The Blue Commons: Rescuing the Economy of the Sea by Guy Standing
Pelican, 592pp, £22
“All at last return to the sea to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time,” wrote Rachel Carson, the influential author of Silent Spring. Yet although the seas grip our collective imagination (Blue Planet is among the most watched documentaries in history), there is little that is collective about their ownership. Instead, the accumulation of natural wealth in the hands of giant conglomerates is jeopardising their very future, argues the economist Guy Standing in The Blue Commons.
In the name of the world’s 28,000 identified species of fish, and the hundreds of millions of people for whom the seas provide a livelihood, Standing makes an urgent case for a new politics of the ocean. He argues for resurrecting common fishing rights, putting local cooperatives in control, raising levies on pollution and commercial exploitation, and prioritising posterity and the precautionary principle. For anyone who has watched a David Attenborough documentary and wished it made a clearer appeal for a change in ocean governance, this is the book for you.
By India Bourke
Ghost Signs: Poverty and the Pandemic by Stu Hennigan
Bluemoose Books, 280pp, £12
Ghost Signs is the Yorkshire writer Stu Hennigan’s account of the effects of the pandemic on Leeds. Hennigan, furloughed from his job in a local library for nine weeks from April 2020, diarises his experiences as a volunteer helping the city council deliver essential food in a scheme that was initially designed for those isolating with the virus, and almost immediately also came to serve residents living in poverty.
Dozens of Hennigan’s deliveries are recalled in vivid detail, thanks to the notes he scribbled between stops. He meets an “excruciatingly thin” young woman “in as sorry a state as her house”, her “arms a mess of bruises, scars and track marks”. Then there is a middle-aged man who lives in a mansion on a street known locally as Millionaire’s Row, dressed in pristine white robes to receive his medicine. Through these encounters one thing is clear: the gap between the haves and have-nots is wide. Leeds (like all areas of the country, Hennigan notes) has “levels of deprivation that are unbelievable in the 21st century”. Ghost Signs is a damning indictment of Conservative austerity and the government’s contemptuous response to the pandemic.
By Harry Clarke-Ezzidio
Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews
Hodder & Stoughton, 256pp, £16.99
“I want love, sticky and painful, fat with desire and mottled with light,” says this novel’s unnamed protagonist, who struggles to satisfy her hunger for pleasure in a world where women are taught to suppress their needs. In Milk Teeth, Jessica Andrews’ second book, the character leaves behind a tumultuous upbringing in the north-east of England to flit between rented rooms in London and Paris. When she follows a man to Barcelona, she must decide if this life of shame is worth starving herself for.
The novel is told in the same style as Andrews’ Portico-winning debut Saltwater: as a series of vignettes that are sometimes less than a page in length. There is no rosy glow of nostalgia as she reflects on an adolescence of absent parents and a toxic diet culture – the details of which might be uncomfortable for anyone who has experienced disordered eating. By contrast, the scenes set under the sweltering Mediterranean sun are heady, with long descriptions of Spanish dinners that demand to be devoured. Andrews’s lyrical prose overflows with sweet metaphors and sensuous imagery that verges on the self-indulgent, yet remains somehow addictive.
By Ellys Woodhouse
The Arctic by Don Paterson
Faber & Faber, 96pp, £14.99
In the Arctic, the Dundee bar of the title of Don Paterson’s latest collection of poetry, an amateur scientist observes his fellow survivors of an apocalypse and sets about recording atmospheric and cosmic phenomena. Paterson applies the same close, tender attention to all his poems’ subjects, most movingly in elegies for his father, a musician who, he says in “On Sounding Good”, “had an ear/like the sea that raised him, open, true and clear”.
Yet within a few pages you will find the wit, irony and knowing inhabitation of the voice of “the poet” for which Paterson, the only person to have won the TS Eliot prize twice, has been celebrated. In “Ten Maxims”, for instance, he writes that, to a poet, a friend is just “an inconvenience/Standing in the way/Of a decent elegy”. It is a sign of how attuned his writing is to the unsettled currents of feeling – particularly male feeling – that these modes complement each other. Elsewhere, Paterson sets his voice at one further remove by adapting other poets: Georg Trakl, Gabriela Mistral, Ovid. The Arctic shows once again his range and mastery of poetic personae.
By Matthew Gilley
[See also: British diplomacy in the dock]
This article appears in the 24 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Inflation Wars