All Features

Fiction Highlights: Review 31's Best Novels of 2015

by Review 31

With the year drawing to a close, we invited several Review 31 contributors and editors to select their literary highlights of 2015. Their recommendations ranged from the metafictions of Ben Lerner and Tom McCarthy to the personal and political vistas of Marilynne Robinson and Elena Ferrante, and works in translation by Han Kang and Nathalie Léger. [read full essay]

Telling Tales Out of School: Impact, Literature and the Academy

by Duncan Wheeler

In ‘Why I Quit,’ an already infamous piece published in the London Review of Books in Autumn 2014, Marina Warner rallies against the increasingly top-heavy corporate style of modern British universities. I can perfectly understand her frustration, and I agree with many of her complaints about the higher education system – the willingness to take on under-par fee-paying graduate students, an exponential growth in administrators and philistinism – but I was somewhat less convinced by her portrait of my colleagues and me as sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. In my experience, the correspondent from the Daily Telegraph was closer to the mark: ‘Most professions harbour rivalry and backbiting, but academics make politicians look like fawning puppies.' [read full essay]

Prizes are Political: A Conversation About Literary Prize-giving

by Review 31

A few days after the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize was announced, Review 31 invited four critics to discuss the politics of literary prize-giving. They discussed a range of issues including gender bias in the selection process; the marginalisation of experimental and genre fiction; the obstacles encountered by smaller presses wishing to submit their books for consideration; and the emergence of the ‘prize-winning novel’ as a genre in itself. They discussed a range of issues including gender bias in the selection process; the marginalisation of experimental and genre fiction; the obstacles encountered by smaller presses wishing to submit their books for consideration; and the emergence of the ‘prize-winning novel’ as a genre in itself. [read full essay]

Postcapitalist Futures

by Daniel Whittall

‘Ditching neoliberalism,’ Mason announces, ‘is the easy part. There’s a growing consensus among protest movements, radical economists and radical political parties in Europe as to how you do it: suppress high finance, reverse austerity, invest in green energy and promote high-waged work.’ Simply to read that list of demands made by the protest movements invoked by Mason is, surely, to recognise that ditching neoliberalism will be far from easy. Any simple reading of the hostile press coverage and establishment soundbites that have greeted the mere election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in the UK would be enough to make clear that reversing austerity and suppressing high finance will not come about with any great ease. [read full essay]

Dissidence, Compromise and Submission in Higher Education Today

by Scarlett Baron

It is risky to teach or conduct research in ways that depart from certain modish formulae. To teach in ways which do not fit the assessment-focused, packaged-learning formats that are currently in vogue is to risk jeopardising one’s own standing within a department, but also, via the National Student Survey, to damage that department in the eyes of the faculty, the school, the university, and of course the media and its league tables. And to carry out research into areas of thought or knowledge that are not currently fashionable (that is, easily convertible into mercantilistic political clichés), is drastically to reduce one’s chances of obtaining external funding, the securing of which is key to the realisation of major scholarly projects. So by and large we muddle on, teaching in ways we hope are worthwhile whilst also (or despite) satisfying fee-paying students; and writing often preposterous research proposals which make promises about ‘impact deliverables and milestones,’ gush about ‘leadership development plans,’ and detail unique ‘project management skills.’ [read full essay]

Sexuality, Repression and the Problem of Evil: Remembering François Mauriac

by Robin Baird-Smith

So who was François Mauriac? He was a French novelist, essayist, public intellectual and later in life a prolific journalist. These days, though his novels are somewhat out of fashion, he still has a strong contingent of admirers. His novels, like those of two other modern Catholic novelists, Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge, were short but exquisite and perfectly formed. Written with beautiful economy and profound psychological depth, they are a brilliant study of the murky depths of the human personality. There was little that was outside his creative range: incest, miserable marriages, sexual ambiguity, religious hypocrisy and the endless capacity of human beings for self-deception. [read full essay]

'Thanks': On Negative Criticism

by Orit Gat

The commonplace complaint is that no-one reads reviews anymore, and that reviews sections are consequently a nonissue. But we should read reviews, and we should read them carefully and think about the huge role they play in a magazine. The reviews section in any given publication is oftentimes the largest section and covers a substantial number of artists. It is thus a place where we need to scrutinise representation, but also a place in which a magazine asserts its stakes: if the reviews section is an entryway into the features well, then both the artists covered and the writers assigned may be involved with it more closely in the future. It’s where writers learn to write and where artists often get their first significant bibliographical notation. Lastly, the reviews section has a significant financial role in any given magazine. The fact that advertising and revenue models are changing because of the internet only makes this more crucial. [read full essay]

Perspectives on the UK General Election

by Elliot Murphy

The success of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens is strong evidence that building left alternatives is much more effective when done outside of Labour, not within it. Efforts to combat climate change may well be, simultaneously, the anti-austerity and anti-establishment driving force that British politics is in dire need of. The two things must surely go hand in hand. If not, then the resulting environmental cataclysm will drown out all the major ideological debates about people vs profit, independence vs unionism and socialism vs neoliberalism, and the only remaining social agenda will be survival. [read full essay]

Stage Paralysis

by Stephen Lee Naish

When you suffer from stage fright you are inexplicably aware of almost every single body movement: a curve of the lip, a twitch of the finger, a closing of one eye. You begin to wonder how these actions are making you appear to the audience. This suddenly becomes your core concern. Recently, whilst re-watching the first-season of Friends, Chandler Bing summed this up when he weighed up the decision to go and talk to a beautiful woman: ‘I'm very, very aware of my tongue.’ Then a strange external shutdown begins and you enter into a place where all your internal chemicals combine in a twisted science experiment overseen by the ghost of Timothy Leary. At that precise moment you become aware of the growth of your own fingernails and hair. Star Wars fans might say this sounds a lot like The Force, though it offers no such powers [read full essay]

A Raging Peace

by Marc Farrant

The music and people David Stubbs gathers under the term ‘Krautrock’ mark precisely this definitive question of post-war German life: how to start afresh? Their musical innovations similarly bear testament to the inextricability of geography, of nations and wars, whilst also proffering a radical interrogation of these tyrannical logics. Krautrock is portrayed as blurring the stable boundaries upon which arbitrary identities are forged: ‘Man–Technik–Natur.’ No Führers. Transformation and renewal. Stasis and kinesis. Combinations best expressed, in music journalist Julian Cope’s phrase, as ‘a raging peace’. Krautrock was a many-headed Hydra, whose gestation exemplifies precisely the contingency of foundations that pervades and energises its most vertiginous moments. [read full essay]