All Reviews

An Unusual Fecundity

Jean Giono, trans. Paul Eprile, Melville: A Novel

reviewed by Jason DeYoung

Although Jean Giono’s short book (105 pages) begins in a biographical vein, it is not the historical Herman Melville that it depicts. Instead, the narrative soon drifts into the depths of the hypothetical and the fictional. Melville, in the process, becomes a kind of spirit-summoning: both a tribute to the American writer, and, as Edmund White puts in his introduction, the product of Giono ‘trying on’ Melville as an alter ego. The narrative itself describes only a brief episode. In a... [read more]

A Most Unnarcissistic Poet

Frank Bidart, Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016

reviewed by Ben Leubner

Frank Bidart’s Half-Light contains half a century’s worth of poetic output and runs to 665 pages. There are, however, only 144 poems total, and a mere ten of those poems, which I’ll discuss briefly in what follows, take up over a third of the volume, 244 pages, to be precise. Bidart has thus been prolific in his career in terms of sheer volume, not unlike Robert Lowell, but also fairly restrained in terms of the number of actual poems published, where in this regard he has more in... [read more]

What Happens Now?

Naomi Klein, No is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need

reviewed by Claire Potter

It’s a year after the American Election Day that shook the world, and a new book that seeks to explain the disaster of Donald Trump’s victory drops every few weeks. We political historians are scrambling to keep up. Last month, Hillary Clinton’s What Happened? hit the stands. How does it feel to be a smart and seasoned politician and lose to an uneducated novice? Not good! Not good at all! This month, it was Hacks, Donna Brazile’s account of the train wreck at the Democratic National... [read more]

The Self-Advertising Male

Philip Mann, The Dandy at Dusk: Taste and Melancholy in the Twentieth Century

reviewed by Stuart Walton

It is the melancholy of manifest individualism that it proves to be anything but inimitable. What begins as the exquisite crafting of the esoteric persona, initially conceived against the prevailing orthodoxy, becomes reified into a style for others to emulate, and before one has blinked, a whole social movement, or the fleeting fancy of this week, has been generated from the most minute scrutiny of the self. Individualism depends, fatally, on a surrounding milieu of homogeneous conformism, in... [read more]

Who is Oscar Babel?

Baret Magarian, The Fabrications

reviewed by Jamie Mackay

Who is Oscar Babel? This refrain from Baret Magarian’s mind-bending debut has been stuck in my head for weeks now, replaying itself in the myriad of accents, guises and disguises it adopts throughout the novel. At first it seems to be a simple question posed by a writer about his new character, but it soon mutates into the PR brainchild of a media mogul, a hushed whisper in a crowd, an intimate utterance of self-interrogation and a whole variety of other distortions. Double, triple,... [read more]

Before the Indifferent Beak

Eli Goldstone, Strange Heart Beating

reviewed by Leon Craig Cohen

Eli Goldstone’s debut novel, Strange Heart Beating, begins not long after the death of Seb’s wife Leda, who drowns in a London park after an attack by a swan. Is this an encounter with some divine force that cannot resist handing out tragicomic deaths to the women of the Kauss family? Or the ridiculous and sad death of a young woman for no purpose? Seb struggles throughout the book to either create a narrative around his wife’s death or accept it as random and unrelated to the rest of her... [read more]

Steel Skeletons

Hideo Furukawa, trans. Doug Slaymaker & Akiko Takenaka, Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima

reviewed by Dan Bradley

As one of the first literary responses to the Great East Japan earthquake of March 2011, Hideo Furukawa’s new novel is characterised by a visceral emotive power, laying bare the frustrations, despair and hope of one author’s attempt to make sense of unimaginable loss and devastation. It also bears the shortcomings that might be expected from a work produced in only four months. The inhuman scale of the earthquake, tsunami and accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, where over twenty... [read more]

‘Only certain people are permitted to write books’

Nathan Connolly (ed.), Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class By the Working Class

reviewed by Thom Cuell

Conceived in response to media analysis of the EU Referendum, in which the working class was presented by the media as primarily scared, backward-looking, insular and monocultural, Know Your Place gives a platform to working class writers to discuss the impact of class on their own life and work. By doing this, it stands alongside fellow crowdfunded anthologies The Good Immigrant (Unbound) and Nasty Women (404 Ink) in providing a snapshot of the socio-political situation of contemporary Britain... [read more]

Chaotic, disaster-struck, booming

Don Jordan, The King's City: London under Charles II: A city that transformed a nation – and created modern Britain

reviewed by Minoo Dinshaw

Charles II’s charm is perilous powerful stuff; even his nightmare incarnation as JM Barrie’s Captain Hook is an endearing sort of villain. ‘The Merry Monarch’’s human approachability, witty phlegm and liberal reputation are heirlooms passed down into the assumed knowledge of the general reader; academic authorities on the Restoration have striven in vain to substitute a nastier piece of work, a would-be tyrant and essay-crisis king. Don Jordan, until recently working with a... [read more]

Contexts of Reception

Joseph North, Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History

reviewed by Daniel Green

Joseph North’s Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History is a book with a provocative premise addressing an important subject that ultimately does justice to neither. North contends that academic literary study has settled into a stagnant and unavailing practice that aligns it entirely with ‘scholarship’ at the expense of ‘criticism’. Further, the putative goal of this scholarship in a by now thoroughly politicised discipline – to act as a counterforce against the dominant... [read more]