Beta
X

Bookface Blog

RSS
May 13, 2022

Appliance by JO Morgan; Book of Night by Holly Black; The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla; Beautiful Star by Yukio Mishima; Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Appliance by JO Morgan (Vintage, £16.99)
The first work of prose fiction by the award-winning poet whose previous book, The Martian’s Regress, revelled in science fictional tropes, this is a collection of thematically linked short stories about the development of a matter transmitter from a cabinet resembling a refrigerator into a vast network of stations transporting not only goods but people all over the world. The approach is almost primitive, focusing on a single idea which is seldom dramatised, only discussed. But the very ordinariness of the characters and their conversations has a demystifying effect: in this context transporters could as well be aeroplanes or the internet. The notion of progress, and where new technologies may take us, is a consistent concern in SF, whether utopian or dystopian. Morgan takes neither approach as he gradually builds a picture of the ease and speed with which some people embrace new ways of living, while others, regardless of objections, eventually have it forced upon them: living off-grid is a fantasy few can afford.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 13, 2022

The performance poet narrates their first nonfiction work, mixing memoir with musings on how creativity brings people together

A meditation on art and creativity, On Connection is the musician, playwright, novelist and performance poet Kae Tempest’s first work of nonfiction. Written early in the pandemic, this extended essay mixes memoir and philosophical musings as it examines the need “to play, to create, to reflect and release” and the ways these impulses connect us.

Tempest – who uses they/them pronouns – narrates with a rhythmic urgency and fierce humanity that will be familiar to anyone who has seen them perform live. In the opening chapter, Sound Check, they talk of a numbness that can occur as a “logical response” to the sensory overload of everyday life, and the power of poetry to overcome it. Twenty years on the spoken word scene has shown Tempest how “naked language has a humanising effect; listening to someone tell their story, people noticeably [open] up, become more vulnerable, and let their defences down”.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 13, 2022

The author on being inspired by Nina Stibbe and taking comfort in the works of Nancy Mitford

My earliest reading memory
My mother reading me Terry Furchgott’s Phoebe and the Hot Water Bottles, when I was four or five. It’s such a cheerily illustrated book, about a little girl whose widowed father leaves her home alone while he’s at work and, one night, the house catches on fire and Phoebe puts it out using hot-water bottle water. Which is to say, picture book-wise, things were quite a bit darker back then. Gosh, I loved it.

My favourite book growing up
Although I was read to endlessly when I was little, once I got to school, I rejected reading absolutely, preferring to draw. Sunshine by Jan Ormerod is the only book I remember going to on my own, maybe because it doesn’t have words, only illustrations of a family rushing to get ready one morning. I was so fascinated by it: the house, the portrayal of the domestic, mothers, fathers, an observing daughter and the intrinsic humour. Which are all my concerns as a novelist, so clearly it did go quite deep.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 13, 2022

The zoolologist, presenter and author surveys centuries of human-canine relations

While you doubtless don’t need to be reminded of the aeons we’ve known dogs and loved them, zoology has had a tendency to neglect them. “For decades in the 20th century,” Howard writes, “dogs were considered unworthy of rigorous study,” since focusing on them for insights into the animal kingdom was “like trying to understand the adaptations of a chicken’s egg by studying the crumbs of a wet cake”. Dogs were somehow rendered inauthentic, almost processed, by their emotional and physical proximity to us.

In fact, counters the author, not only do dogs warrant close study – “nothing else on Earth has such a wide range of variations within the same species category” – but every time we’ve done so, we’ve unearthed incomparable wisdom about ourselves. Except when we’ve been wrong: Rudolph Schenkel’s 1947 paper on wolves, hypothesising alpha behaviour and its attendant hierarchies, was applied for years in the fields of both dog and human behaviour, to produce everything from training doctrines (never let your dog enter a house ahead of you) to political theory (what happens when a Donald Trump meets a Kim Jong-un?). But the original study used the wrong kind of wolves (those in captivity behave differently, unsurprisingly), and besides, dogs and wolves are nothing like as similar as they’d have to be to make those kind of extrapolations.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 13, 2022

This unnerving debut novel about emotional scars being inflicted down the generations reads like witness testimony

Well into a career that encompasses poetry, memoir and projects such as her 2017 collection of quotable fragments 300 Arguments, the American author Sarah Manguso has turned to the novel. Very Cold People is also composed of short sections, compiled like witness testimony by a young girl called Ruthie, as she grows up in the fictional town of Waitsfield, Massachusetts, somewhere near Boston. Ruthie and her family don’t belong there, she tells us in the first sentence; it is a town for people whose ancestors came over with the pilgrims to settle in that violently snowy part of the new world.

The very cold people of the title refers not only to the inhabitants of this icy region, but to Ruthie’s own parents. At the outset they seem merely bohemian and thrifty, buying her toys secondhand and her clothes at factory outlets, but then we hear about Ruthie’s mother dredging a fancy wristwatch catalogue out of the dump, ironing its crumpled cover and displaying it on the coffee table, “just askew […] as if someone had been reading it and carelessly put it down, and she corrected its angle when she walked by”. This is something more than parsimony and closer to a pathological need, in the face of material want, to be perceived in a certain way – as offhandedly rich, casual. Her mother, the victim in her youth of some unspecified assault, “was the protagonist of everything”; Ruthie recalls being told of her own birth: “the doctor said Oh she’s beautiful […] and my mother had thought he was talking about her”.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 12, 2022

The octogenarian playwright documents the baffling absurdities of lockdown with his usual flair

It is 16 August 2020 and Alan Bennett and his partner are on their customary evening walk. Given that 86-year-old Bennett is hobbled with arthritis, this is hardly an ambitious excursion – literally three minutes “round the block” of their north London street. Suddenly the windows fly open and neighbours start banging pots and clapping. Since he needs to lean heavily on his walking stick, Bennett is unable to join in, but he compensates by standing in the street and nodding enthusiastically. Until, that is, the horrible thought strikes him that it must look as if he is acknowledging the applause, perhaps even trying to generate it himself. To disavow this, he tries shaking his head, “but this just looks like modesty”.

It is a typical Bennett moment, part gentle social comedy part revelation about the self-delusions of the ego. It probably never occurred to the hollering neighbours that their joyful noise for the NHS might be misconstrued as directed at one elderly, slightly famous playwright. Bennett’s diaries, which he has been publishing since the early 1980s, are full of these “absurd and inexplicable” moments.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 12, 2022

This tale of a Soviet mathematician working in rural 50s Ireland is bogged down by a lack of narrative impetus

For anyone who’s ever bemoaned the parochialism of contemporary literary fiction – its preponderance of writer protagonists, thinking and doing the things that writers think and do – here is a corrective: a novel about the mechanised harvesting of peat in 1950s Ireland, told from the perspective of a mathematician. Its eponymous narrator is a Russian emigre hired by Bord na Móna, an Irish state-owned company based in Kildare, to help measure swathes of land set for drainage. After weeks spent tracing vast triangles across bogs, swamps and pastures, he receives an ominous letter summoning him back to the USSR; unnerved, he decamps to a small island on the Shannon estuary in order to lie low.

The Geometer Lobachevsky is light on plot but heavy on ambience. Adrian Duncan’s narrator registers a succession of sensory impressions with the bland officiousness of a surveyor’s report: the lowing of cows and lapping of waves; the comings and goings of gannets and gulls; downpours of varying intensity; sunlight glistening on jars of marmalade; “the quiet but busy rumble of carts, cars and tractors”. The narrative voice is almost compelling in its studied dullness. A typical sentence reads: “I walk towards the tripod to see, with the evening sun breaking through a row of poplars edging the field, what the visibility through the theodolite is like.” This monotone is intermittently thrown into relief by the lively, colloquial dialogue of various Irish characters.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 12, 2022

An study of the factors behind economic growth attempts to reveal the ‘great cogs’ that drive development

For most of human history, we were caught in a stagnation trap. Improvements in technology and productivity led to population increases, and all those new people gobbled up the surplus, so that overall living standards always reverted to the historical average, barely above subsistence. Thomas Malthus, the unfairly maligned English clergyman, assumed this would always be the case. And yet, at least in the fortunate global north, things have been very different for the last century or so. How come?

This is the question the economist Oded Galor devised his rather grandiosely named “Unified Growth Theory” to address. (He uses lots of metaphors from physics, including “phase transition”, “economic black hole”, “gravitational forces”, and the like.) His answer, briefly, is that we sprang free of the Malthusian trap because of the effect the Industrial Revolution had on fertility rates. Rapid technological change placed a higher value on education, and families invested more in children’s schooling, which meant they could not afford to have so many children as before. So productivity gains were not swallowed up by burgeoning population. This virtuous cycle has persisted until the present, and might even, Galor suggests with unfashionable optimism, help us combine continued growth in living standards with reductions in carbon emissions.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 11, 2022

A remarkable portrait of the remorse that followed a difficult marriage, and gave birth to great poetry

When Thomas Hardy’s wife Emma died in 1912 she left behind the recollections she had been writing of her life in Cornwall before her marriage, evoking her joy as a young woman riding over the cliffs of Beeny and St Juliot. She also left the many diaries she had kept through two decades of increasing alienation from a husband who seemed to have abandoned her for the separate reality of his novels. The bereaved Thomas confronted these documents in shock, encountering in their pages both the young woman he had loved and a horrifying picture of their failed marriage. From the unexpected depths of his grief and remorse came his great sequence of elegies, Poems of 1912-13.

With remarkable steadiness and fine judgment, Elizabeth Lowry goes right into the midst of this legendary literary maelstrom and opens a space for fiction. She inhabits the household at Max Gate, the house Hardy built in Dorset, in the days after Emma’s sudden death and before the poems gave lasting shape and voice to the lost woman on the Cornish hills. Was Hardy the jailer of a neglected wife? Was Emma thwarted in her own writing? Why did it all go so wrong – and did the trouble start with Tess of the d’Urbervilles? Slowly and feelingly, the novel pores over questions about the costs of art, refusing to shout out answers, letting many perspectives tell upon each other.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 11, 2022

From commune-dwellers to lodgers in miniature, the people we live alongside make intriguing subjects for fiction

In my childhood, my family lived in a commune of 20 identical yellow houses on the outskirts of Copenhagen. There was dinner six days a week at the “common house”. The neighbours also shared maintenance duties, prepared after-school snacks, kept a shop without a shopkeeper, and celebrated most holidays together. We were the only non-Danes at the commune, and our arrival was at once exciting and disconcerting for the group. We were too loud, our house was too bright, we had family and friends visiting from Turkey for months on end. But we were also the most popular cooks at the commune, spending out of pocket, beyond the dinner budgets, to make roast lamb and feta pastries. The commune was an experiment in living together, as equals, though to me, it was also an education in all the ways that we were different.

I’m fascinated by lives that unravel in close proximity. What draws me to contemplate life as a model for fiction is the crossover of intimacy and distance, the ways in which lives interact, get entangled, or pass each other by. Neighbours offer a unique vantage point in fiction, because they witness much of life on the surface but may be blind to the depths. The friendship of neighbours is also interesting to me: neighbours must maintain a delicate balance of courtesy for all the living together that lies ahead.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 11, 2022

One of the best-known public intellectuals of the pandemic gives her account of two years that shook the world

Professor Nabila Sadiq was only 38 when she died of Covid-19. Unable to find a hospital bed in her native India, which had been overwhelmed by the virulent new Delta variant, her heart-rending Twitter messages pleading for help were picked up around the world. The story clearly hit home with the Scottish public health expert Professor Devi Sridhar, who is around the age Sadiq was and whose family are of Indian heritage. As she writes poignantly in her new book: “She would have lived had she been in Scotland, like me”.

Accidents of geography are arguably a key theme of Sridhar’s book, an ambitiously wide-ranging study of a global pandemic with the emphasis firmly on the global. As she points out, individuals’ fates were too often determined by where they happened to have been born: living through the pandemic in Vietnam or Kerala was not like living through it in Britain. The refreshing twist in her tale, however, is that often it was countries from whom we are not used to taking public health lessons that got it right while a complacent west messed up.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 11, 2022

Ward follows her inventive debut with a wayward blend of adolescent trauma and police procedural

It would have been a dauntless pundit who gambled on where Sophie Ward would go with her second novel. Her 2020 debut, the Booker-longlisted Love and Other Thought Experiments, took the form of a series of loosely interconnected stories, each one a riff on a well-known philosophical thought experiment such as Pascal’s wager, a bet on the existence of God, or Heraclitus’s river, the idea that change is the only constant. Inventive and ideas-heavy, the novel defied genre, taking in everything from modern relationships to space exploration and AI. One chapter was narrated by a child in the process of being born, another from the point of view of an ant living inside a human character’s brain. While the book divided critics, it established Ward as a literary provocateur, a writer pushing at the bounds of what fiction could do.

Yet her follow-up, The Schoolhouse, is a much more conventional undertaking. The novel takes place over a long December weekend in 1990, and divides its increasingly interwoven narrative between two female protagonists in north London. Isobel is a librarian whose life is carefully and consciously proscribed. Deaf as a result of a childhood accident, she does everything she can to avoid “the intrusion of the outside world”, sticking to strict routines and retreating each evening to the safety of her small upstairs flat, where she keeps the curtains and doors tightly closed. Sally Carter, meanwhile, is a detective sergeant, battling the stultifying hierarchy and institutional sexism of the Metropolitan police. On Friday morning, as the story begins, Carter is assigned to a missing persons case. Ten-year-old Caitlin Thompson has failed to come home after school and her parents are frantic. Meanwhile Isobel, whose schooling concluded abruptly 15 years ago, returns from the library to find a letter from one of her teachers, informing her that her old classmate Jason has been released from prison and is asking if they can meet.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 10, 2022

A poetic tale of 13 flawed buildings that spelled catastrophe for their designers

Late afternoon, Friday 27 January 1922. The sky unzipped and snow began to fall in Washington DC. It came down steadily all night and right through the next day, shrouding the city. Trains were evacuated, cars abandoned in the street. By 8pm on Saturday, 28 inches had fallen. Undaunted, 300 citizens decided to brave the translated streets to see the silent film Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford at Crandall’s Knickerbocker theatre, a picture house so luxurious that the chairs in the orchestra pit were upholstered in silk. The audience howled as Wallingford sat on a tack. A second later the entire roof collapsed under the accumulated weight of snow, coming down in a single slab of stone and steel and crushing the people below. Ninety-eight died and more were mutilated or injured.

This sounds like the very definition of an act of God, but the coroner’s hearing concluded that the disaster was a consequence of faulty design on the part of the architect, Reginald Geare, who had failed to correctly recalculate the load-bearing capacity of steel after the contractor, Harry Crandall, insisted on a last-minute change to cheaper material. Five years later, Geare took his own life. In 1937 Crandall too killed himself. In his heyday, he had run a whole chain of cinemas, and in a letter explaining his decision, he wrote: “Only it is I’m despondent, and miss my theaters, oh so much.”

Continue reading...
Read More
May 10, 2022

Surrender, which will ‘draw in detail’ what he had previously only sketched in songs, will contain 40 chapters, each named after a U2 song, and include 40 original drawings by the singer

The first memoir by Bono will be released this year, publisher Penguin Random House has announced.

While the U2 frontman’s career has been written about extensively, this will mark the first time Bono has written about it himself. Titled Surrender, the autobiography will span the singer’s early days growing up in Dublin, including the sudden loss of his mother when he was 14, the success of U2 and his activist work fighting against Aids and poverty.

Surrender is due to be published on 1 November.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 10, 2022

From Groundhog Day to Russian Doll, fiction in which characters replay their lives have great appeal – especially now, when a slew of time-travel novels are set to be released

‘If you die, what’s the plan for the next life?” This is the question posed in the opening scene of the recent BBC adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s 2013 novel Life After Life, in which the protagonist, Ursula, repeatedly dies and starts over from birth. It’s a fascinating idea: what would you do differently, and what would remain the same? It is one explored in another hit TV show that has just returned for a second season, Russian Doll, the first season of which saw the main character, Nadia, return endlessly to the night of her 36th birthday party, suffering a different death each time.

Mainstream film and television have a long history of playing with time loops. But while Groundhog Day was a huge success in the early 1990s, narratives about ordinary people caught in this speculative twist have been harder to pull off in literature. Perhaps this is because there tends to be an earnestness to such stories that doesn’t translate into fiction, and a tendency towards repetition that readers may not tolerate as well as viewers. It is trickier to create a montage in fiction: part of what makes Groundhog Day so compelling is the ability to only show the differences in Bill Murray’s repeating days.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 10, 2022

This exceptional collection from the Belarus-born poet digs into what happens when the self goes missing in an authoritarian regime

Valzhyna Mort was born in Minsk, Belarus, moved to the US in 2005 and now teaches at Cornell University. She speaks three languages: English, Belarusian and Russian and wrote Music for the Dead and Resurrected in Belarusian and English versions. She recently claimed in an interview not to be at home in any of her languages, but reading the English poems, I find this hard to believe. I read her exceptional collection with the excitement you feel on encountering a poised new voice. The opening pieces each contain the words “Self-Portrait” in their titles but this collection is more about what happens when the self goes missing, buried beneath the Minsk snow that falls in poem after poem, muffled by a regime in which it is not safe to speak.

The opening prose poem begins: “I grew up in a microregion of apartment blocks on the south-western edge of the capital city in a provincial Soviet republic…” The sentence continues at length, enjoying its own bulk, and the second begins: “A long sentence, yes, but so was my apartment building, stretching for two bus stops, twelve entrances long and eleven floors high.” Her humour proves a wild and winning card in the pack. She goes on to describe, deadpan, the grim view from the family apartment on to the state dental clinic below and blood on the snow (an image that takes in more than dental trauma).

Continue reading...
Read More
May 09, 2022

These profiles of ageing rockers ponder whether it’s better to burn out, fade away or buy a house in London, writes the former frontman of the Ordinary Boys

I remember opening for the Who towards the end of my time in the Ordinary Boys, the band with whom I enjoyed brief fame in the 00s. Roger Daltrey, then in his late 60s, sang, apparently without irony: “I hope I die before I get old.” It made me think: “What’s next? Maybe I could find a nice job in advertising.” It’s a question that almost every performer faces in an industry that fetishises youth: is it better to burn out or just fade away? And then what? Where do you go? What do you do? How do you move on?

These are the questions Nick Duerden poses in his new book, Exit Stage Left. Each chapter serves as a condensed musical biography. The opener is a sensitive account of the life and career of Peter Perrett of the Only Ones, whose 1978 release Another Girl, Another Planet is one of punk’s great pop songs. But “artists really aren’t the best people to operate the heavy machinery of adulthood” and a regrettable incident in a car park in California while supporting the Who (them again) had them thrown off the tour and sent back to England, where he spent the next couple of decades struggling with substance dependency. There’s a redemptive arc in Perrett’s story and it’s incredibly moving to read.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 09, 2022

Jumi Bello’s essay was briefly published on the Literary Hub website until it was revealed she had again lifted material

An author’s online essay on why she used plagiarized material in a novel pulled earlier this year has itself been removed after editors found she had again lifted material.

Jumi Bello’s essay, I Plagiarized Parts of My Debut Novel. Here’s Why appeared just briefly Monday on the website Literary Hub. Bello’s debut novel, The Leaving had been scheduled to come out in July, but was cancelled in February by Riverhead Books.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 09, 2022

Singer’s global initiative to offer a book each month to 200 refugee children in London until they turn five

Refugee children in London will be given a book each month until they turn five, thanks to a new project from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

The global organisation is partnering with publisher Penguin Random House and charity Give a Book to offer books to 200 refugee children in the capital.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 09, 2022

Centuries of prejudice have led to bad science, physical suffering and missed potential

In the 17th century, ovaries got their modern name, which essentially means “place for eggs”. Before that, they were known only as female testicles, thought to be vestigial versions of male gonads that may or may not produce “female sperm”. A young Dutch anatomist, Regnier de Graaf, was the first to show that they actually made eggs, by dissecting just-mated rabbits. “Nature had her mind on the job when generating the female as well as when generating the male,” he wrote.

But in the 19th century, the trend of surgeons removing healthy ovaries to treat “ailments” such as hysteria made it clear that they were doing far more than acting as egg baskets. These unassuming organs were, in fact, supporting women’s wellbeing in a much more fundamental way. Eventually, the discovery of estrogen helped scientists piece together the fact that the ovaries were powerhouses of female health, nodes in a complex feedback mechanism between brain and body. They orchestrated the production of hormones that supported nearly every physical system, from bones to brain development.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 09, 2022

The author of Quiet again bangs the drum for the world’s sensitive souls, but her unflagging earnestness is depressingly short of nuance and humour

Now then, on a scale of 0 to 10: do you seek out beauty in your everyday life? Do you know what CS Lewis meant when he described joy as a “sharp, wonderful stab of longing”? Do you react intensely to music or art or nature? Are you moved by old photographs? Do you experience happiness and sadness simultaneously?

If your answer is emphatically yes to these and similar questions in Susan Cain’s Bittersweet Quiz (I came to a jarring halt at the one about being perceived as an “old soul”), then you will score highly and qualify as a “true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet”. You are not sanguine (robust, forward-leaning, ambitious, combat-ready, tough), but bittersweet – and to be bittersweet means to be sensitive, creative and spiritual, with a “tendency to states of longing, poignancy and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world”. Bittersweet, writes Susan Cain with her startling sincerity, means the transformation of pain into “creativity, transcendence and love”.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 08, 2022

These pieces about players of the present and the past illuminate the racism that blighted the game and the bravery of trailblazers

I’ll never forget my first game at White Hart Lane. As I walked to the stadium, my hand in my father’s, I could feel the crowd swelling around me, the language as colourful as the sea of flags swimming in the air. This was a world detached from everyday reality. The environment was electric. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time.

When I reached the stands, I saw my heroes for the first time in the flesh. As a young boy, watching Tottenham play was a chance to see myself in something that I could never find in TV or books. Garth Crooks, a young black English centre-forward, played alongside Argentinian players Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. My parents came to the UK from Guyana, a black-majority country on the South American coast; this was representation like nothing I’d experienced before.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 08, 2022

The novelist shows her expertise in the briefer format in tales of sexual power, self-delusion and flawed personality

“This book came out of years spent learning to be a writer, a process that will never be complete,” Maggie Shipstead writes in the acknowledgments of her first story collection, You Have a Friend in 10A. It may sound over-earnest – indeed, the whole section does – but with Shipstead there’s always a sharp layer of self-awareness just beneath the surface. In this case, it works as a knowing wink to the reader, since the second story in the book, Acknowledgements, is narrated by a solipsistic young male writer as he considers how best to use his novel’s acknowledgments to air long-held grievances against former mentors and women who’ve turned him down.

Shipstead’s third novel, the extraordinary historical epic Great Circle, was shortlisted last month for the Women’s prize, following on from her Booker shortlisting and giving the impression that she is something of an overnight success. But the stories in You Have a Friend in 10A chart the evolution over more than a decade of her unnerving ability to capture a character’s inner life in a few choice phrases and to pinpoint the unique collision of personality flaws that will trigger the story’s drama. In the most haunting piece here, Souterrain, she reverses cause and effect, moving backwards between present-day and wartime Paris to show how a careless remark or a small lie can have fatal consequences, the ripples of guilt and shame spreading through generations.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 08, 2022

The impact of blowing up a hydroelectric dam, the limits of identity politics and the Renaissance polymath feature in the Dutch writer’s funny and clever first novel

The Dutch writer Lieke Marsman has established herself in this country as a poet of exceptional skill with her collection The Following Scan Will Last Five Minutes (2019), which was inspired by her diagnosis of a rare form of bone cancer at the age of 27.

Her debut novel, The Opposite of a Person, predates that collection, but is appearing in English now, translated, like her poetry, with empathy and clarity by Sophie Collins. It feels in a sense like the most modern book you could read: not only is the ostensible subject timely (climate change), but it also falls into a number of current literary trends.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 08, 2022

A lax approach to plot and character makes this near-future fantasy about a murdered man and his wife only fitfully funny

“Now that I’m dead… ” begins the murdered narrator of Steve Toltz’s new book, whose chapters alternate between the afterlife and a near-future Sydney beset by “drone terrorism, nanobot murders, hurricane firestorms and utter global chaos”. The Covid era, known as “the Fattening” (“all that gruelling isolation and silly panic buying and overeating… The only thing we learned was how to hide from deliverymen”), has given way to a new pandemic, K9, spread by dogs.

When the news seems like a novel, you may as well play loud, but I’m not sure Toltz knows any other way. The salty explorations of masculinity in his previous books, A Fraction of the Whole (shortlisted for the Booker in 2008) and Quicksand, sometimes resembled being stuck in a lift with an aspiring standup. While the intricate concept behind Here Goes Nothing hints at newfound discipline, the scattershot result suggests he’s still figuring out how to make his routines amount to more than the sum of their parts, which isn’t to say there isn’t fun to be had en route.

Continue reading...
Read More
Page 3 of 372 [3]

Search