This year, the tenth anniversary year of my blog, which I celebrated by not adding any new content to it, I nonetheless kept a note of books I read that thrilled or tickled or astonished me. And here it is, with links to added commentary on Twitter where applicable (which usually follows in a thread from the first tweet I’ve linked to).
Trends are: (1) brevity continues to win the day; (2) most of these books are, in style if not in subject matter, straightforward to read—they slip down easily; and (3) there is more non-fiction than in previous years. All... read more
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of George Saunders’ long-awaited first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. (Short version: I liked it, but am less enthusiastic than many seem to be.)
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Click here to read my review in The Times of Danielle Dutton’s slim and charming novel about the life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, who was a prolific writer of fiction, philosophy and natural history, and the first woman to appear before the Royal Academy.
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I’ve been remiss this year in posting links to my reviews published elsewhere, so here’s a recap of the year to date.
Anakana Schofield: Martin John
Click here for my Guardian review of this funny, stark, circular novel which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in Canada and the Goldsmiths Prize in the UK.
Carlo Gébler: The Projectionist
Click here for my Times Literary Supplement review of a memoir, by his son, of a writer who once sold millions of novels but is now remembered, if at all, only as Edna O’Brien’s former husband.
Toby Vieira: Marlow’s Landing
Click here for my Guardian... read more
The very existence of this book is a stout marker of the robust good health of the publishing industry, and even, in its own way, small evidence that 2016 hasn’t been all bad. It also shows that, four years after its takeover and relaunch, Pushkin Press has retained an essential part of its character even while expanding into crime, children’s books and contemporary English language titles. In other words, where else might we see a beautifully-produced, mass-distributed book containing two essays written 70 years apart about a city I’d never heard of before now?
City of Lions is about Lviv, now... read more
Ann Quin. The Unmapped Country: Stories & Fragments. And Other Stories, 2018.
“The Unmapped Country,” which is the title story from this just-released collection of writings by Ann Quin (1936-1973), might well serve as the password to all of Quin’s work. Before drowning herself in the English Channel in Brighton, Quin published four novels, three of which I have written about in the last three months (Berg, Three, and Passages). In The Unmapped Country, Jennifer Hodgson has collected Quin’s published stories and tracked down unpublished fragments from personal collections and public repositories. The result is a collection of such stylistic diversity... read more
Jenny Erpenbeck. Go, Went, Gone. New Directions, 2017. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.
Writers of fiction (however you define it) have no obligation to make their writing relevant to the present moment; one of the great freedoms of fiction is its ability to be irrelevant, even frivolous. Still, there is a certain frisson that strikes me when a writer brilliantly encapsulates the specific now that we live in. Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone does just that. It’s a book that deals with the range of conflicting emotional, political, and legal responses to the current refugee crisis. Among the many... read more
In Ann Quin’s first novel, the black comedy Berg, “Alistair Berg, alias Greb, commercial traveler, seller of wigs, hair tonic, paranoid paramour” has set out to murder his father, a semi-itinerant womanizer living in a flop house with his current girlfriend Judith. Alistair’s father abandoned him at such a young age that he does not know that the young man who has moved into the adjacent room is his own son, bent on parricide. Alistair befriends the couple, then proceeds to spy on them, listening to them making love and fighting through the thin partition that separates their rooms. He... read more
One of the extraordinary gifts the British writer Ann Quin had was to see the real discourse going on beneath the surface of ordinary conversation, the prejudices, messages, and class distinctions encapsulated in tiny, seemingly innocuous phrases, the roiling power struggles in the daily chatter of couples. In Three, her second novel, published in 1966, a good portion of the text is devoted to the conversations that take place between Leonard and Ruth, a married couple, who are puzzling over the disappearance of a young woman—known only as S.— who rented a room from them and had become part of... read more
The “Being Human” festival in London is hosting a program this Wednesday, November 22 from 6-8 PM, called “A refugee child in London: on W G Sebald’s novel Austerlitz.” To quote from the program’s website (where you can also register to attend):
Today images and stories of child refugees, lost and found across Europe and beyond, challenge and haunt us. Come along for a free evening of talks, discussions and a film screening about one such story. The event focuses on one of our century’s greatest novels, W G Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001), about a child who comes to London in 1939... read more
“I learned to use a camera to see what I could be.”
Mary Jo Bang’s A Doll for Throwing is, among other things, a book about photography, but it is also about photographs stolen and appropriated through, shall we say, the arrogance of gender and fame. But first, about the title. It comes from a soft type of doll designed in the 1920s by the Bauhaus artist Alma Siedhoff-Buscher. (Examples of the doll can be seen at the Bauhaus website.) The doll (or wurfpuppe in German) has a fiber body and wooden head and was meant to be safely tossed between children,... 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 tried to read Karl Ove Knausgaard. But it is impossible… My Struggle lacks air. Literature needs a little air." Peter Handke"In his fiction [David Grossman] has always been a serious writer, a dealer in big themes – too serious for my taste, I find his books lack air." Gabriel Josipovici I read these two statements within a week of each other and have to ask: what is air? A falsely innocent question of course, as both comments surely wish only for relief from the weight of the world pressing on the words, which is after all what storytelling... read more
A review of Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Ingvild Burkey
Karl Ove Knausgaard stands in front of a 14th century Swedish castle speaking to a film crew from Melvyn Bragg's South Bank Show. "I don't understand what time is," he says. "Place I can relate to. We are here now and the castle's there now. But I don't understand what it is that someone was there 700 years ago". There is a pause before the camera pans over the castle walls, as if performing a token search for long-dead Swedes. It's an oddly innocent moment in... read more
What draws me back to Thomas Bernhard's novels is the wish to appreciate again how each is set in motion. The Loser begins like this. Even Glenn Gould, our friend and the most important piano virtuoso of the century, only made it to the age of fifty-one, I thought to myself as I entered the inn. Now of course he didn't kill himself like Wertheimer, but died, as they say, a natural death. [Translated by Jack Dawson] There is the familiar subject matter of early death pressing on the narrator, which is compelling in a regular way and enough... read more
Televisions schedules have lately featured many programmes following chronic hoarders as they try to overcome their pathological behaviour. The process is always the same: film crews enter outwardly normal homes to find labyrinths of cardboard boxes, magazines and newspapers stacked to the ceiling. Interviews with the inhabitants follow that invariably reveal the hoarding is compensation for a great absence. When attempts are made to clear a room, the owner panics and refuses to let anything go. One man in his sixties insisted on keeping a school textbook found at the bottom of a box because, he said, he was thinking... read more
But where has art led us? To a time before the world, before the beginning. It has cast us out of our power to begin and to end; it has turned us toward the outside where there is no intimacy, no place to rest. It has led us into the infinite migration of error. For we seek art's essence, and it lies where the nontrue admits of nothing essential. As part of a plan drawn by nostalgia and anxiety, I have been re-reading a few chosen books, wondering how might they re-present themselves to me after years of superficial... 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
I have always been completely convinced that different words have different meanings in different countries, even when we speak the same language. My latest observation is that Kiwi for 'steep' is very different to Devon for 'steep.' and I made this discovery whilst walking climbing the Bealey Spur track.
'Just a bit of uphill...' Offspringette assured me as we set off on October 12th 2017, a glorious day to walk one of the classic trails along Arthur's Pass a few hours out of Christchurch.
The trail begins through woodland and I was uttering the maternal equivalent of 'Are we there yet?' after... read more
Typepad is currently experiencing a glitch with updating links to Amazon UK on the sidebars at the moment so don’t be surprised if a few links head to Amazon.com for a while. Pending resolution I had typed this update on my current 'READING...' over here >>>>>>>>>>>>> because it was beginning to look as if all I have been reading is Daemon Voices for weeks now (which I have) but of course there is always more...
The Wardrobe Mistress by Patrick McGrath, (published in 2017) which I have almost finished and enjoyed immensely. Thoughts on it here eventually but definitely one I... read more
Blue Monday, the third Monday in January is apparently the most depressing day of the year and I'm not sure whether this will help or not....
Last January it was jolly old Anna Karenina, this year, in my quest for an Everyman Classic to take me into a new year of reading, I settled on The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann published in 1924. It might not be much more jolly.
The idea to read The Magic Mountain was resurrected when Barbara (who blogs about her travels at Milady's Boudoir) and I met for our annual bookish-life-knitting catch up while she was down... read more