Laura Gonzalez

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13 Jan 2019

In the Woods by Tana French ****

Reading dates: 16 December 2018 – 10 January 2019

This is a fine, well-rounded thriller. Tana French cares for all the elements that make up a good novel: language, character (especially the narrator) and plot. She crests every single one of them with flair and attention. The plot is unexpected and, like most crime in real life, takes you somewhere you don’t want to go to but is still credible. Motives are strong in her story and the psychological aspects of the characters’ decision making are well thought out. She writes well and often the descriptions of landscapes and settings are evocative and poetic. She gets the kind of despair in words Ellroy gets in the Black Dahlia and she also reminds me of my favourite Denise Mina, in her descriptions of Glasgow at night. This is high praise from me! My criterion for 5 stars is the certainty that I will re-read it, and I don’t have this feeling with this book (as I want to read the next, and the next). Re-reading is not the default wish after finishing a crime novel, I must say, so I wonder if my criterion is working against the genre itself — although I do want to re-read The Black Dahlia and Garnethill. If it wasn’t for that, I would have given her all the stars.

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16 Dec 2018

L’homme aux cercles bleus by Fred Vargas***

Reading dates: 09 November – 16 December 2018

I got onto Fred Vargas as she won this years’s Princesa de Asturias prize in Spain, which I think is the first to be given to a crime fiction writer. Since I can read French, I thought it would be a good opportunity to brush up my language skills, which I need to do from time to time, as they do become rusty quite quickly. Reading detective fiction in French is always enjoyable and the book started in a very promising way. Adamsberg is hermetic, complex, quiet, a thinking detective, Dupin-like. I adored the crazy character of Mathilde and her wonderful explanation of the arc of a week, which is well observed:

‘Well, the way I see it, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, that’s section number one of the week. What happens in section number one is different from what happens in section number two.’
‘And that’s Thursday-Friday-Saturday?’
‘Of course. If you pay attention, you’ll see there are more serious surprises in section one as a rule note that I’m saying as a rule and more fun and distractions in section two. It’s a question of rhythm. It never switches over like the parking in the street, where you have to park one side one week and the other the next. Why do they do that, anyway? To give the street a rest? Let it lie fallow? No idea. Anyway, sections of the week don’t change. First section: you’re alert, you believe all sorts of stuff, you get things done. It’s a miracle of human activity. Second section: you don’t find anything you’re looking for, you learn nothing new, it’s pretty much a waste of time. In the second section there’s a lot of this and that, and you drink quite a bit, whereas the first section is more important, obviously. In practice, a section number two can’t go far wrong, because it doesn’t really matter, so to speak. But when a section number one goes haywire, like this week, it’s really horrible. And another thing: the special today in the cafe was beef and lentils. Beef and lentils is a dish that really depresses me to the point of despair. Right at the end of a section one. Just no luck at all, a wretched plate of lentils.’
‘What about Sundays?’
‘Oh, Sundays, that’s section three. Just that one day takes up a whole section see how important that is? And section three is the pits. If you get beef and lentils combined with a section three, you might as well go hang yourself.’

I think this quote alone deserves her the three stars. Sadly, in my view, the book peters out after this, the plot is slow, some characters, including Mathilde’s, don’t mean much — unless they return later in the series, but they did not make me want to check — and the resolution is there to form Adamsberg’s character further, rather than as an elegant resolution. I might continue with another Reacher or try a Tana French.

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10 Nov 2018

Without Fail (Jack Reacher #6) by Lee Child****

Reading dates: 2 October – 8 November 2018

This is my favourite Reacher so far. Perfect pace, perfect level of reveal. Reacher is cool and calm, gets a partner, gets a girl and works things out, rather than spends page after page, punching, trapping and shooting. The plot is about an assassination threat to the vice-president of the US so there are anonymous letters, and the secret service and FBI get involved. We get to know Reacher better through a little bit of family history revealed and this enhances the book considerably. Geographically, we move between North Dakota, D.C., Georgetown and Wyoming and the contrast works in the writing. The baddies are clever and efficient, a good match for Reacher. My only issue is with the resolution, when the baddies turn out to be less clever and efficient all of a sudden. Yes, indeed, the whole mess has to be resolved somehow but after weeks of grief, it all gets done in 10 minutes, and it feels insubstantial and dissatisfying.

I am going to give Reacher a rest before carrying on with the series through #4, which I missed.

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22 Oct 2018

Duty Free Art by Hito Steyerl ****

Reading dates 13 – 21 October 2018

There was dissent in DiaMat. At least two of the five members did not like the book, complaining that it did not reach any depth, did not have a clear point, circled around the issues, was an exercise in poetic licence. Yes, maybe those claims are true but I did like Steyerl’s attempt to capture the zeitgeist, to present an immediate future that is as believable as it is scary, a little like PD James’s ‘Children of Men’ or China Miéville’s ‘The City and the City’. There is also something Ballardian and Ginsbergian about it.The chapters are a set of lectures that offer a network of ideas, rather than a point. Her images are clever and persistent. She covers spam, scams, online romances, new artistic spaces, artist’s labour, freeport’s, Syria, drones, Fascism, kisses, 3D printing, art writing.

It is as light as it is wide-ranging and enjoyable to read. She does write like an artist (rather than a philosopher or an anthropologist, but I think that was a strength apart from the amount of rhetorical questions. If I had been an editor, I would have taken care that it read more like a book and less like a set of lectures.

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5 Oct 2018

Echo Burning by Lee Child ***

Reading dates: 28 August – 1 October 2018

As Neil said, this is the golden period of the Reacher novels and the plot here is solid. I particularly like the Texan heat, the storm and the battle that comes within it. It feels more than visual and appeals to many senses. The downside, I am still not warming to Reacher himself in the way I feel for Denise Mina’s characters or even Harry Hole. I want him a bit more vulnerable, less robotic. I was hoping for a bit of romance with Carmen, something that makes him miss a step for a few pages. I know, I know the rumours that he is neurodiverse but to me it is not him or his character at fault here, it is the writing. I am all for neurodiversity if the writing respects that. As it is, Reacher feels distant more that atypical. Of course, I am reading the next one in the series …

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2 Sep 2018

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø***


Reading dates: 19 July to 27 August 2018

This novel has won a lot of crime fiction awards and it has some clever narrative devices but I found it tedious. Despite the fact that it is interesting to find out Norway’s role in the conflict, the flashbacks into the WWII scenes were breaking the flow of my reading. I felt as if there were two books into one and I could not manage to get into either. There are too many characters, too many people who appear and disappear. The plot resolution is far fetched and leaves a few loose ends. The opening scene has very little relevance to the story other than for the purposes of a call back. It is ok, but I could see it coming, and it is clumsy. Some characters’ fate gets repeated in later books. Fair enough, I read the series out of sequence and this is the first occurrence, but it makes Harry Hole a bit of a jinxed man, gives an awkward sense of déjà vu, and feels lazy.

Still, it was very nice to find out the back story of Rakel Fauke and how Harry and met her. Harry Hole is a fabulous character: brilliant, flawed, funny, sexy, unpredictable at times. If you like him, this is worth reading, to understand how he develops in the later books.

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22 May 2018

Yoga and Art

What I do is often confusing, applies to different sets of people, takes place in different settings and contiguous times. I teach in the mornings, then I go to work — usually making art — then practice (or teach at lunchtime), then work some more, then teach in the evenings. I go to workshops or more classes in the weekends. How do I do it? When do I eat? Do I sleep? Do I have any friends? Often, I don’t even know myself. It has caused some trouble to people who asked to be put on my mailing list and started receiving information about my yoga classes when they wanted to know about my art work. I only have one mailing list, a yoga one, as this is my freelance business. As you can see, this is multiple hat disorder for most people.

The feeling for me, though, is not one of disjointedness or fragmentation. To me, it is a lot, but it is integrated. The problem is how to do it … Adrian Piper in her wikipedia facsimile, has the answer:

Even her works make yogic sense to me …

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14 May 2018

Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han****

Reading dates: 12–13 May 2018

Sometimes, in our Dialectical Materialist Book Group, we limit ourselves. The topic is always related to politics, we want to read full books (not just texts, although we let go sometimes), under 150 pages and contingent, relevant. How many good books are there that fit our criteria? Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power is perfect for us. It explores how we have left the disciplinarian society of biopolitics for a time of psychopolitics, where entrepreneurs of the self practise self-exploitation and self-surveillance. We are in the time of internal struggle, of mental health epidemics and this is evident to see. His argument — even though he draws on the same old Foucault and Deleuze in the same old way — is compelling, provocative and made us have an animated discussion. The issue, though, is that his solution, although interesting (to become an idiot, to be idiosyncratic), has not been feel tested and remains in the realm of the theoretical.

When communication is to be accelerated, idiosyncrasy poses an obstacle inasmuch as it amounts to an immunological defence against the Other. Idiosyncrasy stands in the way of unbounded communicative exchange. Accordingly, immunosuppression is necessary for acceleration to proceed.

I can think of many idiots out there who are not, most definitely not the solution to the new technologies of power (social media, the smart phone, Big Data) and the psychic turn of neoliberalism. He writes: ‘The idiot does not exist as a subject – he is “more like a flower: an existence simply open to light”‘. If only … Some idiots are not flowers, unless one thinks of a Venus Flytrap.

My favourite parts are his language digressions: in particular timeline versus event, immanence versus transcendence (what Capitalism aims to do), and emotion versus affect versus feeling. These last categories are all around us in speech, design, art, objecthood, but rather muddled:

Emotions are dynamic, situative and performative. Emotional capitalism exploits precisely these qualities. Feelings, in contrast, cannot be readily exploited inasmuch as they have no performativity. Finally, affects are not performative so much as eruptive; they lack performative directionality.

It made me think of the qualities of my own work, of what I put in it, on what sustains it.

The weirdest moment in the book, however, was this eerily accurate quote (replace jogging with yoga and see who it reminds you of):

From ages thirty-six to forty-five they are dynamic, get up early to go jogging, have no children but are married, like to travel, and watch Seinfeld.

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6 May 2018

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri**

Reading dates: 16 April – 05 May 2018

Before picking up this book, I begun ‘Macbeth’ by Jo Nosbø, one of the most ill-conceived projects I have ever encountered. All you need to know about my relation to the book is that I abandoned it half way through, it was so pointless. I picked up Camilleri as the crime fiction antidote to that nonsense: it is generally light (as in sunny), focused on the senses, very Southern European. As the opposite of Nesbø, it worked, but I think this book is not finished. It just stops. Now, there is guts in a writer doing that, of course, and it shows Montalbano’s character and time of life: his relationship with Livia is about to break, he is in conflict between love and work, thinking about the direction of his life, at 56. We are left in a crossroads and although that, per se, is not bad, it leaves a real taste of dissatisfaction in the reader. I will go for the next one, for sure, just for the description of Italian dishes. This one even has a recipe which, for me, was the best bit.

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2 Apr 2018

The Switch by Joseph Finder *


Reading Dates: 26 February – 2 April 2018

Implausible, drawn out and un-engaging. In an airport security queue, someone picks up the wrong laptop, belonging to a US senator and containing top secret information.The senator’s chief of staff and the NSA are after the guy. Written like this, it does not seem too bad but, boy, there is nothing interesting about the plot driving or the writing. I realise that, in crime fiction, character is 75%. If this is coherent, if this follows through, then the novel will do its job. The guy who picks up the laptop, a coffee roaster called Michael Tanner, could have been that. Instead, only his surface is touched on. Is he a social justice warrior? Why does he make the decisions we read about (for example, do business when he is about to be killed)? There is something interesting in following the pursued and not the pursuer (see the Ripley novels) but The Switch completely misses this opportunity. Tanner is in limbo land as to his place in the book and so the novel is left without an anchor.

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About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.