"I’ve never written a novel where it felt like there was another way of doing it, because the way the story is told is determined by who’s telling it, and that in turn is shaped by the world in the story itself." John Lanchester
Contexts
You didn't understand...

You didn’t understand…

In May 2016, Gresham College in London hosted a symposium on the subject of ‘Cultural Heritage and War’. Chaired by Professor Tim Connell, it featured Sir Derek Plumbly, speaking on British and American policy and the temporal lapses between historical awareness and political action, Dr Elisabeth Kendall, discussing ‘poetry as war’, ‘poems as swords’, and...
Love, judgement and forgiveness

Love, judgement and forgiveness

“Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them”, said Lord Illingworth to Mrs Arbuthnot in A Woman of No Importance. It is perhaps one of Wilde’s most chilling aphorisms, as much a witticism à clef, as it must have felt like a presentiment and...
"I remember a macabre joke..."

“I remember a macabre joke…”

“The witnesses of the Holocaust are old and nearing death. The murder of 6m Jews… will soon be history, not memory… The new horror is that this Everest of evidence [that now exists on Nazi Germany and the Final Solution] may not be working as a warning,” wrote Bryan Appleyard on 20 January 2019 in...
Just sittin’ here doin’ time

Just sittin’ here doin’ time

When my mother got home, the four of us would head out to dinner, and twice my sister, Rachel, joined us. It felt sometimes like it was the old days again, and other times a little strained, as though we were in a play about a family who all hold secrets from one another. In...
New directions of our past

New directions of our past

It used to be that as a year came to a close and a new one began, an unwritten law beyond remembrance or time also called for acts of similar closure and commencement on our part. A little before, or perhaps slightly after the virtual timekeeping of our humanity went through its annual rites of...
The sins of our future

The sins of our future

Many years ago, a young boy from an affluent Egyptian family was travelling with his parents by train to their summer house somewhere deep down the valley of the River Nile. This was a journey he had made many times as he grew older. Each time, the curtains of their first-class carriage were pulled tightly...
The mountain king

The mountain king

In the popular imagination, German history, culture and even reality closes down in 1918 with the end of WWI, the end of the German Empire and its Central European logic, the end of all order based on the authority of hereditary power, received structures, hierarchies, even typography. A strange, fantastical interlude begins, officially called the...
A death in the neighbourhood

A death in the neighbourhood

Biljana Jovanović’s Dogs and Others is strong medicine. It depicts a young person’s attempt to ‘invent her childhood’ and ‘liberate her memory’ while she negotiates a bohemian, urban existence in Yugoslavia in the 1970s; it is more than graphic, and painful, and awkward at times: it is a tale of catastrophe, really and truly annihilating...
Black is the badge of hell

Black is the badge of hell

“Black is the badge of hell / the hue of dungeons and the school of night,” laments Ferdinand, King of Navarre in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost. Some versions of the text offer scowl, style or suit instead of school, and one is tempted to think that Stephen Greenblatt would have boldly and keenly pressed for...
The genius of too much and too little

The genius of too much and too little

“They call them sculptures because they’re made of marble or iron or wood, but they’re really yarns, brief stories from the past that got stuck in your throat, pills that wouldn’t quite go down; you blurt them, mumble them, ruminate over them. And then they show them in Paris.” Whether narratives of an inner life,...