All Reviews

‘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]

Symbolic Misery

Bernard Stiegler, trans. Daniel Ross, Automatic Society: Volume 1, The Future of Work

reviewed by Calum Watt

Automatic Society: The Future of Work is the first of an anticipated two volumes by the prolific French philosopher Bernard Stiegler on how we should prepare for a near future in which widespread automation is expected to render much human work obsolete. Identifying a similar trajectory across the West, Stiegler disarmingly predicts that within ten years French unemployment will reach up to 30%. As Stiegler says, ‘this portends an immense transformation’. Much of Automatic Society... [read more]

Fail Better

Robert Barry, The Music of the Future

reviewed by David Stubbs

In 2010, Robert Barry was among those in attendance at London’s Cafe Oto at an event billed as An Audience With Terry Riley. In the 1960s, in tandem with Steve Reich, Riley had laid the foundations for minimalism in music, with works like In C, works which were ostensibly repetitive but through subtle and incremental variations built in intensity, evolved without conventionally ‘progressing’ in the grand old orchestral manner. These were the foundations of the future. The German Krautrock... [read more]

Master of None

Terry Gibbs, Why the Dalai Lama is a Socialist: Buddhism and the Compassionate Society

reviewed by Hawa Allan

‘I’m not going to argue in this book that we all need to be Buddhist Marxists,’ writes Terry Gibbs in the introduction to Why the Dalai Lama is a Socialist. Her intention, rather, is to illustrate how certain tenets of Buddhism and Marxism are complementary, and translatable into action that can end the suffering prevalent on our planet. A professor of political science at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, Gibbs proceeds to lay out her argument in the defensive tone of an academic... [read more]