All Reviews

Good Story

Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir

reviewed by Sarah Emily Duff

In an essay about adapting Midnight’s Children (Jonathan Cape, 1981) for film, Salman Rushdie wrote: ‘Interestingly, on the novel’s first publication, Western critics tended to focus on its more fantastic elements, while Indian reviewers treated it like a history book. “I could have written your book,” a reader flatteringly told me in Bombay. “I know all that stuff.”’ There is much in Joseph Anton – Rushdie’s memoir of his life under the fatwa declared by Iran in... [read more]

The Dependency Rut

Maurice Coakley, Ireland in the World Order: A History of Uneven Development

reviewed by David Convery

I grew up in Celtic Tiger Ireland. In school we were told we could do anything. Unlike our parents’ and teachers’ generation we would never have to worry about jobs, money or opportunity. We were lucky. Sure, there were still problems, political corruption being the most heralded, yet for many living through those times, certainly for most commentators, it seemed that Ireland had finally broken with its underdeveloped past and could confidently look forward to a bright, consumerist future.... [read more]

Loser Romanticism

Peter Sloterdijk, The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice

reviewed by David Winters

Philosophy, as Pierre Hadot once put it, is perhaps less a body of knowledge than a ‘way of life.’ If this is so, it follows that philosophers shouldn’t be overly idealistic about their ideas. Such ideas are embedded not only in broad social contexts, but in philosophers’ own self-understandings; in their acts of self-fashioning. And to the extent that this existential dimension remains largely repressed or unthematised, the discipline stands in a state of reflexive deficit. In this... [read more]

Grey Areas

Eyal Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza

reviewed by Rebecca Close

The two films selected to open the 2012 Human Rights Film Festival, held in Barcelona, New York and Paris in May, seem to suggest there are no moral grey areas in the fight for humanitarian justice. Whistleblower (2010), directed by Larysa Kondracki, narrates the true story of how UN peace-keeping officers in post-war Bosnia were found to be co-ordinating human trafficking across the Ukrainian border; in Ruaridh Arrow’s documentary How to Start a Revolution (2011) some of the 20th and 21st... [read more]

Masturbation Fodder

Robert Rosen, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography

reviewed by Kate Gould

Robert Rosen's Beaver Street is an account of his time spent working in the world of men's pornographic magazines. It's a meandering tale through the day-to-day running of various publications for which Rosen wrote, edited and, on one greatly aggrandised occasion, posed as a disembodied penis being given a blow job. The book is a mix of his personal experiences and some of the goings-on in the sex industry at large that seeks to pit anyone taking a critical stance towards pornography - the... [read more]

Back to the Modern

Will Self, Umbrella

reviewed by Luke Neima

James Joyce smiled when he told Max Eastman, 'The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works,' and then he paused, and smiled and said the same thing again. The two were discussing the difficulty of Finnegan's Wake, Joyce's last and most opaque work, which was part of the inspiration for Eastman's article on 'The Cult of Unintelligibility' where he decried the modernist excesses of Joyce along with EE Cummings, Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell and... [read more]

Cockroaches, etc.

Deborah Levy, Swimming Home

reviewed by Sara D'Arcy

Swimming Home, Deborah Levy’s first novel in 15 years and a contender for this year’s Man Booker Prize, is a succinct yet subversive exploration of depression. Levy takes the somewhat hackneyed plot of a dysfunctional family on holiday and reassembles it to produce a strange and compelling read that unveils the significance of emotions overlooked and sentiments left unsaid. Acclaimed British poet Joe Jacobs, his family and their debonair friends are holidaying in the French Riviera: so... [read more]

Something Creepy

Alison Moore, The Lighthouse

reviewed by Abigail Williams

Near the beginning of Alison Moore's The Lighthouse a stranger interested in otherworldly phenomena asks the protagonist if he has ever accurately predicted something bad happening. The reply he receives undercuts his mysticism in its banality: 'Oh yes ... Last Christmas, I visited my dad and his girlfriend, and I just knew he was going to be in a bad mood, and he was.' The exchange sets the tone for this unusual and tautly written novel, one in which you constantly feel that something terrible... [read more]

The ur-Chabon

Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue

reviewed by Jonathan Barnes

There are two Michael Chabons. The first – he whose inaugural novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (William Morrow, 1988), written as part of his university thesis, was a precocious bestseller and whose third book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Random House, 2000), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001 – is an erudite intellectual admired for the complexity of his sentences and the breadth of his vocabulary. The second – the shadow Chabon – is a geeky aficionado of... [read more]

Follow the Money

Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format

reviewed by Robert Barry

In 1874, Alexander Graham Bell and Dr Clarence Blake, an otologist from Boston, devised a peculiar contraption they called the ‘ear phonautograph’. One of the very first devices capable of transforming sound into something else (in this case, a graphic mark), the ear phonautograph was constructed using the excised tympanic mechanism from an actual human ear obtained from the Harvard medical school. Not just the forerunner to the telephone invented by Bell two years later, the tympanic... [read more]