'Beware Mirrors': The Ludic Magic of Helen Oyeyemi

by Hilary Ilkay

Books such as What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours hold a unique position in a literary market that has been dominated by the hyperrealist, quotidian, deeply personal multi-volume sagas by the likes of Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante; they demonstrate, much like historical fables and myths, the cultural importance of storytelling that plays with reality. [read full essay]

The Benefit of Hindsight

Patrick Cockburn, Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East

reviewed by Dominic Davies

In the last few years, articles and books by Patrick Cockburn, which have offered keen and thoughtful accounts of political and military events in the Middle East and North Africa for a long time, have become increasingly popular. It seems this is likely due to in the rise of Islamic State, or ISIS, in Syria and Iraq. His 2014 book, The Jihadis Return: Isis and the New Sunni Uprising, was the first of his several publications to enter a second print run. Unsurprisingly, it appears that people... [read more]

Reveries of a Solitary Angler

Faruk Šehić, trans. Will Firth, Quiet Flows the Una

reviewed by Vladimir Zorić

Major rivers have formed their own hegemonies, in politics and in literature: it suffices to recall Hölderlin’s Danube, Faulkner’s Mississippi, Conrad’s Congo and Sholokhov’s Don. In view of this colonial drift, writing a book about a lesser river necessarily emerges as a critical endeavour, and a distinctly literary one at that. The task becomes considerably more complex if that lesser river turns out to have been a theatre of war in the recent past. Armed with an AK-47 rifle, the... [read more]

False Flag Publishing?

John Sadler, Operation Agreement: Jewish Commandos and the Raid on Tobruk

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Operation Agreement is a fascinating and timely contribution to the literature on the Desert War, but Osprey Publishing have done author John Sadler – Fellow of both the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – a disservice with their marketing campaign. The subtitle suggests an equal or at least comparable split between the Special Interrogation Group, a British Army Commando platoon of German-speaking Jews, and the raid on Tobruk in mid-September 1942. The... [read more]

Eccentrics and Individualists

Garry MacKenzie, Scotland: A Literary Guide for Travellers

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

When Walter Scott explored the Scottish lochs and Robert Louis Stevenson wandered the narrow alleyways of Edinburgh, many travellers would probably have carried their volume of ‘The Lady of the Lake’ or ‘Kidnapped’ in their bags as literal literary companions. Scotland, after all, was just being ‘discovered’ by new bourgeois tourists agog at the prospect of unearthing the romantic ghosts and medieval heroes that Scott had placed in the landscapes of the Highlands. They might have... [read more]

Fail Again, Fail Better

Clare Hayes-Brady, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity, and Resistance

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Scarcely any contemporary writer has passed into the literary canon more swiftly and seamlessly than David Foster Wallace. Undergraduate dissertations on him were already being written while he was still working on his posthumously published unfinished novel, The Pale King (2011). The writer himself was endlessly courted by academic journals to pronounce on anything from American literary culture to the status of political engagement in a disengaged world, while Harper's and Esquire magazines... [read more]

‘A boy’s adventure in the void’

Don DeLillo, Zero K

reviewed by Katie Da Cunha Lewin

‘The death of the novel’ is still a popular phrase bandied about by writers and critics both – particularly popular, it seems, for those authors who pride themselves on a cultivated cantankerousness, such as Will Self or Philip Roth. Roth in particular seemed rather churlish in his dismissal of the novel, as it coincided with the announcement of his retirement from fiction writing, seemingly suggesting that his retreat from the world of literature somehow accelerated the inevitable... [read more]

Anything and Nothing

Stephen Mitchelmore, This Space of Writing

reviewed by Alex Wealands

What is literature? This question continues to elude a satisfactory answer accounting for the all the intricate nuances and inconsistencies of writing, interpretation, imagination and reality. It is with this conviction that Lars Iyer is able to write, in his introduction to Stephen Mitchelmore’s This Space of Writing, that this collection of essays is for ‘the writer for whom literature is in some way a problem.’ It is not so much that Mitchelmore attempts to definitively answer this... [read more]

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]