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Review 31's Best Books of 2018

by Review 31

The titles chosen as Review 31’s Books of the Year are a diverse bunch, reflecting our contributors’ varied literary tastes. Their recommendations include three translated works: the ‘dreamlike, shape-shifting territories’ of Maria Gabriela Llansol’s Geography of Rebels Trilogy; Caterina Pascual Söderbaum’s literary memoir of family trauma, The Oblique Place, and a comprehensive and ‘dizzying’ new Spanish-language edition of Roberto Bolaño’s collected stories. Our selection also features Sulaiman Addonia’s ‘timely and fierce novel about survival, conflict and immigration’, Silence is My Mother Tongue; Will Eaves’ powerful and stylish Murmur; the ‘light but forceful prose’ of Sally Rooney’s Normal People; a comic novel in the shape of Rob Palk’s Animal Lovers; and Anna McCauley’s ‘ferociously good, brilliantly original’ poetry collection, Oedipa. [read full essay]

Anarchic Undersongs: Twin Interviews with Sarah Howe and Layli Long Soldier

by Stephanie Sy-Quia

This is the first in a new series of interviews by Review 31: we will be placing interviews with two authors side by side, allowing the correspondences in their work to come to the fore. For the first instalment, we have a twin interview with poets Sarah Howe and Layli Long Soldier. Sarah Howe is a British-Hong Kong Chinese poet who lectures in poetry at King’s College London, and whose collection Loop of Jade won the 2015 TS Eliot Prize. Layli Long Soldier is an Oglala Lakota poet from Dakota who teaches at Diné College in the Navajo Nation. Her collection Whereas is a response to the 2009 Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans, which was not read aloud or delivered with any tribal leaders present. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2017. We’ve chosen to place these women’s work in dialogue because of their use of found poetry derived from legal texts, their differing subversions of imperial epistemologies, and their writing of the Umbrella Movement and Standing Rock protests, respectively, from afar. Here, Review 31 examines the modes these two remarkable women have employed to confront the utterances of oppressive states. [read full interview]

The Great Northern Morlock Hunt

by Peter Mitchell

In some ways, authentocracy’s more obvious and cynical manifestations are already beginning to lose some of their power. The continued emergence of unambiguous nativism, which has only accelerated in the year since Authentocrats was completed, is perhaps beginning to render authentocracy’s various strategies of hedging and ventriloquy obsolete. Two years ago, a figure like Richard Angell was dutifully reporting what he heard from the doorstep and tearfully imploring the left to listen to their natural constituency; now he happily appears on panels with Melanie Phillips and Brendan O’Neill. The sensible adults who beat their breasts over Corbyn’s unelectability in 2016 are, in 2018, debating whether ethnic diversity poses a threat to the West at Spiked front events. Ethnonationalist creeps like Goodhart are increasingly recognised for what they are, and increasingly less coy about it. Kennedy’s work, in this book and elsewhere, is partly responsible for this, of course. With any luck Authentocrats, with all its piss and vinegar, will help to abolish the thing it diagnoses, and its usefulness as an immediate political intervention will be short. [read full essay]

Framing Evasion: Revisiting Rabbit-Proof Fence and the History Wars

by Holly Siân Weston

The assimilation policy, which was predicated on the assumption of white superiority and black inferiority, proposed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be allowed to ‘die out’ in answer to what was seen by the settler culture as the ‘Aboriginal problem.’ In order to facilitate this so-called solution, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were separated from their families and placed in homes like Moore River where the principle aim was to indoctrinate the children so that they would assimilate into and eventually be absorbed by the white culture. In short, they would be ‘bred out’ of existence. The practice of child removal, which began in the early 1900s and continued until the early 1970s, has had a devastating effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as a whole and led the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report, Bringing Them Home (1997) to conclude that the principal aim of eradicating Aboriginal culture constituted a cultural genocide. [read full essay]

‘These Stories are Coming from a Place of Anger’: An Interview with Sophie Mackintosh

by Stephanie Sy-Quia

Sophie Mackintosh’s debut The Water Cure, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, has been hailed as being at the vanguard of a resurgence in feminist dystopias. Indeed, our pop culture climate has witnessed the adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale or Christina Dalcher’s novel Vox, but to lump Mackintosh in with them is to do the novel a disservice. The Water Cure moves with a lyricism that makes it read like an arthouse film: all sun-flared introspection and melancholia. The novel is is told through the alternating voices of three sisters, who have lived their lives in seclusion with their mother and father, quarantined from an outside world made toxic and threatening by patriarchy. [read full interview]

The Pilgrim and the Poet

by Ben Leubner

A prominent first-person narrative strategy employed from Dante to Proust works in such a way that by the time the character’s story comes to an end, they’re ready to become the writer who will then relate the story we’ve just read. Dante the pilgrim becomes Dante the poet; Marcel becomes Proust. Their stories begin as soon as they cease. This is not so in My Struggle, in which the pilgrim and the poet are identical; Karl Ove Knausgaard is Karl Ove Knausgaard. His struggle is less to get to the point where he can now finally write My Struggle than it is to actually write it, which he is in the process of doing throughout all six books. [read full essay]

Concerning Technology

by Dominic Fox

The essential promise of ‘big data’ is that it may sometimes be possible to surface characteristics of the domain under analysis that we don’t initially know how to specify in detail: we can find things we we didn’t start out knowing how to look for. Bridle later quotes the researchers behind Tri Alpha, an approach to machine-enhanced investigation of the space of possible fusion reactor designs, who describe their system as ‘attempting to optimise a hidden utility model that human experts may not be able to express explicitly.’ There is something of the sublime in this: that which is ‘inexpressible’, for which we have no concept, can take form as a ‘model’ which then becomes a tool for further investigation and reflection. [read full essay]

‘The shimmering light of everything that surrounds us’: An interview with Samanta Schweblin

by Guadalupe Gerardi

Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin’s fascinating novel Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017; her new book, Mouthful of Birds, is due for publication in English translation next year. I talked to Schweblin about her writing process, the ways in which her work opens up dialogues between different literary traditions, and the vexed question of what is gained and lost in translation. [read full interview]

Waiting for Sargon

by Peter Mitchell

To those outside of academia, it can be hard to convey the relentlessness and co-ordinated nature of the cultural attack on higher education. The lie that there is a crisis of free speech in universities seems to have become common wisdom, and liberal media outlets have been remarkably weak at countering it. In the past year, two successive Tory secretaries of state for higher education have made it a central focus of their public statements, starting in December, when Jo Johnson proposed an Office for Students which would have the power to fine universities for no-platforming speakers. This – as well as the OfS itself, the seriousness of whose conception was amply demonstrated by the proposed inclusion of Toby Young on its board – was obviously unworkable, but that was hardly the point: open season had been declared, and the culture war against higher education had moved from the op-ed page to the front bench. [read full essay]

Communism on the Second Floor

by Owen Hatherley

This is the authentic voice of post-1968 squatland, and it is not a shrill or hysterical one. It is found also in the famous Christiania in Copenhagen. A former barracks was occupied by young leftists, who then invited locals to come see 'the forbidden city' – and create it. Their manifesto called for 'a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible for the well-being of the entire community. This society is to be economically self-sustaining, and its common aspiration is to be steadfast in the conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted'. This is not the same thing as squatting a row of bombed-out terraces, and different even to the CPGB's 1940 occupation of the Savoy. It was not intended to draw attention to housing poverty, but to something else – that 'psychological destitution', represented by the entire post-war world of 9-5 work, technocracy, full employment, Fordism, predictability, the nuclear family, advertising, property development and municipal housing. [read full essay]