Caught in a Venus flytrap: Red Pyramid, by Vladimir Sorokin, reviewed

Interest in Vladimir Sorokin’s works in translation tends to focus on their extremism and dystopia – trademarks of his fantastically-rendered observations of the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia under an infinite bureaucracy. Less emphasis is placed on the empathy that elevates the stories from violence and a pre-occupation with bodily fluids to a discomforting sense of familiarity. In his introduction to Red Pyramid, Will Self writesthat Sorokin’s detractors accuse him of peddling pornography. But its relevance is without question. If reality is said to be stranger than fiction, Sorokin’s fiction goes further, to make the point that the pornographic, as he writes it, is a way of bearing witness to

The dark history of dance marathons

On 31 March 1923, Alma Cummings put her feet into a bowl of cold water. Then, tired-eyed but smiling obligingly for the photographer, she held up her dancing shoes. There were holes in both soles. Cummings had just finished a 27-hour stint of waltzing at a Manhattan ballroom, wearing out not just her shoes, but six male partners in the process. The dance instructor was one of the Americans responsible for a strange cultural phenomenon that swept the United States over the next two decades — dance marathons. Cummings’s record was soon beaten and within a few years promoters were organising public competitions across the States in which couples danced

Sinister toy story: Little Eyes, by Samanta Schweblin, reviewed

We often hear that science fiction — or ‘speculative’ fiction, as the buffs prefer — can draw premonitory outlines of the shape of things to come. Well, consider the case of this novel by an acclaimed Argentinian-born, Berlin-based writer, first published in Spanish last year. Little Eyes imagines a gadget (nothing fancy really, just a plush animal toy with camera and wifi implants) that creates a private but silent connection between its owner anda single, remote watcher. The ‘keeper’, who buys the $279 electronic pet known as a kentuki, doesn’t know the identity of the ‘dweller’, who pays to observe another life from afar and who can move the felt-covered