Sep 202014

BergerJohn Berger

Here’s a review I wrote of John Berger’s early novel Corker’s Freedom 20 years ago, rescued from an old disk. The novel was first published in the UK in 1964 and was finally published in the U.S. in 1993 by Pantheon Books. This review appeared in the Washington Post in February 1994. Berger, as you all know, went on to win the Booker Prize in 1972 for his novel G. and became a famous BBC TV art critic. An amazing, knowing writer. Get the book.


corkers-freedom-frontcover-5a44cf4884f45f8f48187085a26d3304The Verso edition.

Corker’s Freedom
A Novel
By John Berger


Dostoevsky once said we all came out from under Gogol’s overcoat by which he meant that the roots of modern storytelling all trace back to Nikolai Gogol’s tale of a humble clerk whose great adventure was buying a brand new overcoat which someone immediately steals.

John Berger’s novel Corker’s Freedom is contemporary masterwork in precisely this Gogolian mode — the old-style noble hero is dead, and in his place we have the drama of a little man who throws all his passion and yearning into some minor, shopworn achievement and inevitably fails.

First published in England in 1964, Corker’s Freedom took almost thirty years to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a slow passage by anyone’s reckoning. I won’t say it was worth the wait because a delay like that is unconscionable, though not inexplicable.

Berger went on to win the Booker Prize in 1972 for his novel G., but he also has an immense reputation as a (Marxist) art critic and avant garde film maker, a reputation sure not to make the hearts of commercial publishers flutter with anticipation.

Corker’s Freedom is about the 64-year-old owner of a grubby little London employment agency who one day decides to leave the home he shares with his invalid sister Irene and set up house in the empty flat above his office. William Corker is humble clay. He and Irene are emotionally pinched — what everyone today would instantly recognize as co-dependent. The single relationship that Corker can recall in anything resembling warm tones is his brief childhood acquaintance with a Viennese nanny.

The move from Irene’s house to the agency flat is the great adventure of Corker’s life, his last, desperate bid for freedom before the long night falls. In the midst of rearranging his mother’s old furniture to make a bedroom, he pictures himself as Lancelot holding the Grail. He thinks he has struck a blow for “The right of a man to be himself, the right of a man to find a way out of his suffering, the right of a man to live where and as he wishes — eager, curious, hopeful, experimental — the right of a man to say: I wish to begin again.”

These are brave, rousing words uttered in the cause of personal transformation in a godless modern world. But they come to nothing. In a horrifyingly comic climactic scene, a drunken Corker discourses on the meaning of life, liberty and art in the midst of an ill-attended church hall slide presentation on his recent holiday in Vienna. His sister sits in the audience tapping her canes irritably. His agency assistant Alec fondles his girlfriend. And a pretty young woman with whom Corker thinks he has fallen in love watches cagily while her burgler lover breaks into the employment agency and makes off with the company safe. Ruined, Corker ends up making crank speeches from a Hyde Park soap box and conning tourists for his lunch.

Berger pushes against the constraints of the novel form, using passages of screen-play dialogue and parenthetical stage directions as fictional shorthand to stand for everyday narrative machinery (set-up and background) that might take pages and pages in a normal novel. This is so that he can pay attention to what he wants to pay attention to, which is the gap between the inner thoughts and public statements of his characters, the tragic and ironic distance between what they know or feel and what they can say.

The drama of the book, in Corker’s case, is the gradual narrowing of this gap — at the end of the church hall scene he is saying what he thinks and knows, which, as Berger sees it, is a kind of folly bordering on madness and leads directly to Corker’s downfall. (Hence the irony of the final pages with Corker endlessly exercising every Englishman’s right to free speech to a sparse gathering of unemployed hecklers and baffled tourists.)

Corker is already done for when he announces to his slide-show audience: “To the best of our ability we must choose happiness. That is my choice. I may be interrupted, prevented or defeated by circumstances but at least I know what I want and what I am doing. I am making myself happy.” The final sentence is, of course, untrue, which makes the speech achingly tragic and absurdly funny at the same time.

Berger writes with amazing aplomb, packing his pages with pyrotechnic ethical wisdom, trenchant social criticism (couched dramatically in the life stories of a succession of deftly sketched secondary characters), and sly comedy (Corker getting progressively drunker on Austrian kummel while reflecting on the glories of Vienna and his long-lost nanny).

Corker’s Freedom is an exhilarating achievement, wise, unsettling, and alive with a sense of humanity that is flawed, doomed, yet oddly indomitable.

—Douglas Glover (Originally appeared in the Washington Post, February 27, 1994)


Sep 202014

My old roomie (and frequent NC contributor) Mark Anthony Jarman and I are reading together at the Goose Lane Editions 60th Anniversary party in Toronto, September 30. Many others are reading, too (including David Seymour, reviewed in these pages earlier this year). So you won’t be bored with, you know, just me.

Details: September 30, 7:00 pm at The Supermarket, 268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto, ON.

This is also the launch for six@sixty: Goose Lane Anniversary Collection, a very cool boxed set of six stories by six Goose Lane authors, each story as a separate small book. My contribution is the story “Woman Gored by Bison Lives” from my collection A Guide to Animal Behaviour. It’s a story about love, sex, death, and great steaming herds of charging buffalo. Not to be missed. It begins:

Days, while my husband is at work, Susan and I make love on the couch in her parents’ basement. It is a desperate thing to do, and we are both a little stunned by it. But something has pushed us to the edge of caring.

Gabriela, the baby, is upstairs sleeping, while Susan’s mother does housework or watches soap operas. We keep our clothes on, manacled at the ankles by a tangle of underwear, jeans and belts.  And when Susan comes, I press my palm across her lips to keep her from shouting out her joy.

I don’t know if we are in love. But we are both in need of solace, and our sex is a composition of melancholy and violence, as though we are seeking to escape and punish ourselves in the same act.

This story also contains the immortal lines: “There are certain things you have to know. Suicide is not an option. Life is always better under the influence of mild intoxicants. Masturbation is healthy, the sooner started the better. It’s a sin not to take love where you find it. That is the only sin.”

PLUS!!!!!!!! The paperback edition of Savage Love is coming out. I got copies in the mail this week.




Sep 192014


Here’s a sly, witty, fiercely intelligent, sexy, hilarious, knowing, playful and wise short story, “The Substitute,” from Lynne Tillman’s collection Someday This Will Be Funny (2011). Lynne is an old acquaintance, “friend” would be a bit presumptuous; though we have known each other and corresponded sympathetically now and then since 1992 when I reviewed her sly, witty, fiercely intelligent, hilarious, knowing, playful and wise novel Cast in Doubt for the Washington Post Book World. Of that book, I wrote in part: “…Lynne Tillman writes with such élan, such spirited delight and comic intelligence that it is difficult to take anything but pleasure….” Believe me, this woman has some moves.

Read The Substitute: Fiction — Lynne Tillman » Numéro Cinq.


Sep 192014

Wendy1Wendy Voorsanger in her novel skin at Burning Man. Click the photo for more.

One of the side benefits of Numéro Cinq is the outrageously extensive network of friends, contributors, passionate readers and interested parties committed to the cause. My son Jonah, himself an NC contributor, is on a work term (from University of  Waterloo) in San Francisco. He moved there late August, but before that, I put out the word to the NC Tribe and got some amazingly helpful responses. Best of all was Wendy Voorsanger (check out her contributions in the Art contents page, or click the photo above, or read her What It’s Like Living Here essay) who offered Jonah a place to stay till he got on his feet, a warm and generous (thoughtful, caring — I could go on) invitation from someone with a family of her own to look after. Jonah moved into an apartment at the beginning of September, but Wendy’s parting gift was a quick & dirty list of the best things to see and do during his four months in San Francisco. The list made me want to move to SF. Hell, the whole thing made me want Wendy to adopt me. I thought it was too good to leave in an email. So here it is. A friend’s advice to my son on what to experience in a new city. I am eternally grateful.


Jonah and sf skylineJonah on Telegraph Hill. Click the photo for his NC Archive Page.

1. Off The Grid food truck dinner market ( I suggest the Haight on Thursday night or Fort Mason on Friday night. If you do Fort Mason on Friday, you can pair it with SFBATS improv comedy theater ( Super funny, and cheap entertainment.

2. Have pasta and chianti in North Beach.

3. Visit Coit Tower to see gorgeous WPA frescos painted inside (some by Ralph Stackpole, who did the nudes in our dining room of Conrad’s grandmother, when she/they were young). Don’t forget to go to the top!

4. Have cheap Chinese food in China Town, I suggest Hunan Home’s Restaurant.

5. City Lights Books, Green Apple Books, Dog Eared Books.

6. Visit the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and bike through the park (it’s closed to traffic on Sundays) to the ocean beach and have lunch at the Beach Chalet. Upstairs is sit down, out back is more casual. Don’t forget to check out the frescos inside here too.

7. Walk (or bike) from Crissy Field for Ft. Point Cafe under the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day.

8. Bike over the GG Bridge.

9. Take a ferry to Tiburon and have brunch at Sam’s Cafe outside on the pier.

10. Get a burrito at La Taqueria in the Mission.

11. Walk behind the MLK waterfall in Yerba Buena Park. Read the wall.

12. See a movie at the Kabuki Theater.

13. Order a California Roll at Sushi Boat Restaurant.

14. Visit the SF Art Institute (a private art school founded by Ansel Adams) and ask to visit the Diego River Mural in the main gallery.

15. Attend a Litquake event, SF’s literary festival in October.

16. Visit Stanford in Palo Alto.

17. Visit UC Berkley across the Bay.

18. Visit Muir Woods in Marin and see the giant Sequoia Redwoods.

19. SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) in Capitola.

20. Climb Mt. Tamalpais all the day to the fire look out on a clear day for a 360 view of the Bay Area.

(21. Visit Steve Jarret at Facebook!)



Sep 182014

Jablonski-Quicksilver-GraphicDesignQuicksilver, Graphic Design


NC Contributor Mary Kathryn Jablonski‘s visual poetry artwork is on display this month in a solo show at Saratoga Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY, where she also has a piece in the gallery’s current juried exhibition “Saratoga Sights & Sounds.” Look for her chapbook, To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and additional small works in the Gallery Shop. Hours at the Arts Center are Mon-Fri 9-5 and Sat 11-5.

Mary Kathryn’s poem “May 29″ appears this month (September) in Slipstream Magazine‘s “Rust, Dust & Lust” Issue #34.

And don’t forget her interview with artist Michael Oatman, “Ignore Alien Orders,” on collaboration, skin disorders, the perversion of birds and more in the September issue of Número Cinq.

As if that’s not enough, Mary Kathryn will be a featured poet at Saratoga Springs venerable (it opened in 1960) coffee house and folk music venue Caffé Lena, 47 Phila Street. Wednesday, November 5th, 7:30pm — save the date!






Sep 182014

Bonnie Prince CharlieBonnie Prince Charlie bidding farewell to Flora MacDonald on the Isle of Skye after the Battler of Culloden, from the London Illustrated News.

Okay, the referendum is today. A brief memoir: I have Scottish blood, McCall and McInnes. On the McCall side, there was a Scottish soldier who fought with Wolfe at Quebec and then came west along the Lake Erie shore during Pontiac’s Rebellion. He was demobilized in New Jersey, but left the United States after the Revolution and ended up in what became known as the Long Point Settlement in what is now southwestern Ontario. On the McInnes side, there was a fatherless boy, taken up by Sir Walter Scott, educated and sent on the Grand Tour, who then inherited slaves and a tapioca plantation in Curaçao. Later he became the youngest slave owner indemnified by the British government for giving up his slaves. He took the money, moved also to southwestern Ontario, and never worked again. The two families eventually intermarried and my great-great-grandfather Daniel McCall ran a store in St Williams, Ontario, on the Erie shore. At some point, someone in the family cut this illustration from the London Illustrated News, framed it, and hung it in the outhouse (posh outhouse). Later, my grandmother, who grew up with it, took the illustration to live with her. Now it lives with me, hangs above my desk. So now you know which way I’d vote. On the other hand, these things always have a way of disappointing romantics, so I can’t bear to watch the news today.



Sep 182014

Amy Spain

Amy Spain was a 17-year-old slave who, mistakenly thinking that Union troops had liberated her, looted her master’s house, taking some household goods and clothing. Her master defended her in court, but she was hung anyway. This was in Darlington, South Carolina. Oddly serene drawing for such a horrific act, a little girl waiting for the drop. Only a couple of white guys in front seem excited.


One of the martyrs of the cause which gave freedom to her race was that of a colored woman named Amy Spain, who was a resident of the town of Darlington, situated in a rich cotton-growing district of South Carolina. At the time a portion of the Union army occupied the town of Darlington she expressed her satisfaction by clasping her hands and exclaiming, “Bless the Lord the Yankees have come!” She could not restrain her emotions. The long night of darkness which had bound her in slavery was about to break away. It was impossible to repress the exuberance of her feelings; and although powerless to aid the advancing deliverers of her caste, or to injure her oppressors, the simple expression of satisfaction at the event sealed her doom. Amy Spain died in the cause of freedom.

Read the rest at RUINS: The Hanging of Amy Spain.

Sep 142014

Let him who is without sin cast the first severed head.


CaptureChristians tossing severed heads into Nicaea during the siege in 1097. BNF MS Fr 2630 f.22v via Wikimedia

“As many as descended remained there with their heads cut off at the hands of our men; moreover, our men hurled the heads of the killed far into the city, that they (the Turks) might be the more terrified thereat.”

August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 101-103 Via Internet History


Sep 112014

Open Word: Readings and Ideas: Douglas Glover

Artist: Douglas Glover
Reading and interview with local writer: Wednesday, October 8, 2014, at 7:30 p.m.
Genre: Literary

Douglas Glover will read from his new book, Savage Love. He is the author of five story collections, four novels, and two books of essays. In 2007, he was given the Writers’ Trust of Canada Timothy Findley Award for an author in mid-career. His novel Elle won the 2003 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Glover teaches in the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He publishes and edits the online magazine Numéro Cinq.

Glover’s reading is sponsored by the University of Victoria’s Department of Writing Orion Series in the Fine Arts.

via Open Word: Readings and Ideas: Douglas Glover | Open Space.

Sep 112014

Diane Moser begins her memorial composition to the victims of 9/11 with an upbeat Big Band horn motif which seems surprising, even astonishing, until you realize the piece mimes the whole day, beginning with the pristine sky, sun blazing, everyone one his or her way to work, the streets packed with rushing cars and cabs, everyone brash, breezy and optimistic. Almost at once the sombre, premonitory bass counters, and for a few bars the horns and the bass alternate tentatively.

Listen to the music via The Journey Home: Music In Remembrance — Diane Moser » Numéro Cinq.

Sep 072014

Sadly, Dermot Healy, one of Ireland’s finest writers, died suddenly on the 29th June this year. His book, A Goat’s Song, is surely one of the great Irish novels. Born in Finea, County Westmeath, he moved to Cavan as a young child (richly described in his celebrated memoir The Bend for Home). I too grew up in Cavan and fondly recall the café and bakery, the Milseánacht Breifne (trans. “the sweets of Breifne”- Breifne being an ancient territorial kingdom that included Cavan), run by his mother and his Aunt Maisie. I had acquaintance with Dermot over the years and indeed remember well meeting him in The Farnham Arms Hotel on the evening of his Aunt Maisie’s funeral. At one point I walked into the toilets where Dermot was standing in front of the sink looking at himself in the mirror dressed in a suit and tie with his long hair and beard. He spoke aloud without turning around, with a mix of bemusement and disappointment in his voice, “I always swore I would never end up a country and western singer.” Later that same evening, he wandered over to the table where I was sitting and said to me, “You know what your problem is (referring to my writing)? Too much up here (pointing to his head) and not enough here (pointing to his heart).” It was good advice then and now.

Coincidentally, the inaugural Dermot Healy International Poetry Award was launched this year which Dermot himself was to have judged. In the end Paula Meehan took over the judging and the winning entry was announced at the Five Glens Festival, in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim on August 23rd.

The winning poem, Vixen, was written by Patrick Deeley who has graciously granted permission to have the poem reprinted here.

patrick deeley

Of the winning poem, Paula Meehan had this to say: “‘Though there have been many planxties made for the urban fox, this is an outstanding hymn to that beautiful creature. In one long, sinuous sentence, full of incident and the heft of the world, the poem enacts what it promises, brings us right up close to a vixen. It is ‘as if the stars have fashioned/ a pelt for her, the frosts a carry, the hills a cover’. By the poem’s closing it has become a meditation on the passing of the poet’s life — ‘the burning down of my years’ — where poet and vixen deftly mirror each other’s mortality.’

—Gerard Beirne


She is the one washed across the River Dodder,
fur plastered to her skin and on her face
a rictus grin, the one yet making her rounds
unfazed by thump or roar of motorcycle
or by ambulance’s blue flickering hullaballo, its
red tinging, and she perpetuates the one
leaping through a net-wire henhouse window
fifty years ago, the cub my neighbour fed
from a trough after he had killed her mother,
the cuddlesome one soon to tune in
to her own feral nature; she absconds, vagabond
at home among the urban – the long
rout of foxes gone before seems to become her,
those dug out, those poisoned or shot
or mangled by hounds, those broken
under the wheels of cars; survivor, the glisten
of health attends her, the youthful lustre
she won’t outwear, being too wild, too crossed
with the cricks and crimps of her kin;
she’s a fire, an aura, a lollop along the back lane
from dustbin to doorstep, a den dweller,
my first Galway Blazer, my townland namer,
and it’s as if the stars have fashioned
a pelt for her, the frosts a carry, the hills a cover;
as darkness deepens she comes brushed
with heather smell, harebell, stone-quarry dust,
comes maybe to shake loose her shrieky
mating ochoons or the chalk of cemetery bones –
this numinous one representing all, this
watcher whom I suddenly want to get next to
as though she were the burning down of my years
so lightly here and gone as I take the air
in midsummer, in a midnight suburb of Dublin.

— Patrick Deeley

Sep 062014

JD: You’ve written that “stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.” Why can stories wait?

MG: Well, they can wait—they’re there. (Laughs) They are complete in themselves, you see. Even if I’m reading something I’ve read a million times, like [Anton] Chekhov, I read just one story.

Many people cannot read short stories, they will tell me that. They can’t read them because it gets on their nerves. It’s because if they’re reading one after another there’s a change of background all the time and they have to start over and [the stories] becomes like vegetable soup in their mind.

via Knowing What Happens: Interview with Mavis Gallant — Jason DeYoung » Numéro Cinq.

Sep 012014


In the slider at the top of the page this month — a selection of work by Sydney Lea. Syd has been a Contributing Editor on Numéro Cinq for nigh on three, maybe four years. I am too old to keep count. He has written essays, poems, reviews, and scripts for cartoons and shepherded other wonderful writers to these pages, notably Fleda Brown and Diana Whitney, not to mention the cartoonist James Kochalka. We have toured together, taught together and I’ve interviewed him (you know, when I had that legendary radio show), and he’s a friend. His contribution to the magazine in terms of work is tremendous but it does not equal what he has given us in terms of spirit and friendship.

His tenth collection of poems, I Was Thinking of Beauty, is now available from Four Way Books, his collaborative book with Fleda Brown, Growing Old in Poetry: Two Poets, Two Lives (some of the essays appeared first on NC), has now been issued in e-book format by Autumn House Press, and Skyhorse Publishing has published A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife. Other recent publications include Six Sundays Toward a Seventh: Selected Spiritual Poems (Wipf & Stock) and A Hundred Himalayas (U. of Michigan), a sampling from his critical work over four decades.

He is also the best shot on the masthead.


Aug 302014

Heaney painting

As Heaney says, echoing Auden and Yeats: though poetry is “unlimited” in its capacity for “pure concentration,” “no lyric has ever stopped a tank.”  Nor, in “Exposure,” can “meagre sparks” outweigh the comet’s million tons of light. —Patrick J. Keane

Today is the first anniversary of Seamus Heaney’s death, a time to remember him. From the Numéro Cinq Archives. Read the entire essay at “Second Thoughts” in Seamus Heaney’s North: From “Antaeus” to “Hercules and Antaeus” to “Exposure” — Patrick J. Keane » Numéro Cinq.

Aug 292014


Here’s a review I wrote nearly 20 years ago, published in the Chicago Tribune at the time. Efforts at Truth deserves to be remembered and reread, as does its author. God loves the outliers and eccentrics, his hopeful monsters, too.


Efforts at Truth: an autobiography
By Nicholas Mosley
Dalkey Archive Press 1995

Nicholas Mosley is a rare beast — a reactionary revolutionist, what they call in Canada a Red Tory. He is an English lord, son of an infamous fascist anti-semite, a one-time Church of England apologist, and a writer for decades of highly regarded experimental novels in which he explores the ideas of consciousness and responsibility as a way of critiquing what he sees as the victim ethic of liberal modernity.

At first glance, he looks post-modern or avant garde, but he is not. He is just the opposite — pre-modern, if you will, the voice of an older tradition. Mosley is the champion of an heroic Christianity which reflates the Kierkegaardian ideas of paradox and the romance of risk. Not for him the Christian Coalition brand of weak religiosity with its emphasis on being saved — God’s version of Social Security.

Mosley places humans in the center of a mystery, with a duty to spend their lives paying attention, learning, experimenting — their reward being not safety but the chance of discerning a pattern. “To discover what is hidden,” he writes, “you have to go on a journey; what uproar, indeed, before you arrive at what is there!”

The author of thirteen novels and numerous works of non-fiction, family memoirs and screenplays, Mosley is best known in this country for his novel HOPEFUL MONSTERS which won the 1990 Whitbread Award in Britain and capped a brilliant sequence of books collectively called CATASTROPHE PRACTICE begun in the 1970s.

In CATASTROPHE PRACTICE, the same six characters weave through a series of stories dealing with contemporary issues of love, marriage and the upheavals of history. The books are difficult and unfashionably didactic — demonstrations of the paradoxical questing Mosley posits at the center of existence. But they are also immensely interesting, dense with a sardonic self-honesty, humane and accepting.

Now Mosley has written EFFORTS AT TRUTH, a magnificently idiosyncratic autobiography, in which, with characteristic tenacity, intelligence and decency, he tries to picture the patterns that have informed his own life and work.

Sir Oswald Mosley, the author’s father, was the dashing, charismatic, philandering leader of the Black Shirts, British Fascist sympathizers during World War II. Faced with the paradox of loving his father and hating his ideas, Mosley quickly learned to walk a tightrope between admiration and criticism. While his father languished in a British prison, Nicholas Mosley was in the army fighting Hitler. And amidst the fighting, he found time to exchange loving, deeply intelligent letters with his father.

This ability to hold contradictions suspended in thought, to walk psychic tightropes (Keat’s called it Negative Capability), with minefields on either side, is one-half of the Nicholas Mosley equation.

The other half has to do with the Bible, the Church of England and old-fashioned goodness. Mosley’s dissatisfaction with the traditional novel form stems from a commitment to a literal Christianity, the kind that explores earnestly what is meant by goodness, God and grace in worldly and up-to-date terms. Mosley is no born-again tub-thumper — he is the sort of Christian writer who can write, in his inimitably droll fashion, “For the experience of making patterns the word ‘God’ is useful, but not imperative.”

According to Mosley, modern novels portray characters as victims, with no room for assigning or accepting responsibility for actions. “The literary world seemed to have been taken over by a vast army of contemporary fashion in which freedom was denied and ideas of dignity and redemption mocked.” He set out to write books which, in his words, related the inner (thought) to the outer (actions).

This was no easy task. A new form had to be invented. Mosley’s prose style has a functional awkwardness built in (Mosley himself has always stuttered — he speculates upon the relationship between trying to see the world clearly and his inability to speak). He mixes together letters from lovers, wives and friends, excerpts from his essays and biographies, and passages that are formal pastiches from his novels.

One of Mosley’s favorite devices is the rhetorical question, which gives the narrative a questing quality, an open-endedness. Frequently, his syntax stretches for a kind hypothetical uncertainty — “And at the center of the paradox, should it not indeed be something about sponteneity that is learned?” Sentences like this read strangely at first, till the reader begins to see them as tied perfectly to the author’s project: the careful dissection of thought and action in an effort to reveal some central pattern whose nature may be inexpressible in ordinary expository terms.

Mosley’s rhetoric, like that of Jacques Derrida or Ludwig Wittgenstein, has the quality of seeming to teeter at the very edge of language. Those questions, the sudden twists of self-doubt, the leaps of understanding, the conditional hypotheses — have the effect of drawing the reader’s attention to something that is not quite being said or understood.

EFFORTS AT TRUTH weaves back and forth between Mosley’s life and the life of his books, showing how the one influenced the other. The discovery that, in his earlier books, he has repeated the self-sacrificial hero motif, leads him to shake off a post-combat depression and locate an unexamined yen for the Church of England. (What, after all, is Jesus but a self-sacrificial hero?)

He befriends a monk, suspends his novel-writing and takes over an Anglican magazine called PRISM from which pulpit he blasts the church for moral complacency. This wild turn into Anglicanism happens just as the Angry Young Men, writers like John Osbourne and Kingsly Amis, are storming the bastions of English letters and is an example of Mosley’s sturdy inability to stay with the crowd. Modishness is a vice to which he seems singularly, and sometimes comically, immune.

Meanwhile, Mosley has married, had children, and become willful philandering skunk like his father. At one point, father and son meet accidentally while chasing women in the same London dive. But Mosley’s monk-friend takes him aside and gently suggests there is something wrong in his family dynamic, especially in regard to children.

Till then Mosely has taken forgranted the upper class English notion that children should be raised by someone else. Author and wife energetically fire their nanny and begin to teach themselves how to take care of children, how to love them. Later on, he even figures out about the philandering mess — but not before his willfulness has ruined his first marriage.

Mosley has a fling with screen-writing when two of his novels sell to the movies. He suffers a terrible car accident from which it takes him a year to recover. He goes into analysis and marries a fellow analysand, both of them embarking on this venture in the charmingly naive belief that they have achieved wisdom enough to assure a problem-free marriage. “Here were Verity and I intending to be model spouses and parents in some psychoanalytically re-cycled Garden of Eden. Oh dear!”

Mosley is unsparing of himself, exploring his own smokescreens and cruelties, detailing the awful consequences of his infidelities. One woman has a nervous breakdown, another an abortion. In a letter, his first wife writes: “We are beastly when we are together, but I like you when you’re away very much.” One gets the impression of a creative volcano, an immensely intelligent and self-willed personality, guaranteed to give a rough ride to whoever comes within reach.

EFFORTS AT TRUTH does not set out to be a popular autobiography. There is no name-dropping, little inter-twining of current events (surprising for an author who, in HOPEFUL LOSERS, wrote a masterful historical novel). Mosley sticks with his work and his family, knowing that within this narrow ambit most of the great mysteries of life are played out.

All this is told with infectious brio. Despite the in-built difficulty of the argument, EFFORTS AT TRUTH radiates a cheerfulness, a curiosity about life that is fundamentally healthy and humane. Mosely marks his sins but does not compound them by wallowing in guilt; he does not present himself as a victim of his own faults.

EFFORTS AT TRUTH is an antidote for those who feel the current debates between the right and the left, the Moral Majority and the advocates of a social safety net, have bogged down in stale rhetoric and endlessly circling arguments. It is a brilliant work of literary artistry and an act of faith — a message of mysterious complexity that goes straight to the heart of existence.

—Douglas Glover


Aug 292014

Mike Barnes

In a hut at the tip of Sognefjord, a room with bunk beds. Playing cards at a table with three other travellers, a man and two women. At dawn the mail boat will take us up the fjord to the sea. My friends have headed south, to Paris. I am to meet them there in a week. They were reluctant to let me go, after Oslo. I’m all right now, better, I need to get my confidence back, etc. Really it was the instinct to crawl away. I don’t want witnesses for what will happen next. —from Ideas of Reference

From the Numéro Cinq Archives. Read the complete text at Ideas of Reference: Novella — Mike Barnes » Numéro Cinq.

Aug 282014

William S. Burroughs

Old Man Burroughs didn’t say a word directly to me until he’d laid out his case to my parents. He then looked directly into me. “You should know,” he said, “that I’m quite proficient with a handgun.”

From the NC Archives, 2010, our first year of publication. Read the rest of the essay at Burroughs & Son: Memoir — John Proctor » Numéro Cinq.

Aug 272014

7-Who Me- Pornithology seriesBy artist Michael Oatman from his Pornithology series.


Fernando SdrigottiFernando Sdrigotti

Breathless. I dunno. Another issue. Where do they come from? Have I mentioned before that we do in a month what most magazines do in a quarter, in six months. Reviews, art, fiction, poetry, essays, translations, writers from around the world. And you get it for free! Stop me before I hyperventilate, before I start to foam at the mouth, before my eyes roll up….well, just stop me.

Amazing issue this month topped by a tremendously wise and poignant essay by the London-based Argentinian expatriate Fernando Sdrigotti who meditates upon the new world of shifting identity. We are all playing musical countries these days; essentialism is out the window; and we have to learn to read ourselves and the world afresh every time the sun comes up.

“When I moved to London, ejected from my country by an economic crisis (and not by a dictatorship), an entire literature to which I had previously related became nonsensical. Until then I had a very clear impression of who I was and how to read myself—or so I thought. My biography was clear: Argentinean, middle-class, of European descent like many of my fellow-countrymen, one more book among others, easy to read. Changing my surroundings to an alien place involved a process of becoming unfamiliar, of becoming illegible to myself and others.” —Fernando Sdrigotti


This month the spotlight is on legibility, language and speed, as in “Speed is Witchy!” a provocative essay by the great Austrian novelist Robert Musil, translated by Genese Grill and published here in English for the first time. There are two new Musil essays in fact.

“Language no longer ambles along like it did in the days of our ancestors.” —Robert Musil

TreePad LiteMavis Gallant & Karen Mulhallen

And then, and then! (Remember to breathe.) We have a special gift for our readers, a three-part riff on the late great short story writer Mavis Gallant who started out in Montreal but spent most of her life in Paris and wrote, naturally, for The New Yorker, became, in fact, the quintessential New Yorker writer. We have two never-before-published interviews, one with Gallant herself and one with Richard Landon, the venerable Toronto librarian and archivist who worked extensively with Gallant after she donated her papers to the University of Toronto, both interviews conducted by the poet-scholar-magazine editor Karen Mulhallen. This is an amazing coup for the magazine, a snapshot of a great writer at the peak of her career.

Also a sweet little memoir of lunch with Gallant in Paris by the indefatigable Robert  Day as part of his on-again, off-again Close Encounters of a Literary Kind series.

Michael OatmanMichael Oatman

THEN! Spectacular art by Michael Oatman.

DSCF0087 Leon Rooke, 2014 bwLeon Rooke

AND! A brand new story by the spectacularly speedy Leon Rooke, a writer who takes age as license to turn on the afterburners. The photo of Leon was donated to NC by the great First Nations writer Tom King (bonus).

Cuba Feb 2012 052Glenn Sorestad in Cuba

Also poems by the Canadian prairie poet (on visiting Cuba! yes, one of the best author photos on NC in ages) Glenn Sorestad.

AuthorJowita2014Jowita Bydlowska

Also more fiction. A grim, telegraphic (as in stripped down and fast), intensely intimate married couple story, excerpted from a novel by Jowita Bydlowska, the Polish-born Canadian writer, author of last year’s brilliant, scandalous success Drunk Mom.

And, yes, of course, September is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Marne (many readers wrote to tell me). And to mark the occasion we have a piece of fiction by Garry Craig Powell, “The Apotheosis of Cathedrals,” narrated by Gabriele D’Annunzio, the poet, playboy, war hero, who  was there.

josephine-jacobsen-448Josephine Jacobsen

More. There’s more. Julie Larios brilliantly reminds us of the charms of the poet Josephine Jacobsen who wrote such things as this:

One, then the other, says what it has to say,
pours its treble tricks clearer
into clear air, goes; one, and the other.
In the palms’ dishevelment, the random day,
over the green hot grass, fellow to fellow:
the shadow of wings, the wing’s shadow.


NC newcomer Lucy M. May contributes a startling essay (with photos) on dance, but not the kind of dance you’re used to. This is Oulipian dance, dance as still photography, dance without motion,  frozen dance.

sarah micSarah Clancy

And Gerry Beirne does Irish slam poetry a turn with a piece on Sarah Clancy, with words and sound files so you get the complete experience.

WInterbach by Leanne StanderIngrid Winterbach

Also, finally, but perhaps not finally, you never know with NC, work keeps coming, some I can’t wait to publish, it just happens (did I mention breathless?) — Ben Woodard reviews South African novelist Ingrid Winterbach’s The Elusive Moth and R. W. Gray contributes another NC at the Movies (though I don’t know what it is yet, seat-of-the-pants operation that we are — you can bet it will be edgy, beautiful, surprising and, probably, weird).

Just a word: We have a lot of new readers and sometimes they are mystified by the NC roll-out. We are not like other magazines. Aside from having monthly issues, we eschew the old print model. Each issue contains 16-18 items. And we publish one item each day through the first 16-18 days of the month. We don’t dump the whole issue in one day because we’ve found that after a brief feeding frenzy readers tend not to look past the last one or two items. Great bits of writing and art get lost in the shuffle. So we publish one piece per day. Every piece gets its day in the sun, full-on, top of the page.

Not only that (because we take care of our writers and artists at NC), we have a beautifully logical and accessible archive system. Each published piece stays on the FRONT PAGE for three months (see the Recent Issues) section. Then the issues go into the archives. All our issues can be accessed as issues (divided into volumes—years) in the Back Issues section of the magazine. Plus each piece is placed in the appropriate genre Contents page (which you can access by the navigation buttons down the right hand side of the page).

Nothing ever disappears at NC. At the most, it’ll take you four-five mouse clicks to find even our earliest publications.



Aug 262014

“After serving tea (Valerie Eliot told us) she had gently led Pound, now 83 and feeble, to a table she’d prepared near a window. On the table lay THE MANUSCRIPT. Mrs. Eliot rejoined Olga Rudge, and the women retreated to a neutral corner, leaving Pound alone with pages he had not laid eyes on since 1922. Looking at them, the old man must have been overwhelmed by memories of that time, and of what had followed….”

From the NC Archives. Click here to read the whole amazing essay.