Thursday 23 June 2022

BOOKS @ VOLUME $284 (23.6.22)

For book new and new books read our latest NEWSLETTER. 


Our Book of the Week is Jennifer Egan's sharp and compelling new novel The Candy House. in which a new digital technology, Own Your Unconscious, gives users access to every memory and experience they've ever had, and to share access to those memories and experiences with others. Told in a wide array of styles, and by different characters and in different times, the novel takes us on a wide-eyed roller-coaster ride through the not-too-distant future—and through the age-old 'problems' of consciousness, memory and identity that we are now facing with new urgency as we consider the possibility of digital minds. 
>>Read Stella's review


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Candy House by Jennifer Egan   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Be careful what you wish for. A catch-cry of our present time is a desire to find meaningful connection, to be part of a community within which we are specific and individual. Yet in reality we are more likely to find ourselves awash in a social media sea. In Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House, the desire for authenticity and connection is high and the clever Bix Bouton has the key. Bix is rich and successful. A fast-thinker graduate, his start-up, Mandala, took off, but now he’s out of ideas and craving something of the magic of his younger self. Infiltrating an academic discussion group where they are prying open the social anthropologist Miranda Kline’s theory Patterns of Affinity, kicks off the lightbulb for Bix. And the beautiful cube, Own Your Unconscious, is born. Get yourself a beautiful cube and download your memory — your every moment and feeling: either just for yourself so you can revisit childhood or recall a moment; or upload for the wider community — to The Collective Consciousness — so memories can be shared and information found (sound familiar?). Now Bix is richer, more successful, a celebrity who’s a regular at The White House and loved by many. Life is good. Yet at the edges there is doubt. And not everyone is a believer. There are eluders, those that wipe themselves to escape — pretty much losing their identity for freedom from the technological behemoth. There is Mondrian, an organisation that sees ethical problems within this set-up and offers a way out for those who feel trapped. This novel has connections to her Pultizer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad. There are characters who exist in both, and actions that are revisited by the curious, in particular the next generation who live with the consequences. There’s the anonymity of the urban and the claustrophobia of suburban landscapes, alongside the openness of the desert and the endless possibilities of the sea. All these landscapes play their role in the interior landscapes (the minds) of the diverse array of characters. This is a novel that does not stay still. There is no straight line in The Candy House. Egan writes explosive short pieces, chapters which connect, disconnect and reconnect (sometimes) in surprising ways. Characters are related in familial and relationship lines, or by deed, or the outsourced memory of deeds. Some we meet once, others on several occasions — they are in turn in all their guises: adults, children, parents, siblings. This may sound disjointed, and at times the narrative may lead you astray, but the thematic pulse runs continuously through. As in her earlier Goon Squad, Egan plays with structure and different narrative styles. There is the 'Lulu the Spy' chapter told in bite-sized dispatch commands — a tensely addictive reading experience; there is a brilliantly cutting e-mail conversation chapter where the narcissistic desires of the correspondents will make you wince; and there is the mathematically genius 'i, Protaganist' in which a man tries to realise his crush through obsessive statistical analysis. Knitted seamlessly into this wonderland of ideas are the concrete desires, fears and concerns of various humans, all achingly searching for authenticity within an illusionary world. An energetically clever novelist, Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House gives you sweet treats, as well as a whirlwind of sugary highs and lows. Put down the cube and pick up The Candy House


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages,” states Manguso in one of the 300 aphorisms and ‘arguments’ (as in ‘the argument of the story’ rather than a disputation) that comprise this enjoyable little book. Indeed the whole does feel as if it bears some relation to another considerably longer but nonexistent text, either as a reader’s quotings or marginalia, or as a writer’s folder of sentences-to-use-sometime or jottings towards a novel she has not yet written (“To call a piece of writing a fragment, or to say that it’s composed of fragments, is to say that it or its components were once whole but are no longer”). Many of the aphorisms are pithy and self-contained, often dealing with awkwardness and degrees of experiential dysphoria (so to call it), and other passages, none of which are more than a few sentences long, are distillates or subsubsections of stories that are not further recorded but which can be felt to pivot on these few sentences. Some of the ‘arguments’ reveal unexpected aspects of universal experiences (“When the worst comes to pass, the first feeling is relief” or “Hating is an act of respect” or “Vocation and ambition are different but ambition doesn’t know the difference”) and others are lighter, more particular (and, it must be said, a few could belong on calendars on the walls of dentists’ waiting rooms). Some of the arguments are just singular observations: “The boy realises that if he can feed a toy dog a cracker, he can just as easily feed a toy train a cracker” or “Many bird names are onomatopoeic — they name themselves. Fish, on the other hand, have to float there and take what they get.” To read the whole book is to feel the spaces and stories that form the invisible backdrop for these scattered points of light, and the reader is left with a residue similar to that with which you are left having read a whole novel.


Here Be Icebergs by Katya Adaui (translated by Rosalind Harvey)          $34
The mysteries of kinship (families born into and families made) take disconcerting and familiar shapes in these refreshingly frank short stories. A family is haunted by a beast that splatters fruit against its walls every night, another undergoes a near-collision with a bus on the way home from the beach. Mothers are cold, fathers are absent—we know these moments in the abstract, but Adaui makes each as uncanny as our own lives: close but not yet understood.
"With this book Katya Adaui consolidates her position as one of the most subtle and original Peruvian writers in recent years." —El País
Absence by Lucie Paye (translated by Natasha Lehrer)            $36
A painter obsessively attempts to depict a mysterious female figure who keeps on appearing under his brush. An anonymous woman addresses letters to an absent loved one. Through a sequence of affecting images, Absence dramatises the role of the unconscious in artistic creation and the power of unconditional love.
"Enigmatic and magnetic. An elusive novel, its heartbeat muffled and secretive. Its oscillations are at first intriguing, then captivating, and finally mesmerising. The book’s pulse goes to the reader’s head like a strong liquor sipped slowly." – Le Matricule des Anges
"In her first novel Lucie Paye sets words to the page with a fine brush. Nothing is overworked, least of all pain. Paye appreciates the half-lights, and her delicate style favours these nuanced feelings. Within these pages is a melancholy and disquiet in the ‘Pessoan’ sense of the word, but they are never overcast. ‘Painters, like writers, are thieves. They transfer and transport landscapes, in their dreams and in their worlds,’ wrote painter Kees van Dongen. Rarely have these words seemed so true as when reading this novel, at the confluence of the two art forms. Paye’s novel explores the link between the artist and their work, through the unconscious and the creative process. It also examines the relation of the viewer of a work, projecting emotions and desires onto it – and seeing in it what we want to see. Our personal perspective can distance us from the artist’s own intentions. It doesn’t matter, the main thing is to have felt something, to have been given access to the things of which, without art, we could never have dreamed." –Le Figaro Littéraire
Much attention has been paid to so-called late style — but what about last style? When does last begin? How early is late? When does the end set in? Dyer sets his own encounter with late middle age against the last days and last achievements of writers, painters, athletes and musicians who've mattered to him throughout his life. He examines Friedrich Nietzsche's breakdown in Turin, Bob Dylan's reinventions of old songs, J.M.W. Turner's paintings of abstracted light, John Coltrane's cosmic melodies, Jean Rhys's return from the dead (while still alive) and Beethoven's final quartets — and considers the intensifications and modifications of experience that come when an ending is within sight. Oh, and there's some mention of Roger Federer and tennis too.
“A masterful, beautiful, reluctantly moving book — that is, moving despite its subject being naturally moving, courting no pathos, shrewd and frank — and Dyer’s best in some time. Indeed, one of his best, period.” —Los Angeles Times
Stretto by David Wheatley                $35
Stretto is both a novel of travel and of migration, moving between Ireland, England and Scotland over a twenty-year period, and an exploration of the nature of self and reality, reconnecting with the modernist energies of Joyce and Beckett.
"David Wheatley has composed a text so intricately figured, made out of the tones and notes and embellishments of family life and of work and the many-faceted elements of the imagination, that it reflects precisely the impetus and forward motion of the musical movement its title describes. Each section is a bar of poetry both fitted within and overlaying the prose that describes it; each page and a half is measured to sing out exactly in the key and time signature to which it has been set. Wondrous." —Kirsty Gunn

Otherlands: A world in the making by Thomas Halliday          $40
An exhilarating journey into deep time, showing us the Earth as it used to exist, and the worlds that were here before ours. Travelling back in time to the dawn of complex life, and across all seven continents, Halliday gives us a mesmerizing up close encounter with eras that are normally unimaginably distant. Halliday immerses us in a series of ancient landscapes, from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska to the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins, to Ediacaran Australia, where the moon is far brighter than ours today. We visit the birthplace of humanity; we hear the crashing of the highest waterfall the Earth has ever known; and we watch as life emerges again after the asteroid hits, and the age of the mammal dawns. These lost worlds seem fantastical and yet every description—whether the colour of a beetle's shell, the rhythm of pterosaurs in flight or the lingering smell of sulphur in the air—is grounded in the fossil record. Otherlands is an imaginative feat: an emotional narrative that underscores the tenacity of life—yet also the fragility of seemingly permanent ecosystems, including our own. To read it is to see the last 500 million years not as an endless expanse of unfathomable time, but as a series of worlds, simultaneously fabulous and familiar.
>>Also available as a nice hardback, $54.

Worn: A people's history of clothing by Sofi Thanhauser             $55
Linen, Cotton, Silk, Synthetics, Wool. Through the stories of these five fabrics, Sofi Thanhauser illuminates the world we inhabit in a startling new way, travelling from China to Cumbria to reveal the craft, labour and industry that create the clothes we wear. From the women who transformed stalks of flax into linen to clothe their families in 19th century New England to those who earn their dowries in the cotton spinning factories of South India today, this book traces the origins of garment making through time and around the world. Exploring the social, economic and environmental impact of our most personal possessions, Worn looks beyond care labels to show how clothes reveal the truth about what we really care about.
The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate, culture, catastrophe by Mark Bould           $33
Today’s movies, television, and novels are pregnant with catastrophe, with extreme weather and rising waters, with environmental wildness and climate weirdness, but this book is more interested in how the Anthropocene and especially anthropogenic climate destabilisation manifests in texts that are not overtly about climate change — that is, unconsciously. The Anthropocene, Bould argues, constitutes the unconscious of 'the art and literature of our time'. Tracing the outlines of the Anthropocene unconscious in a range of film, television and literature, this playful and riveting book draws out some of the things that are repressed and obscured by the term 'the Anthropocene', including capital, class, imperialism, inequality, alienation, violence, commodification, patriarchy and racial formations.
The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund                $35
Countries go wrong sometimes, and sometimes the luckier citizens of those countries have a chance to escape and seek refuge in another country—a country that might itself be in the process of going wrong. In the bustling indifference of an unnamed city, one such citizen finds himself trapped working for a company that makes its money dispatching an army of undocumented refugees to bring the well-off men and women of this confounding metropolis their dinners. Whatever he might have been at home, this citizen is now a Delivery Boy: a member of a new and invisible working class, pedaling his power-assist bike through traffic, hoping for a decent tip and a five-star rating. He is decidedly a Delivery Boy; sometimes he even feels like a Delivery Baby; certainly he's not yet a Delivery Man, though he'll have to man up if he wants to impress N., the aloof dispatcher who sends him his orders and helps him with his English. Can our hero avoid the wrath of his Supervisor and escape his indentured servitude? Can someone in his predicament ever have a happy ending? Who gets to decide? And who's telling this story, anyway?
When a chief’s son is taken by the taniwha, Te Hiakai, the people devise many plans to trap and kill the taniwha, but each time Te Hiakai outwits them. In the end, Pōhutukawa, a chief’s daughter, speaks to the taniwha. Through her words a spell is broken, and the taniwha transforms into a young warrior, Te Haeata, who had been cursed by a tohunga long ago. Pōhutukawa and Te Haeata fall in love and live out their lives together. But Te Haeata never quite shakes off the spell, and in old age, he transforms into an eel and becomes a guardian in the Rangitāiki river.
Available in either te Reo or English. 
Control: The dark history and troubling present of eugenics by Adam Rutherford           $45
Throughout history, people have sought to improve society by reducing suffering, eliminating disease or enhancing desirable qualities in their children. But this wish goes hand in hand with the desire to impose control over who can marry, who can procreate and who is permitted to live. In the Victorian era, in the shadow of Darwin's ideas about evolution, a new full-blooded attempt to impose control over our unruly biology began to grow in the clubs, salons and offices of the powerful. It was enshrined in a political movement that bastardised science, and for sixty years enjoyed bipartisan and huge popular support. Eugenics was vigorously embraced in dozens of countries. It was also a cornerstone of Nazi ideology, and forged a path that led directly to the gates of Auschwitz. But the underlying ideas are not merely historical. The legacy of eugenics persists in our language and literature, from the words 'moron' and 'imbecile' to the themes of some of our greatest works of culture. Today, with new gene editing techniques, very real conversations are happening - including in the heart of British government - about tinkering with the DNA of our unborn children, to make them smarter, fitter, stronger. Control tells the story of attempts by the powerful throughout history to dictate reproduction and regulate the interface of breeding and society. It is an urgently needed examination that unpicks one of the defining and most destructive ideas of the twentieth century. To know this history is to inoculate ourselves against its being repeated.
Unlocking the World: Port cities and globalisation in the Age of Steam, 1830—1930 by John Darwin          $26
Steam power transformed our world, initiating the complex, resource-devouring industrial system the consequences of which we live with today. It revolutionised work and production, but also the ease and cost of movement over land and water. The result was to throw open vast areas of the world to the rampaging expansion of Europeans and Americans on a scale previously unimaginable. 
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo            $33
A long time ago, in a bountiful land not so far away, the animal denizens lived quite happily. Then the colonisers arrived. After nearly a hundred years, a bloody War of Liberation brought new hope for the animals - along with a new leader. A charismatic horse who commanded the sun and ruled and ruled and kept on ruling. For forty years he ruled, with the help of his elite band of Chosen Ones, a scandalously violent pack of Defenders and, as he aged, his beloved and ambitious young donkey wife, Marvellous. But even the sticks and stones know there is no night ever so long it does not end with dawn. And so it did for the Old Horse, one day as he sat down to his Earl Grey tea and favorite radio programme. A new regime, a new leader. Or apparently so. And once again, the animals were full of hope... An energetic novel exploring the fall of Robert Mugabe. 
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley           $33
Kiara Johnson does not know what it is to live as a normal seventeen-year-old. With her mother in a rehab facility and an older brother who devotes his time and money to a recording studio, she fends for herself - and for nine-year-old Trevor, whose own mother is prone to disappearing for days at a time. As the landlord of their apartment block threatens to raise their rent, Kiara finds herself walking the streets after dark, determined to survive in a world that refuses to protect her. Then one night Kiara is picked up by two police officers, and the gruesome deal she is offered in exchange for her freedom lands her at the centre of a media storm. If she agrees to testify in a grand jury trial, she could help expose the sickening corruption of a police department. But honesty comes at a price - one that could leave her family vulnerable to their retaliation, and endanger everyone she loves.
"Nightcrawling marks the dazzling arrival of a young writer with a voice and vision you won't easily get out of your head. When asked how to write in a world dominated by a white culture, Toni Morrison once responded: 'By trying to alter language, simply to free it up, not to repress or confine it. Tease it. Blast its racist straitjacket.' At a time when structural imbalances of capital, heath, gender, and race deepen divides, the young American Leila Mottley's debut novel is a searing testament to the liberated spirit and explosive ingenuity of such storytelling." —The Guardian
"A truly beautiful and powerful book." —Ruth Ozeki
How To Be a Refugee: One family's story of exile and belonging by Simon May          $25
The most familiar fate of Jews living in Hitler's Germany is either emigration or deportation to concentration camps. But there was another, much rarer, side to Jewish life at that time: denial of your origin to the point where you manage to erase almost all consciousness of it. You refuse to believe that you are Jewish. How to Be a Refugee is Simon May's account of how three sisters - his mother and his two aunts - grappled with what they felt to be a lethal heritage. Their very different trajectories included conversion to Catholicism, marriage into the German aristocracy, securing 'Aryan' status with high-ranking help from inside Hitler's regime, and engagement to a card-carrying Nazi. Even after his mother fled to London from Nazi Germany and Hitler had been defeated, her instinct for self-concealment didn't abate. Following the early death of his father, also a German Jewish refugee, May was raised a Catholic and forbidden to identify as Jewish or German or British. In the face of these banned inheritances, May embarks on a quest to uncover the lives of the three sisters as well as the secrets of a grandfather he never knew.
The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls              $22
Seventeen-year-old Margot Allan was a respectable vicar's daughter and madly in love with her fiancé Harry. But when Harry was reported Missing in Action from the Western Front, and Margot realised she was expecting his child, there was only one solution she and her family could think of in order to keep that respectability. She gave up James, her baby son, to be adopted by her parents and brought up as her younger brother.Now two years later the whole family is gathering at the Vicarage for Christmas. It's heartbreaking for Margot being so close to James but unable to tell him who he really is. But on top of that, Harry is also back in the village. Released from captivity in Germany and recuperated from illness, he's come home and wants answers. Why has Margot seemingly broken off their engagement and not replied to his letters? Margot knows she owes him an explanation. But can she really tell him the truth about James?
 "Nuanced and evocative, this is bittersweet perfection." —Guardian
"Sally Nicholls conjures another era with a miraculous lightness of touch that fills me with joy and envy. Her characters don't just leap off the page, they grab you by the collar, demand your sympathy and surprise you at every turn."—Frances Hardinge
The Hospital: Life, death and dollars in a small American town by Brian Alexander           $40
By following the struggle for survival of one small-town hospital, and the patients who walk, or are carried, through its doors, The Hospital takes readers into the world of the American medical industry in a way no book has done before. Americans are dying sooner, and living in poorer health. Alexander argues that no plan will solve America's health crisis until the deeper causes of that crisis are addressed. Alexander strips away the wonkiness of policy to reveal Americans' struggle for health against a powerful system that's stacked against them, but yet so fragile it blows apart when the pandemic hits.
"America is broken, but sometimes it takes looking at the smallest shattered pieces to realize how broken. That is the sad lesson at the core of Alexander's The Hospital." —Rolling Stone
Poems, 1962—2020 by Louise Glück             $65
A career-spanning collection of the Nobel Prize-winning poet's work. For fifty years, Louise Gluck has been a major force in modern poetry, distinguished as much for the restless intelligence, wit and intimacy of her poetic voice as for her development of a particular form — the book-length sequence of poems. This volume brings together the twelve collections Glück has published to date. 

Saturday 18 June 2022


BOOKS @ VOLUME #283 (17.6.22)

For book news and new books, read our latest NEWSLETTER.


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell)  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Let the title of this short story collection be a warning. In the second of Mariana Enriquez's collections to be translated into English, the macabre and disorderly rise to the surface. There are ghosts in these pages, phantoms and hauntings. Some reside just under the surface in superstition, some make their presence known by their unsettled, revenge-seeking wanderings, while others are phantoms that walk in broad daylight, bold and violent. Enriquez’s tales resist the easy condition of horror or the gothic, creeping under our skin — making us uneasy yet fascinated. We can not turn away, as our curiosity gets the better of us. The stories meld the mundane, the daily chores, and the familiar with unresolved crimes, passions and jealousies, and the uneasy moments when you know that the truth lies in a shallow grave just under a veneer of lies. As the characters, predominantly women, navigate their way through the stories, Enriquez spins a web of deceit, dark magic and fantastical scenarios to point a finger at the horror of a place imbued with violence, hypocrisy, fear and grief. Her themes do not rest easy, but the tales and the worlds she builds through metaphor and fantasy are hypnotic, taking us in, sometimes gently, often not. Teenage jealousy in 'Our Lady of The Quarry' conjures up a pack of raving dogs. In 'The Well', a young girl unwittingly becomes the vehicle, body and soul, for her mother, aunt and siblings fear of a malign spirit. So imbued with this malign force, madness is the only solution. 'The Lookout' sends a shiver down your spine — trapped in her frightening form, The Lady Upstairs is looking for a victim — someone to set her free. Each story draws you into a situation that has no easy answers, where friends are bonded by shared crises and sanity is a breath away from collapse. Yet Enriquez’s writing is succinct, beguiling and fizzes with energy — with a force that points a finger at death, at violence and corruption, and says I am not afraid. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Bordering on Miraculous by Lynley Edmeades and Saskia Leek   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
How does a word reveal its meaning at the same moment as it becomes strange to us, he wondered. Or should that be the other way round, how does a word become strange to us at the same moment as it reveals its meaning. Same difference, though he was a little surprised. No closer to an answer in any case. Words, experiences, thoughts, the same principle seems to apply, he thought, or certainly its inverse, or complement, or opposite, or whatever. Familiarity suppresses meaning, he thought, the most familiar is that for which meaning is the least accessible, for which meaning has been obscured by wear until a point of comprehensibility has been attained, a point of dullness and comfort, a point of functional usefulness, if that is not a tautology, a point of habituation sufficient for carrying on with whatever there is to which we are inclined to carry on, if there is any such thing to which we are so inclined. Perhaps ‘meaning’ is not the right word. Or ‘strange’. Or the others. I should maybe start again and use other words, or other thoughts, or both, he thought. All philosophical problems can be solved by changing the meanings of the words used to express them, he had somewhere read, or written, or, more dangerously, both. All that is not the same or not exactly the same as to say that the simplest thing carries the most meaning but is too difficult to think about so we complicate it until we can grasp it in our thoughts, at the moment that its meaning is lost, the moment of comprehension, he thought. Again this strange use of the word ‘meaning’, whatever he meant by that, he was no longer sure. The everyday is that to which we are most habituated, that of which we are the most unaware, or the least aware, if this is not the same thing, to help us to survive the stimulation, he thought, a functional repression of our compulsion to be aware, but this comes at the cost of existing less, of being less aware, of becoming blind to those things that are either the simplest or the most important to us or both. Our dullness stops us being overwhelmed, awareness being after all not so much rapture as terror, not that there was ever much difference. Life denuminised, that is not the word, flat. How then to regain the terrible paradise of the instant, awareness, without risking lives or sanity? How to produce the new and be produced by it? These are not the same question but each applies. They are possibly related. Perhaps now, he thought, I should mention this book, Bordering on Miraculous, a collaboration between poet Lynley Edmeades and painter Saskia Leek, as there appear to be some answers here or, if not answers, related effects that you could be forgiven for mistaking for answers even though there are no such things as answers. Near enough. Poetry seems sometimes capable, as often here, of briefly reinstating awareness, as does the discipline of painting, as does the presence of a baby as it simultaneously wipes your mind. And alters time. What a relief, at least temporarily, to lose what made you you, he thought, or remembered, or imagined that he remembered. What a relief to be only aware of that which is right now pressing itself upon you, or aware only, though only aware is the more precise choice. “Which is more miracle: the things / moving through the sky or the eyes that move / to watch them” asks the poet, looking at a baby looking, he assumes. Such simplicities, the early noticings of babies, infant concepts, are the bases of all consciousness, he ventured, all our complexities are built on these. The first act of comprehension, he thought, is to divide something from that which it is not. “A border is / as a border does.” This book, the poems and the paintings in this book, continually address this primal impulse to give entities edges or to bring forth entities through their edges. All knowledge is built from this ‘bordering’, he thought, but it is always fragile, arbitrary, subject to the possibility of revision, more functional than actual. The second act of comprehension is to associate something with something that it is not (“One cannot help but make associations,” the poet writes), but it is never clear to what extent such associations are inherent in the world or to what extent they are mental only, the result of the impulse to associate, he thought. Not that this matters. Everything is simultaneously both separating and connecting, it is too much for us to sustain, we would be overwhelmed, we reach for a word, for an image, for relief. We pacify it with a noun. To some extent. To hold it all at bay. But also perhaps to invite the onslaught, he wondered, perhaps, he thought, the words release what the words hold back, perhaps these words can reconnect while simultaneously holding that experience at bay. Not that that makes any sense, or much. “One / cannot help but make / nouns,” the poet writes, but there is always this tension, he thinks, between accomplishment and insufficiency in language, never resolved, the world plucking at the words and vice-versa: “Something is there that doesn’t love a page.” “It is this kind of ordinary straining / that makes the margins restless.” The most meaningful is that which reaches closest to the meaninglessness that it most closely resembles. He has thought all this but his thoughts have not been clear, he has lost perhaps the capacity to think, not that he ever had such a capacity other than the capacity to think he had it. He feels perhaps he has not been clear but this beautiful book by Edmeades and Leek is clear, these poems and these paintings address the simplest and most difficult things, the simplest are the most difficult, and vice-versa, this conversation, so to call it, between a poet and a painter, reaches down to the bases of their arts, he thought, to the primalities of consciousness, have I made that word up, a gift to us from babies, perhaps the babies we once were. It is not as if we ever escape the impulses we had as babies. A baby comes, the world is changed. “Goodbye to a future / without this / big head / in it.”

Friday 17 June 2022


Book of the Week. A PASSAGE NORTH by Anuk Arudpragasam is a subtly written and thoughtful novel exploring 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. 
>>Read Stella's review


Mister N by Najwa Bakarat (translated by Luke Leafgren)          $35
Modern-day Beirut is seen through the eyes of a failed writer, the eponymous Mister N. He has left his comfortable apartment and checked himself into a hotel—he thinks. Certainly, they take good care of him there. Meanwhile, on the streets below, a grim pageant: there is desperate poverty, the ever-present threat of violence, and masses of Syrian refugees planning to reach Europe via a dangerous sea passage. How is anyone supposed to write deathless prose in such circumstances? Let alone an old man like Mister N., whose life and memories have become scattered, whose family regards him as an embarrassment, and whose next-door neighbours torment him with their noise, dinner invitations, and inconvenient suicides. Comical and tragic by turns, his misadventures climax in the arrival in what Mister N. had supposed to be his 'real life' of a character from one of his early novels—a vicious militiaman and torturer. What is real? Just what kind of help does Mister N. Need? 
Oldladyvoice by Elisa Victoria (translated by Charlotte Whittle)             $35
Nine-year old Marina may swear like a sailor and think like a novelist, but even the most exceptional child can get lost on the road to adulthood. While her mother is in the hospital with a grave but unnamed illness, Marina spends the summer with her grandmother, waiting to hear whether she’ll get to go home or be bundled off, newly orphaned, to a convent school. There are no rules at Grandma’s, but that also means there are no easy ways to fend off the visions of sex and violence that torment and titillate the girl. Presenting a unique and vivid take on the coming-of-age novel, Oldladyvoice reimagines childhood through the eyes of its one-of-a-kind, hilarious, perceptive and endearing narrator.
"More than anything, Oldladyvoice is hugely good fun. Victoria’s prose is effervescent, her jokes never miss their marks, and the observations of her young narrator feel as tender as they do authentic. I loved this wise, warped little jewel of a novel." —A.K. Blakemore, Guardian
Little by Edward Carey        $25
There is a space between life and death: it's called waxworks. Born in Alsace in 1761, the unsightly, diminutive Marie Grosholtz is quickly nicknamed "Little." Orphaned at the age of six, she finds employment in the household of reclusive anatomist, Dr Curtius. Her role soon surpasses that of mere servant as the eccentric doctor takes an interest in his newfound companion and begins to instruct her in the fine art of wax modelling. From the gutters of pre-revolutionary France to the luxury of the Palace of Versailles, from clutching the still-warm heads of Robespierre's Terror to finding something very like love, Little traces the improbable fortunes of a, almost-nobody who eventually became known as Madam Tussaud. 
"Don't miss this eccentric charmer." —Margaret Atwood
"Marie's story is fascinating in itself, but Carey's talent makes her journey a thing of wonder." —The New York Times
"Compulsively readable: so canny and weird and surfeited with the reality of human capacity and ingenuity that I am stymied for comparison. Dickens and David Lynch? Defoe meets Atwood? Judge for yourself." —Gregory Maguire
Keeping the House by Tice Cin              $35
There’s a stash of heroin waiting to be imported, and no one seems sure what to do with it. But Ayla’s a gardener, and she has a plan. Offering a fresh and funny take on the machinery of the North London heroin trade, Keeping the House lifts the lid on a covert world thriving just beneath notice: not only in McDonald’s queues and men’s clubs, but in spotless living rooms and whispering kitchens. Spanning three generations, this is the story of the Turkish Cypriot immigrant women who keep their family – and their family business – afloat, juggling everything from police surveillance to trickier questions of community, belonging and love.
"Crackling with energy. An exhilaratingly idiosyncratic first novel, Keeping the House has 'cult classic' written all over it." —Guardian
The Silences of Hammerstein by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (translated from German by Martin Chalmers)           $35
A blend of a documentary, collage, narration, and fictional interviews exploring the experiences of real-life German General Kurt von Hammerstein and his wife and children. A member of an old military family, a brilliant staff officer, and the last commander of the German army before Hitler seized power, Hammerstein, who died in 1943 before Hitler's defeat, was nevertheless an idiosyncratic character. Too old to be a resister, he retained an independence of mind that was shared by his children: three of his daughters joined the Communist Party, and two of his sons risked their lives in the July 1944 Plot against Hitler and were subsequently on the run till the end of the war. Hammerstein never criticised his children for their activities, and he maintained contacts with the Communists himself and foresaw the disastrous end of Hitler's dictatorship. In The Silences of Hammerstein, Hans Magnus Enzensberger offers a brilliant and unorthodox account of the military milieu whose acquiescence to Nazism consolidated Hitler's power and of the heroic few who refused to share in the spoils.
The Guyana Quartet by Wilson Harris      $33
The four remarkable novels, The Palace of the PeacockThe Far Journey of OudinThe Whole Armour, and The Secret Ladder, comprise a dizzying, myth-inflected epic literary experience unlike much else. Guyana is an ancient landscape of rainforests and swamplands, haunted by the legacy of slavery and colonial conquest. It is the site of dangerous journeys through the Amazonian interior, where riverboat crews embark on spiritual quests and government surveys are sabotaged by indigenous uprisings. It is a universe of complex moralities, where the conspiracies of a sinister money-lender and the faked death of a murderer question innocence and inheritance. It is a place where life and death, myth and history, philosophy and metaphysics blur. 
"One of the great originals, Visionary. Dazzlingly illuminating." —Guardian
"Harris is the Guyanese William Blake." —Angela Carter
The Third Unconscious: The psychosphere in the viral age by Franco 'Bifo' Berardi               $35
The Unconscious knows no time, it has no before-and-after, it does not have a history of its own. Yet, it does not always remain the same. Different political and economic conditions transform the way in which the Unconscious emerges within the psychosphere of society. In the early 20th century, Freud characterized the Unconscious as the dark side of the well-order framework of Progress and Reason. At the end of the past century, Deleuze and Guattari described it as a laboratory: the magmatic force ceaselessly bringing to the fore new possibilities of imagination. Today, at a time of viral pandemics and in the midst of the catastrophic collapse of capitalism, the Unconscious has begun to emerge in yet another form. In this book, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi vividly portraits the form in which the Unconscious will make itself manifest for decades to come, and the challenges that it will pose to our possibilities of political action, poetic imagination, and therapy.
The Great Adaptation tells the story of how scientists, governments and corporations have tried to deal with the challenge that climate change poses to capitalism by promoting adaptation to the consequences of climate change, rather than combating its causes. From the 1970s neoliberal economists and ideologues have used climate change as an argument for creating more 'flexibility' in society, that is for promoting more market-based solutions to environmental and social questions. The book unveils the political economy of this potent movement, whereby some powerful actors are thriving in the face of dangerous climate change and may even make a profit out of it. A perfect riposte to the idea that the market can address climate change or social issues. 
Three Apples Fell From the Sky by Narine Abgaryan        $23
High in the Armenian mountains, villagers in the close-knit community of Maran bicker, gossip and laugh. Their only connection to the outside world is an ancient telegraph wire and a perilous mountain road that even goats struggle to navigate. As they go about their daily lives - harvesting crops, making baklava, tidying houses - the villagers sustain one another through good times and bad. But sometimes a spark of romance is enough to turn life on its head, and a plot to bring two of Maran's most stubbornly single residents together soon gives the village something new to gossip about.

Stolen Science: Thirteen untold stories of scientists and inventors almost written out of history by Ella Schwartz and Gaby D'Alessandro        $35
Over the centuries, women, people from underrepresented communities, and immigrants overcame prejudices and social obstacles to make remarkable discoveries in science—but they weren't the ones to receive credit in history books. People with more power, money, and prestige were remembered as the inventor of the telephone, the scientists who decoded the structure of DNA, and the doctor who discovered the cause of yellow fever. This book aims to set the record straight and celebrate the nearly forgotten inventors and scientists who shaped our world today. Nicely illustrated.
Kua Whetūrangitia a Koro and How My Koro Became a Star by Brianne Te Paa          each $22
A young boy learns about the customs around celebrating Matariki from his grandfather. They watch the stars from the top of a mountain, prepare their offering of food for the gods, and the boy learns about Te Waka o Rangi and the tradition of calling out the names of loved ones who have passed away so that they can become stars. Just before Matariki the following year, the boy’s Koro suddenly dies. He gathers and prepares the food offering and asks each family member to come with him up the mountain when Matariki is due to rise, but they all make excuses, and he is disheartened. But when he tells them what Koro taught him, they all climb the mountain before sunrise, follow the rituals Koro carried out and call out Koro’s name so that he can become a star.
The Lost Ryū by Emi Watanabe Cohen              $19
Kohei Fujiwara has never seen a giant dragon in real life. The big ryu all disappeared from Japan after World War II, and twenty years later, they've become the stuff of legend. Their smaller cousins, who can fit in your palm, are all that remain. And Kohei loves his ryu, Yuharu, but Kohei has a memory of the big ryu. He knows that's impossible, but still, it's there, in his mind. In it, he can see his grandpa - Ojiisan - gazing up at the big ryu with what looks to Kohei like total and absolute wonder. When Kohei was little, he dreamed he'd go on a grand quest to bring the big ryu back, to get Ojiisan to smile again. But now, Ojiisan is really, really sick. And Kohei is running out of time. Kohei needs to find the big ryu now, before it's too late. With the help of Isolde, his new half-Jewish, half-Japanese neighbour; and Isolde's Yiddish-speaking dragon, Cheshire; he thinks he can do it. Maybe. He doesn't have a choice.
"An extraordinary book filled with dragons big and small." —Carole Wilkinson, author of the 'Dragonkeeper' series
Tom Stoppard by Hermione Lee           $33
Born in Czechoslovakia, Stoppard escaped the Nazis with his mother and spent his early years in Singapore and India before arriving in England at age eight. Skipping university, he embarked on a brilliant career, becoming close friends over the years with an astonishing array of writers, actors, directors, musicians, and political figures, from Peter O'Toole, Harold Pinter, and Stephen Spielberg to Mick Jagger and Václav Havel. Having long described himself as a bounced Czech, Stoppard only learned late in life of his mother's Jewish family and of the relatives he lost to the Holocaust. A paperback edition of this outstanding biography. 
By Ash, Oak, and Thorn by Melissa Harrison            $20
Three tiny, ancient beings - Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, once revered as Guardians of the Wild World - wake from winter hibernation in their beloved ash tree home. When it is destroyed, they set off on an adventure to find more of their kind, a journey which takes them first into the deep countryside and then the heart of a city. Helped along the way by birds and animals, the trio search for a way to survive and thrive in a precious yet disappearing world.
"Each page brims with the wonder of our natural world, so much to learn but all a sheer delight." —Piers Torday
Followed by: By Rowan and Yew
The Blizzard Party by Jack Livings             $35
On February 6, 1978, a catastrophic nor'easter struck the city of New York. On that night, in a penthouse in the Upper West Side's stately Apelles apartment building, a crowd gathered for a wild party. And on that night, Mr. Albert Haynes Caldwell—a partner emeritus at Swank, Brady & Plescher; Harvard class of '26; father of three; widower; atheist; and fiscal conservative--hatched a plan to fake a medical emergency and toss himself into the Hudson River, where he would drown. In the eye of this storm: Hazel Saltwater, age six. The strange events of that night irrevocably altered many lives, but none more than hers. The Blizzard Party is Hazel's reconstruction of the facts, an exploration of love, language, conspiracy, auditory time travel, and life after death. Cinematic, with a vast cast of characters and a historical scope that spans World War II Poland, the lives of rich and powerful Manhattanites in the late 1970s, and the enduring effects of 9/11.
Ko wai kei te papa tākaro? by Te Ataakura Pewhairangi      $23
A very relatable board book in simple te reo Māori, about playing in the playground.
The Searchers: The quest for the lost of the First World War by Robert Sackville-West            $53
By the end of the First World War, the whereabouts of more than half a million British soldiers were unknown. Most were presumed dead, lost forever under the battlefields of northern France and Flanders. Robert Sackville-West brings together the accounts of those who dedicated their lives to the search for the missing. These stories reveal the lengths to which people will go to give meaning to their loss: Rudyard Kipling's quest for his son's grave; E.M. Forster's conversations with traumatised soldiers in hospital in Alexandria; desperate attempts to communicate with the spirits of the dead; the campaign to establish the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior; and the exhumation and reburial in military cemeteries of hundreds of thousands of bodies. It was a search that would span a century: from the department set up to investigate the fate of missing comrades in the war's aftermath, to the present day, when DNA profiling continues to aid efforts to locate, recover and identify these people.
What a Shell Can Tell by Helen Scales and Sonia Pulido         $35
A lavishly illustrated and information-packed introduction to the wonder of shells through the art of observation. Using a friendly question-and-answer format, the book explores, through a richly sensory experience, the incredible diversity of shells around the world and showcases the environments molluscs inhabit. 
A Dictionary of Naval Slang by Gerald O'Driscoll           $23
Trapped aboard leaky ships and creaking vessels for months, sometimes years, on end, the crews developed a peculiar language all of their own. The Royal Navy's heyday is long past and much of the sailor's vocabulary has vanished with it. But before it disappeared once and for all, veteran sailor Gerald O'Driscoll preserved its unique language in this sometimes hilarious but always fascinating compendium of nautical language.
Elephant's part: The part of the spectator. One who elects to watch others working and does not make any attempt to lend a hand is said to be doing the elephant's part.