Sunday 19 April 2020

Review by Gary Day of "The Escapologist" by Jinny Fisher

To the extent that many of the poems in this collection aim to give a picture of Jinny Fisher’s physical world, real and remembered, they succeed. In ‘Sunday Lunch’ Mother ‘works oil into the surface’ of a ‘long table’  with her ‘bleached wooden brush’; in ‘Screen Memory’ a ‘shiny red hand-pump … spurts brook water for the kettle,’ while in ‘Antiphon’ a crowd ‘almost trample / two tiny wellington boots, painted with daisies, / half buried in the mud.’ Fisher, who has undergone a series of metamorphoses from classical violinist, to psychotherapist to poet, has an eye for detail. Her descriptions are precise. The reader is treated to a series of clearly defined images, but a number are inert. The scene is set but nothing happens.

This is not true of all of these poems. ‘Half-Sister’s Lunch’ neatly captures the tensions between the two women; sharing a plate of food and tearing bread dramatically portray their closeness and rivalry and there is genuine tension in the build up to the magnificent last line. Another work that should be singled out for praise is ‘Regeneration’ which simultaneously keeps in play the shock, the relief, and the new found freedom that comes from the end of what appears to be an abusive relationship. But that’s not all. A faint air of regret hangs about the poem. As someone who has studied psychoanalysis, Fisher is all too aware of the dangerous ambiguity of human emotion.  

One of the eye-catching qualities of the collection is the layout of Fisher’s poems. Some, like the title poem, are laid out in paragraphs, others like ‘The Scarf’ follow the shape of the object they describe. All of them, whether they are about home, family relations or even her violin have something to recommend them.   

About the reviewer
Gary Day is a retired English lecturer. His research mainly lay in three areas, the  history of literary criticism, the workings of class in British literature and the persistence of sacrificial ritual in the development of drama. He had a column in the Times Higher for a number of years and has also edited two volumes on the history of British poetry as well as the three volume Wiley Encyclopaedia of British Literature 1660-1789. He hates management speak, has been involved in amateur theatre for over thirty years and is still trying to write poetry.

Friday 17 April 2020

Review by Rob Jones of "One Scheme of Happiness" by Ali Thurm

The fictional town of Holdersea is easy to picture if you’ve ever been to a seaside resort which has grown suburbs. The old lighthouse and the phenomenon of longshore drift are both recurring motifs in One Scheme of Happiness, a novel rich with metaphor and imagery - a real writer’s read.

The narrator, Helen, a forty-something homebody who has been caring for her mother for twenty years, understandably finds herself lacking direction when her mother passes away. Having lived in one house in one town all her life, its features and people crowd around her, especially when her childhood “best friend” Vicky and her husband Sam, another friend from school days, move back to Holdersea with their two children. Vicky quickly reconnects with Helen, who in turn becomes infatuated with Sam.

The narration is one of the strengths of the novel, by turns poetic, unreliable and with moments of obvious dramatic irony. Seldom does it fall into the trap of being too conversationalist, especially considering the overall structure. Helen frequently reminisces about her childhood, showing rather than telling the reader about Vicky’s abusive, controlling tendencies and drip-feeding background to the plot and characters in the present. One thing she doesn’t explain much is what makes Sam attractive, but we’ve probably all struggled to put into words why we like someone at some point.

A hornet’s nest growing within a Tuscan holiday villa, swelling as the house itself is weakened, reflects the extramarital affair which begins in the warm Italian hills. Ann, a high-flying academic from a deprived background with whom Helen has actually kept in touch since school, tries to offer advice, but is ignored. Helen’s obsession increasingly unsettles the reader, culminating in her taking sudden and shocking measures.

The conclusion of the story is rather brief, although this does emphasise the impact of the twists, one of which seems something of a deus ex machina. The ending is open to interpretation and is therefore as satisfying as you want it to be. An intriguing and accomplished novel.

About the reviewer
Rob Jones studied English with Creative Writing options at the University of Leicester and completed an MA in Victorian Studies there. He lives in Sileby with his wife, sings with Leicester University Chamber Choir and dreams of working in heritage.

Friday 3 April 2020

Review by Rosalind Taylor of "Demon Slayer" vol.11, by Koyoharu Gotouge

In this manga, the main character Tanjiro is fighting two powerful demons from the Upper Moon 6, called Daki and Gytaro. Uzui and his three helpers are helping Tanjiro defeat Gytaro, while Inosuke and Zenitsu try and defeat Daki. There are two main battles in this book.

The two demons have been eating the residents of the entertainment district for years. Daki has dressed herself as an upper-class Orian to disguise herself.

This book is extremely dramatic and exciting. My favourite character is Tanjiro’s sister Nezuko. She saves everyone from dying by burning off some poison. I love this book so much I have read it twelve times. A brilliant manga!

About the reviewer
Rosalind Taylor is eleven years old. She loves reading manga, especially Demon Slayer, and watching anime. She also loves drawing her own manga. She has a twin sister called Miranda.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Review by Jonathan Taylor of "Collision" by Claire Walker

The sea is everywhere in Claire Walker’s beautiful new pamphlet of poems, Collision, haunting its geography, its characters’ voices, language and dreams. Here, ‘brine rises to the surface … / it coats our skin, our hearts,’ and ‘it creeps like a vine / across the map of this town.’ Sailors wear sweaters threaded with ‘waves, … [and] salt hides / in the Arran twists.’ The sea ‘calls to them like a lover,’ and ‘at night, she nestles in their heads, / whispers in waves.’

And if the sea’s voice is female, so too are the other voices which Walker recovers from the sea’s histories, its romances, legends and shipwrecks. These all-too-often-overlooked voices do not tell macho sailors’ yarns, but rather the stories of women who ‘swam / against history, made the coast’ – of mothers, lovers, mermaids, ‘The Fishwife,’ and the groundbreaking nineteenth-century palaeontologist Mary Anning. 

In the short sequence of poems dedicated to her, Anning becomes both a powerful counter-voice to a male-dominated history of palaeontology (‘they … try and erase me’), and a displaced representation of the female poet. A kind of poet-scientist, Anning collects symbols from the sea (in her case, symbols of evolutionary history), and then marks them, writes on them: ‘my fingerprints are spelled out on flint / letters chiselled in the lines of my nameless bones.’ Walker’s description of Anning in the poem ‘She Sells Seashells’ might almost stand as an allegory of her own method:

          Now picture the girl. 
          I gather the coast; hidden art waits
          for my fingers to unfold rocks.

          I line my finds out on a table,
          little fancies I’ve cleaned
          to show the shape of all our pasts …

          Limestone presses messages
          on the seashore. 

As Anning knew well, though, these messages from the seashore are never straightforward: ‘most would laugh me off the [cliff] edge,’ she says, ‘claim a hoax.’ Messages, symbols, images from the sea are ambivalent, complex, over-determined, culturally and historically loaded, sometimes even laughable. 

Walker understands this, too – the way in which age-old sea imagery can overwhelm the real, drown it in signification, as it were. In ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,’ symbolic language has become just that – a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby ‘real’ seagulls seem to have been overtaken by their representation: ‘tired / of our assumptions’ they ‘are living up to their reputation.’ The symbolic has almost erased the real. Similarly, in ‘A Tattooist’s Mistake,’ sea imagery takes on a life of its own, overwhelming the human subject:

          You ask for a mermaid,
          so that is what I give you. 
          My needle draws her slender back, 
          arching to surf that nibbles her skin. 
          Hair red and long, floating
          like crimson seaweed out against water …

          After you leave, 
          you spend the night beachcombing – 
          she, supple in the twist of your arm. 
          You return at sunrise, hollow-eyed,
          ask me for starfish, seaglass, oysters;
          the entire spill of an ocean. 

The language of the sea – its imagery, cultural weight, symbols – cannot be contained; it ‘doesn’t pack neatly into crates,’ and ultimately overwhelms the tattooist, artist, poet, palaeontologist. Voices, selfhood, identities, whether male or female, are all too easily ‘lost to the fetch of a wave.’ Nonetheless, as Walker’s evocative poems demonstrate, the attempt to swim against the tide, ‘against history,’ in itself remains worthwhile. Even if the sea will always, in the end, overwhelm representation, drowning out all other voices, something beautiful might be salvaged in the attempt. As Walker puts it, ‘something in us admires the wreck.’

About the reviewer
Jonathan Taylor is director of Everybody's Reviewing. His books include the poetry collection Cassandra Complex (Shoestring, 2018), and the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is