Fiction Highlights: Review 31's Best Novels of 2017

by Review 31

Given the turbulent state of world politics, it is unsurprising that political themes loom large in some of 2017’s most eye-catching works of fiction: these include Tom Rachman’s ‘rapid-response’ snapshot of American decline in Basket of Deplorables, Daniel Magariel’s searing portrait of toxic masculinity in One of the Boys, and Mohsin Hamid’s timely meditation on migration, Exit West. This year’s recommendations are formally diverse, ranging from Emmanuel Carrère’s essayistic opus The Kingdom – described by Andre van Loon as 'emphatically not a novel' – and Sam Riviere’s digitally inspired fragmented narratives to more conventional, plot-driven novels and short stories. [read full essay]

‘Only certain people are permitted to write books’

Nathan Connolly (ed.), Know Your Place: Essays on the Working Class By the Working Class

reviewed by Thom Cuell

Conceived in response to media analysis of the EU Referendum, in which the working class was presented by the media as primarily scared, backward-looking, insular and monocultural, Know Your Place gives a platform to working class writers to discuss the impact of class on their own life and work. By doing this, it stands alongside fellow crowdfunded anthologies The Good Immigrant (Unbound) and Nasty Women (404 Ink) in providing a snapshot of the socio-political situation of contemporary Britain... [read more]

Chaotic, disaster-struck, booming

Don Jordan, The King's City: London under Charles II: A city that transformed a nation – and created modern Britain

reviewed by Minoo Dinshaw

Charles II’s charm is perilous powerful stuff; even his nightmare incarnation as JM Barrie’s Captain Hook is an endearing sort of villain. ‘The Merry Monarch’’s human approachability, witty phlegm and liberal reputation are heirlooms passed down into the assumed knowledge of the general reader; academic authorities on the Restoration have striven in vain to substitute a nastier piece of work, a would-be tyrant and essay-crisis king. Don Jordan, until recently working with a... [read more]

Contexts of Reception

Joseph North, Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History

reviewed by Daniel Green

Joseph North’s Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History is a book with a provocative premise addressing an important subject that ultimately does justice to neither. North contends that academic literary study has settled into a stagnant and unavailing practice that aligns it entirely with ‘scholarship’ at the expense of ‘criticism’. Further, the putative goal of this scholarship in a by now thoroughly politicised discipline – to act as a counterforce against the dominant... [read more]

Guilty Men and Wronged Wives

Joshua Ferris, The Dinner Party

reviewed by Josie Mitchell

Joshua Ferris, author of three funny, anxious novels about metropolitan loneliness, has released his first book of short stories, The Dinner Party. The collection features a cast of thwarted, pathological men struggling with the addictions and alienations of modern-day America. The 11 stories, published over a decade (mostly in the New Yorker), are scooped up here into one book. One of the fears for novelists like Ferris must be that their shorter work, massed together, becomes monotonous,... [read more]

'Exquisite juicing movements’

Monique Roffey, The Trust

reviewed by Anna Maconochie

What do readers of ‘the erotic novel’ want? In our screen-heavy times, it is intriguing that this most goal-driven of literally genres is having a moment amidst the plethora of downloadable smut. The erotic scribe seeks not just to tell a tale but to get you, the reader, off – if not literally, then at least between your ears, unlike the romantic or literary fiction writer who happens to drop in a sex scene. In The Tryst, the ambitious and confident Monique Roffey adds yet a third layer... [read more]

'The faithful work of drowning'

Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds

reviewed by Charlie Baylis

Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds has received a great deal of praise and attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Described by Andrew Macmillan as no less than ‘one of the most important début collections for a generation’ and hailed by the New York Times for its ‘tensile precision reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’, the collection has sold strongly, a rare feat for poetry, unless the author attended a famous stage school or featured on a Beyonce album. What is it that has made... [read more]

'chirrup, chirrup, chirrup'

John Wilkinson, Ghost Nets

reviewed by Jack Belloli

I’ve long got stuck on John Keats’s line, in a letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, about wanting to be ‘a sort of ethereal Pigs, [. . .] turned loose to feed upon spiritual Mast and Acorns’ as he read Reynolds’s poems. It’s one of those moments when an attempt to describe how Romantic poetry should work ends up overreaching itself. I can appreciate the thrust of Keats’s point, inherited from the German philosophy of his time, that beauty is most fully registered when our sensuous... [read more]

A Chronicle of Radicalisation

Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire

reviewed by Michael Duffy

Home Fire has already found itself on the Man Booker longlist, an accolade that highlights the immediacy and poignancy of its representation of radicalisation, the Islamic State, and the place of Islam in the British political and media landscape. Until now, Kamila Shamsie’s fiction has largely maintained an historical focus, narrating Pakistan’s history through the experiences of women, children and families impacted by momentous events of South Asian sovereignty such as colonial rule, the... [read more]

Forming the Rant

László Krasznahorkai, The Last Wolf and Herman

reviewed by Leonid Bilmes

Literary criticism really does call for a sub-genre in the history of the novel: the genre of the modern rant. As with much else in modern literature, the dawn of this mode of literary expression of angst already glimmers in Hamlet’s monologues, but the one text that inaugurates the specifically modern rant is Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground. If you have read it, you will probably recall its splenetic opening: ‘I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I... [read more]

Cynic, Charlatan, or Genius?

Arthur Rose, Literary Cynics: Borges, Beckett, Coetzee

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Arthur Rose is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of English Studies at Durham University and one of the two general directors of the Journal of Badiou Studies (with Michael J. Kelly of Binghamton University), which is a rebranding of the International Journal of Badiou Studies. The latter made academic news last year when it was revealed as the victim of the Tripodi Hoax. As explained on the 3 Quarks Daily blog in April 2016, Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse (both of the... [read more]