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Fiction Highlights: Review 31's Best Novels of 2017

by Review 31

Given the turbulent state of world politics, it is unsurprising that political themes loom large in some of 2017’s most eye-catching works of fiction: these include Tom Rachman’s ‘rapid-response’ snapshot of American decline in Basket of Deplorables, Daniel Magariel’s searing portrait of toxic masculinity in One of the Boys, and Mohsin Hamid’s timely meditation on migration, Exit West. This year’s recommendations are formally diverse, ranging from Emmanuel Carrère’s essayistic opus The Kingdom – described by Andre van Loon as 'emphatically not a novel' – and Sam Riviere’s digitally inspired fragmented narratives to more conventional, plot-driven novels and short stories. [read full essay]

An Eye is Always Watching Us

by James Draney

Unlike Riviere’s poetry collections 81 Austerities (2010), Standard Twin Fantasy (2014) and Kim Kardashian’s Marriage (2015), which tended to take a literal tone with regard to their subject matter, Safe Mode reads far more like an allegory than an assemblage. Yet Safe Mode also proves that the novel’s inability to adequately represent our atmosphere of ubiquitous media does not spell the end for the genre. Riviere’s book is a prototype for the novel of the future. If the future will have novels at all. [read full essay]

Our Reading Habits Are Changing: An Interview with Arifa Akbar

by Houman Barekat

Back in August, The Bookseller magazine reported that the publisher Unbound would be launching a new online literary journal under the stewardship of Arifa Akbar, the former literary editor of The Independent. The launch of the publication, which will be called Boundless, is now just a few weeks away. I talked to Arifa about her plans for the publication, and the burgeoning domain of online literary criticism in general. [read full interview]

Sacred and Profane: What We Talk About When We Talk About God

by Neil Griffiths

I have tended to describe my novel as theological, but I’m not sure that’s right. Works of theology presuppose God’s existence. As a God Might Be is more concerned with how we can speak about God without resorting to the language of religion. Indeed, it asks whether we can speak about God at all or does all language fail at the outset? Of course, if that’s true and language is useless, what then of religion for the religiously inclined? How might religion adapt itself to this – dare I say it – Wittgensteinian God? [read full essay]

Reader offer: The Digital Critic

by Review 31

Publisher O/R Books is offering Review 31 readers a discount on pre-orders of The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online, edited by Houman Barekat, Robert Barry and David Winters. The book, which will be published in December 2017, is a collection of 17 essays exploring the impact of the digital revolution on many aspects of literary life, from criticism to fiction-writing, from translation to book distribution and PR. Contributors include Joanna Walsh, Scott Esposito, Jonathon Sturgeon and Lauren Elkin, as well as several editors from Review 31 and other online journals including Asymptote, 3:AM and Berfrois. [read full essay]

'No Amount of Screaming Would Have Helped Us'

by Jude Cook

As with Helle’s burning chair, Krasznahorkai’s message seems to be that human beings will persist in their nature, until transformed into something else. Total oblivion is not a quality of the cosmos. The true melancholy of resistance, as seen with Helle’s striving narrator, is mankind’s persistent refusal to give up hope, or the stubborn determination Beckett saw as key to the human condition: You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Both authors catch the authentic note of sadness; of endurance in the face of impossible odds [read full essay]

‘An Insistent Pulse-Driven Juggernaut’: On The Life and Work of John Adams

by Benjamin Poore

‘Composing an American Life’, the book’s subtitle, certainly rings true. Adams, born 1947, grew up in East Concord, New Hampshire in a musical family: his mother a professional jazz singer, and father a clarinettist, who gave Adams his first lessons on the instrument. East Concord is a town whose namesake in Massachusetts channels a special connection to the musical and intellectual traditions we hear in Adams’ output. The name evokes the music of Charles Ives, whose ‘Concord’ Sonata for piano attempts a musical homage to the thought and writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau amongst others. Such figures are emblematic of an openness and pragmatism that is characteristically American, and has huge bearing on Adams’ approach to composition. [read full essay]

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]

Zola's English Exile

by Ben Leubner

There was something of a direct line between the anti-Dreyfusards of the 1890s and the Vichy Regime that delivered Jews to the Nazis by the thousands in the 1940s. In that instance, too, justice ultimately prevailed, albeit once again in a tardy fashion, this time, though, a tardiness the devastating consequences of which were incalculable. And now, with the recent successes of Brexit and Trump, it seemed as though the pendulum was swinging towards intolerance once more. [read full essay]

'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]