David Bowden: chief poetry editor
David Bowden is currently studying for a MA in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, having obtained a BA in English from the same institution in 2007. Aside from being a regular contributor to Culture Wars since 2004 on everything from museum exhibitions to avant-garde theatre, he has also helped edit the university’s only dedicated creative writing magazine – The Journal – and co-produce two sessions on poetry for the annual Battle of Ideas conference. His main research interests concern comic writing across various mediums and forms, and its relationship with narrative and structure. His biggest fear is that one day his ‘I’ key will break, thus rendering him incapable of writing anything ever again.
As a metaphor for how we all operate under the politics of offence, forced into becoming increasingly careful of our words while our material reality travel in different directions - it’s difficult not to feel as though the obsession with young Muslim women lacking autonomy in forced marriages is something of a displacement activity for a denuded sense of agency across the West – DV8’s physical theatre offers a genuine insight.
A sharp-eyed and consistent defender of Western intellectual culture at heart, Naipaul has always thrived on picking apart the self-loathing tendencies of the liberal intelligentsia: the erudite colonial always ready to upstage his masters.
Just like poor Kabir, language is the undoing of Tejpal: you simply cannot believe that a writer who uses English so inventively and richly despises the canon as much as he claims. Perhaps, like one of his many characters, he is enjoying denouncing it with the one hand while using the other to nab a share for himself.
In his attempt to emphasise Salander’s vulnerability in the first book much was made of her underdeveloped, girlish body and the apparently endless series of dirty old men driven to distraction by it. Here she keeps the schoolgirl body and vulnerability, but this time PHWOAR! LOOK AT HER KNOCKERS!
What makes Waters’ historical novels unusual is the way in which progress and modernity are the unspoken assumptions which lie at their heart. As a female novelist benefitting from the historical gains of feminism and gay liberation, she is apparently under little illusion that the contemporary world is the preferred one to inhabit.
Reaction to the film has been divided on its portrayal of the Nigerian gangsters who feed off the misery of the alien refugees. Much of the blame lies at the door of what superficially makes the film most interesting: its allegorical treatment of apartheid politics. And yes, the film does come down on the side that apartheid was bad, while at the same time portraying Nigerian characters as dehumanised and barbarous savages. Is this hypocritical, anti-human or deliberate?
This human failure to connect is one of Kennard’s recurring motifs. His poems are filled with jokes which do not have the desired effect: either because the listener is over-literal (the hyper-intelligent Wolf, a returning character from the last collection), humourless (the jaded, post-ironic artist girlfriend in ‘A Sure-Fire Sign’) or because the signification system has collapsed so far in his absurdist universe that even those laughing aren’t sure.
The size, incidentally, is an obvious thing to criticise, but in all other aspects apart from a satiric angle it is crucial to the success of the novel. A Fraction of the Whole is at its best when celebrating eccentricity and the mad, futile projects that human beings – mostly men – set themselves.
Perhaps the simile of the ‘Classic Combo’ is apt here: Granta 101 was the reliable favourite, filled with lots of tasty treats and still on the whole good for you. Granta 102 is the fad diet, grounded in Real Science and somehow different to all those other ones, which advertises itself on the subtext that by following it you will be better (morally and physically) than those boring, die-hard traditionalists.
So, let’s run through the checklist. The story is set on a Pacific Island largely untouched by Western civilisation (they don’t even know what a car is!). It is a narrated by a child on the cusp of puberty. It contains a white man who is neither wholly good or wholly bad but human (how post-mo-co!)...
Despite the sense of familiarity, Welsh is a technically better writer than a lot of his critics give him credit for. Although it may often have felt that he was trying to relive past glories, he can still provide vivid and interesting insights into addiction and self-destruction.
The standard autobiographical techniques - chronological narrative, self-searching analysis of the key events in the subject’s life, critical refutation and score-settling - are here eschewed in favour of mini-essays on Dylan’s favourite writers, musicians and influences.
Woodward’s great concern in this novel appears to be the disintegration of the family unit in the modern age, and the impact of materialistic values on the traditional way of life for the English.