Conflicted by Ian Leslie
Discourse, both public and private, is getting worse not better. Where a difference of opinion should be a creative force, now polarisation is the norm. Ian Leslie, as readers of this magazine will know, has a way of bringing fresh perspectives and telling anecdotes to obdurate subjects. Here he talks to everyone from hostage negotiators to divorce lawyers to show how conflict has driven successful companies and technological advances, and to offer ways to harness it in daily life.
Faber & Faber, 285pp, £14.99
[See also: Sylvia Pankhurst: The great agitator]
The Hidden Spring by Mark Solms
Drawing on decades of research, the neuropsychologist Mark Solms argues that feelings, not cognition or perception, are the defining feature of consciousness, the source of which he locates not in the grey folds of the cerebral cortex but in the brain stem. Consciousness can be explained solely with reference to natural law – there is no mind independent of the body – which means, Solms contends, scientists could conceivably create artificial consciousness. Solms also includes fascinating and deeply affecting case studies, including research into children born with hydranencephaly, who are missing most of their brains yet who are more sentient than many doctors realise.
Profile Books, 432pp, £20
Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro
The friendship that grows between the younger, awkward, bullied Stan and the older, confident, curious Charlie is an unexpected one, but in a small town both are outsiders in their own ways. Common Ground, the debut novel by Naomi Ishiguro, daughter of Kazuo, follows the mismatched teenage duo as they bond over bikes and newspaper-wrapped chips on the common, and later rejoins them when their paths cross as adults in London. It’s a generous and disarming tale of loyalty, injustice and hope that is just the right side of sentimental.
Tinder Press, 432pp, £16.99
Comic Timing by Holly Pester
“I am mid verb/maybe I have become the verb/I am not having/I am/abortive was the last thing I/thought before falling on to/the purple and habited bed,” writes Holly Pester in “Comic Timing”, a dark yet funny poem about a medical abortion, which is the centrepiece in her debut collection. The Colchester-born poet, who also works as a sound artist and academic researcher, has a radical but charming voice. She chronicles experiences of landlords, desire, porridge and emotional labour with impressive formal guile.
Granta, £10.99, 83pp
This article appears in the 10 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Grief nation