All Reviews

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]

Spot the White

Daniel Trilling, Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right

reviewed by Mark Olden

Six years ago, an 82-year-old with a shiny head, a pink complexion, and dressed - like the 1950s schoolteacher he once was - in a prim Scottish wool suit, sat in a secluded North Yorkshire farmhouse reflecting on his political life. The interview, which I did for the BBC, was to be the old man’s last TV appearance - and he presented himself as a prophet whom events had vindicated. ‘I saw the multitude of evils that were going to result, and have resulted. We have large parts of our... [read more]

A People's History

John Marriott, Beyond the Tower: A History Of East London

reviewed by Richard Sharpe

East London was built in waves of expansion from the early 17th century, almost always a location of the working class. John Marriott’s well-researched and well-written history of East London is not only a labour of love but also a life’s work ('over thirty years in the making’). Marriot draws from a wealth of archival resources to bring to life the area’s rich social history. The magnificent Christ Church, Spitalfields, designed by Nicholas Hawkesmoor, was built after 1710 as an... [read more]

Formal Wear

Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry

reviewed by Hugh Foley

Midway through On Poetry, the poet and playwright Glyn Maxwell stops to indulge in a nice bit of épatering of the bourgeoisie. Describing a fictional creative writing class ‘moving short words millimetres backwards and forwards at the taxpayers’ expense’, he conjures the image of those philistine taxpayers, ‘all the taxpayers in the nation ... lining up to give young dreamers the hard earned money we’d planned to spend on crisps.’ This is the closest Maxwell comes to mounting a... [read more]