All Essays

ESSAY False Dawns and Regressions

by Archie Cornish

All this tonal detachment can seem aloof, and these days people have plenty to say — often imprecisely — about the aloofness of novels narrated and written by women. It‘s true that much contemporary fiction adopts a distant, drifting first-person perspective, the kind of stance which has often suited the short story in various traditions, but now proliferates in the novel. Precarity makes young adults like Erin and Magee’s Sean into outsiders, but the drifting perspective might also have technological roots. We live most of the time in two places, in the world and on our phones; phones have shaped for us the default mode of knee-jerk, superficial interpretation of other people. [read full essay]

ESSAY Review 31's Books of the Year 2023

by Review 31

The books of the year list can only ever be a provisional stock-taking: lags in publication preclude a complete picture. This year’s selections are a case in point: a narrow majority first appeared before 2023. Three of these are new translations. Another, Michael Winkler’s outlandish cult favourite Grimmish, finally reached the UK after an extraordinary two-year trajectory: self-published in his native Australia after universal rejection, the book became an improbable award and word-of-mouth success. Among the 2023 bona fides, there is significant range — including Saskia Hamilton’s posthumous poetry collection, the (possibly) final instalment of Adam Mars-Jones’s John Cromer series and Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting, a sensation that attracted a considerable hive. [read full essay]

ESSAY The Cost of Care

by Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou

Lynne Tillman’s latest book, Mothercare, is a call to examine the deep complexities that caring in all its forms — medical, social, private, domiciliary, familial — involves. It is a plea to look directly at the suffering of all who are part of this cared-for-carer relationship: the ill or disabled individual, the family, the precariously placed private caregivers and companions, the doctors and nurses, the surrounding friends. And it is an honest exposition and exploration of how racialised, gendered and classed the labour of care-work is and continues to be. [read full essay]

ESSAY Instant Regret

by Magnus Rena

A second kind of nature writing has sprung up more recently. The premise is simple: write to dislodge a pain, and nature might help too. It’s well-suited to the conditions — solitude, slowness, introspection — of rest, recovery, and growth. But nature here is rarely a priority, more often a balm to relieve the author’s distress. It is still sold and marketed as natural history but it might as well be shelved under grief memoirs, recovery memoirs, books of consolation and reflection, of losing and finding oneself. All of a sudden the genre of nature writing has been flooded with a new kind of book, interested in nature only partially, distractedly. [read full essay]

ESSAY Where the Two Circles Overlap

by Ben Leubner

For at the heart of the Grenfell Tower fire itself lay neglect on a colossal scale, plain and simple. Plenty of people in a position to do something about it knew that the tower’s cladding was a flammable nightmare just waiting to happen, and yet nothing was done; the neglect persisted. But Sullivan, of course, didn’t design the cladding; she wasn’t on the estates council; there was no possibility of her being an active agent on this stage beforehand. Her problem is how to reconcile living a life so far removed from something she couldn’t possibly have done anything about with the fact of being geographically proximal to and more broadly complicit in it regardless. [read full essay]

ESSAY Forbidden Topics, Long Shadows

by Horatio Morpurgo

Georgiy Kasianov’s Memory Crash was published in Ukrainian in 2018 and appeared in a well-received Russian edition the following year. It offers a snapshot of the scholarly debate taken moments before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kasianov is a well-known and controversial figure in Ukraine and across the region. From Lublin, Poland, he has since 2021 been directing a comparative study of ‘historical politics’ in Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Germany and the EU. Students of historical politics examine ‘the use and abuse of the past for immediate political goals.’ The Russian president’s assertion, shortly before the invasion, that Ukraine has no history of statehood, is a notorious instance. [read full essay]

ESSAY Living Bones

by Josh Billings

The appearance of Antagony in English, almost half a century after its original publication, is good news for readers hoping to expand their definitions of what a novel is and can do. The long delay before any translation of it appeared has as much to do, no doubt, with the blatantly unmagical nature of the reality it examines (life under Spanish dictator Francisco Franco) as with its relentless formal experimentation. Nevertheless, it is a difficult novel, one that treats history as a dream from which one can only awaken by a relentless and ruthless dissection of storytelling itself. [read full essay]

ESSAY Review 31's Books of the Year 2022

by Review 31

Translated literature features prominently in our contributors’ picks this year. The selection includes contemporary voices like Claudia Durastanti and Johanne Lykke Holm as well as veteran filmmaker Werner Herzog, and reissued classics by the likes of Arthur Rimbaud, Yuri Felsen and Alexander Lernet-Holenia. There are also poetry collections by Emily Berry and Zaffar Kunial, novellas by Jessica Au and Charles Boyle, works by two Jameses — Hannaham and Buchan — and a couple of debuts: Camilla Grudova’s ‘macabre dream’, Children of Paradise, and Sean Thor Conroe’s opinion-splitting autofiction, Fuccboi. [read full essay]

ESSAY The Bad Guy Gets Away With It

by Huw Nesbitt

In each tale, guilt goes unrecognised, crime goes unpunished, innocence goes unavenged, and the bad guy gets away with it. The slayings seem pointless and arbitrary, and between this and the absence of retribution, the expected narrative pay-off of a crime story doesn’t arrive. Instead of justice, these men escape punishment either to take their own lives, fret or plan worse things. And instead of clear motives and psychological explication, these tales serve up red herrings. [read full essay]

ESSAY Just Think About The Average

by Dominic Fox

So, this is an argument of a certain genre: liberal mugged by reality. Perry tells us how she, too, once believed that sexual inequality was due to differences in socialisation, for which the effective remedy must surely be a moral pedagogy aimed at correcting regressive male attitudes and encouraging women to venture forth more boldly into the world. It’s notable that in spite of abandoning this belief, in the face of the egregious and unrelenting harms endured by women at the hands of violent male partners, she retains the underlying faith in moral pedagogy as a means of repairing the world. [read full essay]