As I mentioned last Monday, I'm enjoying Steven Shaviro's new Whitehead-meets-Speculative Realism (SR) book Universe of Things, but before I (hopefully) review it, I should perhaps make a brief comment on why I'm reading it. And that particular story makes better sense if I mention that I'm also reading Peter Wolfendale's Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon's New Clothes (from the always excellent Urbanomic) and briefly mention why I'm reading that...
I read more philosophy books than books on any other topic – and, to be honest, it's probably more than time that RSB reflected that a little more clearly. It's a little... read more
Austin Roberts reviews Steven Shaviro's The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism:
One of the most interesting trends in recent philosophy is what is sometimes called Speculative Realism. The name comes from a conference in 2007 at the University of London that brought together four very different philosophers who nevertheless were united in their efforts to resurrect realist metaphysics: Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, and Iain Hamilton Grant. Each of them hold quite different metaphysical positions, but all four critique what they name "philosophies of correlation." As a theologian and not a philosopher, I can't help but make a connection... read more
From World Literature Today, review of The Contemporary Spanish-American Novel: Bolaño and After:
This unique collection of essays by fifty scholars and writers on the work of sixty-nine contemporary novelists from Spanish America is a valuable resource for scholars and readers alike. The authors included for discussion were born between 1949 and the early 1970s and have published the bulk of their work since 1996. The essays on individual writers are organized in six chapters based on their point of origin from one of the following geographical and cultural regions: Mexico, Central America, the Spanish speaking Caribbean and Venezuela, the Greater... read more
This book comes freighted with more expectations than many – Ishiguro may, after all, be the only novelist of his lauded generation who has never produced a bad or even mediocre novel. But there are fears, too – his last two books (Never Let Me Go, and the story cycle Nocturnes) are my least favourites. Is he on the slide?
My first response to The Buried Giant was to realise how rudderless we feel in the teeth of a new book which is really new, sui generis, and how much we rely on – or at least use as a springboard –... read more
My first encounter with Miranda July’s fiction was in the Zadie Smith-edited anthology The Book of Other People, where her story ‘Roy Spivey’ was one of the best on offer. Then I read her collection No-one Belongs Here More Than You, which impressed me with its ability to turn between funny and sad on a sixpence. Now we have July’s debut novel, which turns out to be more multifaceted still, and already seems as likely to be one of my favourite books of the year as Dept. of Speculation did last year, or May We Be Forgiven a couple of... read more
I haven’t written about Gabriel Josipovici before on this blog but I have read him and felt his influence: he is a champion of Agota Kristof’s work and he himself is championed by critics like Steve Mitchelmore and Mark Thwaite – readers in whose opinions I have faith. More than that, I read Josipovici’s book What Ever Happened to Modernism? and found it impressive: one the one hand, revelatory, but also reassuring (that I wasn’t mad, or stubborn, to like some kinds of books more than others).
Hotel Andromeda is Josipovici’s newest novel and came at just the right time for me.... read more
The first thing that struck me about this book was the beautiful cover image, of oriental lilies, so perfect they almost looked computer-generated. Then I noticed something, and each time I looked back at it, it surprised me again by offering something new. The image is by Tom Darracott, who also designed the first cover for Hawthorn & Child. So you might expect something unusual and sinister, and you’d be right. The British Council literature site describes The Vegetarian, accurately, as a “frightening beauty” and, less clearly, as a book which “combines human violence and the possibility of innocence as... read more
This year, with fewer (I think) reviews published here than ever before, I’m going to include a couple of books I read but didn’t review, but which have left a good impression at the year end. What better recommendation could there be than that, anyway? Titles are in alphabetical order by author’s name.
Martin Amis: The Zone of Interest
Who’d have thought the old enfant terrible had it in him? The Zone of Interest is, I think, the best novel Amis has written in fifteen years – which may not be saying that much when you consider the other novels he’s written in... read more
It’s interesting to see a book reclaimed as a classic when you’ve never heard of the author. ‘Classic’ – here it’s in the Serpent’s Tail Classics range – is as much a marketing term as anything else, but I still have a weakness for such series. Like translated literature, ‘classics’ series indicate that at least two sets of editorial eyes, separated by decades, have thought the book worthwhile, and all in the absence of realistic hope of review coverage or a “highly promotable” young author. (Seeing those words in a press release always makes me think that “promote” must be a... read more
It takes time for what has been erased to resurface. Traces survive in registers, and nobody knows where these registers are hidden, and who has custody of them, and whether or not these custodians are willing to let you see them. Or perhaps they have quite simply forgotten that these registers exist.
All it takes is a little patience.
…But I am a patient man. I can wait for hours in the rain…
That last little touch – “I can wait for hours in the rain” – is so typically Modiano. Here, in Dora Bruder, Modiano’s narrator is trying to assure us that... read more
The Centre de Cultura Contemporànea de Barcelona is devoting Kosmopolis15 to W.G. Sebald. Kosmopolis is an annual “amplified literature festival” with live and online components. From its website:
The CCCB presents The Sebald Variations, in which the German writer of some of the fundamental texts of our turn of the century such as The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz forms the leading thread in an examination of the history of the 20th century and its projections into our present. How useful are Sebald’s books to understanding 21st-century culture? How can we escape from the “pedagogical prison of memory” that anchors us... read more
If you are in New York City this Wednesday February 11, you might want to try to get to Symphony Space at 7:30 PM for a book club discussion covering W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn led by the amazing line-up of Rick Moody (The Ice Storm), Dinaw Mengestu (All Our Names), and Hari Kunzru (Gods Without Men). Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) will read an excerpt from Sebald’s book. There is an admission charge. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets in advance. Symphony Space is at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York, NY 10025-6990.
... read more
“The clouds above our heads are created thanks to cosmic rays emitted millions of years ago by suns that have exploded and whose lights have already gone out.” Dror Burstein. Netanya. [Dalkey Archive Press, 2013. Translated from the Hebrew by Todd Hasak-Lowy.]
The narrator of Dror Burstein’s Netanya – a narrator we are lead to believe is Burstein himself – spends a night lying on a bench along the side of Smuts Boulevard in the town of Netanya, Israel, and as he stares up into the night sky he tries to grasp the vastness of the universe and the full extent... read more
Here is my list of works of fiction and poetry published in 2014 containing embedded photographs. You can see all of my previous lists via the drop-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of this page. I’ve updated a number of the annual lists recently, usually thanks to readers who point me in the direction of books I’ve overlooked. If you know of a book from any year that I might not have mentioned, please let me know in a comment.
Jeffery Renard Allen. Song of the Shank. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press. Several photographs credited to various sources.
Mark Axelrod. “Kissing Sonia Braga.”... read more
Alexander Kluge’s writings clearly exerted a great influence on W.G. Sebald, especially Kluge’s important 1977 book Neue Geschichten: Hefte 1–18: “Unheimlichkeit der Zeit” (which roughly translates as “New Histories: Notebooks 1–18: ‘The Uncanniness of Time’“) . Neue Geschicten is written in a flat, non-literary prose that becomes a montage of voices, photographs, drawings, and charts. Last year, Seagull Books released Kluge’s book Air Raid, which includes what I believe to be the first English translation of a section from Neue Geschichten. The bulk of Air Raid, which is translated by Martin Chalmers, consists the the text titled “The Air Raid... read more
For a short time, I stayed up most of the night. In the long summer months between years at school – my guess is 1978 – there was no all-night radio let alone all-night television. Instead I would listen to the BBC World Service on unreliable Medium Wave reception. One night around two in the morning, an actor with a mellifluous voice read an extract from what I now know as Swann's Way. This was before even Terence Kilmartin had updated Scott Moncrieff's original translation.
Next day, as I played football in the local park, I told my... read more
What follows the break wasn't going to be posted. I wrote it last week and decided it would be more effective to summarise on my Tumblr blog and then publicise on Twitter. To my surprise, bar one message of support, there was no response. The silence was instructive.
In the early days of February 2015, 3AM Magazine advertised an event in London to celebrate "the recent boom in online criticism" and to encourage readers "to get involved in the growth of digital literary culture". My interest was piqued, as the subject is close to my heart... read more
For eighteen years I have wanted the English translation of Georges Bataille's book La Peinture Préhistorique: Lascaux ou la naissance de l'art, ever since Maurice Blanchot's review essay appeared in the collection Friendship published in 1997. A strange yearning because Blanchot had summarised the content, so there was apparently nothing to gain and, what's more, I have never been a big Bataille reader, much preferring at university Blanchot's unparalleled prose to the jargon-scarred theory beloved of my fellow students who thought "transgression" meant wearing rubber.
Still, there was something withheld by this book, the actual thing, the physical... read more
This has been the worst year for reading, ever. In quantity that is: only a suitcase of books finished, with a communal binful for those abandoned. The reason is the same as four years ago, only worse, and has little to do with the quality of the books. Medical opinion quoted Beckett: nothing to be done.
Still, I've never been one to devour books and I maintain a certain amount of disgust for the conveyor belt of recommended reads. In trust I have opened novels much praised by bloggers to sample the first paragraph and invariably it is like... read more
Painting is practical day-to-day thing I think. One might say something clever, one might say something big, but one does something limited. It’s a serious thing – like religion – like love – one does the persistent thing, and then the really remarkable happens when something’s there that wasn’t there before.Frank Auerbach's words from fifty years ago were pasted above my student work desk without ever prompting attention. Inspirational quotes are there to be ignored, after all. Only lately has the contrast between his trust in a modest routine and apparent wonder in the presence of art demanded examination. After... read more
This week marks ten years since this blog was born. Appropriately, the first post was about beginnings. As I tell Mark Thwaite in this interview about literary blogging, it wasn't the first blog I'd written for, but this was the first solo effort: Almost immediately I recognised This Space as my true home, a miraculous release into a limitless expanse in which writing could be explored in the direction demanded by the work under discussion. The editorial identity was soon established and gave me what I had lacked until then. My only responsibility was to sustain that exploration. Perhaps ten... read more
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
Faber and Faber, February 2015
E-book, 384 pages
*My copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley
Why is it so much easier for me to write about the books that I feel ambivalent about rather than the books that I really love? This post should be about Hild by Nicola Griffith, which I want you all to run out and read right now. I've got it all ready to compose: quotes transcribed, book jacket uploaded, publishing info set out. But I can't get started, because my love is getting in the... read more
A TBR meme has been making the rounds of the blogosphere this week. I spotted it first at Here There Be Books and then lots of other places, and while I enjoyed reading everyone's posts, it got me thinking about this whole 'to be read' business. What am I really talking about when I talk about my TBR?
1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
The simple answer to this is: I don't, and I never have. I have a Goodreads account, and I have a Library Thing account too, but the latter I haven't used since 2008 and Goodreads I only... read more
White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
Translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah
Peirene Press, Feb 2015
136 pages, review copy kindly provided by the publisher
Hunger is the kitten Willow-Lauri put in a sack, which scratches away with its small claws, causing searing pain, then more scratching, then more, until the kitten is exhausted and falls to the bottom of the sack, weighing heavily there, before gathering its strength and starting a fresh struggle. You want to lift the animal out, but it scratches so hard you dare not reach inside. You have no option but to carry the... read more
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
E-book, 288 pages
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
E-book, 320 pages
*Review copies kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley
Be warned: There are sort-of-spoilers for both books in this post.
Since we moved to the country last May I have a little 25 minute train commute to work in the morning and home again in the evening. It's a busy train - sometimes a very busy train - and often it's noisy with school kids or holiday makers or shoppers from York plus all us grim commuters. With that and... read more
I decided to start 2015 by reading one of the most hyped and talked about debuts of 2015, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador). It's currently sitting at the top of the paperback charts in the UK (over 21,000 copies sold last week!) and was recently awarded the Specsavers Book of the Year at the National Book Awards, won by popular vote. I downloaded it to my Kindle on New Year's Day and away I went.
The Miniaturist is a long book that feels short. One of those fat 500+ pagers that flies by. I seem to read e-books faster... read more
The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
(Book 1, The Brothers Sinister)
E-book (Kindle), 265 pages
Currently free on Amazon.
As a general rule I don't think of myself as a fan of historical romance. I say that in spite of the fact that Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is one of my favourite series of all time. Somehow I don't think of those books as historical romance. But I read Justin Landon's Letter to Dudebros as part of Smugglivus, about using historical romance as a lens to examine privilege, and (even though I'm not a Dudebro) I thought I'd follow his basic instructions. I... read more
As if some armchair wild water swimming with Roger Deakin wasn't enough to chill me to the bone, I can't quite fathom a sudden need to go to the Arctic, so I will have to blame Robert Macfarlane, who mentions the life-changing impact of reading Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, in his forthcoming book Landmarks. I'd better not say any more, or quote anything pre-embargo had I... but suffice to say I was convinced enough to order a copy of Barry Lopez's book from You-Know-Where, and from whence I have 'borrowed' this description...
'Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure... read more
The Kayaker had been to an exhibition at Greenwich and came round bearing this gift from the Royal Observatory, a Stargazers' Almanac, a monthly guide to the stars and planets, this in an ongoing effort to unravel some of our night-sky confusion.
We still say 'Oh look, there's Orion/the Plough,'...we might remember Betelgeuse and Rigel north and south of Orion's belt, but we are no further on in our quest to confidently point out Draco, or Cassiopeia or Perseus, and after twenty years of living in our stargazing paradise we really should be doing better.
The... read more
Don't ask me why a book like Waterlog should appeal in February. The late Roger Deakin decides to swim his way around Britain in a sort of right-to-swim approach to a dip in our many waterways, and to be honest I can't think of anything worse even in a heatwave, let alone in grey chilly winter.
Great mouthfuls of the River Medway...
Ploughing across the Fowey Estuary...renowned as the river that we had gone to for a swim as children, and having just watched us jump in my mother immediately summoned us out again having spotted floating things she didn't like the look... read more
I am pleased to be able to report an excellent book-buying experience at a different branch of Waterstone's last Saturday. We keep nipping into M&S for things for the Tinker, and wherever and whenever we go it always seems to involve a bit of ...
'Meet me in Waterstone's in ten minutes...' and off I slope.
Yet another journey book, because I have now traversed Switzerland by Slow Train, and have also been having a daily wild swim with Roger Deakin and Waterlog, and Roger and I have almost swum the lot. Time for some walking with Ramble On - The story of our love... read more