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.