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.”
My summary and discussion of the first 100 pages (well, 102) of Milkman is now live over at the Inkwell Arts blog.
I was really interested in how Burns is creating this world and how she uses the nameless, female narrator as the lens through which to create it. It’s not so much an unreliable narrator, but a narrator with a view that’s been doctored and manipulated by powerful, dogmatic forces.
Steve Sem-Sandberg’s novel (translated by Anna Paterson), as the title of it sounds, is heavily indebted to Shakespeare’s famous island play. Reading this novel though, it cast a light onto Shakespeare’s play that is not always accounted for and the issue of this human, but sometimes, dangerous desire to change and transform people was explored.
‘The Tempest however, in the face of its multifarious interpretations, is a play about the act of interpretation and ultimately a tale about whose story has the power to preside over everybody else’s.’
Rod Mengham’s multimodal work of essays, poetry and criticism was reviewed on Bookmunch. I was enamoured with this book that mediated on place and language and when I discussed his poem that is based on the fictional, but plausible, Nostratic dictionary devised by Palaeolinguist, Aharon Dolgopolsky, I wrote: What Mengham does here is conjure a voice that is rooted, not in history, but speculation. We read as a family, or clan, ‘cook with stones’ whilst the father hunts for food creating a narrative for the kind of family we expect to have lived on Grimspound whilst toying with this expectation. We are dislocated from the actual historical moment and a lack of syntax accentuates, what feels like, an ethereal voice, yet there’s a continual irony impacted by its sense of being conjured and based on a fiction.
‘… the way Owen situates his poetry at the intersection of religion and philosophy, as though purposefully antiquarian, suggests that if we’ve been asking these questions for nearly four hundred years, why haven’t they been answered?‘
I wrote about Andrew Wynn Owen’s astute debut collection of poetry at Review 31