COLUMNS Hook-up a Duck

by Jack Solloway

It’s no secret the Fringe is over-saturated. Every thesp for themselves: an all-out war in a crowded field, where celebrity, gimmicks and a mercenary attitude are king. The four million-odd turnout each season is second only in size to the Olympic Games, and arguably more cut-throat in its competition but for a hair’s width of attention. For yonks activists have campaigned against over-tourism in Edinburgh and the festival’s unsustainable growth – ‘growth for growth’s sake’, as the umbrella body Festivals Edinburgh put it. So it may not surprise you, then, that some are lapping up the ‘staycation’ tourism of a country too blasé about the pandemic to cancel its holiday plans altogether. [read full column]

COLUMNS To Hell and Back, with Bugs

by John Phipps

There is nothing loveable, redeemable or ecologically necessary about the mosquito species that feed on human blood. It’s been estimated that 5% of the humans who have ever died have died of mosquito-borne diseases. They flash into earshot in the night with their indescribable, drilling whine, and disappear again. There is something both uncanny and flamboyant about their particular awfulness. ‘When did you start your tricks / Monsieur?’ asked D.H. Lawrence in ‘The Mosquito’. He wanted them dead too. ‘I hate the way you lurch off sideways into air / having read my thoughts against you.’ [read full column]

COLUMNS Books at the BBC

by Rob Palk

The absence of the great works of European literature can be put down, not to the personal illiteracy of the judges, but to the strange stipulation that all novels considered have to be written in the English language. I have tried hard to work out a justification for this, other than simple bigotry, and can only assume they think readers, in these days of Brexit, will be put off by fancy foreign names, as they will by too many old books, or too many books aimed at adults. The Reader, a largely fictional construct, exists to be mollycoddled and flattered. She might have heard of Flaubert but he hasn’t shaped her world, and nor must he be allowed to try to. Readers who find this patronising would be advised to put their concerns to the BBC.  I can just about appreciate not watching subtitled films — there are too few car chases, and the reading hurts your eyes — but books ought to be different.    [read full column]

COLUMNS The Orwell Prize & the New Political Fiction

by Jude Cook

The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and Political Writing was awarded this week to Anna Burns for her brilliantly sustained novel Milkman, and Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, both worthy winners which make a strong contribution to a growing body of Troubles literature, including David Keenan’s blistering For the Good Times, and Jenny McCartney’s recent, quieter take on 1990s Northern Ireland, The Ghost Factory. Yet the Orwell prize only broadened its remit to make an award for political fiction this year, and this is perhaps symptomatic not just of the times, but of a growing desire by readers to explore political issues through novels, and not just works of non-fiction. [read full column]

COLUMNS Women Behaving Badly

by Megan Evershed

I recently saw a tweet which read, ‘It’s actually feminist when women are horrible people.’ Although sardonic, there is a kernel of truth embedded in the joke. Characteristics and behaviour are not gendered and women are just as capable as men at being bad. This idea – which, I think, we all understand intuitively from interactions in our daily lives – is also true in literature. And who writes bad women like Leïla Slimani? The French-Moroccan author is best known for her second novel, Lullaby (Chanson douce, 2016), which tells the story of a nanny who murders the children in her care. The novel garnered great acclaim in France, where it won the Prix Goncourt, and was an international bestseller. Off the heels of Lullaby’s success, Slimani’s first novel, Adèle (Dans le jardin de l’ogre, 2014), has recently been translated into English. [read full column]

COLUMNS Poems of the British Gulag

by Alex Niven

The War Poets, and their continuing centrality in British cultural life, from GCSE syllabi to media outlets where they are often the only poetry to feature in any given year, are at the heart of a modern liberal value complex that recuperates Remembrance Day’s human factor while leaving the door open for revanchist nationalism. It is not that their poetry is bad per se – indeed Owen and Rosenberg in particular are, in their best moments, capable of truly affecting and strange writing. Yet there is something much too comfortable and comforting about their reception. The real singularity of the best World War I poetry springs from the deep realisation on the part of the soldiers in Flanders and elsewhere that they were fighting not for a tangible communal goal, like the later repulsion of Fascism in World War II, but for an obscure web of motives derived from an epochal crisis in British capitalism and imperialism. [read full column]

COLUMNS Reading the Room: On Cultural Empathies at the 2018 TS Eliot Prize Readings

by Stephanie Sy-Quia

‘Welcome to our safe house!’ Thus began the 2018 TS Eliot Prize readings, which were hosted ten days ago, as they always are, in the the most eminent of the arts bunkers stationed on the South Bank. It was a Sunday night, and the Royal Festival Hall, capacity 2,900, was full, enthralled by the booming Doncaster tones of compere Ian McMillan. This year the prize was more diverse than ever before: full gender parity had been achieved, and not one but three non-white poets were included. There was even an Irishman. They were all excellent. [read full column]