"In my experience of writing – and of life – the frenzy of dreams and that of form always go together." Iosi Havilio
Contexts
Never a dull word

Never a dull word

In April 2015 a delightful story by Fleur Jaeggy, ‘The Saltwater House’, appeared in my inbox. As I read it the Italian seemed to turn into English spontaneously in my brain. It had been sent by a friend in Milan to a friend in New York who then forwarded it to me. It was a...
Cat

Cat

Observing others is always interesting. On a train, in airports, at conferences, while waiting in line, when sitting across from someone at a table; on any occasion, in fact, that people flow into. Even someone who doesn’t travel or is very much alone will at some point go out on the street for half an...
In the shadow of Poe

In the shadow of Poe

It’s commonplace to credit Edgar Allan Poe with inventing the modern mystery story with his trio of tales featuring the Parisian detective C. August Dupin. Poe’s innovation explains why to this very day the annual awards given by the Mystery Writers Association are called the Edgars. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle freely acknowledged that Poe had...
It is us they burn

It is us they burn

In the course of the 2005 youth riots that broke out across France, thirty-two libraries were burnt down or so badly ravaged that their contents had to be thrown away. If one looks at the period covering 1996 to 2013 the tally rises to more than seventy. Libraries come under attack in the banlieues again...
After shock

After shock

On 4 July, a little under six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, I joined a packed audience of over 2,000 at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall for an engaging and impressive keynote speech by Naomi Klein based around her latest book No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics. Klein equates Trump’s election...
Alpine dreams

Alpine dreams

The German language is a wondrous thing. Among its many mischiefs and perplexities, the word for ‘nightmare’ must be a recurring source of dismayed jollity: an Alptraum is not a dream on an idyllic Alpine peak, tarn or flowery green meadow gone awry, but a night-time experience never to be forgotten – if survived. It...
A dream of good fortune

A dream of good fortune

“When he’d heard the name ‘Flower Island’, he thought they were going to some paradise overlooking the ocean” – with not much more than these words, a thirteen-year old and his mother must choose between a life of increasing impoverishment and a promised alternative of redeeming ‘enoughness’. The choice seems obvious, and in Familiar Things...
Sun on grey water

Sun on grey water

There is no time or place in human history without a crisis (not even the Garden of Eden of Adam and Eve). Whether in the form of socio-political or cultural earthquakes of greater or lesser magnitude, or as underlying tensions, festering wounds or unquietened, maddening murmurs, crises are at the heart of the very act...
Bitter chocolate and the laughter of tears

Bitter chocolate and the laughter of tears

If chocolate-coated ‘Teffi’ bonbons tasted nearly as good as Nadezdha Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya’s own prolifically produced literary confections, they must have tasted perfectly delicious: light on the palate and yet a rich mouthful; intriguingly exotic textures and aftertastes enveloping an unadulterated kernel of pure truth. ‘Teffi’ perfume would have been equally alluring, causing men to melt...
Watching the river flow

Watching the river flow

The creative process is a funny thing, but when I’m in the middle of it I don’t do much laughing. As an idea gestates in my mind, hour upon hour of writing time can flit by with my skull hitting the desk more frequently than my fingertips hit the keyboard. Trying out a new genre...