Five Dials #21

-Reviewed by Barry Tench

Five dials is a downloadable PDF literary journal from Hamish Hamilton and your first impression of this worthy publication will probably be that it is beautifully presented. Let me warn you, however, that if you intend to print it out it’s a good idea to get an extra black ink cartridge in as your printer will be sorely tested on issue 21, especially on Kid Koala’s graphic project extract ‘Space Cadet’. Issue 21 is also decorated with poetic illustrations by Lizzy Steward. Editor Craig Taylor hopes that the issue will be printed up and placed on a bar alongside bowls of peanuts, a sentiment I echo.

Craig Taylor’s bouncy and irreverent editorial sets the tone “the sound of people trying to pull the metal shutters from the front of the Brixton Foot Locker.” That spirit of the blitz he conveys is reflected in a series of essays with London post codes as titles. Under its remit of ‘currentish events’ we have  London/riots related pieces from Helen Conford and Bojana Gajski that read like videos shot on a mobile phone, slightly out of focus and grainy but with the personal insight that takes the reader directly onto the streets, be they in Whitechapel or Montenegro. These essays lead to Daniel Smith’s traumatic walk through a wartime London with an emotionally distressed Virginia Woolf, there is something uniquely disturbing about what Woolf calls ‘street haunting’.

Five Dials often has a theme and issue 21 is subtitled ‘Rock School’ which made me half expect the appearance of Jack Black from the pages hollering “If You are Hardcore”. I was disappointed, but that was the one and only time as I flipped through the ezine. Under the moniker of ‘The Best Bits of the Best Books’ various “rockers, rappers and folkies”  select some of their favourite books;  most of them  read whilst  in the back of the tour bus or in some cheap and nasty motel. It is an intriguing selection – Vonnegut, Bolano and Herman Hesse among others. I loved Adam Green’s description of William S Burroughs as “a gay R Kelly”. These contributions not only made me want to dig out my copy of The Naked Lunch again but also listen to the music of some of the witty and insightful reviewers.

Then there are the three short stories of Jonas Hassen Khemiri- the Danish novelist. Hassen  Khemiri references jazz quite a lot, but his stories feel more like the blues. They have a rhythm of the blues with a strong refrain especially in ‘An Attempt at Nuclear Physics’ with its repetition of “you’ll” that gives it the effect of an I-woke-up-this-morning and my wife and dog  have left me kinda blues. ‘Control Alt. Delete’ has four uneasy compositions and ‘Unchanged Unending’ displays that same elliptical style of a writer who shows great control over his narrative.

Other ephemera include a shopping list of knitting titles that neatly references Neil Young, a Raymond Chandler story/anecdote and a poem by Heathcote Williams ‘Being Kept by a Jackdaw’: a folkloric tale that reads more like a short story.

However, my personal highlight was Alexander Larman’s review of J. K. Huysmans 1884 novel ‘Against Nature’, an observation on “dandyism, decadence and debauchery.” His highly entertaining review made me want to go and find some musty independent bookshop hidden away down a dark alley somewhere in Shoreditch dressed in a big collar and floppy hat. So with Issue 21 tucked under my arm I’m off to a dive populated by bleary-eyed journos and yet-to-be-discovered artists to sip absinth and wallow in melancholia.

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