In the Critics this week

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

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.

Ben Drew, aka Plan B (Photo: Getty Images)
Getty
Show Hide image

Brexit… Leg-sit

A new poem by Jo-Ella Sarich. 

Forgot Brexit. An ostrich just walked into the room. Actually,
forget ostriches too. Armadillos also have legs, and shoulder plates
like a Kardashian.  Then I walked in, the other version of me, the one
with legs like wilding pines, when all of them

are the lumberjacks. Forget forests. Carbon sinks are down
this month; Switzerland is the neutral territory
that carved out an island for itself. My body
is the battleground you sketch. My body is
the greenfield development, and you
are the heavy earthmoving equipment. Forget
the artillery in the hills
and the rooftops opening up like nesting boxes. Forget about

the arms race. Cheekbones are the new upper arms
since Michelle lost out to Melania. My cheekbones
are the Horsehead Nebula and you are the Russians
at warp speed. Race you to the finish. North Korea

will go away if you stop thinking
about it. South Korea will, too. Stop thinking
about my sternum. Stop thinking about
the intricacy of my mitochondria. Thigh gaps
are the new wage gaps, and mine is like
the space between the redwood stand
and the plane headed for the mountains. Look,

I’ve pulled up a presentation
with seven different eschatologies
you might like to try. Forget that my arms
are the yellow tape around the heritage tree. Forget
about my exoskeleton. Forget
that the hermit crab
has no shell of its own. Forget that the crab ever
walked sideways into the room.
Pay attention, people.

Jo-Ella Sarich is a New Zealand-based lawyer and poet. Her poems have appeared in the Galway Review and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2017.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear