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Culture Vulture: reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on John Lanchester, John Wyndham and the Bloomsbury Group.

 

Talk is cheap

In Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, Robert Harris, writing in the Sunday Times, finds Lanchester's "chatty economic primer" a solution to the conundrum that "the arts have paid so little attention to what is the greatest phenomenon of the age: the transference of power and wealth from sovereign countries to supranational financial institutions".

Howard Davies in the Guardian finds that John Lanchester has avoided a fictional treatment of the financial crisis and instead "attempts both an economic and a sociopsychological analysis of the roots of the crisis". Despite its "accessible, and at times flippant style", Davies concludes that the author is not "an infallible guide to this treacherous terrain, though there are times when he describes the landscape as well and as engagingly as any".

Meanwhile, Paul Mason in the New Statesman finds the narrative flair welcome, but adds: "there has been a plethora of plays and television dramas, and the media discourse on the crisis is incessant. Any addition to this overload -- even one written so lucidly -- has to contribute something new." Ultimately, "Lanchester's real contribution lies not in his analysis, but in the vantage point he takes."

 

Chaos theory

Plan for Chaos is a previously unpublished John Wyndham novel, written some time between 1948 and 1951. For Jake Kerridge in the Telegraph, it begins "like it was written by Raymond Chandler after an X-Files box-set binge", before the author entered more familiar territory. "A more serious shortcoming is the lack of the nightmarish quality that pervades Wyndham's best books." Kerridge concedes that "if this is prentice-work, it is interesting to see Wyndham already grappling with the big themes that would continue to preoccupy him".

Leo Mellor in the Independent expected it to be as bad as other "lost-and-found" books, but discovered an "extraordinary lost masterpiece" that displays the author's "literary roots in pulp sci-fi short stories for the US market . . . [and] anticipates late-20th-century technological developments to dramatic effect".

 

The truth hurts

Angelica Garnett returns to the theme of growing up hin the Bloomsbury Group and her struggle with its legacy in The Unspoken Truth: a Quartet of Bloomsbury Stories.

Jane Shilling in the Telegraph finds that they depict "the urgent tension between the egotism of creativity and the artist's need for human connection", but senses "something insubstantial about these stories, over which a faint air of apology sometimes hangs".

Nick Rennison in the Sunday Times discovers that "the old Bloomsbury commitment to truth-telling and self-examination" is fully apparent, but argues that the Garnett stories lack structure: "In the end, they fall into the unsatisfying limbo that lies between memoir and fiction."

Alex Clark agrees in the Guardian: "In spite of the signposts pointing us in the direction of authentic lived experience, these pieces often appear both unconvincingly fictional and at the same time not quite fictional enough."

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