Allegorizations of Jan Morris
Faber & Faber, 224pp, Â£ 14.99
“Although I am writing this on a sunny spring day in Wales,” noted travel writer and historian Jan Morris, “by the time you read it, I’ll be gone!” She kept her word: Morris died last year at age 94, and this collection of essays has always been intended for publication posthumously. The plays don’t contain big revelations – she had written about her rich and busy life in numerous books – but offer her thoughts on everything from nationalism and her love of Manhattan to the importance of marmalade and why the princess. Diana should have received the royal yacht Britannia âAnd invited to travel around the world in the name of the nation, living it without inhibitionâ.
The title refers to Morris’s belief that everything has a hidden meaning – not that she finds it, happily admitting that perhaps the âall fucked up caboodleâ is a âmajestically impenetrable allegoryâ. And that doesn’t matter either. Despite all its depth, it is Morris’s joy that remains most tangible, and a subversiveness of spirit. As the end draws near, âGive me indifferenceâ¦â, she wrote, âgive me sparkle, give me irresponsibilityâ.
By Michael Prodger
Mothers, Fathers and More: New Essays from Siri Hustvedt
Hodder & Stoughton, 304pp, Â£ 20
This collection of free and discursive essays by American novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt covers memoirs, literary criticism, feminist philosophy and science. Autobiographical essays are the best; in precise yet lush prose, Hustvedt uses his family history to explore questions of memory and identity. She maps out the “forgotten land of mother and mother”: “the mute kingdom of the womb where every human being begins … a territory that Western culture has carefully repressed, suppressed, or avoided to an extent that I do. have come to regard it as spectacular â. A pregnant woman is a pipe dream, she observes: during pregnancy, DNA is exchanged between the fetus and the mother. The boundaries between self and other, man and woman, nature and education are artificial and porous, as Hustvedt thinks all boundaries are.
The collection is sometimes repetitive, and the quality is variable. The less successful essays have a distant tone and are too abstract: Instead of his incisive and nuanced real-life observations, Hustvedt seeks universal truths that often seem lifeless and mundane.
By Sophie McBain
The Anthropocene unconscious: the culture of climatic catastrophes by Mark Bould
Verso, 176 pages, Â£ 12.99
In 2016, Amitav Ghosh hypothesized that future generations would see our era as “the time of the Great Upheaval” – disturbed because most “serious fictions” fail to address the central existential threat of our time: the climate change. A response to the book of Ghosh, The anthropocene unconscious argues that if one broadens the cultural field of the investigation – including cinema, graphic novels, comics – and looks beyond the manifest content, one will discover that “the art and literature of our times are heavy with the catastrophe â. Mark Bould, a science fiction expert, calls for biased criticism, asking productive counterintuitive questions such as, “What if [we] stop assuming a text doesn’t deal with climate change? “
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Some of Bould’s local verdicts may seem superficial (that of Paul Auster 4 3 2 1 âIs the tired sound of baby boomers justifying their ruin of the worldâ). Meanwhile, his exuberant, streetwise style – blending high theory with laid-back lyricism (reminiscent of the counter-cultural blogging scene revolving around the late Mark Fisher) – may not be to everyone’s liking. , but Bould’s eco-socialist commitments seem increasingly essential.
By Lola Seaton
The Gardener by Salley Vickers
Viking, 304 pages, Â£ 16.99
In her eleventh novel, bestselling author Salley Vickers whose Librarian, observes the palpable effects of the EU referendum on a community in Shropshire. âThe village was pretty much Brexit for a man,â says the local vicar, âI’m so sorry, I should have said ‘or woman’. Forgive me.”
Our embarrassingly named protagonist Halcyon Days – luckily her name is Hassie – has moved to the countryside with her sister, Margot. They used their inheritance to buy a large Jacobean house, and Hassie sets out to befriend the locals. She hires Murat, an Albanian migrant and the only person who responds to her job offer, as a gardener. Together, he and Hassie take care of the neglected land, but she is haunted by an old relationship, the formation and painful break of which we learn through flashbacks. Vickers’ style is demanding, his first-person narrative often charming. But his central metaphor of gardening as a way to overcome grief – planting seeds in the hope of new life – is clichÃ© and detracts from the authenticity of his otherwise well-crafted characters.
By Ellen Peirson-Hagger
[see also: Reviewed in short: New books by Ann Patchett, Olivia Yallop, Duncan Weldon and Phil Burton-Cartledge]