COLUMNS Erudition and the Contemporary Novel

by Stuart Walton

People, especially those who read regularly, are acquiring new knowledge, new vocabulary, new reaches of cultural reference all the time. Imposing a static level of understanding is the melancholy work of educationalists with a superstitious fear of exclusion. In any debate about what terminology is acceptable, there will always be moments of embarrassment when somebody objects to a particular word that others had happily understood. The recent Twitter debate included people objecting to the word 'erudite' itself as being alienating to the general reader. [read full column]

COLUMNS Double-Decker Ballad

by Mersiha Bruncevic

Sleepless Nights is a collection of half-true memory vignettes written by Elizabeth Hardwick. It is also a book that I have been carrying around with me everywhere lately, returning to it almost ritualistically. On the first page, Hardwick writes: ‘If only we knew what to remember or pretend to remember. Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself.’ I keep the book with me to reread this and other parts, all of which deal with remembering scattered fragments and trying to make something of it. Hardwick calls it being ‘borne backward to the bricks and stuffs’ of the past. [read full column]

No Torches, No Pitchforks

Sarah Moss, The Fell

reviewed by Gary Kaill

There is a scene quite early in Sarah Moss’s 2009 debut novel Cold Earth that works as a telling moment — as a clue to the motivations of the narrator at that point, Ruth, but also, perhaps more importantly, as to the emerging and eventual moral design of Moss’s work. Ruth, along with a group of five other archaeologists, is excavating a remote Viking settlement. A parallel narrative, which gradually reveals the horrors that caused those original inhabitants to leave their homes, unseats... [read more]

Re-cultured Lines

Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, trans. Kristine Ong Muslim, Three Books

reviewed by Liam Bishop

Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles’s Three Books are poems derived from source ‘texts’ written and restructured as poems. Kristine Ong Muslim, the translator of Three Books, calls the poems works of ‘systematic erasure’, and while this might sound like an overly technological, even 'hip' way to describe his craft, Arguelles asks important questions about the overlooked tactile nature of the creative process. Take the first book, ‘Antares’, where Arguelles creates a series of short... [read more]

Jungle Juice

Adam Zmith, Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures

reviewed by Charlie Pullen

Halfway through Alan Hollinghurst’s 1998 novel The Spell, a group of gay Londoners descend on a cottage in rural Dorset for a party. ‘So you’re bussing in a whole crowd of dizzy disco bunnies and letting them loose in the beautiful English countryside,’ one character remarks to the host, whose friends and casual lovers are hooked on the heady pleasures of the capital’s nightlife. ‘They may not be able to breathe the country air’, he warns: ‘You’ll need respirators of poppers... [read more]

Sugar-Coated Subversion

Nicholas Frankel, The Invention of Oscar Wilde

reviewed by William Poulos

When I first arrived in London, I made the pilgrimage to Chelsea to see the house Oscar Wilde used to live in. While I was staring at it, a lady stuck her head out the window and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was admiring Oscar Wilde’s old house, and pointed to the blue plaque that says that the ‘wit and dramatist’ used to live there. She was shocked — she had no idea she was living in such an esteemed place. She gracefully let me take a photo of the house, but I left doubting... [read more]

A Face to the World

László F. Földényi, The Glance of the Medusa: The Physiognomy of Mysticism

reviewed by Farah Abdessamad

What did we lose when we renounced magic? Everything, according to Hungarian critic and philosopher László F. Földényi in his new collection of essays, The Glance of the Medusa. ‘There would be no exceptional moments in life if life itself was not a unique and extraordinary moment of lightning,’ he writes. The first time I felt the unsettling gaze of an artwork stirring my emotions I was sitting in a church. Though not steeped in religion, I wondered what kind of presence lingered... [read more]

Embodied Engagement

Diana Taylor, ¡Presente!: The Politics of Presence

reviewed by Isabelle Bucklow

Last year Diana Taylor, Professor of Performance Studies and Spanish at NYU, published her contribution to Duke University Press’ Dissident Acts, a series on embodied politics and decolonial practices. ¡Presente!: The Politics of Presence is an urgent response to systematic projects of disappearance in the Americas. Tracing the history of disappearances from the Enlightenment to the present, Taylor explores the diverse ways by which a person — to use Franz Fanon’s term — is cast into a... [read more]

Fiction as Service

Mark McGurl, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

reviewed by Christopher Webb

The last decade or so has seen an increasing number of literary critics turn their attention to one of the most obvious yet interpretatively confounding forces to have shaped the novel in recent times: the internet. While the novel itself appears to have had no problem facing up to it (we might think of the recent work of Lauren Oyler or Patricia Lockwood), literary criticism on the other hand seems to have adopted a more troubled posture, often finding itself cautious or sceptical about the... [read more]

A Bunch of Losers

Sam Riviere, Dead Souls

reviewed by Huw Nesbitt

Sam Riviere is a rip-off artist. In his new book Dead Souls, he can’t write a sentence without stealing someone else’s ideas, yet somehow this becomes its allure — let me explain. His new novel is a knockoff, a forgery, a fake, and is so full of deception that even its press contains outright lies. (Already a distinguished poet, Riviere’s Dead Souls is marketed as his prose fiction debut, when in fact this was Safe Mode, his 2017 ‘ambient novel’). Instead of writing an original... [read more]

Golden Hayfields and Wildflowers

Margarita Liberaki, trans. Karen Van Dyck, Three Summers

reviewed by Lamorna Ash

Until today, I did not believe in crying over books. I had heard reports of such occurrences, sure, but I remained sceptical of their validity. I didn’t believe the way people tend to read (in short bursts, mostly) could produce spontaneous tears. Crying in films seemed more plausible. In a dark cinema, especially, you are held captive by the narrative’s emotional arc, unable to look away, to split its duration into fragments so as to minimise its impact on the heart. But, then, moments ago... [read more]

We are all bitched from the start

Sandra Spanier & Miriam B. Mandel (eds.), The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 5: 1932–1934

reviewed by Elena Zolotariov

When one thinks of Ernest Hemingway, two images usually spring to mind. There is the familiar Ernest of the 1920s in Paris: youthful, energetic, courageous and fearless, with dimples in his cheeks; an image perpetuated by the author himself in his posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast. Then there is the seminal image of Papa Hemingway in his Christian Dior sweater as immortalised by celebrity portraitist Yousuf Karsh. Gazing purposefully far into the distance, freckled from the sun, sagacious and... [read more]