THIS WEEK’S NEW BOOKS REVIEWED | FEATURE
CAN THE MONSTER SPEAK?
Paul B. Preciado [trans. Frank Wynne] (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
In 2019, Paul B. Preciado [pictured, top – credit Marie Rouge] – writer, art curator, and trans man with a non-binary body – tried to warn thousands of attendees at the conference of the Ecole De La Cause Freudienne in Paris that a deep transformation in the way we think about gender and sexuality is on its way. If psychoanalysts don’t adapt and take on new paradigms, he claimed, they would find themselves unable to survive, seeing their own grandchildren as monsters to be caged by diagnoses.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the chance to announce a call to action, barely reaching past his expositionary personal account of choosing between the pharmacologically-assisted path towards “normal masculinity” and the need to speak out as a public “living political archive” before being heckled and booed offstage. The rest of the speech was published online, and is now available as a translated edition.
Can The Monster Speak? is a dense but beautifully-worded short read, challenging both those who are dismissive of trans rights and those who can’t see beyond the binary options in transitioning from one gender role into the other, and presenting instead a radical future that encompasses the diversity of human beings.
Price: £8.99/£4.99 Ebook. Info: here
words ISABEL THOMAS
A CURSED PLACE
Peter Hanington (Two Roads)
With our lives increasingly reliant on technology and, as a result, increasingly less secure, this political thriller by Peter Hanington asks how much is too much when it comes to the technological revolution and really hits a nerve. Will it stop once it starts rolling?
The multi-pronged plot follows journalists reporting on uprisings in Hong Kong and the violent response from the Chinese State in its determination to maintain control, brainiacs in Silicon Valley paving the way forward using the bricks and mortar of personal data, and dealings in Chilean mines that surpass simply digging up raw materials. All these threads, connected by the powers that be… or rather, by big tech.
Multi-billion-dollar tech company Public Square knows everything – from every internet search to how to engineer machines with the ability to smell. Their aim? The greater good, of course. But for who and at what cost?
A Cursed Place is a timely page-turner with convincing, witty narrators. It provides fascinating insight into political journalism, from an author who has spent the past 14 years in the field. Moreover, it offers insight into the ways in which modern power, control and manipulation intersect with our lives.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words MEGAN THOMAS
JUST YOU AND THE PAGE
Sue Gee (Seren)
Writing, by its nature, is often a solitary and secluded task, with long hours spent trying to extract and communicate one’s own ideas, and is consequently one that can appear shrouded. Sue Gee’s Just You And The Page, an even dozen of literary-biography essays on writers that she’s interacted with throughout her life, doesn’t so much offer a window into the writing profession as blow a hole into its side, thus allowing readers to gawk at the specimens.
The collection presents detailed portraits of a variety of writers, from novelists and journalists to poets and translators. Gee’s limpid and unflinching writing voice, and her thorough approach to detailing her subjects, makes the collection accessible even to those with little-to-no prior knowledge of the writers covered, and the variety on offer will be sure to offer something of interest to even the most weathered writer.
A handful of Gee’s essays do lean heavily into hagiography, but it’s a somewhat inevitable pitfall of a format based on interviewing one’s friends, and one worth accepting in return for the sheer depth and insight offered.
Price: £12.99. Info: here
words ALEX PAYNE
Chibundu Onuzo (Virago)
Chibundu Onuzo is from Lagos in Nigeria, and set her previous two novels there. Presently, she lives in London, where we initially find Anna, the middle-aged protagonist of Sankofa. Anna’s life, while strained for various reasons – an unfaithful husband; a recently deceased mother – is outwardly unremarkable, and within what one might call white society. She, though, is mixed race, the product of a Welsh mum and African dad who returned home before the birth. A diary, gifted to the former by the latter, leads to the realisation that ‘African dad’ isn’t the half of it.
Jailed as a freedom fighter before entering politics, Francis Aggrey first decolonised his own name, becoming Kofi Adjei – and, on being elected Prime Minister, that of his country, renaming the Diamond Coast to Bamana. (You may notice that, although the names are not Onuzo’s invention, these are fictitious places: like Adjei, she builds a nation almost from scratch.) Anna is compelled to meet the father she never knew, even if it requires pulling strings and putting on airs to mingle with top brass in a country – indeed a continent – she knows little of.
Her efforts are ultimately successful, though with myriad Westerner-in-a-foreign-land type obstacles and the caveat of never being certain what she wants from the meeting. The characterisation can feel a shade flat, with no real standout heroes or villains, but for a novel that’s rather mannered in some ways Sankofa packs fair action, Anna witnessing extremes of opulence and poverty in contrast to her solidly middle-class homelife.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words NOEL GARDNER
David Hughes (Parthian)
With a title such as Working Out, one might expect poems on fitness, and indeed the first and title poem in the collection is about gym training – or is it? David Hughes’ poems run deep and often come with a double meaning or a sting in the tail. Punchlines deliver the reader back to the start, to read poems in a new light. On more than one occasion I laughed out loud.
But this isn’t comedy, this is satire, with a commentary on Wales and Welshness that runs like a coal seam across the pages. Some of the strongest views are delivered through the voice of Dai The Dog – a character who heads each of the book’s five sections, isn’t afraid to say what a lot of southern Welsh folk are thinking, and hates Thatcher.
There are poems about Swansea, Hughes’ home city – some written in a Swonzee vernacular that’s like learning another language. There are also poems about larks and swifts and war, and in Dai The Dog’s Celebrity Questionnaire Wales speaks for itself. The book ends with Cultivation – of miner and memory – which paints a picture of a man who could have been my own grandfather. Hughes’ clever use of specific details and subtext make this collection a surprising and sometimes touching read.
Price: £9. Info: here
words LYNDA NASH