Hesitations and Corrections: An Interview with Garth Greenwell

by James Pulford

When it was published last year, Garth Greenwell’s debut novel What Belongs To You was heralded as a masterpiece and an instant classic on both sides of the Atlantic. Deftly depicting the stickiness of shame, desire and guilt, the novel tells the story of a young American teacher who falls for a Bulgarian hustler while living in Sofia and, subsequently, his struggle to reconcile the mixture of longing and anguish he feels as a result of their relationship. In addition to recently winning Debut Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, What Belongs To You has also been shortlisted for both the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction and the Green Carnation Prize. In this interview we talked about the role of fiction today; alt-facts and the Trump administration; the policing of LGBT lives; and the notion of literature as a conversation across time. [read full interview]

When the Nazis Ruled Paris

David Drake, Paris At War: 1939 – 1944

reviewed by Ian Birchall

That Paris under German occupation was a brutal and frightening place (and far, far worse if you were a Jew) will come as no surprise. But even to those who think they know something of the period David Drake’s fascinating book will provide a mass of new and illuminating information. Based on ten years’ research and a range of sources including the memories of survivors and police archives, this is a detailed and vivid narrative of 50 horrific months. Drake carefully intertwines an... [read more]

Recovering Relationality

Andrew Benjamin, Towards a Relational Ontology: Philosophy's Other Possibility

reviewed by Joel White

In 1966 Gilles Deleuze wrote a review of a work by the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon. The opening to this review stated that, until now, the principle of individuation had been largely avoided by modern philosophy; that although the accomplishment of physics, of biology and of psychology had relativised and attenuated the concept, individuation had remained, until Simondon, un-interpreted. The purpose of Deleuze’s review was to highlight the force of Simondon’s philosophy, a... [read more]

The Reaches of Our Souls

Han Kang, Human Acts

reviewed by David Renton

Human Acts is set during and after the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980. Following the death of South Korea’s military ruler Park Chung-hee in 1979 and the seizure of power by another general Chun Doo-hwan, protesters called for the end of military rule. Paratroopers shot at the demonstrators, but the troops were resisted, with increasing numbers of people from across the city joining the demonstrations and the soldiers retreated. For five days the city was held by a Kwangju Commune, with... [read more]

The Engine Oil of Culture

Dan Fox, Pretentiousness: Why it Matters

reviewed by Rosanna Mclaughlin

Dan Fox’s Pretentiousness: Why it Matters sets out to rehabilitate a much maligned term, arguing that pretentiousness is a force for cultural good. Over the course of this essay – in which Fox considers such subjects as Plato’s distrust of actors, pop music’s penchant for grandiose appropriation (think Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’) and the author’s own upbringing – Fox takes aim at our historic prejudice against conspicuous pretenders. ‘Used as an insult,’ Fox writes,... [read more]

The New Internationalists

Immanuel Ness, Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

Neoliberal capitalism can appear a complex beast, but recent happenings have laid bare its central dynamics. An Indian-owned multinational announces plans to sell off its steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales, because of the collapsing global steel prices driven by the dumping of cheap, often lower-grade steel produced in factories run by the Chinese State. In doing so, it blames environmental regulations and high overhead costs. Neoliberal theory has traded off the idea that it unleashes market... [read more]

The ‘Paradise of Cities’

Marie-José Gransard, Venice: A Literary Guide for Travellers

reviewed by Francis O'Gorman

How long does it take to know Venice? Or – is such a thing possible? Here is a city peculiarly hampered by myths. It is supposedly the place of intrigue, sex, decline, decadence, cruelty, and death. It is, certainly, an environment that does not long remain itself. Now, yet again, Venice is in a state of transition. This time the cause, and the symptom, is the decline of the resident population. How is it possible to make a decent living on the lagoon now? Certainly, more bars,... [read more]

Thinking Like a Human Being

Steven Shaviro, Discognition

reviewed by Alfie Bown

My family and I play our own brand of modern day Family Fortunes using a smartphone. In my role as Les Dennis, I Google the start of a phrase and the contestants (my wife, sister and mother) attempt to guess the world’s most popular searches beginning with the combination of words I have chosen. If you type ‘what is it like to…’ into Google, the most popular result is the most predictable: ‘what is it like to fall in love.’ The second result, more popular than ‘what is it like to... [read more]

Putting the World and the Self in Parentheses

Maurice Blanchot, trans. Michael Holland, The World in Ruins: Chronicles of Intellectual Life, 1943

reviewed by Calum Watt

Maurice Blanchot (1907 – 2003) was one of the most remarkable French writers of the 20th century. A reclusive figure much admired and regarded as an authority by Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, as well as a close friend of Georges Bataille and Emmanuel Levinas, it is difficult to underestimate Blanchot’s importance for the development of post-war French deconstructive philosophy and, by extension, much of the work being done in the humanities today the world over. In addition to... [read more]

What's In a Name?

Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton

reviewed by Alice Falconer

Her name is Lucy Barton, but who is she? When Lucy’s mother visits her daughter’s New York hospital bed while she recovers from a mysterious illness, she calls Lucy by childhood nicknames: ‘Wizzle,’ ‘Wizzle-dee,’ ‘Lucy Damn-dog Barton.’ Sweet as this may seem, from the opening pages Lucy’s adult sense of identity seems to dissolve in the presence of her past, her family. Strout’s previous, Pulitzer-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (2008), considered the ways that identity... [read more]

Meaningful Enactment

Charles Taylor, The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity

reviewed by Gareth Carrol

In the preface to his book, Charles Taylor describes how he began writing The Language Animal in the late 1980s. His aim was to outline a new theory of the linguistic system, based not on traditional views of the descriptive power of language, but intended to show how language shapes every aspect of our lives and sense of self. Now, some 25 years later, he presents what is still only Part One of his opus. He explains that his intention was to support his theoretical account of the constitution... [read more]