‘American poets keep going down to the shoreline to struggle with their daemons,’ writes critic Harold Bloom, and Colum McCann’s beautiful new novel TransAtlantic shows that the Irish do it, too. In McCann’s novel water, whether the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea, is the site of mourning, with waves the backdrop for all manner of sorrows. Water is a fitting constant for a novel of such vast scope: TransAtlantic crosses generations and continents, following the intersecting lives of... [read more]
Bradley L. Garrett, Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City
reviewed by Andrew Blackman
At first glance, ‘place hacking’ may seem like just another form of escapist thrill-seeking. Sneak into a construction site, poke around inside Battersea Power Station, run along train tracks to discover abandoned Underground stations. Dodge the security guards and the alarms and the speeding trains, and take trophy photographs of yourself in places you’re not supposed to be.
In an age of heightened governmental security measures and increasing privatisation of public space, however,... [read more]
When the judges of the 2008 Frank O'Connor Award didn't bother reducing their longlist to a shortlist, deciding instead that Jhumpa Lahiri's collection Unaccustomed Earth should win outright, the decision was marked by a refreshing levity. Why even pretend to enter into the pointless discussions about readability when major book prizes are doled out arbitrarily anyway? Debate about whether or not the collection should have won is irrelevant, but what can be said of Unaccustomed Earth is that it... [read more]
The virtual absence of the Virgin Mary from the New Testament is so at odds with the proliferation of her myth and image in Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism, that it is almost to be disbelieved. The most famous woman in Western Culture, and the paragon of virginity, womanhood and motherhood, the perfect symbol of Christian love and obedience, and, to borrow a description of Artemis from Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, ‘radiating abidance and bounty, fertility and... [read more]
Eldritch Priest, Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure
reviewed by Andrew Key
On page 221 of Eldritch Priest’s Boring Formless Nonsense, a study of post-avant-garde aesthetics in the context of experimental composition, there is a quotation attributed to the multi-use artistic pseudonym (those familiar with the radical Italian author-collectives Luther Blissett/Wu Ming will recognise this concept) Karen Eliot:
I write fictions, what others might call little ‘reality machines,’ about music that I have not in fact written or listened to.
Following the... [read more]
Valeria Luiselli, trans. Christina McSweeney, Sidewalks
reviewed by Ben Millson
Not quite a book about walking, not quite a book about writing, Sidewalks is a collection of essays about living as a free-thinking individual in a world of cities bridged by technology. In a little over one hundred pages the peripatetic Luiselli covers Mexico City, Venice and New York - amongst others - with a quick eye and a scholar’s heart. She is a keen excavator and expositor; the history of places, people, words and ideas are deftly woven together in brief tapestries of a life lived... [read more]
Florian Illies' 1913 is a highly original cultural portrait of the West as it stood in the year before the Great War. Originally published last year in Illies’ native Germany, where it quickly achieved bestseller status, it is a month-by-month account of the year that critic Jean-Michel Rabaté terms ‘the cradle of modernism’. For the most part Illies, a journalist and art critic, focuses his attention on German-speaking central Europe and on Vienna in particular, that ‘capital of the... [read more]
Adelle Waldman’s debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., tells the story of Nate Piven, a determinedly 'literary type' living the yuppie lifestyle in modern day Brooklyn. Waldman guides the reader through the best part of a year in this writer’s consciousness, where we are helpless observers to the romantic detritus accumulated around the literary scene of New York.
If you care little for literature and the literary, then the carousel of social engagements that Waldman narrates... [read more]
Michael Calvin, The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters
reviewed by Joe Kennedy
When I was much younger, my brother and I would occasionally find ourselves kicking a ball around together on a beach, in a park, or down by the river. From time to time, we’d spot someone in the distance who had paused to watch our improvised game. Inevitably, the question was asked: ‘Do you reckon he’s a scout?’ Soon, the figure would turn and walk on, leaving us to our speculations.
The scout had legendary status amongst young football players until relatively recently. He was a... [read more]
When Alain Badiou asks, in a previously unpublished text of 2002, collected in this chronologically arranged compilation of his writings on film, 'May I be permitted to say, simply, lamely, that cinema combines stories, performances, places, sounds, and colours?', one hopes the question is rhetorical. If not, the temptation is to respond by saying, simply, bluntly, 'No, you'll have to do better than that'.
Badiou's late thought has been characterised by its retreat towards an increasingly... [read more]