The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus - review by David Annand

David Annand

The Ecstatic Truth

The Flame Alphabet


Granta Books 289pp £16.99

In her seminal essay ‘Against Interpretation’, Susan Sontag famously argued that ‘in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art’. It was a mistake, she claimed, to attempt to reduce a work to a single, stable reading, as we have with, say, Animal Farm, the characters of which are generally taken to represent the major players in the early Soviet Union. Such a framing prevents people from experiencing a piece of art for themselves, leading them too narrowly towards the intellectual ‘content’ of the work and away from its sensuousness, its magic.

Sontag’s essay is a crutch for readers of The Flame Alphabet. Settling on a single reading of it would be next to impossible, such are its suggestive possibilities. It seemed to me, at different points, to be about the Jewish pursuit of the ineffable, the impossible demands of the nuclear

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March