In search of utopia: Chevengur, by Andrey Platonov, reviewed

It has been a long journey into the light for the greatest Russian modernist most people have probably never heard of: Andrey Platonov. Born in 1899 in Voronezh, he started professional life as a mechanic and land-reclamation engineer, making him one of those rare writers with an affinity for both people and machines. In the mid-1920s, he was branded an ‘anarchic’ spirit by Maxim Gorky, who nevertheless admired his work. His great early novels were openly critical of the Soviet policy of ‘total collectivisation’ – which, in Platonov’s nightmare scenarios, tends to collectivise people to death. The best and longest, Chevengur – now available in a handsome translation, with an

Searching for the best of all possible worlds – in London

Utopia can never exist, literally, since the word, which Sir Thomas More coined in his 1516 book of that name, comes from the Greek for ‘not’ and ‘place’. For the avoidance of doubt, More doubled down on the wordplay, naming the governor of his fictional island Ademos, meaning ‘no people’, and the river that runs through it Anyder, meaning ‘no water’. Interrupting your steak to recite from Leviticus isn’t everyone’s idea of fun Yet there’s more to it than this, because it turns out that one man’s idea of an ideal society is often very different from another’s. More’s vision was proto-communist. Houses in his Utopia are allocated by lot,

A flawed utopia: The Men, by Sandra Newman, reviewed

The problem for feminism is men. Not, specifically, in the sense that men are the source of women’s problems, although the statistics do tend to point in that direction. Feminism’s men problem is that, despite all this, women like men. Love men. One of the lessons of second-wave experiments in separatism is that the idealised man-free existence is always fighting against the gravity of affection. Sandra Newman’s novel The Men takes that quandary and does something clever with it. She imagines a world in which all the men and all the boys and all the trans women and all the male non-binaries and all the Y-chromosome-carrying foetuses are mysteriously spirited

A universal language will always be an unattainable dream

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in his stage persona as the dim-witted interviewer Ali G, once asked Noam Chomsky if a person could simply invent a new language from scratch. The renowned linguist gave him short shrift: ‘You can do it if you like and nobody would pay the slightest attention to you because it would just be a waste of time.’ Throughout history, however, a motley array of eccentrics has done just this, and received a fair bit of attention. Originally published in 1984 but only now translated into English, Marina Yaguello’s fascinating survey of constructed languages revisits the history of two distinct but interlinked – and equally fanciful

A spirited attempt to fix a show that’s never really flown: Utopia, Limited reviewed

Utopia, Limited (1893) is a rare bird, and one that every Gilbert and Sullivan completist simply has to bag. The point of completism, of course, is to acquire an overview: if artists are truly original, everything they created should illuminate the whole. But what if a career tailed off, or ran to seed? It’s just going to be depressing, isn’t it? By the time they began their penultimate opera, Gilbert and Sullivan hadn’t collaborated for three years. In fact, they’d barely spoken. Goaded back into harness, they produced a comedy that really ought to have sparkled and yet somehow… well, put it this way: even the late D’Oyly Carte company

The TV we feared they’d never dare make any more: The Singapore Grip reviewed

‘Art is dead,’ declared Mark Steyn recently. He was referring to the new rules — copied from the Baftas — whereby to qualify for the Oscars your movie must have the correct quota of gay/ethnic minority/transgender/etc people. This, he argued, will lead to the kind of leaden, politicised, phoney art we associate with communist regimes in the Soviet era and which, not so long ago, we used to find eminently mockable. If British and American producers want to lose money on TV shows and movies that no one wants to watch, then good luck to them. All that matters is that there’ll be enough brave dissenters out there to say: