'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]

The Stuff Behind It

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests

reviewed by Eli Davies

In an interview a few years ago, Sarah Waters outlined a kind of mission statement. 'What I'm after,' she said, 'is a gripping read, with stuff going on behind it.' The romp-factor of Waters’s fiction is well-known, and is probably at its most potent in 2002’s Fingersmith, which was, in part, an homage to Victorian crime fiction. On the surface her style, though studded with the language of her historical period, is plain and unfussy, and this may sometimes give the reader a feeling that... [read more]

‘He used to say it was frenzied, but beautiful’

Paul Fung, Dostoevsky and the Epileptic Mode of Being

reviewed by Andre van Loon

The trouble with Dostoevsky can be knowing where to start. It doesn't seem to matter if you're a novice reader, a seasoned aesthete or a professional literary critic. He's too verbose, too serious; too intent on piercing the heart of the matter in hand (‘and till my ghastly tale is told/this heart within me burns’, as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner declared). There are those who find all this extremity a little unbearable. But Dostoevsky held ideals, and his work overflows with designs for... [read more]

A Flickering Presence

Ben Lerner, 10:04

reviewed by James Pulford

Ben Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, was an intense trip through the mind of an anxious American college student in Spain and the finest work of fiction to explore feelings of fraudulence and fakery since David Foster Wallace’s story ‘Good Old Neon.’ The narrator is alienated by the disconnect between his experience and his self-presentation – an issue deftly dramatised through the mesh of a foreign language and culture. In 10:04, Lerner’s latest novel, the 33-year... [read more]

Gaspard Winckler

Georges Perec, trans. David Bellos, Portrait of a Man

reviewed by David Anderson

No matter how fulsomely Scarlett Johansson gave fleshy form to Griet, the serving-girl at Johannes Vermeer's house in Delft, the Girl with a Pearl Earring was never a real girl. As the little text-box hanging next to Vermeer's canvas, in the Mauritshuis, explains: It is not a real portrait, but a ‘tronie’: a fantasy-head. Tronies picture a certain type of character – in this case, a girl in exotic clothing, with an oriental turban and an improbably large pearl in the ear. ‘A... [read more]

Stand Up and Be Counted

Harry Leslie Smith, Harry's Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down, and What We Can Do To Save It

reviewed by Stephen Lee Naish

Over the next few months, publication of books, essays, and articles related to British politics will skyrocket as writers, politicians, and pundits from the left, right and centre battle it out in the run up to the general election in May of this year. The party conferences have already been in full swing, the whips will be working overtime to pull their party dissenters back into line, backstabbing and tit for tat will be rife across the nation, political leaders once again will debate... [read more]

Coetzee and Cinema

Hermann Wittenberg ed., JM Coetzee: Two Screenplays

reviewed by Marc Farrant

JM Coetzee’s sole publication of 2014, JM Coetzee: Two Screenplays, comprises two self-authored screenplay adaptations of the early novels In the Heart of the Country (1977) and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980). The screenplays might be considered audacious formal experiments; new textual ground from one of the key figures of World Literature. However, written respectively in 1981 and 1995, they equally testify to a verbal range and aesthetic dexterity that has been a largely overlooked... [read more]

The Return of the Longue Durée

Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto

reviewed by James Everest

It may not have been what they intended, but in The History Manifesto Jo Guldi and David Armitage have, in fact, produced two manifestos. The first of these is a call for historians to play a more active role in contemporary society. The second argues that the proper way of doing this is through narratives of long-term historical change: what they, using a term first popularised by French historian Fernand Braudel in the 1950s, refer to as the ‘return of the longue durée’. The second point... [read more]

Plain Old Mattress Ticking

Wendy Cope, Life, Love and the Archers: Recollections, Reviews and Other Prose

reviewed by Gee Williams

Wendy Cope published her first collection of poetry, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, in 1985. But far from attaching herself to the brand of Amis senior, Cope has become a brand in her own right, strong enough to coax investment from the fiercest Dragons’ Den. I’m one of those delighted to spend my time on her, always sure of a favourable return. And I’m in good company. That first book has sold 180,000 copies, amazing for any poetry book, let alone a first, let alone by a woman, let... [read more]

Peeling the Onion

Antoni Kapcia, Leadership in the Cuban Revolution: The Unseen Story

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

Antoni Kapcia’s most recent book on Cuba (he has published several, principally on culture) could hardly have been better timed. Leadership in the Cuban Revolution presents its main argument in an odd cover design in which Fidel Castro’s face is blocked out by a large pink circle. In fact the book appeared just a few months before Raúl, Fidel’s brother and leader of Cuba since Fidel’s retirement in 2006, announced on December 17 a historic agreement with the US to end its 55-year... [read more]

The Horrible and the Miserable

Robert P. Waxler, The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and the World

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The risk that Robert Waxler refers to in the title of this unapologetically conventional homage to literature is that books might suggest something to their readers about their own lives that the readers didn't already know. Life is a journey, a ceaseless and imperfect and necessarily incomplete quest for self-identity, but novels and stories can provide the guideposts by which we navigate through it, unlike the absorbent screens of the digital age, which are perniciously distracting and... [read more]