Carmen Boullosa’s <br><i>Before</i>

Carmen Boullosa’s
Before

Review by Anna Zalokostas

Taking place somewhere between the worlds of the living and the dead, between dream life and waking life, between what is real and what is imagined, Carmen Boullosa’s early novel Before meets the everyday with bewilderment. In this dream world of childhood, realism is nothing short of an act of magic; the supernatural suffuses the ordinary. Ghosts speak, a wardrobe transforms drawings into physical objects, the kitchen scissors breathe heavily under a bed pillow, a turtle bleeds, a petticoat is marked with stigmata, an embroidery needle pierces the maid’s hand without producing a speck of blood. And a young girl hears strange noises at night—footsteps that keep pursuing her, closing in on her in the dark . . .

Julian Barnes's <br><i>The Noise of Time</i>

Julian Barnes's
The Noise of Time

Review by Pauline Fairclough

Most striking of all to me, Barnes’s Shostakovich has no discernible sense of humor. He repeats the priceless anecdote about how Shostakovich was sent a personal tutor to instruct him in Marxism-Leninism: one day his teacher asked, “Who are you in comparison with our great Leader?” and Shostakovich, recalling the text to Dargomizhsky’s comical song, in which a similar question is posed, deftly quoted in reply, “I am a worm.” In Lev Lebedinsky’s telling, Nina Shostakovich reported this conversation (at which she was present), laughing till tears ran down her cheeks; yet none of the hilarity transfers itself to Barnes’s Shostakovich. And I think there is a reason for this: the protagonist of The Noise of Time is a bleak and broken figure, one who looks back on happier times not with joy, or humor, but with a permanent sense of loss. In Barnes’s words, Shostakovich was “a man crushed into a hundred pieces of rubble, vainly trying to remember how they—he—had once fitted together.” The sense of dislocation, of a man who cannot reconnect with his younger self, is total. This Shostakovich, in his old age, sees “only what was gone” and awaits his own demise with a grim eagerness, believing he had lived too long.

Gerald Murnane’s <br><i>Something for the Pain</i>

Gerald Murnane’s
Something for the Pain

Review by Sarah Gerard

For six months in his eighteenth year, Gerald Murnane believed he would be a priest. He’d attended mass with his family every Sunday since he was small and was much affected by his Catholic upbringing; he considered himself to be a very spiritual person and had even experienced, on a few occasions, what he describes as a “religious fervor.” But in 1957, Murnane had an awakening. He realized that even the greatest fervor of Sunday masses gave scant inspiration to the vibrant inner world engendered by his lifelong fascination with horseracing. In his memoir published nearly six decades later, Something for the Pain: A memoir of the turf, he traces the unique path of his artistic and spiritual development through the lens of the sport, and in so doing creates a singular and intimate glimpse into the life of a famously private writer . . .

Louis Andriessen's <br><i>Theatre of the World</i>

Louis Andriessen's
Theatre of the World

Review by Damjan Rakonjac

. . . The action feels kaleidoscopic rather than cumulative, dispersed over geographical distances rather than plotted out in time. In fact, the overarching idea—the plot’s “problem”—is that Kircher is indeed running out of time. As he closes in on death, he is forced to meditate on the work’s major theme: the complicity of knowledge in structures of power (just when you thought it was safe to stop reading Foucault). Knowledge is no mere means to power for Kircher, however, but rather an object of obsessive desire in itself. It is the purity of his desire that ultimately saves him, though it is far from disinterested. Part of The Boy’s dramatic purpose seems to be to embody Kircher’s desire, a power which is wielded malevolently and is dispersed throughout many bodies on stage; even the Pope gets a hand-job. . . .

Tomáš Zmeškal's <br><i>Love Letter in Cuneiform</i>

Tomáš Zmeškal's
Love Letter in Cuneiform

Review by Madeleine LaRue

. . . The second letter comes many years later. Estranged from the person closest to him by the compassionless god, Josef devotes the end of his life to “foolishly” trying “to express affection and love.” His efforts culminate in the novel’s eponymous love letter, painstakingly printed in the language of the Hittites. Proust claimed that all great literature is written in a kind of foreign language, and perhaps the same could be said of all love letters. That Josef takes this literally only emphasizes that every declaration of love represents an imperfect translation. Language is slippage; none know this better than writers and lovers, who so rarely manage to say what they mean. Josef, however, has chosen his foreign language well: in resurrecting a dead tongue, he resurrects a love that he himself had once thought to be extinguished. The unexpected vitality of cuneiform reflects the unexpected intensity of Josef’s feelings, so that, by excavating a language of the past, he proves that nothing is lost, but only temporarily concealed.  . . .

Basma Abdel Aziz’s <br><i>The Queue</i>

Basma Abdel Aziz’s
The Queue

Review by Sho Spaeth

In The Palace of Dreams, Ismail Kadare describes a dream in which dead regimes lie in wait in a special hell, biding their time until they might be revived, essentially the same, with only their insignia and flags changed; the dreamer imagines the State of Herod rising again and again, forever, merely stopping for a new coat of paint after each demise. The dream is meant, in Kadare’s novel, as a provocation, an anonymous shot fired at a government so repressive that it monitors its subjects’ dreams. But such a provocative image can take on a life its creator never intended, and this dream serves rather well as a description of Egypt’s modern history; after all, the Egyptian people overthrew over 40 years of dictatorial rule by ousting Hosni Mubarak in 2011, only to return to it three years later under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the autocrat now wears the robes of the guardian of the revolution. Basma Abdel Aziz’s novel The Queue offers a window into how the revolution failed, an achievement made doubly impressive by the fact that novel was completed in 2012, and appears to have eerily predicted the rise of someone like Sisi. The book has been compared to George Orwell’s 1984 and Kafka’s The Trial with good reason; Abdel Aziz, a psychologist, has stated that her aim was to illustrate the psychological games authoritarian governments play with their subjects, and there are echoes of Josef K.’s bewilderment and Winston Smith’s education in the novel’s protagonist, Yehya Gad el-Rab Saeed. Yet Elisabeth Jaquette’s lucid translation of Abdel Aziz’s words makes visible to a new cadre of readers the way in which The Queue sets itself apart from other books that seek to explain the underpinnings of a repressive state: first, by focusing on the period of transition between authoritarian regimes; and second, by giving readers the unique perspective of how women in particular are affected . . .

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's <i>Panty</i>

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's Panty

Review by María Helga Guðmundsdóttir

Taken at face value, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s novella Panty traces a straightforward narrative. It follows a woman newly arrived in Kolkata as she settles into an empty apartment, negotiates her tense relationship with her male lover, waits for a surgery she appears to need but not want, and dodges demons from her past. Face value, though, counts for little in the world of Panty, where the boundaries of facts and reality are in constant flux . . .

Barry Guy's <br><i>Time Passing...</i>

Barry Guy's
Time Passing...

Review by Benjamin Dwyer

This attempt to pin down what Guy does, to address his compositional raison d’être, is more than a mere musicological preoccupation. It is important because it helps us define his musical idiolect, that is, the distinct compositional signature of an artist at his creative height. And given the complexity of Time Passing..., such an understanding will allow us to listen to it in different ways; it will give us access to its unique musical and linguistic codes. But this very complexity suggests a further attribute. The narrative and structural intricacy of the work is not only a consequence and reflection of the disconnect prevalent in modern society, the postmodern destabilization of classical narratives as a basis for our understanding of contemporary life making cohesive unison and integration unlikely. Its capacity to bring polysemic entities into close and simultaneous quarters is also a model by which structural fragmentation and stylistic difference can be harnessed in ways that make great art.

Brian Blanchfield's <br><i>Proxies</i>

Brian Blanchfield's
Proxies

Review by Rosie Clarke

Brian Blanchfield has been writing poetry and essays for some time—poetry, essays, and a strange mixture of the two forms. Of his new collection, Proxies, Blanchfield has stated, “I’m the single source of the essays, which feels like it connects with the oldest traditions of essaying, a kind of radical empiricism that’s not about getting it right, and that performs thinking on the spot” . . .

Max Porter's <br><i>Grief Is the Thing with Feathers</i>

Max Porter's
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Review by Ben Eastham

“In the Beginning was Scream”—according to Ted Hughes’ “Lineage”—followed hard upon by Crow. To enter the inchoate world, the eponymous corvid hero of Hughes’ famous suite of poems must pass an “Examination at the Womb-Door,” where he is faced with a riddle: “Who is stronger than death?” “Me, evidently,” Crow replies, and passes into the realm of life to wreak havoc upon it: retching up heads in attempting to pronounce the word “love,” attacking the sun, inexpertly nailing God and Man together, et cetera. The same Crow introduces himself into Max Porter’s debut novel by ringing twice upon the doorbell...

Marie NDiaye's <br><i>Ladivine</i>

Marie NDiaye's
Ladivine

Review by Sian Norris

Ladivine begins with the story of Clarisse Rivière, a mother happy with her structured life. Having started out as a waitress in a pizzeria, she has worked her way up to become its manager. She’s proud of her house, in love with her husband Richard, and an indulgent mother to her daughter. But Clarisse has a secret: she’s not Clarisse at all. She’s Malinka, and once a month she travels to Bordeaux to visit her mother, one of two Ladivines of the novel’s title. And here we discover the crisis that defines Clarisse’s life and which runs throughout NDiaye’s work: identity . . .

Laurence Crane's <br><i>Drones, Scales and Objects</i>

Laurence Crane's
Drones, Scales and Objects

Review by Damjan Rakonjac

In the end, Crane’s detached attitude towards naming is also directed towards his own music. I did not invoke the notion of distance lightly: by flaunting the arbitrariness of his titles, Crane is distancing himself from his own works, and doing so by using a veil of words behind which he can comfortably lay aside traditional notions of musical expressivity. Yet these notions will not be so easily laid aside, and herein lies one of the most productive tensions inherent in Crane’s work.

Antoine Volodine's <br><i>Bardo or Not Bardo</i>

Antoine Volodine's
Bardo or Not Bardo

Review by Jon Bartlett

For the reader willing to take Antoine Volodine on his own terms, to follow the desires of his characters, whether real or dreamt, whether in life or in death, to their fatalistic ends, the pleasures are great and the humor is plenty. The sense of crossed wires, of failures to communicate, permeate Bardo or Not Bardo. The majority of its stories describe farcical situations where those in the Bardo, in this spiritual state between death and rebirth, either misunderstand their condition, strive to subvert its laws, or are misguided by the inept or malicious officiants charged with reading to them passages from the Bardo Thödol in order to guide the deceased away from the cycle of rebirth and toward enlightenment, or the Clear Light . . .

Kathleen Collins's <br><i>Losing Ground</i>

Kathleen Collins's
Losing Ground

Review by Zoë Rhinehart

The various intonations of these identity-related tensions are part of the beauty of the film, and it is difficult to not think of Collins in those terms, especially since Sara, who also taught at CUNY and strives to perfect her skills, seems to be her intellectual doppelganger. In addition, so many of the stereotypes that existed in the 1980s persist today; when the camera reveals Sara as the professor speaking in the opening classroom scene, it still comes as a surprise, considering how meager representations of women of color still are, and how marginal female filmmakers remain in the film sector today.

Rosmarie Waldrop's <br><i>Gap Gardening</i>

Rosmarie Waldrop's
Gap Gardening

Review by Eric Dean Wilson

Last September, for the first time, we observed gravitational waves. Two supermassive black holes, after waltzing around each other for some eons, merged. This observation—an invisible ripple in the fabric of space-time, detected only because of the enormous energy released from the collision—was recorded as an audible “chirp,” a kind of cosmic trombone slide up three octaves, low to high. This proved, almost exactly one hundred years after, a new part of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It seems fitting now for New Directions to release Gap Gardening, the first selected poems of Rosmarie Waldrop. She stands apart as a writer who translates these astronomical rules—the force of gravity, the curvature of space-time—into the sport of human experience. This volume, edited by Nikolai Duffy alongside the poet herself, offers selections from each of Waldrop’s seventeen collections of poetry, plus a verse section of her “novel,” A Form / Of Taking / It All. With this collection, it is evident that Waldrop’s universe begins where Einstein’s ends. Nearly fifty years of lyric riffs, meditations, and collages—using as source material the works of physicists, philosophers, explorers, historians, and critics, from Columbus to Wittgenstein—seek to simultaneously define, deconstruct, and, finally, re-construct a mind in motion . . .

Maylis de Kerangal’s <br><i>The Heart</i>

Maylis de Kerangal’s
The Heart

Review by Alexandra Primiani

It starts with a description of the thing: what it does, how we relate to it, how we describe it. The heart of Simon Limbres—the character who will lose his life—is more than just the tissue and blood and valves that make it up, but a kind of catalyst for the life he has led until this day. The Heart, Maylis de Kerangal’s eighth book in French and her third to be translated into English, drops its readers into the life of Simon Limbres and documents the reverberations of his death felt within his family, community and through France...

Kaija Saariaho's <br><i>Let the Wind Speak</i>

Kaija Saariaho's
Let the Wind Speak

Review by Angus McPherson

Although electronic music and blends of acoustic and electronic sound were an important part of Saariaho’s palette in the earlier stages of her career, both these discs feature only acoustic works. The virtuosic manipulation of color in these works, however, demonstrates that the haunting sense of transcendence for which Saariaho’s music is known is by no means limited to her work with electronics.

José Eduardo Agualusa's <br><i>A General Theory of Oblivion</i>

José Eduardo Agualusa's
A General Theory of Oblivion

Review by Stephen Henighan

José Eduardo Agualusa surpasses in English-language renown Angolan writers who, in Portuguese, are more popular than he (Pepetela and often Ondjaki) and/or more highly regarded in literary terms (Luandino Vieira, Ruy Duarte de Carvalho). Yet the vision of Angolan history transmitted by Agualusa’s fiction differs from that of writers from MPLA backgrounds less than his dissent might lead a reader to expect.

Ben Ratliff's <br><i>Every Song Ever</i>

Ben Ratliff's
Every Song Ever

Review by Kevin Laskey

The rock critic Lester Bangs dreamed of having a basement filled with every album of music ever made. This idea makes more sense from a collector’s perspective than a listener’s—the sense of completion is what’s important here, rather than the practical ability to actually enjoy that immense amount of media. Choosing one object out of so many can be psychologically incapacitating, hence the store layout of Trader Joe’s and the design of a Chipotle’s menu—and, from a musical standpoint, Igor Stravinsky’s thought that “the more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.” If one wants to discover new music, just having it available in one’s basement (or computer or phone or local library) isn’t enough. There has be a “Lester Bangs Decimal System” to help you find the music you weren’t necessarily looking for, something that replaces the old experience of thumbing through used LPs at a record store, where it was possible to make intuitive choices based on album art or the supporting players on a session.

László Krasznahorkai’s <br><i>Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens</i>

László Krasznahorkai’s
Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens

Review by Paul Griffiths

In Nanjing it is raining. On Jiuhuashan, the holy mountain whose temples equal in number the days of the year, dense fog descends. In Zhenjiang the hotel is closed. The Shanghai commercial district of Pudong is all brash modernity. In Hangzhou it is raining. The annoyances of travel are everywhere in László Krasznahorkai’s Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens (Seagull, 2016), but they are merely incidental to the central frustration of his quest, conducted over months spent in regions around Shanghai, to see if the classical culture of China might still be found living, and being lived . . .