A small tear in the fabric of reality

Dear Nicole, Most of the time, we tend to think of fiction as a mirror held up, facing reality. Never mind if this is a clear mirror, a cloudy or an openly distorted one – our gaze rarely changes direction. Some books, however, attempt to cross through the looking-glass: they direct our gaze away from…

The point is not to negate reality, but to peel back its scrim,

Dear Chloe, Your novel The Immortalists (2018) seems to be cursed by the very premise it seeks to explore: the interplay between chance and destiny is not an easy subject to tackle. Your somewhat tamed approach to it, however, is a bad omen. The book is a decades-spanning story of a Jewish immigrant family. It…

Strange can be quite normal

Dear Samanta, Your novel Fever Dream (2017), translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Distanca de Rescate, 2014) takes the form of a conversation between a woman and a boy, going back and forth between past and present, in a fragmented series of flashbacks. It also reads like a confession of guilt, and a nightmare….

I’ll describe my insanity through a sudden insight

Dear Christine, Do you know that feeling we have when we know where a book was going, and we know it could have worked – but it simply didn’t? I feel that about your novel Incest (2017) translated by Tess Lewis (L’Incest, 1999). Trying to be experimental while never giving up control over what the experiment…

Breaking through memories into desire

Dear Chris, In After Kathy Acker (2017), you are after a woman who was a professed self-mythologizer. Acker liked to play hide-and-seek, and buried herself in a room full of distorting mirrors. All you dispose of to find this woman is a collage of contradictory testimonials, and her own words. You can try to uncover…

Don’t ever wait for the swallows,

Dear Larissa, Your short story collection Swallow Summer, translated by Lyn Marven (2016. Originally, Schwalbensommer, 2003) made me think of tracks made of air: we might know they have just been travelled by birds, but we cannot trace back the moment immediately before their departure, or the very first movement of their wings. Your stories felt…

She attacked first

Dear Oriana, You had never wanted your life story to be written. “I have never authorized, nor will I ever authorize, a biography,” you said once. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached “Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend”, by Cristina de Stefano, translated from the Italian by Marina Harss (Other…

Fire burn, and caldron bubble

Dear Ronald, “The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present” is an ambitious and detailed research on a wide variety of beliefs about witches, as well as on the many ways those beliefs may have shaped and given rise to the Western witch trials. The book starts with an outline of…

Look at the colour of it

Dear Ali, It takes us only a few paragraphs of Autumn (2016) to recognize your characteristic marks: experimental writing; a collage of literary references; a narrative propelled through voice and voice alone; a narrative that mingles past and present, as if they were one thing, happening at once; and, finally, the creative reframing of contemporary…

She sensed a scream beneath the silence,

Review: The Beautiful Bureaucrat, by Helen Phillips

Dear Helen,

It is difficult to pin down your novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat (2015): a dystopia that reads like a thriller with brief incursions into horror, literary modernism and satire? It’s hard to say. But, by trying too much, and rushing to the tidy end, it might have fallen short of being great in any of these categories.

We are more porous than we know

Dear Emily, Although centred around a murder, your debut novel Idaho (2017) does not revolve around the questions of who might have done it or why; yours is much more a book about atmosphere; a collection of first impressions and lost tracks, crossed through by the motif of loss. In the middle of summer, on…