On Saturday mornings, Splice rounds up the previous week’s best literary criticism and serves it up to you in a single dish. You didn’t have any plans for the weekend, did you?
In home news this week, Splice masthead contributor Thea Hawlin — whose review of Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry will appear here soon — interviewed Barnaba Fornasetti, son of the artist Piero Fornasetti, about his father’s work and legacy:
An early fascination with architecture led Piero Fornasetti to use symbolic forms, such as obelisks. His playful approach to these structures established what would become one of the constants in his art, in which “all sense of proportion disappears, points of reference waver, and the eye drifts freely in the untethered geometry of illusion”. No detail is too small, and no object too big: a Palladian building is miniaturised to adorn a chest of drawers; a vast hydrangea leaf covers an entire tea-tray; the perfectly proportioned face of a belle époque opera singer becomes a canvas to be adorned again and again.
Following up on last week’s coverage of Chris Power’s Mothers, Chris picked a dozen of his favourite short stories for Jonathan Gibbs’ newsletter project A Personal Anthology, and he also sat down with the Guardian‘s books podcast to discuss Mothers and to put a bullet in the old shibboleth of “the short story renaissance”.
And following up on this week’s coverage of What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson, Review 31 carried an assessment of the book by Neil Griffiths, author of As a God Might Be and founder of the Republic of Consciousness Prize:
Spend ten minutes on YouTube, and it becomes obvious science and faith are still wholly opposed forces in much our public debate. But as a strong reader of modern science ([Robinson] rightly uses the indeterminacy of quantum physics and the mystery of dark matter as both a literal description of physical reality and as a metaphor) and a liberal Christian, Robinson is well-placed to the two magisteria side by side. But she won’t permit one or the other the claim of a totalising force.
With no backstory to speak of, or veritable narrative arc, The Way of Florida is a historical novel from which history has been all but excised. Were it not for the publisher’s blurb, I would have ignored that this quixotic attempt to establish Spanish settlements along the Gulf Coast was first chronicled by Cabeza de Vaca, one of only four survivors, or that his 1542 account had provided Persson with a general direction of travel. The erasure of most period markers (the first occurrence of the explorer’s name that I spotted was on page 175) allows a deep immersion in the here and now of lives conducted in extremis. A whole year elapses in the course of a four-line paragraph, while a single, unpunctuated sentence – reflecting the flow of real time – winds its way through an entire ten-page chapter. Significantly, the narrator comes to see his existence as a solitary long take, ‘the string of days entire from one until the end’: ‘Inside this now I live with my body underneath the sky.’
And, speaking of the Republic of Consciousness Prize, the powers that be took to YouTube on Wednesday to upload video clips of the shortlisted writers — or their translators — reading from the six books now contending for the award. Don’t miss Eley Williams (Attrib. and Other Stories), Preti Taneja (We That Are Young), Victoria Grove (translator of Ariana Harwicz’s Die, My Love), Leah Whitaker (translator of Noémi Lefebvre’s Blue Self-Portrait), Isabel Waidner (Gaudy Bauble), and David Hayden (Darker With the Lights On).
The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established to reward edgy, usually avant-garde books by small presses in the UK, and this week has been a good week for the old British avant-garde too. In last Saturday’s Guardian, DJ Taylor wrote about Ann Quin (pictured above), B.S. Jonson, Eva Figes, Christine Brooke-Rose, and their influence on contemporary British literature:
If the techniques [these writers] espoused ranged from collage and cut-and-paste to nonlinear narratives, fragmentation and words flung randomly about the page (as in Johnson’s novel House Mother Normal), then what united them was a conviction that the modernity they inhabited needed an equally newfangled response. “I’m not sure that there’s really an about for the novel to be about any more,” remarks the avant-garde writer in Malcolm Bradbury’s Eating People Is Wrong (1959), which is not so very far from Figes’s famous line about the English social realist tradition not being able to contain the realities of her lifetime, “horrors which one might have called surreal if they had not actually happened”.
In the context of postwar English literature, then dominated by figures such as Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch and Anthony Powell, this kind of stance was highly adversarial. If a second factor collectively enthused the titans of 60s avant garde, as they gnashed their teeth over the review pages of Sunday newspapers, it was a detestation of “the enemy”, variously located in “tradition” or “the literary establishment”.
And, fresh off the success of her editorial duties on Ann Quinn’s The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments, Jennifer Hodgson joined the Backlisted podcast for a spectacular discussion of Quin’s début novel — and bonafide masterpiece — Berg.
And away you go! See you back here on Monday…