Reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on David Laws, Polly Samson and Alex Ross.

22 Days in May by David Laws

In the Guardian, Peter Preston is impressed by the Liberal Democrats preparation for coalition talks in David Laws' account of the aftermath of the May 2010 general election: "the thoroughness of Liberal preparations long before any votes were cast is a revelation ... just as the shambles of Labour's non-fight for survival passes all previous understanding."

In this week's New Statesman Andrew Adonis (who was part of the Labour negotiating team which failed to broker an agreement with the Lib Dems in May) argues that Laws' view of the talks is highly teleological and points to the 2004 Lib Dem policy publication, The Orange Book as "a clarion call for a return to classical small-state liberalism", which "conditioned the party (the Lib Dems) into forming an alliance with the Tories that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago."

Sean O'Grady, in the Independent, finds that 22 Days in May offers up a convenient scapegoat for the failure of a progressive Lib-Lab coalition to form: "If, like me, you were half hoping for a "progressive coalition" of the Lib Dems and Labour, then you need to know who killed this dream: Ed "Tribal" Balls, who effectively sabotaged the talks."

Perfect Lives by Polly Samson

Susan Hill in the Spectator finds Samson's prose in her new collection of stories to be refreshingly unaffected: "Samson does not show off as a writer; her prose is clear and precise, but she makes it sparkle every now and then by producing a brilliant image".

Writing in the Guardian, Shena Mackay points to Samson's talent for exposing the darker corners of middle class life: "Samson reveals the darkness and pain beneath the most polished surfaces ... she sees the worm in the bud, the canker in the rose, the mildew on the vine, the genetic time-bomb primed to devastate."

Olivia Laing, reviewing the book in the latest issue of the New Statesman, is similarly captivated by Samson's ability to expose the fault-lines in the most polished fictional surfaces: "Lives so artfully arranged they resemble scenes from a Toast catalogue are cracked open to reveal innards as unexpected as they are unsettling."

Listen to This by Alex Ross

From the Daily Telegraph Ivan Hewett, reviewing this collection of Ross's writings on music from the New Yorker, thinks that Ross has managed to claw back the dignity of music journalism: "By appealing to humble metaphors and common sense, Ross revives the spirit of those old-fashioned musical men of letters, of the type that flourished before academia colonised the field."

In the Guardian, Peter Conrad found Ross's infectious enthusiasm to be more illuminating than his criticism, writing that "the most fervent acts of critical appreciation here are explosions of contagious excitement, more like yelping ovations than cerebral analysis", whilst Conrad Wilson, in the Herald, applauds Ross as a critic "who shows himself to be the most elegant and engaging of writers."

Listen to This will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of the New Statesman.

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Moss Side Public Laundry, 1979

A new poem by Pippa Little.

Childless I arrive with a rucksack,
own no Silver Cross steered topple-high
by the bare-legged women in check coats
and bulging shoes who load and unload
ropes of wet sheets, wring them out
to rams’ horns while heat-slap of steam
dries to tinsel in our hair, frizzles our lips
gritty with Daz sherbert dabs and the mangle,
wide as a room-size remnant, never stops groaning
one slip and you’re done for…

In the boom and echo of it, their calls swoop
over Cross-your-Hearts, Man. City socks,
crimplene pinks and snagged underskirts,
Maggie Maggie Maggie Out Out Out! blasts
from across the park, whole streets
get knocked out like teeth,
in a back alley on the way a man
jumped me, shocked as I was
by the fuck off! I didn’t know was in me

but which I try out now to make them laugh, these women
who scrub blood and beer and come
with red-brick soap, quick-starch a party dress
while dryers flop and roar
before their kids fly out of school,
flock outside for a smoke’s sweet rest
from the future bearing down of four walls and one man.

Pippa Little’s collection Overwintering (Carcanet) was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Award. Her new book, Twist, was published in March by Arc. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder