Saturday 30 April 2022

BOOKS @ VOLUME #276 (29.4.22)

Read our latest NEWSLETTER and find out  what we've been reading and recommending, and for book news and new books. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Entanglement by Bryan Walpert  {Reviewed by STELLA}

A time traveller, a writer, a lover, a brother, a father. Bryan Walpert’s novel Entanglement, a novel of three parts — intersecting yet separate, entangled yet often also like a long open straight road, both precise and complex — has layers upon layers expanding and collapsing in on itself. It’s cerebral without being boring, pokes fun at itself while still having integrity, and has an emotional core which is richly textured. The three parts are distinct: 'Lake Lyndon Writer Retreat 2019', 'Time Traveller' and 'Sydney 2011'. We move between these stories seamlessly, picking up from where we left off in the previous related episode. Walpert gives each their own flavour. Lake Lyndon has the protagonist answerable to writers’ prompts — the retreat is the perfect time to work on the unwritten novel — to explore mechanisms for approaching his themes. These are often evocative passages, playing to the rules but pulling together story-telling and something of what might be the narrator’s own emotional memory landscape, melding dreamlike episodes with possibly factual encounters. 'Time Traveller' is instantly fascinating. Drawn in by the emotive title you are instinctively required to ask —  Who is this time traveller and where have they travelled from and where are they going? And why is it necessary? And then, as an afterthought, is it possible? It’s cold, it’s snowing, the bus is missed, the bus breaks down. The man is lost even in this familiar landscape. He knows he has to be somewhere but he can’t quite piece it together. Is this a willing deception? Walpert asks us to consider memory and trauma — regret lies at the heart of this devastated, desperate individual. 'Sydney 2011' is the love story that runs throughout, the meeting of two minds attracted to each other in a flurry of time philosophy chat and pillow talk. Anise is intelligent and independent. The narrator is drawn to her intellectually, emotionally and physically. Neither expected a romance. Each on their own trajectory, but, as with many paths, theirs intersect and become entangled in unexpected ways. This leads to marriage, a child and moving countries for reasons the couple may regret. Cleverly conceived, these chapters defy time order, sometimes moving backwards in time, so we, the reader, know more than we should and at other times the tale twists in on itself as the protagonist attempts to control the narrative, to keep us from the truth. This is his view, his story to tell. Pushing through the plot is the story of Daniel, the twin — a story that the brother wishes to change. Can time be altered? The writer’s residency at the Centre of Time in Sydney has him attempting to understand the physics of time, and the novel is rich with conversations with various department academics as they explain the science and philosophy of time. As the novel moves along, the time traveller is increasingly desperate to get to an event in the past but is waylaid by being mugged, getting a concussion, and being apprehended by a psychiatrist. We leave him standing on the ice of a frozen lake — or do we? The husband loses his wife and child and there is a heartbreaking awareness of his mistakes, now and then (in 1976). He is trapped in these moments. His guilt has clung to him, shaping the person he is and the decision he makes thirty years on. It is as if time is collapsing in on him and he knows of only one way out. But is it possible? Walpert writes with surety and restless energy. Like the structure of the novel, the thematic concerns are also layered, expressed with self-deprecating humour, earnest intent, and passages of lyrical beauty — as much a novel as a critique of writing itself. Clever and intriguing.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Tractatus Philosophico-Poeticus by Signe Gjessing (traslated from Danish by Denise Newman)  {Reviewed by THOMAS}

For some reason it had become a habit for him to write his reviews of books in the style of the books themselves, or as near a style as he could manage, a habit or an affectation, he wasn’t sure which, but this habit or affectation, if it was indeed a habit or an affectation, did have a serious intent, and was therefore not really a habit although it still could be an affectation, in that he somehow seemed to believe that a review written in the style of the subject of the review might reveal to him, and possibility to the readers of the review if there chanced to be any readers of the review, if such things could be left to chance, really such things were always left to chance, what was he saying, he seemed to believe that a review written in the style of the subject of the review might reveal something otherwise unnoticed or essential or incidental about the book in question, perhaps he was attempting to remove himself from a position of agency or of responsibility for the review by enticing, if that is the word, the book to write a review of itself. Form generates content, he shouted, frightening the cat, I want to write like a machine, I want to tinker with form until it purrs like a literary motor, then I will be able to put anything at all into the hopper, switch it on, and out comes literature. The cat was quick to resettle, she was used to this kind of excitement. If I were to write a review of Signe Gjessing’s Tractatus Philosophico-Poeticus in the form of Signe Gjessing’s Tractatus Philosophico-Poeticus I would also be writing it in the form of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he thought, I would be writing it in the form of  Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus because Signe Gjessing has written her book in the form of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in order, he thought, to see what kind of poetry could be generated by such a form, in order to use form as a machine for the generation of text, in order, he thought, to test the limits of language, to see what it is and is not good for, just like Wittgenstein, or just like Wittgenstein thought he was doing at the time he wrote that book. If Wittgenstein made no distinction between form and content, the same must be true of poetry, he thought. If for Wittgenstein the limits of knowledge are the limits of language, what are we to say of poetry, always straining as it does, or as it should, he thought or thought that perhaps he thought, into the unsayable? If Wittgenstein sought the limit of what can be said, through progressing out linguistically from the obvious towards that limit, pushing at it and establishing it, he thought, he entails that beyond that limit there exists not nothing but rather that about which nothing can be said. What cannot be said is signified by the complete exhaustion of that which can be said. Gjessing also is obsessed with the limit with which Wittgenstein was at the time he wrote his book obsessed, but she stands at that limit as if from the habitat beyond, both Wittgenstein and Gjessing are concerned to discover the nature of the limit inherent in language, if there is such a limit and such a limit is inherent, but Gjessing wants, he thought, to destroy that limit or even to show that the destruction of the limit inherent in language is itself inherent in language. He had written in his bad handwriting in his notebook that Gjessing had written in the introduction to her book that “The poem is a modification of the universal — as though the sayable were an incapacity of the unsayable,” and, he thought, Gjessing is running Wittgenstien’s machine in reverse to see what poetry comes out. If the world is comprised not of things but of states of affairs which are the grammatical relations between things, there is no reason to think that that which is not the case is not governed by or, he thought, even generated by this universal grammar. Texts are comprised not of words but of grammar, he shouted, but the cat was long gone. Well, he thought, if I was going to write my review of Signe Gjessing’s Tractatus Philosophico-Poeticus in the form of Signe Gjessing’s Tractatus Philosophico-Poeticus, I should have started earlier, I should have started, as does Gjessing, as does Wittgenstein to whose text Gjessing’s text is a response and a rejoinder, with a number of numbered statements on the first level to which another number of statements numbered to the first decimal respond or are implied and to which another number of statements numbered to the second decimal respond or are implied and so on until perhaps the fourth decimal or what we could call the fifth level, I’m not exactly sure if this is clear, a shining rack of cogs used in Wittgenstein’s case to generate philosophy, if he believed at that time there even was such a thing, and in Gjessing’s case to generate poetry, or whatever we might choose to call it, if I had written my review like this, he thought, what would I have written? Perhaps if I can devise such a grammatical machine to write reviews, a machine I can just turn upon any text, I can perhaps be relieved of certain of my duties, except perhaps to now and again apply a little oil, and perhaps get sometimes earlier to bed. 

“3.01  The world is a good alternative to certainty.” —Signe Gjessing,
Tractatus Philiosphico-Poeticus

Friday 29 April 2022

Our Book of the Week is fresh out of the carton! Ali Smith's hugely anticipated new novel Companion Piece, written in 'real time', continues the project of her outstanding 'Seasons' quartet. Few writers can manage to be at the same time as angry and as playful as Ali Smith, and few can directly face the most depressing aspects of our present moment and find such hope in humanity. 
>>In grave peril of becoming a national treasure
>>Not a shred of autofiction
>>A tightrope across a ravine.
>>Puns and wordplay are ceremonious.  
>>In a time when lies are sanctioned. 
>>Does art have anything to do with life? 
>>What to do when you lose faith in the writing process
>>Smith reads 'Nausicaa'.
>>Read Stella's reviews of the 'Seasons' quartet. 
>>Get your Companion Piece.
>>Also available as a beautiful cloth-bound hardback


Companion Piece by Ali Smith                 $37
"A story is never an answer. A story is always a question." Here we are in extraordinary times. Is this history? What happens when we cease to trust governments, the media, each other? What have we lost? What stays with us? What does it take to unlock our future? Ali Smith follows her wonderful 'Seasons' quartet, written in 'real time', with this further novel. Few writers can manage to be at the same time as angry and as playful as Ali Smith, and few can directly face the most depressing aspects of our present moment and find such hope in humanity.  
"A lockdown story of wayward genius. Lyrical visions alternate with fables and farce, history with Covid, in the scheme-busting fifth part of Smith's seasonal quartet." —The Guardian 
"Ali Smith is lighting us a path out of the nightmarish now." —Observer
Also available as a beautiful cloth-bound hardback.
Tides by Sara Freeman            $33
A spare and taut novel about a woman who, finding her life suddenly drained of meaning after a tragedy, removes herself from her life and habits and ends up drifting penniless in a coastal town, where her encounters with tourists and locals at first alienate her still further from any sense she might have had of herself and then force her to re-examine her ideas of separation and connection, and the trajectory that brought her there. 
"Beautifully observed." —The Irish Times

Metronome by Tom Watson          $33
For twelve years Aina and Whitney have been in exile on an island for a crime they committed together, tethered to a croft by pills they must take for survival every eight hours. They've kept busy: Aina with her garden, her jigsaw, her music; Whitney with his sculptures and maps, but something is not right. Shipwrecks have begun washing up, and their supply drops have stopped. And on the day they're meant to be collected for parole, the Warden does not come. As days pass, Aina begins to suspect that their prison is part of a peninsula, and that Whitney has been keeping secrets. And if he's been keeping secrets, maybe she should too. Convinced they've been abandoned, she starts investigating ways she might escape. As she comes to grips with the decisions that haunt her past, she realises her biggest choice is yet to come.
"Taut, unsettling and so completely charged with both tension and emotion, I found myself captivated by Metronome. I loved the clarity of its vision and the clean intensity of its prose, and I know that its vivid characters and the bleak, brutal beauty of the world they inhabit will haunt my dreams for a long time." —Naomi Ishiguro
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam            $23
Short-listed for last year's Booker Prize, Arudpragasam's novel explores the deep psychological and social impacts of the long civil war in Sri Lanka, and the struggle for agency for young people overwhelmed by societal trauma. 
"A Passage North is written with scrupulous attention to nuance and detail. At its center is an exquisite form of noticing, a way of rendering consciousness and handling time that connects Arudpragasam to the great novelists of the past." —Colm Toibin
"A Passage North is a profound and disquieting account of the making of a self, of the pressures of history, desire, will, and chance that determine the shape of a life. It's difficult to think of comparisons for Arudpragasam's work among current English-language writers; one senses a new mastery coming into being." —Garth Greenwell
>>It was his first time travelling north by train
>>No wrong answers.
>>How the past can enlighten our future
Paradais by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes)           $37
Written in a chilling torrent of prose by one of Mexico’s most thrilling writers, Paradais explores the explosive fragility of Mexican society. Inside a luxury housing complex, two misfit teenagers sneak around and get drunk. Franco Andrade, lonely, overweight, and addicted to porn, obsessively fantasizes about seducing his neighbour - an attractive married woman and mother. Meanwhile Polo, the community’s gardener, dreams about quitting his gruelling job and fleeing his overbearing mother and their narco-controlled village. As each face the impossibility of getting what they think they deserve, together Franco and Polo hatch a mindless and macabre scheme.
>>Longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize.
Dominating the farmyard of the house where Sally Coulthard and her husband live in the gentle Howardian Hills of North Yorkshire is a large, stone-built barn. When Sally discovered a set of ancient 'witch-marks' scratched into the wall of the barn, she became intrigued by the sturdy old building and the story behind it. 
The Barn is a socio-historic exploration of a small patch of Yorkshire countryside - hidden, insignificant, invisible to the rest of the world - which has experienced extraordinary changes. From the last of the enclosures to the boom days of Victorian high farming, the fortunes of the barn have been repeatedly upturned by the unstoppable forces of agriculture and industry. Medicine, transport, education, farming, women's roles, war, technology - every facet of society was played out, in miniature, here. The walls of the barn are a palimpsest, written onto - and now about - by three hundred years of history.
Britain's Empire: Resistance, repression and revolt by Richard Gott          $25
Contrary to nationalist legend and schoolboy history lessons, the British Empire was not a great civilising power bringing light to the darker corners of the earth. Richard Gott recounts the empire's misdeeds from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the Indian Mutiny, spanning the red-patched imperial globe  to Australia, telling a story of almost continuous colonialist violence. Recounting events from the perspective of the colonised, Gott unearths the all-but-forgotten stories excluded from mainstream histories.
"Vivid and startling." —Guardian

Sticky: The secret science of surfaces by Laurie Winkless           $33
You are surrounded by stickiness. With every step you take, air molecules cling to you and slow you down; the effect is harder to ignore in water. When you hit the road, whether powered by pedal or engine, you rely on grip to keep you safe. The Post-it note and glue in your desk drawer. The non-stick pan on your stove. The fingerprints linked to your identity. The rumbling of the Earth deep beneath your feet, and the ice that transforms waterways each winter. All of these things are controlled by tiny forces that operate on and between surfaces, with friction playing the leading role. Winkless explores some of the ways that friction shapes both the manufactured and natural worlds, and describes how our understanding of surface science has given us an ability to manipulate stickiness, down to the level of a single atom. 
The Ruin of Witches: Life and death in the New World by Malcolm Gaskill             $45
In the American frontier town of Springfield in 1651, peculiar things begin to happen. Precious food spoils, livestock ails and property vanishes. People suffer fits, and are plagued by strange visions and dreams. Children sicken and die. As tensions rise, rumours spread of witches and heretics, and the community becomes tangled in a web of spite, distrust and denunciation. The finger of suspicion falls on a young couple struggling to make a home and feed their children. It will be their downfall. The Ruin of All Witches tells of witch-hunting in a remote Massachusetts plantation. These were the turbulent beginnings of colonial America, when English settlers' dreams of love and liberty, of founding a 'city on a hill', gave way to paranoia and terror, enmity and rage. Gaskill brings to life an existence steeped in the divine and the diabolic, in curses and enchantments, and precariously balanced between life and death. Through the micro-history of a family tragedy, we glimpse an entire society caught in agonized transition between superstition and enlightenment, tradition and innovation. We see, in short, the birth of the modern world.
"Malcolm Gaskill shows us with filmic vividness the daily life of the riven, marginal community of Springfield, where settlers from a far country dwell on the edge of the unknown. The clarity of his thought and his writing, his insight, and the immediacy of the telling, combine to make this the best and most enjoyable kind of history writing. Malcolm Gaskill goes to meet the past on its own terms and in its own place, and the result is thought-provoking and absorbing." —Hilary Mantel
Recovery: The lost art of convalescence by Gavin Francis           $12
When it comes to illness, sometimes the end is just the beginning. Recovery and convalescence are words that exist at the periphery of our lives - until we are forced to contend with what they really mean. Here, Gavin Francis explores how - and why - we get better, revealing the many shapes recovery takes, its shifting history and the frequent failure of our modern lives to make adequate space for it.

The Babel Message: A love letter to language by Keith Kahn-Harris          $33
A journey into the heart of language from a rather unexpected starting point. Keith Kahn-Harris is obsessed with something seemingly trivial: the warning message found inside Kinder Surprise eggs: "WARNING, read and keep: Toy not suitable for children under 3 years. Small parts might be swallowed or inhaled." On a tiny sheet of paper, this message is translated into dozens of languages - the world boiled down to a multilingual essence. Inspired by this, the author asks: what makes 'a language'? With the help of the international community of language geeks, he shows us what the message looks like in Ancient Sumerian, Zulu, Cornish, Klingon - and many more. Along the way he considers why he thinks Hungarian writing looks angry, how to make up your own language, and the meaning of the heavy metal umlaut. Overturning the Babel myth, he argues that the messy diversity of language shouldn't be a source of conflict, but of collective wonder. 
Welcome to the Universe in 3-D: A visual tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson at al           $45
Presenting a rich array of stereoscopic color images, which can be viewed in 3D using a special stereo viewer that folds easily out of the cover of the book, this book reveals your cosmic environment as you have never seen it before.
To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life by Hervé Guibert         $25
After being diagnosed with AIDS, Hervé Guibert wrote this devastating, darkly humorous and personal novel, chronicling three months in the penultimate year of the narrator's life. In the wake of his friend Muzil's death, he goes from one quack doctor to another, from holidays to test centres, and charts the highs and lows of trying to cheat death. On publication in 1990, the novel scandalized French media, which quickly identified Muzil as Guibert's close friend Michel Foucault. The book has since attained a cult following for its tender, fragmented and beautifully written accounts of illness, friendship, sex, art and everyday life. 
>>Read Kate Zambreno's To Write As If Already Dead—about her attempts to write an account of Guibert and this book
Dark and Magical Places: The neuroscience of how we navigate by Christopher Kemp          $43
Within our heads, we carry around an infinite and endlessly unfolding map of the world. Navigation is one of the most ancient neural abilities we have — older even than language. Kemp embarks on a journey to discover the remarkable extent of what our minds can do. From the secrets of supernavigators to the strange, dreamlike environments inhabited by people with 'place blindness', he will explore the myriad ways in which we find our way, explain the cutting-edge neuroscience that is transforming our understanding of it — and try to answer why, for a species with a highly-sophisticated internal navigation system that evolved over millions of years, do humans get lost such a lot?
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante           $23
Leda is devoted to her work as an English teacher and to her two children. When her daughters leave home to be with their father in Canada, Leda anticipates a period of loneliness and longing. Instead, slightly embarrassed by the sensation, she feels liberated, as if her life has become lighter, easier. She decides to take a holiday by the sea, in a small coastal town in southern Italy. But after a few days of calm and quiet, things begin to take a menacing turn. Leda encounters a family whose brash presence proves unsettling, at times even threatening. When a small, apparently meaningless, event occurs, Leda is overwhelmed by memories of the difficult and unconventional choices she made as a mother and their consequences for herself and her family.
Grow! A children's guide to plants and how to grow them by Rizanino Reyes            $43
In this book, discover 15 plants, then learn how to grow them. Meet each plant's surprising relations (did you know the tasty tomato is a cousin of deadly nightshade?) discover their history (bromeliads defended themselves against the dinosaurs!). Then, follow the step-by-step instructions to grow and care for each plant, whether you have a big back garden or a sunny windowsill. Beautifully illustrated and full of information. 
Violets by Alex Hyde          $33
A young woman, Violet, lies in a hospital bed in the closing days of the World War Two. Her pregnancy is over and she is no longer able to conceive. With her husband deployed to the Pacific Front and her friends caught up in transitory love affairs, she must find a way to put herself back together. In a small, watchful town in the Welsh valleys, another Violet contemplates the fate she shares with her unborn child. Unwed and unwanted, an overseas posting offers a temporary way out. Plunged into the heat and disorder of Naples, her body begins to reveal the responsibility it carries even as she is drawn into the burnished circle of a charismatic new friend, Maggie. As the stories of these two Violets begin to intertwine, they both must find the courage necessary to take hold of their lives. 
"This is a profoundly unusual novel, an intricately composed and thoroughly corporeal portrait of the intertwined lives of two women during the war." —Guardian
The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore            $23
England, 1643. Parliament is battling the King; the war between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers rages. Puritanical fervour has gripped the nation, and the hot terror of damnation burns black in every shadow. In Manningtree, depleted of men since the wars began, the women are left to their own devices. At the margins of this diminished community are those who are barely tolerated by the affluent villagers - the old, the poor, the unmarried, the sharp-tongued. Rebecca West, daughter of the formidable Beldam West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only by her infatuation with the clerk John Edes. But then newcomer Matthew Hopkins, a mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, takes over The Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about the women of the margins. When a child falls ill with a fever and starts to rave about covens and pacts, the questions take on a bladed edge. Soon the town is hosting witch trails and the atmosphere of distrust and betrayal grows more extreme. Now in paperback. 
>>Angels in anguish
>>Also available in hardback
Groundskeeping by Lee Cole             $37
Eager to clean up his act after his troubled early twenties, Owen has returned to Kentucky to take a job as a groundskeeper at a small college in the Appalachian foothills, one which allows him to enrol on their writing course. It's there that he meets Alma, a Writer-in-Residence, who seems to have everything Owen doesn't — a prestigious position, an Ivy League education, and published success as a writer. They begin a secret relationship, and as they grow closer, Alma, from a supportive, liberal family of Bosnian immigrants, struggles to understand Owen's fraught relationship with his own family and home. Exploring the boundaries between life and art, and how our upbringings affect the people we can become, Groundskeeping is a novel about two very different people navigating the turbulence of an all-consuming relationship.
Nano: The spectacular science of the very (very) small by Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón          $22
This exciting non-fiction picture book introduces young readers to the fascinating (and cutting-edge) science of the very, very small. Everything is made from something – but the way we make things, from the materials we use to the science and technology involved, is changing fast. 
"Beautiful. Plunges deep into the world of atoms, materials and the applications of nanoscience, with accessible text and richly shaded pictures." –Guardian
The Howling Hag Mystery by Nicki Thornton           $20
When there's a murder in Twinhills and a hag is heard howling at the local inn, Raven Charming realises she may not be the only secret witch in the village. With the help of boy sleuth Mortimer Scratch, and talking cat Nightshade, she sets out to solve her first magical mystery.
Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles             $28
Eccentric, impulsive New York heiress, Christina Goering meets the anxious but equally unpredictable Mrs Copperfield at a party. Two serious ladies, for whom nothing s natural and anything is possible, they follow their singular paths in search of salvation. Mrs Copperfield visits Panama with her husband, whom she abandons for love of Pacifica, a local prostitute, and her brothel home. Miss Goering, for her part, seeks redemption by swapping her mansion for a squalid little house and relishing ever more extreme encounters with strangers. At the end, the two women meet again. First published in 1943, Two Serious Ladies is daring and original, with deadpan humour and devastating insights.
"The book I give as a gift. It feels like giving someone an exotic fruit." —Sheila Heti
Plain Pleasures by Jane Bowles            $28
In this collection of short fiction, ranging from North Africa to South America, Bowles explores her fascination with the hidden lives of apparently ordinary middle-aged women.
"One of the finest modern writers of fiction in any language." —John Ashberry
"A thoroughly original mind - a mind at once profoundly witty, genuinely unusual in its apprehensions, and bracingly, humanely true." —Claire Messud

Saturday 23 April 2022

BOOKS@VOLUME #275 (22.4.22)

Read our latest NEWSLETTER!



>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Kurangaituku by Whiti Hereaka  {Reviewed by STELLA}
This absorbing and powerful novel draws on the pūrākau of Hatupatu and the Birdwoman. In the hands of Whiti Hereaka, the story of Kurangaituku is retold, repositioned and empowered — this is a feminist perspective — wahine strong. It’s also an appreciation of storytelling and the power of words, of language to shape us and contain or conversely to free us. Picking up this attractive Huia publication you are immediately struck by Rowan Heap’s artwork on the covers — (front and front, as this is a book you can start at either end and which overlaps in its telling in the middle) — claw and hand — beaked and unmasked. It would make little difference where you start (I happened to begin on the dark side) as Hereaka avoids linear construction or strict time constraints, and instead weaves the words and actions of Kurangaituku’s travels through time, the underworld and in the forest in moments that circle each other, intersect and mesmerise as only the best storytelling can. It feels both ancient and relevant, and in this it reminded me of the fascinating yet uncomfortable character Papa Toothwort and the world he inhabits in Max Porter’s Lanny — an entity from some hidden depths, always there, watching, listening and learning. In Rarohenga, the underworld, Hereaka creates a dreamlike poetic landscape which moves between nightmare and bliss. Kurangaituku’s travels here bring her both love (with Hinenuitepo) and the desire to be beautiful. Yet it also instils the lust for revenge. It shows her the undoing of man and her own appetite for power. It’s a compelling world to witness through Kurangaituku’s eyes, through her anger and naivety and her awareness of her otherness. In parts beautiful, in parts gruesome, yet also liberating — a place to walk towards the Void, a letting go. Yet what does this mean for Kurangaituku? A creature who is a bird, a woman, both, neither? Dead, not dead? And where can this lead but back to the beginning again? The world is new, and Kurangaituku is of and by the birds. The forest is her home and the birds are her companions. They are drawn to her and they draw her. This timeless expansive moment is interrupted only by the violent murmurings of the earth. When she comes to, the world has changed and the Song Makers have arrived. She watches them, but she can not communicate — she has no voice. Yet they grow to know of her and make her a new version of herself — the story builds, as stories do, with embellishments that become truths, creating a monstrous birdwoman. She is a story and cannot control her outcome — or can she? And in this world, she meets the young warrior, or trickster, Hatupatu for the first time. Her fascination with him, and his ultimate betrayal, is Kurangaituku’s tragedy. Whiti Hereaka’s novel sits comfortably with other feminist myth retellings (Atwood’s Penelopiad or Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber) which give voice to those poorly served by their traditional tellings, with the bonus that is situated here, in Aotearoa. For a novel which is structurally and thematically complex, Kurangaituku is surprisingly agile and wonderfully alluring.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Could he even write a review of a book he had read about someone writing about sentences that he in turn had read which were written by yet other people, some of whom, or, rather, some of which, he himself had read directly, if that is the word, that is to say not just in the book about sentences in which these sentences also appear and which he has also read? The question mark, when it finally arrived, seemed somehow out of place, so far did it trail the part of the sentence he had just written in which the matter of the question appeared early, all those clauses shoving the question mark to an awkward distance, already the thought that the sentence described was changing direction, as thoughts do, but the sentence was still obliged to display the mark that would make the first part of the sentence, and indeed the whole sentence thereby into a question, there was a debt to be paid after all, he was lucky to get off without interest. The separation of the question mark from the quested matter was not the only reservation he had about the sentence he had just written, he had other reservations, both about its structure and its content, in other words both about its grammar and its import, if that is the right word. One reservation was that he had chosen to write the sentence in the third person, a habit he had acquired, or an affectation that he had adopted, that depersonalised his reviews and made them easier to write and, he hoped, more enjoyable to read, certainly, he thought, less embarrassing for himself to read, or should that be re-read, not that he was particularly inclined to do such a thing. These reviews were also written in the past tense, for goodness sake. Could he write in the first person and in the present tense, he wondered, or was that a mode he contrarily reserved for fiction? Can I even write a review of a book I have read, he wrote as an experiment, about someone writing about sentences that he has read which were written by yet other people, some of whom, or, rather, some of which, I have read directly, if that is the word, that is to say not just in the book about sentences in which these sentences also appear and which I have also read?, he wrote, though I must say, he thought, that question mark is more problematic than ever. Also, would it not be ludicrous, he thought, to even attempt to write a review about a book about fine sentences, or exceptional sentences, or exemplary sentences or whatever, from William Shakespeare to Anne Boyer, including sentences from several of my favourite writers, though not perhaps the sentences of theirs that I would choose if I had been choosing, he thought, when my own sentences churn on, when in my own repertoire I have only commas and full stops, a continuation mark and a stopping mark, when those two marks for him are already too much for him to handle, accustomed as he had once made himself to the austerity of the full stop alone, you could write a whole book using only full stops, he thought, or he had once thought. He had wandered, and tried to return to the task in hand, or the book in hand, or to the thought in head, so to speak. Because the book was about sentences he found himself unable to write any sentences about it. If he wrote a review, he thought, he had no doubt that at least some of the readers of that review, if not all of the readers of that review, if there were any such readers, which seemed unlikely, would find his sentences fell short of their subject, or if they did not fall short they would quaver under their scrutiny, weaken and collapse, which is another sort of falling. His sentences would rather point than be pointed at. Thinking of writing would have to suffice. I would like to write, he thought of writing, that this book, Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon, is the sort of book that anyone interested in reading better, or, indeed, in writing better, which goes without saying, as writing is a subset of reading, if that goes without saying, though not everyone’s subset, he thought, and would have said had he been saying instead of thinking and writing, or, rather thinking and thinking of writing, Brian Dillon is good company in working out how text works when it works well, but, although he thought of writing this, as he had said, see, he does say though he said he was not saying, he did not write this as, by this time, his comma-infested sentences were almost unable to move in any direction even if not in a straight line, bring on the full stops, he thought. 

"Every writing worthy of its name wrestles with the Angel and, at best, comes out limping.” —Jean-François Lyotard

Our Book of the Week is The Bookseller at the End of the World by Ruth Shaw. Shaw didn't exactly intend to become a bookseller, but she found herself the proprietor of two tiny bookshops in the tiny settlement of Manapouri. In this charming volume, Shaw weaves together accounts of characters who visit her bookshop, musings on her favourite books, and bittersweet stories from her remarkable and varied life before she became a bookseller. She has sailed through the Pacific for years, was held up by pirates, worked at Sydney's King's Cross with drug addicts and prostitutes, campaigned on numerous environmental issues, and worked the yacht Breaksea Girl as an expedition/tourist boat with her husband, Lance. 
>>How to run a bookshop
>>Pirates, pigs and sex work
>>A life well lived. 
>>There were two... 
>>And now there are three!
>>Crammed with adventure
>>Read an excerpt


Slow Down, You're Here by Brannavan Gnanalingam         $25
Gnanalingam's last two novels have been short-listed for the Acorn Prize in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. In his new novel, Kavita is stuck in a dead-end marriage. A parent of two small kids, she is the family’s main breadwinner. An old flame unexpectedly offers her a week away in Waiheke. If she were to go, she’s not sure when — or if — she’d come back. Gnanalingam's novels are notable for their authentic texture and insight into the lives of others. 
Companion Piece by Ali Smith            $46
"A story is never an answer. A story is always a question." Here we are in extraordinary times. Is this history? What happens when we cease to trust governments, the media, each other? What have we lost? What stays with us? What does it take to unlock our future? Ali Smith follows her wonderful 'Seasons' quartet, written in 'real time', with this further novel. Few writers can manage to be at the same time as angry and as playful as Ali Smith, and few can directly face the most depressing aspects of our present moment and find such hope in humanity. Lovely in hardback. 
"A lockdown story of wayward genius. Lyrical visions alternate with fables and farce, history with Covid, in the scheme-busting fifth part of Smith's seasonal quartet." —The Guardian 
"Ali Smith is lighting us a path out of the nightmarish now." —Observer

Seasons by William Direen           $20   
Bill Direen's poetry diary spans a year on a strath an hour’s drive from Dunedin. It is written with a sharp eye for landscape, and a musician’s ear for the sounds of the Strath region, as it changes dramatically from drought to flood to extreme frosts and snow-bound winter. Begun after Direen returned to New Zealand from France, the poem is in three parts. It runs from autumn to autumn, blending description with personal micronarrative. Each copy of the book has a unique download code, offering the text combined with music by six New Zealand musicians.
Other listening:
>>World of the Winds (2021).
>>Moderation (1983)

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan             $38
Imagine a new technology, Own Your Unconscious, that allows you access to every memory you've ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others. Such a technology would seduce multitudes. But not everyone. In spellbinding linked narratives, Egan spins out the consequences of Own Your Unconscious through the lives of multiple characters whose paths intersect over several decades. Egan introduces these characters in an astonishing array of styles—from omniscient to first person plural to a duet of voices, an epistolary chapter, and a chapter of tweets. In the world of Egan's spectacular imagination, there are 'counters' who track and exploit desires and there are 'eluders', those who understand the price of taking a bite of the Candy House. The Candy House is a bold imagining of a world that is moments away.
“Jennifer Egan’s radiant new novel explores what role the imagination can still play in a world overwhelmed by technology." —Slate
>>What the forest remembers
>>Everything was fine
>>How much sharing is too much sharing? 
Down from Upland by Murdoch Stephens            $30
Down from Upland is a kitchen sink, domestic novel that opens at the precise moment the first Millennials find themselves raising a teenager. While flirting with an open marriage, Jacqui and Scott nudge their son on a more moderate course as he begins at a new high school and makes new friends. Skewering the best and worst of Wellington’s leafy middle class, the novel features public servants with varying degrees of integrity, precocious Wellington High students and a foreign lover at the end of a working holiday visa. Stephens's writing, as always, defies gravity as the present moment really gets away on us. 
>>Read Stella's review of Rat King Landlord. 
We Still Have the Telephone by Erica Van Horn               $36
"My mother and I have been writing her obituary. We have been working on it for several years now. Before we started, she had already begun the project with my older sister. She wants to get it right." Assembling fragments of past and present Erica Van Horn describes a life laid out in detail, quietly registering the fuzziness of the line between eccentricity and madness. In this mosaic portrait, a singular everywoman emerges, whose immutable rituals exist on a par with an irrepressible anarchy. This delightful book suggests that the very details that never make it into obituaries are the ones that tell us the most about the person concerned. 
>>Some words for living locally. 
Tractatus Philosophico-Poeticus by Signe Gjessing (translated from Danish by Denise Newman)           $28
Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, often noted as the most important philosophical work of the 20th century, had a broad goal: to identify the relationship between language and reality, and to define the limits of science. Following on from Wittgenstein 100 years later, Signe Gjessing updates and reimagines the Tractatus, marrying poetry with philosophy to test the boundaries of reality. This is poetry which exacts the logical consequence of philosophy, while locating beauty and significance in the 'nonsense' of the world.
"Signe Gjessing’s highly original reconfiguration of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus unfolds at once logically and lyrically on the trembling cusp where philosophy and poetry intersect. Her witty, haunting propositions shimmer between the profound and the puzzling, and beautifully enact Wallace Stevens’s assertion that ‘Life’s nonsense pierces us with strange relation'." –Mark Ford
Revenge of the Scapegoat by Caren Beilin               $36
A tale of familial trauma that is also a broadly inclusive skewering of academia, the medical industry, and the contemporary art scene. One day Iris, an adjunct at a city arts college, receives a terrible package: recently unearthed letters that her father had written to her in her teens, in which he blames her for their family's crises. Driven by the raw fact of receiving these devastating letters not once but twice in a lifetime, and in a panic of chronic pain brought on by rheumatoid arthritis, Iris escapes to the countryside—or some absurdist version of it. Nazi cows, Picassos used as tampons, and a pair of arthritic feet that speak in the voices of Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet are standard fare in this beguiling novel of odd characters, surprising circumstances, and intuitive leaps, all brought together in serious ways.
>>How do we stop repeating ourselves? 
The Bookseller at the End of the World by Ruth Shaw          $37
Ruth Shaw didn't exactly intend to become a bookseller, but she found herself the proprietor of two tiny bookshops in the tiny settlement of Manapouri. In this charming volume, Shaw weaves together accounts of characters who visit her bookshop, musings on her favourite books, and bittersweet stories from her remarkable and varied life before she became a bookseller. She has sailed through the Pacific for years, was held up by pirates, worked at Sydney's King's Cross with drug addicts and prostitutes, campaigned on numerous environmental issues, and worked the yacht Breaksea Girl as an expedition/tourist boat with her husband, Lance. 
"An extraordinary story." —Shaun Bythell
>>How to open a bookshop.
The Very Last Interview by David Shields           $38
David Shields (author of Reality Hunger) decided to gather every interview he's ever given, going back nearly forty years. If it was on the radio or TV or a podcast, he transcribed it. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he knew he wasn't interested in any of his own answers. The questions interested him—approximately 2,700, which he condensed and collated to form twenty-two chapters focused on such subjects as Process, Childhood, Failure, Capitalism, Suicide, and Comedy. The result is a lacerating self-demolition in which the author—in this case, a late-middle-aged white man—is strangely, thrillingly absent. 
“Remixing and reimagining 2,000 of the most annoying questions he’s been asked during his 40-year writing life, David Shields’s The Very Last Interview is an often hilarious, operatically tragic sojourn across American cultural life. What do we expect of our writers, of intellectual history, of fame, of celebrity? All the answers are in the questions. Shields turns inside out whatever glamour remains attached to an artistic life in this book that’s at once charming and damning.” —Chris Kraus
“The moment I started reading this book, the hair went up on my neck. I blasted through it in a night, thrilled by the energy. Shields doesn’t wear out the form; it keeps doing remarkable tricks on the reader’s brain right to the finish. Stunning.” —Jonathan Lethem
The Poem: Lyric, sign, metre by Don Paterson           $45
In illuminating and engaging prose, Paterson offers his treatise on the making and the philosophy of 'the poem', unpicking the process of verse composition, exploring the mechanics of how a poem works and, essentially, what a poem is. His findings take the form of three essays that make up the three sections of the book: 'Lyric' attends to the sound of the poem; 'Sign' envisages ideas of poetic meaning; while 'Metre' studies its underlying rhythms.
"Both remarkable and irresistible." —Scottish Review of Books
>>Metre readings
>>A word in your ear.
New Rome: The Roman Empire in the East, AD395—700 by Paul Stephenson           $55
 Long before Rome fell to the Ostrogoths in AD 476, a new city had risen to take its place as the beating heart of a late antique empire, the glittering Constantinople: New Rome. In this magisterial work, Stephenson charts the centuries surrounding this epic shift of power. He traces the cultural, social and political forces that led to the empire being ruled from a city straddling Europe and Asia, placing all into a rich natural and environmental context informed by the latest scientific research.
Found, Wanting by Natasha Sholl             $38
On Valentine’s Day, after a night of red wine and pasta and planning for their future, Natasha Sholl and her partner Rob went to bed. A few hours later, at the age of 27, his heart stopped. Found, Wanting tells the story of Natasha’s attempt to rebuild her life in the wake of Rob’s sudden death, stumbling through the grief landscape and colliding with the cultural assumptions about the ‘right way’ to grieve.
>>What not to say to someone who's grieving
The Man Who Tasted Words: Inside the strange and startling world of the senses by Guy Leschziner             $38
The information you receive from your senses makes up your world. But that world does not exist. What we perceive to be the absolute truth of the world around us is a complex reconstruction, a virtual reality created by the complex machinations of our minds in tandem with the wiring of our nervous systems.
But what happens if that wiring goes awry? What happens if connections falter, or new and unexpected connections are made? Tiny shifts in the microbiology of our nervous systems can cause the world around us to shift and mutate, to become alien and unfamiliar.

Quarantine by Philippa Werry         $20
New Zealand in 1936–37 is facing a pandemic of infantile paralysis, or polio, and nobody knows where it will strike next. When even the adults are afraid, Tom finds refuge in his dream—to run in the Olympics like his hero, Jack Lovelock. But it's the strength of some people closer to home that provides his biggest inspiration.
all about love: new visions by bell hooks             $30
At her most provocative and intensely personal, the renowned scholar, cultural critic, and feminist skewers our view of love as romance.
Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman)         $21
Two girls: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve's best friend and the only one who loves her selflessly, planning to leave, but not without Eve. Two boys: Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, deeply in love with Eve; Clélio, the neighbourhood tough, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France. All are desperate to escape the cycle of fear and violence in which they are trapped. A powerful young adult novel set in Mauritius. 
"The most vivid novel I’ve read in ages, magnificently translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman. The gorgeous, profoundly poetic writing is completely mesmerizing and viscerally affecting: it gave me goose bumps several times. The narrative slowly escalates through brilliant and memorable scenes, as well as haunting inner monologues, to its glorious conclusion. There is something so triumphant and so powerful in the structure of Eve, and something so real and touching in these characters, each consistent, unexpected, thought-provoking and wonderful. A work of profound sympathy and deep desire." —Jennifer Croft, translator of Flights, 2018 Man Booker International Prize.
>>Read Thomas's review
The British Surrealists by Desmond Morris          $55
Fêted for their idiosyncratic and imaginative works, the surrealists marked a pivotal moment in the history of modern British art. Many banded together to form the British Surrealist Group, while others carved their own, independent paths. Here, author and surrealist artist Desmond Morris — one of the last surviving members of this art movement — draws on his memories and experiences to present the lives of this curious set of artists. From the unpredictability of Francis Bacon to the rebelliousness of Leonora Carrington, from the beguiling Eileen Agar to the 'brilliant' Ceri Richards, Morris's vivid account is profusely illustrated by images of the artists and their artworks.

500 Chess Questions Answered by Andrew Soltis            $35
From learning how to train your mind with chess information to choosing the best chess opening, dip in and out of this invaluable guide to improve your chess in a minutes. Chess questions answered in this book include: Is there a best way to study chess? How do I know if I have a natural talent? How important is chess memory and how can I train mine? How long should I think before choosing a move? Is there a proper way to think? Can I think like a chess computer? How do I develop chess intuition?