Of all the new magazines we discovered last year, The Fence was perhaps the oddest, in the sense that at first glance it was so normal. Yet, lurking in those pages…
With its cut-down A4 format, bold red compressed logo and primarily black and white interior it immediately resembles Private Eye, something the editors appear to be keen on after recently posting the two magazine together on Instagram. Although not as packed with material as Private Eye, the new magazine shares its satirical humour. Or at least its best bits do; The Fence remains rather hit and miss.
There’s just enough hit to make a look worthwhile, and with this third issue (there was a pilot issue before issue one) they’ve brought in a new editor; at this point things get a little surreal, as every member of the team operates under a pseudonym it can be unclear who is who. But the launch editor was a man, and since the new editor personally delivered this latest issue to our Shop, I can confirm he has been replaced by a she.
In her editor’s letter, ‘Heidi Milne’ is frank about her predecessor’s failings, ‘We thank Freddie Marsh for his efforts in the editor’s chair. Though we imagine that you were getting a little tired of what one reader described as a 72 page pamphlet of entitled nihilsm…’
The magazine concerns London literary life; primarily wealthy west London with ocassional outings to Shoreditch House and to a Soho pub for a drink with an unnamed rock star. Jane Austen plays agony aunt, and social media is parodied with a series of pastiches.
Longer pieces include an ‘Ethnographic Guide to London’s Hippy Underbelly’ that continues the self-flagellation of an earlier piece in the issue that digs at the conflict between wealthy privilege and environmental activism. Sartorial stereotypes feature in a spread of four stylised cliché characters drawn by Cynthia Kittler.
The whole thing is laid out smartly but simply with cartoonish illustrations dropped in New Yorker-style. If the targets tend to be a little too easy (food critic Jay Rayner for instance) but one piece stood out for me.
Literary criticism in magazines tends to be very specialist, elite even; the exception that comes to mind is recent launch Strong Words which is defiantly populist, in the best sense of that word. In The Fence, their target for a literary overview is novelist-of-the-moment Sally Rooney, which takes a rare path between the two extremes.
The anonymous writer, an unpublished novelist, bemoans Rooney’s reputation and fame, pulling together some of the rave reviews for the Irish author’s two books to date, looking back at the article in the Dublin Review that first got her noted, and calling out examples of Rooney’s ‘rickety similes’ (below).
The piece is an enjoyably read, mixing the journalist’s story as she pulled it together with the resuklts of her reseaerch, but it’s the design that stood out to me. I’ve not seen a piece of criticism laid out in quite this way, with references boxed out and captioned like images. I like its unfussy efficiency, matching the self-aware, chatty text. And I liked the contrast between that opening spread and the text pages too.
The Fence, then: oddly normal, yet very particular. Some readers will really dislike it, I’m sure, and as my notes above make clear I have my doubts, but there’s something going on here that might just develop into a unique and relevant magazine. Worth keeping an eye on.
Editor: Heidi Milne
Design: Studio Mathias Clottu
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