Saturday 26 September 2020

BOOKS@VOLUME #197 (25.8.20)

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>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Mieko Kawakami’s novel Breasts and Eggs is a book of two parts. The first, originally written in 2008 as a novella, describes the encounter between two sisters during a hot weekend in Tokyo. Makiko, the older sister, is visiting from Osaka with her 12-year-old daughter Midoriko. Makiko, an ageing hostess, has come to the city to get a boob job, something that neither her sister nor daughter can quite see the point of. Midoriko, on the cusp of womanhood, finds her body abject and keeps a journal outlining her thoughts and reactions to her changing body and those around her. She’s also so angry with her mother that she’s not speaking to her, nor to anyone else. Her interactions are physical shrugs, hand gestures and written notes which declare her wishes and objections in clear terms. Makiko is obsessed with taking control of her body and her situation — life is a struggle with no clear way of stepping out of poverty. Natsuko is a young woman working and living as cheaply as possible as she tries to establish herself as a writer. She’s not making much headway, but she has escaped the binds that would make it impossible for her to even contemplate such a dream if she had remained in Osaka. With the advantage of being first written as a novella, this part of Breasts and Eggs is sharp and fast-paced, with insight into the sisters’ family life, their lives as single women, and both hilarious and edgy conversations and observations. Midoriko’s witty, sometimes angry, contemplative journal entries create a contrast to the sisters’ dialogue as they attempt to understand each other and their relative circumstances. Each is dealing with their bodily discomforts, as well as their gender roles in a society that has certain expectations. In the second part of the novel, we meet Natsuko ten years later. She’s now a successful author, struggling in the depths of her current second novel. She is single and finds the idea of sex abhorrent and has no desire to be in a relationship, yet she desires a child or the idea of her child: she does not want to have a child, but to meet her child, and her days and nights are filled with this preoccupation. Here, we delve further into the psyche of Natsuko and her investigation of a woman’s access to fertility treatments, including artificial insemination, an investigation that leads her to meet two adult children of assisted conception, who crave knowledge of their sperm donors, interactions that allow Natsuko a window on an unknown future. While Kawakami pulls us in close to Natsuko’s research, conversations and dreams, as well as her bodily preoccupations, she is also drawing our attention to the socio-political currents that determine who has control over women's reproductive rights, and cultural norms which undermine choice in the Japanese society that Natsuko and her contemporaries live in. Breasts and Eggs is a novel about freedom and a feminist exploration of Japanese society, as much as it is about conception, preoccupation with bodily functions, and the body as a vehicle for reproduction. A bestseller and divider in Japan, both lauded and condemned by her fellow male Japanese authors, it is subtle, quirkily witty, and strangely dark at times. Kawakami deftly layers the deeper concerns of class, autonomy and gender within the character of Natsuko, who is a strangely innocent, yet perceptive, protagonist.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Pitch Dark by Renata Adler    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He wanted the review to be a non-review. He wanted his reading of the work to be part of the work, but he wasn’t sure how this could be so. Maybe, though, his reading of the work is always the whole of the work, whatever the work, at least for him, how could it not be so, he thought. If he wrote about the work, is that, too, a part of the work, or is it another work, he wondered. He wanted everything to be about the work, in other words part of the work, but he had no idea, or only very little idea, about the limits of the work, so he didn’t know how to tell if this was so. He didn’t know how to proceed. Circumstances, he thought, are, as far as thinking about those circumstances goes at least, a set of information, he hoped this term was generous enough and without unwanted implication, circumstances are a set of information, but, in order to think about this information, or to make it available to thought, or, possibly, as a consequence of this process of thought, and, he thought, thought processes information, the information undergoes processing by thought just as animals undergo processing at the Alliance meat processing plant on the way the Richmond, a journey he seldom makes, but, anyway, in order to think about a set of information it is necessary to array it on a grammatical rack, for, he thought, it is grammar that determines how we think and not the content of the thoughts, and it is for this reason that he is more interested in novels for their punctuation that for their subjects, what novels are ‘about’ are seldom really what novels are about, or only superficially so at best. Pitch Dark by Renata Adler describes itself, or is described by her in it, or, rather, is described by the text’s putative author Kate Ennis in the text she has putatively written, the text which comprises the novel, as “a series of errors, first of love, then of officiousness, finally of language,” the language of the novel seemingly a means of access to a set of information that lies behind it, or before it, depending upon whether you are thinking spatially or temporally, spatially being presumably a metaphor in this case, though it is interesting that we tend to think that we are facing the future while referring to the past as what happened before, when what is before us is what we face, suggesting that really we are moving backwards into the future, facing the past, as in most novels, writer and reader both advancing with their backs towards the end of the book, sharing experiences in the past tense, always looking backwards though their backs are to the fore. The novel, this novel, Pitch Dark by Renata Adler, is, among other things, about how to write a novel about the set of information that comprises it. The book is about the telling of the story, not about the story as such. “Is it always the same story, then? Somebody loves and somebody doesn’t, or loves less, or loves somebody else.” The novel concerns, if that is the right word, the attempts of its protagonist, if that is the right word, to leave her lover of some years, or, possibly, also concerns her fear that her lover of some years will leave her, though, considering the fact that her lover has a marriage, home and life of his own, none of which depend upon her, the word ‘leave’ may be the wrong word. “But you are, you know, you were, the nearest thing to a real story to happen in my life,” she says. She has little else. The text is unravelled, threads leave off, snap, loop back, extraneous strands are caught in and peter out, really this is too much a metaphor and he is against metaphors, there is an extended section in which the protagonist, who has fled to Ireland flees Ireland, seemingly the only actions she takes or is capable of taking in the entire book, finding Ireland populated by characters who could well be minor characters from a Flann O’Brien novel caught off-guard between their appearances in that novel, caught unprepared at times when they have no role, resentful and perplexed at being so found, and by obnoxious ex-pats from America. She is more comfortable with her dissatisfaction, hopelessness and ennui than she is in taking action when such action is little more than exchanging a familiar dissatisfaction, hopelessness and ennui for one without the comfort of familiarity. Her identity is no more than the sum of her situation, the set of information that she attempts to make her way out of, or into, with her punctuation. Voices break off, or break in. “Wait a minute. Whose voice is this? Not mine. Not mine. Not mine.” Sometimes she is ‘she’ and sometimes ‘I’, she is uncertain of the degree of intimacy she has with us, or with her lover, her text is full of tentative commas, ambivalence, and a lack of direction or obvious goal, if, that is, something can be full of a lack. What could be more life-like, or like life, than that? The novel wonders how a novel treats the same set of information differently from any other way in which that set of information could be treated. Is the evidence, and are the proceedings, so to call them, of a novel anything like the proceedings of a court of law? What is the value of whose evidence in these proceedings, the proceedings either of a novel or the court? “The only ones permitted to bring the story to the court’s attention, the only storytellers, are the ones to whom the story happened, whom the facts befell. … The story is a dispositive for all stories that cannot be proven to be unlike it,” she writes, but all she has is a set of information that is an incomplete set, uncertain evidence, no context or statute, no precedent, no culpability that can be felt without sharing. “I look at you for signs of leaving me and find to my despair that one of us has already left. Maybe it’s me.” The ‘you’ addressed throughout, we realise, is the lover who she does not want to leave, in both senses in which that phrase can be read, the lover she wants at last to leave, or fears that she has lost, the lover whose attention she also wants to keep upon her. This ‘you’, though, also is the reader, who, like the lover, has a complete and separate life to which she is not essential, to which she is an aspirant rival. The lover and the reader spend some time, perhaps each evening, with her, intimately, she tries to hold them both with the text, but ultimately, she knows, both the door and the book will close as such things always close. “I understand that there must be others who are and always have been alone. In this way. They were never, how can I put this, going to be part of life. It is as though, going through a landscape, through the seasons, in the same general direction as everybody else, they never quite make it to the road. Whose voice is this? Not here. Not mine.”

Friday 25 September 2020


Book of the Week. Gavin Bishop's beautiful new te reo board book, Mihi, introduces concepts of family and belonging in the form of a mihi or pepeha. The pictures are simple and sensitive, and make for an excellent first book. Older children and adults will learn to introduce themselves with their own mihi using this book as a guide. 
>>Gavin Bishop uses the book with his own mihi
>>Adding your own story
>>How Gavin Bishop discovered his own whakapapa
>>Welcome to the world of Gavin Bishop!
>>"How important is your Māori heritage?"
>>Bishop talks with Selina Tusitala Marsh
>>Meet Bishop in his studio. 
>>Create your own pepeha (you will probably need to enter your maunga and your awa manually).
>>Some other books by Gavin Bishop.
>>Your Mihi



The Appointment by Katharina Wolckmer         $30
In a well-appointed examination in London, a young woman unburdens herself to a certain Dr Seligman. Though she can barely see above his head, she holds forth about her life and desires, and her struggles with her sexuality and identity. Born and raised in Germany, she has been living in London for several years, determined to break free from her family origins and her haunted homeland. In a monologue that is both razor-sharp and subversively funny, she takes us on a wide-ranging journey from outré sexual fantasies and overbearing mothers to the medicinal properties of squirrel tails and the enduring legacy of shame. With The Appointment, Volckmer challenges our notions of what is fluid and what is fixed and injects a dose of Bernhardian snark into contemporary British fiction.
"Surprising, inventive, disturbing and beautiful – The Appointment is an overdue, radical intervention." — Chris Kraus
"A book destined to enter the list of great monologues of literary history. If Dostoevsky’s underground man had read both Thomas Bernhard and Maggie Nelson, he might have conjured something as brave as this." — Carlos Fonseca
"The Appointment is an epic truth bomb, a radical, hilarious roller-coaster, raw and wild as they come. The way this novel delights in itself, taking pleasure in its singularity and perversity, is the perfect antidote to boredom and bullshit. To read stories that are unapologetic is to be granted the courage to be more honest ourselves, which is one way literature actually can save the world." — Elisa Albert
A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti (translated by Fionn Petch)      $36

In his final version of the Variations, Glenn Gould introduces a subtle, almost imperceptible change, breaking with the nocturnal circularity. As if he didn’t want the Count to sleep after all, condemning Goldberg to inhabit that wakeful night forever. The change occurs in the last beat of the final aria: an ornament that concludes the recording. Gould’s great contribution lies not in what he modifies, but in the very gesture of modification.
Tracing a circular course that echoes Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Luis Sagasti takes on the role of Scheherazade to recount us story after story, interwoven in subtle and surprising ways to create unexpected harmonies. He leads us on a journey from the music born of the sun to the music sent into space on the Voyager mission, from Rothko to rock music, from the composers of the concentration camps to a weeping room for Argentinian conscripts in the Falklands. A Musical Offering traverses the same shifting sands of fiction and history as the tales of Jorge Luis Borges, while also recalling the ‘constellation’ structure of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights
>>Internal harmonics

Broken Consort: Essays, reviews, and other writings by Will Eaves        $36
"We are taught by what we find … And what we find, we have to give away."
Broken Consort is a chronicle of close attention (to books, films, plays, paintings, music, notebooks and car-boot sales) which will confound anyone who thinks rigour and generosity are contradictory. It includes an account of the evolution of the author’s prize-winning novel Murmur, an essay on Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, and practical reflections on the business of writing.
"Curiosity may fuel every writers heart, but very often it’s coffee that powers the writer’s mind. When all the coffee runs out, we will be even more grateful for Will Eaves and his essays – each one a shot of artistic adrenalin and a euphoric psychostimulant." –Nancy Campbell
>>Read Thomas's review of Murmur

Red Pill by Hari Kunzru            $38
A writer on a residency in Berlin falls into a web of frightening associations through the internet. Red Pill is a novel about the alt-right, online culture, creativity, sanity and history. It tells the story of the 21st century through the prism of the centuries that preceded it, showing how the darkest chapters of our past haunt our present. More than anything, though, this is a novel about love and how it can endure in a world where everything else seems to have lost all meaning.    
Veilchenfeld by Gert Hofmann (translated by Eric Mace-Tessler)           $36
This remarkable novel, narrated by a young boy, begins and ends with the news of the death of Bernhard Israel Veichenfeld. Upon his dismissal from the university in Leipzig, Veilchenfeld, an elderly professor of philosophy, moves to live in a small town in Saxony at the beginning of 1936. After his existence as a Jew in this community becomes unbearable, he puts an end to his life in September 1938. Within this time frame the narrative reveals how Veilchenfeld is gradually deprived of all of his civil and human rights and subjected to various forms of physical and mental abuse. Numerous members of the small town community—his neighbors, his housekeeper, Nazi youth, low-level bureaucrats in the police and other city offices—become culprits in the persecution and humiliation of the old man.
"One of the best holocaust novels in German literature." –Milena Ganeva, Reference Guide to Holocaust Literature
Our Riches by Kaouther Adimi        $36
A wonderful novel for book lovers, based on the life of Edmond Charlot, the publisher best known for discovering Albert Camus and for opening the famed bookstore Les Vraies Richesses in Algiers, in 1936. Episodes from Charlot's life are intercut with the story of a young man who comes to clear and repaint the empty shop in 2017.
"An understated, lyrical story of reading and resistance over the tumultuous generations. A lovely book about books—and freedom." —Kirkus
"The truly potent effect of the book is that by taking on literary history from the underbelly of the French nation — from the colony just across the sea — Adimi confronts us with episodes that are simply never spoken of in France: the grand celebration of the end of World War II, in May 1945, which, in Algeria, turned into a massacre by the colonial administration; another massacre, this time in Paris, in 1961, of Algerian protesters, who were thrown into the Seine by French police officers. It is in unhappy nations, we are meant to understand, that history is a relentless companion." —Elisabeth Zerofsky - The New York Times
"If you're in a bookshop browsing, then Our Riches is for you, by definition. A beautiful little novel about books, history, ambition and the importance of literature to everyone, especially people who are trying to find a voice." —Nick Hornby
Bill & Shirley, A memoir by Keith Ovenden         $35
Bill Sutch and Shirley Smith were two of New Zealand's most significant twentieth-century figures: Sutch as an economist, influential civil servant, and inspirational proponent of innovation in the fields of social and economic development, and Smith as glass-ceiling breaker in the formerly male-dominated world of the law. Keith Ovenden's memoir begins with the early years of his marriage to Sutch and Smith's only child, Helen Sutch, and carries through Sutch's trial on charges under the Official Secrets Act to Smith's death over 30 years later. It offers unprecedented insights into both the accusations against Sutch and Smith's remarkable legal practice and, behind both, some of the dramas of their domestic life.
>>Helen Gaitanos's Shirley Smith: An examined life was short-listed for the 2020 Ockham Book Awards. 
Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald           $38
Animals don't exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves. From the acclaimed author of H is for Hawk comes Vesper Flights, a collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world. Macdonald brings together a collection of her best-loved pieces, along with new essays on topics and stories ranging from nostalgia and science fiction to the true account of a refugee's flight to the UK, and from accounts of swan upping on the Thames to watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary to seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk's poplar forests. She writes about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds' nests, what we do when we watch wildlife and why.
Men Who Hate Women by Laura Bates        $35
Imagine a world in which a vast network of misogynists is able to operate, virtually undetected. Imagine a world in which these extremists commit terrorist acts, united by their deep hatred of women. Imagine a world in which they groom and radicalise vulnerable teenage boys, shielded by veils of irony and 'banter'. Imagine a world in which their community swells to become an international movement, tens of thousands strong. You don't have to imagine that world... you already live in it. Laura Bates lifts the lid on the communities of men who hate women, going undercover, both on- and offline, to explore the ideology and impact they have worldwide. Chilling. 

The Girl Who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Kate Milner      $33
A YA novel told in poems and based on the Myth of Daphne and Apollo. Daphne is unbearably sad and adrift. She feels the painful loss of her father acutely and seeks solace both in the security of her local library and the escape her phone screen provides by blocking out the world around her. As Daphne tries to make sense of what has happened she recalls memories of shared times and stories past, and in facing the darkness she finds a way back from the tangle of fear and confusion, to feel connected once more with her friends and family.
Imperial Mud: The fight for the fens by James Boyce         $28
Between the English Civil Wars and the mid-Victorian period, the proud indigenous population of the Fens of eastern England fought to preserve their homeland against an expanding empire. After centuries of resistance, their culture and community were destroyed, along with their wetland home — England's last lowland wilderness. But this was no simple triumph of technology over nature — it was the consequence of a newly centralised and militarised state, which enriched the few while impoverishing the many. Boyce brings to life not only colonial masters such as Oliver Cromwell and the Dukes of Bedford, but also the defiant 'Fennish' themselves and their dangerous and often bloody resistance to the enclosing landowners. We learn of the eels so plentiful they became a kind of medieval currency; the games of 'Fen football' that were often a cover for sabotage of the drainage works; and the destruction of a bountiful ecosystem that had sustained the Fennish for thousands of years and which meant that they did not have to submit in order to survive.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist by Adrian Tomine        $40
Through a series of exquisitely observed autobiographical sketches in the form of a journal, Adrian Tomine explores his life in comics — from an early moment on the playground being bullied, to a more recent experience, lying on a gurney in the hospital, and having the nurse say 'Hey! You're that cartoonist!' As he mines his conflicted relationship with comics and comics culture, and people at large, he once again animates the absurdities of modern life and how we choose to live it.

Unmooring by Bridget Auchmuty        $25
"The work of a poet who knows how important people and places are. I kept thinking, too, about life’s voyagings. I found the whole very affecting — touching, tender, rueful at times. And all the more impressive for being unsentimental." —Brian Turner
After living more than 30 years in the Nelson region, Auchmuty recently moved to the Ida Valley following her partner's death. 
Kalimpong Kids: The New Zealand story, in pictures by Jane McCabe        $35
In the early 20th century, 130 young Anglo-Indians were sent to New Zealand in an organised immigration scheme from Kalimpong, in the Darjeeling district of India. They were the mixed-race children of British tea planters and local women, and were placed as workers with New Zealand families from the Far North to Southland. Their settlement in New Zealand was the initiative of a Scottish Presbyterian missionary, the Rev Dr John Anderson Graham, who aimed to 'rescue' and provide a home and an education for children whose opportunities would have been limited in the country of their birth. Jane McCabe is the granddaughter of Lorna Peters, who arrived with a group from Kalimpong in 1921. Jane is one of many hundreds of descendants now spread throughout New Zealand. Most grew up with little or no knowledge of their parent's Indian heritage. The story of interracial relationships, institutionalisation — and the sense of abandonment that often resulted — was rarely spoken of. But since the 1980s increasing numbers have been researching their hidden histories.
Granta 151: Membranes edited by Rana Dasgupta          $28
Poetry from Andrew McMillan and Tishani Doshi; photography from Ruchir Joshi, Arturo Soto Gutierrez, Monica de la Torre and Anita Khemka: fiction and essays: Fatin Abbas on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, Lydia Davis on faultlines in families, Mark Doty on homelessness in New York City, Anouchka Grose on infidelity and the idea of the unwanted third, Kapka Kassabova on lakes and Europe, Anita Roy on the newt, Eyal Weizman on contemporary architectural strategies for repelling and dividing people. 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi           $37
The new novel ffrom the author of Homegoing. Gifty is the younger child in a family of four who have emigrated from Ghana to the American South. While her brother is a sports hero, her father longs to return home and her mother is desperate to hold this family of four together. When Gifty's brother's glorious success on the basketball court falters, addiction strikes and her mother turns to religion., whereas Gifty turns to science. Can family love survive when the family itself feels like it is on the edge of disappearing?
You and Me and Everybody Else by Marcos Farina         $40
Everybody feels the same, sometimes. Our wishes, dreams, thoughts, and feelings are personal to us but all experienced by others. Guided by a friendly page-hopping cat, this picture book tackles the topics of emotions and experiences in a sympathetic manner, encouraging empathy with others. 

Friday 18 September 2020


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Utopia Avenue is the band you've never heard of but could have been plausibly real. Enter David Mitchell’s latest novel, a book about a band in late 60s London, thrown together by happenstance, shaped by music promoters and ‘making it’ on a heady whirlwind journey from obscurity to fame. Under any other pen, this could have been predictable rags-to-riches-in-the-music-industry rant, but Mitchell, as readers of his work will know, is adept at getting inside the time and the emotional lives of his characters. The setting is pitched perfectly, with the band members coming from different social and class aspects of 1960s Britain and embracing the social and political changes of their time. Elf Holloway is a folk singer who already has a bit of a following — a nice girl from a middle-class background. Dean Moss is a blues bassist, East End working class, and from the world of hard knocks. Jasper de Zoet, guitar virtuoso, is of aristocratic stock (if you are a reader of Mitchell’s work you will recognise the name — the lead player in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is Jasper’s ancestor); and Griff Griffin, jazz drummer, is a Yorkshire lad. The novel is scattered with references to actual musicians and bands — some of whom the band members meet at parties or in the green rooms of the television studios, and mentions of historic events — protests, scandals and politics, alongside imagined encounters with artists, writers and musicians, making the scene all very believable. The novel follows each of the band members via the development of the albums and their contributions, with chapters cleverly titled by their songs. But it is not the music that carries this novel, in spite of Mitchell’s obvious passion for the form, but the stories of each of our four musicians: their upbringings, passions, weaknesses and genius. Elf Holloway, seemingly dominated by her boyfriend who has convinced her that he’s the winning ticket in their duo, finds her voice and her feet, as well as solidarity with the band, which surprises her and them. Dean Moss, used to bad luck, still makes mistakes (fame is a cosy and dangerous bedfellow), but his ability to write a song enables him to face his traumatic childhood and overcome his fear of his father. He’s also the unlikely glue in this quartet. Jasper's psychedelic imagination both drives him to madness and genius — those lines blurred in his transfixing playing. His story is endlessly interesting and Mitchell’s insight into an altered consciousness is pitch-perfect. Griff is the ballast holding the beat steady as only a drummer does, yet he’s also the guy who can get them in and out of a scrap, and the one to overcome an obstacle which puts the band in jeopardy. Needless to say, there are plenty of spills, splits and fireworks in the relationship between the four, and in the band's interactions with the music industry and those who wish to control them. Fame doesn’t come easily and the price can be high. Utopia Avenue is addictive and enjoyable, complete with lyrics. Maybe someone will make the album...


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He finishes the book and draws up the green table to write his review. He takes a slip of paper from between the pages of the book, his reading notes, he calls such slips upon which he usually notes down quotes from the book he is preparing to review, or ideas he may have had during reading the book, which may or may not have arisen from the book, reading notes which are intended to make the writing of each week’s review a little easier for him, though ease is not exactly his aim in writing the reviews, in fact, if he wanted ease, he wouldn’t write reviews at all, or he would just say, Read this book. I enjoyed it and I think you will too. Or words to that effect. He looks at both sides of the slip of paper, but the only thing he has written on it this week seems to be a sentence that is presumably a quote from the book Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno. “When one writes, one is already someone else.” Fair enough, he thinks. That is the sort of thought he might think if he thought thoughts, he thinks, but more likely it is the sort of thought he would copy out of a book, though this sense of the word ‘copy’ seems more appropriative than he is comfortable with, perhaps, he thinks, revealing something shamelessly (or shamefully, he can’t decide) acquisitory about his reading. Appropriative and not appropriate. Kate Zambreno’s book consists of 58 “stories”, some of them as short as a sentence, some as long as a few pages, followed by five “essays”, written a few years earlier, somewhat longer. In fact, the only real difference between the “stories” and the “essays”, he thinks, is their length. The “essays” are more obviously the result of sustained effort, that sense of essaying, he thinks, though they take no real effort to read, they are easy and pleasurable to read, he thinks, even if not quite as easy and pleasurable to read as the “stories”, which are written with such lightness and quickness that they are already inside the reader’s mind, fully formed, claiming space, before the reader is aware that their beauty is snide, prickly, misanthropic, resonant with misery and failure. Both the “stories” and the “essays”, he thinks, are commonly about, or “about”, writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, photographers and others, engaged in a doomed, and therefore, perhaps, heroic, or, if not heroic, then pathetic, or, if such a thing is possible, both heroic and pathetic struggle with the forces of entropy, age, boredom, depression, addiction, AIDS, poverty, prejudice, and so forth, forces that will strip them of the benefit of their intellectual labour and convert it into intellectual capital that can be appropriated by someone else. He doesn’t know if this intellectual labour/ intellectual capital model is useful, even of itself, though it has been something he has been thinking a bit about lately, suspicious as he is of the workings of intellectual capital just as he is of those of financial capital, and, anyway, it is too heavy and clumsy a tool with which to grasp the poignant evanescences of Screen Tests. When he does write his review, he thinks, if he actually manages to write a review, he will instead say something about the way in which Zambreno’s intense interest in, he will probably call it obsession with, her subject matter identifies her, in her own mind, with another precarious, tentative creative person unable to distinguish a tightrope from a tripwire. “Can one’s obsession be a form of autobiography?” she asks, and it soon becomes evident, he will write, that the unfiltered openness of an obsession allows an immeasurable quantity of cross-contamination between the parties, or, if not so much between the parties, between the obsessor and the idea she has of the other with whom she is obsessed, to the extent that the two can no longer be usefully distinguished. All Zambreno’s pieces in the book are in the first person, he has noted, though this note is mental and not on the almost empty slip of paper that pretends to be his reading notes, all Zambreno’s pieces are I pieces, all her obsessions are self-obsessions, indeed surely all obsessions must be self-obsessions, for reasons already roughly sketched, all Zambreno’s obsessions are self-obsessions but what better access to the experience of another could be provided than through the aperture of obsession? Is this not what literature is for? For Zambreno, as for us all, he thinks, identity is porous, she is the people she writes about, she writes to be them, she writes to somehow exist, to survive, to enact, as they do, a “revolt against disappearance.” She is someone else in order to be herself, he thinks, maintaining the first person but destabilising its referent, in much the same way, he thinks, as he might write in the third person to give the impression that he is not writing about himself, to deflect the eye of a reader but also to destabilise the third person referent, for, he thinks, it must be the case that obsession transgresses identity in both directions. When Zambreno has writer’s block when working on one of her essays she says to herself, “I am unsure of what is the use of all this first person anymore,” and when he similarly has reviewer’s block when faced with reviewing Screen Tests, a book about which it would perhaps be better if he merely wrote, Read this book, I enjoyed it and I think you will too, or words to that effect, he finds himself unable to proceed because he fears that, even if he writes in the third person it might seem as if he is writing about himself instead of about the book Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno even though he really is writing about the book Screen Tests. He would not like people to think he was writing about himself, especially when he was not, and, even worse, he would not like them to think that he was expecting them to be interested in his writing about himself when he certainly would never expect them to be so interested, even if he was writing about himself, which he was not. This is the nature of my reviewer’s block, he thinks. I cannot proceed because I do not wish to be present in the text but I cannot proceed without being present in the text. He drinks his fourth cup of coffee and stares at the blank screen of his computer, the screen upon which he was to compose his review. I have still made no progress, he thinks, though, he supposes, four cups of coffee are in themselves a form of progress. 

The strangest British band you've never heard of lies at the heart of Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell, this week's Book of the Week. Mitchell's books are all different, but each of them provides direct access to the emotional lives of their characters, their development and their vulnerabilities. 

>>Read Stella's review

>>"Hello, I'm David Mitchell."

>>David Mitchell plays with Sam Amidon at the Edinburgh Book Festival

>>This book needs a playlist more than most. 

>>David Mitchell vs. David Byrne

>>He chats with Kim Hill

>>How can you listen to a fictional band? 

>>Neil Gaiman in one ear. 

>>Facing the blank page

>>Let's hope this is a hotel room

>>"If my stories are children, I want them to have distinct personalities.

>>Other books by David Mitchell.

>>Start reading!


The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante          $37
Giovanna's pretty face has changed: it's turning into the face of an ugly, spiteful adolescent. But is she seeing things as they really are? Into which mirror must she look to find herself and save herself? She is searching for a new face in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: the Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and the Naples of the depths, which professes to be a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves between these two cities, disoriented by the fact that, whether high or low, the city seems to offer no answer and no escape. An astounding new novel from the author of the quartet that began with My Brilliant Friend
"An astonishing, deeply moving tale of the sorts of wisdom, beauty and knowledge that remain as unruly as the determinedly inharmonious faces of these women." —Guardian
Summerwater by Sarah Moss       $35
On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. In twenty-four hours they reveal their capacity not only for kinship but for cruelty. 
"Moss’s ability to conjure up the fleeting and sometimes agonised tenderness of family life is unmatched. ... A great part of a novelist’s skill lies in the breadth of their sympathies and their ability to enter into the lives of people unlike themselves. Moss does this so naturally and comprehensively that at times her simple, pellucid prose and perfectly judged free indirect speech feel almost like documentary or nonfiction – there is an artfulness to her writing so accomplished as to conceal itself." —Guardian 
Box Hill: A story of low self-esteem by Adam Mars-Jones          $34
On the Sunday of his eighteenth birthday, in 1975, Colin takes a walk on Box Hill, a biker hang-out. There he accidentally trips over Ray, a biker napping under a tree – and that’s where it all starts. 
"Adam Mars-Jones has never needed to write at great length to convince readers of his talent. Box Hill is not a novel for the prudish, but it is a masterclass in authorial control. Despite its diminutive length, it is rich with detail and complexity, and has plenty to demonstrate Mars-Jones’s well-deserved place on any list of our best." —Alex Nurnberg, Sunday Times
"The biggest small book of the year." —Guardian
"An exquisitely discomfiting tale of a submissive same-sex relationship. Perfectly realised." —Anthony Cummins, Observer
"It is a testament to Mars-Jones’s skill that we finish the book with everything illuminated, and yet, quite properly, everything left in the dark." —Telegraph
"I very much enjoyed Box Hill. It is a characteristic Mars-Jones mixture of the shocking, the endearing, the funny and the sad, with an unforgettable narrator. The sociological detail is as ever acutely entertaining." —Margaret Drabble
"A tender exploration of the love that truly dare not speak its name – that between master and slave. In plain unadorned prose, Mars-Jones shows us the tender, everyday nature of this. Self-deprecating, sad, and wise." —Fiona McGregor
Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan         $33
In the summer of 1986, in a small Scottish town, James and Tully ignite a brilliant friendship based on music, films and the rebel spirit. With school over and the locked world of their fathers before them, they rush towards the climax of their youth: a magical weekend in Manchester, the epicentre of everything that inspires them in working-class Britain. There, against the greatest soundtrack ever recorded, a vow is made: to go at life differently. Thirty years on, half a life away, the phone rings. Tully has news — news that forces the life-long friends to confront their own mortality head-on. What follows is a moving examination of the responsibilities and obligations we have to those we love.
"This funny and plangent book is shot through with an aching awareness that though our individual existence is a 'litany of small tragedies', these tragedies are life-sized to us. It’s difficult to think of any other novelist working now who writes about both youth and middle age with such sympathy, and without condescending to either." —Guardian
Not a Novel: A memoir in pieces by Jenny Erpenbeck         $36
Following astonishing, insightful, and pellucidly written novels, including Visitation and Go, Went, Gone, Erpenbeck turns her pen on herself and reveals aspects of her life, her literary and musical influences and preoccupations, and thoughts on society. Her essays are as astonishing, insightful and pellucidly written as her fiction. 
"Wonderful, elegant, and exhilarating. Ferocious as well as virtuosic." —Deborah Eisenberg
"Her restrained, unvarished prose is overwhelming." —Nicole Krauss
"Erpenbeck's writing writing is a lure that leads us — off-centre as into a vortex — into the most haunted and haunting territory." —Anne Michaels
Work: A history of how we spend our time by James Suzman           $33
We live in a society where work defines who we are, what we do and who we spend our time with. But this wasn't always the case. For 95% of our history, our ancestors had a radically different view of its importance; hunter gatherers rarely worked more than fifteen hours per week. How did work become the central organisational principle of our societies? What are the social, economic and environmental consequences of a culture of work? And what might a world where work plays a far less important role look like?
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke           $30
An astounding new novel, reaching right to the shared core of fantasy and loneliness, from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.  Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.
"A remarkable feat, not just of craft but of reinvention." —Guardian
>>Some prints by a non-fictional Piranesi.
A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura        $40
At last, the new book from the author of Ostro (one of our favourite cookbooks)! This book, too, is beautifully presented and contains approachable recipes for  recipes for delicious food. 
The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn         $40
In The Salt Path, Raynor and Moth went out to find the sea, the windswept and wild coastline, to find a way through homelessness, to find themselves again. Now, in The Wild Silence, they come back to what should be home, but four walls no longer feel that way. For Raynor, recovering self-esteem and trust in herself, and in others, is harder than she expected. She continues to face Moth's debilitating illness and struggles to find a way to adjust to a life in one place, unmoving. Then an incredible gesture by someone who read their story changes everything. 
"In this unflinching sequel to The Salt Path, nature provides solace against forebodings of mortality." —Guardian
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi             $35
In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless 'artist' - all with her young child in tow. Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid's wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.
"Taut, unsettling, ferocious." —Fatima Bhutto
"Crystalline, surgical, compulsively readable. An examination of toxic relationships and the ties that bind us." —Sharlene Teo
"Raw, wise and cuttingly funny on love and cruelty, marriage and motherhood, art and illness, and one woman's fight for her sense of self." —Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
D: (A tale of two worlds) by Michel Faber       $37
A contemporary Dickensian fable about moral courage and self-determination. 12-year-old Dhikilo was born in a faraway country, though she's doing her best to feel at home with her new parents in the crumbly seaside town of Cawber-on-Sands. One day, the letter D disappears from the language, and Dhikilo is the only person who notices it's gone. You'd think the loss of one little letter wouldn't make much of a ifference to aily life. But it actually makes things very ifficult and, eventually, quite esperate. Determined to rescue the D, Dhikilo teams up with her old history teacher, Professor Dodderfield. In moments, she is in the wintery land of Liminus where she meets the Magwitches, the Quilps, the Spottletoes, and other strange tribes. Can she escape from the terrifying Bleak House? Can she stop the D from disappearing for ever? And can Dhikilo — a girl with no past and no country — discover who she is and where she really belongs?

Protection by Paul Hersey         $25
A gripping and authentic mountaineering novel from one of New Zealand's foremost outdoors writers. 
"Paul Hersey writes from a place of deep understanding of the mountain environment and the ways in which climbers are defined and shaped by their profound and precarious interactions with the natural world as well as each other. Protection is simply one of the most gripping novels I have read in recent years." —Laurence Fearnley

Real Life by Brandon Taylor          $23
Wallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms, a slow and painstaking process. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that's a world away from his childhood growing up in Alabama. His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace has not been home, and he hasn't told his friends. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him. Over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, a catastrophic mishap and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with intimacy, desire, the trauma of the past and the question of the future.
A chilling history of the abrading of democracy since the Cold War, with lessons for us all.

The House by the Lake: The story of a home and a hundred years of history by Thomas Harding and Britta Teckentrup        $30
A beautiful picture book adaptation of Harding's book telling the history of twentieth-century Germany through the stories of five families who lived in a house on the outskirts of Berlin. 
>>See also
Having and Being Had by Eula Biss         $40
A timely and arresting new look at affluence by a consistently surprising writer. 'My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts,' Eula Biss writes, 'the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after.' Having just purchased her first home, she now embarks on a roguish and risky self-audit of the value system she has bought into. The result is a radical interrogation of work, leisure and capitalism.
Francoise Gilot & Pablo Picasso; Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera; Carl Andre & Ana Mendieta; Christo & Jeanne-Claude; Robert Delaunay & Sonia Delaunay; Lee Krasner & Jackson Pollock; Barbara Hepworth & Ben Nicholson; Georgia O'Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz; Lee Miller & Man Ray; Max Ernst & Dorothea Tanning; Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg; Elaine de Kooning & William de Kooning; Maria Martins & Marcel Duchamp; Hans Arp & Sophie Taeuber-Arp; Raoul Hausmann & Hannah Hoch; Josef Albers & Anni Albers; Gwendolyn Knight & Jacob Lawrence; Kay Sage & Yves Tanguy; Nancy Holt & Robert Smithson; Marina Abramovic & Ulay; Gilbert & George; Joseph Cornell & Yayoi Kusama; Carroll Dunham & Laurie Simmons; Camille Claudel & Auguste Rodin; Maud Hunt Squire & Ethel Mars; Frances Loring & Florence Wyle; Alexander Rodchenko & Varvara Stepanova; Niki de Saint Phalle & Jean Tinguely; Leon Golub & Nancy Spero; Lili Elbe & Gerda Wegener; Bernd Becher & Hilla Becher; Emilia Kabakov & Ilya Kabakov; Tim Noble & Sue Webster; Idris Khan & Annie Morris.