BY frieze in Books | 13 JUN 24

What to Read This Summer

From a collection of stories inspired by Franz Kafka to Lauren Elkin’s debut novel, the frieze team chooses its beach reads


BY frieze in Books | 13 JUN 24

A Cage Went in Search of a Bird (May 2024) | By Various Authors

A Cage Went in Search of a Bird (May 2024)
Various Authors, A Cage Went in Search of a Bird, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Little, Brown Book Group (Abacus)

This wonderous and daring anthology of ten short stories inspired by Franz Kafka was published to mark the centenary of his death. Here, Kafka’s dreamlike, claustrophobic narration and uncanny, passive characters are brought back to life by best-selling writers, including personal favourites Ali Smith and Elif Batuman. Guided by the contribuors’ sharp and haunting prose, readers are led through a nightmarish maze of bureaucracy in which things are never what they seem. For those keen to encounter the writer’s more vulnerable side, I’d recommend Letters to Milena (1952), which documents Kafka’s relationship with Milena Jesenská, his Czech translator. Their correspondence is refreshingly honest: interspersed with poetic proclamations of affection and hyperbolic descriptions of desire, it is simultaneously plagued by personal insecurities, feelings of inadequacy and the disappointing discrepancy between romantic expectation and reality.

IVANA CHOLAKOVA, Editorial Assistant

Private Rites (June 2024) | By Julia Armfield

Julia Armfield, Private Rites, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Fourth Estate

I first fell in love with Julia Armfield’s writing in her strange, brilliant book of short stories, Salt Slow (2020), and her watery, weird debut novel Our Wives Under the Sea (2022). Her latest release, Private Rites, looks to follow the same unique, uncanny trajectory as her previous works – a queer reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear (1606) set in a world of endless rain.

CLAUDIA KENSANI SAVIOTTI, Publishing and Events Manager

Uh Huh Her (July 2024) | By Rachel Cattle

The Last Sane Woman (July 2024) | By Hannah Regel

Left: Hannah Regel, The Last Sane Woman, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Verso Books; right: Rachel Cattle, Uh Huh Her, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: MOIST

The two books currently on my bedside table both feature disaffected art-school graduates. Poet Hannah Regel’s The Last Sane Woman, published by Verso’s fiction imprint, tells the story of the ‘unenthusiastically employed’ Nicola Long who becomes obsessed with a ceramicist whose letters are stored in the women’s art archive where she works. Rachel Cattle’s Uh Huh Her, issued by DIY publisher MOIST, follows an unnamed protagonist as she moves listlessly from school to art school to teaching gigs.

CHLOE STEAD, Assistant Editor

Sex Goblin (May 2024) | By Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook, Sex Goblin, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Nightboat Books

Lauren Cook’s Sex Goblin, newly out from Nightboat Books, slingshots readers between surreal scenes, diaristic musings, list poems and even a writing prompt. As genres shapeshift and merge, so too do bodies – most memorably when a childhood trauma literally bonds a character to a toy poodle. Screwy, horny and at times violent, Sex Goblin has a soft underbelly. With a lover in mind, a speaker assures us: ‘I think you get scared I’m going to make fun of you. But I’d never really make fun of you. If I thought you were stupid and annoying, we wouldn’t be here.’

CASSIE PACKARD, Assistant Editor

Why Would Feminists Trust the Police? (June 2024) | By Leah Cowan

Leah Cowan, Why Would Feminists Trust the Police?, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Verso Books

Time and time again, London’s Metropolitan Police has proven itself to be ‘racist, misogynist and homophobic’, as revealed by the 2023 parliamentary investigation, The Casey Review. For many who do not fit the white, straight, cis-male mould, this is far from news. Leah Cowan’s Why Would Feminists Trust the Police? provides incisive answers to the question of what one can do when the people tasked with protecting you are also your assailants. In her new book, Cowan looks back on the history of feminist run-ins with the law and draws on Black feminist resistance practices to offer strategies for collective action and community-based safety.

ANGEL LAMBO, Associate Editor

Parade (June 2024) | By Rachel Cusk

Rachel Cusk, Parade, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Faber & Faber

Rachel Cusk’s austere portrait of the art world has been panned for its lack of plot and, as reviewer Lucy Atkins noted in The Guardian, its ‘cold, detached, judgmental, excoriating’ tone. Undoubtedly, it is a difficult book, written in an almost puritan prose style redolent of early-American sermonizers like Jonathan Edwards or Cotton Mather. What Cusk does is dare to take contemporary art seriously, almost too seriously – not only its production and the market that accords it value, but the spiritual and moral ground, often a loamy sinkhole, upon which it staggers. She resorts neither to satire nor exposé, the usual modes for fiction writers concerned with the field, but to moral philosophy. ‘We felt both exposed by and imprisoned in what we had built and the story we had created. We wondered, very occasionally, who we were.’ For Cusk, creation is an essentially self-destructive enterprise that artists and their loved ones scarcely survive; it encourages moral recklessness yet demands surprising fealty to structures of power, from the gender binary to the rule of our parents. For this, she is unforgiving.

ANDREW DURBIN, Editor-in-Chief

Scaffolding (June 2024) | By Lauren Elkin

Lauren Elkin, Scaffolding, 2024, book cover. Courtesy: Chatto & Windus

Set in the Belleville district of Paris, Lauren Elkin’s debut novel seeks to expose the ghosts that inhabit our homes and lives, and to unpack how history repeats itself in uncanny ways. Scaffolding also shows off Elkin’s rich, scholarly mind to great effect: in addition to multiple references to Jacques Lacan, one of the novel’s central theorists, the author cites numerous publications and films that I found myself making a note to watch or read. It’s also a book laden with lust and desire, amorous missteps and the ways in which we can often only understand ourselves in relation to the whims and choices of others. I expect to see Elkin’s debut feature on many end-of-year lists, and deservedly so.

VANESSA PETERSON, Associate Editor

Contemporary Art and Culture