Saturday 30 January 2021

Friday 29 January 2021


>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey   {Reviewed by STELLA}
In Memorial Drive, Pulitzer Prize-winning US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey lays out the path to her mother’s death at the hands of a violent partner. Moving, compelling and insightful, the memoir is both raw and personal, as well as politically charged, revealing of a childhood in the South, her own and her mother’s. Opening with a dream, the poet’s use of language and imagination lead you into this story of tragedy and resolve. Gwendolyn Turnbough was born in New Orleans in1944. When her father, a naval officer never returned amid rumours of a new wife abroad, mother and daughter returned to Mississippi. A resourceful and strong-willed woman, Natasha’s grandmother brought her daughter up to push against the expectations of society and it was while Gwen was at college that she met her husband. It was the sixties, and despite coming of age in the Jim Crow era and the visible and real threat of the Ku Klux Klan, change seemed possible. Even when you have to marry in a different state. Moving to New Orleans so her father could study full-time, Gwen with a young child at home, felt isolated, and the racial prejudice they encountered as a mixed-race couple put pressure on their relationship. It wasn’t long until the couple parted and eventually divorced. Getting on her feet again, Gwen enrols to study social work and juggles motherhood, study and working nights. And she’s successful. At work, she meets the man who will become a life-changing figure in Natasha’s life—Joel Grimmett or, as Natasha nicknames him, Big Joe. At first things hum along, Gwen is doing well with her career and Joel seems happy to be part of the family. But something begins to sour—mixed with alcohol and a jealous streak underpinned by Joel’s need for power and control. Natasha describes the descent into tragedy, for her mother as well as herself. In Atlanta, there is a ring road, and as a form of psychological torture, Joel drives the young girl endlessly on it, threatening to leave her out there or never take her home. This road becomes a symbol of oppression for Natasha well into adulthood—a road she avoids most of her life. As her mother’s career blossoms and they move onwards and upwards in the world, their lives from the outside seem just fine. The reality is far from this and when Natasha, now in the fifth grade, overhears Gwen being beaten, the texture of the family changes. She knows, her mother knows, and so does Big Joe. Escaping into books and school-life can only last so long for Natasha, and as things get worse, Gwen finds a way out, but, unfortunately, the presence of Grimmett in their lives can not be erased, especially as his paranoia and sense of entitlement increases. The memoir is mesmerising. Trethewey’s descriptions of the women in her family, the fraught racial issues over several decades, the political landscape and the societal norms that allowed a woman to be repeatedly beaten, and the inability of the law to protect her when it mattered the most are not just this daughter’s story but the story of many, but Natasha Tretheway’s honesty, care, and her willingness to look this tragedy full in the face reveals something remarkable—the ability to not only endure but push back against a system of repression, to take a victim and make them whole again—visible to the world and to herself.    


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


The Math Campers by Dan Chiasson    {Reviewed by THOMAS}

where the poet writes
or wrote
it was impossible to say
it is impossible to say
where faraway was or why

the reader writes
“it was impossible to say
it is impossible to say
where faraway was or why”
to remember the words
or avoid remembering
but where the poet writes
It may just be my mind, he thought. It may just be my mind.
He wrote: “It may just be my mind.”

how can the reader write
or rewrite that 
he thought 
who never claimed to be a poet
maybe once
how can I write 
or rewrite all those wrotes
within wrotes, nests
within nests
here the poet the reader thought writes 
or wrote about the writing
of the poems he wrote
or is writing or soon will either write 
or not
the poem of how the poem is made
or will be made
or is then being made 
or could be made
or not
in some room of the poet’s mind
or on some paper 
less likely
or in the house of a dead poet
more precisely
On the upstairs deck, I read about
              The deck upstairs. In the daybed
I read about the daybed. In the books
              I read about the books I read.

the poet wrote the reader wrote 
or rewrote
sharing the labour 
each expected of the other
with the other
their separation more a distance of time than a distance of person
not that each is one person
the moments flicker
because time
as the poet’s past is the same age as his sons 
as the reader knows the poet knows
each is not one person
He turned to meet me, but our element was time. He approached me, where I was standing, years later; and I approached him where he stood, but he was too far in the past.
the pages turn the poems turn
or turn again
the poet is carefully squeezed out of the poem
or squeezed in
the poem changed slightly, crucially—
               because, you know why, because time

this slow precise perfecting process
as the poet writes
as the reader reads
unlike these lines tossed off
if that is how to put it
in less than a minute and unrevisited
the reader can do no justice to the form
but to be fair made no such claims 
in that direction
towards the province of the poet
he thinks
I had no real name. I was the channel through which the mind passed, and then I was a gap, an absence, which frightened me.
again this space this wound in time
this crack
where the words get in
or out
this rift between the poet and his past
if only a moment
passed between poet and poem
which is to say
the poet who breathes and stumbles
and the one squeezed out of the poem
or in
from sleep to type
We were held, suspended within the larger dream;
we alternate coming into, then stepping out of, the light.

the poet wrote the reader wrote
if that makes sense
the world wakes up, enlarged—
there is not nor can there be
anything more than this

Our Book of the Week is Azadi: Freedom, fascism, fiction by Arundhati Roy. 
In this series of electrifying essays, Arundhati Roy challenges us to reflect on the meaning of freedom in a world of growing authoritarianism. The essays include meditations on language, public as well as private, and on the role of fiction and alternative imaginations in these disturbing times. The pandemic, she says, is a portal between one world and another. For all the illness and devastation it has left in its wake, it is an invitation to the human race to imagine another world.
>>What lies ahead? 
>>Portal to a new world. 
Our job is to be unpopular."
>>"At her passionate best."
>>Acting on the present crisis
>>"The media has enabled fascism in India."
>>The pandemic is a portal
>>"We need a reckoning."
>>What is the role of fiction today?
>>Your copy
>>Other books by Arundhati Roy


The Sets by Victor Billot            $28
Dunedin poet Victor Billot finds in the South Pacific Ocean an oracle of the future and a keeper of our histories. The Sets begins with reflections on the domestic world and the fragility of the family and personal relationships that sustain us, the necessity and refuge of love, and the sometimes catastrophic effects of failure in these relationships. The collection then shifts towards political and social satire, punching out mashups of fake news and rogue algorithms that mix mordant wit with compressed rage at the banality of humanity's descent towards oblivion.
>>A political poet

The Philosopher Queens: The lives and legacies of philosophy's unsung women by Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting      $40
Featuring twenty women who have outstanding but often unseen in various fields of philosophy, this attractively illustrated book ranges through history and around the globe. 
>>Who taught Socrates? 

The Light Ages: A medieval journey of discovery by Seb Falk          $48
An interesting survey of the under-recognised scientific achievements of the Middle Ages, concentrating on the life and journeys of a real-life fourteenth century monk, John of Westwyk—inventor, astrologer, crusader—who was educated in England's grandest monastery and exiled to a clifftop priory.
Beneath the Night: How the stars have shaped the history of humankind by Stuart Clark      $33
From prehistoric cave art and Ancient Egyptian zodiacs to the modern era of satellites and space exploration, Stuart Clark explores a fascination shared across the world and throughout millennia. It is one that has shaped our scientific understanding; helped us navigate the terrestrial world; provided inspiration for our poets, artists and philosophers; and it has given us a place to project our hopes and fears. 
The Magnetic Fields by André Breton and Philippe Soupault, translated by Charlotte Mandell           $30
An excellent new translation of the 1919 foundational Surrealist text resulting from Breton's and Soupault's experiments with automatic writing and their desire to create a new literature and a new morality after the indictment of Western 'civilisation' manifest by devastation of World War One. 
"With distance, a sort of unity has established itself, and The Magnetic Fields have become the work of a single author with two heads. This double gaze has made it possible, as nothing else would, for Philippe Soupault and André Breton to push forward on the path where no one had preceded them, into these shadows where they were both speaking aloud." —Louis Aragon

Freeman's Love edited by John Freeman         $38
Is it possible that the greatest force in the world is love? asks John Freeman, former editor of Granta. Some excellent responses from eminent and emerging writers. Contents: 1: Introduction: John Freeman 2: Seven Shorts: Maaza Mengiste, Daniel Mendelsohn, Anne Carson, Mariana Enriquez, An Yu, Tommy Orange, Matt Sumell 3: "Heaven with a Capital H" / Mieko Kawakami 4: Postcard from New Mexico / Deborah Levy 5: Snowflake / Semezdin Mehmedinovic 6: Stone Love / Louise Erdrich 7: The Snowman / Daisy Johnson 8: Poet's Biography / Valzhyna Mort 9: Apples / Gunnhild Oyehaug 10: Exploding Cigar of Love / Sandra Cisneros 11: On a Stone Pillow / Haruki Murakami 12: How to Manage / Niels Fredrik Dahl 13: Good People / Richard Russo 14: High Fidelity / Robin Coste Lewis 15: Seams / Olga Tokarczuk 16: swan / Andrew McMillan 
What Can a Body Do? How we meet the built world by Sara Hendren         $50
Furniture and tools, kitchens and campuses and city streets—nearly everything human beings make and use is assistive technology, meant to bridge the gap between body and world. Yet unless, or until, a misfit between our own body and the world is acute enough to be understood as disability, we may never stop to consider—or reconsider—the hidden assumptions on which our everyday environment is built. 
Sleep Donation by Karen Russell           $24
An epidemic of insomnia has left America crippled with exhaustion. Thankfully the Slumber Corps agency provides a lifeline, transfusing sleep to sufferers from healthy volunteers. Recruitment manager Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the disaster, has spent the last seven years enlisting new donors. But when she meets the mysterious Donor Y and Baby A—whose sleep can be universally accepted—her faith in the organisation and in her own motives begins to unravel.
"Russell's ability to balance the quirky and the absurd with psychological acumen turns this unbelievable world into something more than dreamlike." —NPR
"Russell writes with such assurance and speed that she puts the reader under a spell for the duration of her story." —New York Times
"Russell turns an internal state into its own weather system." —Boston Globe
Prague Stories edited by Richard Bassett          $37
Stories, legends, and scenes from the city's past and present, from the Jewish fable of the golem to tales of German and Soviet invasions. The international array of writers ranges from Franz Kafka to Ivan Klima to Bruce Chatwin, and includes the  Tom Stoppard and Madeleine Albright, both of whom have Czech roots. The book covers the city's Jewish heritage, the glamour of the belle-epoque period, World War II, Communist rule, the Prague Spring, the Velvet Revolution, and beyond. 
Ekstedt: The Nordic art of analogue cooking by Niklas Ekstedt         $65
"With equal parts of birch wood and passion, we keep the flames alive. We cook all our ingredients over an open fire. Charcoal and smoke are our most powerful tools. No electric griddle, no gas stove - only natural heat, soot, ash, smoke and fire. We have chosen these ways to prepare our food as a tribute to the ancient way of cooking. At Ekstedt it is the flames that are superior."

Before mammals, there were dinosaurs. And before dinosaurs, there were cephalopods—the ancestors of modern squid, octopuses, and more creatures—Earth's first truly substantial animals. Essentially inventing the act of swimming, cephalopods presided over an undersea empire for millions of years—until fish evolved jaws, and cephalopods had to step up their game or risk being eaten. To keep up, some streamlined their shells and added defensive spines, while others abandoned the shell, opening the gates to a flood of evolutionary innovations: masterful camouflage, fin-supplemented jet propulsion, and intelligence we've yet to fully measure. 

The Running Book: A journey through memory, landscape and history by John Connell             $38
Connell sets off on a marathon run of 42.2 kilometers through his native Longford, the scene of his award-winning book The Cow Book. As he runs across woodlands, fields and tiny roads, he tells the story of his life and contemplates Ireland's history, old and new. He also remembers other great runs he has done, from Australia to Canada, tells the stories of some of his running heroes, and speculates on what it means to move through the landscape by foot. Told in 42 chapters, each another kilometer in the 42.2k race, the whole book is 42,000 words long and it captures what it is to undertake a marathon moment by moment, in body and mind. 
On April 24th 1915 Armenian intellectuals of the Ottoman Empire were arrested en masse marking the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. The following day, April 25th 1915, saw the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landing at Gallipoli. This book draws the connections between these two landmark historical events—the genocide of the minority Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire and the Anzac soldiers who fought at Gallipoli during World War I. Through eye witness accounts of ANZAC soldiers witnessing the genocide, to a history of the Australasian involvement in the international Armenian relief campaign, and enduring discussions around genocide recognition, James Robins explores the international political implications that this unexplored history still has today.
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas        $23
The son of a drug king, seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter is negotiating life in Garden Heights as he balances school, slinging dope, and working two jobs while his dad is in prison. He’s got it all under control – until, that is, Mav finds out he’s a father. Suddenly he has a baby who depends on him for everything. This Gritty and important YA book tells the story of Starr's father from The Hate You Give

Nora by Nuala O'Connor           $34
An evocative novel of the life of Nora Barnacle, partner and muse of James Joyce, whose Ulysses is the novel of the day they met. 
"An exceptional novel by one of the most brilliant contemporary Irish writers, this is a story of love in all its many seasons, from ardent sexuality to companionable tenderness, through strength, challenge and courage. Nuala O’Connor has brought to vivid life a woman about whom every literature lover has surely wondered and has done so with immense skill and daring." —Joseph O’Connor
Four Seasons Cookery Book by Margaret Costa          $45
Hugely influential and admired, Costa's 1970 classic cookbook is now back in print. 
"If I had to choose only one book to cook from for the rest of my life it would be this one." —Nigel Slater

Like it or not, our lives are dominated by mathematics. Our daily diet of news regales us with statistical forecasts, opinion polls, risk assessments, inflation figures, weather and climate predictions and all sorts of political decisions and advice backed up by supposedly accurate numbers. Most of us do not even pause and question such figures even to ask what they really mean and whether they raise more questions than they answer.
"A wise, witty and insightful guide to clear thinking amid a deluge of percentages and probabilities." —Ian Stewart
The Language Lover's Puzzle Book by Alex Bellos          $33
Lexical perplexities and cracking conundrums from around the globe.

Saturday 23 January 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #213  (22.1.21)

Read our latest newsletter!


>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Weather by Jenny Offill      {Reviewed by STELLA}
A novel made from snippets of conversation, observations, facts and wry asides, Jenny Offill’s Weather is contemplative and challenging in its examination of human nature and climate change. You won’t see the dystopic disaster trail here, nor the high-minded rhetoric, as Lizzie, a university librarian navigates the minutiae of her Brooklyn world—mother, wife, sister, daughter, academic dropout, comfortable middle class—and the monumental nature of the changing environment. You will feel a sense of companionship with a woman who sees the approaching crisis but isn’t sure how to tackle it. Lizzie is self-deprecating and highly likeable—even when she puts her ‘recovered addict’ brother ahead of her own partner and child. Who hasn’t had a conflict of loyalty? Her wry observations of the regular library users and her immediate community—the school where her son is in the gifted class but it’s still a liberal heaven with its diversity and philosophy, the other parents, and the increasing polarised views she encounters in her side-line job—shine a darkly funny beam into this novel with serious intent. Employed by her friend, Slyvia, who has a popular climate change podcast, to answer questions sent to her, the letters and emails come from across the spectrum—from the left-liberals who want a solution to the preppers, the deniers, and the confused. These questions send Lizzie on her own quest to understand and counter her growing anxiety about the weather. Running alongside her desire to reassure others and herself is her commitment to her brother, who is battling his feelings of inadequacy in the face of being newly married (to a controlling—probably necessarily so—woman) and their newborn. Lizzie steps in, as she always has, to ‘rescue’ him—her own addiction. In the hands of a different author, this could be melodrama or heavy-handed prophesying but Jenny Offill’s episodic style and her cleverness makes Weather an unexpected joy to read. It’s a novel rich in ideas, both serious and playfully ironic. Like Lizzie, how do we have a sense of urgency when all is comfort with the occasional pinprick?  


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Extinction by Thomas Bernhard    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“When I take Wolfsegg and my family apart, when I dissect, annihilate and extinguish them, I am actually taking myself apart, dissecting, annihilating and extinguishing myself. I have to admit that this idea of self-dissection and self-annihilation appeals to me, I told Gambetti. I’ll spend my life dissecting and extinguishing myself, Gambetti, and if I’m not mistaken I’ll succeed in this self-dissection and self-extinction. I actually do nothing but dissect and extinguish myself.” In the first of the two relentless paragraphs that comprise this wonderfully claustrophobic novel, the narrator, Murau, has received a telegram informing him that his parents and brother have been killed in a car accident. While looking at some photographs of them at his desk in Rome, he unleashes a 150-page stream of invective directed personally at the members of his family, both dead and living. Murau is alone, but he addresses his rant to his student Gambetti in Gambetti’s absence or recounts, however accurately or inaccurately, addressing Gambetti in person at some earlier time. Gambetti, in either case, is completely passive and non-contributive, and this passivity and non-contribution acts—along with Murau’s over-identification with his ‘black sheep’ Uncle Georg, an over-identification that sometimes confuses their identities—as a catalyst for Murau’s invective, as an anchor for the over-inflation of Murau’s hatred for, and difference from, his family. Without external contributions that might mitigate Murau’s opinions, his family appear as horrendous grotesques, exaggerations that here cannot be contradicted due to absence or death. Being dead puts an end to your contributions to the ideas people have of you—stories concerning you are henceforth the domain entirely of others and soon become largely expressions of their failings, impulses and inclinations. We can have no definite idea of ourselves, though—we exist only to others, unavoidably as misrepresentations, as caricatures. Murau states that he intends to write a book, to be titled Extinction: “The sole purpose of my account will be to extinguish what it describes, to extinguish anything that Wolfsegg means to me, everything that Wolfsegg is, everything. My work will be nothing other than an act of extinction.” Murau has not been able to even begin to write this account because his hatred gets in the way of beginning, or, rather, what we soon suspect to be the inauthenticity of his hatred gets in the way of beginning. There is no loathing without self-loathing. As Murau’s invective demonstrates, there can be no statement that is not an overstatement—every statement tends towards exaggeration as soon as it is expressed or thought. By exaggeration a statement exhausts its veracity and immediately begins to incline towards its opposite, just as every impulse, as soon as it is expressed, inclines towards its opposite. Only a passive witness, a witness who does not contradict but, by witnessing, in effect affirms—Gambetti in Murau’s case—allows an otherwise unsustainable idea to be sustained. In the second half of the book, Murau returns to Wolfsegg in Austria for the funeral of his parents and brother. Until this point, Murau’s ‘character’ has been defined entirely by his exaggerated opposition to, or identification with, his ideas of others, but when he is brought into situations in which others have a contributing role, Murau’s portrayal of others and of himself in the first section is undermined at every turn. Without the ‘Gambetti’ prop, he is responded to, and, in response to these responses, he overturns many of his opinions - about his parents, his brothers, his sisters, his mother’s lover, the nauseatingly perfectly false Spadolini that Murau had hitherto admired, and about himself—and reveals his fundamental ambivalence, an ambivalence that is fundamental to all existence but which is usually, for most of us, almost entirely suppressed by praxis, by the passive anchors, the Gambettis to which we affix our desperate attempts at character. We resist, through exaggeration, indifference and self-nullification. “We’re often led to exaggerate, I said later, to such an extent that we take our exaggeration to be the only logical fact, with the result that we don’t perceive the real facts at all, only the monstrous exaggeration. I’ve always found gratification in my fanatical faith in exaggeration, I told Gambetti. On occasion I transform this fanatical faith in exaggeration into an art, when it offers the only way out of my mental misery, my spiritual malaise. Exaggeration is the secret of great art, I said, and of great philosophy. The art of exaggeration is in fact the secret of all mental endeavour.” In this second part, Murau reveals his connection with Wolfsegg and his suppressed feelings of culpability in what it represents. “I had not in fact freed myself from Wolfsegg and made myself independent but maimed myself quite alarmingly.” Separation, or, rather, the illusion of separation, is only achieved by ‘art’, that is to say, by exaggeration, by the denial of ambivalence, by the denial of complicity, by suppression—a desperate negative act of self-invention. Once his hatred of his sisters, and of his parents and brothers, has been undermined by his presence and contact with his sisters and others at Wolfsegg, and without a Gambetti or Georg in his mind to sustain this hatred, the underlying reason for his hatred, a fact that he has suppressed since his childhood as too uncomfortable, the fact that has made “a gaping void” of his childhood, of his whole past, the fact to which he was a passive witness, a complicit witness, namely that Wolfsegg hid and sheltered Nazi war criminals after the war (Gauleiters and members of the Blood Order, who now attend the funeral of Murau’s father) in the so-called ‘Children’s Villa’ (which “affords the most brutal evidence that childhood is no longer possible. All you see when you look back is this gaping void. You actually believed that your childhood could be repainted and redecorated, as it were, that it could be refurbished and reroofed like the Children’s Villa, and this in spite of hundreds of failed attempts at restoring your childhood.”), can now be faced, and, on the final page of the book, at last in some way addressed. Murau also attains the necessary degree of remove to write Extinction before his own death, either from illness or, more likely, suicide. This, his last, is the only Bernhard novel I can think of in which the protagonist makes anything that resembles an effective resolution.

Friday 22 January 2021


Our Book of the Week is Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles. 
Shanghai, Aotearoa, Malaysia, London are all places Powles calls home and not-home; from each she can be homesick for another. The poems dwell within the shifting borderland between languages, and between poetic forms, to examine the shape and texture of memories, of myths, and of a mixed-heritage girlhood. Powles's poetry is attuned to the possibilities within layers of written, spoken and inherited words. 
>>Simultaneously published by Seraph Press in New Zealand and Nine Arches in the UK. 
>>I Spy. 


The Math Campers by Dan Chiasson          $55
A poet, father and husband's meditation on love and adolescence, the poet's art is also revealed in stages in this 'making-of' book, where we watch as poems take shape—first as dreams or memories, then as drafts, and finally as completed works set loose on the world. 
Rein Gold by Elfriede Jelinek            $38
With her characteristic verbal fury, Jelinek exposes Wagner's 'Ring Cycle' as a precursor of the social ills of late capitalism. Structured as a sort of a dialogue between Wotan and Brünnhilde, the book is hyperattuned to issues of power, inequality, sexism, exploitation and self-interest that feed contemporary society and also presage its downfall.
"Rein Gold is a masterful, obsessional, hypnotic journey. Jelinek brings a sharp modernity and relevance to a series of inward wanderings. She is equal to a great myth and makes it new." — A.L. Kennedy

Azadi: Freedom fascism, fiction by Arundhati Roy             $18
In this series of electrifying essays, Arundhati Roy challenges us to reflect on the meaning of freedom in a world of growing authoritarianism. The essays include meditations on language, public as well as private, and on the role of fiction and alternative imaginations in these disturbing times. The pandemic, she says, is a portal between one world and another. For all the illness and devastation it has left in its wake, it is an invitation to the human race, an opportunity, to imagine another world.

Two Besides: A pair of talking heads by Alan Bennett       $23
Bennett has written two further monologues to extend his adored Talking Heads series. Bennett's immense sympathy with his characters and the subtlety of his observations on the interplay of individuality and conformity in the lives of ordinary people make for compelling reading. These two monologues, pitch perfect and unsettling, feature women who must rethink their relationships in ways they had not expected. 
Lost Cat by Mary Gaitskill             $23
"Last year I lost my cat Gattino. He was very young, at seven months barely an adolescent. He is probably dead but I don't know for certain." So begins Mary Gaitskill's stunning long essay, the closest thing she has written to a memoir, about a lost cat and a pair of adopted children. In this searing piece about loss, love, safety and fear, Gaitskill applies her razor-sharp writing to her most personal subjects yet.

On Connection by Kae Tempest         $17
Kae (formerly Kate) Tempest's first work of non-fiction: a hopeful theory of creativity. The increasingly hyper-individualistic, competitive and exploitative society that we live in has caused a global crisis at the turn of the new decade; in order to survive, numbness has pervaded us all. Tempest reckons against this system, placing our legacy in our own hands. Creativity holds the key: the ability to provide us with internal and external connection, to move us beyond consumption, to allow us to discover authenticity and closeness to all others, to deliver us an antidote for our numbness. 

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry         $33
A new collection of short stories from one of Ireland's most accomplished voices. In That Old Country Music, we encounter a ragbag of west of Ireland characters, many on the cusp between love and catastrophe, heartbreak and epiphany, resignation and hope. These stories show an Ireland in a condition of great flux but also as a place where older rhythms, and an older magic, somehow persist.
>>Read Thomas's reviews of Beatlebone and Night Boat to Tangier

Patch Work: A life amongst clothes by Claire Wilcox          $45
Claire Wilcox has been a curator of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum for most of her working life. In Patch Work, she steps into the archive of memory, deftly stitching together her dedicated study of fashion with the story of her own life lived in and through clothes. From her mother's wedding outfit to her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in a series of intimate and compelling close-ups. Wilcox tugs on the threads that make up the fabric of our lives—a cardigan worn by a child, a mother's button box, the draping of a curtain, a pair of cycling shorts, a roll of lace, a pin hidden in a seam. Through the eye of a curator, we see how the stories and the secrets of clothes measure out the passage of time, our gains and losses, and the way we use them to unravel and write our histories.
Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth           $33
Ellinor, a 35-year-old media consultant, has not been feeling herself; she's not been feeling much at all lately. Far beyond jaded, she picks through an old diary and fails to recognise the woman in its pages, seemingly as far away from the world around her as she's ever been. But when her co-worker vanishes overnight, an unusual new task is dropped on her desk. She goes to meet the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, setting the ball rolling on a strange and transformative six months. The new novel from the author of Will and Testament

The Paper Chase: The printer, the spy-master, and the hunt for the rebel pamphleteers by Joseph Hone          $48
"The Paper Chase is a remarkable achievement. Hone transforms what is essentially a case study of English press censorship following the expiry of the 1695 Licensing Act into a fast-paced, captivating narrative about the attempt to track down the individuals responsible for a pamphlet called The Memorial of the Church of England (1705). This was an anti-Dissenter work which sought to destabilise the government in the early years of Queen Anne’s reign by arguing that the Church of England was in immediate danger from current tolerationist policies. The queen herself was distressed by the pamphlet’s arguments that she and her ministers were letting established religion go to ruin, and her secretary of state, Robert Harley, set about uncovering and rounding up those responsible for the assertion." —Spectator
I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke          $50
The intriguing and long-awaited memoir of the poet and performer who has been an enduring countercultural knot stubbornly refusing to be disentangled from a Britain still impacted by Margaret Thatcher's economic policies (and all that followed).
A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio      $23
"I was the Arminuta, the girl returned. I spoke another language, I no longer knew who I belonged to. The word 'mama' stuck in my throat like a toad. And, nowadays, I really have no idea what kind of place mother is. It is not mine in the way one might have good health, a safe place, certainty." Without warning or a word of explanation, an unnamed 13-year-old girl is sent away from the family she has always thought of as hers to live with her birth family: a large, chaotic assortment of individuals whom she has never met and who seem anything but welcoming. Thus begins a new life, one of struggle, conflict, especially between the young girl and her mother, and deprivation. But in her relationship with Adriana and Vincenzo, two of her newly acquired siblings, she will find the strength to start again and to build anew and enduring sense of self. Translated  by Ann Goldstein, who has also translated the works of Elena Ferrante.
From Newton's alchemy to Einstein's mistakes, from Nabokov's butterflies to Dante's cosmology, from travels in Africa to the consciousness of an octopus, from mind-altering psychedelic substances to the meaning of atheism, Rovelli is always thinking and rethinking, giving us now insights into reality.

Approaching Eye Level by Vivian Gornick        $25
In these seven essays Gornick chronicles the New York streets that energise her, and looks back on the dangerously charged atmosphere of the Catskills where she waitressed as a student in the late fifties. She describes her introduction to the feminism of the 1970s and the lessons it taught her, reflects on a friendship with an older female writer that faltered, and analyses the failure of connection among like-minded people. She considers what it means to live alone, and the absorbed solitude of writing letters.

Black Spartacus: The epic life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh         $65
The Haitian Revolution began in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue with a slave revolt in August 1791, and culminated a dozen years later in the proclamation of the world's first independent black state. After the abolition of slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, became the leader of the colony's black population, the commander of its republican army and eventually its governor. During the course of his extraordinary life he confronted some of the dominant forces of his age—slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism and racial hierarchy. Treacherously seized by Napoleon's invading army in 1802, this charismatic figure ended his days, in Wordsworth's phrase, "the most unhappy man of men", imprisoned in a fortress in France.
Antlers of Water: Writing on the nature and environment of Scotland edited by Kathleen Jamie          $45
Featuring prose, poetry and photography, this collection takes us from walking to wild swimming, from red deer to pigeons and wasps, from remote islands to back gardens. With contributions from Amy Liptrot, Malachy Tallack, Chitra Ramaswamy, Jim Crumley, Amanda Thomson, Karine Polwart and many more, Antlers of Water urges us to renegotiate our relationship with the more-than-human world, in writing which is by turns celebratory, radical and political.

How Life on Earth Began by Aina Bestard        $45
What did the Earth look like 300 million years ago? Here's a chance to travel back through time and discover the days when the Earth was a very different place. Packed with fascinating beautiful illustrations and glassine overlays, this is a wonderful way to understand the story of evolution, from the earliest single-cell lifeforms to the mighty dinosaurs and onwards to the first human beings.
The Look of the Book: Jackets, covers and art at the edges of literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth        $100
As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines the interface of art and literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries.

Friday 15 January 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #212 (15.1.21)

Read our newsletter and find out what we have been reading and recommending. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry    {Reviewed by STELLA}
“I am Winona. In the early times I was Ojinjintka.” From the opening lines of Sebastian Barry’s A Thousand Moons you are immersed in the world of a young Lakota woman and you will not want to leave. Her voice will command your attention and draw you to 1870 post-Civil War America, with its tension, danger and promise. Although a sequel to Days Without End, it stands alone while still encompassing the relationship between Winona and her adoptive parents, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and the histories that haunt them and the hopes that drive them forward. Now working on a farm in Paris, Tennessee, the family are shaping a home for themselves. The land is new and raw, as are the people, adjusting to the new order. Winona, John Cole and the Bouguereau brother and sister (all working and living on Lige Magan’s farm) watch their backs and keep to themselves—it still doesn’t pay to be Indian or Black in this 'New World'. When Winona is attacked and Tennyson Bouguereau beaten, the Lakota girl decides to take matters into her own hands. She swaps her dress for britches and takes to the road with a knife and a gun to confront anyone that might have information. Her memory of the violence perpetrated on her is hazy, and what she will actually do unsure. Her revenge isn’t quite what she expects, and setting upon a camp of renegades she encounters a young woman much like her—a Chickasaw orphan, Peg, taken in by the rakish outlaw Aurelius Littlefair. A tender friendship, soon love, blossoms between the two young women. Yet the attack on Winona is still unpunished, and despite the efforts of John and Thomas and the lawyer Briscoe, nothing is resolved. “It wasn’t a crime to kill an Indian because an Indian wasn’t anything in particular.” And Winona knows the law isn’t for her. As her own past and the murder of her family by those that surround her haunts her and as tensions in the township increase—there are outlaws, militias, crooked lawmen and opportunists ready to cause mayhem—Winona can’t rest easy until she knows the truth. A young man, Jas Jonski, who was sweet on Winona, is the main suspect. When he is murdered, Winona finds herself under fire. Sebastian Barry writes with lyricism and conviction. A Thousand Moons is compelling and beautiful in both its violence and desire—in the determination of a young woman to make her own future and not the one enforced upon her.   


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Three by Ann Quin  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Boredom is a sub-optimal mode, he thinks, but it is at least a functional mode compared with the revulsion it conceals, boredom at least connects one end of the day to the other, boredom is doubtless detrimental but it is by definition tolerable, let us all hope for boredom. That is not a good way to start his review, he thinks, it has some bearing on the book but it is not a good introduction to the book. Two is a situation of stasis, he thinks, three is dynamic, three is the catalyst that reveals the harms hidden in two, the harms that mathematics suppressed mathematics reveals, or not mathematics, physics perhaps, or chemistry, more likely. This also is not a good way to start. Well, he thinks, the review is far enough through not to worry any longer about starting it, a bad start is at least a start, that is something, I can adjust the performance using the choke, or perhaps the throttle, I need to find out the difference between these two obstructions, he thinks, these two forms of respiratory impediment, our relationship with engines is a violent one, he thinks, and this thought stalls the review. There is no access to the interior save through performance, he thinks, restarting, there is perhaps only performance, who can know, a middle class couple converse, the words pass between them but also bounce off their surroundings, language is a force-field, he thinks, a sonar, and a conversation is the pattern of disturbance, the pattern of interference, produced by two emitters, or should that be transmitters, of language. In this book, he thinks, Quin reproduces, well actually produces, that disturbance, those two voices, the Ruth voice and the Leon voice, as they run together as one entity, caught on the page, as if there is anything about a novel that is not on the page. In the Ruth-and-Leon sections of the novel, these verbal slurries, that is not the word, are both Ruth’s and Leon’s, caught on the framework of descriptions as bald and precise and mundane as stage directions, they are stage directions in the past tense, so hardly directions, stage descriptions perhaps. We learn that S, a younger, working-class woman who had lived with them, has committed suicide by drowning, Quin’s fate eventually incidentally, she left a note, but they still hope it might have been an accident. Are they guilty? In S’s room they find some tapes she has recorded, and her journals, and these are transcribed, if that is the word, inscribed is more accurate perhaps but we have to play the fiction game so transcribed is the better word, in other sections of the novel, but Ruth and Leon do not find either the absolution nor the indictment they both hope for and fear in these tapes and these journals, the tapes and the journals merely complicate the picture, add other layers of performance, leave more unsaid than said. The more that is unsaid, the greater the weight of what is unsaid, the stronger its gravity, the more distorted the said, the said, even in its utter mundanity, points always at the source of its distortion. As the book progresses, though progresses is not the word, there is no progress in Quin, we read also a tape made by Ruth and a diary written by Leon as, respectively, Leon and Ruth gain access to them, they take access, if that is the way to put it. There is no progress but the tension increases, tension in the past, if that which is in the past can be said to increase, each mundanity is freighted, that is not the word, with the catalytic action of each one upon each other two, a sexual static that builds and cannot discharge but reveals ultimately the fundamental destructive incompatibility not only of Ruth and Leon but of any combination of Ruth and Leon and S, and, perhaps, of any persons whatsoever, if Quin held this misanthropic view, perhaps she did. The instance of sexual violence eventually revealed is no surprise, but its awfulness floods backwards through all that precedes it in the book. Boredom is all that holds the horrible at bay, but the horrible is no less horrible for that.