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]

Art and the 'Real'

Christoph Cox, Jenny Jaskey & Suhail Malik eds., Realism Materialism Art

reviewed by Hatty Nestor

Realism Materialism Art is an anthology of essays published by the Centre of Curatorial Studies at Bard College, New York, in conjunction with Sternberg Press. To uncover the relationship between realism and materialism within the sphere of art, the editors have selected a rich combination of exhibitions, talks and theorists through which to discuss current questions in critical theory. Featuring essays by Graham Harman, Boris Groys, Christoph Cox and Susan Schuppli, Realism Materialism Art... [read more]

‘Upturned carts, cobblestones, pieces of furniture...'

Eric Hazan, A History of the Barricade

reviewed by Ian Birchall

Barricades are even more old-fashioned than Jeremy Corbyn. They belong to an age before opinion polls and focus groups, when people simply took to the streets to fight for what they believed were their rights. Barricades were a means of defence, but they could be more than that, enabling a rebel population to trap forces with superior weaponry. In 1588 the inhabitants of Paris erected a network of barricades ‘so dense that soldiers were caught as if in a net, under fire from the barricades... [read more]
 

History on the Flip-side

Harry Harootunian, Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capital

reviewed by Marie Louise Krogh

The 7th of October 1917 marks the date of a ruptural reconfiguration not only of the social, economic and political history of Russia, but also of the intellectual landscape of Western Europe. Until this point European Marxists had – following some of Marx's own suggestions – seen the most 'advanced' capitalist economies as the inevitable site of the coming revolution. With the overthrow of the Tsar and the subsequent failure of the Bavarian Council Republic, all this changed. Western... [read more]

Of Slashes and Hyphens

Rachel Price, Planet/Cuba: Art, Culture, and the Future of the Island

reviewed by Dunja Fehimović

Rachel Price's Planet/Cuba is a timely, insightful and innovative study of contemporary Cuban culture. Nevertheless, the eye-catching cover and strikingly stark title of this significant text turn out to be its first stumbling blocks, establishing unfair and false expectations regarding the kind of relationship between Cuba and the world that it develops and that constitutes one of its most innovative proposals. The slash that separates the two nouns, also known by the telling technical name of... [read more]
 

Angst Squared

Francis O'Gorman, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History

reviewed by Phil Jourdan

The quiet agony of worrying is a familiar topic for this reviewer. It feels necessary to state this outright, though I couldn't say why. This defensiveness, however, is quite in keeping with the spirit of Francis O’Gorman’s Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History. Its worried author spends the first dozen or so pages of his book on worrying mostly worrying about how tricky the act of writing about worrying has proven and will continue to prove to be. This book is itself an act of... [read more]

Press Management and the Spin Principle

Paul Brighton, Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain

reviewed by Elliot Murphy

While its title may not be entirely accurate – given that its chronological span also encompasses a considerable chunk of the late Georgian period and the reign of William IV – Paul Brighton’s Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain is a perceptive and comprehensive account of how successive British prime ministers from Pitt the Younger to Rosebery dealt with the numerous problems and possibilities the emerging print media presented. As the three major Reform Acts... [read more]
 

'Mortality Will Be Sexy'

Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World

reviewed by Jean-Thomas Tremblay

In the essay ‘In the Shadow of Twitter Towers,’ from her recent collection When the Sick Rule the World, Dodie Bellamy writes: ‘This piece has 117,002 characters. That’s 836 tweets. Some students—even in graduate writing programs—make each sentence a new paragraph. It’s like they don’t know how to connect one thing to another. Perhaps these one sentence paragraphs best reflect our current reality—a series of discrete bits—better than my horse and buggy paragraphs that trot... [read more]

Pap and Pralines

Terry Eagleton, Hope Without Optimism

reviewed by Stuart Walton

One of the central dilemmas of late modern experience has been the question of how it may be possible to retain hope in the face of widespread catastrophe. To go on whistling in the dark after the mounting evidence of atrocity is the demeanour of the unhinged, but to surrender to nihilistic fatalism, in the sense of believing in nothing other than fate, only comforts catastrophe's perpetrators. If disillusioned consciousness refuses to be pacified with Pope's suggestion that hope springs... [read more]
 

A Responsibility Towards Reality

Wolfgang Hilbig, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole, ‘I’

reviewed by Tristan Foster

He has two antagonists; the first presses him from behind, from the origin. The second blocks the road ahead. He gives battle to both. To be sure, the first supports him in his fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he drives him back. But it is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? His dream, though,... [read more]

In Place of Change

Fredric Jameson, The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms

reviewed by John O'Meara Dunn

Modernism is the moment when resistance embodies revolution. This line can be towed more or less cleanly through Fredric Jameson’s The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms. This work bookends 2013’s The Antinomies of Realism and continues Jameson’s wider six-volume project, ‘The Poetics of Social Forms’ and that series’ exploration of the ways in which history and art inform each other’s inscription. Carried through from his last work is the concept of two... [read more]