Rights and Wrongs: A book review of A Body’s Just as Dead, a novel by Cathy Adams
At the current dismal juncture of US social and political history, it is dismaying to witness the ignorance and prejudice, the violence and demagoguery, the greed and stupidity worn as a badge of honour by so many politicians and their supporters. Whence comes their rejection of truth, science and rationality? Why such disdain for intelligence, compassion and empathy? Why the obsession with guns?
Land of the Free: A book review of Welcome to Saint Angel, a novel by William Luvaas
Appropriately, this review of William Luvaas’s rollickingly farcical Welcome to Saint Angel was written in the swelter of a global heatwave that broke temperature records around the world, killed thousands and brought drought and disaster. The future, it seems, has already arrived, bearing in its arms the promised gifts of environmental Armageddon and political barbarism. Within the span of a few decades, humanity has moved from a vague awareness that something wicked this way comes, to a confrontation with Earth’s sixth great extinction. We need to relocate to a better place where the water is pure and the grass green, where we can breathe clean air and raise our families in peace. But there’s nowhere left to go.
Tale of Two Journals: A book review of The Journal, a novel by R. D. Stevens
There is a key moment in Robin Stevens’ The Journal when Ethan Willis, a young man who journeys to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand in search of his missing sister, Charlotte, is confronted with the brute existence of Evil in the shape of S-21 in Phnom Penh. S-21 was a major Khmer Rouge torture chamber, where many thousands of people were murdered. Ethan gazes at the crude paintings made by former prisoners on the walls of their hell; sees the blood and the smiling onlookers depicted in the images. In the visitors’ book he reads the wholly inadequate responses of western tourists: ‘How terrible …’, ‘Give peace a chance.’ A tearful Cambodian woman says something to him he does not understand, touches him momentarily.
School for Scoundrels: A book review of The Well Deceived, a novel by Isaac Kuhnberg
The haunted and haunting image on the cover of The Well Deceived, Isaac Kuhnberg’s blistering novel of conformity and rebellion, represents, we must take it, William Riddle, the antihero whose journey through a ‘privileged’ education sees him at once internalizing its class-ridden values and resisting instinctively its brutalities, hypocrisies and evasions. Kuhnberg has created a strange parallel world to our own, sordid, sinister and bleak beyond words, yet full of laughs and stuffed with allusion, complete in every way except for one thing: the female gender does not exist.
Tramway to the Stars: A book review of BlackQueenWhite City, a novel by Sonya Kudei
Black Queen White City begins with a number seventeen tram sitting ‘silent and abandoned on the tracks of a turning circle on the outskirts of the city in the middle of the night. On a soft patch of grass inside the circle, a black cat with white paws sat licking its nether regions with meticulous care.’
Trams. Cats. Circles. We are immediately alerted by these allusions to Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita(1966) that we should expect the unexpected in Black Queen White City, an ambitious novel that aspires to paint its own universe (no less) by means of framing devices, parallel worlds and an eccentric cast of characters that includes the white city of Zagreb itself, where the author was born. Continue reading
Spirit of the Times: A book review of Scorn, a novel by Paul Hoffman
The cover (designed by MECOB) to Paul Hoffman’s Scorn is an adaptation of Velázquez’ magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X. The pope’s gilded throne and the rich fabrics draping his body speak frankly of wealth and ease, while the man himself is unsettlingly shrewd, calculating and worldly, his watchful eyes already hinting at the existential anguish and capacity for horror depicted in Francis Bacon’s wonderful series of studies of a caged and screaming pope.
The Labelling of Monsters: A book review of The Water Rabbits by Paul Tarragó
Reading The Water Rabbits by Paul Tarragó is something like the literary equivalent of touring an exhibition of contemporary art, at which we are made to confront the unfamiliar, the secretive and the inscrutable. We wander through the galleries, alternately perplexed and intrigued, distracted and stimulated, occasionally consulting our watches and wondering if that fire extinguisher attached to the far wall in magnificent isolation is in fact an exhibit. Afterwards, probably over a meal and a drink, we struggle to process the experience and find things to say that sound remotely insightful and intelligent.