"In my experience of writing – and of life – the frenzy of dreams and that of form always go together." Iosi Havilio
Contexts
The life-lie

The life-lie

In 1990 Tony Harrison shocked and riveted London audiences with his production of Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, which pits an ancient text, Sophocles’ satyric play Ichneutae, against the inevitably objectifying and alienating mechanism of historical analysis. With unflinchingly raw social realism, Harrison not only raised questions of high and low art, of the validity of the...
The unbearable burden of non-being

The unbearable burden of non-being

Lviv, also known as Lwów and to others as Lvov, as Antonia Lloyd-Jones reminds us in her translator’s note, or to some as Lemberg and even Leopolis, is a city with a rich enamel of history – it is almost majolica-like in its many facets, colours, hues and patterns, in the broken splinters of its...
An Amazon dreaming of Arcadia

An Amazon dreaming of Arcadia

Historical fiction or fiction inspired by real events often runs the risk of yielding to the temptation of aggrandising one’s subject, of over-valorising the kernel of truth for the sake of effect and novelty, of the triumph of a first discovery. Like Arrowby in Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, the author, as much as...
A lie is saved by a lie

A lie is saved by a lie

Once upon a time Don Quixote – that very well-known knight of the doleful countenance, the noblest of all the knights the world has ever seen, the simplest in soul and one of the greatest in heart – while wandering with his faithful attendant, Sancho, in search of adventure, was suddenly struck by a puzzle...
Gall and barefaced daring

Gall and barefaced daring

I was well into my forties when I came upon Barbara Baynton’s story ‘The Chosen Vessel’, and I have never got over it. It is shocking, and dreadful: a lone woman huddles with a tiny baby in an undefendable bush house at night, while a tramp armed with a knife slinks around it in the...
The malediction of Minerva

The malediction of Minerva

The story of the passionate last affair in Lord Byron’s life, a culminating point for many of his erratic, errant motion through truth and illusion, has always held a particular fascination for scholars; it has caused vocal perplexity to his admirers and deep-felt sighs of ‘if only’ to the many women (and men) who loved...
Disquiet revisited

Disquiet revisited

Fernando Pessoa’s life divides neatly into three periods. In a letter to the British Journal of Astrology dated 8 February 1918, he wrote that there were only two dates he remembered with absolute precision: 13 July 1893, the date of his father’s death from TB when Pessoa was only five; and 30 December 1895, the...
What's in a picture

What’s in a picture

I don’t remember where I first saw the photograph, but I do remember what I saw: A man standing on a box wearing nothing but a blanket. A bag over his head. Arms stretched out from his sides. Wires attached to his body. … To look at a photograph of someone after that person has...
Message in two suitcases

Message in two suitcases

There is an old Urdu/Hindi word that would suit well this explosively funny, irresistible, and profoundly tragic human comedy: lifafa/lifaafaa, a term that can mean a bag, an envelope, a wrapper or a cover, anything frail, or an outward show. Mama Tandoori is all of these and indeed much more, a surging personal narrative and...
The Leica way

The Leica way

In his previous book, Norwegian Wood (MacLehose Press, 2015), Lars Mytting composed an elegy to trees – not only as an elemental form of life, as symbols, and as the other, vital half of the animate cosmos, but also in their immutable relation to man. Norwegian Wood is about the transcendental materiality of timber, logs,...