Sooner or later, you’ll have to say something about Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. This debut collection of linked stories from an English writer who lives in Ireland may be slim, but it’s packed with vivid imagery of a quiet life, and deep reflections from an unquiet mind. It’s excellent, it’s ravishing, it’ll win a ton of awards, it’ll show up on everyone’s Best of 2016 lists. So before everyone starts asking you about Pond, here are some handy talking points.
Pond is like a really intense diary with all the specific names and locations and backstory omitted. One of the best stories (“The Big Day”) takes place entirely within the narrator’s head while she sits alone, waiting for a party to start. It’s all about her inner thoughts.
Yes, but the book moves in both inward and outward directions. It can be incredibly claustrophobic—focused on one person’s whims and daily minutiae—and incredibly expansive—suggesting worlds of detail, meaning, and personality—at the same time.
They’ll Say: Continue reading
Sometimes admiration makes you chatty. How many people read Karl Ove Knausgaard and just have to tell you about him?
Other times, admiration strikes you dumb. This is one of those times.
Maybe one reason why I have very little to say about my admiration of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is because I don’t often read graphic novels. In fact I’ve been kind of an asshole about them in the past. Which leaves me ill-equipped to articulate what’s so great about the ones that really grab me.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a 300-page graphic novel about the birth of the country of Malaysia, told through the biography of its greatest (fictional) comic book artist, using every style you can think of: sepia-toned realism, bright bursting Sunday newspaper panels, superhero action sequences, sketchbooks, painted portraits, political propaganda posters, etc. It seems that author Sonny Liew is fifteen different talents in one. This book is art. It’s history. It’s a slippery biography of a fascinatingly realistic character. Continue reading
Why did you write a prelude to Heart of Darkness? What does Conrad’s book mean for you, and why should readers revisit it today?
I’m writing this on MLK Day in the United States, but I grew up in England where protesting apartheid, demanding sanctions and boycotts were part of what it meant to belong to the Left as a youth in the 1980s. I’m forty-four. As anachronistic as it may seem to revisit Conrad, those conditions, of the Congo, of institutional racism, exploitation, uniformed brutality, capitalism and privateering have not changed. As for the book itself, Henry James had a phrase: “The plot won’t tell… not in any literal vulgar way.” And the impressionism of Conrad’s novella is masterful. The nebulous horror, the lack of elephants in a book about the ivory trade, the haunted corruption that make Heart of Darkness one of the ur-texts of modernism, also mean that it is a pulled punch — Yet, the fact that Conrad planted the existence of Kurtz’s papers in Heart of Darkness says that there is a counter-narrative to all that Conrad obscures, or a narrative that has no need of ambiguity — that has always been there. Heart of Darkness is everywhere, not just Apocalypse Now, but in the original screenplay of Alien, in the post-punk of The Gang of Four (“We Live As We Dream, Alone”), in T.S. Eliot, and the streets of American cities. Mistah Kurtz! is a vulgar book, in at least one sense.
Do you have a favorite copy of Heart of Darkness that’s all banged up and scribbled on? Continue reading
Friends, I really wanted to read Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott so I could respond to it and contribute something to the discussion described in its subtitle: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. But I wasn’t able to get past page 7.
Page 7 is where Scott—one of the film critics at The New York Times—serves up yet another helping of the blandly acceptable word salad that characterizes this book: “Every culture, every class and tribe and coterie, every period in history has developed its own canons of craft and invention.” Great, thanks. What?
This is a book in which the author—borrowing the humor of, like, Dave Barry’s grandpa, or something—actually interviews himself, writing both the Qs and As, and amuses himself with responses such as: “Well, no, actually. I mean yes.” Continue reading
“If there is anyone on earth who could decide not to die it would be Susan Sontag; her will is that ferocious, that unbending, that unwilling to accept the average fates or outcomes the rest of us are bound by.”
From The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe
The first time someone told me the premise of Sudden Death by the Mexican novelist Álvaro Enrigue (translated by Natasha Wimmer), she followed it up by saying, “but it’s not really about that. It’s about everything.”
She was right, of course.
Sudden Death is about a tennis match between the famous Italian painter Caravaggio and the famous Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo in Piazza Navonna in Rome on October 4, 1599. This tennis match is not exactly a historical fact, but you can’t exactly prove it didn’t happen, either. Tennis, in those days, was an almost unimaginably rough sport, a contest for drunken ruffians and rowdy young aristocrats. Dueling at tennis was an acceptable alternative to dueling to the death. In this duel, Quevedo is “seconded” by Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna, while Caravaggio’s second is the estimable Galileo Galilei. Each point of the tennis match is narrated in rapturous detail, as if Enrigue were reporting from the sideline at Wimbledon. Continue reading