Category Archives: Reviews

On Oswald Schwartz And Sex

Ever since I first had the theories of Freud and Jung pounded into me by lecturers labouring under the preposterous assumption that such theories were indispensable aids to literary criticism, I’ve been deeply suspicious of psychology and psychoanalysis.

I warmed to Freud somewhat after I discovered that he had a cocaine habit for a while, but I can’t say I’ve ever been bowled over by any of his major theories.  I hasten to add that even in translation it’s obvious that he was a skilful prose stylist, and I do dip into him from time to time (I have tiny soft-spots for Totem and Taboo and The Future of an Illusion).  I frankly can’t get myself excited about Jung, though.  And I have tried.  Nada.  Maybe next year. Continue reading


Tom Rachman’s ‘The Imperfectionists’

The decline in health of printed newspapers has been going on for a long time.  Online news marked one of the first serious spikes in the fever chart, but by now devices such as the Kindle and iPad look like bringing on cascading organ failure.  It seems pretty obvious that we are now beyond the palliative care stage, and investigating the nicest possible way to pull the plug.

In this atmosphere, Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is a eulogy for printed news getting in before its deadline.  It’s difficult to place The Imperfectionists: structurally it looks like a series of connected short-stories with the few final chapters acting as a sort of afterword to bring the central message into sharp focus, yet it undoubtedly functions as a novel. Continue reading

Collins’ Casuistry

I like to think of myself as an open-minded kind of chap.  I’ll listen to an argument, consider it, and having sifted the possibilities make up my mind.  I bow before evidence and logic.

So it pains me to learn that certain prejudices are obviously integral parts of my intellectual character.

Metaphorically, the realisation works like this: I’m speeding along, and then I see a corner.  I change down into third to take the bend with a bit of tyre-squealing, controlled drifting élan, and in the next moment I’m struggling out from behind the air-bag, stepping over fragments of bodywork, wiping blood from my brow and looking up at the great big structure I’ve crashed into.  It turns out to have been hewn from granite in the shape of the word BIAS. Continue reading

About A Not Very Interesting Boy

Nick Hornby is the sort of author who, in theory, I would love to hate.

Relentlessly populist (not to mention hugely popular), resolutely proletarian and never particularly subtle with his themes, Hornby seems made for me to sneer at.

I was quite impressed with High Fidelity on a first reading, but hardly blown away: it wasn’t until I read A Long Way Down that I fell in love.  And Fever Pitch sealed the deal.

Since then, I haven’t been able to walk past one of his books without buying it.  I’m saving up About A Boy for a particularly nice and lazy day when I can wolf it down in one go.  Preferably while being fed peeled grapes by Elizabeth Hurley, but Liz’s people won’t return my calls. Continue reading

Nutmegs And Ginger, Cinnamon and Cloves

It’s too easy to write an off-the-cuff comment online.  It’s fast, also – and perhaps this is the reason why so many people unadvisedly, and unthinkingly type something out and hit ‘send’, or ‘submit’ without cogitating a bit first.

But it should take time and thought to write poetry.  It certainly takes a great deal of time and thought to write good poetry.

Sometimes, though, people put even less effort into writing poetry than they do into online comments.  Or at least, it seems as though they do.  But perhaps they just aren’t very good at writing poetry.

Today is a marvellous day.

It’s marvellous for lots of reasons, but for two above all: I got my first bit of hate-commentary (‘i can’t tell who is a bigger douche, you or the person you’re writing about’).  I’ve been waiting for my first bit of hate-commentary for a while.  But what really makes me excited is the second reason: my hate-commentator writes poetry. Continue reading

R F Brewer (B.A.)

Having written a post on the poetry of Robert Frost, I thought it might be as well to bone up on the subject of poesy a little more.

Living, as I do, in a house brimming with nerdy tomes, I had a selection to choose from.  I could read lots of poetry, or I could read lots about poetry.

I decided to read about.

Living, as I do, in a house brimming with nerdy tomes, I had a selection to choose from.  The Ode Less Travelled, by Stephen Fry?  Perhaps some Leavis, or Aristotle’s Poetics?  Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets?  Robert Graves’ The Crowning Privilege or The White Goddess?  Possibly Seamus Heaney’s magisterial The Redress of Poetry?

I settled down with something more severe.  The Art of Versification and the Technicalities of Poetry, by R F Brewer, B.A.  That’s right: he puts his Bachelor of Arts qualification down on the front cover and the title page.  We’re in good hands. Continue reading

Martin Kingsleyovich Amis

Russians are tough: particularly Russian women, since the men tend to be tough to the point of early self-destruction.  Even the language sounds tough – only Polish sounds more like a stand-up argument is in progress while in fact two lovers coo endearments at each other.  Russians have been imbued with a special and enduring kind of gloom and fatalism by their history, yet somehow they refuse to be cowed by it: ‘So we’ve had a hard few centuries?  Nitchevo.’

Martin Amis, by some mysterious process that cannot entirely be explained by the word ‘research’, has absolutely nailed the Russian collective psyche, and he does it in under two hundred pages, in a novel called House of Meetings. Continue reading