Returning to Splice, I wrote about the renowned Latvian writer Zigmunds Skujiņš’ novel, Flesh Coloured Dominoes (trans. Kaija Straumanis). Skujiņš novel, indeed, splices the past and the present with a bawdy plot set in the eighteenth century, and the other half of the novel set in the twentieth century during WWII. Writing this review, I tried to focus on how using this central image of a stitched-together soldier allows Skujiņš’ to create an image of history as something that can both provide content to our fantasies of the past, but also contentment for those people and times we might have endured.
I had the enormous pleasure of writing about Vahni Capildeo’s poetry for 3:AM Magazine. In Capildeo’s debut collection – No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003) – Capildeo writes a poem titled ‘Monster Postures.’ Framing this in the context of Capildeo’s most recent collection, Skin Can Hold (Carcanet, 2019), I chart how ‘monster postures’ appears as a way for Capildeo to identify with a self that is made alien, or ‘unformed’, by the task of poetry itself.
I spent an afternoon with Judith Levin where we discussed her fascination with the Moors and how this fascination developed through her life. This piece also included some of my photos.
‘[…]the heather condenses into a vivid, purple swarm, sweeping to the northwest of the painting and, stepping closer, you expect the heather to split or diversify into separate heads and stems; instead, it remains a feverish plume of violet and you suddenly feel incredibly close to, but distant from, the painting. You’re both at a loss from a definite emotion and lost in the space.’
Hot off the press from my review for Full Stop, I selected Angela Readman’s Something Like Breathing (And Other Stories) as my book of the year for Review 31. It was a novel full of artistry but also soul, tackling a subject and form that hasn’t necessarily been neglected over years, with originality and a certain sense of faithfulness.
I spoke to the director of Carcanet Press, Michael Schmidt, about the history of the award-winning, internationally renowned poetry press. We divulged Shakespeare, the English language as a space for allowing poetry to flourish, and importance of the past as well as the future in poetry writing and publishing.
“The attraction of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series was in seeing her two protagonists, Lenù and Lila, almost inextricably bound up in one another’s early lives. In Angela Readman’s Something Like Breathing it is instead two girls negotiating their youth, not necessarily involved, but proximate and observant to each other with the distance becoming the captivating element of their story.”
Angela Readman has published poetry (The Book of Tides: Nine Arches Press) and short stories (Don’t Try This at Home) but this is her first novel (the latter these are both from Sheffield-based publisher And Other Stories). Her writing hints towards themes from Angela Carter and Alice Oswald which makes for a debut that transcends its simple-seeming narrative of two teenage girls living on a Scottish Island.
To see what else I thought about the novel, head over to Full Stop.
I reviewed the book that seems to have been on everybody’s Twitter feed recently: Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (published by Galley Beggars in the UK and Biblioasis in the United States). It’s been exciting to witness debates about fiction as a form as Ellmann’s novel, rejected by the major publishers, steamrolled onto the Booker Prize shortlist. Writing for the Cleveland Review of Books, I wrote:
Interestingly, the ‘organizational guru’ Marie Kondo, who famously tells people to only retain that which gives us ‘joy,’ is referenced by the narrator, and it’s at this point that you realize what the novel is, in some sense, about. The narrator’s mind in Ducks retains all that which causes her pain and sadness – as well as joy – and it’s not always a choice, not always a pleasant narrative that we can tell to and about ourselves, about those choices and about future choices, that allow us to master them.
Now translated from the Lithuanian by Romas Kinka, I reviewed Alvydas Šlepikas’ novel based on the story of the ‘wolf children.’ These exceptional children were displaced from East Germany after WWII and had to find new homes and lives in Lithuania. Reviewing for Splice, see the full review here.
On Full Stop I wrote about a trio of Horror novellas from the independent publisher based in Liverpool, Dead Ink. The books are apparently reissues of books published by the Eden Book Society – a select, subscription book service formed in 1919 – but much like the horror genre itself, there’s more to these books appearance than meets the eye.
“Holt House, in a similar way to Bates Motel, is rendered as a place (you might say “complex”) that is not physically, but psychologically entrapping and when we think of Norman, locked, not just in the gaze of his mother, but his own need to gaze on somebody else, do we not see powerful riff on the idea of “haunted”? Being haunted to satisfy the need of your mother, or quell the crushing insecurity over your status, here’s a display on how the mind brings us back to gaze on that which we’ve been missing in our lives.”