Fiction Highlights: Review 31's Best Novels of 2016

by Review 31

As is customary at this time of year, we invited some of our regular contributors to look back over the past 12 months and select their literary highlights of 2016. They produced a varied and eclectic list of recommendations, ranging from Garth Greenwell’s poignant exploration of sexual identity to Yuri Herrera’s bleak panorama of urban decay; from Roger Lewinter’s meditations on the beauty of everyday objects to Madeleine Thien’s poignant exploration of history and memory; and a couple of more experimental works – by Alejandro Zambra and Jung Young Moon – that riff on the porous border between fiction and non-fiction. [read full essay]

Uncategorised Freedom

Emily Critchley ed., Out of Everywhere 2: Linguistically Innovative Poetry By Women in North America & the UK

reviewed by Kate Duckney

Consider Peter Pan, the pouting boy king, a symbol of endless playfulness, laughter and petulance. Now turn your attention to Paul Auster and his assertion that we need ‘cackling boys to remind us of how great it is to be alive’, and that without these boy writers ‘there is no literature.’ There is space to experiment inside the outline of eternal boychild, but the writing never grows, it never connects. Peter Pan spurns the independence of Wendy when she is no longer compelled to be... [read more]

Altered States

Eugene Brennan & Russell Williams eds., Literature and Intoxication: Writing, Politics and the Experience of Excess

reviewed by Stuart Walton

Intoxication has progressed over the most recent generation from being the great unmentionable in mainstream cultural discourse to being as present and urgent a theme as sex once was. Formerly no more than biographical ephemera in the lives of the pressing crowds of drug-fiends and pissheads with which the Western creative pantheon is stuffed, it has become at last a philosophical theme all its own. In the process, the focus on its psycho-physical potentialities has been enlarged from the... [read more]

Kant’s Tulips / Clarice’s Mystery: Taking Time to Recollect

Clarice Lispector, trans. Katrina Dodson, The Complete Stories

reviewed by Dominic Jaeckle

Only parts of us will ever / touch only parts of others – / one’s own truth is just / that really – one’s own truth. / We can only share the / part that is understood by within another’s knowing acceptable to / the other therefore so one / is for most part alone. / As it is meant to be in / evidently in nature – at best though perhaps it could make / our understanding seek / another’s loneliness out. Marilyn Monroe, from ‘The Undated Poems’ I’m the one who’s... [read more]

The Folly of Curating the World

David Balzer, Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else

reviewed by Julian Haladyn

The topic of curating has become an increasingly important part of how we define the development of cultural and historical discourses, especially around art, in the 21st century. In addition to David Balzer’s book, which has received quite a bit of attention, there have been a number of key scholars who have turned their focus to questions of curating and the manner in which acts of curation have become mixed up with acts of creation. Two notable examples are Claire Bishop’s Radical... [read more]

Grey Thinking

Matthew Feldman, Falsifying Beckett: Essays on Archives, Philosophy, and Methodology in Beckett Studies

reviewed by Elisabeth Sherman

In an endorsement of Beckett scholar Matthew Feldman’s first book, a fellow critic praised Feldman’s ability to teach his readers how to ‘read as Beckett himself read’ by incorporating Beckett’s ‘notebook material’ into his analysis. In Falsifying Beckett: Essays on Archives, Philosophy, and Methodology in Beckett Studies, Matthew Feldman employs the same method to take the reader on journey through the ‘bewildering array of scholarly readings’ of Beckett’s... [read more]

‘A theme I would call metaphysical’

Danilo Kiš, The Encyclopedia of the Dead

reviewed by Matt Lewis

Danilo Kiš was not your traditional purveyor of short fiction. As Mark Thompson’s excellent introduction to this new Penguin Classics edition points out, the Yugoslav saw himself as the man to rescue the short story from its ‘state of permanent stagnation.’ After the horrors of the 20th century’s disasters and wars, many of which he bore witness to, ‘the idea that “the totality of the world and of experience” could be revealed in a “slice of life”’ was laughable. For that... [read more]


Susannah Worth, Digesting Recipes: The Art of Culinary Notation

reviewed by Nina Franklin

'The significance of cookbooks within western culture should not be underestimated. Their value as cultural documents and as works of literature has been well stated.' Food, the ultimate cultural glue, is a rightful obsession of the modern - and indeed, any - age. What we eat says so much about us, and what we talk about when we talk about food is a true litmus test of society. What is on your plate divulges your class, your status, your racial background, your political ideals and your... [read more]

A Tangle of Realities

Quintan Ana Wikswo, The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far

reviewed by Jason DeYoung

In an interview with Maxine Chernoff, Quintan Ana Wikswo says this about her writing: 'I’m interested in war and romantic love because they are two profoundly unstable states in which normalcy vanishes, familiar boundaries dissolve, and we face the ultimate intimate encounter with dreams and nightmares, fantasy and horror, the unreal and the sublime.' Smart, intoxicating, mysterious, Wikswo’s debut collection of short stories, The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far, is filled... [read more]

Half-made Societies

Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

reviewed by Michael Duffy

From the very title of Rushdie’s latest novel it is clear that he is engaged in a mission to bring the ancient into line with the modern. His transposition of One Thousand and One Nights into the Gregorian calendar is matched by his attempt to bring the text’s mythological jinn (or genies) into downtown New York and Hampstead Heath. What makes the novel feel strikingly new is the author’s attempt to bring the grotesque, magical elements of his work into the digital age. The unrelenting... [read more]

'Seek Simplicity and Distrust It'

Isabelle Stengers, Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts

reviewed by Simi Freund

For many years Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was an unfashionable figure within philosophy, known either as a brilliant British mathematician who co-authored the seminal Principia Mathematica (1910-1913) with Bertrand Russell, or as an obscure metaphysician whose ‘process philosophy’ gave birth to ‘process theology.’ He was perhaps best known for declaring all of western thought to be a ‘series of footnotes to Plato.’ Whitehead came to philosophy relatively late in his career,... [read more]