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In the Critics this week

Ali Smith, John Burnside, China Miéville, Toby Litt, Ryan Gilbey and Will Self.

New Statesman
Ben Drew, aka Plan B (Photo: Getty Images)

The centrepiece of the Critics section in this week’s New Statesman is “Say I won’t be there”, a new short story, written exclusively for the NS, by novelist Ali Smith. In Books, the NS’s nature columnist John Burnside reviews Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot. “With the possible exception of memoir,” Burnside writes, “no other literary form is more revealing of its author’s pretensions than nature writing.” However, Macfarlane mostly avoids the besetting sins of the genre in Burnside’s view. “Intrepid and well-informed he may be, but there is no sense of ego here …” He is, Burnside writes, “our finest nature writer”.

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to China Miéville about his new novel Railsea, in which the action of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is transposed from the sea to the railway and the whale is replaced by a giant mole. “I first read [Moby-Dick] when I was about 17 and I was really blow away by it,” Miéville says. “I like very much that sort of hypnotic, overwrought, very lush prose.” Asked about his relationship to the science fiction and fantasy communities, Miéville says: “The level of seriousness with which books are treated at some of the science-fiction conventions puts a lot of conventional literary festivals to shame. At the same time, I get very exasperated with certain aspects of geek culture.”

Also in Books: Toby Litt reviews Ben Marcus’s novel The Flame Alphabet; Jonathan Beckman on Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai; Felix Martin on Economics After the Crisis by Adair Turner. PLUS Sophie Elmhirst’s Word Games column – this week her word is “Jubilee”.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Yo Zushi on the enduring influence of Alex Chilton and Big Star; Rachel Cooke on the mysterious charms of Rory Stewart; Ryan Gilbey on Bela Tarr’s valedictory film The Turin Horse and Plan B’s boisterous cinematic debut, iLL Manors; “Blue Song”, a poem by Dannie Abse; Antonia Quirke on a Radio 2 documentary about the Queen; and Will Self goes to Berlin to eat currywurst.