THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Welcome to the party. You are our very special guest.
Editors Adam Dawson Jake Reynolds and Adam White With thanks to
Ana Dukakis // Oliver Hughes // Holly J. McDede Front cover: Painterly Realism of a Footballer (1915) // Wikimedia Back cover: Suprematist Composition (1916) // Wikipedia
Everyone Can Paint Julian Ignacio Canlas // 4-5 Strange and Adventurous Lydia Tewkesbury // 6-7 I Pass Out Elliot Gudge // 8-9 No Complete Surprises Hannah Ford // Jake Reynolds Becky Smith // Jo Thompson // 10-15 A Literary Walk Ana Dukakis // 16-17 Sarah Churchwell Joe Fitzsimmons // 18-21 Twitterature Jake Reynolds // 22-23 Villainous Pornography Oliver Hughes // 24-25 Like Two Dogs Caged Oliver Hughes // 26-27 Illustrations Jasmine Flores // Jake Reynolds // 28-30
Everyone Can Paint Words // Julian Ignacio Canalas
Untitled (1964) // Mark Rothko // Renaud Camus, Flickr
he guy in his turtleneck, with trousers dark and sleek as the night, and unkempt hair, called himself a writer. ‘Yeah, you look the part,’ I answered thoughtlessly over the humdrum buzz of a lazy afternoon. We were at the terrace of Café de Flore, which boasted a famous literary clientele, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. When I asked about his writing, he said, ‘I haven’t published anything. I haven’t had enough experience yet,’ and took a puff of his cigarette. His voice quivered. That wasn’t the question.
We all like to imagine there’s a checklist of what constitutes a writer, and another more obscure one about what makes a good writer. Everyone becomes leery and condescending of those who identify themselves as writers. Getting accepted by a widely known publisher is essential, a necessity in the rite of passage in order to be able to write full-time. ‘You can’t really make a living out of writing!’ is often chanted. Even in the literary community, everyone expects someone who writes to have a side job. Reviewers and critics construct a general literary perception of what good writing should be. Creative writing classes are becoming increasingly common. These courses drill, motivate, and help their students to improve their writing through a grading scale based on how ‘worthy’ their works are. Despite these courses’ well-meaning aims, there have been many detractors since their onset. In an interview with French newspaper La Croix, Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl criticised the ‘professionalisation’ of the writer’s role through scholarships and various financial support. He thought it negatively affected Western literature. This criticism is not unusual; the argument that writers need to have lived a lifetime of suffering they can take inspiration from in order to write well has existed for a long time. Perhaps Engdahl’s statement is deeper-rooted than that. The literary community has a tendency to romanticise its figures, to identify them through their struggles, almost to the point that their works of fiction are rendered secondary, existing as extensions of the figures’ personae. Engdahl claims that the other jobs taken by writers to support their living ‘fed them from a literary perspective.’ His suggestion that writers, in order to produce good writing, need to find inspiration from their hardships, becomes interesting when considering writers with upper-middle class backgrounds, such as Vladimir Nabokov, or when this suggestion is placed within the context of speculative fiction writing. I wonder how long Tolkien lived in Middle-Earth to recreate its lushness in text, or how China Miéville challenged the boundaries of linguistic humanness by becoming the physical embodiment of a simile to the Ariekei. On the adverse relationship between academia and fiction writing, in itself an art form, I must also wonder how the art of Alexandre Cabanel, Napoléon III’s preferred painter and the best representative of
L’art pompier, was badly affected by his education at the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he received all the necessary tools and techniques to hone his craft. Was Picasso disadvantaged by being under the training of his father, a fine arts professor? Engdahl further states that most ‘University-formed’ creative fiction writers ‘pretend to be transgressive.’ Perhaps Engdahl’s academic writing would be greatly benefitted by the enriching experience of working as a janitor. Perhaps he’d need to be under the guidance of Joyce Carol Oates, born from a working-class family and now a highly prolific, critically acclaimed, ‘Universityformed’ writer and a creative writing professor herself at Princeton University. The opinion that good writing needs to be derived from reallife experience is highly flawed, especially when dissecting what fiction is made of: fiction. Or, a writer’s imagined vision of another reality that may mirror ours. The ‘experience’ opinion is an uninspired narrative from those unaware of the increasingly competitive nature of the writing industry. The 2013 ACLS survey of around 2500 writers living in the UK concluded that their median salary was around £11,000—a decrease of 29% since the time the last survey was taken in 2005. This shows that most writers aren’t spoiled slobs who are financially supported by the academic or commercial world. The guy at the terrace of a famous literary café called himself a writer. My answer was nonsensical. What is a writer exactly supposed to resemble? Whilst not necessarily wrong, the persona of a writer—such as this guy—is highly fabricated and visual. It is a myth that does more harm than good in the discourse surrounding the future of literature. Writers finding inspiration from their hardships is not wrong, but incomplete. Inspiration is everywhere. My friend puking in the backseat of a taxi after a night of booze and decadence might have been an inspiring experience for the driver, as is overhearing a random conversation when taking the bus. Being a writer is a profession in itself, as writers spend time honing their writing more than anyone else. In the same way that anyone can paint but not everyone is a painter, anyone can write; not everyone can write well.
Sightseeing(2007) // Adrian Tomine // Huffington Post
Strange andAdventurous Words // Lydia Tewkesbury
orwich is a city of stories. We all sort of know this. We recognise that we live in a place that whispers. We know that quickly popping out to the shops is almost impossible; it’s never long before somewhere new and intriguing or familiar and inescapable pulls us inside. The City of Stories project (cityofstories.com) aims of to collect these moments of our lives and paste them together into the narrative of Norwich. The City of Stories project invites us to get to know our city through 12 stories over 12 weeks. It challenges us to appreciate that which we take for granted: the strange, adventurous, alive and sleepy city we’re living in. Norwich is a city of storytellers. Connected to each exploratory article at cityofstories.com is a short story. Tales of love, loss and adventure in Norwich punctuate the descriptions of the city. You learn about the secret places in the city and walk the streets with the imaginary people living in them. The City of Stories project is, at its heart, a celebration of Norwich. It is a love letter to the city; its buildings, pubs, restaurants, theatres, independent shops and of course, its literature. It is an exploration of the history of Norwich. We learn how the cathedral was financed by guilt-ridden Bishop Herbert and the various incarnations of The Playhouse before it became a theatre. We hear the ghost stories that surround the city. The City of Stories project celebrates the secret stories of Norwich. One such story is that of Jack Valentine. A tale of no obvious origin, it is the story of a mysterious figure walking the streets of Norwich on the eve of Valentine’s Day, with a cane and a stack of gifts. Jack Valentine leaves presents on doorsteps. His mission is to make Valentine’s Day special for everyone, not only those who happen to be in love. Step away from Prince of Wales Road and Chapelfield and instead adventure down into the historic streets of Norwich. Explore Elm Hill and its beautiful Tudor architecture, its fascinating shops and cosy pubs. Visit the Plantation Garden, hiding away behind the Catholic cathedral. There is a good chance you’ve been walking past it for years without ever even knowing it was there. Go to all of the theatres and bookshops and record stores you ‘haven’t got around to’ yet. Norwich is a city of stories, waiting to be explored.
I Pass Out U
Words // Elliot Gudge
pon socialising in writerly circles or looking into the authors of the literary present and past, it soon becomes clear that, in general, writers fall into two distinct groups. Firstly, there are the Emily Brontes and Harper Lees of the world: shy, introverted characters who treasure silence and solitude in order to hone their craft. Then there are the Oscar Wildes and the Jack Kerouacs: larger than life individuals who utilise their charisma and beguiling nature in order to gain fresh life experiences to feed into their work. Of course, no matter how disparate these two groups may initially seem, certain qualities bind them together. To be a writer, one must mix a cocktail of narcissism, introspection, hubris, and self-questioning doubt. It is no wonder then, given this heady concoction of oxymoronic traits, that the traditional association between authorial creativity and mental illness exists (what Ernest Hemingway once referred to as â€˜the artistâ€™s rewardâ€™). To be a writer is to be a walking contradiction; crippling selfexamination and doubt inevitably rears its head during the creation of fiction, yet, whilst working through this often painful self-meditation, an author must also adhere to a steadfast and vain belief in their own worth and talent. Naturally, this can be a rather mentally strenuous juggling act - a feat that seems all the more impressive given the fact that, some scientists argue, writers are more prone to mental health problems than other groups in society.
In 2010, US website health.com conducted a survey in which writing was found to be one of the top ten professions in which people are likely to suffer from depression. According to the survey, the reasons behind this depressive propensity amongst authors are irregular pay and the inherent isolation that comes with the job. Of course, whilst these factors obviously contribute to the correlation in question, I think it’s safe to say that the problems writers commonly face are often more problematic and deep-rooted than this survey suggests. A few months ago, Andreas Fink of the University of Graz in Austria made an interesting discovery: according to Fink, there is an ingrained relationship between the ability to ‘come up with an idea’ (a very general term, I know), and an individual’s inability to supress and control the precuneus. For those of you who are, like me, not of the scientific persuasion, the precuneus is a part of the human brain that is generally associated with the retrieval of memory and self-consciousness. Naturally, it is this part of the brain that is most active during isolated periods and times of rest. In short, activity in the precuneus leads to introspective thought and indicates just how much an individual deliberates over the self and past experiences. The majority of people only access this part of their brain during downtime, when relaxing or lying in bed before sleep. However, according to Fink, writers (along with other creative types) continuously engage with the precuneus, constantly forming associations between the external and internal world, forever attempting to reconcile present reality with past memories and experiences. Anyone who has suffered writer’s block will disagree, but Fink argues that writers are prone to a continuous stream of ideas and association in their natural thought pattern, leading to fragmented, confused and often manic cranial activity. Regardless of whether you choose to adhere yourself to Fink’s theory or not, his research did reveal one stark fact. After extensive scans and mental experiments, it soon became clear that constant precuneus activity is most prevalent in two groups: creative types and psychosis patients. There’s an old cliché that writers are individuals who think a lot and people who think a lot are, more often than not, unhappy characters. This is a very basic generalisation, of course, but there does seem to be some truth to the claim. Whilst it would be a gross simplification to argue that the ruminative are a group more prone to mental health problems, the stress of a continuous generation and search for ideas amidst the scrutiny of self-reflection must surely take a mental toll on writers, be it major or more subtle. Combine this with the perpetual self-criticism and deprecation that comes with the writing, redrafting, and editing process, and it soon becomes clear how the damaged psyche can lend itself to writing and creativity, and vice versa. Up until now I have been talking in broad generalisations whilst recounting the research of others but I feel an exploration of my own experiences may shed some additional light on the matter. Since an early age I’ve been what many would consider a ‘creative type’: I draw, play a variety of instruments, compose music, and enjoy writing poetry and prose. Since an equally early age, I’ve also suffered from unpredictable mood swings that fluctuate from manic hyperactivity and euphoria to thoughts of suicide. This behaviour, which I didn’t understand as a child, eventually led me to be diagnosed with cyclothymia, which later developed into bipolar disorder. As a writer, living with this ailment has been integral to my creativity. When I am on a ‘high’ or ‘up’, ideas form quicker than I can write them down; I become hugely productive and,
more often than not, end up writing prose, poetry, and music instead of sleeping. Sometimes, during a period of acute mania, I will produce sprawling pieces of poetry I know I couldn’t produce ordinarily. Half the time, I can’t even remember writing these pieces and end up stumbling across them on my laptop after I return to a more stable mental state. Then there are the times when I’m ‘down’ or ‘low’; during these periods my productivity stops and creation seems nigh on impossible. This is when the inherent self-criticism of a creative individual moulds with all the other crevices of self-loathing in the mind and I end up feeling ridiculous for ever putting pen to paper. Who cares what I have to say? Who would even want to read such terrible writing? How can I possibly have the hubris to think I could ever be on par with the names on my bookshelf ? These are all questions that arise amidst the general quagmire of internalised hatred towards the self that is depression. Like so many other writers, from William Faulkner to Dylan Thomas, it is at these times that I most ardently turn to alcohol, preferring to drink until I pass out than spend one more moment in the company of my own mind. Many writers I have met, as well as numerous individuals in the public sphere, are open about writing with bipolar. More still will talk of the way depression directly feeds and informs their work. As detailed above, I am more than aware of the correlation between my mental health and creativity, to the point that I often shy away from medication, terrified my highs will be dampened and any talent or skill I might have will dissipate within a haze of mood-stabilisers. Of course, the question remains: does a correlation truly exist between writers and mental illness? And if so, why? I feel, ultimately, it comes down to the simple fact that those prone to and/or suffering from mental illness are naturally drawn to writing; it’s nothing other than a cruel joke that this profession also puts unnecessary strain on the fragile mind. Along with the near obsessive focus on selfcriticism (this, incidentally, being the leading quality among depressed patients) and the frequently troubling introspection that comes with the territory, writing also offers a release. Many authors refer to the cathartic nature of their craft - the way in which producing fiction can externalise the woes of the mind, transmuting depressive thoughts into words outside the self. Furthermore, at an even simpler level, I have spoken to depressive writers who revel in creating sci-fi and fantasy fiction, as this allows them to transcend the real world and immerse themselves in a plane of existence of their own creation. Given that the nature of writing (if you are willing to let others read your efforts) fundamentally leads to an audience, to share your work and hopefully cultivate a fan base is to create a support structure; those who read your work are offered a chance to feel what you feel, invited to gaze into the window of your mind and understand you. The writer is a contradictory figure, and there are undoubted drawbacks to producing poetry and prose (one must develop a thick skin and become mentally comfortable incessantly exploring the self), but there is personal power to be found in writing. To be a writer is to sit in the therapist’s chair and spill your guts out. To be a writer is to create and destroy whatever you see fit. With this in mind, maybe the question shouldn’t be, ‘why are so many people suffering from mental health problems drawn to writing?’, but rather, ‘why aren’t more people drawn to writing?’ The power and release the act of creation bestows can be something astronomical, and sometimes, to a fractured and tortured mind, it can make all the difference in the world.
No Complete Surprises Reviewing the Booker Prize shortlist Gertrude Stein (1960) // Pablo Picasso // Maulleigh, Flickr
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves // Karen Joy Fowler
hankfully, there are still some reviews for Karen Joy Fowler’s seventh novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, that share something in common: they point out the difficulty of reviewing this novel without mentioning or discussing the novel in the context of a ‘twist’ that occurs a third of the way through the novel. Instead, the focus remains on the story as it seems: Rosemary Cooke is a young child when, in 1970s Indiana, she returns home from her grandparents’ house to discover that she has been separated from her twin sister, Fern. Rosemary is distraught, and nobody tells her why her sister – her best friend – has disappeared from her life. Even as Rosemary grows older and goes to university, the absence of her sister looms over her. It’s often the case that when a book is said to feature a twist, the reader will at least have some clues as to what it might be, or even have already seen it coming. In this case, I can speak for the majority of the readership when I say I did not expect what was coming. I was actually unsure if I had read the line – a line that changes the novel entirely – correctly, and found myself skipping back through the book for any missed clues. However, this reveal is not just merely shocking; it is strange, interesting and explored intelligently and thoughtfully. Though occurring a third of the way through the novel, the reveal does not come a third of the way through the story; Fowler toys dexterously with the narrative structure of Rosemary’s story, connecting various episodes of the past together seamlessly. However, this novel has merit beyond its tight structure. Rosemary’s longing for her sister, and the ways in which her sister’s disappearance have impacted her own life, are handled delicately and with emotional depth and intelligence. The book cover makes the story seem like a light-hearted bit of fluff to skim through on a Sunday afternoon, and while it’s true that We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is written with a conversational lightness of touch, and maintains comedy successfully throughout, there is something devastating and heartbreaking about this tale. So how can I really tell you what the novel is about, without spoiling anything? There’s actually quite a simple and honest answer: the novel is about family, and the irreplaceable bonds we make with those we have known our whole lives. Words // Hannah Ford
The Lives of Others // Neel Mukherjee
efore Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives Of Others, the last novel on my bookshelf I recall including its own family tree was Wuthering Heights. This instantly alerts the reader to the nature of the ensuing 500 pages: they are going to be complex, sprawling and intricate. Those three adjectives would sadly put off a lot of readers. In a world of television ‘previously’s and 140-character chunks of information, jumping into the world of The Lives Of Others can feel a little daunting. How will we remember who is who? The novel concerns a household home to a family spanning three generations. Where do we start? Obviously, we start at the beginning – a three-page long prologue set in May 1966, in which Nitai Das is walking back from his landlord’s house after begging for just one cup of rice; his three children haven’t eaten in days. Yet as he returns home, ‘he knows what he has to do’. Hope is lost. Nitai kills every member of his family. Meanwhile, the Ghosh family, geographically close to such scenes of brutality brought about by poverty but socially distant from them, are concerned with much more trivial matters. It seems that only one boy, Supratik, is truly struck by this unfairness. For a significant part of the novel it is his tale, as he joins an extremist Communist group, which we follow. Yet in this intricate story, its detailed language and presentation of major social issues harking back to the style of 19th century literary realism, we see everybody’s story; the title already tells you that this is not at all concerned with those in the foreground. Those put off by the sight of a family tree are missing out on an outstanding novel, and a sublime and astute insight into the lives of those we tend to overlook – whether they are dying of starvation miles and miles away or are sat around our dinner tables, saying slightly less than everyone else. The language is rich with gorgeous imagery and, at times, is quite profound. Consider, for example, Supratik’s insight as he thinks of his father back home: ‘You were forever at the centre of things, the subject of the sentence; it was not the outside world you were thinking of, but where you stood in the regard of that world. He wanted to say to his father that others thought of their own lives too, perhaps more often, more deeply, than they did of his father’s.’ This is a dazzling, masterful novel. And, as I conclude, I have only just learned that Neel Mukherjee is a UEA graduate. This means two things. Firstly, that this review has thankfully been written without any bias. Secondly, that I’m going to tack the very fact that he is a UEA graduate at the end of the review, because why not? Words // Jake Reynolds
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How to Be Both // Ali Smith
ow to Be Both is Ali Smith’s cleverest creation yet, and it’s not like there weren’t tough acts to follow. Remarkably, the novel is published in two versions. In my book, which I begged as a birthday present, you first encounter the narrative of 16-yearold George. She’s a crisply intelligent, sardonic 16-year-old grieving for her recently deceased mother. The second section follows a 15th century Renaissance painter, Francesco del Cossa, both in her own timeline and as a detached, ethereal presence transported into George’s modern day. Half of the copies are printed this way. The other half order the two sections the other way around. It’s frustrating, not knowing what your impression of the book might have been had you lucky-dipped the other version. But these are the questions Smith is grappling with, extending to her reader. She’s asking about art’s versatility, about timelessness: ‘And which comes first? her unbearable mother is saying. What we see or how we see?’ How to Be Both is a novel of technical brilliance, the playful work of a writer who delights in innovation. It’s equally a warming and absorbing read. The characters romp around joyously, give lip, undercut and jostle against each other. The puns are relentless. Smith is fascinatingly perceptive and philosophical, but she also has a tender hand. The story is full of hurt. It is important to write books that celebrate art, to consider it with the thoughtfulness and exultation that Smith does. How to Be Both insists on such an experience. The first section you read is completely satisfying in its own right. But it is by making you leave that compelling narrative, whichever it may be, to begin the second part that everything you thought comfortably stood alone is enlightened. The second layer is unveiled. Smith makes you itch to cross-reference, to go back and re-experience, to look closer. It is so astonishing as a novel precisely because that’s not what Smith has really been playing with – she’s created a fresco. Words // Jo Thompson
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htimS ilA // htoB eB ot woH
nd here’s the second review. As you will have gathered, How to Be Both is a novel in two parts. The above review details the reader’s experience when George’s story is first. When I picked up this novel, however, I was graced by Francesco’s story first, as a myriad of thoughts helter-skelter and unwind across the opening pages. We are introduced to Francesco as a young girl fascinated by the world and its colours. We follow her as she starts to bind her chest and enter the beautiful - yet prejudiced - world of art in 15th century Italy. Reading Francesco’s story first gives her time as the ethereal presence in George’s modern day story a mystifying edge, with George’s story filling in various gaps in the previous narrative. Back in November Ali Smith won the Goldsmiths Prize for this novel, and its easy to see why; the novel’s duality is exactly the kind of intelligent and playful use of form the prize attracts, following last year’s winner, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. How to Be Both is a towering success. It is both delicate and strong, with a seamless flow that threads everything together into a rich, beautiful tapestry. Smith has a way of seeing the world that works perfectly in a novel all about what we see and how we see it. In a beautiful section in Francesco’s story, the act of a seed falling into a puddle of horse urine becomes something eternalised. As Francesco follows the ripple of the urine as it makes its way from the centre to the edges, her mother assures her the ring ‘hasn’t gone at all. And that’s why it’s better than gold. It hasn’t gone, it’s just that we can’t see it any more. In fact, it’s still going, still growing. It’ll never stop going, or growing wider and wider, the ring you saw.’ Smith’s language is constantly graceful and eloquent, as though it is about to melt off the page. Her dialogue is as spiky, humorous and true to life as it has always been. How to Be Both is an excellent novel that questions the reader - and the very process of reading - in a way that steers clear of faux-whimsicality and is genuinely engaging. Words // Jake Reynolds
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To Rise Again at a Decent Hour // Joshua Ferris
he mouth is a weird place’ says New York dentist and cynic-by-nature Dr. Paul O’Rourke, in one of the best opening sentences to a novel I have read this year. But it’s not just oral hygiene that Joshua Ferris is intrigued by in his third novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. The laser-sharp sardonic story of Paul O’Rourke, who one day finds that he is being impersonated online, has already achieved notable success; in November it won the prestigious Dylan Thomas Prize, beating last year’s Booker Prize winner The Luminaries to nab the top spot. A novel like this is in a way quite easy to discuss, because on its surface it concerns three distinct topics: dentistry, the Internet (described by Ferris as ‘a force for anxiety’) and religion. The fusion is also quite neat and easy to explain: the person claiming O’Rourke’s identity online draws the real Paul into the world of a small religious group he has never heard of. An attested atheist, Paul is at first enraged by this identity theft. As the online Paul crops up in more places across the Internet, however, the out-of-touch dentist becomes strangely intrigued. What has to be said about this novel is that it is wonderfully, laugh-out-loud funny. O’Rourke’s willingness to accept his own failings are both hilariously honest and even quite touching, whether they concern his argumentative nature or his tendency to take the end of a relationship very badly: ‘I was waiting in Sam’s room, on the bed, facedown, crying into her unwashed pillow, no harm to anyone.’ Yet there is also tenderness and poignancy in Ferris’s writing, pathos that levels out the comedy. O’Rourke is deeply lonely, and the shadow of his father’s suicide looms large over him as he sits at home, obsessively re-watching old Red Sox games and calling his latest ex-girlfriend who he still works with. In a particularly affecting episode, he recalls how, as a child, he used to ask his mother if she was awake at night, to the point where she would scream at him to go to sleep, ‘which meant that I was not alone.’ For all its successes, however, the novel has its flaws. Primarily, the over-reliance on the little-known religious tribe can get a little wearing when several pages are dedicated to obscure Biblical tales. The reconciliation between the humorous absurdity and the weighty components of what one review calls a ‘theological thriller’ is not always successful, and towards the end of the novel this becomes more and more apparent. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a blurb-friendly book. It snags your attention as soon as you hear about it and, thankfully, pays off with an intelligent and humorous story that is only let down slightly by its third act, wherein the serious and the comic find it hard to get along. Words // Jake Reynolds
J // Howard Jacobson
oward Jacobson’s J is a self-professed love story, but that is certainly not all it is. Whilst our protagonists are introduced as the brooding, ageing Kevern and the young, positive Ailinn, the novel switches freely between both narratives and themes, often taking us away from the two central characters and into their past, or widening their present.
This is not a novel set in the present day nor, arguably, in our reality. Whilst Kevern and Ailinn fall in love, we are treated to a murder case, suspicions, incest and widespread violence, all shrouded by the ever-present mystery of an event only referred to as ‘WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.’ This is not our world. This is a place where something so awful has happened that everyone had to change names, abandon free speech, and denounce history. It is a supposed era of apology and affection, underlined by constant violence and dehumanising stereotypes. Howard Jacobson places extremes of passivity and aggression together and forces you accept this, because if you cannot, then the novel is ludicrous. He does not make this an easy ride; this is a novel designed to make you think. His conclusions are unsatisfying, his setting is almost irrational, and the narrators unreliable. There is a deep anger underneath the skin of this novel, bubbling through, and it will leave you uneasy for a whole number of reasons. This is not to say it is not an unenjoyable read. The characters are well developed, as we are introduced to an over-excited professor, a former researcher with a plan, an eccentric local historian and a hapless detective (and his cat) alongside a variety of others. The story itself is humorous, dark and deeply fascinating; Jacobson’s writing is brilliant, and the narrative pulls you in almost immediately. It is a highly interesting concept, and Jacobson combines a number of themes throughout. However, the ending feels rushed, and some of these themes are dropped along the way or ended with a brutal suddenness. Whilst the brilliance of Jacobson’s concept shows throughout the novel, it almost feels like he has attempted to address too much in just one piece of work. This is where the dissatisfaction lies, within the knowledge that whilst J is still highly commendable, it does lose significance and credibility through these underdeveloped narratives. In short, it had the potential to be so much more. Words // Becky Smith - 14 -
The Narrow Road to the Deep North // Richard Flanagan
t’s August, 1943. On the Burma Death railway, constant manual labour is expected and Australian prisoners of war are dying every hour. If they step out of line, the initial punishment from the Japanese officials is a series of hard slaps to the face. Food is minimal. Medical equipment is improvised, from bamboo catheters to rusty pocketknife scalpels. But surgeon Dorrigo Evans has to make do with what he’s got, moving from the ulcer hut to the cholera camp and facing the monstrosity of war with every waking second. Meanwhile, he is haunted by a love affair that is becoming more and more distant. More people died on the Burma Death railway than there are words in Richard Flanagan’s sixth novel, which clocks in at 448 pages. It’s a powerful fact, and one that Flanagan himself has referred to in several interviews. Yet for many it is but a footnote of the Second World War, and a story Flanagan says he felt compelled to write, himself being the child of a prisoner of war on the Burma Death railway. He wanted to write this book while his father was still alive. The day he sent the final manuscript to his editor, his father died. Even without the touching backstory, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is an overwhelmingly powerful novel – it’s a gut-punch novel, a devastating novel, and a novel with passages that will make you wince and shudder. But it is also a hopeful novel, alive with slithers of joy and sustained by a love story that steers clear of saccharine sentimentality and is cut short by the war. It means a lot to say that in dealing with war and love, those two grandiose themes that have shaped human nature and history for as long as we’ve been stumbling around, Flanagan has written a triumphant and haunting novel that is alive with beauty, devastation and acute observation of the human spirit. His prose is sparse, and every word feels vital in building a world before, during and after the war. The novel is peppered with phrases as eloquent as they are ruinous: ‘And one thing, as they sometimes do, let not to another, but shattered a world.’ What the novel doesn’t do is fall into the trap of glibly presenting us with ‘the good guys’ and showing us little else. The near-cinematic scope of the novel brings every prisoner to life – their quirks and lives before the war seep into the narrative through touching anecdotes such as Darky Gardiner’s recollection of Nikitaris’s fish shop: ‘he used to take Edie there for a feed after they had been to the flicks on a Saturday.’ Similarly, despite Flanagan’s personal attachment to the lives of those prisoners on ‘the Line’, time is taken to examine the Japanese men who are given duties to work these soldiers until they die – men who care ‘about the railway, honour, the Emperor, Japan’ – men who have no choice but to follow orders. These men are not the antagonists, because there are no antagonists. We follow some of them after the war just as we follow Dorrigo. Everyone is consumed by it and everyone is haunted by it. As a Booker Prize winner, it’s not a complete surprise. In the lead-up to October’s announcement Flanagan’s name was strongly tipped alongside Ali Smith for How To Be Both. As I watched the announcement unfold, I was surprised to see Sir Andrew Motion (former Poet Laureate and chairman of the prize in 2010) suggest that the novel was something of a safe bet – not as daring or playful as Ali Smith’s, for example. But since when was the Booker Prize awarded to the most daring or playful novel? The Narrow Road to the Deep North doesn’t need to be playful. It doesn’t need to play with style or form to hook a reader. The hook is the glassy clarity of the prose. The hook is the story, powerfully and plainly told. The novel’s name is taken from the famous haibun of the great Japanese poet Basho. At one point, as the beheading-obsessed Colonel Kota and Major Nakamura share a moment discussing the great poet’s works, they examine their own: ‘In this way, thought Nakamura, the Japanese spirit is now itself the railway, and the railway the Japanese spirit, our narrow road to the deep north, helping to take the beauty and wisdom of Basho to the larger world.’ In moments of horrendous brutality, there is always the possibility of redemption in Flanagan’s novel. There is always a glimmer of hope. Every character comes alive, even those who are closer to death than they have ever been. The story was written – and subsequently binned – five times. Then, one day, Flanagan remembered the story of a Latvian man who had returned from the war to be told that his wife had died. The man eventually came to accept this, and immigrated to Australia, where he got married and had children. Then, years later, he spotted the wife he believed to be dead, holding hands with two children, in the middle of a crowd in Sydney. The man realised he had but a tiny, fleeting moment in which he could either acknowledge her or pretend he had never seen her. In a single moment the course of his life could change completely. Upon remembering the story, Flanagan said he rushed into the nearest pub and wrote the chapter out on beermats. It was only later that the war story and the love story came together. As he recalled this memory at October’s Cheltenham Literary Festival, an audience member asked what everyone else was thinking: what did the man do? Did he acknowledge his wife or walk on? Flanagan smiled, and told her that if she bought the book, she would find out. Words // Jake Reynolds
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S A R A H C H U R C H W E L L Words // Joe Fitzsimmons
Gas (1940) // Edward Hopper // Ancient Trails
arah Churchwell is currently professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities. She is also a prolific journalist and was selected as one of six judges for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Her latest book, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, was published in 2013 by Virago. Balancing this variety of demanding professions does, of course, require co-ordination: ‘I organize my days according to deadlines, and prioritize on the basis of what is due when, back-solving in order to give myself enough time to get each
of the Humanities, she has been fiercely critical of the current condition of British universities and the dangers of commodifying education: ‘I think it is a very worrying state of affairs that the UK’s education minister is actively discouraging young people from studying the humanities, telling them that they only need to study STEM subjects in order to get jobs,’ Churchwell says, in response to recent comments made by education secretary Nicky Morgan. ‘Humanities graduates get (many good) jobs, and education is not solely for the purpose of professional training. It is also to make us better citizens, and better humans (hence the need for the humanities).
job done. That’s how I balance all my jobs.’ In Careless People, Churchwell explores New York in the year of 1922, as Fitzgerald’s classic text began to take shape. Shifting focus between F. Scott and Zelda’s exploits and life in New York with the New Jersey Hall-Mills Murder case of the same year, she offers an insight into the creation of one of the most famous texts in the English language, as well as a critical exploration of the relationship between fact and fiction. ‘Writing a book requires that you have at least one research day a week dedicated to it, as well as working on it full-time when teaching is not in session,’ Churchwell says, acknowledging the intensity of balancing several onerous projects at once. Her tip for reading critically and sufficiently in such a demanding situation, she reveals, is ‘focus, focus, focus. I read knowing that every word counts toward the whole, and then I only take notes when I’m finished. But I’ve been reviewing for 15 years, and teaching literature for 20, so I’m used to reading new books critically – it’s my day job.’ Of course, a lot of Churchwell’s reading in the past months has been for an entirely different project: the judging of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, which was awarded in October to Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Judging the prize famously requires a significant amount of reading – in many cases, a novel per day. ‘I mostly read electronically so that the books were anonymous and I wasn’t killing my hands clutching heavy books,’ she divulges. ‘My favourite environment to read in is at home, in my favourite chair, with Bach or Beethoven playing.’ Within her work as Professor of Public Understanding
‘Our society urgently needs people who reflect on and can communicate about the ethical, moral, social, and environmental consequences of the technologies they create, the antibiotics they discover, the houses they build. There are many great people studying and teaching the humanities in the UK today, but it is demoralizing and isolating to be constantly told that because your work doesn’t immediately make others rich it is worthless. What a statement that is about our bankrupt notions of “value” and “worth” in our culture today; there is an old adage about knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing that pretty much sums up the attitude most people take toward the study of the humanities. ‘Education is not a smithy in which we forge workers to underpin the powerful. It is how we empower citizens, how we inform and apprehend what it means to be human – and that must include studying the humanities. In terms of the support of the arts and humanities at UEA, I think we are all doing the best that we can in an extremely difficult environment that is often actively hostile toward what we are trying to accomplish.’ In Careless People, Churchwell presents a nuanced exploration of the relationship between life and art as well as art and creator through the example of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Discussing the early stages of the project, Churchwell ‘checked everything against the Scribners reprint of the original, and then for a Christmas gift while I was writing it I was given a facsimile of the first edition — which wasn’t cheap, although a fraction of what the real thing would cost! But it is wonderful to have, and now I check everything against that one.’
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SOMETIMES THE GATE-CRASHERS PROVE TO BE THE LIFE OF THE P A R T Y In writing the book itself, Churchwell ‘was trying to tell a story
inspired by real life events and people, and cheerfully admitted
about how inspiration might have worked, in a playful and yet
as much. A great many (if not most) writers are. So we need
scholarly way. Some people thought I was trying to find the real
to stop having false dichotomies that say books are either pure
Jay Gatsby, despite my saying over and over that there was no
imagination or some kind of documentary transcription of real
real Gatsby. People often judge you on the basis of what they
life. The truth of art is more complicated, and more interesting,
think you’re doing, rather than on the basis of what you’ve said
you’re doing. Now, of course, Careless People has been published and the Man ‘Similarly, many readers said they didn’t buy “my argument” that
Booker Prize concluded for another year. The question is, what’s
the Hall-Mills murder was the model for The Great Gatsby, despite
next? ‘I think it will be Henry James and The Turn of the Screw
my writing at the end of chapter 8, “The Great Gatsby is not based
next, but ideas have a way of transforming through reading,
on the Hall-Mills murder in any meaningful way.”
research and the process of learning. Writing a non-fiction book is just a much of voyage of discovery as writing a novel, it’s just a
‘I don’t think there is any merit at all in uncovering the “true”
different set of discoveries.’
version of a literary theme or character, because there isn’t one if the art is any good. But this isn’t the same thing as saying that life
Note: parts of this interview were quoted from Sarah’s speech at
and art have nothing to say to each other. I was trying to create
the Being Human Festival. The full transcript can be found here:
a more subtle interplay of life and art, not crudely state that a
character “is” a real person. This is to misunderstand fiction
and to think writers don’t have imaginations. But Fitzgerald was - 20-
Flumequine (2007) // Damien Hirst // Happy Famous Artists
Words // Jake Reynolds Circles in a Circle (1923) // Wassily Kandinsky // Poking Smot
Twitterature Photography // Wikimedia
Twitter Tweet Generator // Simitator
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Villainous Pornography Words // Oliver Hughes
Girl Sitting in the Attic Doorway (1987) // Lucian Freud // Wikiart
after his death. Sade also played a significant role in the French Revolution, as he stirred the sentiment that would lead to the storming of the Bastille by shouting “help, they’re killing people in here!” out of his window to the crowd outside.
Sade causes controversy even now. Elements of the exhibition, mostly the spotlights put on contemporary artists (like Paul McCarthy’s ‘Tree’, an 80-foot sex toy), have attracted vandalism. And critics have been quick to dismiss those who look back fondly on Sade’s work and life. Despite the work of feminist authors like Angela Carter and Simone de Beauvoir, both of whom wrote essays explaining the ‘point’ of Sade, with Carter going as far as to label him a ‘moral pornographer’, the acts of sexual violence depicted in Sade’s more colourful books are, according to some, inexcusable.
Sade’s work is undoubtedly shocking, but that is entirely the point. Sade wanted to provoke his readers into action, showing them the exploitative nature of the bourgeoisie and religious elite. Most of his villains are clergymen, monks or nobles. He dismisses the concepts of virtue and sensibility – perceived as the ‘proper’ way for a woman to act – as nothing but means of control; it is clear where feminist support for him emerges. Andrea Dworkin, however, claimed that despite what one may read into Sade, his pornography by necessity contributes to misogyny, as all pornography does is promote negative attitudes to women. Susie Bright, on the other hand, wrote very convincingly that Dworkin’s own Ice and Fire is a modern retelling of Sade’s Juliette, due to the liberated nature of the main female character. Susan Sontag wrote that regardless of how one reads Sade, censorship should never be the way; he is a transgressive author, designed to shock, and should not be silenced on those grounds.
ew literary villains have managed to shock quite like the Marquis de Sade. No matter what devilish character a writer can invent, the depravity in Sade’s writing, depravity that formed an entirely new word, ‘sadism’, has yet to be matched by any of the same skill. Sade’s ability to shock isn’t what makes him excellent; his ability to use sex and violence as political tools have ensured he remains a fundamental part of literary history to the extent that, 200 years after his death, a new exhibition in Paris opened in his name (Sade: Attacking the Sun) has caused almost as much controversy as he did in his heyday.
And it is difficult to get away from the sexual violence in Sade’s most famous works, Justine, Juliette and in particular The 120 Days of Sodom. Often it appears gratuitous, particularly in 120 Days, where, constrained by time, the then imprisoned Sade found himself scribbling down as many tortures as he could in note form, which is the form the book takes today. The original manuscript, written in tiny handwriting on a scroll and tucked into the brickwork at the Bastille, is currently on display in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale. Looking at the material one has available on Sade’s life, he is seen depicted as a pervert, as a rapist; a common anecdote is that over two hundred maids he hired at his estate all fled within weeks due to his (and his wife’s) incessant groping. There is undoubted truth to these claims, but that is no grounds to dismiss his work entirely. Sade’s political contribution is doubtless. He held views of his own that were so radical, even the extreme Left Wing Pique group of the post-revolution French Republic struggled to accept him. He categorically denied the right to property, and argued that the power struggle in 18th century France was not between rival groups like the Crown, the clergy, or the aristocracy, but that all of these groups perhaps unknowingly united against the proletariat. He defined what would become to be known as the kyriarchy, advocated the violent overthrowing of the ruling class, and warned of the dangers of replacing one ruling class with another. He details this in his play, Philosophy in the Bedroom, which has a lengthy political pamphlet sandwiched between orgies. Sade’s libertarian views led him to be labelled by Geoffrey Gorer as ‘the first reasoned socialist.’ And indeed, reading Sade’s political writings, one strikes many comparisons to the works of Marx and Engels who would write in the years
The exhibition is not just of Sade’s work, but also of what he inspired. “The Divine Marquis’s work is a radical questioning of issues of limits, proportion, excess, notions of beauty, ugliness, the sublime and the body image,” the museum explains. It addresses topics like “the ferocity and singularity of desire, deviation, extremes, the weird and the monstrous, desire as a principle of excess and imaginary recomposition of the world.” And the influences are clear in the work of some of the true artistic greats. Picasso, Bacon and Delacroix all have work on display, accompanied by pieces of Sade’s writing. In the literary world, Sade hugely influenced Bataille and Baudelaire, as well as the works of Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Swinburne. Literary theorists wrote tirelessly of the influences of Sade in the early 20th century; Barthes, Derrida and Foucault all explored his work, and some have called him a precursor to Freud due to his idea that sexuality is a hidden driving force. A retelling of 120 Days in film led to Pier Paulo Pasolini’s Salo, which places the story in the context of Nazi-occupied Italy as a critique of totalitarianism. Widely considered one of the most shocking films of all time, Pasolini was murdered shortly before its official release. Sade continues to shock today. His influences are undeniable, and arguments over how he should be remembered – revered or reviled – continue with no conclusion in sight. His work is remembered in a way quite unlike many other authors, with a full exhibition in Paris, a city that never accepted him. Perhaps his biggest transgression yet is to have his work displayed in such a way. And to the age-old question of art versus porn – why not both?
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Like Two Dogs Caged
common cliché among music critics is to liken certain lyrics to poetry.
Jeff Mangum, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Joanna Newsom and countless more have been described as poets rather than songwriters. Yet arguably the style of music closest to poetry, rap, is ignored in these discussions. There is something that sticks in the throat about calling a hip-hop verse a poem. Hip-hop fans often make the sycophantic mistake of calling everything their favourite artist does genius, which can discredit them. And hip-hop snobs will look down their noses and mutter something along the lines of “oh, it’s all money, guns and women, isn’t it?” Rather than debate these fascinating questions, I will perform a simple scientific analysis of a perhaps controversial – but notorious nevertheless – hip-hop verse: the third verse of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself ’. Before I continue I recommend you listen to the entire song (probably not for the first time), and then the specific verse whilst reading the lyrics. Hearing the rapper deliver the verse is as important as reading it on the page. Eminem delivers these words with such an urgency, driven on by the guitar line, that it allows him to go from performing a staccato jitter to a full flow by “and these times are so hard, and it’s getting even harder”. The rhyme scheme is inconsistent – it opens in a very straightforward way, but steadily breaks down as the lines become shorter and shorter. The use of half-rhyme helps demonstrate the immediacy of the situation: consider the transition from “I’ma change what you call rage/Tear this motherfucking roof off like two dogs caged”, a long, flowing line with repeated fricative sounds - an ‘f ’ of frustration, of being ready to burst - to “I cannot grow old in Salem’s lot/So here I go it’s my shot”, very short, simple and to the point, the rhyme scheme all that remains of the verse’s previous intricacy. Eminem’s content is not hidden in metaphor; it’s honest and in your face, much like the man himself. Contextually, this makes sense: at the time of writing he had to make a living and could barely afford to feed his child. There’s a sense of the opportunity having been seized with both hands or he would.
Words // Oliver Hughes
No more games, I’ma change what you call rage Tear this motherfucking roof off like two dogs caged I was playing in the beginning, the mood all changed I’ve been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage But I kept rhyming and stepped right into the next cypher Best believe somebody’s paying the pied piper All the pain inside amplified by the fact That I can’t get by with my 9 to 5 And I can’t provide the right type of life for my family Cause man, these goddamn food stamps don’t buy diapers And it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life And these times are so hard, and it’s getting even harder Trying to feed and water my seed, plus Teeter totter caught up between being a father and a prima donna
What makes Eminem’s verse stick out poetically is the deviation in rhythm to carry the desperation. The words fire like bullets, with enjambment as the machine gun. Each hard-hitting truth rattles home to the bone, to put it one way. But what’s even more impressive is “another day of monotony”; his flowing half rhymes are fast and furious, but compared to the previous stop-start nature when talking about day-to-day life, it becomes apparent that it was the monotony he was in fact referring to. This level of craft is why Eminem is deserving of a place among the rap poets.
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Baby mama drama’s screaming on and Too much for me to wanna Stay in one spot, another day of monotony Has gotten me to the point, I’m like a snail I’ve got to formulate a plot or I end up in jail or shot Success is my only motherfucking option, failure’s not Mom, I love you, but this trailer’s got to go I cannot grow old in Salem’s lot So here I go it’s my shot. Feet, fail me not, this may be the only opportunity that I got
March Heath (1974) // Anselm Kiefer // enfocarte
F DOOM is notable for his multiple personas; he has created a number of personalities and pseudonyms that he raps under. Here, he is ‘Villain’, a cartoonish character that wouldn’t be out of place in an old school TV series or comic book. He adopts this guise as a way of discussing life as a rapper, how you have to “play yourself ”, selling the persona that you’ve created when you come onto the stage or risk not getting the attention you think you deserve.
Living off borrowed time, the clock tick faster That’d be the hour they knock the slick blaster Dick Dastardly and Muttley with sick laughter A gun fight and they come to cut the mixmaster I-C-E cold, nice to be old Y2G stee twice to threefold He sold scrolls, lo and behold Know who’s the illest ever like the greatest story told Keep your glory, gold and glitter For half, half of his niggas’ll take him out the picture The other half is rich and it don’t mean shit-ta Villain: a mixture between both with a twist of liquor Chase it with more beer, taste it like truth or dare When he have the mic, it’s like the place get like: “Aw yeah!” It’s like they know what’s ‘bout to happen Just keep ya eye out, like “Aye, aye captain” Is he still a fly guy clapping if nobody ain’t hear it And can they testify from in the spirit In living, the true gods Giving y’all nothing but the lick like two broads Got more lyrics than the church got “Ooh Lords” And he hold the mic and your attention like two swords Or even one with two blades on it Hey you, don’t touch the mic like it’s AIDS on it It’s like the end to the means Fucked type of message that sends to the fiends That’s why he brings his own needles And get more cheese than Doritos, Cheetos or Fritos Slip like Freudian Your first and last step to playing yourself like accordion When he had the mic you don’t go next Leaving pussy cats like why hoes need Kotex Exercise index, won’t need Bowflex And won’t take the one with no skinny legs like Joe Tex
DOOM’s lyrical style is less conventional than Eminem’s as he comes from a branch of hip-hop far more experimental than Eminem. The beat created by Madlib is consequently far less ‘easy’ than the one in ‘Lose Yourself ’, and so the way DOOM forms his words around it is different. DOOM’s strength is in his rhyming patterns and the seamless flow of his content, employing words that sound similar but run onto different ideas. He knows when to leave a line long and when to expand on it, when to have it run on and when to start something different entirely; this repeated contraction and expansion in the song brings the actual image of an accordion to mind. DOOM’s references are solid and consistently relevant; everyone can relate to and understand things like Wacky Racers, AIDS and Doritos (this blend of serious and silly typifies MF DOOM), whereas some of the references made by Eminem are a little out of context in the modern world. DOOM is like the ultimate rapper; he can flow, staccato and form rhyming patterns as well as any other, and his ability to excel in every element of rap makes him fully deserving of his place among the greatest poets. - 27 -
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Words // Julian Ignacio Canalas Untitled (1964) // Mark Rothko
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