All Features

ESSAY Who's Waldo?

by Connor Harrison

Glad to the Brink of Fear: A Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson is, before anything else, a personal text. That is a difficult distinction, generally, especially when addressing Emerson, and even more so when discussing a biography about him. ‘All history becomes subjective,’ he writes in ‘History,’ ‘in other words there is properly no history, only biography.’ What has passed before our time remains a dead text without translation. It is only at the point of contact — at the moment of subjectivity — that history can be said to exist at all. When Emerson says biography he of course means the life we have now, as it grows and will be read in another present. [read full essay]

INTERVIEW ‘The World is Funny’: An Interview with Kevin Boniface

by WJ Davies

Perhaps the reason my stories are often only brief glimpses of my characters’ lives is because this is my reality as a postal worker. I’m constantly on the move so my surroundings are always in flux. Sometimes I’ll witness the beginning of would could be a fascinating story, but I’ll never see the ending. Sometimes a customer will let me into their lives: we’ll just be passing the time on the doorstep, there’ll be a bit of a connection, they’ll confide in me and I’ll never see them again. [read full interview]

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]

INTERVIEW Achievable Miracles: An Interview with Paul Murray

by Tadhg Hoey

Reading Murray’s latest, The Bee Sting, put me in mind of Tolstoy’s line about how all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. It follows Dickie and Imelda Barnes, who are bound together by a tragic death that changed the course of their lives two decades ago, as they struggle to keep their family together. To make matters worse, their two kids, Cass and PJ, are hatching plans to leave home, and Dickie’s car dealership is on the brink of collapse. The Bee Sting is a novel about family, secrets, love, and the lengths to which we’ll go, for better or worse, to protect the ones we love from the truth. It is, above all, a novel about the past and our inability to ever outrun it. [read full interview]

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]