Conradi’s tasty memoir with a large helping of Iris Murdoch

Browser reviews: Odell’s joys of doing nothing, a united Ireland vista, and polyglot love

 

How to do Nothing

Jenny Odell

First Melville House Printing

The first thing to be clearly stated is the title is misleading. This is most definitely not a funny book. On the contrary, it is a serious, if not a profound, read. And perhaps the lessons the author wants us to learn, and even practice, will not be to everyone’s delight. Nevertheless, Odell insists the world is passing us by and that nothing is harder to do than nothing. Social media and constant news bulletins, she argues, take away our ability to think for ourselves. In other words we cannot see the wood for the trees when we should be seeking new ways to connect with our environment. Failure to do so can erode our relationships with people and, with time, with the environment around us. Readers may find this a little fanciful, especially when we’re asked to give up our phones and take up bird watching (comfortably her favourite pastime). We should, she insists, rethink our “usefulness”. Nevertheless there is much in this book to make the reader pause and think, especially about our environment and the current debate on climate change. Consider this book a self-help guide for relearning how to look at the world. Or perhaps a back-to-nature meditation on our lifestyle. Owen Dawson

Family Business: a Memoir

Peter J Conradi

Seren Books

Conradi is best-known as a biographer of philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, and she features hugely in this – what he calls his “discipleship” of her. He brings the biographer’s sensitivity and skill to his own life and that of his family. Upwardly-mobile eastern European Jews, the Conradis settled in London in 1871. Conradi characterises himself as a multi-outsider because of his Jewishness, his bisexuality and homosexuality (about which he is engagingly frank) and what he terms his “anxious solicitude for others”. He explains his entanglement with Murdoch as an empathy for her outsiderness, reflected in her sense of Irishness in England. The book does not follow a conventional chronological construction. That is one strength. Another is its almost voyeuristic self- and family analysis, which is unsparing. In three parts, the first is about his early life and awakening sexuality; the second dissects his family history, while the third delves into aspects of Murdoch’s life, letters and later years. The final chapter is about deaths. It seems an appropriate ending to a book about a somewhat vulnerable, almost dangerously self-aware man. Ian D’Alton

A New Ireland

Paul Gosling

Self-Published

“The vote for or against a united Ireland, when it comes, must be based on a realistic, fact-based discussion of what would happen and what it means,” writes Paul Gosling, and he contributes to that discussion by putting forward a 10-year, 10-point plan. Among these points are issues relating to financing by the UK and Irish governments and the EU, increased capital spending on the North’s physical and social infrastructure, promotion of the entire island by IDA Ireland, an NHS-type health system for all Ireland, and a harmonised corporation-tax rate. The changing political landscape is considered in the context of Brexit and social obstacles to unification in the Republic, such as housing, control of schools, wealth distribution and inequalities in healthcare. Northern Irish economic weaknesses are set out in detail. Could the Republic afford Northern Ireland? According to Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, taxes would have to increase, especially in the Republic, with perhaps an Irish-unity solidarity tax analogous to the post-unification German solidarity tax. Brian Maye

The Polyglot Lovers

Lina Wolff (Translated by Saskia Vogel)

And Other Stories

Max Lamas dreams of a polyglot lover, someone who can speak all the languages he speaks both literally and metaphorically. He longs for someone who can understand every facet of his being. In short, he’s searching for a reflection of himself. This densely packed novel, translated from the original Swedish, slowly and ferociously dismantles stereotypical gender roles while it entrances with its polished, probing prose and asks, can we ever truly see those we love, or are we trapped by our own interior gaze? The Polyglot Lovers begins in Sweden where the irreverent Ellinor goes on a date with a literary critic who she met online and is then stranded at his house in a snowstorm. Here she discovers the handwritten manuscript of The Polyglot Lovers and she becomes linked in the manuscript’s sprawling narrative.

This caustic novel is a subversive feminist critique of our time, delivered through a party of eccentric and vivid characters. Lina Wolff’s award-winning prose is like bitter fruit that one must take a succulent bite from and chew on for a long time. Mia Colleran

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