*Our Mutual Friend*, Dickens’s last finished novel, revives many familiar Dickens tropes, but unites them with lively social satire, a spare cast (by Dickens’s standard), and a mostly sound narrative. With characteristic ease, *Friend* traverses the socioeconomic spectrum from low to high. Its settings range from the grotesque and morbid, to scenes of fevered fancy and domestic bliss. *Friend*’s social satire is caustic as always. *Friend* is Dickens at his acme.
Image credit The best writing advice I’ve received, scattered over twelve years, was from three people, none of them a writer. # I was 20, and struggling to make my writing work. I thought I just had to produce more. More words. More stories. A friend and I were moon-gazing. She remarked that meditating helped […]
“My book has no thesis, and any conclusions to be found in it were reached only during the writing, perhaps the most meaningful being that Hitler was far more complex and contradictory than I had imagined. ‘The greatest saints,’ observes one of Graham Greene’s characters, ‘Have been men with a more than normal capacity for evil, and the most vicious men have sometimes narrowly evaded sanctity.’ Deprived of heaven, Adolf Hitler chose hell – if, indeed, he knew the difference between the two.”
Blue Pepper Literary Magazine published my flash play “Trio.” Image Credit *** ETHEL: You didn’t let me go last year. Now, I’m going. #3: Look what she’s packing. Two bits of string – to wit, a bikini. HANNAH: That’d look lovely on you, darling. It’s just your colour – #3: That bulge-eyed Mr. Geil is […]
Meet Cute Press republished my flash story “Holiday,” previously published in The Bookends Review. Image credit *** “Is it really possible to stay awake for four days?” said Jaya. “Will we even enjoy it?” Four days. That’s all we had. Two of which we’d spend in the train, coming and going. I decided: we mustn’t […]
“Nothing in the world is meaningless,” Wilde declares, “And sorrow least of all.” Wilde is writing De Profundis in his second year in prison. His first year was full of physical illness, bitterness, and cynicism. Wilde’s embrace of suffering now is motivated not by pessimism but, on the contrary, by self-love.
Joyce reputedly said that if Dublin were razed, it could be recreated from his descriptions of it in Ulysses. Dickens could’ve made the same claim regarding London and Sketches. Here, London emerges into the foreground as the main character. Dickens develops the city’s neighbourhoods, times-of-day, and inhabitants into the portrait of a vibrant city. It is a portrait monumentally detailed, full of humour and colour.
*Trust Exercise* squanders the potential of Part One’s promising narrative about ambition, love, and sexual power politics with Part Two’s dreary postmodern writerly devices.
*Waiting for Godot* and *Endgame* are pure. Pure existential angst. Their plots are constructed, with extravagant meticulousness, out of nothing. Their characters discuss, painstakingly, nothing. Meaninglessness saturates these short plays’ atmosphere: leaving the reader airless, suffocating. These plays are twin peaks of artistic achievement – and are deeply disturbing.
*Poetics* is a bite-sized treatise combining commentary on the evolution of literary genres with still-relevant advice to writers on how to develop characters, construct a good plot, and evoke appropriate emotions in the reader.
Today I interview Ana Vidosavljevic about authoring and publishing her short story memoir collection, Flower Thieves.
Flower Thieves is a promising debut by a writer with an eye for character, a gentle humour, and a gift for simplicity.
In this long essay, Freud examines the puzzling phenomenon of individuals in civilised societies pointing to civilisation as the root of all evil. If you want to discover the meticulous, erudite, prescient scientist behind the caricature that Freud has become in contemporary culture – this succinct, clearly-reasoned analysis marrying history and psychology is a good starting-point.
“Existing meanings are not ours to command. When we use a language, we inherit & reproduce, usually unintentionally, the language’s cultural legacy & moral attitudes… This is the way in which language as it exists necessarily imposes limits on thought.”
Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat a key book, arguing that advances in communication technology, transportation, supply chain management, & geopolitics – have empowered people across geographical & class boundaries to educate themselves, find or create fulfilling work, run their own businesses, recruit teams & supplies across boundaries, & keep learning new skills.
I’ve featured Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth here before. I’ll keep featuring it. It changed my life. BM analyses how the pursuit of a standardised, impossible, high-maintenance physical beauty claims women’s time, money, health, sanity, & humanity. It’s a book every man & woman should read: it’s incisive about the ways in which advertising, industry, commerce, popular culture (inc. films & women’s magazines & porn), & even the healthcare industry collude to create a reality where health & happiness become almost impossible for millions of educated, sane citizens. (This is also why I repeatedly feature works on the Third Reich, inc. on & by Nazi leaders.)
Inside a tranquil old stone temple, the journey to recovery from an eating disorder begins.
One of my favourite sonnets provides, near the end of the cycle, a respite from the intense emotions. Here, the poet ceases his pleading, & attempts a bargain. His Dark Lady, weary of her Will, is pursuing other romantic/sexual conquests. But her Will wants her back at any cost. If she’d only come back & soothe him – him, whom she’s already conquered – then he’d give her his blessing to stride forth & make other conquests:
Read Cratylus for an entertaining attack on postmodernism, for insightful analyses of the relationship b/w language and reality, b/w linguistics & natural history – & for Soc’s usual pragmatic axioms: “Everyone should expend his chief thought and attention on the consideration his *first principles* – are they rightly laid down? And when he has duly sifted them, the rest will follow.”
The Stranger manages to disorient us, and dislocate our own comfortable ideas about what it means to live a human life. It’s not a comfortable book – but, like the best existentialist literature, it’s a book that may enable us to search our own souls, and see in ourselves a brother or a sister to criminals and to saints. It’s a book that may empower us to face the essential meaninglessness of life: in order to create meaning for ourselves.
[Image: J.L.’s library and keyboard] J. L. Moultrie writes poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction. We met through our writing. J.L. has previously guest-blogged on this site: offering a previously published poem, “Memento Mori,” and an original essay contextualising it. Today, I pick J.L.’s brain about how he discovered writing, how he approaches the creative […]
Tristram Shandy dazzles with linguistic innovation, effervesces with humour ranging from situational to risque, paints portraits with a brush fine but kind, and offers illuminating glimpses into the history of science. But Tristram Shandy, reputedly the world’s first postmodern novel, does not work as a novel.
Some time ago, I read Ana’s articles at The Curious Reader, a magazine we both write for. I went on to discover her other writing, then her website. I was struck by her honest, fresh writing; by the novelty and freshness of her prose; and by her imaginative and accessible stories for children. I got to read […]
The best-written science fiction is fiction that tosses flesh-and-blood human beings into challenging environments – in order to confront us with uncomfortable truths to which we’ve become comfortably blind. This is how and why The Handmaid’s Tale works.
Image: Paul Cezanne’s *Pyramid of Skulls* by J. L. Moultrie Today I’m pleased to introduce my dear friend and colleague, poet and writer J. L. Moultrie. I’ve known J. L. just a few months, and we’ve never met in person. But through his writing, and through a long and rich series of emails, I’ve come […]
Terry Eagleton’s Very Short Introduction to the Meaning of Life is a delectable, digestible introduction to landmark schools of thought whose debates on big questions have shaped European cultural history; and, via that route, global political history.
Mein Kampf (1925; 1926) is a rambling political manifesto, disguised as autobiography. This book offers an insight into the long roots and broad appeal of extreme ideas – and, given the persistence of nationalism, racism, religious extremism, and conspiracy theories – should be required reading for every citizen of a contemporary democracy.
Making Sense (2020) is an accessible introduction to key topics & trends In current science, presented in the ancient epistemological format of the expert dialogue
The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and Faust (Part One; 1808) are portraits of men isolated: one by hopeless love, the other by scholastic pursuits. Goethe’s two best-known works warn against the dangers of letting one goal subsume all others.
Letter from a Region in My Mind (1962) combines eloquent personal accounts of experiencing racism, with authoritative perspectives on the origins and prognosis of the problem
Crime and Punishment (1866) is an astute analysis of the distinction between moral thinking and moral feeling, and an ode to the power of love to redeem the forsaken
Volume Three of Fearsome Critters is out, with my short story “Sanctuary.” Set on a solo weekend trip to Benaras, “Sanctuary” fictionalises a friend’s psychoglocial journey. A journey of healing from trauma, rediscovering oneself through reflection (with aid from psychedelics), and recovering one’s faith in people and purpose in life.
After uny exams in north India, a young couple takes their first trip together. Impeding separation looms over them, all but inevitable. Sarthak and Jaya have different attitudes to fate. When an eventuality is all but certain — is it wiser to yield, or to fight it anyway?
In this magic realist flash story published at Dove Tales: Gardens in the Desert, wildflowers learn about cooperation. The hard way,
The first third of The Sellout’s 288 pages is hilarious. After that, Beatty recycles himself… I would’ve enjoyed getting to know Foy Cheshire, the leader of the faux-intellectuals and the book’s chief antagonist. As it is, Foy remains a theatre-mask… The Sellout is excellent, but not great. Mesmerised by its brilliantly coloured flat characters, it the novel misses opportunities to humanise its characters.
In this book review published at Qrius, I revisit E. M. Forster’s best-known novel. A Passage to India demolishes the racism that sustains imperialism; the novel exemplifies the power of literature to catalyse social progress
In this critique published at Countercurrents, I explore a genre-changing television series. Black Mirror does best when it shows how, in a world that’s almost this world, mass media and social media cause problematic behaviour at the mass level.
In this feature published at Countercurrents, I examine how Orwell’s nonfiction engages with the issues that make his fiction so powerful.
A review of one of British conservationist and hilarious writer Gerald Durrell’s less-known gems.
A critique of one of Dickens’s less-known but most masterful novels.
Some life lessons from an ancient Greek fabulist.
In this review published at Countercurrents, I examine Dawkins’s encylopaedia of the tree of life.
In this article published at Qrius, I explore the continuing relevance of BBC journalist Mark Tully’s book of essays on India.
In this article published at Countercurrents, I explore the history of zoonoses in shaping civilisation, and review the steps we must take to obviate future pandemics,