-Reviewed by Jonny Aldridge


The Heroes Issue is the second offering of poetry, short stories, and non-fiction from an embryonic community-led magazine called Here Comes Everyone, and published by the not-for-profit Silhouette Press. As I am usually a sucker for the literary canon, I was excited to read the cutting-edge works of unknown writers: I expected vigorous, irreverent prose and compact, personal poetry.

My expectations piqued during the editorial introduction, which—via Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Dambusters, Genghis Khan, and David Attenborough—teased out many of the key issues within the theme. Heroes, it was suggested, can be humanitarians, inventors, “people who brought great social change”, or more mysteriously “a facet of an idealised person who I wish I was”. There was considerable space given to the idea that it is one’s perception of heroism which is paramount over the hero himself, and it was promising to…

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The Christmas cakes are coming, the Christmas cakes are coming…

Here is a festive post from my glorious girlfriend, @pyandplate, so I thought I’d share it:

The Christmas cakes are coming, the Christmas cakes are coming….

CONSIDER what the hell “absence” is anyway

In Philip Hensher’s review of Zadie Smith’s new novel, NW, he writes:

“The structural division between characters who will never meet enacts a society in deep disruption.”

First, without having read the book, I considered how much this could be true. Yes, I thought, a novel in which none of the protagonists ever meet could imply that they inhabit lonely lives in a noncohesive society. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell sprung to my mind, and Hensher mentions William Golding’s Darkness Visible.

I thought, beyond literature, it could also be true that our lives are open to analysis by the “structural divisions” which we enact between ourselves and the world; we could be defined most by the people who we don’t know, the places we never go to, the things we never think.

But then I thought: there’s a problem with this “never meeting”, this absence. The problem is that it is impossible to prove; or, if we are to accept that one absence is meaningful, then we have to accept countless other absences as meaningful (e.g. the distinct lack of rain/blood/elephants/telephones from Smith’s book).

Don’t you think it’s odd that Hensher chooses to derive meaning from the absence of conversation between Smith’s protagonists, when he could presumably gather much more evidence for what is present in her writing. Why does he put himself at a rhetorical impasse through claiming that this absence actively does something?

Similarly, why would I attempt to define myself by my unconscious non-choices when I am actually capable of judging my behaviour from the loved ones and places I do choose?

On the literature question, Gillian Beer makes an interesting point (on Virginia Woolf’s work):

“Absence gives predominance to memory and to imagination […] In one sense, everything is absent in fiction, since nothing can be physically there.”

Beer’s reading of what absence inspires in a person seems to explain Hensher’s review. When we read something and decide that there is a structural or linguistic absence, there is nothing to confront that thought. So we cognate on, free-wheeling.

But then Beer suggests that in literature, as opposed to life, it is entirely necessary to over-interpret, because “everything is absent in fiction”.

I’m not wholly convince by this. When we read and write, are we really dealing in absent material? This suggests that we should feel like we’re swimming about anchorless in open space, but I never feel more grounded than when I’m snuggling up with a book. I think Beer does tacitly acknowledge that she is over-egging it, because she notes: “in one sense”. Indeed there are other, more plausible, senses in which literature is very present.

I am convinced of one thing. Thinking about absence sucks in people – like Phillip Hensher, Gillian Beer, David Mitchell, Virginia Woolf and myself – and words – like loneliness, noncohesion, never, “division”, “disruption” – leaving us much more tired and no less confused.

When something is impossible to prove but we contain to rummage about in it, we are left open to being convinced by pseudo-thinkers and charlatans. That is, I guess, the origin of absence’s lover and nemesis: faith. Which I might write about next time.

Finally: thanks to an online word-processing tool called, which gives me a different picture of a kitten for every 100 words I write. Amazing. 🙂