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]

How to Read

Jan Wilm, The Slow Philosophy of J.M. Coetzee

reviewed by James Draney

Towards the end of his life, Heidegger gave up on philosophy. The emerging world of high technology no longer demands the reasoning logic of the philosophe, he argued in an essay from 1969, because metaphysics, like everything else, has been spoiled by the positivistic impulse of science. Instead, we require a new task, something Heidegger preferred to call, simply, thinking. Our world has become ‘entirely technical,’ he writes. The triumph of science and cybernetics ‘transforms language... [read more]

‘The equally reasonable alternative’

Marc Redfield, Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America

reviewed by Niall Gildea

Of the dubious consensuses that still obtain concerning ‘high theory’, one of the more curious is the worry that, if unchecked, it tends toward the amoral or downright unethical. This objection has been levelled from both left- and right-leaning positions: the former accuses ‘theory’ of enshrining a canon of ‘elite’ literature, for instance, whilst the latter suspects it of doing pretty much the opposite. These basic arguments against theory have mushroomed at various points to... [read more]

Le Droit à la Différence

Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Everything I Don’t Remember

reviewed by Jude Cook

Very early in the new novel by Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Kehmiri, one of its many narrators anticipates the questioning that will follow when he reveals his real name to the protagonist, Samuel: ‘How Swedish do you feel? . . . Are you whole or half?’ It’s a question that resonates through the entire novel, though on many occasions not explicitly. Insecurity about a coherent identity is merely a background hum; a tinnitus of vulnerability heard underneath the hubbub of everyday... [read more]


Robert L. Belknap, Plots

reviewed by Andre van Loon

'Keep right on lying to me. That’s what I want you to do.' – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms People lie. White lies, amusing lies, horrid lies. Sometimes you might think the liar didn’t know any better. Or that the truth was difficult to tell. Often, trauma victims have a poor recollection of what happened; eyewitnesses to historical events veer away from the official story. There are liars who take pleasure in embellishing a story, sharpening its outlines, heightening the drama,... [read more]

One Long Rock and Roll

Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.

reviewed by Adrian Nathan West

New York and Los Angeles are perhaps the only cities in the United States where substantial sections of the population use the term ‘American’ with ethnographic pretence, as though referring to strangers met on holiday or a study abroad rather than their compatriots. Both cities have long been bound closer to elsewhere than their analogues further inland: Los Angeles has taken in an illustrious list of exiles from Döblin and Brecht to the Iranian-Jewish Merage family, inventors of the... [read more]

Ra Ra Rasputin

Teffi, Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi

reviewed by Izabella Scott

Who is Teffi? It was no secret in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Teffi was a literary star: the pen name of Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, a woman born into an eccentric literary family in St Petersburg in the 1870s. All three of her sisters also became celebrated writers, and under her nom de plume Lokhvitskaya wrote for popular journals like The Russian Word and Satiricon, moving nimbly between narrative, polemic, drama and social critique. She was widely read and admired. Candles and perfumes were named... [read more]

The Critic as the Intervening Figure

Marcus Morgan and Patrick Baert, Conflict in the Academy: A Study in the Sociology of Intellectuals

reviewed by Simon Grimble

In late 1980, an apparently minor dispute at Cambridge University became headline news. The question was whether or not the young lecturer Colin MacCabe – whose work was heavily influenced by recent developments in structuralist and post-structuralist theory – should be upgraded to a permanent position. And before long, as Marcus Morgan and Patrick Baert put it in their short book Conflict in the Academy, the so-called ‘MacCabe Affair’ had ‘swelled to heroic proportions, drew vast... [read more]

The Benefit of Hindsight

Patrick Cockburn, Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East

reviewed by Dominic Davies

In the last few years, articles and books by Patrick Cockburn, which have offered keen and thoughtful accounts of political and military events in the Middle East and North Africa for a long time, have become increasingly popular. It seems this is likely due to in the rise of Islamic State, or ISIS, in Syria and Iraq. His 2014 book, The Jihadis Return: Isis and the New Sunni Uprising, was the first of his several publications to enter a second print run. Unsurprisingly, it appears that people... [read more]

Reveries of a Solitary Angler

Faruk Šehić, trans. Will Firth, Quiet Flows the Una

reviewed by Vladimir Zorić

Major rivers have formed their own hegemonies, in politics and in literature: it suffices to recall Hölderlin’s Danube, Faulkner’s Mississippi, Conrad’s Congo and Sholokhov’s Don. In view of this colonial drift, writing a book about a lesser river necessarily emerges as a critical endeavour, and a distinctly literary one at that. The task becomes considerably more complex if that lesser river turns out to have been a theatre of war in the recent past. Armed with an AK-47 rifle, the... [read more]

False Flag Publishing?

John Sadler, Operation Agreement: Jewish Commandos and the Raid on Tobruk

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Operation Agreement is a fascinating and timely contribution to the literature on the Desert War, but Osprey Publishing have done author John Sadler – Fellow of both the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland – a disservice with their marketing campaign. The subtitle suggests an equal or at least comparable split between the Special Interrogation Group, a British Army Commando platoon of German-speaking Jews, and the raid on Tobruk in mid-September 1942. The... [read more]