All Reviews

A Chronicle of Radicalisation

Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire

reviewed by Michael Duffy

Home Fire has already found itself on the Man Booker longlist, an accolade that highlights the immediacy and poignancy of its representation of radicalisation, the Islamic State, and the place of Islam in the British political and media landscape. Until now, Kamila Shamsie’s fiction has largely maintained an historical focus, narrating Pakistan’s history through the experiences of women, children and families impacted by momentous events of South Asian sovereignty such as colonial rule, the... [read more]

Forming the Rant

László Krasznahorkai, The Last Wolf and Herman

reviewed by Leonid Bilmes

Literary criticism really does call for a sub-genre in the history of the novel: the genre of the modern rant. As with much else in modern literature, the dawn of this mode of literary expression of angst already glimmers in Hamlet’s monologues, but the one text that inaugurates the specifically modern rant is Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground. If you have read it, you will probably recall its splenetic opening: ‘I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I... [read more]

Cynic, Charlatan, or Genius?

Arthur Rose, Literary Cynics: Borges, Beckett, Coetzee

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Arthur Rose is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of English Studies at Durham University and one of the two general directors of the Journal of Badiou Studies (with Michael J. Kelly of Binghamton University), which is a rebranding of the International Journal of Badiou Studies. The latter made academic news last year when it was revealed as the victim of the Tripodi Hoax. As explained on the 3 Quarks Daily blog in April 2016, Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse (both of the... [read more]

Telling Stories

Heather McDaid & Laura Jones (eds.), Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays + Accounts on What It Is to Be a Woman in the 21st Century

reviewed by Thom Cuell

Conceived in the wake of Donald Trump’s infamous comments about Hillary Clinton, and subsequent election victory, the essay collection Nasty Women was launched via Kickstarter on New Year’s Day 2017, with a target of £6,000. This goal was reached within three days, and after receiving support from the likes of Margaret Atwood on Twitter, the publisher 404 Ink went on to raise a total of £22,156 from over 1,300 supporters. The turnaround time was amazing: the anthology was commissioned in... [read more]

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]