There has never been a better year to look at the work of Kazimir Malevich, a pioneer of abstract art often seen as the greatest Russian painter of the twentieth century. “Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art,” first shown in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and now at London’s Tate Modern, is the most comprehensive exhibition of his work ever.
Malevich is known above all for his Black Square (1915)—a black square surrounded by a margin of white—the most prominent of the abstract, geometric paintings he called Suprematist, first shown at the now famous “0.10” exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. With... read more
Just out from Bloomsbury, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism: Theory of a Catastrophe (translated by Scott Davidson):
Both a unique witness of transformative events in the late 20th century, and a prescient analysis of our present economic crises from a major French philosopher, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism adds an important economic dimension to his earlier social critique. It begins by tracing the collapse of communist regimes back to their failure to implement Marx's original insights into the irreplaceable value of the living individual. Henry goes on to apply this same criticism to the surviving capitalist economic systems,... read more
As I tried to make very clear in my post on Sunday, the small and contained argument that I'm advancing is not that serious and interesting writing about books is not happening online. Categorically, it is. I listed five blogs and bloggers in my original Guardian post – This Space, David Winters, 3:AM, Flowerville, Time's Flow Stemmed – and in my follow up blog, I listed several more – John Self, Berfrois, LARB and Dan Green. Very many more wonderful book-related spaces and places could be mentioned – The Quarterly Conversation and HTMLGiant both deserve a shout, as do Marooned... read more
I was honoured to be invited to speak at The Literary Consultancy's Writing in a Digital Age conference yesterday. (A particular personal pleasure because I got to see Lynne Hatwell and Sam Leith again, and it had been far too long in both cases.) Huge thanks to the organisers for inviting me. Seemed to be a very vibrant and well run affair, and I enjoyed the discussion immensely.
The conference was the occasion for writing this piece (What became of literary blogging?) for the Guardian last Monday. It was the subs at the Guardian who framed the piece thus: I hoped... read more
Two music-related books to get me through Sunday...
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine (she of The Slits; if you don't know, you probably won't care, but maybe you should – she writes well about "art school, squatting, hanging out in Sex with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, spending a day chained to Sid Vicious, on tour with The Clash, and being part of a brilliant, pioneering group of women making musical history").
And Emily Petermann's The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction: read more
I’ve suffered from depression intermittently since I was a teenager. Some of these episodes have been highly debilitating – resulting in self-harm, withdrawal (where I would spend months on end in my own room, only venturing out to sign-on or to buy the minimal amounts of food I was consuming), and time spent on psychiatric wards. I wouldn’t say I’ve recovered from the condition, but I’m pleased to say that both the incidences and the severity of depressive episodes have greatly lessened in recent years. Partly, that is a consequence of changes in my life situation, but it’s also to... read more
Click here to read my review in The Times of Monique Roffey’s new novel House of Ashes. It’s based on an attempted coup in Trinidad in 1990, and was gripping and enlightening, though not without weaknesses.
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Whenever R.E.M. released any of their last half dozen albums, I used to say that they should call it Return to Form: that, after all, was what everyone was desperately hoping for – though without much hope. In reality there were always critics handy who would call it that anyway. Return to form is such a loaded phrase, ostensibly positive but carrying ahead of it the acknowledgement that the recent work has been sub-par. On the other hand, it does say that there was a form worth returning to.
And as for us – the consumers – because we have human loyalties, we want... read more
Click here to read my review in the Sunday Times of Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, which is the first crowdfunded novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It is, in addition, written in a ‘shadow tongue’ which mixes Old English with variant spellings of modern words, though that might not make it unique in Booker history – David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas had one section (‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After’) which had a similar linguistic approach. Have there been any others?
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Recently I read Here and Now, the letters of J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster (I don’t recommend it). In it, Auster claims that he never reads his reviews. It’s not an uncommon stance, but I wonder how true it is of writers generally. At a literary event a few years ago, I met two Booker-winning authors. Both, when I was introduced to them, immediately had a strikingly clear recollection of everything I’d written about their books (which, given that it wasn’t all complimentary, was awkward). I raise this because the author of this book, Jonathan Gibbs, is what we might call... read more
Here is my review for the Independent on Sunday of Elizabeth McCracken’s excellent new collection of stories, Thunderstruck. If you’re sampling it, or have a copy and are wondering where to start, my favourite stories were ‘Juliet’, ‘Some Terpsichore’ and ‘Property’.
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Ben Marcus first came to my (largely baffled) attention with his debut book, The Age of Wire and String. I was going to call it ‘a collection of stories’, but that doesn’t really sum up short pieces of prose like this, titled ‘Intercourse with Resuscitated Wife':
Intercourse with resuscitated wife for particular number of days, superstitious act designed to insure safe operation of household machinery. Electricity mourns the absence of the energy form (wife) within the household’s walls by stalling its flow to the outlets. As such, an improvised friction needs to take the place of electricity, to goad the natural currents... read more
The phrase “Ariadne’s thread” usually refers to the process of solving a maze or other complex problem through a physical trace (the mythical ball of thread) or a some method of recording and verifying one’s options and decisions. In Philippa Comber’s new memoir Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, the thread ultimately leads us back into the maze that was W.G. Sebald. In 1980, Comber, a young English-born psychotherapist living in Berlin whose marriage was “foundering,” moved to Norwich for a new job. In August 1981 she joined up with a small group of friends and others to see... read more
Before I go on vacation for a spell, I thought I’d toss out two Sebald tidbits just to keep everyone occupied – advance news of an important new book about Sebald and a video lecture on Sebald’s work.
First, I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of a new Sebald-related memoir Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, by Philippa Comber. A full review will be forthcoming around September 1. It will be the first book published by the new Propolis Books, which originates from The Book Hive bookstore in Norwich. Here’s the promotional text for the book from The Book... read more
To read Joseph McElroy’s 1969 novel Hind’s Kidnap: A Pastoral on Familiar Airs (Harper & Row) is to be airlifted into the midst of a Joycean thicket of daily life, to find oneself privy to events, references, and conversations that you are not prepared to understand and which may never become clear. Amidst the New York City of one-term mayor John Lindsay and the student protest movement, Jack Hind is obsessed for years with the unsolved kidnapping of a young girl named Laurel Hershey (this was ten years before the real-life kidnapping of Etan Patz grabbed the headlines and put... read more
Another audio recording of W.G. Sebald has surfaced on the Internet. Over at Lesungen.net, there is a recording of Sebald reading nearly all of his essay “Her kommt der Tod die Zeit geht hin: Anmerkungen zu Gottfried Keller” from Logis in einem Landhaus (translated as “Death Draws Nigh, Time Marches On: Some Remarks on Gottfried Keller” in the English edition). Sebald was participating in one of Literarisches Colloquium Berlin’s Studio LCB project, along with several other specialists in German-language literature, but Sebald’s is the only recording from the November 25, 1997 session currently available. (Apparently the others have yet to... read more
It’s time to think about visiting France in September. The Centre Culturel International de Cerisy has announced a week-long colloquium on Sebald and the issue of documentary ethics in literature. It’s quite an impressive group of participants and it all takes place in a 17th century chateau. (Everything that follows is from the CCIC website, where there is this additional information, including details on each of the participants.)
“W.G. Sebald: Littérature et Éthique Documentaire”
Monday Septembre 3 through Monday Septembre 10, 2014
DIRECTION : Mark ANDERSON, Muriel PIC, Jürgen RITTE
ARGUMENT : History is no longer the past but also the present in which the... read more
The fabulous Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is currently working on a major new dance called Analogy, which involves using W.G. Sebald’s story of Ambros Adelwarth from The Emigrants as part of the program. Here’s the official description from the company’s website.
Analogy (working title) is the Company’s newest creation, currently in development. Bill T. Jones, along with Janet Wong (Associate Artistic Director of the Company) and the Company dancers, are developing a new evening-length work in two parts, focusing on the memory and the effect that powerful events have on the actions of individuals and-more importantly-on their often unexpressed inner life.... read more
Some novels offer the perfect opportunity for reviewers to palliate otherwise desolate and sundered lives. Notable examples in recent years include Vila-Matas' Montano's Malady, Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones and Tao Lin's first novel Eeeee Eee Eeee. There are many others but Tao Lin's Taipei, published last year, is an extreme case. One reviewer found relief in the "vapid stupidity" of its prose, another in its "massive discharge of waste matter", a third in its "mindless kitsch". As we watch them scurry in haste to the well-furnished bunkers of polite literary society, we can infer each reviewer found clarity and... read more
Revue LISA, a print journal published by the University of Rennes, has a very welcome edition dedicated to the work of Gabriel Josipovici. It is also online.
Readers new to his fiction and criticism would do well to read Vesna Main's Beyond the "Grammar", in which the grammar is "the formulaic apparatus of most novels", and Victoria Best's very moving essay on The Cost of Creativity in his work.
The editor Marcin Stawiarski is also organising Zig Zag, Twist and Turn, a conference on Josipovici's work, to be held at Dalarna University in Sweden this... read more
Going back to a beloved novel after many years can be a disconcerting experience. Often you wonder what you saw the first time around to prompt such nostalgia and loving reverence. Much of the detail is unfamiliar, alien even. Unlike a poem, whose aura is embedded in words recited both subconsciously and at will, a novel is recovered en bloc, masking many details and existing almost like a Platonic form we contemplate with awe in its absence. But, when trodden again, the perfect lawn has molehills.
In effect, our personal library is a collection of portals... read more
In his diary Kafka said he enjoyed reading books of letters and memoirs because they helped him find some distance from himself and become the author's counterpart in their experiences and feelings. Nothing very unusual about that of course; it's why many of us read. Except Kafka recognises the self-deceit involved. On closing the book, he says he's always surprised that such an escape is possible because "experience inclines us to think that nothing in the world is further removed from an experience than its description". The experience he refers to here is his own writing tormented by a dynamic... read more
It's been said that Boyhood Island is "the most Proustian" of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle series, and while this is true that both Proust and Knausgaard present intense remembrances of childhood, the same could be said of many other novels, for example Tomas Bennerhed's The Ravens, recently published by the Clerkenwell Press and, like Boyhood Island, a novel of a 1970s childhood set in Scandinavia. Both Proust's and Knausgaard's would surely be lost among them were it not for what sets them apart.
What sets them apart might best be summarised as the lingering uncertainty of their... read more
Today marks fifty days since I began learning German on Duolingo, a website I discovered by chance. That is, fifty days in a row. I know this because the site rewards continuity and persistence. Online e-learning has now enabled me to progress far further than I had ever imagined possible. Many years ago I signed up for a schoolroom course in which "immersive" interaction with neighbours in the new language was the sole method of learning. No lists of nouns, no gender tables, no rules of grammar. We didn't even look at words. I should have known better: this was... read more
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Picador (August 2013)
378 pages, hardback
Bought by me, from Amazon
I savoured the thought of reading Hannah Kent’s debut novel for almost six months. I pre-ordered it, and then hoarded it, like I do with books I hope I’m going to relish. It ticked lots of boxes for me: historical fiction; female protagonist; set in a cold climate; dark murderous plot. The book itself was beautiful, with its stark and striking cover and black edged pages. It sat patiently on my TBR, always hovering near the top, while the accolades came rolling in: it was chosen... read more
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch
I know, I know, the Baileys shortlist has been out for almost a week now and is officially Old News in the blogosphere, but I've only just properly caught up. It's been a busy little time for me recently. We're about to move house for the second time in two years, this time out to the country. I'm six months into my part-time PhD and it... read more
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Austen Project, The Borough Press, March 2014
352 pages, paperback proof
Kindly sent by the publisher
I've never read Val McDermid before, and I heartily wish now that my first encounter hadn't been with Northanger Abbey. If there was ever a book that wasn't for me, it's this one. I eagerly snapped up a review copy because I was quite curious about The Austen Project- which has commissioned six bestselling authors to reimagine Austen's novels in contemporary settings - and because I enjoy following Val on Twitter. I'm not a huge crime fan; Austen is far more... read more
The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt
Simon and Schuster, March 2014
Paperback proof, 374 pages
Review copy from the publisher
A puzzling reading experience, this one. The proof comes replete with glowing recommendations from Nathan Filer (winner of this year’s Debut Costa for The Shock of the Fall) and Samantha Harvey (of The Wilderness fame), and it has been long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize this week. But I struggled to get through it: 374 pages dragged by and I had to bribe myself to keep up a steady pace. It wasn’t that I was disappointed or bored as such (although I was a... read more
I didn't realise how long it had been since I last posted. Over a month. Ahem. So much for my new year resolution to write more frequently. Better get back on the horse.
While I've been away the Orange Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction longlist has been announced, and what an excitingly rounded list it seems. I've read The Luminaries so far, and have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld waiting in the wings. Of the others I'm keen to get my mitts on The Signature of All Things, Reasons She Goes to the... read more
The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness
Translated from Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson
The Harvill Press, 2001 (first published 1957), paperback, 246pp
Bought by me, from a bookshop somewhere.
The Fish Can Sing wasn't the book I was expecting. When I read Laxness' extraordinary sheep-farming epic Independent People I was overwhelmed and unsettled. It has stayed with me over the years, growing more majestic and psychologically acute in my mind. That novel - especially the first 2/3 of it - is a great cosmic shout, a conjuring of both the grandeur and limitations of human life. The Fish Can Sing is a... read more
The garden over in Tinker's Cott, after eighteen months of careful tending, is really starting to look a picture. After my mum died seventeen years ago the Tinker sold their house with gorgeous garden at the seaside and moved into his first floor garden-less town apartment to be near us here, now he is next door and we all love the arrangement, but it also gives him a garden again and it is a pride and joy for all of us.
Growing dahlias and chrysanthemums is something I remember him doing throughout my childhood so we made it a priority again... read more
...as in the noun, not the verb, and we are suddenly very busy with the fruits of our labours which is timely because the Village Show is but a week away.
I have started a slow read of a real pearl of a book... The Seasons : A Celebration of the English Year by Nick Groom. Published in hardback as The Seasons : An Elegy for the Passing of the Year, (and how did I miss it) there has clearly been a more optimistic change of emphasis 'twixt then and the paperback, due for publication on September 4th, but highly and temptingly... read more
It would have been Janet Frame's 90th birthday today and Offspringette is hoping to get to an event at the Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival for me tomorrow which will be celebrating that event.
So in simultaneous celebration of Janet Frame's birthday on here (and I see I have written quite a lot about her in the past) I have been down into the dovegreyreader basement and dusted off this post from 2010 about Living in the Maniototo, a book which made a huge impression on me...
'A word which is exciting to look at and say and doesn't slop its meaning over... read more
Four weeks and thirty-one blog posts later we are done....I think you all deserve a medal if you are still there.
The quilts are washed and aired and back in their places around the house, the bunting is stuffed in the box folded neatly and put away and finally we reach the end of the reports from Port Eliot 2014...I can almost hear a collective sigh of relief as you all bundle your festival gear in the wash and we resume Normal Service (after maybe a brief interlude)
I'm not sure how many letters of thanks I have written and posted,... read more
One last report before a final festival wrap-up post, this just in from Fran about her flower show experience...and if I tell you this was all achieved in soaring temperatures which cannot possibly be the flower-arranger's best friend. From moment of picking to moment of arranging a time lapse of six hours or so for the poor flowers steeped in buckets of cold water, stems wrapped in wet tissue...lordy lordy, over to Fran, and as you will see it's all in the detail...
Looking through the schedule, way back in May it was this class which caught my eye;
ONE LUMP OR... read more
If I have a favourite book, amongst those I would never part with, it has to be my copy of Down the Deep Lanes, a collaboration between Peter Beacham and photographer James Ravilious (son of Eric).
I had borrowed the book from the library in the midst of last year's Beating the Bounds (which I plan to resume on here this autumn) and in an effort to cut back on my book-buying. All to no avail because to see is to covet; I quickly ordered a copy of my own, and the book became my guide for spotting the beauty of... read more