The following text is an extract from the story “Smack”, taken from Julia Armfield’s debut collection Salt Slow, published by Picador: 'The jellyfish come with the morning – a great beaching, bodies black on sand. The ocean empties, a thousand dead and dying invertebrates, jungled tentacles and fine, fragile membranes blanketing the shore two miles in each direction. They are translucent, almost spectral, as though the sea has exorcised its ghosts [...]'
It is odd that the two book-length studies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger (1942), by English Showalter and Alice Kaplan, do not discuss the profound influence of Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1925). Other critics have emphasized, denied or deplored this influence. Herbert Lottman notes that while writing his novel Camus 'had read and reread Kafka, whose work seemed to him prophetic, one of the most significant of our time.' The critic Jean Paulhan - thinking of Hemingway’s simple sentences [...]
Elizabeth's Strout's bestselling debut, Amy and Isabelle, announced the arrival of a serious talent. Her second, Abide With Me, went one better. With 2008's Olive Kitteridge she moved from novels to a trickier form: the cycle of interconnected stories. It was that rare kind of book that can reasonably be called a masterpiece, and it won its author the Pulitzer prize [...]
This autumn, Archipelago Books published two short story collections in translation: A. Ambai’s A Kitchen in the Corner of the House, translated by the late Lakshmi Holmström, and Hebe Uhart’s The Scent of Buenos Aires, translated by Maureen Shaughnessy. Ambai’s and Uhart’s collections reveal each author’s range as a storyteller [...]
Bridget Riley didn’t invent Op Art. The phrase first appeared in Time Magazine in 1964 in response to Julian Stanczak’s exhibition Optical Paintings. Defined as a form that uses visual trickery to challenge perception, it was a natural successor to Futurism, Constructivism, Vorticism and even Dadaism, liberated by Impressionism. But Riley made it what it is now [...]
In his masterpiece, Enemies of Promise (1938), Cyril Connolly distinguishes between two different styles of writing, which he terms as the ‘Mandarin’ and the ‘Vernacular’. In the former group: Edward Gibbon, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce; among the latter: William Hazlitt, George Orwell, and Christopher Isherwood. Fyodor Dostoevsky is a writer of neither groups [...]
‘Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied...’ Selima Hill is a unique voice in contemporary British poetry, as the title of her latest collection — I May Be Stupid But I’m Not That Stupid — implies, there is more to her than meets the eye. Her poetry is eclectic and electric; it cartwheels through juxtapositions and leaps of logic [...]
I had made her so unhappy that she had developed a sense of humor, which she certainly didn’t have when I married her . . . This line from Bluebeard’s narrator remarks on another kind of humor, the black humor Vonnegut is best known for. Its source is helplessness and despair. He explains: Laughter or crying is what a human being does when there’s nothing else he can do [...]
Author George Salis has just published his first novel with River Boat Books. Sea Above, Sun Below is described as containing the following elements: ‘Upside-down lightning, a group of uncouth skydivers, resurrections, a mother's body overtaken by a garden, aquatic telepathy, and a peeling snake-priest’. Read on to get a taste of this oneiric world [...]
Throughout art history, the self-portrait has remained a point of captivation. From Velasquez to Van Gogh, the artist’s rendering of selfhood provides a fascinating insight into the psyche of a figure often shrouded in mystery, revealing to the viewer traits which even the photograph fails to capture [...]
Best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s books — including Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory amongst others — Quentin Blake's latest exhibition, Anthology of Readers, turns his eye to book-lovers [...]
I’ve always had reservations about reviews that liken books to film. It’s too easy to draw parallels between, say, sweeping visuals, swift or dialogue-driven narrative, and cinematic technique. I’m often left wondering how a novel – the experience of sitting down to read one – can ever really be like cinema [...]
The acclaimed French artist Cyril de Commarque has created an ambitious and powerful multimedia installation that invites us to contemplate notions of legacy and transition, now on exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. The artist’s latest project is the result of a special commission by Saatchi – for its Artist-In-Residency programme – with a brief to respond [...]
Marcel Proust and his oeuvre are at once overexposed and mysterious. Entire books and studies have explored the minute details of his personal life and literary work. There is a book about what cures and medications he took specifically for his insomnia. There is a hundred-page academic study dedicated solely to the eight-word first sentence [...]
It is hard to smile at the apocalypse. Extinction Rebellion, the global climate crisis movement occupying cities and social media feeds from Cairo to Melbourne, signs its newsletters: ‘In love and rage’. The climate-induced societal breakdown is, this sign off implies, no laughing matter. Higher ideals and deeper, more searching emotions [...]
Andrew Wynn Owen The Scientist Before the time of skiing on Europa, Enceladus still a far-flung starry dream, When humankind had...
Ash, the protagonist of Amy Arnold’s debut novel, is a curious creation; she is fascinated by the etymologies and sounds of language, storing her favourite discoveries in an imaginary ‘word collection’, she swims in an abandoned lake with her daughter Charlie to practice breathing underwater, steals dogs from pubs [...]
I was thirteen when I first encountered The Bloody Chamber, back in the humid and claustrophobic childhood bedroom that I shared with my older sister in Bukit Timah, Singapore. I remember idly scanning my sister’s bookshelf; plywood, festooned with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars. I spotted a bent orange spine on the second shelf [...]
Though Balla, one of Slovakia’s most prominent contemporary novelists, has been compared to Kafka, he might more reasonably be called a nihilistic Etgar Keret (Israeli author of The Nimrod Flipout and multiple other collections of surreal short stories), given the thoroughly ironic [...]
Chris McCabe is the National Poetry Librarian. In 2013 he won the Ted Hughes Award and his works include numerous poetry collections, including Speculatrix (2014) and The Triumph of Cancer (2018). His new poetry anthology Poems from the Edge of Extinction, published by Chambers this year, collects poems from endangered languages. The anthology began as a project initiated by The National Poetry Library in 2017 [...]
Great drama has a way of always being relevant whenever it is performed, even if, like T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, it isn’t performed very often. The play is, of course, about the assassination of Thomas Becket, but with undertones of the shadow of Fascism over Europe. Next year sees the 850th anniversary of the event [...]
On the face of it, Flesh-Coloured Dominoes is a book of two novels spliced together: its chapters alternate between two wildly different narratives. One is a bildungsroman of sorts that sees the Second World War through the eyes of an unnamed first-person narrator, a young orphan growing up in Riga; the other is set in the 18th century in Vidzeme – part of modern-day Latvia – and aptly centres on a very literal, very macabre case of conjoining two odd halves to make a whole [...]
Charlie Dixon Robyn Denny: Works on Paper Robyn Denny’s work soared with the post-war momentum of 60’s London, helping to define the visual culture of a generation....
Patrick Maxwell Tony Harrison: Poetry & Class The use of poetry as a form of class war has arguably never had particularly significant results in much of...