Johanna Leggatt

Johanna Leggatt reviews 'The Topeka School' by Ben Lerner

Johanna Leggatt
Monday, 16 December 2019

Modern US culture has a peculiar love of the extracurricular world of teenagers, valorising the spelling bees, debating competitions, and varsity-level football games of its youth. In Ben Lerner’s new novel, The Topeka School, the interscholastic debating trophy is so sought after that tournaments resemble verbal combat, in which high-school competitors rely on sly technique rather than substance. Witness the use of what our teenage protagonist, Adam Gordon, aptly refers to as ‘the spread’: a rapid-fire, near-hysterical diatribe designed to deliver so many arguments in such a short amount of time that the opposing team will be unable to address each point.

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Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Coventry: Essays' by Rachel Cusk

Johanna Leggatt
Friday, 22 November 2019

Two years before Rachel Cusk published the first novel in her acclaimed Outline Trilogy (2014–18), she wrote a searing account of her divorce, entitled ‘Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation’, which ignited a brouhaha in her homeland, the United Kingdom. The dramatic excoriation of marital life aroused apoplexy among critics and readers; they bristled at Cusk’s subjective and one-sided storytelling, as if any other account of divorce were possible. It wasn’t the first time Cusk’s work had raised eyebrows: her memoir, A Life’s Work: On becoming a mother (2001), offended many a book-club member with its frank and unflattering descriptions of motherhood.

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All Is True ★★1/2

Johanna Leggatt
Monday, 06 May 2019

There is a scene in Kenneth Branagh’s British film, All is True, where the earl of Southampton (Ian McKellen) tells William Shakespeare (Branagh) that The Bard has lived ‘a small life’. As the Southampton points out snidely, there have been no scandals in Shakespeare’s backstory, no drunken gallivanting on ...

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When Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird wrote The Secret Life of Plants (1975), many critics labelled their attempt to prove a spiritual link between people and plants as mystical gibberish, with a New York Times review chiding the authors for pandering to charlatans and amateur psychics ...

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Johanna Leggatt reviews The Thinking Woman by Julienne van Loon

Johanna Leggatt
Monday, 25 February 2019

Novelist and academic Julienne van Loon does not doubt that the thinking woman is ‘alive and well’, but when she scans the (mostly) male names in bookstore philosophy sections and the (mostly) male staff lists of university philosophy departments, she wonders where they are hiding ...

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Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Man out of Time' by Stephanie Bishop

Johanna Leggatt
Thursday, 23 August 2018

Stephanie Bishop’s third novel, Man Out of Time, her most mature work to date, echoes Virginia Woolf’s psychological realism and the claustrophobic intensity of Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower (1966). Indeed, an unkind reviewer might compare Bishop’s latest novel to ...

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Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Waiting for Elijah' by Kate Wild

Johanna Leggatt
Friday, 25 May 2018

In a 2017 essay for the Guardian, author Charlotte Wood spoke about the shame artists often feel when they discover a distinguishing characteristic in their work, something that separates them from their cohort. ‘In the beginning, and for a long time, an artist can be most embarrassed by the very thing – sometimes the only ...

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So much has been written about male–female power dynamics, Trump’s grotesqueries, the public outing of protected abusers, and the growing chorus of women speaking out about sexual harassment that it’s hard to believe there could be anything new to add. Yet Rebecca Solnit, author of celebrated essays ...

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Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Whiteley on Trial' by Gabriella Coslovich

Johanna Leggatt
Thursday, 26 October 2017

It was the late Robert Hughes who said that ‘apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world’. Journalist Gabriella Coslovich quotes him in her account of the 2016 Whiteley art fraud trial, repeating the line to one of the accused, art dealer Peter Stanley Gant, as he complains to Coslovich about the ramping ...

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Johanna Leggatt reviews 'Australia Day' by Melanie Cheng

Johanna Leggatt
Friday, 25 August 2017

The characters in Melanie Cheng’s collection of short stories are all outsiders or misfits in some way. Some feel conspicuously out of place, such as the Lebanese immigrant Maha, in ‘Toy Town’, who is struggling with suburban Australian life, or the Chinese medical student Stanley, who is visiting the family farm of a friend in the titular story. Stanley freez ...

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