I’m very pleased to see a new essay of mine in the latest edition of Gorse journal. For those who don’t know it, this is a new Irish literary journal edited by Susan Tomaselli that comes out three times a year and is now up to issue 7. I had a story in Issue 2 (Festschrift, later anthologised in Salt’s Best British Short Stories 2015) and and am made up to be back between their covers – quite exquisitely designed, as ever, by Niall McCormack.
Other writers featured in #7 include Scott Esposito, CD Rose and the White Review Short Story prize-winning Owen Booth. Other writers you might have heard of in previous issues include Darren Anderson, Louise Bennett, Kevin Breathnach, Claire-Brian Dillon, Rob Doyle, Lauren Elkin, Andrew Gallix, Niven Govinden, David Hayden, David Rose, Joanna Walsh and David Winters, and there are interviews with Geoff Dyer, Deborah Levy, Alan Moore, Lee Rourke.
My essay, ‘Marginalia’ grew out of a response to Ben Lerner’s essay ‘The Hatred of Poetry’ and explores traditional and contemporary uses of book margins and footers by writers such as Lerner, Maggie Nelson, Alasdair Gray, David Foster Wallace, Rebecca Solnit and Douglas Coupland.
Transit, by Rachel Cusk (Jonathan Cape)
I loved Outline, and I love this, its sequel and the second in a projected trilogy. Transit shares with the earlier book its dispassionate writer-narrator, Faye, and a super-cool novelistic intelligence, and the simple but effective premise that Faye narrates her dull, everyday encounters – with her ex, her hairdresser, her Albanian builder and others – without explicitly ever giving her side of the conversation.
We get what they say in direct speech, but what she says only in paraphrase. She is utterly reserved, absent in except in her reflections, appraisals, judgements. There is no plot arc, no sense that any of these people suspect that this person is spending the entirety of their time together processing and narrating it, rather than committing to the encounter on equal, human terms.
The risk with these books is that they avoid the tricks writers usually use to make their stories stick in your memory, and this does mean that they start to lose traction the moment the reading ends. Six months on, all I could really remember from Transit was two great set-pieces: a damp literary festival, and the Cotswolds dinner party that ends the book.
This isn’t one of the great dramatic, explosive literary dinner parties (think of James Meek’s We Are Now Beginning Out Descent), but what it is, is true to life, rather than true to books. Doubly so, in fact. It is realistic both in how these kinds of things pan out, and in how we see them as they’re doing their out-panning, from behind a pane of glass called consciousness.
I remembered, too, that the book ended brilliantly, that it makes most novel endings seem bluntly contrived.
This is the Place to Be, by Lara Pawson (CB Editions)
I reviewed this in brief for The Guardian (not available online, alas) and it’s hung around in my head, as I knew it would from the moment I opened it on the tube. Brilliant and uncompromising is what I said in the review, but there is more to it than just the brutally candid reflections of a one-time BBC correspondent on her time reporting in war-torn Angola, and on what awaited her when she tried to re-enter ordinary life.
The book’s brilliance is in its discovery of a form to match the subject matter. This is the Place to Be is written in fragments, in unindented block paragraphs separated by white space. Sometimes the link between paragraphs is obvious, sometimes not, sometimes tangential, sometimes delayed. Writing in fragments is a risky business, but this is textbook stuff. (Literally so, if I ever get around to writing the book I want to.) Continue reading