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]

First as Farce, Then as Tragedy

Owen Hatherley, The Chaplin Machine: Slapstick, Fordism and the Communist Avant-Garde

reviewed by Benjamin Noys

There are two things you might not associate with the communist avant-garde of the 1920s: a taste for comedy and a taste for all things American. You would be wrong. Owen Hatherley’s The Chaplin Machine is an exploration of this seemingly unlikely conjunction, of a world where Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, and Lenin are all being thought and brought together. Hatherley aims to recover this strange utopian moment, in which constructing socialism involved a turn to the potentials of comedy to... [read more]

'So many times I was called bitch'

Linda McDowell, Migrant Women's Voices: Talking About Life and Work in the UK Since 1945

reviewed by Lucy Popescu

Since 6 April 2016 all skilled workers from outside the EU who have been living in Britain for less than 10 years need to earn at least £35,000 a year to settle permanently here, even if they have lived here for years contributing to the UK culture and economy. Some jobs, such as nurses, are exempt. Under the new rules those who have come to work in Britain from outside the EU will be deported after five years if they fail to show they are earning more than £35,000. According to the... [read more]

Lights of Life

JH Prynne, The White Stones

reviewed by Jeremy Noel-Tod

The White Stones (1969) is, for me, a daily book. That is not to say that I read it over breakfast. But I think of some words from this great work of philosophical lyricism every day, as I go about my business in a provincial English city sixty miles from the one in which they were written: waking to ‘the sky cloudy / and the day packed into the crystal’; going to work with ‘a set rhythm of / the very slight hopefulness’; noticing ‘a thickening in the words / as the coins themselves... [read more]

‘Isso é minha casa’: At Home with Grief

Yann Martel, The High Mountains of Portugal

reviewed by Katie Da Cunha Lewin

The thread that runs through Yann Martel’s new novel is surprising and enigmatic: the Iberian rhinoceros. The rhinoceros, or the concept of a real-life rhinoceros living in Portugal, appears throughout the novel’s three parts. It is linked with mystery, religion and that most Portuguese of words, saudade. Martel’s first of three sad and widowed men, Tomás, first notes of the sad disappearance of the rhinoceros: Despite its ungraceful appearance, he has always lamented the fate of the... [read more]

‘All other possibilities’

Tara Forrest, Realism as Protest: Kluge, Schlingensief, Haneke

reviewed by Alex Fletcher

A maxim routinely asserted by politicians when confronted with a future that does not simply perpetuate the present state of things is that one must be realistic. As the German filmmaker and writer Alexander Kluge observes: ‘Public opinion is very strongly determined by people who … furnish themselves in reality as if in a tank or knight’s armour.’ This realistic predisposition to the status quo is reinforced by a mainstream media that blocks any capacity to conceive of how reality... [read more]

A World Governed By Chaos

KM Newton, Modernizing George Eliot: The Writer as Artist, Proto-Modernist, Cultural Critic

reviewed by Helen Tope

George Eliot’s sweeping, panoramic novels of 19th-century life form an integral part of the British literary canon; it is hard to think of a writer more ‘establishment’ than Eliot. In Modernizing George Eliot: The Writer as Artist, Proto-Modernist, Cultural Critic, KM Newton goes about the business of challenging the critical view of George Eliot as a conservative figure. Instead of seeing her work as mired in Victorian conventionality, Newton proposes a radical re-interpretation,... [read more]

A Translation of Experience

Andrew Crozier, 'Free Verse' as Formal Restraint

reviewed by John Clegg

'Free Verse' as Formal Restraint. Surely the quotation marks are in the wrong place? We all know what we mean by 'free verse,’ give or take, but 'formal restraint' is up for grabs – and, indeed, Andrew Crozier succeeded in doing what he set out to only by employing a very odd definition of the words. Here are the first two sentences of the abstract (the book, I should mention, is his 1973 PhD thesis, published now for the first time with an introduction by Ian Brinton, and the Examiner's... [read more]

The Politics of Fun

Alfie Bown, Enjoying It: Candy Crush and Capitalism

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The status of enjoyment within the cultural economy of capitalism has been in question at least since it was posited by Marx and Engels that capitalism, despite its own best intentions, is a machine for generating misery. It makes possible a flourishing cultural superstructure, to which only the economically privileged and educated have access, while for the rest there is only reduction to the animal functions of biological existence (eating, drinking, having sex), the solace of religion, and... [read more]

Better Lives Elsewhere

Maxine Beneba Clarke, Foreign Soil

reviewed by Melanie White

Literary stories about immigration and refugees could not be more timely. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s debut collection, Foreign Soil, was first published two years ago in Australia after winning an award for best unpublished manuscript. It now comes to the UK amid heated political debate over immigration threats to domestic security, in the wake of terror attacks in Brussels and in the run-up to the EU referendum. Clarke, an Australian slam poetry champion of Afro-Caribbean descent, explores... [read more]

Uncommon Fine

Stefan Collini, Common Writing: Essays on Literary Culture and Public Debate

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Stefan Collini is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge and although he claims that the two fields joined by the conjunction are not readily distinguishable, Common Writing fits firmly in the former category. In his review of The Letters of T.S. Eliot Vol.2: 1923-1925 (Faber, 2009) in the second chapter, Collini notes that the letters constitute a guide to Eliot’s editing (of the Criterion) rather than to his critical or literary practice. In a similar vein,... [read more]