Death and Life in Knausgaard

by Andy Merrifield

The search for answers became Knausgaard’s quest for self-clarification, his attempt to find wholeness again – or perhaps to find wholeness for the first time. It was a literary quest as much as anything else: how to find the right words to represent a life, prompted by a sudden insight into death. Writing wasn’t and still isn’t cathartic for Knausgaard; he insists on that. It is torture, a twisted medium that buys time, that somehow offsets death. My Struggle became Knausgaard’s personal struggle, his trial, perhaps even The Trial. Only here K. is Knausgaard himself, and The Trial in question is one in which Knausgaard – let’s henceforth call him K. – is both judge and jury. The case that follows is to prove his own innocence – or guilt. In My Struggle, K. accuses himself. [read full essay]

Oh well, whatever, nevermind

Robin Wasserman, Girls on Fire

reviewed by Sharlene Teo

Teenage girls have an indomitable foothold in the literary and popular imagination. How unforgettably they have been evoked in fiction, from Francoise Sagan’s sly nymphette Cecile in Bonjour Tristesse through to Jeffrey Eugenides’s pantheon of inscrutable, suicidal Lisbons in The Virgin Suicides. Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire aspires toward that oeuvre, with mixed results. Wasserman’s chutzpah is apparent from the novel’s opening section, which takes the form of lofty missive:... [read more]

In Your Face

Stewart Home, Defiant Pose

reviewed by Anna Aslanyan

Defiant Pose, first published 25 years ago, was written over a couple of months in 1989. 'I felt that if I wrote quickly,' Stewart Home says in his afterword to the anniversary edition, 'the text would have a greater sense of pressure and urgency.' Despite a two-year gap between that moment and the book's publication, the 1991 blurb claimed: 'Defiant Pose is a story straight from today's headlines.' Many of them remained front-page stuff in 2016. In fact, a quick look at the recent papers... [read more]

Cuts, Breaks, Rips: On Disruptive Poetics

Anne Carson, Float

reviewed by Ralf Webb

Anne Carson begins her ‘novel in verse’ Autobiography of Red (1998) with an essay on the ancient poet of the Greek west, Stesichorus. She remarks that Stesichorus’ poem the Geryoneis – which tells of the mythical monster Geryon’s elimination by the hero Herakles, a narrative that Carson contemporises and subverts in Autobiography – today only remains as sparse textual fragments. These fragments, Carson writes, ‘read as if Stesichorus had composed a substantial narrative poem then... [read more]

American Anxiety

Jay McInerney, Bright, Precious Days

reviewed by Andre van Loon

‘You never see The Donald at the kind of parties I go to!’ – Jay McInerney Bright, Precious Days is Jay McInerney’s latest Manhattan novel, a glitzy tale of well-to-do New Yorkers who attend dinner parties and charity events but go to bed illicitly or ignored, riddled with anxiety. While writing the novel, McInerney thought of naming it Thin City, and one sees why instantly. Few of the writers, editors, models, socialites and financiers inhabiting his rarefied universe eat anything... [read more]

Contested Spaces

Henry Heller, The Capitalist University: The Transformation of Higher Education in the United States since 1945

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

It is one of the most potent ironies of the neoliberal age that the expansion of the universities has also meant a narrowing of their contribution to social understanding. For those of us born into the era of ‘critical courses’ and university occupations, the hope was that the education sector would produce critical citizens, interrogators of governments and institutions, free thinkers driven by moral and ethical principles. And their debates would be informed by a sense of history, whose... [read more]

More of the Same

Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

reviewed by Jakob Horstmann

It is hard to miss the fact that Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari is supposed to be a very monumental work indeed. The main title's scarlet letters, each the size of a small fist, on the Terminator-style cover alone might well cause some alarm among more sensitive onlookers. And neither the wilfully mysterious subtitle nor the back blurb does anything to dispel the impression that this here is intended to be a book of major consequence: 'This is the next stage of... [read more]

‘Exactly what I am saying is’

Matthew Welton, The Number Poems

reviewed by Holly Isemonger

Jeffrey Wainwright writes that the central paradox of poetry results from two conflicting desires: the desire to ‘say something meaningful and memorable’ and the desire to say nothing and simply delight in the nature of language itself. This issue is at the heart of Matthew Welton’s praxis, and his latest collection uses experimental techniques coupled with more conventionally meaningful elements of lyric poetry to engage with this poetic contradiction. Welton is certainly not the first... [read more]

Another Girl, Another Planet

Carola Dibbell, The Only Ones

reviewed by David Collard

‘My name is Inez Kissena Fardo. I lived my whole life in Queens and never got anything.’  Fifty years from now, in a world regularly swept by pandemics, Inez is a so-called 'hardy' and thus immune to all diseases. She exploits this adaptive advantage by selling her genetic material — teeth, nails, urine, cells, eggs — to unregulated obstetricians and gynaecologists. At the start of this unnerving, beautifully written dystopian fiction Inez travels from New York to The Farm, a backwater... [read more]

Self and Nation

Hannah Kohler, The Outside Lands

reviewed by Mark West

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King features a debate about civics in a stalled elevator, in which a number of characters offer reflections on the perceived decline of civic idealism and national collectivity. The 1960s come in for particular attention, with one character suggesting that in protesting the Vietnam War, a generation of young people asked whether individuals owe ethical duty firstly to the nation or to themselves. As Wallace puts it, the protestors ‘said that their individual... [read more]

What We Think About When We Think About Driving

Lynne Pearce, Drivetime: Literary Excursions in Automotive Consciousness

reviewed by Elsa Court

The age of the car is coming to an end. Or at least, the driving era as we know it. As we count the benefits (urban, social, environmental) of switching to driverless cars in a not-too-distant future, one looks back on what we may be losing with the activity of driving a personal car. The mind, for example, has a life of its own when the body is at the wheel of a car. Drivers are conscious of the surrounding landscape of the road when they drive, but the activity of driving also delivers us to... [read more]