As our relationship with the internet and the enormous amounts of information we read on it changes, so do our publishing strategies. There is a lot at stake in conversations about economies of attention online. The future of the online essay — maybe the future of the essay — depends on the publishing platforms we come up with. It would be too easy, too optimistic, too complacent to say that the internet liberates us from the mundane considerations of print, especially when thinking about the increasingly corporate structure of the web. [read full essay]
Norman Rush’s third novel, Subtle Bodies, acts like a debut in more than one way; this is Rush’s first book about America, and it is his first of a reasonable length to expect a mass audience. Perhaps with this in mind immense care has been taken with its composition. The plot is paced precisely, keeping the novel concise whilst also acquainting the reader with characters who are evoked with practiced roundedness, both personally and politically. This deft presentation of narrative and... [read more]
Jennifer Dawson’s debut novel, The Ha-Ha, was published in 1961, two years before Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and seven years after Antonia White’s Beyond the Glass. It is a novel very much of its time: it follows the hospitalisation, breakdown and tenacious recovery of an educated young woman who finds herself a square peg to the round hole of identity.
The opening of the novel finds the narrator, Josephine, in recovery. She has been hospitalised in a quietly, disturbingly... [read more]
‘American poets keep going down to the shoreline to struggle with their daemons,’ writes critic Harold Bloom, and Colum McCann’s beautiful new novel TransAtlantic shows that the Irish do it, too. In McCann’s novel water, whether the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea, is the site of mourning, with waves the backdrop for all manner of sorrows. Water is a fitting constant for a novel of such vast scope: TransAtlantic crosses generations and continents, following the intersecting lives of... [read more]
Bradley L. Garrett, Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City
reviewed by Andrew Blackman
At first glance, ‘place hacking’ may seem like just another form of escapist thrill-seeking. Sneak into a construction site, poke around inside Battersea Power Station, run along train tracks to discover abandoned Underground stations. Dodge the security guards and the alarms and the speeding trains, and take trophy photographs of yourself in places you’re not supposed to be.
In an age of heightened governmental security measures and increasing privatisation of public space, however,... [read more]
When the judges of the 2008 Frank O'Connor Award didn't bother reducing their longlist to a shortlist, deciding instead that Jhumpa Lahiri's collection Unaccustomed Earth should win outright, the decision was marked by a refreshing levity. Why even pretend to enter into the pointless discussions about readability when major book prizes are doled out arbitrarily anyway? Debate about whether or not the collection should have won is irrelevant, but what can be said of Unaccustomed Earth is that it... [read more]
The virtual absence of the Virgin Mary from the New Testament is so at odds with the proliferation of her myth and image in Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism, that it is almost to be disbelieved. The most famous woman in Western Culture, and the paragon of virginity, womanhood and motherhood, the perfect symbol of Christian love and obedience, and, to borrow a description of Artemis from Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, ‘radiating abidance and bounty, fertility and... [read more]
Eldritch Priest, Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure
reviewed by Andrew Key
On page 221 of Eldritch Priest’s Boring Formless Nonsense, a study of post-avant-garde aesthetics in the context of experimental composition, there is a quotation attributed to the multi-use artistic pseudonym (those familiar with the radical Italian author-collectives Luther Blissett/Wu Ming will recognise this concept) Karen Eliot:
I write fictions, what others might call little ‘reality machines,’ about music that I have not in fact written or listened to.
Following the... [read more]
Valeria Luiselli, trans. Christina McSweeney, Sidewalks
reviewed by Ben Millson
Not quite a book about walking, not quite a book about writing, Sidewalks is a collection of essays about living as a free-thinking individual in a world of cities bridged by technology. In a little over one hundred pages the peripatetic Luiselli covers Mexico City, Venice and New York - amongst others - with a quick eye and a scholar’s heart. She is a keen excavator and expositor; the history of places, people, words and ideas are deftly woven together in brief tapestries of a life lived... [read more]
Florian Illies' 1913 is a highly original cultural portrait of the West as it stood in the year before the Great War. Originally published last year in Illies’ native Germany, where it quickly achieved bestseller status, it is a month-by-month account of the year that critic Jean-Michel Rabaté terms ‘the cradle of modernism’. For the most part Illies, a journalist and art critic, focuses his attention on German-speaking central Europe and on Vienna in particular, that ‘capital of the... [read more]
Adelle Waldman’s debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., tells the story of Nate Piven, a determinedly 'literary type' living the yuppie lifestyle in modern day Brooklyn. Waldman guides the reader through the best part of a year in this writer’s consciousness, where we are helpless observers to the romantic detritus accumulated around the literary scene of New York.
If you care little for literature and the literary, then the carousel of social engagements that Waldman narrates... [read more]