All Reviews

'This Is Life'

Georgia Blain, The Museum of Words: a Memoir of Language, Writing and Mortality

reviewed by Gareth Carrol

Georgia Blain was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015. Just 13 months later, at the age of 51, she died. The foreword, written by Georgia’s partner, Andrew, lays out the bare facts of this. From the start there is no illusion that this is a tale with a happy ending, but Blain’s illness does more than just take her life. She has a tumour located in the left frontal lobe of her brain – an area that plays a vital role in how we produce language. The tumour, before it has even proved fatal,... [read more]

To See Through Appearances

JM Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006-2017

reviewed by Marc Farrant

It is still a commonplace that major prize-winning novelists are writers who, broadly speaking, work within the conventions of realism. Their novels win prizes when this realism is animated by formal or stylistic embellishments whereby the storytelling artifice becomes either passively incorporated, via ‘literary’ language, or actively incorporated, via the techniques of metafiction, such as staging the writing process in the work itself. It is through the deployment of such techniques that... [read more]

The Line That Lies Unspoken

Eli Davies & Rhian E. Jones (eds.), Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them

reviewed by Thom Cuell

We all have our guilty pleasures – the songs that we can’t help singing along to, even when we’re trying not to think too hard about what the words are actually saying. There comes a time, though, when we are forced to make decisions about the art we consume, and what it says about us as individuals. In many ways, the dilemma facing the consumer of culture is the same as that of the high street shopper: do we boycott artists who contravene our personal ethics and attempt to patronise... [read more]

A Radical Reimagining

Phoebe Giannisi, trans. Brian Sneeden, Homerica

reviewed by Max Sydney Smith

Phoebe Giannisi is one of Greece's foremost contemporary poets and Homerica – originally published in 2009 – is her fifth collection. But it is her first to be translated out of her native Greek, initially into German and now into English in this artful edition from World Poetry Books which places the original Greek side by side with Brian Sneeden's English translation. It is easy to see why Homerica has gathered international momentum. The book is a breathless, obsessive attempt to... [read more]

The Best Is Noise

Damon Krukowski, The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World

reviewed by James Cook

In 1972, John Berger published the hugely successful Ways of Seeing, a collection of seven essays on how to better understand art and the visual image. Damon Krukowski’s first book, The New Analog, does something similar for the perception of sound in a digital age, and deserves to be equally successful. Indeed, its title could easily have been ‘Ways of Hearing’. Like Berger, Krukowski is reflecting on a period of recent change – in the case of sound, the paradigm shift from analog to... [read more]

A Walking Nexus

David Widgery, Against Miserabilism: Writings 1968 – 1992

reviewed by Matt Myers

David Widgery was many things. He was a writer, a doctor, a father, a socialist – as the essays in Against Miserabilism ably show. But what is more, Widgery was a man who offered his considerable talents to the service of others; his life found meaning in the common struggle for a most just and humane society. As he wrote in the preface to Preserving Disorder in 1989, the last collection of his essays to be published: ‘I’m glad I heard Hendrix live but gladder to have marched with the... [read more]

It Was Bound To Go Wrong

Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix (eds.), Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night

reviewed by Stuart Walton

That the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Hate, as the high-water mark of 1977 came to be known, passed without much overt commemoration of the British punk movement says something more than that there was no burning desire to remember it. It speaks eloquently of the relation that punk rock already had with its own afterlife, even during its rapid maturation. Acutely conscious of the reified institutionalism to which popular music had already long since succumbed in the suffocating forms of... [read more]

Bobok in the Bardo

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

reviewed by Leonid Bilmes

The bardo, according to Buddhist teaching, is a kind of limbo state for the soul after the body reaches its corporeal date of expiry. Souls of the departed linger in the bardo before they are ready to move on to whatever happens next (either reincarnation or nirvana), but in the fictional world of George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo – winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize – this liminal space functions a little more like purgatory. The souls of the departed come to inhabit their... [read more]

Biscuits in the Parsonage

George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis

reviewed by Tom Cutterham

For a month in 2013, one small neighbourhood in the South Korean city of Suwon banned cars from its streets. Local authorities widened the pavements, and gave out bicycles and electric scooters to residents. ‘Cafes and restaurants spilled into the streets,’ George Monbiot reports in his new book Out of the Wreckage, ‘and people began to connect in ways that were impossible before.’ Without cars and their infrastructure cutting through the common spaces, community could return to old... [read more]

A Cavalcade of Waynes

Wayne Holloway-Smith, Alarum

reviewed by Erik Kennedy

Some books of poems contain a part that overwhelms the whole, like an apple in a bowl of berries. In Wayne Holloway-Smith’s full-length debut, Alarum, that part is the 12-page meditation on class, brutality, and guilt entitled ‘Some Violence’. Although there is a political dimension to the violence of the title, Holloway-Smith does not report or catalogue it, as someone like James Fenton or Carolyn Forché might. And although the violence is local – domestic – Holloway-Smith does not... [read more]