African Modernism

by William Harris

Still, modernism’s ideological vagueness was lent structure by the rise of the welfare state, with big public projects taking up much of its focus. And while the welfare state rose, colonialism fell, leading anxious colonial powers at times to bestow public institutions on colonised populations as gifts of appeasement. Protests shook Ghana after British officials jailed a young Kwame Nkrumah and colonial authorities responded by building more schools; a decade later trade boycotts led to a new community center in Accra. On the eve of independence African states prepared to inherit universities, libraries, housing blocks, garden cities – the patchy and underfunded skeletons of state infrastructure, much of it designed by modernists. [read full essay]

Childbirth: Fiction’s Overlooked Drama

Pamela Erens, Eleven Hours

reviewed by Melanie White

Historically, war has supplied the ultimate proving ground for men: it’s arguably the most challenging test of strength and character, not to mention survival. In cultures the world over, this rite of passage has proclaimed that boys would engage in battle and emerge as men. For women, the equivalent is surely childbirth, especially in the days before modern medicine. Childbirth was once so dangerous that women in Renaissance Italy, for example, would promptly prepare a will upon discovering... [read more]

God Only Knows

David Park, Gods and Angels

reviewed by Jude Cook

A collection of great short stories, if carefully curated, can have the coherence of a novel, or at the very least a classic album. If Dubliners is the Sgt Pepper of the form, then later collections such as Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love or Annie Proulx’s Close Range are Blood on the Tracks and Hounds of Love respectively. Gods and Angels, the latest brace of stories from veteran Belfast novelist David Park, might well one day qualify as a minor classic – a... [read more]

A Nothing Match

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, trans. Shaun Whiteside, Football

reviewed by Joe Kennedy

Right at the beginning of the Belgian novelist and filmmaker Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s gnomically titled Football, in a stark epigraphical boot-print on an otherwise immaculate page, we’re told that: This is a book no-one will like, not intellectuals, who aren’t interested in football, or football-lovers, who will find it too intellectual. But I had to write it, I didn’t want to break the fine thread which connects me to the world. For any reviewer, this is almost certainly the... [read more]

‘My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.’

Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

reviewed by Sharlene Teo

Hot Milk, the title of Deborah Levy’s sixth book, evokes smothering maternity and the fraught, oftentimes messy dependencies between mothers and children that extend into adulthood. It is an uncomfortable and intriguing title, tantalisingly vague and a little ominous – much befitting of this hypnotic novel. In her previous works, including Beautiful Mutants (1989) and the Man Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home (2011), Levy interrogates the concepts of exile, identity, and the slipperiness and... [read more]

Such Terror Out of Europe

Geert Buelens, Everything to Nothing: The Poetry of the Great War, Revolution and the Transformation of Europe

reviewed by Eleanor Careless

Geert Buelens’ extraordinary, novelistic study of the poetry of the Great War concludes ‘so that was the First World War . . . a Twin Tower every afternoon.' Buelens’ concern to make the events of over a century ago measurable by contemporary standards introduces a radically new perspective to the field of war poetry studies. Rather than replicate the Western European-centric innocence-to-experience narrative popularised in works from LP Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953) to Ian McEwan’s... [read more]

Utility or Ideology?

Stephen Willats, Vision and Reality

reviewed by Owen Hatherley

'If I look at any object', says one of the residents of his flat in Saffron Court, Bath, in an interview with the artist Stephen Willats about life in the building, 'it tells a story.’ This book collects some of the interviews and photographs collected by Willats over several decades of work in planned housing, from the 1970s through to the 2000s – mostly, if not exclusively, in post-war, high-rise estates. Willats' extensive work on housing (never just 'houses') and the people who live in... [read more]

Growing Up Strange

Rebecca Mackenzie, In A Land of Paper Gods

reviewed by Ross Benar

Set in a missionary school in China in the 1940s, In a Land of Paper Gods is a religious novel, not only in content but in form. Rebecca Mackenzie's prose rings with religious sentiment: 'Even at that young age, I knew to bury these bones in the soft earth, to decorate the mounds with feather, shell and twig, to weave over a litany of prayers, calling to Jesus, the River God, the wind.' Hushed reverence, a sort of delicate holiness, almost surrounds the words. The religion within the story... [read more]

A Debt Beyond All Counting

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You

reviewed by Thomas Storey

‘The whole bent of my nature is toward confession,’ admits the unnamed narrator of Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You. It is this tendency towards confession that gives this hugely accomplished debut its poignancy and its emotional incisiveness. Greenwell’s novel is an attempt to confess both desire and shame in order to better unravel the interwoven, psychologically destructive force of these conjoined emotions. It is a tale of unrequited love that seeks to document the potentially... [read more]

‘To be a fucking human being’

Adam S. Miller, The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction

reviewed by Elsa Court

Adam S. Miller’s The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction is the first book to address religious language and ideas within the work of one of the most celebrated of America’s contemporary novelists. If the book has one precedent, a chapter dedicated to Wallace in Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (2011), it makes a strong case against it. Taking... [read more]

Wall Street Feminism

Liza Featherstone (ed.), False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton

reviewed by Claire Potter

When Hillary Clinton became the first female Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States on June 6 2016, the theme was women’s history. Secretary Clinton traced her political forebears back to Seneca Falls in 1848, giving a special nod to her mother, who was born the day that women’s suffrage became legal. Clinton’s historic victory was not, she said, ‘about one person,’ but for all the people, past and present, who had worked for this victory. But the debate in the... [read more]