"I’ve always written short stories, I’ve always been interested in the form being dictated by the concept, rather than the other way round." Jon McGregor
Contexts
Howling whispers

Howling whispers

Aeschylus wrote the Oresteia at the age of 67, after a life that had included divine inspiration (he was advised by Dionysus in a dream that writing plays, rather than cultivating vineyards, might perhaps be his true calling), overwhelming and continuous political change in his native Athens, valour in battle during the Persian wars, fighting...
The dream of a ridiculous man

The dream of a ridiculous man

This is a dark firecracker of a book – a deceptively slim volume dominated by a single, long-drawn voice that holds tremendous evocative powers and contains almost overwhelming quantities of undiluted pain but also startling wisdom. The storyline is almost risible – and the main character is convinced that the murkiest ridicule is his quintessential...
Freedom from democracy

Freedom from democracy

The electoral process has often been compared to a marketplace in which ideas are sold by parties to voters who make their consumption choices in the voting booth. In his compelling study of American democracy, Golden Rule (1995), US political scientist Thomas Ferguson argues that we need ‘a different account of political systems in which...
Through a mirror darkly

Through a mirror darkly

Well before Shakespeare made the feeling into one of the most celebrated tenets of art as well as life, the Greeks had already been there and done that. The principle of “all the world’s a stage” was for them the clearest, most perfect prism through which to analyse the full, multi-hued spectrum of human experience,...
Where unhappiness ends: Naples beyond Ferrante

Where unhappiness ends: Naples beyond Ferrante

You know you are in Naples when the taxi taking you to the city centre from the tiny local airport seems to be driven by a perfectly amiable madman, dead set on breaking your neck (and his) as he hurtle-bumps his vehicle down the almost vertical, serpentine ribbons that are many of the city streets....
Lives in black and white

Lives in black and white

If we seek truths, we should look into fairy tales; at least this seems to be Meike Ziervogel’s advice, as she begins her novel with the all-familiar “Once upon a time…” It is still hard for Germany to search for truths, the many sore, dark, unspeakable looming truths behind the period of National Socialism, the...
A breath of sadness

A breath of sadness

“Like a breath of sadness” is how Edvard Munch felt at the time he painted The Scream. “I stood there shivering from dread – and I felt this big, infinite scream through nature,” he wrote in his diary for 1890­–92. A reader of Larry Tremblay’s The Orange Grove will inevitably feel the same – will...
Over the wall

Over the wall

In 2014 I decided to travel the length of the Green Line, the demarcation line agreed in the 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbours. On the other side of the Green Line is the West Bank, which Israel has now occupied for fifty years, ever since the Six-Day War in 1967. I spent...
The Talleyrand of East Africa

The Talleyrand of East Africa

“’Ullo, I am ze Breetish Consul.” My startled reaction revealed my prejudice. I didn’t cover it well. “You can’t be. You’re French!” “Eet is a long stohry. Shall we ’ave a drink?” We sat down. One by one the other members of the company came to join us, dressed in their evening casual best, and...
Civil rights and wrongs

Civil rights and wrongs

When James Baldwin died in 1987, he left behind 30 pages of letters titled Notes Toward Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript about the lives and deaths of three of his friends – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. – civil rights activists, all of whom were assassinated in the space of...