Author: Josh (page 2 of 5)

A Book A Week #32 | Spring Garden, by Tomoka Shibasaki

Spring Garden, by Tomoka Shibasaki

For all the physical space that suburbia occupies — housing over thirty million Britons at the last count — it seems to take up very little room in our collective imagination. Surprisingly, neat little rows of semidetached houses and commuter rail lines tend not to inspire artists and musicians, poets and novelists, in the same way that a shiny metropolis, or a good deserted hill might. There are, of course, a few artists of various stripes who brave the suburbs. David Lynch is known for plumbing the depths of the sheer menacing surrealism that lurks behind picket fences, but for my money, it’s another David, David Byrne, who sums up that curious sense of duality, that your neighbours live on the other side of a brick wall, but a world away. Tomoka Shibasaki’s new novel Spring Garden sees her joining this small group of authors who make their home in suburbia.

Taro is one of the few remaining inhabitants of an apartment block scheduled to be torn down. He perhaps resembles one of Murakami’s vague male protagonists: recently divorced, his closest friend outside of work seems to be a pestle and mortar used in his father’s funeral rites. Taro finds himself drawn to Nishi, a woman living in his apartment block, who has an obsession with the sky-blue house on the other side of their block. The house has a secret history, though an undramatic, domestic one, detailed in a decades-old photo book ‘Spring Garden’. It’s this book that brings Nishi to the apartments — if she couldn’t live in the sky-blue house, then she could at least live somewhere overlooking it.

Spring Garden, by Tomoka Shibasaki

Spring Garden, the first novel by Shibasaki to be published in English, is written in a transparent and capacious prose that manages to circumscribe all of the petty strangenesses of suburban life — the boredom and alienation and curious menace. For all its deracinated newness, Spring Garden’s suburb is one with a past that remains barely hidden — not just in photo books, but under tarmac and under feet.

Every day, [Taro] walked over culverts with rivers running inside them. There were water pipes and gas pipes underground too, and maybe unexploded bombs, for all he knew. […] If there were unexploded bombs still underground, then there must also be bits of the houses that were burnt down then, items of their furniture. Before that, this area had been fields and woods, and the leaves and fruits and berries that fell every year, as well as the little animals, would also have formed layers over time, sinking down deeper under the ground.

And now Taro was walking on top of it all.

There is a kind of strange redemption in this vertiginous tumble down through centuries worth of soil — it’s the suburb’s more recent past, captured in Nishi’s photo book, that brings Taro out of a life spent travelling to and from work, speaking to nobody. Spring Garden promises a far richer, far more meaningful world, if only we allow ourselves to see it.

Tomoka Shibasaki, trans. Polly Barton, Spring Garden, Pushkin Press (London: 2017)

A Book A Week #31 | One of the Boys, by Daniel Magariel

One of the Boys, by Daniel Magariel

“That’s how you stay one of the boys,” says the narrator of Daniel Magariel’s debut, having slogged his way through a day at pre-school with a broken collarbone. Being one of the boys in One of the Boys means solidarity and grit. But it also means silence, complicity and lies. The father has won “the war” a bitter and bruising custody battle for his children, and he spirits them away from their home in Kansas to a new life in Albuquerque — away from their mother, “the Amalekite” and to freedom. Or so he says, at least.

The adventure palls. The boys begin to miss their home. And the father’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, more and more sinister. That ever so-innocuous phrase “one of the boys” becomes a weapon that is used to divide brother from brother as the father succumbs to a druggy, violent paranoia. By the book’s end, the father is too strung out to go out for drugs himself, and resorts to pushing a wad of cash into his young son’s fist and forcing him to score a bagful of crack.

One of the Boys, by Daniel Magariel

The book’s opening scene gives a hint as to the father’s devious tendency towards manipulation. He wants to have his cake and eat it — he wants sole custody of his two children, and he doesn’t want to pay a cent in alimony. His glee is almost palpable when he discovers that the mother has beaten the narrator with a telephone handset, and pressures him to take polaroids of the marks. But the marks are fading fast. The father drops hints that the older of the two kids should slap his brother, to freshen the marks up, to make them seem more dramatic. Here, the narrator steps in, eager to cement his position as “one of the boys,” to take a hit for the team.

In the mirror I remade my face with sorrow. This will get us free, I told myself. This was what they needed from me. With my right hand I slapped my right cheek. The left cheek with my left hand, then again, harder, alternating sides, following through a little further each time so that eventually my head turned not from the flinch but the blow. … I faced my father. “Now,” I said. “Take it now.”

My father kept clicking till the button stuck. After they developed, we chose five of the Polaroids to show Child Protective Services.

Written in a spare but elegant prose that seems the hallmark of MFA programmes these days, One of the Boys is a disturbing evocation, without even the slightest hint of sentimentality, of fiercely powerful relationship between a father and his young son, one where intense love sits alongside rage, paranoia, and an all-consuming need for control.

Daniel Magariel, One of the Boys, Granta (London: 2017)

Granta kindly provided me with a review copy of One of the Boys.

A Book A Week #30 | Carnivalesque, by Neil Jordan

Carnivalesque, by Neil Jordan

It’s a drear day in Ireland and the carnival has come to town. But there’s something curious about this carnival; something inscrutably different. Something not quite natural; or maybe something supernatural. Mikhail Bakhtin writes about the carnivalesque as a space where the normal order of things is overturned, where the world is turned upside down, where fools reign as kings. It’s this carnival space that we enter into when Andy, the novel’s protagonist, walks into Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors.

One Andy walks in to Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors, and two walk out. One steps out of the mirror as a not-Andy, a “thing called Andy,” a name which “seems the best for him now, since, having appropriated the shape, the sound, the smell of the reflected one,” it is only fitting that “he would appropriate the name too.” The other is released later, once his parents are gone and the carnies are packing up. He is re-christened Dany, and Dany gets swept away with the carnival: he’s become a carnie.

Carnivalesque, by Neil Jordan

While strange things coalesce around the peculiarly vacant Andy back in his parents’ house, Dany enters a paradoxical realm where immortal acrobats cling onto trapezes in order to stay on the ground, and long-forgotten legends forget about themselves. It’s this odd world that Dany needs to navigate in order to survive, and to entertain the possibility of returning home.

Neil Jordan is perhaps known better as a film director than a novelist — he counts The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire among his credits. It’s no surprise then that his prose has a cinematographer’s eye for texture and tricks of the light, for strange and wonderful creatures, and sudden shifts in intensity. Encompassing myths and legends, centuries-old magical creatures and young children growing up, Carnivalesque is a rag-tag oddball of a novel that reads as though Neil Gaiman and Angela Carter started telling spooky stories around the campfire, and couldn’t stop. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

Neil Jordan, Carnivalesque, Bloomsbury (London:2017)

Bloomsbury kindly provided me with a review copy of Carnivalesque

A Book A Week #29 | Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar

Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar

It’s pretty rare that one gets to review something completely new, utterly fresh. Sure, there is no new thing under the sun. There are plenty of stories about spacemen. There are plenty of books about marital breakdown. There are plenty of novels about barely repressed Communist legacies. But there aren’t many that combine the three, and certainly not with as much panache and consummate, mordant wit as Jaroslav Kalfar’s first novel, Spaceman of Bohemia.

Jakub Procházka is the titular Bohemian spaceman, the first Czech astronaut to leave the Earth’s atmospheric swaddling blanket behind. He’s on a mission to a vast interstellar cloud that appeared between the Earth and Venus, to bring back both space dust and national pride. And poor Jakub is going out of his mind. Despite his daily broadcasts proclaiming his cheer, his mental state is disintegrating, as is his marriage. His wife leaves him via Skype. Jakub has nothing to do but sit and drink whisky and wait. And then Hanuš appears.

Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar

Jakub is at first baffled and horrified by the presence of Hanuš, a giant space arthropod with a taste for “this spread of Nutella,” and the ability to read minds, but comes to relish his company and alien wisdom as they inhabit what can only be described as a space-bachelor pad.

Add to this already-crowded mix a potent meditation on Czechoslovakia’s communist past — Jakub’s father was a torturer for the secret police, and the sins of the father have been heaped on the son — and there’s the potential for Spacema of Bohemia to go off the rails, to fail to contain its own multitudes. But Kalfar’s novel holds all this together. At times haunting, at times wise, at times darkly hilarious, Spaceman of Bohemia is an assured debut that turns the microscope onto humans and their transcendental smallnesses, from our tininess in the face of the universe to our tininess in the face of ourselves.

Jaroslav Kalfar, Spaceman of Bohemia, Sceptre Books (London: 2017)

Sceptre Books kindly provided me with a review copy of Spaceman of Bohemia.

A Book A Week #28 | The Impossible Fairy Tale, by Han Yujoo

The Impossible Fairy Tale, by Han Yujoo

Mia is lucky. She has two fathers who compete for her affection. They spoil her with expensive foreign coloured pencils, with jumpers that she’ll grow out of. Her mother dotes on her. In a school where casual cruelty and inexplicable rage is the norm, where children play at choking one another, and buy baby chicks only to stomp them to death, Mia is pretty and popular. She wants for nothing.

The Child, on the other hand, is none of those things. Her clothes are threadbare, her skin pallid. Her mother beats her and cuts her nails so short that it is painful for her to pick anything up. She is so far down the school’s rigid hierarchy that she does not even merit a name.

One night, The Child sneaks out of her flat and into the school, where forges her classmates’ handwriting and writes disturbing messages in their workbooks. This strange but more-or-less harmless act leads to still more horrifying acts. Another bright day, she slits the throat of a kitten she finds on the street. And then one day, after school, she follows Mia home from school, chokes her and cuts her throat.

But then, The Impossible Fairy Tale changes entirely. A woman awakes from a dream. A teacher. The Child’s teacher, who is writing a book named something like The Impossible Fairy Tale. And The Child knows everything that happens in her book, set several years ago, in some strange ontological swerve. The teacher’s appearance scores a line under this tale of neglect and inordinate cruelty, raising the spectre of the ethical status of making art out of horror: what happens if your story turns out to be true?

Written in an oneiric prose-poetry that cuts like a scalpel, and where ideas and physical things connect in a suffocating blanket. “We must not call that time “back then.” The words back then attempt to make the past too beautiful, something to long for,” Yujoo writes, “That time. Time’s grime. That time when I wanted to snap, trample, snip, cut, crumple, and ruin everything I saw.” In Han Yujoo’s world, language cuts, maims, and burns just as much as a blade or a set of nail clippers. The Impossible Fairy Tale is a meditation on pain — not just that which a knife causes, but that contained in ideas and in words. And with the arrival of The Child’s teacher in the second half, it becomes a meditation on the link between the two, how pain can be put down onto the page, can become narrative. Sticks and stones.

Kafka wrote that we must read books that take an “axe to the frozen sea within us.” The Impossible Fairy Tale does just this, but in doing so, it reveals what we gain from that thick, insulating ice. Strange creatures live in the depths below: creatures that we do not want to look at, though we can’t help but stare.

Han Yujoo has published many books in her native Korean, to much acclaim, but The Impossible Fairy Tale is the first to have been translated into English. Hopefully there are many more to come.

Graywolf Press kindly provided me with a copy of The Impossible Fairy Tale.

Han Yujoo, trans. Janet Hong, The Impossible Fairy Tale, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis: 2017)

A Book A Week #27 | First Love, by Gwendoline Riley

First Love, by Gwendoline Riley

Reading First Love is like taking an icy shot of vodka in a world of flat, slightly warm lager. It is the story of Neve, a writer in her thirties, trapped in a marriage to an older man, Edwyn, that ranges between unhappy and downright abusive. Gwendoline Riley has spent the past decade-and-a-half detailing the unhappy lives of unhappy women, and it might be all too easy to point the finger at Neve as another inhabitant of a well-worn rut. Trapped with Edwyn, who blames everyone but himself for his violent outbursts, she is plagued with memories.

Riley’s prose has an icy elegance as it details without sentiment or schtick Neve’s chaotic and poverty-stricken childhood, dominated by her father, given to savage tantrums. This earns Neve little sympathy from her husband, who calls his attacks against her mother — rather unsettlingly — mere “incidents,” and uses her father’s cruelty as a weapon against her.

“Your father. You hated him, he was cruel to you, that’s the only relationship you understand. A man being horrible to you and you being vicious back. So that’s what you’re recreating here. I am not your father. You don’t have to go on being vicious. If you do go on being vicious, you’re out. I don’t want anything to do with you.”

It goes without saying that Edwyn is the vicious partner in this relationship, constantly looking to manipulate and to shift the blame for his anger onto Neve, using her father, her quote-unquote “impoverished” upbringing, her quote-unquote “feminism” as a stick with which to beat her.

First Love, by Gwendoline Riley

But were it just a chronicle of a grim marriage, First Love would not carry the weight that it does. Were it just a chronicle of an equally grim childhood, the novel would not pack the punch that it does. Rather, Riley’s slender novel is also a gracefully rendered meditation on memory, and how the past and the present collide in curious ways — how, no matter how far we run, we can never quite escape it. The spectre of what’s passed always comes back to haunt us. As Riley writes,

“Considering one’s life requires a horribly delicate determination, doesn’t it? To get to the truth, to the heart of the trouble. You wake and your dreams disband, in a mid-brain void. At the sink, in the street, other shadows crowd in: dim thugs (they are everywhere) who’d like you never to work anything out.”

It’s these dim thugs who present perhaps the greatest, and the most horrifying, indignity of all. They’re the recurrent memories of a grandmother’s filthy house. They’re the husband who uses your father’s past cruelties to accuse you of cruelty in the present. And they’re what makes Gwendoline Riley’s latest novel quite so potent.

Gwendoline Riley, First Love, Granta (London: 2017)

I was kindly provided with a review copy of First Love by Granta.

A Book A Week #26 | The Burning Ground, by Adam O’Riordan

The Burning Ground, by Adam O’Riordan

It’s hard to escape the feeling that Adam O’Riordan is flirting with the Joycean in his debut short story collection, The Burning Ground. It’s not just that all of O’Riordan’s stories are set in the one city — LA. Rather, O’Riordan’s first collection of short stories shares something deeper, more elemental with Joyce’s only collection of short stories, something in the DNA of the two books. In ‘The Sisters,’ one of Joyce’s more precocious child narrators says something quite mysterious: “Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis. It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism.” Taken on its own, this might be a child revelling over the strange sound of exotic words tripping off the tongue. But those three words, paralysis, gnomon, and simony come to define Joyce’s Dublin, Joyce’s Dubliners, and Joyce’s Dubliners.

They are also words that come to define O’Riordan’s work, over a century later. Paralysis is an existential state in The Burning Ground‘s LA, in spite of the city’s Ballardian obsession with the freeway. O’Riordan’s city is full of elegies for things left unsaid and undone. The story, ‘Wave-Riding Giants’ is probably the most openly mournful story of the lot — the ageing McCauley looks back over a life spent watching, but never acting. He spent the war in the Pacific, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the fighting before he could be deployed. He drifted around the West Coast, finally discovering a talent for woodwork and setting up shop making surfboards he could never use — McCauley had never learnt to swim.

Likewise, gnomon. A gnomon is the bit of the sundial that casts a shadow by which we tell time — in other words, the pointy bit. It’s also synecdoche for all those things left unsaid, but where silence is more eloquent than words could ever be. “You did good, son, real good,” Randall says to his estranged son, Joey, at the end of ‘Black Bear in the Snow’. They’re on a hunting trip, tracing a route that Randall’s own father took him on when he was a boy Joey’s age, and Joey has just killed a bear with a single textbook shot. Those six words speak to the gulf that has opened up between father and son, and they carry more weight than a lengthy speech might.

The Burning Ground, by Adam O’Riordan

LA is full of simoniacs, one way or another. Buying and selling choice ecclesiastical goodies might well seem like an idea that had its time, a long time ago, but The Burning Ground is full of people trying to buy their way into redemption one way or another — from Randall’s attempt to redeem lost time by shooting at megafauna in ‘Black Bear in the Snow’ to a mutual, and failed, attempt to rekindle a lost fling in ‘A Thunderstorm in Santa Monica,’ and Harvey’s acceptance that his rom-com rush half-way across the world to an old lover might not bring back the past.

O’Riordan is best known as a poet, and he is a fine poet with a knack for weighing words carefully, and making them do strange and new things. In ‘Oysters,’ the consumption of raw, cold sea-snot is imbued with a sense of quickness, of danger, of violence, but also of holiness, sanctity and ritual. To open an oyster, “you twist a blunt blade and the adductor severs || and light moves in the darkened chamber. | Naked on its bed of bone, you offer it: vulviform, raw, exposed.”

Contrast this with his description of an aeroplane taking off. “The focused quiet of an exam hall as passengers concentrated on keeping calm and pretending what was happening was perfectly normal.” This is a far cry from O’Riordan’s holy vulviform oysters. It’s big, it’s clunky, and, its greatest sin is that it’s obvious. It’s unreasonable to ask O’Riordan to write stories like Joyce. It’s just a pity he couldn’t write stories a little bit more like himself.

Adam O’Riordan, The Burning Ground, Bloomsbury (London: 2017)

Bloomsbury kindly provided me with a copy of The Burning Ground for review.

A Book A Week #25 | Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

Calling a book a haunting meditation on time, memory and grief is pretty much damning it with faint praise in this publishing climate. Everyone’s written one. Grieving and melancholy seem to be in fashion these days, much as moon boots were in the ‘80s. And yet, Emily Ruskovich’s new novel Idaho is all of these things at once. It meditates. It grieves. It remembers. And boy, does it haunt.

It’s 1995, a hot August day in the mountains above Ponderosa, Idaho. Jenny has just killed one of her two daughters. The other is missing, never to be found again.

2004. Jenny’s husband, Wade, has remarried. Ann, his new wife, lives in a house with a gaping wound at its heart. Wade’s behaviour is becoming strange and violent. His mind is slowly slipping away as dementia makes its early onslaught.

2008. Jenny has been in prison for thirteen years. She is set to spend two lifetimes in there. She has just left a month in solitary confinement for stabbing Sylvia, her former cellmate and her only friend. She speaks to no one. She does not step outside. She punishes herself for her senseless acts of violence more than any prison could.

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

The echoes of Jenny’s actions echo throughout the book, resounding in its past, its present, and its future. The absence of May and June, the two daughters, is a suffocating one — as solid and suffocating as the walls of Jenny’s prison. It’s an absence that informs every action that every character takes, every word that they speak, every thought that they have. Ann spends her days getting face-fits of June made up, as she ages. But as she ages, the chances of finding her slip away, as do Wade’s memories of his daughters.

Knives are a big thing in Idaho — Wade is a subsistence farmer, but makes a buck or two crafting intricate knives out of wood and bone and steel — and Ruskovich’s prose cuts like one. Idaho, Ruskovich’s first novel, is a psychologically acute work of psychic anguish, which traces the fragments of a family split open by a single act of unspeakable violence, scattered across America and through the decades. There might be rather a lot of meditations on time, memory and grief, but  this one promises to haunt like little else.

Emily Ruskovich, Idaho, Chatto & Windus (London: 2017)

Chatto & Windus generously provided me with a review copy of Idaho.

A Book A Week #24 | Ashland & Vine, by John Burnside

Ashland & Vine, by John Burnside

Carbondale, Alabama. Jean Culver watches her father get shot, on the intersection of Ashland and Vine. So begins Culver’s tale, told to Kate Lambert, and so begins Ashland & Vine. It’s a tale that spans much of the landscape of 20th century America, taking in World War II and Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam, anti-war protesters and the Weather Underground. She tells her story to the grieving Lambert on the condition that she sobers up — if Lambert can go a day without drinking, Culver will tell her a story; another day, another story — like a Scheherazade for the self-help generation.

Lambert isn’t listening to Culver out of her own curiosity — rather, she begins talking to her in an attempt to collect testimony for an oral history project cooked up by her film studies professor boyfriend Laurits, who claims to be Estonian, and uses this to harangue his friends on “their” American history. He isn’t Estonian, but he is a cliché.

Ashland & Vine, by John Burnside

Ashland & Vine, by John Burnside

Lambert teeters on the brink of alcoholism, driven to the precipice by grief, but even in this fraught state, she never forgets her impeccable array of literary references, never forgets to ensure that everything is imbued with a Lit-101 significance. The sound of chopping wood brings forth a Proustian remembrance of woods past:

“As a child I convinced myself that the woods around our house went back to a time before the settlers arrived; ancient Iroquois lands, full of blue jays and cardinals and families of tender, sweet-lipped deer. They were my own private, haunted realm when I was a child, my small promise of heaven and, at the same time, proof of the history my father claimed as his own, for was he not at least part Native American and therefore entitled to look at those woods in a different way from his neighbours? Now, like the house, those woods are gone…”.

And so on.

Similarly, she sobers up to break out of the “tedium of the self. Not myself, but the self as random burden, imposed on a whim by some malevolent visitor from an old fairy tale.” Culver masquerades as a Scheherazade-figure, but Lambert fancies herself an existential philosopher.

For someone so insistent on telling her story, very little happens to Jean Culver herself. She watches as her father is shot in broad daylight, and seems not really to be affected by it. Her brother fights in the D-Day Landings and in France, before joining the CIA at the height of the Cold War. Her genius sister is swept up in the 1960s anti-Vietnam protests and in the Students for a Democratic Society movement, before disappearing off the map as a member of the Weather Underground. Culver herself sits in middle America, chopping wood and drinking endless cups of herbal tea. She narrates her story in an unaffected, encyclopaedic prose that conveys powerful emotion and grand historical narratives, talking about the Weather Underground with the same flat affect as the Shipping Forecast.

John Burnside is one of Ireland’s most accomplished authors and critics, and the premise for Ashland & Vine is a fascinating one. However, his attempt to read post-War American history is an attempt that falls flat, reading more as exposition than exploration, a lecture rather than a fairy tale.

John Burnside, Ashland & Vine, Jonathan Cape (London: 2016)

Jonathan Cape provided me with a review copy of Ashland & Vine.

A Book A Week #23 | 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

4 3 2 1, Paul Auster’s new novel, and his first in seven years, is a Bildungsroman by way of Borges; his Garden of Forking Paths spreading across a suburb in New Jersey, and a chunk of Manhattan. Briefly put, it is the story of Archibald Ferguson, a kid growing up in Newark — more or less contemporaneously with Auster himself. A microscopically detailed novel that takes up a plethora of topics from baseball to the Vietnam War, Auster’s novel perhaps bears more resemblance to David Copperfield than ‘City of Glass’.

Of course, Auster has a trick up his sleeve. 4 3 2 1 isn’t just the story of Archibald Ferguson. rather, it is the story of four Archibald Ferguson — or perhaps it’s four stories of a single Archie. Auster uses 4 3 2 1 as a space to explore alternate histories (what would have happened had Germany won the war, say) on a personal level. What would have happened had Archie’s father not stayed late at the shop that day? Quite a lot, it seems — early on, one of the Ferguson-fathers is killed in a blaze started by his brother, as an insurance scam. In another one of Auster’s forking paths, the blaze burns down the family business. In yet another, it does not happen at all. One Archie studies at Columbia, and becomes involved in the protests of 1968. Another wins a prestigious scholarship to Princeton. Yet another flees to Paris after being caught stealing paperbacks to pay for a trip to a prostitute. These alternate Archies live out quite separate lives, love quite separate loves, and follow quite separate paths.

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

Or do they? The alternate lives of Archibald Ferguson are curiously similar. In each of them, the general trajectory of his life is the same, moving from Norman Rockwell painting (Suburban picket fence; baseball) to Simon and Garfunkel song (Manhattan brownstone; existential angst). The countdown in the novel’s title is prophetic, three of the four Fergusons being killed off before the novel reaches its end, but on the way each of them is a talented baseball player; each of them is a youthful connoisseur of European arthouse cinema; each of them becoming a writer after a fashion.

All this presents a rather depressing view of human potential. Fans of 18th century literature might remember Tristram Shandy’s father — his hobby horse, his peccadillo, was names. Apparently, if “ever malignant spirit took pleasure, or busied itself in traversing the purposes of mortal man,” said spirit would take the form of the name Tristram. Perhaps the same can be said for people named Archibald Ferguson. Whatever happens to them, they will always be youthful baseball players, and aspiring writers with impeccably liberal credentials. 4 3 2 1 makes a great play of tracing Archie’s roots, back to the first Ferguson to set foot on Ellis Island, but it seems there’s no escaping these roots. However the garden’s paths may fork, the destination is always the same.

Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1, Faber & Faber (London: 2017)

Faber & Faber kindly provided me with a review copy of 4 3 2 1