In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

The beige was betterJessica Olin
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Bending Heaven 
by Jessica Francis Kane.
Chatto, 208 pp., £10, June 2003, 0 7011 7517 6
Show More
Show More

In ‘How to Become a Publicist’, the liveliest story in Jessica Francis Kane’s first collection, Bending Heaven, a young woman moves to Manhattan to pursue a career in publishing, and as part of a family tradition: ‘All the women on my mother’s side have come to New York, lived, burned out, and eventually left.’ She falls into the enthusiastic world of publicity, where ‘Everything’s interrelated!’ and learns to write snappy press releases: ‘Who was Shakespeare? In this breakthrough study, the mystery is revealed.’ Soon she is cold-calling talk show hosts to promote Wistful Moors, a novel based on the life of Charlotte Brontë. Seeking authenticity, she moves into a grungy walk-up on the Upper West Side, learns to avoid the drug dealers, and begins to love New York, or at least parts of it: ‘the undulating expanse of Central Park, like actors offstage waving a giant green sheet in the middle of the city’. But when she calls home, her mother’s voice is ‘small and hard’, and when she tries to plot her next move, none of the scenarios she imagines has a happy outcome.

The women in these stories are singularly pessimistic. Earnest and anxious, they lack confidence in the choices they’ve made and worry about the future. In ‘Ideas of Home, but Not the Thing Itself’, Andrew and Lena are newly-weds for whom youth and good looks provide no reassurance. Lena is long-waisted, and has ‘a band of taut skin’ above her underwear, but Andrew’s soft body alarms her: ‘the beginnings of a belly’, she chides, and makes him exercise. It’s a particularly hot summer, they’re in a one-room furnished apartment. Lena scoffs at her landlord’s tacky interior decoration – seashells pasted to the coffee table; mint-green seahorses attached to the curtain rods – and imagines filling a house she owns with mahogany tables, ‘doors opening onto grass and light’. A house-sitting gig for a partner at Andrew’s firm allows her to explore these fantasies; roaming the mock-Tudor mansion, she rearranges the expensive furniture and watches the owners’ wedding video. At the same time, she is paralysed at the decision-making required to purchase a single item: ‘How do you know if it’s what you’ll want in ten years or twenty or thirty? You might think it doesn’t matter. In ten years you’ll buy another coffee table if you want to, but life doesn’t always work out that way.’ When the week is up, a wingback chair in watermarked silk is delivered to their own small apartment. But even this choice seems wrong: ‘I made a mistake,’ she says tearfully. ‘The beige was better.’

Another young wife, Tessa, finds herself labelled ‘the trailing spouse’ when her husband’s job with an investment bank takes them to London. She vaguely considers doing some freelancing, but her energy soon starts to dissipate. At a loose end, she wanders around museums and falls asleep in cafés, amazed at her husband’s sense of purpose: ‘While he left every day at eight o’clock, it was all Tessa could do to put on her hat.’ She joins a support group for expatriate women; together they plan ‘trips and outings’. But she cannot shake her loneliness. One day when Nick is late from work, Tessa decides to wash their windows:

Above her the sky was brilliant, the first clear evening in weeks. A mild breeze ruffled her hair. She looked at the windows, at the grey lines of dirt that traced the direction of the weather, right to left, across the house. All the other houses on the street were immaculate, several of them rented by other young couples. She started to cry.

Tessa seems unable to enjoy even her happy marriage, worrying that her luck in love must require trouble in some other area, the ‘disaster she had always expected’. In ‘Exposure’, Ellen is a neurotic author whose latest novel has won all three major American book awards. Tormented by her chipper publicist, who insists on the necessity of interviews, and the ambitious fledgling photographer who attempts to ‘draw out’ her ‘personality’ by posing her against a broken window-screen, she wonders: ‘Why were all the young women she knew so tedious?’ She imagines these girls’ lives as a series of in-jokes, ‘parties and photo shoots, dinner out with friends’, but the reader knows better, having seen the flip-side of this interaction.

Kane’s women are unhappy, certainly, but their defining trait is inertia. In ‘Evidence of Old Repairs’, Sarah drinks, though not enough for AA. Her afternoon rum-and-Pepsis leave her maudlin and weepy, to the disgust of her 13-year-old daughter. A misshapen honeysuckle bush can drive her to tears; looking at the ‘soggy confetti’ of a failed salad, she knows that ‘this was a metaphor for her.’ Resentful in the aftermath of her husband’s affair, she ignores their marriage counsellor’s permission to ‘Go into the world and love each other,’ but restricts her anger to a few sniping comments. ‘Wreckers’ features Elizabeth, who can barely get out of bed. Her husband’s inability to ‘look at her body . . . with the love and desire she craved’ is a product of her emotional isolation. Then there is Shelley in ‘Refuge’, who routinely embarrasses her teenage son with excessively candid revelations: ‘Great, Mom. So Dad’s a callous son of a bitch . . . What am I supposed to do with that?’ Having set her career aside for marriage and motherhood, she is now her law firm’s only 47-year-old associate, and the gap between her age and her status – her ‘irregular history’ – makes her a disturbing quantity to her colleagues. At a company retreat, the weekend’s final event, a formal dinner-dance, fills her with ‘the rising edge of hysteria moving . . . somewhere near the top of her stomach’. There is no indication that she will attempt a change: ‘If you hate the place so much, why don’t you leave?’ her son asks.

Kane’s families exist somewhere between the middle and upper-middle class, a position which causes them no small measure of anxiety. Her characters travel, but off-season, ‘the only way they could afford to come’. They are ‘not the kind of people who ever had a summer house, or ever expected to have one’. Nevertheless, here they are, in beautiful Nags’ Head. Andrew and Lena’s aspirations are reflected in their desire for genteel simplicity, and they resolve to avoid ‘clutter’ at all costs:

They had both come from middle-class, overstuffed homes; houses straining at the seams from all that had been acquired in the pursuit of happiness. None of it, once assembled, had made anything even resembling the original dream. Curtains and carpets were never the right colour . . . It broke their mothers’ hearts and confused their tired, disappointed fathers.

Tessa’s position as the wife of a banker gives her the ‘gift of time’ and allows her to hire Katia, an immigrant housekeeper, but face to face with this arrangement, she is appalled:

She’d come home recently, exuberant from an afternoon in the city, to find her scrubbing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees. Tessa, horrified, bought a mop and a bucket, but the kitchen was small and Katia seemed to prefer her method. Tessa would run to the closet and hold out the mop, but Katia, kneeling, would focus somewhere halfway between the floor and Tessa’s eyes. ‘I think there must be no problem,’ she would say.

Her extreme discomfort results in a ludicrous attempt to bond with Katia over tea – ‘We’re really both expats,’ she says – and causes her to rationalise the mounting evidence of Katia’s misdeeds: bathroom towels smelling of cigarette smoke, empty wine bottles in the bin, her eventual stealing. Still, she cannot conceive of true poverty, imagining Katia’s existence solely in her own context: ‘What she saw, actually, was a room much like the one she’d had in college, her only reference for impoverished living. She didn’t mind helping someone in such circumstances.’ On a mission to retrieve their house key from Katia’s council flat, Nick locks Tessa in the car, for safety.

Kane wrote most of Bending Heaven when she was living in London, and her stories directly address ‘the expat experience’. She is a careful, observant writer, watching her American characters as they adapt: ‘How cultured and European they all felt, saying petrol.’ At times, however, her love of European things seems to cloud her judgment. Shelley’s nostalgia for England serves no purpose in ‘Refuge’, and seems gratuitous. Tessa, vacationing in Paris, finds herself attracted to a flirtatious crêpe vendor. He has ‘beautiful hands’, of course, and the following exchange is presented straight-faced:

He would not give Tessa the crêpe she’d ordered unless she tilted her head back, opened her mouth, and allowed him to feed her one bite, the warm chocolate perhaps dribbling down her chin. He did not speak but gestured all this, touching his throat and chest. Then he winked again and laughed.

Tessa looked at his dark hair, his green eyes. The sunlight played over his face and she felt a pull low in her stomach. Her smile eased. Was this temptation? Or something like it?

We are heading into dangerous territory here, as neither Tessa, for all her self-consciousness, nor her creator seems to find anything a bit silly about this clichéd encounter between an Anglo-Saxon woman on holiday and an earthy foreign type. Given Kane’s capacity to micro-analyse her characters’ motivations, this lapse seems inexplicable, except perhaps as a conflation of wish fulfilment on the part of author and character.

Another problem is Kane’s tendency to repeat herself. Nick and Tessa’s experience with their housekeeper turns into

a colourful escapade, an amusing story . . . They told the story in tandem and developed an appealing mixture of humour and self-mockery. Nick had a funny part when he described the wine bottles in the trash bin; each time the number grew . . . People shook their heads and smiled. How awful for you, they said.

In ‘Exposure’, the previous story, Ellen fears that her experience with the photographer will be reconstructed at

dinner out with friends, where she would begin the process of working the story into her life, choosing the dramatic and humorous details she would tell over and over again. A story that would feature her own patience, understate her own talent, and leave the listener wiping away tears of laughter at the idea of Ellen and her odd behaviour.

Here is a description of publicity-speak in ‘How to Become a Publicist’:

‘Enthusiasm is contagious,’ she beams.

Then, seriously, a whisper creeping into her voice, ‘It’s a bit like being a midwife.’ (Later I will understand that these are pitches. If one angle doesn’t work, quickly try another. Adjust tone and volume.)

And another, very similar, in ‘Exposure’:

She had a bright, happy voice unless she was trying to be persuasive or sincere. Then she toned it down and her vowels lengthened and her diction became more precise . . . The publicist Ellen had had before this one spoke the same way, leading her to believe the affectation was endemic.

How many publicists can one short-story collection stand?

At other times, Kane resorts to emotional shorthand, often combined with obvious, and perhaps ironic, bids for resonance: when Sarah’s daughter takes a sip of her mother’s spiked Pepsi, Sarah wonders whether soda ‘would be for Amelia what madeleines were for Proust, opening up whole chapters of memory, most of them painful’. And in ‘Paris’, a woman idealises the sleep of her children: ‘her daughter languid on her back, one slim arm carelessly tossed above her head; her son on his side, somehow still the sleep of a child’. Underlying the description is a romantic notion of youth as the ‘time before, when the days were brighter and different’. But these are college-age children, who certainly have their own angsts: their mother may be about to leave their father; and among the hyper-sensitive population of Bending Heaven, it’s unlikely that anyone’s sleep is untroubled.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.