Shades of Kafka: Open Up, by Thomas Morris, reviewed

Thomas Morris has a knack of writing about ordinary things in an unsettling way and unsettling things in an ordinary way. He described his debut collection of ten stories set in Caerphilly, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, as ‘realism with a kink’. Open Up, a slimmer second offering of five stories, amps up the Kafka. One is narrated by a seahorse, another by a vampire. Morris’s attitude towards his characters remains central: while displaying their darkest secrets, you sense he’s on their side. Here, the narrators are all male. From a young boy to a thirtysomething, they negotiate masculinity’s contradictory demands, accused of being distant, passive and unambitious. Individually,

A bitter sectarian divide: Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart, reviewed

Douglas Stuart has a rare gift. The Scottish writer, whose debut novel Shuggie Bain deservedly won the 2020 Booker Prize, creates vivid characters, settings and images without letting his literary skill get in the way of plot. His second novel, Young Mungo, has a similar feel and is in many ways a kind of sequel. The characters are different, as is the Glaswegian housing scheme and the year – we are now in 1993 rather than the 1980s – but the milieu is familiar. The protagonist, Mungo Hamilton, is a frail, fatherless 15-year-old, but appears much younger. His complexion, vocal tic and poor-fitting clothes lead people to think he’s ‘thirteen,

When did traditional masculinity become toxic?

It’s hard for privileged white men to stay relevant in this age of identity politics but a number of fail-safe strategies have begun to emerge. Prince Harry and, to a lesser extent his older brother, have captured the mental health market by publicly discussing their issues. William’s school pal Eddie Redmayne, and pretty much the entire cast of the Harry Potter films, have spoken out in defence of the transgender community. Benedict Cumberbatch is going down the feminist route. Cumberbatch is calling time on ‘toxic masculinity’. Interviewed by Sky News ahead of the release of his latest film, a Netflix Western in which he plays the part of a rancher,

Help! I’ve got ‘schlong Covid’

One of the difficulties with having difficulties in your gentleman’s area is describing it to your doctor. Saying ‘I’ve got a problem with my willy,’ makes you sound like a five-year-old. ‘Penis’ sounds whiny and American, and everything else sounds like you might be being deliberately rude. I went for ‘I think I’ve got Covid on my cock,’ which I hoped didn’t make me sound like a hypochondriac and was suitably forthright for a man-to-man encounter with one’s GP. ‘OK,’ says a politely interested Dr McCall. ‘What’s precisely wrong with your cock?’ I can’t find any figures for ‘schlong Covid’. There are no studies in the Lancet or online support

Masculinity in crisis: Men and Apparitions, by Lynne Tillman, reviewed

Masculinity, we are often told, is in crisis. The narrator of Men and Apparitions, Professor Ezekiel (Zeke) Stark, both studies this crisis and personally confirms it. ‘I came naturally — haha — to observing my posse and me, guys late twenties to forty, and our attitudes to women, ourselves as “men,” etc’ he says, by way of introduction to his anthropological thesis about growing up under feminism. Prepare for mansplaining littered with tedious verbal tics, which is oddly compelling to read. Zeke is between things. Born on the cusp of Gen X, a middle child to middle-class parents, he’s loitering on the tenure track of East Coast ‘Acadoomia’. There’s his