OPINION On Villains

by Kwaku Osei-Afrifa

I’m a writer and I often have a villain problem, in that they’re rarely villains to me. I leave it to the reader to decide based on the evidence presented in the work of fiction and their own feelings about the concepts. That nuance is vital to the work lingering in a potential reader, and to me makes the process interesting. Of course, these characters and I aren’t the same. The difference here — beyond millions of sales and pounds in Rowling’s corner — is you can trace her characters’ reprehensible behaviour back to her own. [read full opinion]

OPINION Hook-up a Duck

by Jack Solloway

It’s no secret the Fringe is over-saturated. Every thesp for themselves: an all-out war in a crowded field, where celebrity, gimmicks and a mercenary attitude are king. The four million-odd turnout each season is second only in size to the Olympic Games, and arguably more cut-throat in its competition but for a hair’s width of attention. For yonks activists have campaigned against over-tourism in Edinburgh and the festival’s unsustainable growth – ‘growth for growth’s sake’, as the umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh put it. So it may not surprise you, then, that some are lapping up the ‘staycation’ tourism of a country too blasé about the pandemic to cancel its holiday plans altogether. [read full opinion]

On Hesitation

Srinivas Rayaprol, Angular Desire: Selected Poems and Prose

reviewed by Mantra Mukim

‘why did you go to burma? / prickface i said/ what’s there in india?’ Arun Kolatkar’s wax eloquent question at the end of ‘Three Cups of Tea’ is definitely one of the paramount questions of Indian English poetry, to which plenty rejoinders have been delivered in the 1960s and beyond. The question brings into play one of the many concerns in early Indian English writing – that of representation. What is there in the newly-born nation that demands attention, what is there that is... [read more]

None of it is Certain

Camille Laurens, trans. Willard Wood, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen

reviewed by Adrian Nathan West

In Britain and America, Degas is a cliché. I briefly studied art history at university, and have an abiding amateur interest in the subject, but my closest association with him is the sun-bleached posters of his ballerinas lining the walls of the shabby roadside dance school where a friend’s girlfriend taught ballet basics to ungainly preteens. Degas is the kind of artist well-represented at poster shops; people buy his prints for sentimental reasons, or just to keep their house from looking... [read more]

Everything that Tastes Bad is Good for You

Jeet Thayil, Low

reviewed by Stuart Walton

At the start of the final novel in what is destined to be known as Jeet Thayil's Bombay trilogy, its central character Dominic Ullis is sitting on a flight just coming in to land in that city, transitioning between an imperfect oblivion brought on by 20mg of the prescription soporific, zolpidem, and a wakefulness that hasn't quite yet earned the name, the woman next to him thriftily smuggling his airline cutlery as well as her own into a gigantic handbag, his wife's ashes in a box cradled on... [read more]

Scurrying in the Dark

Sophie Mackintosh, Blue Ticket

reviewed by Laurane Marchive

Female identity, traditionally feminine aesthetics and the dynamic between men and women are central concerns for fiction author Sophie Mackintosh. In her Booker-longlisted debut novel The Water Cure, Mackintosh explored the relationships between three sisters raised in the belief that men are poisonous. In her new novel Blue Ticket, she pushes the exploration further by focusing on pregnancy, thus raising fundamental questions: what does it mean to be female, within and without female biology?... [read more]

Inhabiting the Slash

Emerson Whitney, Heaven

reviewed by George Ttoouli

Several years ago I attended a reading by Alan Hollinghurst at which Germaine Greer was in the audience. During the Q & A, she expostulated the impossibility of authentically representing one’s other: straight people couldn’t write gay relationships, nor gay men lesbian relationships and so on. After this lengthy outlay, she left the provocation hanging with, ‘Well, what do you think?’ Hollinghurst replied, ‘I’ve never really thought about it,’ then turned to another raised hand... [read more]

Rubbish History

Emily Cockayne, Rummage: A History of the Things We Have Reused, Recycled and Refused to Let Go

reviewed by Anna Parker

What is it that is so beguiling about used things? One of my favourite writers is Barbara Pym, whose novels include extremely sharp observations about the social lives and manners of the middle class in post-war England, always delivered with warm humour and a unique generosity towards the ordinary spinsters that serve as her principal characters. I lent a friend one of her books. ‘These jumble sales are hotbeds of intrigue,’ she texted me later. Nearly every Pym contains a scene at a... [read more]

‘They punish men for the things they do’

Megan Hunter, The Harpy

reviewed by Venetia Welby

I first encountered Megan Hunter’s dark magic in Libreria, a bookshop off Brick Lane in London. She was reading from her debut novel, The End We Start From, the haunting story of a new mother fleeing flooded, apocalyptic London. In 2017 the book had just come out and Hunter was in the middle of writing a second – a quite different experience, she said. The first one happened very quickly; in some ways, authors have been writing their first novel all their lives. She was reluctant to say... [read more]

Both Ancient and New

Sam Riviere, After Fame: The Epigrams of Martial

reviewed by Frith Taylor

Confessional poems have been a mainstay of Western poetry since the middle of the last century. People love the theatre of confessions; it's exciting to think that someone is telling you the truth, or telling a secret. In its original religious meaning, to confess is to avow one's faith in spite of persecution. In Old French confesser had a figurative meaning to 'harm, hurt or make suffer.' Go further back and you find that the root bha, meaning to speak, tell or say, has another meaning, which... [read more]


Moyra Davey, Index Cards

reviewed by Daniel Fraser

Hegel speaks of language in terms of contagion. Language transmits subjectivity like an infection. This virus passes between speaker and listener, meaning resonates. With terms like transmission and reception, we see the taxonomic ground shared by language and disease. That this descriptive metaphor feels more pertinent today might be ascribed to a kind of accident, a reflection of present socio-historical and biopolitical conditions. These two ideas, contamination and accident, flow throughout... [read more]

Debunking Liberalism

Pankaj Mishra, Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race and Empire

reviewed by William Eichler

In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that the post-Cold War liberal settlement represented the apotheosis of humanity’s political development. The time was ripe for such bold pronouncements. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, public intellectuals in Europe and America became convinced liberal democracy and capitalism had triumphed for good. Fascism had been defeated by the Allied powers and half a century later, faced... [read more]