Already, Anu Singh’s story is grimly familiar. Now free again, just thirty-one, she has entered the popular pantheon of malefactors. Her attractive face appears in the newspapers, taut with self-justification. There is talk of a documentary. Notoriety, even a kind of celebrity – that amoral nirvana – is hers.

If Singh’s deepest motivation f ...

Weeks before its release, the Man Booker tipsters are laying short odds on Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel, the successor to his 2004 winner, The Line of Beauty. Booker cynics might agree that the great British literary race has in some seasons had more in common with pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey than the Derby, but here is surely a promising contender for 2011’s glittering prize. Wher ...

There is only one verse in the Koran that deals with suicide. Its content seems pretty clear: ‘Do not kill yourselves’ (4:29). Of course, the verse has not stopped waves of Muslim suicide bombers in the past twenty-five years. Nor has it stopped a smattering of extremist Muslim clerics from using the Koran to promote or justify suicide missions. Their somewhat contorted reasoning usually goes like this: the Koran promises an afterlife to so-called martyrs who die ‘struggling in the way of God’ (2:154); therefore, those who are killed in Allah’s way are not considered dead but ‘are alive, are provided sustenance from their Lord’ (3:169). Thus, suicide bombers have not transgressed verse 4:29 but are martyrs who have died defending Islam and will live on in the afterlife.

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David Gilbey reviews 'El Dorado' by Dorothy Porter

David Gilbey
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

Dorothy Porter’s verse novels are delicious and distancing, formal, fiery and frenetic. With the possible exception of What a Piece of Work (1999), they get better and better. Early on, El Dorado smacks you in the face and strokes your imagination with a ‘little girl’s / dead hand / … sticking stiffly / up / as if reaching / to grab an angel’s / foot’. Framed by epigraphs from Gilgamesh, Peter Pan and Wallace Stevens, an enigmatic gesture of thanks ‘for the magic snakes’, a stanza from Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child’ and a prologue invoking the ‘thick alien ice’ of Europa, Porter’s latest verse novel is contextualised with multiple, allusive legendry. This is a work that invokes and reimagines, iconoclastically, various fantasies (Atlantis, Neverland, El Dorado), mythologies (Greek, Roman, Christian) and pop-ular culture fantasists such as Disney, the Beatles, the Flintstones, and literary allusions to Shakespeare, Keats, Donne, Dickinson, Stevenson, Doyle, Carroll, Twain. El Dorado is as much about how fantasy works as it is a fantastic detective narrative.

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Comedy, Angela Carter once quipped, is tragedy that happens to other people. Laughter is both an expression of our hard-bitten knowledge of the random cruelty of a universe that stubbornly resists our attempts to control it and an act of defiance in the face of that cruelty. Or, to put it in simpler terms, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

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Without the slightest hint of irony, Jewel Kilcher, the young Alaskan poet and singer whose first volume of free verse, A Night without Armor, was published to popular acclaim a year or two ago, quotes Dylan Thomas in her preface: ‘A good poem is a contribution to reality.’ Thomas, thankfully, was right, and although we might argue, as poets often do, about the shape reality might take, it remains true to this day that good poetry contributes more to what we know, as individuals and as communities, and helps provide the ground for knowing what our realities can become.

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Rosemary Sorensen reviews 'The Butcher Boy' by Patrick McCabe

Rosemary Sorensen
Tuesday, 01 September 1992

When, the opening pages of The Butcher Boy, it becomes clear that the narrator is an uneducated toughie whose sorry history is going to be the subject of the book, the reader’s danger flags are likely to be unfurled. To sustain such a voice without losing credibility is a tricky task. But the first chapter establishes that voice with exceptional skill, and this success continues through almost to the final scene, which curls back to the beginning, with the narrator an old man, remembering slowly, frighteningly, his tragic life.

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