your home in my capacious purse, and lock your body in my jail. Sanitation engineering may not have... [read more]