On the Farm

Daisy Hildyard for the London Review of Books
Daisy Hildyard credit Barney Jones

For the LRB, Daisy Hildyard’s essay ‘On the Farm’ examines animal behaviour and animal rights in the UK:

In November, the government voted to let go of a European law which declares that animals are sentient beings. At that time of year the cattle on my father’s beef farm in Yorkshire come inside for the winter, and we had recently separated a group of young bullocks from the rest of the herd. The bullocks went into a barn and the others were supposed to stay out for a few more days, but they didn’t like it, and expressed their dislike loudly. We had to move the bullocks’ mothers to a distant field far from the barn. Where we left them, there were several hedges, fences and closed gates between the cows and their offspring.

The following morning the mothers were standing outside the barn, bellowing. During the night they had jumped or broken through every hedge, fence and closed gate to get there. My father hadn’t thought this possible: the same barriers had, for years, kept all the animals in. The escape seemed to reveal that the cattle were able to get out at any time, if only they wanted to badly enough.

There is an argument that domestication is a regime men have imposed on other species to project a human idea of power onto a more-than-human relationship. But what if we thought of farming as an innovation of opportunistic animals? From that point of view, it is people who dedicate themselves to the propagation of cows. Leaving aside the compromises that cattle would be making in the circumstances, the argument isn’t easily disproved. The actions of other living things are cryptic. The farm gates look different to the farmer and to the animals. If a mother cow does not run through the hedge every day, it is not that she lacks the ability to do so, but that she has no cause to do it.

Because of this, the breakout didn’t make me feel that I understood these cows any better – in fact, the opposite. It was something like the experience, during the days following a birth or a bereavement, of looking out of the window and being surprised to see the neighbours going to work as usual: there is a sense that normal life is supported by a set of assumptions which are necessary, but not necessarily right. Derrida felt ashamed when he was caught naked in his cat’s gaze, and embarrassed, in turn, by this feeling of shame. My father repaired the gates.

(…)

Art Across Borders: The White Review Panel Discussion

Hotsted by The White Review and Hauser & Wirth
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In the first of three talks as part of a new collaboration between Hauser & Wirth and The White Review, Tom McCarthy and Kate Briggs discuss internationalist perspectives on art and culture, the exchange of ideas between disciplines and across borders, and the nature of translation. In a conversation moderated by Founding Editor of The White Review, Ben Eastham, the two authors will consider how, even and especially in a global political climate of reactionary nativism, no art is ever ‘pure’ but rather informed by currents of intellectual thought that flow across national, economic and even linguistic boundaries.

The panel will take place on Tuesday 19 June from 6.30-8pm at Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, London W1S 2ET. Tickets are free and can be booked here.

Tom McCarthy is among the most celebrated writers working in the English language today. He is the author of four novels, two of which – Satin Island and C – were shortlisted for the Booker Prize and works of nonfiction including Tintin and the Secret of Literature. He is also known in the art world for the reports, manifestos, and media interventions he has made as general secretary of the International Necronautical Society, a semifictitious avant-garde network. He is a judge of the 2018 Turner Prize.

Kate Briggs is a translator and the author of This Little Art, a genre-bending, book-length essay celebrating the practice of literary translation. Stemming from her experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes, This Little Art threads different stories together in a portrait of translation as a means of understanding the inner lives of other people. In additional to her work as a writer and translator, she teaches at the American University of Paris and the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam.

 

Photo credit: Stephen Spender

Steeped in Literature: Megan McDowell on Translating Alejandro Zambra’s NOT TO READ

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Following the recent publication of Alejandro Zambra’s Not to Read, Megan McDowell discusses translating Zambra’s works in interview with Splice:

Not to Read is the fifth book you’ve translated from Alejandro Zambra’s body of work, but all the others so far have taken the form of short stories or novels. How is Zambra the essayist different from Zambra as a writer of fiction, and how did this experience of translation differ from others such as Multiple Choice?

I’ve learned through the few non-fiction books I’ve translated that having to stay faithful to actual facts can certainly feel limiting. Your comparison to Multiple Choice is right on, because that’s an experimental book that would have been impossible to translate ‘literally’, but lent itself to adaptation to fit the English language. Since that book is so dependent in parts on wordplay and cultural references, there was no other way it could have worked, I think, but to play fast and loose with ideas of ‘fidelity’.

With Not to Read, the challenges were different. It involved a lot of research — there are a lot of quotations of other works, and if a translation of any of those works existed, I wanted to use it. In the cases where I did have to translate the quotations because none existed or I couldn’t get my hands on them, I was very worried about getting things wrong. When you’re only translating a short excerpt and you haven’t read the work, there are all kinds of things you could misread. I think I drove Alejandro a little crazy asking him to double-check those translations.

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Were there any particular rewards?

The rewards were readerly: I have a broader panorama of Latin American writers, and an interesting to-read pile beside my bed. Also, as you mentioned, I’ve translated several of Zambra’s books, but it’s been a while since Multiple Choice came out, and it was a joy to get back into his voice.

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In your introduction to Not to Read, you mention that the original text, No Leer, has gone through several incarnations since its publication in 2010, “of which this English version is only the most recent”. This version, you add, “includes additions and subtractions to the nucleus of the original book”. First of all, can you elaborate a little bit on what has been added?

The original Spanish version compiles short reviews published in the press relatively early in Alejandro’s career. Since the last Spanish edition in 2012, Alejandro has written several essays and presentations that we included in Not to Read; I wanted the book to span the whole of his career, and we took the approach of including all kinds of non-fiction.

I went to see Alejandro give the talk that ends the book, ‘Free Topic’, when he was invited to the Cátedra Bolaño at UDP in 2016, and I immediately thought we should put it in the collection. We went back and forth on whether or not to include it, but in the end I’m very glad we did. In general, I liked the notion of including more personal essays that compliment and build upon the shorter criticism. They give us an understanding of how Alejandro introduced certain ideas in some of the earlier pieces and fleshed them out in the later ones.

We also added some pieces just for fun. For a time, Alejandro wrote parodic pieces for the newspaper The Clinic; the idea was to review books that weren’t literary as if they were high art. So there’s a review of a wine-tasting manual, a book of poems by Karol Wojtyla (otherwise known as Pope John Paul II), and a book of horoscopes.

(…)

Self-Improvement

Sophie Mackintosh in The White Review
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‘Self-Improvement’ is a new piece of short fiction by The Water Cure author Sophie Mackintosh, featured in The White Review:

 

I had been sent back from the city in disgrace, back to my parents’ house in the country. It was a traumatic experience. Though not as traumatic as what had preceded it.

 

My parents’ house was a squat, sprawling thing painted light pink. Elaborate grounds sank into the landscape around it. In the garden, a turquoise pool was sludged with leaves and dirt which my father hoovered every other day. I listened to the sound of it from my old room on the top floor, spread-eagled on the bed with the white crochet covers, where I thought about P and wept. I had been allowed just one small keepsake, and only that after I had really pushed for it. A passport photo of his sallow moon face. His brows knitted over his eyes. He was still the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life, six foot five and silent as a column. I wondered what would happen to him now. And yet I already knew – he had become infatuated with someone else. She was his childhood sweetheart, invited over to the house by his mother when he had gone back to visit. I had not been allowed to visit with him. The other girl’s hands, what had been done to them, looked expensive. He had shown me photos of her as if to say: look, give up all your hope. Which at least saved me the trouble of rooting around in a debased manner to find the pictures myself. He was kind like that.

 

P had been the one to ring my parents too. Soon they arrived in their roaring car, big enough to seat six. My mother cried, and my father wore sunglasses but I’m sure his eyes were watering too, with the shame. I told them once I was sat in the car that I could have taken the train, that I wasn’t a fan of all this fuss either. I could have packed up my suitcase and come back quietly. But my mother would not think of it.

 

 

My mother implied that when I was re-released into society, things would be different – we were going to do it properly this time. No more finding your own way. The first time I left my parents, I had P, and it had seemed like a surefire thing. But complacency is the enemy of romantic love, so the magazines told me afterwards, the ones my mother bought in an effort to be helpful. It was important to keep thinking about how to shed your skin and emerge a finely-tuned, better version of yourself. The softness of a thing that had cast off a carapace.

 

I was put on a strict nutrition plan. No more protein, for example. I had always had a healthy appetite, though P had encouraged me to eat less. Instead I had just eaten in secret. Small cakes, slices of cold meats. I couldn’t help myself. All that had to stop, according to my mother. Now I was allowed only diced tropical fruits, marshmallows, slices of white bread, and a glass of skimmed milk each day for my bones. Once a week she measured my biceps and thighs with a tape to see how much muscle I was losing.

 

I was hungry all the time, but it was okay because I was encouraged to lounge. I didn’t have to do chores the way I had done before P chose me. Instead I spent a lot of my time lying on the couch in my room, watching television shows about rich men and the women who loved them. I became very invested in these shows, grew to love the faces of their blonde women, the scooped lines of their jaws, their expressive eyes. Most of all, I loved the speechless woman with her eloquent hands. All the men wanted her too, it was plain to see. Even the married ones with fantastic wives, wives with elaborate necklaces, golden teeth, other markers of love.

(…)

 

Bach at the Burger King

Theodore Gioia for the LA Review of Books
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Theodore Gioia considers the position of classical music in contemporary society for the LA Review of Books:

At the corner of 8th and Market in San Francisco, by a shuttered subway escalator outside a Burger King, an unusual soundtrack plays. A beige speaker, mounted atop a tall window, blasts Baroque harpsichord at deafening volumes. The music never stops. Night and day, Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi rain down from Burger King rooftops onto empty streets.

Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners — specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent. Outside the BART escalator, an encampment of grocery carts, sleeping bags, and plastic tarmacs had evolved into a sidewalk shantytown attracting throngs of squatters and street denizens. “There used to be a mob that would hang out there,” remarked local resident David Allen, “and now there may be just one or two people.” When I passed the corner, the only sign of life I found was a trembling woman crouched on the pavement, head in hand, as classical harpsichord besieged her ears.

This tactic was suggested by a cryptic organization called the Central Market Community Benefit District, a nonprofit collective of neighborhood property owners whose mission statement strikes an Orwellian note: “The CMCBD makes the Central Market area a safer, more attractive, more desirable place to work, live, shop, locate a business and own property by delivering services beyond those the City of San Francisco can provide.” These supra-civic services seem to consist primarily of finding tasteful ways to displace the destitute.

The inspiration for the Burger King plan, a CMCBD official commented, came from the London Underground. In 2005, the metro system started playing orchestral soundtracks in 65 tube stations as part of a scheme to deter “anti-social” behavior, after the surprising success of a 2003 pilot program. The pilot’s remarkable results — seeing train robberies fall 33 percent, verbal assaults on staff drop 25 percent, and vandalism decrease 37 percent after just 18 months of classical music — caught the eye of the global law-enforcement community. Thus, an international phenomenon was born. Since then, weaponized classical music has spread throughout England and the world: police units across the planet now deploy the string quartet as the latest addition to their crime-fighting arsenal, recruiting Officer Johann Sebastian as the newest member of the force.

Experts trace the practice’s origins back to a drowsy 7-Eleven in British Columbia in 1985, where some clever Canadian manager played Mozart outside the store to repel parking-lot loiterers. Mozart-in-the-Parking-Lot was so successful at discouraging teenage reprobates that 7-Eleven implemented the program at over 150 stores, becoming the first company to battle vandalism with the viola. Then the idea spread to West Palm Beach, Florida, where in 2001 the police confronted a drug-ridden street corner by installing a loudspeaker booming Beethoven and Mozart. “The officers were amazed when at 10 o’clock at night there was not a soul on the corner,” remarked Detective Dena Kimberlin. Soon other police departments “started calling.” From that point, the tactic — now codified as an official maneuver in the Polite Policeman’s Handbook — exploded in popularity for both private companies and public institutions. Over the last decade, symphonic security has swept across the globe as a standard procedure from Australia to Alaska.

(…)

Darling

Chelsey Minnis for Granta
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From Chelsey Minnis’s poem ‘Darling’, featured in Granta 143: After the Fact:

Oh, it’s you.
I never could resist anything that belonged to someone else.
I suppose you feel the same.
That’s a very promising black eye.
If you want one, fix it yourself.

 

You wear a big, gold belt buckle with your name on it.
Now, I really like your eyes when they look at me with that look.
The one that is so fair-minded.
It’s dangerous like a very powerful doorbell.
Or a portrait covered with a blanket.

 

You didn’t lock your door.
You never were very particular about your associations.
Does it give you a lovely guilty feeling?
To me you’re a national disgrace.
Please act accordingly.

 

I didn’t hit you very hard.
It all depends what you want out of life.
Never mind talking.
I know I’m a bad woman.
I think you’ll find it to our mutual benefit.

 

Sure, I’m decent.
I’ll have to try that sometime.
Don’t shout, darling. I’m not used to it.
I need my hand back now.
When I don’t like something, I give it back.

 

 (…)

 

An Irish Problem

Sally Rooney for the London Review of Books
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Sally Rooney’s vital essay on abortion and women’s rights in Ireland and the upcoming Eighth Amendment referendum, featured in the London Review of Books:

In 1983, a referendum was held in Ireland to establish a constitutional right to life for embryos and foetuses. Abortion was not legal in Ireland at the time; it never has been. The referendum was the result of a campaign by conservative religious groups aimed at preventing any future legislation permitting abortion in any but the most extreme, life-threatening circumstances. The Eighth Amendment passed, gaining 67 per cent of the vote. On 25 May, another referendum will be held on whether to repeal that amendment. This one won’t pass so easily – if it passes at all.

So far the campaign has been distinguished by acrimony, falsehoods and a media obsession with ‘balance’ – an insistence that both sides must be given equal respect and consideration. Though campaign funding is strictly regulated by Irish law, there are questions about how effectively these regulations are being enforced, and in particular about the ‘No’ campaign’s links to anti-abortion organisations in the US. A group calling itself the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, made up largely of American volunteers, has attracted media attention by protesting outside maternity hospitals in Dublin with banners showing dismembered foetuses. The group is connected to a US organisation called the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, whose leader, Gregg Cunningham, visited Ireland in January.

Across the country, ‘Save the Eighth’ posters depict gigantic, robust babies, as if the referendum concerned the health of six-month-old infants. But the subtext is clear: no matter what’s going on in a woman’s life, it’s always a good time to have a baby. One poster produced by the ‘No’ campaign shows an ultrasound image of a foetus below the caption: ‘I am nine weeks old. I can yawn & kick. Don’t repeal me.’ The Together for Yes campaign, which crowdfunded its largely text-based posters, has opted for slogans like: ‘Sometimes a private matter needs public support’.

By providing the foetus and the pregnant woman with an equal right to life, the Eighth Amendment prohibits abortion in all circumstances unless the life of the woman is at substantial risk. The threat of serious, permanent injury or illness is insufficient grounds for a termination. In 1992, a 14-year-old child who had been raped by a neighbour became suicidal as a consequence of the resulting pregnancy. After the attorney general issued an injunction to prevent her from travelling abroad for an abortion, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, holding that suicidal feelings constitute a risk to life. Much of Ireland’s abortion debate since then – including a referendum in 1992 and another in 2002 – has hinged on whether the possibility of suicide does in fact constitute a sufficiently immediate risk. In 1992, 35 per cent of the population believed it did not.

The criteria by which doctors gauge a risk to life, as distinct from a risk to health, are still unclear. In 2012, a woman called Savita Halappanavar developed sepsis during a miscarriage. Aware that her pregnancy was no longer medically viable, and increasingly unwell as the infection spread, she asked for a termination. The request was refused, because the risk to her life was not deemed substantial. By the time she was ill enough to be allowed a termination it was too late. Halappanavar died of a cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis. The decision to hold the upcoming referendum was sparked by the public outcry that followed her death. Months after the story broke, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed, setting out the processes by which pregnant women whose lives were endangered could access terminations – before then, no legal guidelines had existed for doctors or patients. In 2016, as demand for constitutional change continued to grow, the government set up a Citizens’ Assembly to look into the issue. The Eighth Amendment was no longer just about abortion; it was now about public health. Discussion focused on the most egregious consequences of the law: the fact that pregnant women with cancer had limited rights to access treatment that might endanger the foetus; that women had to continue with pregnancies that had been deemed non-viable; that children (and adult women) who had been sexually abused were forced to bear their rapists’ offspring.

(…)

Vanishing Act

Deborah Levy for Tate Etc.
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For Tate Etc‘s Summer 2018 issue, Deborah Levy on Francesca Woodman’s photographs and the inspiration they have served for Levy’s writing:

She is an art student, 20 years old, and she has booked a studio for a number of hours. She will have studied the corners of the floor and walls, where the windows are positioned and how she is going to make the light work. I’m guessing she has a few plans about how to proceed, but she’s also just going to play around.

She is her own subject, but she is embodying many other subjects.

Look at her. There she is. She is all there, but she’s always trying to make herself disappear – to become vapour, a spectre, a smudge, a blur, a subject that is erased yet recognisable. Sometimes she disappears into the wallpaper, or is pinned naked underneath a door that seems to have spectrally fallen from nowhere, or hides her mouth behind an upturned umbrella – sculpturally exposing its starfish shape, the geometry of its interior. Woodman knows we know she’s there and by constructing techniques to make herself vanish, she knows she makes herself bigger. She makes herself bigger because we are searching for her. The artist, Francesca Woodman, has given us something to find. It’s a dance, a theory (perhaps a Lacanian theory: ‘la femme n’existe pas’), a performance, a provocation, an experiment, a joke, a question.

I know she is art directing everything, working out how to do her trick. She is alert, supple, aligned, poised. If she’s making herself present by making herself absent then that is an equation easier to figure out with math or physics, but she’s doing it with art.

The boots are there to land this ethereal image. It’s so important to have a grip when we walk, as we have been societally taught to perform, into the frame of femininity – and as we step out of the frame too, into something vaguer, something more blurred. Francesca Woodman, the artist, can move freely in these boots, but they also pull her down. The image would suffer without their presence. Actually, I am wearing boots that are quite similar as I write this. In about five minutes from now, I’m going to switch off my computer, lock the door of my writing shed and walk to the tube station.

I think about Francesca Woodman’s inspiring images every time I write a female character and begin to embody her (make her present) in the world of my fiction.

(…)

Events in London and Dublin

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We have lots of events on this month in both London and Dublin. Details for all events can be found below.

Thursday 17 May: The Man Booker International Prize Panel at Foyles Charing Cross

Jennifer Croft – translator of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk – joins five of the Man Booker International shortlisted translators in discussing their craft at Foyles Charing Cross Road from 7pm. Led by journalist, editor and literary critic Ellah Wakatama Allfrey and followed by an audience Q&A, there will also be a reading by actor, comedian and author Charlie Higson. 

For more information and to book tickets, head to Foyles’ website.

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Friday 18 May-Sunday 20 May: Fitzcarraldo Editions and The White Review at Offprint London

Fitzcarraldo Editions and The White Review will share a stand at Offprint London at the Tate Modern from 18-20 May, with all of our latest publications in stock. In collaboration with Tate Modern, Offprint will host publishers from 16 different countries. The event takes place in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall to coincide with Photo London. Across the weekend, there will be a programme of book signings and workshops.

Opening times are as follows:

Friday 18 May 18.00-22.00
Saturday 19 May 12.00-20.00
Sunday 20 May 12.00-18.00

More information is available on Offprint’s website.

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Monday 21 May: Waterstones presents the 2018 Man Booker International Prize Shortlist Readings

The authors and translators on the Man Booker International Prize 2018 shortlist – including Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft – come together to read from and discuss their works at Waterstones: The Upper Hall, Emmanuel Centre, Marsham St, London, SW1P 3DW, from 7pm.

Tickets are available from Waterstones.

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 Wednesday 23 May: Mathias Enard at the International Literature Festival Dublin

Mathias Enard – author of Zone, Street of Thieves and Compass – discusses ‘The Other’ with Professor Michael Cronin as part of the Talking Translation programme at the International Literature Festival Dublin from 2.30pm.

The event is free, but seating is limited, so booking is advised. Tickets are available here.

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Wednesday 23 May: Mathias Enard at the International Literature Festival Dublin

Mathias Enard will be in conversation with Javier Cercas at Alliance Francais at the International Literature Festival Dublin from 6pm. 

Tickets are available here.

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Wednesday 23 May: Women and the Essay – Daisy Hildyard, Ashleigh Young, Joanna Walsh at the International Literature Festival Dublin

A panel on the contemporary essay, and whether information overload has created a demand for personal voices. The event is chaired by writer and broadcaster Sinéad Gleeson and will take place at the Smock Alley Theatre at 8pm. Tickets are available here.

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Thursday 31 May: Patrick Langley at Waterstones Islington

Patrick Langley will be reading from and discussing his novel Arkady with Mark Blacklock at Waterstones Islington from 6.30pm.

For more information and to book a ticket, head to Waterstones Islington’s website.

 

 

Rachel Cusk takes off

Patricia Lockwood for the London Review of Books
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Patricia Lockwood on Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, for the London Review of Books.

The observation that some people do not like Rachel Cusk is so omnipresent in criticism of her work that it’s surprising no one’s ever led off a review with ‘I, too, dislike her.’ These observations are generally accompanied by photos or illustrations of her in which she looks at you both directly and flinchingly, almost always with a strand of hair in the centre of her forehead, with a smile somewhat like Edna O’Brien’s – another writer who seemed to rouse hatred for her disarranged hair as much as for her books, another writer who went to convent school. This is the sort of education that can unfit you afterwards for normal conversation, that can make the suburbs seem beyond your power of understanding as you drive home past them from the locked-in place. You suspect that even from the other side of the frame she is noticing you, and people who notice are inconvenient, if not uncivilised. It would, after all, be uncomfortable to be on a ferry with Cusk as she visibly or invisibly observed that you had the ‘face of a withered Memling damsel’. That is, in the language of one of the places where Cusk grew up (LA), ‘way harsh, Tai’.

Cusk has glimpsed the central truth of modern life: that sometimes it is as sublime as Homer, a sail full of wind with the sun overhead, and sometimes it is like an Ikea where all the couples are fighting. ‘I wonder what became of the human instinct for beauty,’ she writes in The Last Supper, ‘why it vanished so abruptly and so utterly, why our race should have fallen so totally out of sympathy with the earth.’ A line like this is both overwrought and what I think myself when I look at these scenes. Why must we live in these places? Why must these be our concerns? Why do I have to know what McDonald’s is? It is a dissociate age and she is a dissociate artist. She is like nothing so much as that high little YouTube child fresh from the dentist, strapped into a car going he knows not where, further and further from his own will. Where is real life to be found? Is this it?

An anecdote: when I was a teenager a doctor prescribed me pills for anxiety, and when I stopped taking them abruptly I experienced a severe and unexpected and prolonged withdrawal. During that time I hated everything I read to a degree that I cannot reread those books now, or even think of them dispassionately. The feeling in my brain was like the one you have when you’re climbing the stairs and are expecting another step and you set your foot down so hard on nothing that reality ruptures. ‘This is my house,’ I had to say when I entered my house; ‘this is my bedroom,’ I had to say when I entered my bedroom. Reading Cusk I have that feeling all the time. When I came to the line in her memoir, Aftermath, ‘It is as though I’m expecting there to be a step down and there isn’t one,’ I was not so much surprised as relieved: she felt it too.

Outline landed with such a bang that it’s hard to believe it was published in 2014. Transit followed just two years later, written almost at the clip of reality. Now Kudos, just out from Faber, brings an end to the tremendously wilful project of these passive novels. In description nothing about them seems particularly out of the ordinary: each instalment is composed of a series of conversations – with strangers, with old friends and ex-lovers and her hairdresser, with her two sons. But as they unfold it becomes clear that they are fantasies in which the infinitesimal openings of small talk eventually drill down to the centre of the earth. What would happen if you let one of those cursory exchanges, brief or irritating or banal, either way trespassing on your solitude and peace – what would happen if you just let it go on?

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions