Click here to read my capsule review in The Guardian of Yoko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo (translated by Margaret Mitsutani).
There wasn’t room in my review to comment on this, but I noticed that the title of the US edition is The Emissary. This seems to me somewhat closer to the original (Kentoshi) and more in keeping with the spirit of the book, whereas the UK title goes for a more eye-catching take on the underlying premise of the plot. I prefer the US version.... read more
Now here is a book cover to arrest the browser’s fickle gaze, with an elegant and beautiful balance of text, image and abstract colour. And it’s not a one-off, but part of a series design – Penguin European Writers – with titles by Cesare Pavese and Violette Leduc coming later this year. For the paper-fetishists among us, it’s a fine book-handling experience too, with flapped covers, slim format and printed on untreated card. And – I almost forgot – it’s one of the strangest and best books I’ve read this year.
If I had to sum up Death in Spring (1986;... read more
Three years ago, Penguin hit paydirt with its Little Black Classics range: short, pocket-sized slices of work from the authors in its Classics imprint, at 80p a pop, to celebrate 80 years of Penguin Books. It wasn’t a new idea: they did it before in 1995 (with the Penguin 60s, with both contemporary and classic authors), in 2005 (with the Pocket Penguin 70s – no, not those Pocket Penguins – containing old and new writing by Penguin authors) and in 2011, to celebrate 60 years of Penguin Modern Classics (with the Mini Modern Classics). And here is another set, 50... read more
I been moving back and forth between three books by Forrest Gander recently, looking mostly at the various ways in which he has worked with photographs in his poetry. In Core Samples from the World (New Directions, 2011) there are four poem sequences in which photographs by Raymond Meeks, Graciela Iturbide, and Lucas Foglia are situated. The photographs are each given their own page, so they aren’t really embedded within the text of the poem. Instead, Gander seems to propose that the reader take in the photographs as a visual parallel to his words. Separate but equal. An earlier book,... read more
You see? his wife—his second wife—would say when he came to this point in the story. At heart he is a romantic.
Perhaps I am, he would say.
Perhaps, she would mock him. Perhaps. It is his favorite word.
What would we do without it?
We would live our lives more happily, she would respond.
More happily perhaps, he would come back at her, but more humanly? More richly?
Gabriel Josipovici. The Cemetery in Barnes. Carcanet Press, 2018. Fair warning! This post contains plot spoilers, although I doubt that knowing what happens will lessen anyone’s appreciation for this elegantly written novel.
By... read more
I thought it might worthwhile to do a roundup of the W.G. Sebald audio books available as of today, August 2018. The first six of the titles below are available for individual purchase (as downloads) via Audible, either individually or through an Audible subscription. Click here to see Sebald’s titles on Audible, where sample sections may be heard. Three of these titles are also available for download purchase at Audiobookstore.com, where the prices are somewhat cheaper. Sample sections can be heard here, too. All English-language titles are available for download at iTunes—along with several podcasts in English & German about... read more
“Artists naturally gravitate toward indeterminacy.”
Baroni: A Journey (Almost Island Books, 2017) is the fourth of Sergio Chejfec’s novels to be translated into English since 2011. In 2014, I wrote about the first three: “Cumulatively, they delve into weighty issues like existence, loss, time, geography, memory, and identity. There are no plots, simply a series of males narrating their thoughts, observations, recollections, and theories.” With Baroni, Chejfec continues in this tradition, meditating on themes that include art, chance, landscape, and the puzzling sense that he is suffering from a prolonged despondency, “sunk in the most complete indifference.”
The Baroni of the title is... read more
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Children’s Games, 1560
Summer means beaches, beer, flirtations, rowdiness. For people in northern climates, the brevity of summer puts people who are in a rush to celebrate on a collision course with nature—with sand, water, heat, bugs, snakes, sudden storms. Written five years earlier than River (which I wrote about in two recent posts), Esther Kinsky’s novel Summer Resort is a condensed story of one very hot summer at an üdülő, or a resort, on an unnamed river in Hungary. The book, which has no real main character, is reminiscent of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, providing... read more
My days always followed the same route: downstream and back. I returned with photographs and small found objects such as feathers and stones, or the seed pods of withered flowers. Little by little the fluvial landscape took over my flat…The river itself would probably have been astonished.
What are we to make of the way that Esther Kinsky’s novel River begins? Immediately after the title page, the book reproduces the photograph shown above along with the dedication “For the blind child.” Then, after the Table of Contents, with the titles of the 37 chapters, there is an epigraph from the American... read more
Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point is to be reached.
On Saturday I discovered that another secondhand bookshop in Brighton has closed; the third this year. Saturday mornings have often involved a walk along the promenade, a turn right into Ship Street and onto Colin Page's around the corner on Duke Street. There will be no motivation now the books are gone.
The window displayed antiquarian volumes of no interest to me, and indeed more or less everything inside the shop was of no interest to me, but in good weather the... read more
This sumptuous Folio Society edition of Dante's Vita Nuova translated from the Italian by Mark Musa arrived with the suggestion that I post photographs to accompany anything I wanted to write. So here it is, bathed in marine light.
What I wanted to write was unclear to me, and feeling incapable of adding anything worthwhile to the centuries of studies, I began with the basics.
The book was published in 1295 and comprises 31 poems and a prose narrative described by Robert Harrison as juxtaposing "quasi-hallucinatory dreams and visions with pedantic commentary on the poems"; an unusual... read more
The saints were uneducated. Why, then, do they write so well? Is it only inspiration? They have style whenever they describe God. It's easy to write from divine whispers, with one's ear glued to his mouth. Their works have a superhuman simplicity. But they cannot be called writers, since they do not describe reality. The world won't accept them because it does not see itself in their work. EM Cioran, Tears and SaintsA surprising conclusion: realism, the new narcissism.
It might explain why I prefer to read non-writers. But what do they write about if God no... read more
This is a novel about a translator who moves from London to Paris after the death of his first wife and then to Wales with his second wife, from where the novel is narrated, sometimes through the translator's imagination and sometimes via the guests invited to dinner parties in their cottage on the hills above Abergavenny. I admit that this doesn't sound like the most exciting premise for a novel, but I have read it three times in quick succession with increasing pleasure and relief (an odd word to use in a review perhaps), so let me try to explain... read more
Elizabeth Lowry's skilled review tells you all you need to know about JM Coetzee's The Schooldays of Jesus, more or less. It recognises that the "mysterious Spanish-speaking country, this place of refugee souls" in which the two protagonists make their new lives "stands for our embodied earthly life", and that their new home city Novilla is also "the genre in which the characters find themselves, the novel itself". It's why the novel is not very enjoyable, she says; a flimsy metafictional construct allowing Coetzee to indulge in Platonic dialogues as unappealing as the bread and bean paste eaten by... read more
Sarah Kofman wrote nearly thirty books between 1970 and her suicide in 1994. The majority have not been translated into English and those that have are expensive, but with titles on Kant, Nietzsche and Freud, you can appreciate their range and seriousness. Derrida and Levinas admired her work so much they joined a campaign to get her the academic recognition she had been denied. However, I want to draw attention to one short book from late in her career.
Parole Suffoquées was published in 1987 and translated by Madeleine Dobie as Smothered Words, an edition of less... read more
I've been watching a lot of book videos on YouTube recently, with a growing desire to contribute to the conversation. At the same time I've wondered if making videos might be an answer to those times when writing a longish blog review is beyond my powers. Somehow a couple of thousand words seems like a lot more effort than talking to myself for 10 minutes. Anyway, I decided to give it a go and do a 'tag' video by way of introduction, without any special equipment or editing or, well, forethought really. It's taken me almost a week to... read more
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Fourth Estate, 14th June 2016
E-book, 736 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped.
Annie Proulx's new novel is about devastation, both cultural and environmental. Over the course of 700 intensively researched pages and 300 years it charts the story of the colonization of North America, and the landscapes and ways of life it destroyed,... read more
Forgive me lovely people for I have slumped, both in my reading and in my blogging.
It's been over a month since my last confession and I've had to drag myself back to the keyboard like a stroppy teenager.
After a phenomenally good January to May of books, June was a bit of a wasteland. Thankfully July is looking up, but after an absence it's always difficult for me to get back on the horse and write again. The longer the gap the more books there are to be read for review, the more reviews there are to write, the easier it... read more
The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Bloomsbury, 2 June 2016
E-book, 355 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
At nineteen Katherine North is the oldest Phenomenaut at Shencorp, the world's leading Consciousness Projection provider. Recruited at the tender age of twelve she has spent much of the last seven years hooked up to life support in a lab while her mind inhabits the bodies of other animals. In that time she has contributed enormously to scientific research on endangered species - her specialism - bringing back data and the lived experience of being an animal into the human... read more
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg
Fourth Estate, 2nd June 2016
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
The 2nd of June seems to be this year's fashionable publication date for all the books designed to appeal to me. I count four ARCs on my TBR coming out that day and all of them sound ruddy amazing. I've been psyching myself up for a personal mini-challenge of reading them in quick and glorious succession, so that I can write about them in the run up to the Big Day. First up is a debut by Eleanor Wasserberg, a recent graduate from... read more
Journeyman by Marc Bojanowski
Granta, 5 May 2016
*My copy provided by the publisher for review.
Just a year ago the look, feel and blurb for this book would have sent me running for Bailey's Prize hill and the safety of my comfort zone post-haste. A carpenter has a dark night of the quietly masculine soul in mid-2000s California against the back drop of war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Take note of how I'm trying to extend my reading repetoire by trusting to the judgement of Granta and ploughing on in. As brave ventures go, this one turned out surprisingly... read more
The sun never fails to shine on the Budleigh Literary Festival, this year celebrating its tenth birthday and going from strength to strength year on year. And so, despite last night’s horrendous storm (we have now made up for that dry summer) I skirted around floods and downed branches early this morning to drive across from the Tamar Valley for a couple of days of literary magic. I’ll be writing a few blog posts on the hoof (with apologies for typos) so you can enjoy the festival from wherever you are too, or even head over this way...it’s on until... read more
It is a while since I went on this journey, and in the meantime summer has happened, but I can't let the voyage end without mentioning those wonderful twenty-four days through June when I read a book of The Odyssey, in Emily Wilson's translation, each day.
You might ask what is so different about this first translation of Homer by a woman, and to be honest I can't tell you because I have never read Homer properly and seriously before, in any translation. I do know, however that I fell into step with the rhythm of the iambic pentameter with ease,... read more
I’m not ashamed to admit that, having met and been beguiled by the poetry of both Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath whilst studying for that English Literature degree, I joined the ranks of the Lady Lazarus ‘peanut crunching crowd’ who read all there was to read, by and about each of them and both of them. In fact I have so many books I am a 'peanut crunching crowd' of one, the Ted & Sylvia shelves bulging with the evidence; every biography, every expose of yet another aspect of their private lives made public, every new book, until suddenly I felt sated,... read more
Thank you for all the inspiring reading choices you have suggested today...what a great summer of reading we have all had. I've compiled a list of your suggestions so far just in case anyone is at a loss for what to read next and needs some ideas, or to add to your list of books to look out for. Please do keep adding summer reads in comments and I will add them here dreckly.
Quite a few books on the list I have read, or listened to, and really enjoyed ( My Antonia, The Trick to Time,The Pigeon Tunnel, Some Luck, Balzac... read more
A gallimaufry (still my most favourite word next to 'haberdashery') of recent reads, short posts about good books various...
In a Land of Plenty ~ Tim Pears
'In a small town in the middle of England, the aftermath of the Second World War brings change. For ambitious industrialist Charles Freeman, it offers new opportunities and marriage to Mary. He buys the big house on the hill and nails his aspirations to the future.
In quick succession, three sons and a daughter bring life to the big house and, with it, the seeds of family joy and tragedy. As the children grow and struggle... read more
If you are anywhere near the Shire this weekend then please do stop by in Tavistock for the Goosey Quilters exhibition.
Thursday lunchtime to Saturday afternoon, nice quilts, nice cakes, nice things to buy (I think I'm helping to woman the sales table and will probably do some sink/ door/raffle/stewarding duty too).
Having set up the group with two friends back in 1986, before work and life got in the way, it was good to find the group was still there when I found the time to rejoin a couple of years ago, and am really enjoying the inspiration and the quilting... read more