Posts tagged ‘Literature’

November 19, 2017

Autumn by Ali Smith

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Penguin Random House, £8.99, out now

 

AutumnMuch has been made of the fact that this is Ali Smith’s “Brexit novel”, which in some ways is to do it a disservice. Because if, like me, the term “Brexit novel” makes you shudder internally and want to reach for the new Lee Childs instead, you’d be missing out on a fascinating entry which manages to look at our newly-divided Britain with a fresh eye.

The plot concerns the curious relationship between Elisabeth Demand, a precariously-employed “casual contract junior lecturer” visiting the town in which she grew up, and Daniel Gluck, her centenarian former neighbour who now lies dying in a hospice. But this is just the springboard from which Smith leads us through a whirlwind of dreams and memories, in tandem with her always-enjoyable day-to-day interactions deftly delivered with the usual eye for eccentricity.

And all this is of course set very much in the present, against the backdrop of the country’s historic decision to leave the EU. Working as she is in a medium where we’re used to clever allusions, parodies, fables and metaphors instead of approaching things head-on, there’s something almost illicitly exciting in the way she occasionally allows her asides about Brexit to be so on-the-nose, never shying away from directly addressing the matter at hand. This feels every inch a book written in the direct aftermath of the referendum, simultaneously angry, confused, ruminative, wounded and playful – which must be a very hard concoction to pull off as successfully as it is here.

At times it feels like Smith is examining this disorienting time in the same way that Gunter Grass so brilliantly tackled the incremental rise of Nazi Germany in The Tin Drum; by focusing alternately on scenes of domesticity, surreality and hard, painful truth.

And as in many of Smith’s novels, it’s somehow dreamlike yet relatable, like a glimpse inside a brain at once the same and totally different to your own. Written in the distinctly idiosyncratic prose – peppered with elastic quips, digressions through language and the occasional startling image – which has won her such a loyal fan-base, it’s no surprise that such a talented writer, wrestling with so seismic a period in our history, has turned out a piece of work as singular as this. Get it down you.

Review by Tom

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July 29, 2017

Phone by Will Self

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Penguin Viking, £18.99, out now

The final part of Will Self’s modernist trilogy famous for its lack of paragraphs and preponderance of big words, Phone is more of the same; frequently frustrating, stubbornly literary and ultimately brilliant. Written again without paragraphs in his trademark run-on style, this is fiction that accePhone Will Selflerates off the page as you read, in a torrent of euphemisms, witticisms and aphorisms.

It’s heady stuff. We’re constantly being uprooted, pulled from thought to thought, place to place, character to character and time to time without warning (and always mid-sentence). We spend spells in the brains of (among others) Zach Busner, an aging psychiatrist who’s equal parts OIiver Sacks and King Lear; a spy called the Butcher, who applies the tricks of his trade to night-time homosexual conquests; and Gawain, the closeted military man he seduces.

We’re completely submerged in each character’s psyche, hearing the songs they can’t get out of their heads, the reminiscences from forty years or four seconds ago, and even, in the case of the Butcher, the private mental conversations they have with their genitalia. Which means that as occasionally arduous as the act of following this cluttered and restless prose can be, it’s as near an analogue to actually being inside a person’s consciousness as I’ve ever read. To accurately depict the life of the mind is an astonishing feat, and Self nails it in laudable style.

Our author is really pushing the envelope here, and like similarly impenetrable works like Ulysses or Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy, Phone is incredibly rewarding once you’re knee-deep in it. Plus it’s really funny, which always helps.

Review by Tom

 

 

June 9, 2011

This is Not the End of the Book: Umberto Eco & Jean-Claude Carriere

by Stuart

This gloriously unusual and dazzlingly smart new book is a conversation between notorious bibliophile cleverclogs Jean-Claude Carrière and Umberto Eco, all about the rich history of the book, and its grim prospects in our digital age. It’s a truly idiosyncratic and gleefully digressive dialogue, educational and engaging on literally every page, and it even features a surprisingly high instance of laugh-out-loud funny bits. We’ve always been fond of these kinds of ‘books about books,’ and this absolute gem is a brilliant and urgent new addition to the genre.

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October 22, 2010

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

by Suzanne

A collection of 18 short essays devoted to the author’s life long love affair with books and language. Anne Fadiman gives a voice to the many delights that come with loving books. Eloquent and wise, a beautiful book and a must for all pathological book lovers.

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