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ESSAY The Highest Human Accomplishment

by Jim Henderson

‘I am turning toward a kind of aesthetic mysticism,’ wrote Flaubert in one of his letters. ‘When there is no encouragement to be derived from one’s fellows, when the exterior world is disgusting, enervating, corruptive, and brutalizing, honest and sensitive people are forced to seek somewhere within themselves a more suitable place to live.’ Nobody would say anything like that today; it would be too embarrassing. Treating art as a substitute religion — as something absolute that transcends a debased world and is pursued for its own sake, in a spirit of ascetic renunciation — is no longer fashionable. [read full essay]

ESSAY Making a Murderer

by Nicolas Liney

The key to Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth, a biofictional novel about Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth and his wild, sprawling family, is buried in the author’s notes at the end of the book: ‘I began thinking about this book during one of our American spates of horrific mass shootings.’ She doesn’t say which shootings. This was before the Trump administration (more on that later). Perhaps the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando? Or San Bernadino? [read full essay]

Confessions of a Junkie Philosopher

Matt Rowland Hill, Original Sins

reviewed by Sean Russell

There is a paradox at play when it comes to memoir. On the one hand is the attempt to be honest about one’s life, and on the other is the mask we all wear — the way we wish to be seen versus the way we want to see ourselves. Does a memoir ever truly go behind the mask, or is it just another performative aspect of it? The very act of writing a memoir — or, at the very least, seeking to publish a memoir — is to present oneself as one wishes to be seen. The paradox lies here: by examining... [read more]

It’s All Old Hat

David Mamet, Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch

reviewed by Miles Beard

The first problem one encounters with David Mamet’s new essay collection, Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch is figuring out what in the hell he’s talking about. What begins to reveal itself, however, is that this question is answered more easily by asking a subtly different one: who in the hell is he talking to? By his own self-mythologising, Mamet is still a humble newspaperman who, despite the judgement of his critics, somehow foraged a path to becoming... [read more]
 

How the One Becomes the Other

Tim Key, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush: An Anthology of Poems and Conversations from Outside

reviewed by Archie Cornish

Tim Key’s He Used Thought As A Wife (2020) emerged from the first lockdown, the heartbreakingly sunny twelve weeks bookended by the closing of the pubs and their heavily asterisked opening up. Its backbone is a series of dialogues, slant renderings of virtual conversations with friends and family. As we learned, though, Zoom could only ward off so much ennui. In place of dialogue at the end of Week Six comes a solitary dream vision. Key stares out of the window at a ‘parade’ in the street... [read more]

Pola Oloixarac, trans. Adam Morris, Mona

reviewed by Nathan Knapp

Mona, by Argentinian author Pola Oloixarac, has been out in English long enough —15 months in the US and four in the UK — and so widely reviewed that its plot has already been regurgitated dozens of times in as many publications, so we’ll keep that bit short here. What plot there is can be summed up simply enough in any case: Mona, a troubled writer who attends a Swedish literary prize-giving festival, thinks snarky thoughts about the writers there, ditches most of the talks, masturbates... [read more]
 

No Bedside Rubbernecking

Sarah Holland-Batt, The Jaguar

reviewed by Erik Kennedy

About a third of the way through Sarah Holland-Batt’s third book of poems, The Jaguar, the penny drops that the titular animal is not a charismatic spotted American big cat but instead is a car, a ‘vintage 1980 XJ’. The Jag, ‘a folly he bought without test-driving’, belonged to her father, whose decline and death from Parkinson’s are a central subject of the book. He ultimately ruined it through incessant tinkering ‘and it sat like a carcass / in the garage, like a headstone, like... [read more]

The Act of Naming

Nina Hanz, Placeholders

reviewed by Frith Taylor

Nina Hanz’s Placeholders is a lucid contemplation of landscape, power and the act of naming. A sincere evocation of the natural world, Placeholders is nevertheless aware of the tensions present in eulogising landscape; Hanz’s work explores gender, property, migration and settler colonialism. Attentive to the mythologisation of women in nature, these poems are somewhere between eco-feminism, folk horror and prayer. Hanz pays homage to a litany of female luminaries; there are astronauts... [read more]
 

Ivan Jablonka, A History of Masculinity: From Patriarchy to Gender Justice

reviewed by Jennifer Thomson

A recent Guardian article asked male authors to name one book they would recommend by a woman. It set my little (feminist, literary) corner of the internet aflame, falling over itself to mock a selection of famous male writers who did not appear to have read anything by women for several decades. The article is tone-deaf in its ignorance – Richard Curtis admits, with no evident shame, to not having really read anything by a woman until the Covid lockdowns; To Kill a Mockingbird and... [read more]

A World Without Certainties

Patrick Galbraith, In Search Of One Last Song: Britain’s Disappearing Birds And The People Trying To Save Them

reviewed by Richard Smyth

This isn’t a bad time to be a suburban nature writer. For one thing, it isn’t a bad time for suburban nature: there are peregrines and rose-ringed parakeets and foxes and things, and if all else fails we can always get a beehive or write about the time our adorable child met a woodlouse on the front step. There are relatively few barriers to our voices being heard, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, seeing as many more people live in suburbs, or indeed actual urbs, than live up hills... [read more]
 

Learning to Read the Stars

Tom Conaghan (ed.), Reverse Engineering

reviewed by Phoebe Thomson

In his introduction to Reverse Engineering — the inaugural publication by Scratch Books — the collection’s editor and interviewer, Tom Conaghan, invokes cartographers and mapping. He marvels that ‘one amazing story is only a minute piece of the map,’ and writes of the ‘landmass’ and ‘[n]avigating’ of stories. The book’s project is a good one: to disassemble seven short stories, and map out how they work. ‘Understanding writers’ craft,’ Conaghan sets out, ‘is less... [read more]

‘It is, indeed, a terrible thing’

Sam Knight, The Premonitions Bureau: A True Story

reviewed by Lamorna Ash

A black-and-white photograph — landscape, extending over two pages. A woman takes up the right-hand page, her face and torso specifically. At first instance she reminds you of a young Cher, the same long features and dark eyes. The woman is also holding a landscape photograph. It shows a catastrophic incident: what was once a building now debris and ash and mephitic smoke, men in thick gloves standing by. The smoke hints at the sequential relationship between the disaster and the photograph.... [read more]
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