Sunday 24 April 2016

The Underdog Stories by Luke Kondor

A collection of strange, wonderful, sad, romantic, and weird tales about what happens when the underdog bites back.

The latest book from the ‘master of wit and satire’ — a collection of surreal, subversive, and satirical tales.

What happens when a community of tiny people move into a man’s beard?
Why are portals appearing in Neville's tea?
Will Rhuben’s marriage survive after he's turned into a dog?
Who’s that singing in the shadows? 

Goodreads description 

I reviewed Luke Kondor's The Missing Body Parts of Mr Doherty last year here :

The Underdog Stories is a collection of Luke's short stories and it has the same gently surreal feel about them that I saw in his other book. The magic realist writer he most reminds me of is Murakami, who also treads that path between surrealism and magic realism. Like Murakami there is something rather melancholic about the predicaments that Kondor's characters find themselves.

The stories are:

The People Who Live In My Beard - pretty self-explanatory but look out for the last line of that one.
His Dirty Little Portal - a man discovers a portal to a parallel world in a mug of tea. 
Doghouse - Dad moves into the doghouse literally
@boyonawall - a clever piece about social media
The Singer in the Shadows - a weird nightmare of an encounter
Rent - a story about a young woman takes on a flat she can't afford and the impact it has
Dog Gone Bad - Rhuben always knew he was really a dog, but he doesn't through the operation's implications on his marriage
A Mother's Letter - just that only from a rather freaky mum
The Underdog - "You're not the victim, you're the fucking underdog"

A short short-story collection but a fun one.


Sunday 17 April 2016

Magic Realism in Art

 Copyright The Phoenix Art Museum  Shown under Low Res Fair Use. In order to give support

I put up a post over on the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group about the Group's proposed new rules. In it I write that the group welcomed to post about magic-realist art. And one person commented that they were not sure what magic-realist art was. As the subject is a large one, I decided not to answer in a comment or indeed a post on Facebook and instead to dedicate this post to the subject.

It may seem strange that a Group dedicated to books should be encouraging posts about the visual arts. I wonder whether this was the commentator was thinking this, when he responded to my post. My answer is that the two forms are linked and the student of magic realism books can find much of relevance at looking at the story of magic realism in art, so much so that a study of the latter can perhaps shed a clearer or new light on literary magic realism.

The first point to make is that term "magic realism" first appeared in the context of magic-realist art. It was coined in 1924 by German art critic Franz Roh for a new post-expressionist form of painting that represented mystical non-material aspects of reality in a realistic backdrop. He wrote that magic realism: employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquility of simple and ingenious things...  it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world.

Roh's book was published in Spanish in 1927 and some people argue that it influenced the development of South American magic-realist literature, although that claim can be disputed.

Works by a number of artists have been called magic realist. These artists include Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo (whose painting is shown above), and Marcela Donoso. One of the most influential artists on the movement was Henri Rousseau - as Andre Breton wrote with Rousseau we can for the first time talk about Magic Realism. You will find an interesting visual timeline here: In this timeline the examples seem realistic to a greater or lesser extent, but there is something unsettling about them - something that might be termed magic.

As I am no student of the history of art, I suggest you take read the more detailed account of the history of magic-realist art found here: You will soon see there are certain similarities between visual and literary magicrealism. The most obvious being that the difficulty of definitions. As the author of that website writes:  A central challenge in identifying Magic Realism pertains to the boundaries between Realism and pure fantasy. Magic Realist artists often introduced unusual juxtapositions, eerie atmospheres and naive elements into their art. Typically the Magic Realists dealt with themes of isolation and alienation. Many of them studied the techniques of the Old Masters, and used these to establish, and also to twist, the illusions of reality. But they did not stray completely away from the real world. 

So what is relevant to writers and readers of magic realism? Here are my thoughts (I welcome others):
1) The two forms of magic realism have the same difficulty with definitions and for the same reason. 
2) Realism is at the heart of the definition, but it depends on how you define and portray it
3) The focus is as much on the background as much as the foreground. This is contrary to our modern European way of depicting the world and is of itself disturbing. This focus references earlier (medieval and Renaissance) art, as well as primitive or non-European art
4) Challenging and subverting the "normal real" is core to the form. It is a political art form.
5) Roh's strand born in the heady challenging environment of the Weimar Republic was brought to a halt with the rise of fascism and the subsequent world war. It made me wonder about the impact of the war on the development of European literary magic realism
6) The real is very real and often detailed, which is what makes the magic element so disturbing.
7) The magic is also real. Fridha Kahlo said I don't paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality. It could almost be Gabriel Garcia Marcia saying that. 

Kahlo's picture above is a good example of all but point 4. It also has the added magic-realist device of conflating time.

For more food for thought and look at the work a contemporary magic-realist painter in the context of the history of the form, do watch this excellent illustrated lecture.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Video Interview with Kathleen Alcala

As my ongoing ill-health is preventing me from reading my normal magic-realist book a week and therefore my weekly review, I thought I might share with you this video interview with Kathleen Alcala. I reviewed the book referenced in the interview Spirits of the Ordinary in July 2013. The link is here

Sunday 3 April 2016

The Magic in Magic Realism - Guest Post

 As I am ill and unable to post reviews, I am posting this guest post by Lily Iona Mackenzie, author of Fling. The post originally appeared on Lily's blog as part of last year's magic realism blog hop.

The Magic in Magic Realism

So much has been said about magic realism that it’s difficult to add anything new to the conversation. However, I wondered if putting on my poet’s hat and parsing the two words might crack open another perspective.

The term magic implies some slight of hand, an ability to make things appear and disappear at will. In a magic show, magicians exercise their ability to draw viewers’ attention away from what the magicians are doing so they can convince those watching that a rabbit really does appear at random out of an empty hat, or that any number of equally fantastic events can occur. In this case, the magic isn’t really magical in the sense of a supernatural intervention because there’s a trick at its foundation based on perception and how skillful the magician is at keeping the audience distracted enough not to notice the hoax involved.

Something similar happens with writers. They capture our attention through assembling strings of words that become a compelling narrative we follow. Just as a viewer at a magic show sets aside his/her momentary doubts about what’s happening before his/her eyes, so too do readers enter the narrative dream. That enables the writer to convince readers that the setting, characters, and events taking place are actually happening in real time when, in truth, they aren’t. They only come to life in the readers’ imagination as readers let go of their immediate world to undertake this journey into the unknown. Put this way, reading can seem like a potentially dangerous endeavor, and it can be if a writer’s ideas and images shatter some preconceived notion about the world and about us.

Magic also has the ability to temporarily take people out of the constraints of everyday life and make them feel they can transcend it. Instead of being locked inside the usual routines that structure our days, we find release when something magical happens, such as when we watch a play in a theatre and suddenly our world is transformed. We’re no longer our daily selves, but we begin to identify with what’s occurring on the stage and participate in all of the characters involved, good guys and bad guys. We’re under the actors’ and director’s spell, convinced that the action unfolding in front of us is real, though it’s only make believe.

From these examples I’ve given, it’s easy to see that any writing, whether it’s a novel or a play, has a magical component to it. Words themselves are transformative in that they can so easily metamorphose into other words: world contains word and old. Add or subtract a letter here or there and we’ve landed in a different meaning. Words in themselves are slippery and magical, calling forth images just by naming things: red chair, oak table, 2006 Honda Accord, green plaid coat, eucalyptus tree. Read the text and suddenly something appears in our mind’s eye. Amazing!

And then there’s the way the wind can blow open a door, filling the house with a gust of cold air, or the sun can illuminate a field and immediately transform our experience of that place. Or the timer on our living room lamp switches on silently and the room is now swathed in light, creating a totally different atmosphere. That’s one reason we talk about something magical happening, or of a place as being magical. In fact, the world is magical not only in its inherent changeability but also because of our interaction with it.

That’s where “realism” enters the discussion. Reality is both magical and “real,” if by real we mean something that isn’t imagined. I’m not a philosopher, but this computer I’m typing on has a life distinct from mine. My husband, who is sitting reading in a chair across from me, can see it and agree on its reality. But it also exists in a world where objects can become symbols for something else, so while my computer retains its identify as a writer’s tool, it also can represent a window into another universe. It can become a metaphor for many things, just as most objects can.

This, then, seems to be the foundation for what we call magic realism. Language by its very nature is magical, transforming our everyday reality in multiple ways, carrying us aloft on the wings of thought.

You can visit Lily's blog at