First published in France in 1970, immediately greeted by both furore and acclaim, today Eden, Eden, Eden is recognised as one of the major works of the last century.
This beautiful new edition is a much-revised translation of the out of print English version originally published in 1995. It also includes new translations of the original prefaces by Michel Leiris, Roland Barthes and Philippe Sollers, plus a postface by Paul Buck.... read more
Currently reading Manuel DeLanda and Graham Harman's excellent The Rise of Realism:
Until quite recently, almost no philosophers trained in the continental tradition saw anything of value in realism. The situation in analytic philosophy was always different, but in continental philosophy realism was usually treated as a pseudo-problem. That is no longer the case.
In this provocative new book, two leading philosophers examine the remarkable rise of realism in the continental tradition. While exploring the similarities and differences in their own positions, they also consider the work of others and assess rival trends in contemporary philosophy. They begin by discussing the... read more
An uncompromising apophatic criticism would look like the writing of Steve Mitchelmore. He does something like what Lerner does with poetry, but he does it with literature in general, and he doesn’t, well, compromise on the validity of his method.
Robert Minto's excellent blog responding, via Ben Lerner, to the writing of Steve Mitchelmore.... read more
From before the beginning (which was also, according to them, already the end), the adepts of the Architectonic Order of the Eschaton have worked tirelessly to secure the past, present, and future against the incursions of Neolemurian time-sorcery, eliminating all polytemporal activity, stitching up the future, sealing every breach and covering every track. According to the AOE, the Ccru ‘does not, has not, and will never exist’. And yet...
The texts collected here document the Ccru’s perilous efforts to catalogue the traces of Lemurian occulture, bringing together the scattered accounts of those who had stumbled upon lagooned relics of... read more
Hearing a lot about The King in the Golden Mask from the always interesting Wakefield Press...
First published in French in 1892 and never before translated fully into English, The King in the Golden Mask gathers together twenty-one of Marcel Schwob’s cruelest and most erudite tales. Melding the fantastic with historical fiction, these stories swarm around moments of unexplained violence both historical and imaginary, often blending the two through Schwob’s collaging of primary source documents into fiction. Brimming with murder, suicide, royal leprosy, and medieval witchcraft, this collection describes for us historically attested clergymen furtively attending medieval sabbaths, Protestant galley slaves... read more
I first came across Stephen Mitchelmore's blog This Space on one of those long, anxious evenings, when the only thing that was going to settle me was to read something new about one of my favourite writers. This was also around the time when I had become tired of being the only one I knew who liked the books that I liked. As soon as I tried to explain to my good friends that a particular book didn't interest me at all, no matter that it was 'profoundly moving' or 'fascinating', it would always seem, in contrast to what they... read more
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of George Saunders’ long-awaited first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. (Short version: I liked it, but am less enthusiastic than many seem to be.)
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Click here to read my review in The Times of Danielle Dutton’s slim and charming novel about the life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, who was a prolific writer of fiction, philosophy and natural history, and the first woman to appear before the Royal Academy.
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I’ve been remiss this year in posting links to my reviews published elsewhere, so here’s a recap of the year to date.
Anakana Schofield: Martin John
Click here for my Guardian review of this funny, stark, circular novel which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in Canada and the Goldsmiths Prize in the UK.
Carlo Gébler: The Projectionist
Click here for my Times Literary Supplement review of a memoir, by his son, of a writer who once sold millions of novels but is now remembered, if at all, only as Edna O’Brien’s former husband.
Toby Vieira: Marlow’s Landing
Click here for my Guardian... read more
The very existence of this book is a stout marker of the robust good health of the publishing industry, and even, in its own way, small evidence that 2016 hasn’t been all bad. It also shows that, four years after its takeover and relaunch, Pushkin Press has retained an essential part of its character even while expanding into crime, children’s books and contemporary English language titles. In other words, where else might we see a beautifully-produced, mass-distributed book containing two essays written 70 years apart about a city I’d never heard of before now?
City of Lions is about Lviv, now... read more
Readers of this blog (if there are any left after months of inactivity: sorry, and hello again) will know that I’m a sucker for a series design. If something in me aligns with what Trinny and Susannah would have called matchy-matchy, then I justify it on the basis that it’s less judging a book by its cover than allowing my eyes to be opened to new things. And the Penguin Worlds series is just that: a mixture of science fiction, horror and urban fantasy from across the 20th century, chosen and introduced by Naomi Alderman and Hari Kunzru. And they come... read more
Mathias Énard’s Zone, which I wrote about in 2011, is one of the best written and most urgent novels that I have read in this quickly aging century. Zone‘s Homeric scale attempts to encompass some of the twentieth century’s most critical themes within the framework of the narrator’s memories during a train ride from Milan to Rome. In Énard’s view, history is perennially unable to free itself from the eternal male infatuation with violence, warfare, and other forms of “manliness,” which in the last century alone resulted in misery and death for hundreds of millions of people. His narrator has... read more
Peter Mendelsund cover design for The Emigrants, (New Directions, 2016)
In the current issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12, 2017), James Wood writes at length about W.G. Sebald. It’s a nice, modestly insightful overview of Sebald’s four books of prose fiction, interspersed with bits and pieces of Sebald’s biography, but its basically a rehash of several essays Wood has previously written about Sebald. Perhaps in an effort to find some new way to approach the writer, Wood decides this time to examine “W.G. Sebald, Humorist.” Wood has to work hard to uncover examples of Sebald’s dry, ironical humor,... read more
The City University of New York has just put up an excellent video of a distinguished roundtable on the work of W.G. Sebald, which was held just a few weeks ago on May 6, 2017. It’s an intriguing and revealing discussion that is an hour and 22 minutes in length. At about the 40-minute point, the group talks about Sebald’s use of images in his books. The roundtable was part of the “Fictions of History” conference.
In this roundtable, Mark Anderson (Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Columbia University), Daniel Kehlmann (Novelist and Fellow, The New York Public Library), and Judith... read more
“…retreat seemed only another cowardly act I’d have to shoulder on my journey. So I pressed ahead.”
Two Lines Press describes the books by Brazilian writer João Gilberto Noll, who died this March at the age of 70, as “reminiscent of the films of David Lynch,” which seems about as apt a description as I can think of. The two books that have been translated into English so far —Quiet Creature on the Corner and Atlantic Hotel — are strange, subversive, and compelling that share a sense of bleakness, violence, and anomie.
In Atlantic Hotel, which comes out this month, Noll’s nameless narrator wanders... read more
A tiny dot had been flashing and circling slowly over a virtual point beside the road on the Google map until the satellites intercepted and correlated my precise position in the imaginary landscape; then the dot stopped moving, coming to rest on the road precisely where I was standing; that’s me, I thought, and as I slid my thumb and forefinger across the tablet to shrink the map, I saw my pulsating point, the beating of a heart, melt into an ever vaster landscape, as if my eye had separated from my body and was ascending high into the sky,... read more
Imagine if The Paris Review gave you 156 pages in its Spring issue. What would you do?
What Jean-René Étienne and Lola Raban-Oliva did with 156 pages (that’s more than half the issue, by the way) was to create a photo-novella called “Formentera Storyline.” The storyline is simple. “An ad hoc group of ten longtime and tentative friends rents a house on the Spanish island of Formentera,” which is just south of Ibiza. They take Pilates classes, eat a strict diet, and basically try to “remedy the deteriorated lifestyle inherent to their high-pressure, low-stakes, medium-impact jobs in the fashion industry.” They... read more
Robert Minto belongs to a rare and special group of people: he bought my book. Even rarer, he wrote a response, classifying it alongside Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry under a new genre, apophatic criticism: “a way of writing about literature that treats it as a commentary on itself, a seeking for its own limits”. Whatever the validity of the label, this is one the best things ever to happen in all my years of blogging, as I realise there are some critics who will never receive anything more than a cheque in the post. If there is one... read more
From the front page of Brighton & Hove Council's free newspaper.
That word, invariably connected to public art: accessible. What does it mean?
The Festival is held once a year across May, heralded on the first Saturday of the month by the noisy, pavement-blocking Children's Parade that disturbs my trawl of the North Laine's secondhand bookshops. Otherwise I never notice that the festival is on, so promotion of these "arts hubs" must be irreproachable in its motivation. After all, as Kate Tempest says in the flyer pushed through each resident's letterbox, art should be "no big... read more
“There is an element, in any good novel, of something that cannot be taken away without dissolving the whole book. If you remove everything else, that’s what remains. But what that core quality is, is hard to say. You can talk about it in negative terms. It’s not that the novel is so terribly exciting from a psychological point of view. It’s not that it has such unusually interesting or original insights into structures of contemporary society. It’s not that it’s so fascinating to get to know the characters, however eccentric or unique or typical.... read more
You will likely have already read many reviews of Mathias Énard’s novel: a “seductive narrative” (Irish Times) that consists of the Austrian musicologist Franz Ritter’s “insomniac monologue” (Economist) about “scholarly adventures” (Guardian) and Sarah “his unrequited love” (New Republic) that “has appeared on our shores at precisely the right time” (Washington Post) because it is “an encyclopaedic survey of the intersections between oriental and occidental high culture” (Literary Review)”. And you might also have noticed that it has impressed many other readers – “a book that I could vanish into forever” (Times Flow Stemmed) – and inspired them to seek out... read more
"Criticism is as inevitable as breathing," wrote TS Eliot, "and we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it". Nothing uncontroversial about that, as the proliferation of online book reviews suggests.
But what if breathing is difficult and you don't know what passes in your mind? I've often wondered why certain books by certain authors fascinate me without any satisfactory means of saying why. I don't mean only those with complex arguments that require careful precis or that are especially... read more
The first collection of Vila-Matas' short stories in English translation is named after the fifteenth story in the table of contents, but might better have been named after the seventh, Death by Saudade because it compresses Vila-Matas' work into a black hole. Just as Harvill Secker’s abbreviation of Montano’s Malady, his second novel in English, excludes any mention of illness, the choice of this title disguises the nature of his fiction with a predictable play on genre.
This is entirely understandable, as publishers must assume potential consumers read for what is misnamed 'entertainment' rather than to assuage saudade,... read more
I've been watching a lot of book videos on YouTube recently, with a growing desire to contribute to the conversation. At the same time I've wondered if making videos might be an answer to those times when writing a longish blog review is beyond my powers. Somehow a couple of thousand words seems like a lot more effort than talking to myself for 10 minutes. Anyway, I decided to give it a go and do a 'tag' video by way of introduction, without any special equipment or editing or, well, forethought really. It's taken me almost a week to... read more
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Fourth Estate, 14th June 2016
E-book, 736 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped.
Annie Proulx's new novel is about devastation, both cultural and environmental. Over the course of 700 intensively researched pages and 300 years it charts the story of the colonization of North America, and the landscapes and ways of life it destroyed,... read more
Forgive me lovely people for I have slumped, both in my reading and in my blogging.
It's been over a month since my last confession and I've had to drag myself back to the keyboard like a stroppy teenager.
After a phenomenally good January to May of books, June was a bit of a wasteland. Thankfully July is looking up, but after an absence it's always difficult for me to get back on the horse and write again. The longer the gap the more books there are to be read for review, the more reviews there are to write, the easier it... read more
The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Bloomsbury, 2 June 2016
E-book, 355 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
At nineteen Katherine North is the oldest Phenomenaut at Shencorp, the world's leading Consciousness Projection provider. Recruited at the tender age of twelve she has spent much of the last seven years hooked up to life support in a lab while her mind inhabits the bodies of other animals. In that time she has contributed enormously to scientific research on endangered species - her specialism - bringing back data and the lived experience of being an animal into the human... read more
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg
Fourth Estate, 2nd June 2016
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
The 2nd of June seems to be this year's fashionable publication date for all the books designed to appeal to me. I count four ARCs on my TBR coming out that day and all of them sound ruddy amazing. I've been psyching myself up for a personal mini-challenge of reading them in quick and glorious succession, so that I can write about them in the run up to the Big Day. First up is a debut by Eleanor Wasserberg, a recent graduate from... read more
Journeyman by Marc Bojanowski
Granta, 5 May 2016
*My copy provided by the publisher for review.
Just a year ago the look, feel and blurb for this book would have sent me running for Bailey's Prize hill and the safety of my comfort zone post-haste. A carpenter has a dark night of the quietly masculine soul in mid-2000s California against the back drop of war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Take note of how I'm trying to extend my reading repetoire by trusting to the judgement of Granta and ploughing on in. As brave ventures go, this one turned out surprisingly... read more
There is an intriguing notation on the OS map of Dartmoor (now my new best friend) ...a marked trail called Dr Blackall's Drive, which needed some exploring so my Walking Friend and I tramped out there in early May.
For anyone heading down this way and wanting a safe, easy-ish walk on Dartmoor with stunning views then this is the one for you. Plenty of parking at Bel Tor Corner (Bel Tor sadly on private land...I'd really like to rock that logan stone) and a short walk south brings you to one end of Dr Blackall's Drive . As you round... read more
I mentioned my Book Bounty a while ago, and the fact that I had invested some of it in a copy of Ravilious & Co -The Pattern of Friendship by Andy Friend. I had been shamelessly coveting the book for weeks, surrender was inevitable. Sadly there had been a glitch with the binding and Wordery (who I buy from out of preference on You-Know-Where now) had very quickly taken responsibility for the problem, dispatched a replacement copy and organised free postage for return of the rogue book...good on them.
150 pages in and I am relishing every word, especially in light of... read more
I'm so sorry to place another tantalising stack of books in front of you, but it's time for my favourite prize-list reading of the year, the Wainwright
'The Wainwright Prize seeks to reward the best writing on the outdoors, nature and UK-based travel writing and is sponsored by Wainwright Golden Beer.
The prize will be awarded to the work which best reflects Wainwright’s core values of Great British writing and culture and a celebration of the outdoors.'
Pre-occupied with final major photography projects and exhibitions, the Wainwright long-listing date snuck up on me on June 2nd and was a pleasant surprise. Also, to my... read more
I had a post ready to roll today and, as I have explained before, you know how I love to keep this an angst-free-zone. I had somehow managed it through the election and the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge (and it's not because I am not thinking about them...I'm sure plenty of us were able to think about little else) but the tragic events of yesterday, the horrific fire in the London tower block...well somehow frivolity and piles of books just weren't going to cut it today.
What sadness and tragedy and utter devastation for so many lives and... read more
I hope you will all forgive the self-indulgence of this post...but if I may have seemed a bit sparse and absent-minded in recent months here's why...
You've all known him as the Kayaker on here for almost twelve years now (was he really only twenty-two when I started writing this), middle one of our three, and still a kayaker sometimes, but now he's a photographer too, and for someone who has travelled and worked around the world since he left school it was quite a challenge for him to decide to stay put three years ago and complete a BA (Hons)... read more