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Review | The Assignment by Liza M. Wiemer

Liza M. Wiemer’s novel, The Assignment, is a frighteningly realistic portrayal of modern antisemitism in a small-town community that blurs the lines between past and present, fiction and reality. The novel is a fictionalised account of a real assignment that is given to students, which instructs them to debate the Final Solution, the Nazi’s plan for genocide of the Jewish people. When students Logan March and Cade Crawford protest holding the debate [...]

Review | Artemisia by Anna Banti

On 4 August 1944, as the Nazi occupation of Italy was coming to an end, the German forces evacuating Florence unleashed a final barrage of destruction, deploying mines across the city to bring down all but one of the historic bridges which had lined the River Arno for centuries. The blasts brought down many of the houses on each side of the river, including the house of writers Anna Banti and Roberto Longhi. Buried among the rubble of the house was the near-completed [...]

Review | Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene by Richard Greene

Biographers have three ways of dealing with their predecessors. They can generously thank them, ignore their achievement, or viciously attack them. Richard Greene (no relation to Graham) misleadingly links Michael Shelden’s deeply flawed book (l994) with Norman Sherry’s impressive three-volume 2,250-page work (1989-2004). Sherry conducted many interviews with Graham from 1904-91, and his first two volumes were perceptive and convincing. Richard calls [...]

Review | Hag: Forgotten Folktales Retold by Virago Press

Hag is an anthology of stories responding to classic folk tales from the British Isles, penned by some of the most exciting women writing in Britain and Ireland today. Originally conceived as an Audible podcast, the book version from Virago Press also has two new stories as well as copies of the original tales on which they are based. Daisy Johnson starts Hag off with a story that poses the question at the heart of any retelling: Is it mine to tell? [...]

Essay | The Maestro and the Apocalypse by Leonard Quart

I have never been optimistic about the human condition, or believed that the flow of history moves progressively forward. And although I have a passion for art, cities, friendship, and a belief in love and marriage, I have always felt that the life we live is more than touched with despair and darkness. It bounds our everyday lives –  and my favourite filmmakers echo that vision. The director who was – and remains – most meaningful to me is the maestro of angst, Ingmar Bergman, whose work [...]

Interview | ‘Our societies tend to reduce Islam to its political dimension’ – Sophie Van Der Linden on her novel Après Constantinople

My aesthetic approach is primarily poetic and doesn’t really fit into ‘-ist’ suffixes. But I would be lying if I denied my intentions. One of those is providing models of strong women with intimate, sensual and intellectual responses to life. Another is to offer a different perspective of the Orient, and particularly of Islam. Because of the radicalism and terrorism that confront us [...]

Fiction | The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey

I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish. I have been eaten. I have been eaten, yet I am living still. I have tried to get out. I have made many attempts. But I must conclude that it is not possible. I am trapped within an enormous creature and am slowly being digested. I have found a strange place to exist, a cave between life and death. It is an unhappy miracle. I am afraid  of  the  dark. The dark is coming for me [...]

Essay | The Fate of the Artist: Wyndham Lewis and Saul Bellow by Jeffrey Meyers

Wyndham Lewis’s adult life spanned two world wars. In the First he fought on the front lines and was also a war artist; in the Second he lived in poverty in America and Canada. An innovative painter, he wrote fierce polemics on art and the role of the artist in society but held a bleak view of modern life. Auden called the self-styled ‘Enemy’ and conservative advocate of western culture ‘That lonely old volcano of the Right.’ Lewis idealistically believed that the power of [...]

Preview | Dreamsongs: From Medicine to Demons to Artificial Intelligence at Colnaghi Gallery

In the window of the Colnaghi Gallery is a black and white close-up of a sleeping man. Young, beautiful, serene, perhaps dreaming. It is a still taken from Andy Warhol’s first avant-garde film, Sleep (1964), and the man in it is John Giorno, a beat poet and Warhol’s lover at the time. The film was nearly six hours long and Giorno went on to become famous in his own right, leading a life with a string of lovers that included Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg [...]

Interview | ‘Stories don’t protect us, but they do prepare us’ – Kirsty Logan on why we return to horror

Here's the thing: I like to be a queer writer. Being a writer is a part of my identity; being queer is a part of my identity. I don't know that they're the most important parts – but they're important to me. Every writer wants their work to be read on many different levels. I want people to read my books and enjoy the stories – just on a surface level – and to be swept up in the narrative and transported somewhere else for a while. I'd also love it if readers enjoyed the language [...]

Interview | Artist hana on ‘Inventing Artist Paints’ – her exhibition of eco-paints made from coconut, fruit and veg

The art world is awash with self-taught painters these days, but the emergence of artist hana (styled in lower case) has taken many by surprise, not only because of her talent but because she has re-invented oil paint. Her paint is made from coconut shells, algae, seaweed, dried fruits and vegetables. All this has caught the eye of Noel Fielding, among others, who is endorsing her ground-breaking innovations. This week sees the opening of her first solo show [...]

Interview | Alka Bagri on the Bagri Foundation ahead of ‘Tantra’ at the British Museum

For the last thirty years, the Bagri Foundation has quietly supported projects that promote Asian culture in the UK. While some of its partnerships are high-profile — it is the lead donor of the British Museum’s blockbuster Tantra exhibition — it also supports a variety of smaller projects for the visual arts, literature, music, dance, performance and lectures, and is now expanding its activities into other territories [...]

Essay | The Ring by Tomoé Hill

I still have my wedding ring – platinum with a pear-shaped, grass-green tourmaline, and small diamond baguettes flanking either side, facets refracting both light and superficial values. Sometimes I take the cursed object from its black octagonal leather box with the gold bird on the lid, wondering what illness it slowly introduced to me in the guise of joy. ‘Green stones are bad luck,’ said a friend of my then-fiancé, on admiring my ring. It was automatic; one of [...]

Interview | Michael Cisco on Weird Fiction, Cheerful Nihilism and Sex in Literature 

Michael Cisco has been hailed by China Miéville as being 'of a different kind and league from almost anyone writing today'. He is best known for his first novel The Divinity Student, winner of the International Horror Guild Award for Best First Novel of 1999. His novel The Great Lover was nominated for the 2011 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel of the Year, and declared the Best Weird Novel of 2011 by the Weird Fiction Review. His work has attracted attention in [...]

Review | Outsiders: A Short Story Anthology by 3 of Cups Press

‘We all secretly see ourselves as outsiders in one way or another.’ This, argues Alice Slater, editor of new anthology Outsiders from 3 Of Cups Press, is why readers are attracted to characters who do not fit in. But the very fact that the experience is universal exposes the paradox of the ‘outsider’ label. If we are all outsiders, then none of us are. The outsider then must mean something different to different people. Often, an outcast narrator, as Slater says, can be a representative for [...]

Interview | Sculptor Guy Portelli on ‘Wight Spirit, 1968-70’ and the Isle of Wight Music Festival

This summer sees Portelli also take on the role of curator for Masterpiece Art Gallery’s major exhibition Wight Spirit, 1968-70. History has been somewhat unkind to the 1970 Isle of Wight Music Festival. Its riotous atmosphere which saw over 600,000 people descend on Afton Down led Parliament to ban large open-air gatherings in the Isle of Wight County Council Act of 1971. But the festival remains a cultural landmark: it saw legends such as Jimi Hendrix [...]

Essay | The Eccentricity of Lydia Davis’s ‘Essays’ by Eliza Haughton-Shaw

Ironic, self-conscious and full of weird humour, in Lydia Davis’s hands the short story is economical to the point of obsession. Having published short fiction as well as translations for many years, she came to widespread attention with the publication of The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis in 2007, for which she won the International Man Booker in 2013. While Davis remains less well-known outside the United States, for readers familiar with [...]

Fiction | Monsters Make Monsters by Nina Ellis

I was the pretty sister. I was the good one, too. Some people said Jackie was the good sister, but that was to compensate for her moving 7,450 miles away from home to save the world. ‘Next right?’ said Jackie, frowning at her phone in the passenger seat. You mean left, babe, I said in my head. Jackie has never had much of a sense of direction, geographically or in life. That’s why I’d come here in the first place—not to see hippos, like I’d told her, but to get her to [...]

Interview | Emily Henry on ‘Beach Read’ and Writing Romance

January Andrews has lost her faith in happy endings after suddenly losing her father and uncovering ugly truths about her parents’ marriage at his funeral. Moving into her father’s recently discovered beach house, the narrative follows a blossoming relationship between January and her neighbour and fellow writer, Augustus Everett, as they evolve from writing partners, to friends, to lovers. A perfect balance of drama, humour and romance, Beach Read is a heartfelt [...]

Essay | Books That Changed My Life: ‘Tales from Ovid’

‘I don’t get poetry.’ It’s a miserable cliché, but generation after generation takes it to heart. In fact, as a teenager studying for my GCSEs, I believed it myself. Still sporting K-Swiss trainers and a swooping Justin Bieber fringe long after it was a good look (if it ever was), I was stuck in my old ways. I was a novels person, I thought — poems were too brief to affect me deeply or really sear themselves onto my psyche [...]

Interview | James Shapiro on cinematic storytelling and ‘Shakespeare in a Divided America’

My first exposure to Shakespeare wasn’t until the age of fourteen, at high school in Brooklyn. We were assigned Romeo and Juliet and set off on what felt to me like a ‘death march’ through the play. I hated it, didn’t even get the dirty bits my classmates sniggered at, and swore I’d never study Shakespeare again. I never did at university. What changed everything for me was seeing the plays performed [...]

Interview | A. Naji Bakhti on ‘Between Beirut and the Moon’, inheritance and coming of age in Lebanon

Between Beirut and the Moon (Influx Press, 2020) is Naji's first novel, praised by Roddy Doyle as ‘engrossing, warm and gloriously funny’. Adam, the narrator, dreams of becoming an astronaut: but before he can be the first Arab on the moon, he must contend with issues much closer to home, as he comes of age in post-civil war Lebanon. On the phone from Beirut, I spoke to Naji about reaching an Anglophone readership, humour in the midst of conflict, and [...]

Review | The Dark Nest by Sue Harper

Sue Harper’s new collection of warped, modern fairy tales, The Dark Nest, updates classic characters – from European folklore to Wonder Woman – for a contemporary audience interested in the macabre and the taboo. The book is twisted but amusing: a journey into the quirks of fear and human desire. Kafkaesque transformation, of people and the worlds they inhabit, is a recurring theme in Harper’s work. Instead of men waking up from long slumbers to find they have turned into insects, the living mortify and the dead begin to dance. In the story ‘Graisaille’, the narrator is  ‘frozen and immobile’ like a corpse, while the dead rise up in  ‘an ecstasy [...]

Essay | The Moving Finger: Edward FitzGerald and the consolation of Omar Khayyam by James Tarik Marriott

It is bad practice to search for a single moment in the life of an artist for explanation of their greatest work, but for Edward FitzGerald such a moment calls out for itself. In 1856 Edward Byles Cowell, FitzGerald’s companion and close friend, decided to leave for India following his graduation from Oxford to pursue a professorship in Calcutta. Up until this point in his life FitzGerald had been listless, finding little to enthuse him [...]

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