JEAN WATT explores the performance of reading and social aspirations to appear ‘well-read’.  I am one book behind schedule on my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge. The app smugly informs me of this fact as I decide to give up half-way through a book I had stopped enjoying. I feel panicked. To get back on schedule I have to quickly read two books to ensure that I don’t fall even further behind. I eye up my bookshelf, trying to select something that’s not too long. My only consideration is the speed at which I can finish it. I ask myself if I have stopped choosing books for my own enjoyment. If reading isn’t for me anymore, then who is it for? I downloaded Goodreads a few years ago. The app allows you to create reading lists, record books you’ve read, want to read and are reading. I’m a big reader when…Continue Reading

On Performative Reading

IZZY DOCKERY travels through Asia by immersing herself into the novels of Salman Rushdie, Jung Chang and Haruki Murakami. Since we first went into lockdown almost four months ago, I, like many students, found my summer plans disrupted. New social distancing measures not only compromised university classes and job opportunities, but they destroyed the possibility of days spent procrastinating with friends. For the first few months, I was able to keep busy, navigating Zoom classes and online exams which took up all of my headspace as the university deliberated how they would weigh this year toward our final grades.  It was only after finishing my last exam that I really started to notice the boredom. With my work and travel plans disrupted by Covid-19, I sat on the couch all day watching Netflix. The pandemic made nearly all forms of travel impossible. With restrictions on domestic travel, any chance of…Continue Reading

Travelling Through Literature 1/3 – Asia

GEORGIA GOOD reviews Ian McEwan’s new novel Britain, 1982: the Falklands War is beginning, and Thatcher is in Number Ten. It’s a futuristic 1982, with self-driving cars and robotic bin collectors. Yet in some ways, it also feels current: a time of political turbulence, mass protests, and a pervasive online media. Machines Like Me is both a comment on our time and our future, but it’s set in an alternative past. Alive and thriving, Alan Turing pioneered major technological breakthroughs. One result is Adam, ‘a manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motion and shifts of expression’. He is both a being and a commodity, a person and a machine. When Adam wakes up, he belongs to Charlie, a young, isolated man, in love with his neighbour Miranda. The three are drawn into a ménage à trois, a philosophical spiral, and a moral state of ambivalence with a crushing…Continue Reading

Machines Like Me

 JAMIE SINGLETON reviews Tayari Jones’s novel, An American Marriage. In June, Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage won the Women’s Fiction Prize, snatching the prestige from a slew of esteemed novels – including Anna Burns’s 2018 Man Booker fiction winner Milkman – to carve her notch in the totem of the American canon. Despite being Jones’s fourth novel, this is the first of her works to appear in print in the UK. There can be little doubt, however, that with this  readable and quietly razor-sharp novel, Jones is surely destined for relevance. A novel about the marriage of two young African-Americans, Roy and Celestial, and what is essentially their fall from paradisiacal youth into the jaws of America’s most sinister institution, An American Marriage is an ambitious, but unpretentious work. The central event is the false accusation that Roy has raped an older woman in a rural motel. Wrongfully incarcerated for…Continue Reading

An American Marriage

JOE KENELM reviews the essay collection At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond by Esther Freud, Margaret Drabble, and Sophie Mackintosh.  ‘When I tell people I love swimming in the Ladies’ Pond there are two reactions,’ writes Deborah Moggach in At the Pond, a collection of 14 essays by Daunt Books on the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond. ‘The first: “Ugh, isn’t it muddy/dangerous/cold?” The other is, ‘How wonderful, lucky old you.”’ It is a good observation. Members of the Serpentine Swimming Club are frequently subject to long and mystified stares, bemused exclamation, or even incredulous photography. On the other hand, I was recently addressed as I changed out of my bathing suit by a passing jogger—‘So you can swim in there?’ On being assured that was indeed the case, he promptly took off his shirt and barrelled into the green water. In At the Pond, the treatment of the…Continue Reading

At The Pond

DANIEL LUBIN reviews Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s novel The Yogini. The Yogini is not coy about its themes. Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s novel, originally published in 2008 and now translated by Arunava Sinha for Tilted Axis Press, opens with an editorial note on the Indian Shaivite philosophy of ‘niyoti’: fate. The narrative traces the protagonist Homi’s bizarre adventure from a comfortable life to one plagued by uncertainty, propelled by a terrifying obsession with fate, which comes to torment the reader as much as it does the heroine. Reading a book which is so insistently about fate has you always considering what doesn’t happen, alongside what is happening. The Yogini taunts the reader with the frustrating possibility that the plot which they are reading is not necessarily the only one which could have guided the novel. Had fate aligned the words in another order, the story would have been radically different. With every dramatic twist…Continue Reading

The Yogini

MIER FOO explores the obsession with beauty and the use of Ancient Greek concepts in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. The Secret History subverts the usual murder mystery plot line. In the very first sentence of the prologue, Tartt’s narrator Richard confesses his role in the murder of a boy named Bunny, alongside his close-knit group of friends. Bunny is described as a handsome, Kennedy-esque young man with aristocratic tastes but without the money to show for it. The first half of the novel focuses on how and why the murder takes place, while the second half is dedicated to the aftermath of Bunny’s death. Most striking is the novel’s obsession with beauty, blended with tributes to classical mythology. The characters view the world of the Ancient Greeks as the epitome of measured beauty and aspire towards their aesthetic ideals. Richard’s hamartia (‘fatal flaw’) is revealed to be ‘a morbid…Continue Reading

Beauty is Terror

DANIEL LUBIN covers Elizabeth Rosner’s talk at Jewish Book Week 2019. This year will mark 74 years since the end of the Holocaust, nearly a lifetime. Its legacy is prominent: in textbooks, in memorials, and, for some, in memories. But where else does the Holocaust linger? American writer Elizabeth Rosner addressed just this issue and more while discussing her 2017 book Survivor Café with psychotherapist Jane Haynes at Jewish book Week. Rosner engaged with not just the vivid ways in which the Holocaust survives in the consciousnesses of those directly or indirectly affected, but how trauma is universally inherited across generations. Rosner is consistently calm and articulate while discussing deeply personal histories that are not easy to carry. Born and raised in New York, she is the child of two Holocaust survivors. But ‘survivor’ is a term she uses in want of a better word. Much of Rosner’s discussion highlights…Continue Reading

Survivor Cafe: The Legacy of Trauma

IMOGEN GODDARD explores the continuing relevance of Chaucer within a modern society obsessed with gossip and an increasing disregard of truth. Chaucer’s most well-known work may well be The Canterbury Tales which is full of hilariously bawdy poems and stories, but his dream-vision poems (written prior to this) tend to have a more serious underlying tone. Take The House of Fame (1379-80) in which he explores the distortion of truth and the dangers of celebrity culture. It remains engaging to the 21st-century reader despite its medieval origin by exploring ideas which are without a doubt of current relevance to us. The renowned House of Fame in the poem is filled with a cacophony of rumour, truth, and lies, all jumbled together and all vying for a position of authority and acceptance. This chaos within the house echoes certain struggles of modern society. Voices speak over one another, people gossip and…Continue Reading

Chaucer and the Distortion of Truth

JASPER NEWPORT explores the decadent party age of the 1920s and its moral implications in Fitzgerald’s literature. The Great Gatsby, perhaps the finest work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, encapsulates the Jazz Age. Immersing the reader in the extreme highs and lows of the time, the novel explores the doomed, tragic-heroic figure of Jay Gatsby as he seeks the love of his past in the decadent world that surrounds him. His story is a reflection of the context that inspired it; America is immersed in the gaudy, outrageous excess of 1922, visible in the rich imagery that catapulted Fitzgerald into literary fame. By examining the chaos of Gatsby’s parties, the extent of the cruel and corruptive wealth of this period is exposed. Readers feel the guilt and damage that decadence exacted on Americans, and understand Gatsby’s futile attempt to be a quiet, noble alternative to these extravagances. Let’s consider the significance…Continue Reading

Gatsby’s Parties: Uproar and Extravagance

NICK FERRIS reviews Yuval Noah Harari’s latest publication 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Nearly a fifth of the way through the 21st century, philosophical and anthropological man of the moment Yuval Noah Harari has come out with a manifesto of thoughts and ideas concerning the world we live in now. Following the largely historically-focused Sapiens and the more broad and existential Homo Deus, 21 Lessons offers 21 chapters on 21 abstract concepts and trigger words. From terrorism and religion to capitalism and artificial intelligence, the distinctions between the concepts become irrelevant as Harari draws everything together to weave a general understanding of the world. Created through an amalgamation of interviews and discussions Harari has had over the years, 21 Lessons’ premise potentially leaves it vulnerable to accusations of it being constructed on a commercial level to appeal to a click-bait-obsessed audience. Indeed, the acknowledgment at the end that it was a…Continue Reading

21 Lessons for the 21st Century