Review of “The London Magazine” (August/September 2014)

“The London Magazine” (more like a booklet, actually) advertises itself quite accurately as “intelligent criticism, original poetry, short fiction, cultural reviews & literary essays.”

Cover_Aug_Sep-171x243

As readers of this blog know, I occasionally – well, more than occasionally – read a lot of books that will never be featured in courses on English literature. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have lost my appreciation for elegant and richly-textured writing. I think such writing has the capability of making a person happy, maybe because of the way it elevates us from the quotidian and allows us even an ephemeral glimpse of beauty and truth. How often do we decline to express our thoughts because we haven’t the words to do so? And how much delight are we afforded when someone is able to shine a light on those interior landscapes with a well-chosen phrase?

Thus I was more than happy to spend hours perusing this collection of writing, which is, I might add, occasionally accompanied by beautifully reproduced photographs, such as in the case of the essay on folk art. That essay, by the art critic and historian Edward Lucie-Smith, explains the increasing synchronicity between “folk art” and “avant-garde” art, and examines the modern breakdown of artistic hierarchies. It’s all very interesting stuff, as fans of quilts-as-art can attest.

Patchwork bedcover made by James Williams, Wrexham 1842-52, from the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain.

Patchwork bedcover made by James Williams, Wrexham 1842-52, from the British Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain.

Beautiful color photos also accompany the appraisal by Paul Williamson of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I wasn’t as impressed with the exterior as Williamson (being partial to The National Gallery of Art’s East Building designed by the architect I. M. Pei, and probably having been ruined by my persistence in envisioning The Cheesecake Factory when I see any building by Gehry), but I think I would have had a much greater estimation of the collection housed within had I Williamson as a guide. I was particularly enlightened by his description of Pere Serra’s “St. Peter Preaching” which begins:

Gesture is eloquent in this picture. Peter points up with his left hand, down with his right. Heaven or hell, he seems to be saying: the choice is yours.”

The Guggenheim in Bilbao

The Guggenheim in Bilbao

An article on “the two different Irelands” of J.M. Synge and Heinrich Böll will delight fans of either or both (I’m a great fan of Synge, not so much of Böll), not to mention those who have been to, or feel an affiliation with Ireland. I especially loved reading Synge’s impressions of the Aran Islands. The author, poet and novelist Michael Thomas, writes:

…there is an acceptance that life and death are intertwined in this place which, from what Synge can see, appears to manufacture its own mist, fog and rain. Sometimes, that acceptance becomes literal: the bodies of lost fishermen and cargo-men occasionally drift back to the islands on the tides.”

And Thomas records how Synge observes that in the islanders’ culture, “paganism forever presses against Christianity like one of the recalcitrant fairies that populate so many of their stories.” He then provides examples from Synge about the place of fairies in Irish stories.

Cliffs of Moher in the Aran Islands

Cliffs of Moher in the Aran Islands

The article on “The Hanoverian Succession” by Tom Sutcliffe takes some lovely sarcastic jabs at Britain’s homages to the first and second world wars. And from Michael Karwowski’s piece on Dylan Thomas, I learned that Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was actually derivative of the ideas of the poet (you shall have to purchase this issue to find out why).

Speaking of poetry, there are some fine original poems in this magazine as well. I admit that some of the lines in some of the poems are opaque to me, and yet, still, I found them mesmerizing for their rhythm and imagery.

Two short stories round out this particular issue. (You can peruse the entire table of contents for this issue on their website, here.)

If you are interested in subscribing, there are six issues a year, and electronic options as well.

Evaluation: We already get a few literary magazines, but I had not much familiarity with this one. Obviously that is something I mean to correct. This publication has a great deal of content that will make aficionados of literature, poetry, and art very, very happy.

Rating: 4/5

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for the link.

  2. I haven’t had an opportunity to read this magazine, but I love reading literary essays and stories. I occasionally read The New Yorker and follow several websites, but I have a poor track record with magazines. This one sounds very good.

  3. I’m thinking maybe some of this would be over my head (at least the poetry) but overall sounds like a better choice than some of the mags I get that are 3/4 adverts!

  4. I love literary and review magazines, but I definitely try them out at the library before I decide which ones to subscribe to. I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

  5. I should figure out a literary and review magazine to subscribe to! In my mind, it is the absolute height of luxury and decadence to have a subscription to a magazine — apart from free subscriptions to Entertainment Weekly that I used to get through school, I don’t think I’ve ever in my life been subscribed to a magazine. And I love getting mail! And I love reading things!

    ….Your post has prompted some major existential angst, Jill. :p

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