It’s always pleasing when a strange and distinctive novelist comes outfitted with a name that she might have invented for one of her strange and distinctive characters, and still more pleasing when the actual facts of her personal history seem to have sprung directly from the cortical folds of her
In A Legacy, first published in 1956, Sybille Bedford writes about a Germany in the years before the First World War that had almost disappeared even as it seemed to be in full bloom. This world of privilege and entitlement and eccentricity is presented as normal and natural and at a stage of rich
When crack cocaine enters a story, we usually brace ourselves for a downfall. The tales of those who have fallen prey to the drug are so familiar that they have taught even nonusers to consider themselves experts. Many speak knowingly of the crack addict—gaunt, unkempt, willing to do anything for
In the 1950s, artists worried about the concentration of power in hierarchies. They worried about the political effects of appeals to the authentic. Now we understand all too well that power functions pretty well in networks, too. You can have a very sophisticated theory of the self, and that won't stop power from going about its business. Power has not merely untoothed the language of the avant-garde, it has learned to speak it.
Kazuo Ishiguro's novels have for the last two decades frustrated expectations, and his decision to venture into the realm of legend this time is of a piece with the risks he's been taking all along. As he's explained many times to interviewers, the variation is a matter of maintaining his artistic vitality.
The Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra was born in 1975, two years after the violent military coup that ousted Chile’s democratically elected, Socialist president, Salvador Allende. It would be impossible to overstate the shattering impact of that coup, not only on Chile but on the entire Left in
Women who make "good" choices are generally said to have self-respect. At the very least, our usual definition of the quality assumes that a woman make choices at all. Miranda July—whose characters are wimpish, lonely, and lacking in self-knowledge—does not seem preoccupied by self-respect of this conventional kind. Instead her characters wait, with various degrees of whimsical passivity, for their lives to change.
An essentially religious writer, Marilynne Robinson stands quite alone in this "unreligious age," as Iris Murdoch called it, in which we turn to art for an experience akin to prayer. With these novels, all of them wrought from theological concerns, Robinson has created a secular church of readers.
In 2011 Ben Lerner’s first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, was brought out by Coffee House Press, a Minneapolis independent, to wide and deserving if improbable praise. Improbable because of its provenance, but more so because its author, thirty-two at the time, was already a decorated poet, with
“How may I tell you of him?” Maecenas asks the historian Livy. They’re speaking about Maecenas’s friend Gaius Octavius (63 BC– AD 14), hailed as “Augustus” in John Williams’s novel of the same name, and that’s the question Augustus brilliantly ponders: how to tell about the man who could autocratically