All Reviews

What We Mean By Genre

Mary Hamer, Kipling & Trix

reviewed by Thomas Stewart

As a child, Mary Hamer was always fascinated by Rudyard Kipling. From a young age, reading everything from his Just So Stories to his magnum opus The Jungle Book, Hamer knew that she wanted to write about the man behind the stories. And when she made her way through libraries and archives to find every detail about the writer, she found a much more compelling story in the form of his sister, Trix. Thus began her debut novel, Kipling & Trix.  The novel begins with the two children... [read more]

‘As strong as possible in our words’

AL Kennedy, On Writing

reviewed by Eli Davies

As the flux and uncertainty of the publishing industry has grown, so has the market in creative writing courses, masterclasses, writing retreats and how-to guides. This stuff is big business - some of these courses will set you back thousands - and it seems a little too convenient that the growth of this business appears to have coincided with plummeting revenue from book sales. As a new writer, all this can all be extremely tempting. We are a vulnerable bunch: writing your first book is a... [read more]
 

A Secret History

Andrew Wilson, Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted

reviewed by Sara D'Arcy

Fifty years after her suicide and posthumous fame, Sylvia Plath continues to be caricatured, to put it bluntly, as a morbid poetess with an Electra Complex who was finally driven to suicide by her husband’s adultery. Andrew Wilson’s opportune biography, Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life before Ted, offers a startlingly fresh perspective on the life of Sylvia Plath as he attempts to debunk the myths that have enshrouded her life and suicide while remaining true to Plath’s... [read more]

‘The moment I drunk-tweeted something about liking Taylor Swift’

Matt Haig, The Humans

reviewed by Abigail Williams

In a charmingly honest postscript Matt Haig explains why he wrote The Humans, his fifth novel: ‘I first had the idea of writing this story in 2000, when I was in the grips of a panic disorder. Back then, human life felt as strange for me as it does for the unnamed narrator … I imagined writing it for myself, or someone in a similar state. I was trying to offer a map, but also to cheer that someone up.’ The novel is told from the perspective of an unnamed alien who has been sent to... [read more]
 

‘The Lone Eagle, the Man of Mystery, the Last Defender’

Jonathan Wilson, The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper

reviewed by Joe Kennedy

Albert Camus used to be a goalkeeper. It’s the one thing fans of existentialist philosophy know about football, and the one thing fans of football know about existentialist philosophy, right? There’s football and there’s thought and never the twain shall meet, unless Nick Hornby’s there to swan around giving the impression that he’s some kind of matchmaker, demonstrating that there’s nothing wrong with hollering ‘You’re Going Home in a Fucking Ambulance’ as long as you cue up... [read more]

Platonic Dogs

JM Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus

reviewed by Matthew Ingleby

At one point in JM Coetzee’s new novel, the worried Simón finds ‘the boy’ that is and is not his son watching Mickey Mouse on the telly in the apartment of a rival father-figure, the disreputable Daga. The dog in this fictionalised version of the Disney cartoon we know as Pluto is here renamed ‘Plato’, a funny yet disconcerting switch upon which the laconic narrator characteristically neglects to remark. The slight change of the vowel, which effects the replacement of one improbable... [read more]
 

Local Constellations

Peter Brooker, Sascha Bru, Andrew Thacker & Christian Weikop (eds.), The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Vol. III: Europe, 1880–1940

reviewed by Louis Goddard

One of the first places ever to publish my writing was The Morning News, a venerable online magazine that has been running in various forms since 1999. Before a major redesign in 2011, the site’s About page included an epigraph of sorts, a quote from Woody Allen’s classic 1979 comedy Manhattan: ‘I was going to a do a piece on Sol [LeWitt] for Insight—do you know that magazine? It’s one of those little magazines. I mean, they’re such schmucks up there, really mired in ’30s... [read more]

Optimistic Europhilia

Ulrich Beck, German Europe

reviewed by Jamie Mackay

The title of Ulrich Beck’s latest sociological tract is a raw provocation. At once a diagnosis, a description, a prediction and a challenge, the highly charged image succinctly distils a media zeitgeist debated daily among the plethora of Europe’s increasingly differentiated dinner party sects. It is self-consciously paradoxical, unashamedly emotive and charged with a bluntness that was always going to bring colour to the cheeks of certain light-footed liberal commentators who have... [read more]
 

Out of Our Minds

Sam Byers, Idiopathy

reviewed by David Anderson

Idiopathy, the debut novel from Sam Byers, is billed as a novel of ‘love, narcissism and ailing cattle', a golden triangle of depth, surface and wit. I wonder if it is really of any of these things, or if it is really a novel about an integral lack, about characters locked into the frameworks of their lives, desperately searching themselves for a subject. The book is worked up from the short story 'Some Other Katherine', originally published by Granta in their Spring issue of 2012. It... [read more]

A Sentimental Streak

George Saunders, Tenth of December

reviewed by Mary Hannity

Readers of George Saunders’ first and most brilliant short story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (Random House, 1996), will be familiar with the strange spectacles of artifice and corporate cultivations of reality that compose his debut version of modern America, in which the approximated and poorly-rehearsed gimmick of the real supplants the real itself. In his most recent work, Tenth of December, only the remnants of this world remain. Less concerned with the miscarriage of good... [read more]