THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
Ida Marie Hede (Lolli)
In the physical sense alone, Adorable is a beautiful book. A minimalist graphic decorates the cover, the blurb is subtly embossed with a textured pattern, and the cover flaps lend it a sense of classiness. Don’t be fooled: the stylish appearance belies one of the most viscerally nauseating books released this year.
Divided into two sections, Danish writer Ida Marie Hede captures the repulsiveness of the everyday in the spacey poetry, and reflects on death and grief. In the former, dozens of pages at a time are spent eulogizing bodily fluids, with great hunks of prose dedicated to discussing little other than poo and snot: producing it, touching it, even consuming it. As it stands, those gory excesses read as an affectation designed to deliver a cheap shock to readers, or maybe an over-tuned stab at realism.
A handful of astute insights do occasionally glimmer behind the overbearing wall of filth. A vignette on tattoos considers the societal factors that drive us to brand ourselves, and the connection drawn between our phones and death in the essay portion keenly captures the fear of the telephone that can often follow a tragedy. They’re the exception that proves the rule though: Hede’s transfixation with the most disgusting moments of our daily lives is recommended only to those with the strongest of constitutions.
Price: £15. Info: here
words ALEX PAYNE
THE FOGHORN’S LAMENT
Jennifer Lucy Allan (White Rabbit)
The research undertaken by Jennifer Lucy Allan [pictured, top] for this, her debut book, frequently places her in a category of one, as far as she can discern. Subtitled The Disappearing Music Of The Coast, it’s a study of foghorns – viewed, variously, in their historical, technological, social and acoustic contexts. The last of those is what particularly separates the author from most other participants in this, already fairly niche, interest. It’s one thing to be a more general chronicler of maritime minutiae, and laud a foghorn’s value to seafarers as it blared from a lighthouse of yore; Allan started on this path through an interest in its sonic – musical – properties, comparing it to some of her favourite avant-garde acts.
If this viewpoint is peculiar within the intersecting subcultures she enters, it rarely feels like there’s less than mutual respect on either side. The Foghorn’s Lament is also a work of great warmth, evidently thrilled by the truism that there is always more to discover, and accessible with it. Despite the genesis of the book, published on an imprint of Orion dedicated to non-mainstream music, a reader uninterested in (for example) Luigi Russolo, Sunn O))) or reggae soundsystems will in no way be lost at sea.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
Raül Garrigasait [trans. Tiago Miller] (Fum D’Estampa)
Slipping between explanations of Raül Garrigsasait’s modern day research and the setting of Solsona, Spain, 1837, The Others mingles factual and fantastical through a compelling and questioning narrative. Rudolf von Weilemann is an other: out of place in his socially mobile family, he leaves Berlin to enlist in the Carlist revolutionary war and find some direction to his life. Garrigsasait’s introduction describes coming across Weilemann while researching a different subject, infusing the novel’s broad sense of displacement and happenstance.
Weilemann falls in with local surgeon, Foraster – another other, thanks to a university education and un-Catholic views, he’s busy bandaging up the Carlists who proclaim, “Long live the Spanish Inquisition!” The author freely fills in the blanks in his research, musing on the conversations these two learned friends may have had in trying to make sense of a zealous uprising in the sleepy Solsona. Their dialogue is often unallocated, leaving the reader guessing who is quizzing who and, frankly, if it matters.
Gradually Foraster casts more and more doubt on the fervour of the revolution and introduces Weilemann to stranger, older rituals that have outlived Christ. Faith, obedience, reality and purpose are all laid bare: Weilemann’s experiences become more supernatural, but are these fantasies are any more or less real than the saints and heavenly ordained monarchs of the Carlists?
Garrigasait is a strong and supple writer to deal with such merges of time and place, research and reimagining, but each shift strengthens the story. The consistency of tone is confusing yet coherent; Tiago Miller’s translation is, I can only imagine, expert. The soldiers and locals speak in a common language that comes straight from contemporary London but is equally modern and brilliantly reinforces the constant off-setting. Weilemann and Foraster’s dreamlike musical reveries are stunningly rendered and I can’t think of any writing that has so successfully captured the minutia and wholeness of music as this book does. The Others won 2017’s Best Catalan Language Novel Prize and it takes no leaps of imagination or rewriting of histories to see why.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
UNDER THE RAINBOW
James Attlee (And Other Stories)
This latest by the writer of the highly praised Isolation takes a tour around the streets of Oxford – not an official tour, and not the most famous streets, as author James Attlee’s aim is to aimlessly follow, and intuitively meander between, those signs of COVID, the pandemic, lockdown, and investigate how it has affected, influenced, and ultimately changed our neighbourhoods and our lives.
It’s the variety of voices in Under The Rainbow that makes it so interesting. There’s no hierarchy here, as Attlee chats to old ladies on their lawns, people working in a bakery, those on the front line and those who are off to the side. All have opinions and observations to share, and Attlee’s great strength is his impartiality and commitment to giving voice to those whose insights are not sought by the mainstream media. His approach is blind to colour and class, shades of gender and degrees of gentility – and so this book gives space to a community, a city, because everyone is included and people from all backgrounds are considered.
A unique book that is a travel guide of sorts, and a fascinating collection of reflections and revelations, with Attlee’s fine mind pulling it together, Under The Rainbow is a brilliant read; certainly worth a look in, no matter what you think you know or what you guess others might say.
Price: £11.99/£6.99 Ebook. Info: here
words MAB JONES
Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
A collection of insights of everyday life, like snapshots of movement in a limited frame, the presented observations of Whereabouts read like poetry in their beauty. The language lulls you in a secure hold from beginning to end as you devour each carefully placed word (translated from Italian to English by Jhumpa Lahiri herself, it should also be noted). This mixed prose style is a revelation, as it feels full of detail for those with the shortest attention spans like me – even if I struggled to recognise the namechecked landmarks due to my own ill knowledge of the cities Lahiri’s narrator is exploring.
As a keen reader of Elena Ferrante’s work, this narrative found a clear place in my own reading experiences. The juxtaposition which arises between the protagonist’s professional and personal state – the manner in which she seems to blight friendships, resulting in loneliness and apparent isolation – is perhaps Whereabouts’ most resonant element.
The last year of solitude has created a mental cage for many of us, repressing self-expression and the vehicle to find such an important resonance when we read this from a dark frame of mind. Although first published as Dove Mi Trovo in 2018, Whereabouts’ themes of isolation and community has never felt so necessary.
Price: £14.99/£10.49 Ebook. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS