Critique

Essays and book reviews

Below are a handful of recent essays snd book reviews

Gargoyles by Harriet Mercer

A beautifully calibrated blend of memoir and essays, Gargoyles is meticulously structured work which looks at the female body in relation to pain, chronic illness, and loss. One of the first things that struck me was the sumptuous language: beautifully crafted sentences, luminous, poetic writing.

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ASSEMBLY: An Interview with Natasha Brown

Nataliya Deleva: Assembly is a brave, powerful novel which draws a sharp incision into the society we live in and takes out to the surface themes such as racism, identity, capitalism, misogyny, tokenism and choice. A slim book at only 112 pages, it is thought-provoking and packed with existential questions, demanding the reader’s attention from the first page. Why was it important for you to write on these topics, and why today?

Natasha Brown: Unfortunately, some people are politicised simply because of who they are. For Assembly’s narrator, it isn’t possible for her to move through the world as a person; she is always seen and treated as a black woman. The impossibility of opting out of this ‘identity’ – even when it’s utterly exhausting, and reductive – was an idea that I wanted to explore within the novel. Those themes are the unavoidable consequences of that impossibility; in our cultural narratives, women like the narrator are always contextualised within such topics.

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Memory Boxes, Old and New

In the days before my hospital procedure, I grow anxious and fearful. I refuse to let the news define my days, but the fear often crawls up at night, when I lose the reflex of self-control. I catch myself slipping into darker thoughts, the ‘what if’ thoughts that inevitably leave me trembling at the possibility of something going wrong. It would have been a straightforward procedure but during the pandemic, the chances of mortality for a Covid carrier increase to one in five, the letter from the Admissions team warns me. I self-isolate for days and weeks, stay away from delivery drivers, don’t kiss my kids goodnight to minimise the risk of losing my life.

On a frosty morning I drive across the city, before being tied up to machines, their beeping sounds overtaking my mind frozen in panic. 

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A Poignant Memoir by Naja Marie Aidt Grapples with the Trauma of a Tragic Death

I approached When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt almost blindly, not knowing what to expect, not digging into book reviews; it was the text in its pellucid form that mattered to me. With the very first pages, I sensed it was something special—unsettling, intense, and beautiful at the same time. I was fascinated by the way trauma is exposed here, the way it’s narrated—through fragments, borrowed voices, and memories. This book itself creates a meta-text of grief, giving context to all these voices: other writers, poems written by Carl or by his brother after his death. Going through the pages was like pressing myself toward a sharp edge—painful and unbearable, though there was no going back.

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Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano: Nataliya Deleva interviews translators Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins

I met Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins at the launch event of Faces on the Tip of My Tongue (Peirene Press) in the cosy bookstore Ink@84.

The conversation unfolded in a relaxed and engaging way, reading excerpts from the book in French and in English, and discussing the translation process. Within the first minutes I was deeply intrigued by the text which I later read in a few short bursts (this is something engraved in Peirene’s philosophy of publishing short books which could be read over a journey or a single sitting). I felt the need to continue this conversation with Sophie and Jennifer and was happy they both agreed.

Emmanuelle Pagano’s book could be described as a collection of short stories or as a fragmented novella. There is a delicate, almost translucent thread entwined in the narrative which provides hints, takes the reader to the next story, like a children’s game, only to discover a new detail, invisible before. What holds these stories together are the re-appearing characters: people on the periphery, be they the loony standing by the road every day at 5pm, waiting for the return of his dead relatives, or the young girl imprisoned in therapy sessions due to killing a fox with her bare hands, or the woman who takes her own life. In all of the interconnected vignettes, different voices take the stage; each one telling the story of a character who might have been briefly sketched in the previous ones, and thus, changing the point of view with each text.

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