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Joanna Kavenna

Joanna Kavenna’s The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule is published by Viking. She currently holds a writing fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge.

Tim Parks’s ‘The Rapids’

Joanna Kavenna, 5 May 2005

Tim Parks’s latest novel opens in the forests of the South Tyrol, where a group of white-water enthusiasts are taking a kayaking holiday. The river is overflowing with melt water from a thawing glacier, and the kayakers find themselves endangered by the force of the current, as the river runs ever faster and fuller. It’s a symbolic river, too: Parks explores the ripples of minor...

In the génocidaire’s wake

Joanna Kavenna, 3 March 2005

Andrew Miller’s first two novels, Ingenious Pain (1997) and Casanova (1998), were extended fantasies set in an imaginatively embellished 18th century. In his third novel, Oxygen (2001), Miller cast off the breeches and capes to write about a mother suffering from terminal cancer whose sons go to her house in the country to help nurse her. His new novel, The Optimists, describes a...

Von Trier’s Provocations

Joanna Kavenna, 15 April 2004

The provocation begins with the name. Lars Trier, a boy from Denmark, went to film school and changed his name to the more aristocratic Lars von Trier. In Trier on von Trier the question of the name opens the account of the director’s life. ‘I started using the name again at film school, because it seemed the most provocative thing I could do,’ von Trier explains. ‘No...

Joyce Carol Oates

Joanna Kavenna, 19 February 2004

Joyce Carol Oates is fascinated by the seedy corners of American life. Her recent novels are narrated by orphans, mutilated girls, the abused, the impoverished, celebrities destroyed by fame, children from families destroyed by rape. Oates’s books often open with a riddling exposition which implies a hidden trauma. We Were the Mulvaneys (1996) begins: ‘No one would be able to name...

Diary: in Tromsø

Joanna Kavenna, 31 October 2002

Winter comes but nearly all the year to the city of Tromsø, a wind-lashed port standing precariously on the western coast of Norway, 69.7 degrees North – beyond the Arctic Circle. The inhabitants are proud of their small city, inaccurately called the ‘Paris of the North’ or, more realistically, ‘the Gateway to the Arctic’. It’s a quiet place,...

Plugs of Muscle

Joanna Kavenna, 5 July 2001

The point at which the consequences of global warming will become inescapable is often placed around 2050. By then the world’s present population will, according to some estimates, have doubled. T.C. Boyle, in his new, provocative novel, A Friend of the Earth, brings Doomsday forward to 2025. It matters little what the oil-powered President does now, Boyle suggests: time has run out...

The Inner Lives of Quiet Women

Joanna Kavenna, 21 September 2000

With the decline of religious faith, we drift, so it’s said, on the current, clinging to the raft of materialism. The last flickers of collective spiritual belief were doused by the technological advances and grotesque warfare of the early years of the 20th century. Which led, the argument runs, to the mimesis-warping nihilism of Dada and the Vorticists, the semiotic anarchies of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. Think of Ulrich, the hero of The Man without Qualities, and his ‘dreadful feeling of blind space’, of nothingness at the heart of everything.‘

The radical twenties

Joanna Kavenna, 1 April 1999

In 1916, D.H. Lawrence wrote to Lady Cynthia Asquith of his abiding ‘sadness’: ‘for my country, for this great wave of civilisation, 2000 years, which is now collapsing’. Driving to Garsington, Ottoline Morrell’s country seat, he was overwhelmed with a sense of‘

Dorothy Porter’s verse novel

Joanna Kavenna, 7 May 1998

Sherlock holmes tugging on his pipe in the fog-drenched London streets, Philip Marlowe swilling whiskey, waiting for the phone to release him from the solitude of his seedy office, Fitz – ‘Cracker’ – barking at imbecile bureaucracy: the detective is perennially cast as a disaffiliated flâneur, wandering the urban sprawl, collecting pay cheques from the highest bidder. He is latently self-destructive, stripped of family, a figure who slides towards pathos and even absurdity (Peter Sellers as moustache-twitching Gallic ingénu). At the beginning of the trail, the central event has already happened; the detective, divested of any power to abort or determine, can only reconstruct, seeking an origin, an ‘answer’. The genre is concerned with what happens when you skewer open the tin can which has been lurking at the back of the cupboard – Walter Benjamin’s ‘slice of pandemonium’. The detective shape-shifts but never quite belongs. The skein he unravels reinforces his isolation, as the bearer of a revelation which is too much for the recipients to stand.’‘

Letter

The Wrong Idea of North

1 September 2005

We were grateful to James Hamilton-Paterson for his generous discussion of our books (LRB, 1 September). However, we were startled by his suggestion that The Ice Museum and The Idea of North could most usefully be discussed through comparison with Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams. The books are about very different landscapes and themes. Lopez writes about the history and wildlife of the Arctic. He...
Letter
My main point about Dogville was that it was an incoherent amalgam of religious archetypes, Hollywood violence and dodgy fantasy, masquerading as avant-garde cinema. Vincent Deary suggests that the film is a coherent ‘parallel’ to the Passion, with Grace as Christ (Letters, 6 May). I don’t recall Christ saying: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and be gunned down by...

North

James Hamilton-Paterson, 1 September 2005

My father was born in China and no doubt I caught from him his own boyhood tingle at the idea of ships and their Empire routes, especially long ocean voyages by P&O liner. Excitement,...

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