Saturday, 28 April 2018





BOOKS @ VOLUME #72 (28.4.18)

Click through to read our NEWSLETTER







{Review by STELLA}









Nell Zink is an author who keeps you guessing and convinces you that anything is possible in the strange, yet oh-so-normal, world of a Zink novel. In Mislaid, a gay professor and a young lesbian student form a relationship, get married and have two children. When Peggy, the wife, runs away with her daughter to a remote part of Virginia, she assumes a new identity and gives herself an African-American heritage despite her and her daughter being white. This is Nell Zink writing the ‘great American family saga’ her way. Nicotine is a novel about Penny - an unemployed grad student, the daughter of a Jewish shaman named Norm and successful corporate banker step-mom Amalia, a Kogi native rescued from poverty in South America - tasked to remove squatters from a property the family own. Nicotine is a hilarious send-up of slacker privilege and modern spirituality with a nicotine-fueled hedonism. The postmodern fictionPrivate Novelist is the latest in my Zink reads and this takes a step further into the uncertain world of Nellness. Apparently written prior to her first published work, it has its roots in the written exchanges between two authors, Nell Zink (or an author called 'Nell Zink') and Israeli author, Anver Shats, who the author claims to have met in Tel Aviv in 1997.  Avner Shats mostly wrote in Hebrew, a language Zink could not read, yet she ‘translated’ his novella, and in Private Novelist this appears as the work entitled ‘Sailing Towards the Sunset by Avner Shats’. The other story, 'European Story for Avner Shats', is written by Zink. Playing with the concept of the novel, the ‘conversation’ between two writers, and the idea of translation, Zink keeps you in limbo. Is Shats real? - I can hardly believe he is, although a Wikipedia search pops him up with a brief resume and links to universities and prizes (deeper searches wend their way to the unknown - the unsure). This playful interaction with her reader is pure Zink and Private Novelist is extremely funny and satisfyingly puzzling. It’s also a razor-sharp analysis of the novel and the tools we use as a reader (and writer) to interpret our texts. Nell Zink, championed by Jonathan Franzen, had her first novel, Wallcreeper, published by independent press Dorothy, and received considerable attention for that and for Mislaid, which was long-listed for the National Book Award.  
  





























































 

The Old Child and The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
The idea we have of the world is inextricable from the words which could either be said to describe it or to comprise it. As children, our knowledge of objects, actions and expectations is gained concurrently with the words and phrases that, at the moment of their learning, both separate these objects, actions and expectations from the undifferentiated mass of the Unknown and incorporate them into the networked mass of social constructs we think of as our world. In the novella ‘The Book of Words’, we are presented with what at first it seems a series of childhood memories presented in relation to the words that describe them, and it is not not this. As well as being a tender reminiscence of a young girl’s life, presented in crystalline present tense with all the quirks and facets of a child’s view, increasingly we find, in the same language, the trace of something horrible, something that has erased the words that could be used to describe it. People who have featured in the narrative begin to be absent from it. Awful details appear and are, initially, quickly brushed aside or overwritten by other memories. Hints of wrongness in the world beyond the family start to insert themselves into the girl’s memories, despite her resistance to them or because of her innocence about their significance. The particles of wrongness in this novella are all the more horribly wrong for having such weights of benign quotidian detail levered upon them. Language, which builds as a child learns, cracks, distorts and fragments under trauma, as does the concept of reality that it bears. As the narrative continues, it becomes increasingly horrific, increasingly hysterical, increasingly divorced from rational sense, the language distorted and abused by the horrors that it conceals. The motto “Silence is health,” innocently mentioned early on, becomes an uncomfortable call to turn the head away from that which cannot be faced. Towards the end of the novella, as the girl is given an early birthday party (and she is much older, therefore more mentally stunted, than we had imagined) and the family flee the country after what we surmise has been a political reversal, we learn that that father has been a torturer in the old regime, his activities being described in the same tone, the child’s tone, as the innocent details of the child’s life, all the more horrific for being so described: “Once you’ve connected a body to an electrical circuit the truth comes out of it like a worm.” Although not specified, details in the text suggest the complicity of the father, apparently a Nazi post-war immigrant, in Argentina’s CIA-backed ‘Dirty War’, and in the disposal of the bodies of the ‘disappeared’. “What is sick will die out. The future belongs to us,” the father declares, in ultimate futility. What future is there, though, for the narrator, whose world of words has been so malformed by the circumstances of her upbringing?
In ‘The Old Child’, the other novella in this volume, a large and ungainly girl is brought to an orphanage carrying only a bucket, seemingly unable to remember anything of her past, a tabula rasa, it seems, upon which the orphanage and school, the other girls, the supervisors and teachers will write themselves. “In the girl’s head, at the spot which in the others is occupied by an opinion, there is only emptiness.” At first the girl is shunned by her schoolmates, finding a place only at the bottom of the pecking order. Although she seems to understand more than she displays, “school is the place where errors must occur to give it meaning.” What is the inner life of the girl? If she has one, it is completely disconnected from the world she shares with her peers. She obeys instructions and is assiduous in keeping her belongings in order, which the others feel as a threat: “Among slaves nothing is deadlier than for one of their number to voluntarily assume a slave’s role. But while the girl’s desire for order happens to correspond to the standards imposed by the pedagogical staff, its origins are quite different. The girls sees her stack of clothes, which is comprehensible to her, in relation to all that appears incomprehensible to her and thus hostile. Disorder of every sort is hostile, this begins with those objects that, precisely because they weren’t stacked neatly in a cupboard, fall out when you open the door, but it ends in putrefaction, death and confusion, the things the girl refuses to think about.” When she is taken ill and receiving treatment at the orphanage infirmary, the girl finds it reassuring that in receiving treatment she receives the treatment that others would receive, making her like them, and also likes being relieved of having to direct her own actions. As the narrative progresses, the girl becomes more formed by her peers and by her situation, no longer a blank slate but bearer of a degree of personhood, though entirely formulated from without, a reflection of her circumstances. This begins with the necessity of eating, a basic requisite for existence and thus the beginning of personality: “Whereas generally she is colourless, nearly to the point of invisibility, the concentration she brings to the activity of eating gives her the appearance of having character.” The girl becomes increasinly a part of the group, but also grows inexplicably tired. She is taken first to the infirmary and then leaves the orphanage for a hospital where she is revealed to be a full-grown woman with a memory and personality different from and incompatible with that of which she was becoming the bearer in the orphanage. “The girl’s life left no traces where it was being spent.” In the orphanage, “no-one would be able to say what it is the girl has done to make everyone erase her with their silence, but within them blossoms a great monstrous hope: that she might never return.” As well as being a study of the societal generation of so-called personality, the novella feels like it might be an allegory, perhaps of the political fate of Erpenbeck’s East Germany, a corollary, perhaps with Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, though it was interesting to learn that, before writing the book, Erpenbeck pretended to be a teenager and attended a school incognito to learn about the conformative group dynamics of students.

Our Book of the Week this week is Jesmyn Ward's novel Sing, Unburied, Sing. As 13-year-old Jojo approaches adulthood, how can he find his way in the U.S. South when he and his family race rural poverty, drug addiction, the penal system, the justice system, racism and illness? 

>> Read Stella's review

>> "A ghost story about the real struggles of living." 

>> Ghost whisperers.

>> In conversation with Edwidge Dendicat

>> Sing, Unburied, Sing has just been short-listed for the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction. Find out what else is on the list

>> Jesmyn Ward at VOLUME


Friday, 27 April 2018


NEW RELEASES

Here they are. 
West by Carys Davies        $20
When widowed mule breeder Cy Bellman reads in the newspaper that colossal ancient bones have been discovered in the salty Kentucky mud, he sets out from his small Pennsylvania farm to see for himself if the rumours are true: that the giant monsters are still alive and roam the uncharted wilderness beyond the Mississippi River. Promising to write and to return in two years, he leaves behind his only daughter, Bess, to the tender mercies of his taciturn sister and heads west. Bess must approach adulthood in her father's absence. 
"To read Carys Davies's West is to encounter a myth, or potent dream - a narrative at once new and timeless." - Claire Messud
"Carys Davies is a deft, audacious visionary." - Téa Obreht
>> Beasts beyond the frontier
>> Over the frontier in search of monsters
Notes from No Man's Land by Eula Biss        $38
Notes from No Man's Land begins with a series of lynchings, ends with a list of apologies, and in an unsettling coda revisits a litany of murders that no one seems capable of solving. Biss explores race in America through the experiences chronicled in these essays: teaching in a Harlem school on the morning of 9/11, reporting from an African American newspaper in San Diego, watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from a college town in Iowa, and rereading Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. She reveals how families, schools, communities, and civic institutions participate in preserving white privilege. 
"I can't think of an American writer at work today who matches Eula Biss's combination of lyrical precision, exhaustive research, timely provocation, and fiercely examined conscience." - Maggie Nelson
The Music: A novel through sound by Matthew Herbert        $40
Instead of making another record of his music assembled from sounds, Matthew Herbert has written a description of that record, assembling descriptions of sounds into chapters rather than tracks, creating a book that is both a manifesto for sound, or, rather, for listening, and an unusual novel.
>> Anything can be music
>> Matthew Herbert's website


American Innovations by Rivka Galchen         $23
Stories told from the perspective of a woman attuned to and under attack by the small ironies and psychological perversities of everyday life. What happens when a woman's furniture walks out on her, when another woman starts to grow a third breast, when the cheese won't stay put? 
"Rivka Galchen is one of the best things going. She writes for the joy of it and so artfully, and conforms to no-one else's standards." - Rachel Kushner
"The pinball wizard of American letters, with a narrative voice that can ricochet from wonder to terror to hilarity. The delicacy and brilliance of what Galchen is doing doesn't yet have a name." - Karen Russell
Fast by Jorie Graham       $30
An eagerly anticipated new collection from this innovative and exhilarating poet. 
"In Fast the feel-good myth of American democracy explodes. Graham has studied grief and tracked its symptoms to their sources. A body can indeed tell the story of the world." - The New York Times



When I Hit You, Or, A portrait of the writer as a young wife by Meena Kandasamy         $22
Caught in the hook of love, a young woman marries a dashing university professor. She moves to a rain-washed coastal town to be with him, but behind closed doors she discovers that her perfect husband is a perfect monster. As he sets about battering her into obedience and as her family pressures her to stay in the marriage, she swears to fight back - a resistance that will either kill her or set her free. Short-listed for the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction. Now in paperback. 
"Explosive." - Guardian 

"Urgent." - Financial Times
Dictionary Stories: Short fictions and other findings by Jez Burrows      $33
When Burrows opened his dictionary and read, under the entry for 'study', the exemplary sentence, "He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery," he realised he had stumbled upon a treasure trove of fiction. Could these sentences be assembled into more extended (but still quite short) fictional works? This book bears the wonderful results of his experiments. 
"Dictionary Stories isn't just a book for word nerds, but for anyone for whom language and story matter. Everybody will find themselves thoroughly in love with this book." - Kory Stamper, editor for Merriam-Webster
"Dictionary Stories is a giddy celebration of the wild, elastic potential of language." - McSweeny's 
>> Visit the Dictionary Stories blog

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld          $35
Curtis Sittenfeld has established a reputation as a sharp chronicler of the modern age who humanizes her subjects even as she skewers them. These ten stories upend assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided.
“Every bit as smart, sensitive, funny, and genuine as her phenomenally popular novels.” - Booklist



Brazen: Rebel ladies who rocked the world by Pénélope Bagieu      $40
Fascinating graphic biographies of thirty remarkable women, most of whom have been largely 'forgotten' by history. Includes Tove Jansson, Josephine Baker, Temple Grandin, Wu Zetian and Peggy Guggenheim. 
"A modern classic." - Guardian
>> See some spreads.
Skybound: A journey into flight by Rebecca Loncraine       $35
When Loncraine was diagnosed with breast cancer she determined to take to the air and took up gliding. This book is a memoir of unpowered flights around the world (including New Zealand), a history of gliding and a piece of thoughtful nature writing from an unusual perspective. 
>> FYA (For Your Amusement): Sport gliding in the 1920s.
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli         $35
If there is no such thing as the past or the future, why do we have this concept of time? How can a useful construct also hamper our understanding of the nature of the universe? If we rethink our notions of time, are we able to build some sort of model of reality that takes cognisance of but overcomes the shortcomings of general relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory? Beautifully written and deeply thoughtful. 
>> Is spacetime granular? 



The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal         $37
The dolls that Mona makes each have a special significance for different periods of her life. This novel is a story told through the relationship between memory and objects. 
Long-listed for the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction



Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, translated by Michael Hofmann    $38
Franz Biberkopf returns to Alexanderplatz, fresh from prison. When his friend murders the prostitute on whom Biberkopf has been relying, he realises that he will be unable to extricate himself from the underworld into which he has sunk. He must deal with misery, lack of opportunities, crime and proto-Nazism. A new translation of this 1929 modernist classic.
>> Scandalous velocity
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer         $37
How is the feminist torch passed between generations? Who fumbles in the exchange? 
“Uncannily timely, a prescient marriage of subject and moment that addresses a great question of the day: how feminism passes down, or not, from one generation to the next.” — The New York Times
“Meg Wolitzer is the novelist we need right now. The Female Persuasion is the sort of book that comes along in too few authors’ careers—one that makes the writer’s intellectual project snap into sharp focus, and with it, the case that their artistry is not merely enjoyable but truly important.” —The Washington Post
“Equal parts cotton candy and red meat.” – People 
Flames by Robbie Arnott       $37
After their mother's death Levi McAlliester builds a coffin for his sister, who promptly runs for her life. As they cross inhospitable country they also traverse the grief, love and history that both bond and divide them. 
"A strange and joyous marvel." - Richard Flanagan
Finding by David Hill     $20
The fortunes of an immigrant family and a tangata whenua family are intertwined in this story of seven generations and 130 years of fast-flowing change. 


Unexceptional Politics: On obstruction, impasses and the impolitic by Emily Apter        $35
Can a new mode of political thought and action be constructed that evades the net of scams, imbroglios, information trafficking, brinkmanship, and parliamentary procedures that obstruct and block progressive politics. The book proposes a new mode of dialectical resistance, countering notions of the "state of exception" embedded in theories of the "Political" from Thomas Hobbes to Carl Schmitt. 
"Unexceptional Politics is a book that teaches walking the walk by exposing the talk talked. Very few academic books of this intellectual quality can serve as a guide for activism in the interest of social justice. A text for careful reading." - Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
All That Remains: A life in death by Sue Black       $38
From the grieving process after losing a loved one, to violence, murder, criminal dismemberment, missing persons, war, natural disasters, unidentified bodies, historical remains, and working with investigative agencies, lawyers, justice, criminal sentences, and always sadness and pain, Black takes us on a scientific and reflective journey explaining the genetic DNA traits that develop before our birth, and those traits and features we gather through life, all of which add up to an identity that reveals itself in death.
"No scientist communicates better than Professor Sue Black. All That Remains is a unique blend of memoir and monograph that admits us into the remarkable world of forensic anthropology." - Val McDermid
Spineless: The science of jellyfish and the art of growing a backbone by Juli Gerwald         $38
We know so little about these most ancient of sea creatures, 95% water, highly venomous and barely distinguishable from their habitat. 
>> "I thought you had a spinal column."
A Tribute to Flowers: Plants under pressure photographed by Richard Fischer        $90
Fifty percent of the world's flower species are threatened with extinction. To highlight this, flower ambassador Fischer has photographed dozens of threatened flowers. Each glows on the page in this astounding book. 
>> Some of the photographs can be seen here, but the book is ten times more stunning



To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine         $33
At the launch party for her memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys in 2014, musician Viv Albertine received news that her mother was dying, and spent a few final hours with the woman who was, in a sense, the love of her life. In the turbulent weeks after the funeral, Viv made a series of discoveries that revealed the role of family conflicts in propelling her towards the uncompromising world of punk. 
>> The Slits in London, 1979
>> Peel sessions
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust       $20
A retelling of 'Snow White' from the point of view of both the stepmother, a young woman with a glass heart who wants to know love, and the stepdaughter, a young woman made of snow who seeks solidity. 
"In Girls Made of Snow and Glass, Melissa Bashardoust has given us exquisite displays of magic, complex mother-daughter relationships, and gloriously powerful women triumphing in a world that does not want them to be powerful. A gorgeous, feminist fairy tale." - Traci Chee




The Feather Thief: Beauty, obsession and the natural history heist of the century by Kirk Wallace Johnson        $38
One summer evening in 2009, twenty-year-old musical prodigy Edwin Rist broke into the British Museum of Natural History. Hours later, he slipped away with a suitcase full of rare bird specimens collected over the centuries from across the world, all featuring a dazzling array of priceless feathers. When Kirk Wallace Johnson discovered that the thief evaded prison, and that half the birds were never recovered, he embarked upon an investigation which led him deep into the  secretive underground community obsessed with the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Bizarre. 
A Sister in My House by Linda Olsson        $35
Two sisters end up sharing a rented house in Spain and having to come to terms with their personal tragedies. From the author of The Kindness of Your Nature
Whisper by Lynette Noni       $23
“'Lengard is a secret government facility for extraordinary people,' they told me. 'It's for people just like you.' I believed them. That was my mistake. There isn't anyone else in the world like me. I'm different.I'm an anomaly. I'm a monster." For two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes, 'Jane Doe' has been locked away and experimented on, without uttering a single word. Life at Lengard follows a strict, torturous routine that has never changed. When Jane is assigned a new-and unexpectedly kind-evaluator, her resolve begins to crack, despite her best efforts. One wrong word could change the world. A gripping YA novel. 


Hyper-Capitalism: The modern economy, its values, and how to change them by Larry Gonick and Tom Kasser      $40
A graphic novel showing how global, privatising, market-worshipping hyper-capitalism is threatening human well-being, social justice, and the planet, and exploring different ways in which this model has been or can be assailed. 
The List: A week-by-week reckoning of Trump's first year by Amy Siskind          $38
Siskind has undertaken to document the grain-by-grain destruction of democracy in the US, publishing it in her blog The Weekly List, and now in this book. Beware: this is how democracy ends.  
War on Peace: The end of diplomacy and the decline of American influence by Ronan Farrow      $32
Is the military taking over from the diplomats? 



A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith     $30
Two children enter an abandoned house and find plenty to capture their imagination. Did a family once live here? 
Weird Maths: At the edge of infinity and beyond by David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee          $27
Is anything truly random? Does infinity actually exist? Could we ever see into other dimensions?
 Miss Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofija Stefanovic        $40

Stefanovic was born into a country about to tear itself apart. Her family moved back and forth between Yugoslavia and Australia several times, unable to feel fully at home in either place, and Sofija came to embody cultural contradictions that made her feel a perpetual outsider. 
The Siege and Fall of Troy by Robert Graves        $30
A beautifully presented and well-told version for younger readers. 
Forever Words: The unknown poems by Johnny Cash      $23
A collection of lyrics that didn't become songs. Includes facsimiles of the scraps of paper upon which they were found. 
>> 'God's Gonna Cut You Down'.
Hamster #2
Hamster is a journal of literature, art, 'literature', 'art', literary polemic, art polemic, other polemic, and also other things (including limited edition and unique art works and work made with adhesive lettering), published by The Physics Room. Hamster is free. Issues #1 and #2 are available digitally at www.physicsroom.org.nz.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018


THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION
2018 short list
(The winner will be announced on 6 June)

The Idiot by Elif Batuman         $37
"I'm not Turkish, I don't have a Serbian best friend, I'm not in love with a Hungarian, I don't go to Harvard. Or do I? For one wonderful week, I got to be this worldly and brilliant, this young and clumsy and in love. The Idiot is a hilariously mundane immersion into a world that has never before received the 19th Century Novel treatment. An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down." - Miranda July
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar         $37
“What trapped creature does not strike out?” One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer their lives on a dangerous new course. What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
"Historical fiction at its finest." - Irish Times
"A brilliantly plotted story of mermaids, madams and intrigue in 1780s London and I wouldn't be surprised to see it become the Essex Serpent of 2018." - The Pool
Sight by Jessie Greengrass         $38
An accomplished, thoughtful and somewhat melancholy novel, tracking the thoughts of an expectant mother whose own mother has just died, whose ruminations on the mind, the body, living and dying encompass swathes of science and philosophy (as well as her own life). 
"The writing is poised – but as if on the edge of a precipice. Hovering between the novel and the essay, unfolding through long, languorous sentences, Sight builds meaning through juxtaposition, through surprising mirrorings and parallels. - Guardian
When I Hit You, Or, A portrait of the writer as a young wife by Meena Kandasamy         $22
Caught in the hook of love, a young woman marries a dashing university professor. She moves to a rain-washed coastal town to be with him, but behind closed doors she discovers that her perfect husband is a perfect monster. As he sets about battering her into obedience and as her family pressures her to stay in the marriage, she swears to fight back - a resistance that will either kill her or set her free.
"Explosive." - Guardian 
"Urgent." - Financial Times
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie         $27
Family, society, love and religion clash in this modern reworking of the themes of Antigone. Long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. 
"Home Fire left me awestruck, shaken, on the edge of my chair, filled with admiration for her courage and ambition. Recommended reading for prime ministers and presidents everywhere." - Peter Carey 
"Shamsie's simple, lucid prose plays in perfect harmony with the heartbeat of modern times. Home Fire deftly reveals all the ways in which the political is as personal as the personal is political. No novel could be as timely." - Aminatta Forna

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward         $27
As 13-year-old Jojo approaches adulthood, how can he find his way in the U.S. South when all seems set for him and his family to fall foul of rural poverty, drug addiction, the penal system, the justice system, racism and illness? From the author of Salvage the Bones. 
"This wrenching new novel by Jesmyn Ward digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American nightmare. A must." - Margaret Atwood 
"A powerfully alive novel haunted by ghosts; a road trip where people can go but they can never leave; a visceral and intimate drama that plays out like a grand epic, Sing, Unburied, Sing is staggering." - Marlon James
>> Read Stella's review.


>> Visit the Women's Prize for Fiction website for news, interviews, &c


Saturday, 21 April 2018




BOOKS @ VOLUME #71 (21.4.18)

Click through for a dose of VOLUME.










































 

In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Novelist Rebecca Stott was born into an Exclusive Brethren household. In this memoir she reveals the impact of her early life on herself and her family; in particular this is also Roger her father's story. Stott family had been Brethren for four generations, her father was a preacher and her forebears church leaders. Roger, on his deathbed, asks Rebecca to tell his story. He has a pressing need to put his past to rest and has been unable to write it himself. He keeps getting stuck on the ‘bad times’: the years of persecutions and reprisals, torment of which he sees himself guilty of. The Brethren in England had broken away from the church and community, which they saw as corrupt and controlled by Satan. Initially they were worshipers, conservative and devout. Women did work outside the home, mostly in Brethren businesses, and children did go to public schools. Yet the sect was always patriarchal, the place of women was subservient - never to speak at Meetings, not to have an opinion, and to heed their male leader of the home - and children obeyed strict rules. As society pushed against conservatism as a whole, the sect become stricter. In the 1960s the biggest change occurred when an upheaval in leadership placed Jim Taylor Junior at the head of the church. Draconian and fanatical, he took this sect of the Exclusive Brethren to a whole new level, writing new texts for the members and putting in place more prayer meetings, higher expectations of worship, and cruel punishments (predominately isolation and exhausting visits from spiritual leaders) for those that were deemed to be unworthy or not adhering to minor strictures. Small things like not eating with non-Brethren had huge impact on children at schools and split families between Brethren and non-Brethren. Disallowing members to belong to professional associations lead to many losing their jobs and forsaking their careers. Brethren business and employment within the Brethren community was the only option, further isolating members, and higher education was banned. Jim Taylor’s hold was paramount and Stott’s father, Roger, despite his education and sometimes unorthodox behaviour, fell under its spell. In 1970, the 'Aberdeen Affair' would change everything for the Stott family. A sex scandal rocked the church and Roger, his father and many other family members left the group. 8000 members walked out across the Exclusive Brethren world, most joining other sects or forming breakaway groups. The Stotts did this for a few years before leaving the Exclusive Brethren completely. For Rebecca at twelve her world was turned on its ear. Going to school and watching her fellow classmates blithely enjoying their lives was a mystery to her - a child brought up to believe in the rottenness of the world, that Satan was truly alive and well in the wickedness around her, and to hold an overwhelming belief that the Rapture was just around the corner - what would happen now that she wasn't one of the chosen? Stott writes with immense clarity, striking emotion, and empathy for her father (who became a womaniser, a gambler and was eventually jailed for embezzlement), and with honesty about her childhood years, revealing the unnecessary tragedies (like that of her great-grandmother, hospitalised in a psychiatric unit for forty years for having fits and being too ‘willful’) and misconceptions of a cult, the leaders who carry responsibilities and crimes upon their shoulders, and the ordinary families adrift within and outside the cult. While all her immediate family left the church, the impact of their involvement is telling, and particularly so in her father Roger. Winning of the 2017 Costa Biography Award, this is a remarkable memoir - gripping and eloquent. 
  






























 

Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard  ({Reviewed by THOMAS}
One voice entirely dominates this novel, not the voice of the narrator Atzbacher, but that of Reger, an aging music critic who has been coming every second day for thirty years to sit in front of Tintoretto’s Portrait of a White-Bearded Man in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. In the first half of the single paragraph that floods this book with intricately structured reports of Reger’s unrestrainedly misanthropic invective, Atzbacher arrives early to meet Reger and observes him from another gallery, recalling things Reger has said to him on previous occasions. In the second half, what Reger says to Atzbacher that day is interwoven with what Reger has said during a previous meeting at a hotel, eventually revealing details of the death of Reger’s wife, which underlies much of the near-hysterical nihilism that Reger pours out of himself and through everyone else. During the passages dealing with the death of Reger’s wife the temporal structure of the narrative is more fragmented, reflecting Reger’s distress. Atzbacher, the museum attendant Irrsigler, and, we learn, Reger’s unnamed wife all function as nothing more than mouthpieces for Reger’s rather Bernhardian opinions, Reger who claims that the relationship in which the parties know as little as possible of each other is the ideal relationship, the relationship which does not contradict his projection. Reger’s opinions, though often sharply barbed and frequently desperately funny, are not supported by argument and are repetitively over-inflated and generalised, undermining, and indeed contradicting, their authenticity as opinions but strengthening the dominating voice of the incurably isolated Reger. As with all Bernhard’s novels, the primary content of Old Masters is its form. Reger’s inability to find worth in his world is desperately ambivalent: “I am resisting this total despair about everything, Reger said. I am now eighty-two and I am resisting this total despair about everything tooth and nail”. The art of doing this is the art of existing against the facts: “Art is the most sublime and the most revolting thing simultaneously, he said. But we must make ourselves believe that there is high art and the highest art, he said, otherwise we would despair. Even though we know that all art ends in gaucherie and ludicrousness and in the refuse of history, like everything else, we must, with downright self-assurance, believe in high and in the highest art, he said. We realise what it is, a bungled, failed art, but we need not always hold this realisation before us, because in that case we should inevitably perish, he said.” The novel ends with Reger taking Atzbacher to a performance of Kleist’s Broken Pitcher at the Burgtheater (“the most hideous theatre in the world”), and in the very last line Atzbacher gets to express an opinion of his own: “The performance was terrible”.