All Features

Hesitations and Corrections: An Interview with Garth Greenwell

by James Pulford

When it was published last year, Garth Greenwell’s debut novel What Belongs To You was heralded as a masterpiece and an instant classic on both sides of the Atlantic. Deftly depicting the stickiness of shame, desire and guilt, the novel tells the story of a young American teacher who falls for a Bulgarian hustler while living in Sofia and, subsequently, his struggle to reconcile the mixture of longing and anguish he feels as a result of their relationship. In addition to recently winning Debut Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, What Belongs To You has also been shortlisted for both the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction and the Green Carnation Prize. In this interview we talked about the role of fiction today; alt-facts and the Trump administration; the policing of LGBT lives; and the notion of literature as a conversation across time. [read full interview]

'Maybe I should kill myself?'

by James Draney

Grand pronouncements on the role of the writer have always had a whiff of the antique about them. Isn’t it quaint, in the 21st century, to imbue writing with moral purpose? Of course it is. But then why write at all? This is the question that propels fiction forward. What should a writer ‘do’ for a culture; what is his or her ‘task’? Even JG Ballard, the most cynical of literary figures, took up his pen to promote his sense of social responsibility. Famously, he wrote that it’s the novelist’s duty to ‘invent the reality’ in an age saturated by grand fictions. Even as recently as 2014, this notion struck Ballard’s preeminent heir, Tom McCarthy, as something like an ethical imperative. In an ingenious essay published in the London Review of Books, McCarthy described this inventive power as fiction’s unique project. While chastising Ballard’s ‘moralism,’ McCarthy – no stranger to grand pronouncements himself – announced with confidence that ‘reality isn’t there yet; it has to be brought forth or produced; and this is the duty and stake of writing.’ [read full essay]

No One Gets Out Alive: An Interview with Joanna Walsh

by Thea Hawlin

Dubbed by Deborah Levy as ‘fast becoming one of our most important writers,’ Joanna Walsh is the award-winning author of Hotel (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Vertigo (And Other Stories, 2016). I spoke with her on the launch day of her debut digital book, Seed, a novella that blooms, wilts, and grows as you read it. [read full interview]

An Absence Made Present

by Thom Cuell

With The Holy Bible the Manics created a myth that would haunt their future. This extraordinary album will be the band’s legacy, one which they can never fully embrace nor truly escape from. It has been re-released twice in special editions, for the 10th and 20th anniversaries of its release; they have also vowed never to perform songs from it again. When I first encountered the Manics, in the downtime between The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go, they were a band on hiatus, with no definite sign they would return – the madwoman in the attic of British rock. Since then, they have enjoyed commercial success, fallen in and out of fashion, and created eight albums. Fans have grown up, left, returned. Borrowing from Joseph Heller, if they were charged with not writing anything as good since The Holy Bible, they could justifiably respond with ‘no, but neither has anyone else’. [read full essay]

Death and Life in Knausgaard

by Andy Merrifield

The search for answers became Knausgaard’s quest for self-clarification, his attempt to find wholeness again – or perhaps to find wholeness for the first time. It was a literary quest as much as anything else: how to find the right words to represent a life, prompted by a sudden insight into death. Writing wasn’t and still isn’t cathartic for Knausgaard; he insists on that. It is torture, a twisted medium that buys time, that somehow offsets death. My Struggle became Knausgaard’s personal struggle, his trial, perhaps even The Trial. Only here K. is Knausgaard himself, and The Trial in question is one in which Knausgaard – let’s henceforth call him K. – is both judge and jury. The case that follows is to prove his own innocence – or guilt. In My Struggle, K. accuses himself. [read full essay]

Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses: Shortlist Announcement

by Neil Griffiths

Set aside the difficulty in comparing formally ambitious novels against one another; what about comparing formally ambitious novels with experimental short form writing; or translated fiction that limns the borders of fiction, poetry, memoir? It was my decision to make eligibility so open. I am disappointed no translated fiction made it onto the shortlist. But we only had a few translated submissions, something I hope to rectify in future years. I am pleased, though, that the shortlist included so much short-form fiction. [read full essay]

Eloquence in the Age of Trump

by Kit Toda

Our criteria for what constitutes eloquence may vary a little and has adapted somewhat over time, but there has never been a huge reversal in its definition. Crystal himself suggests a seven-point list: ‘fluent’, ‘personal’, ‘appropriate’, ‘heightened’, ‘clear’, ‘memorable’ and ‘reactive’. ‘[F]or me’, he writes, ‘top marks for eloquence would go to anyone rated highly on all seven points.’ Barack Obama is one of them: his ‘Yes we can’ victory speech occupies a central role in this book as an exemplar of rhetorical excellence. But after November's shock presidential election result, it is impossible not to compare Obama’s oratory with that of America’s next president. For many, the election of Trump has sent a great crack running through our assumptions of the world. To theorise about eloquence might appear somewhat trivial in comparison to this global shudder of horror. It is, however, central to understanding what has happened. [read full essay]

Fiction Highlights: Review 31's Best Novels of 2016

by Review 31

As is customary at this time of year, we invited some of our regular contributors to look back over the past 12 months and select their literary highlights of 2016. They produced a varied and eclectic list of recommendations, ranging from Garth Greenwell’s poignant exploration of sexual identity to Yuri Herrera’s bleak panorama of urban decay; from Roger Lewinter’s meditations on the beauty of everyday objects to Madeleine Thien’s poignant exploration of history and memory; and a couple of more experimental works – by Alejandro Zambra and Jung Young Moon – that riff on the porous border between fiction and non-fiction. [read full essay]

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses: Longlist Announcement

by Neil Griffiths

If the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses isn’t a grand enough name, we added a strapline to make it even clearer the kind of work we wanted publishers to submit. I confess I lifted the line from Galley Beggar’s website, but in my defence it seemed to me to set the bar at just the right level, whilst at the same time encapsulating what is missing from much of mainstream publishing these days. We weren’t just looking for great novels but ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose.’ [read full essay]

'Beware Mirrors': The Ludic Magic of Helen Oyeyemi

by Hilary Ilkay


Books such as What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours hold a unique position in a literary market that has been dominated by the hyperrealist, quotidian, deeply personal multi-volume sagas by the likes of Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante; they demonstrate, much like historical fables and myths, the cultural importance of storytelling that plays with reality. [read full essay]