Click here to read my review of Anna Burns’ Booker-shortlisted novel Milkman, in Literary Review magazine. This is a novel that’s had a lot of praise, on my Twitter timeline at least, so my lukewarm response may show the unconvinced that they’re not alone.
... read more
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
Tess Jaray, “Sketch from a letter to W.G. Sebald,” circa 1999. Pencil on photocopy.
“All’estero & Dr. K.’s Badereise nach Riva: Version B,” a group exhibition at the Croy Nielsen gallery in Vienna, takes its inspiration from two chapters in W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo (Schwindel. Gefühle). Curated by Saim Demircan, this is part of an annual “gallery share” event called, appropriately, “curated_by,” which involves twenty-one galleries across Vienna.
The exhibition runs from September 13 to October 27, 2018 and includes work by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Whitney Claflin, Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser, Stephan Dillemuth, Georgia Gardner Gray, Rochelle Goldberg, Philipp Gufler, Ernst... 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
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
Well not that far west actually, just across to Cornwall for a book festival held there last week.
To be honest I'm ready for winter hibernation after September and Budleigh LitFest. It marks the end of my literary forays within distance of home until the next year, having soaked up enough inspiration and new books to read to last me through the winter. I was persuaded out of the cave by author Patrick Gale, Artistic Director of the North Cornwall Book Festival, now in its sixth year, who suggested on Twitter how awful it would be for me to wake up in... read more
Right...you might need a pot of tea for this one because I'm not interested in reading Melmoth at all am I.
Not one bit.
The social media hype for the book has been relentless for six months, we've definitely all known 'Melmoth is coming'. In fact I wonder about the impact of that on an author these days, I would be worrying myself sick about the burden of expectation unless I was Dame Hilary. As a reader I have to confess to some weariness in the waiting.
Can hype cancel itself out I wonder....
Gothic horror? No, not my bag, not really...
Some lacklustre reviews just... read more
Mention of The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard reminded me that I had read and written about the book here a couple of years ago, so I have been down to the basement to dust off that post and also to revisit my EJH shelf for some more reading...
If there is one sure-fire way to pique my curiosity in any book it is to include an introduction by Hilary Mantel.
And so The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard arrived suitably adorned with the sacred words...
And I only had to read Hilary's opening gambit, quoted above, to know that here was a... read more
I'm still wittering on, to anyone who will listen, about the Masterclass given at Budleigh LitFest by Dame Hilary Mantel, which means Bookhound and Magnus are well-versed in all aspects of the two hours that I sat in on the four hour session. I'd only meant to stay for first ten minutes or so...
I overcame the temptation to just sit and be over-awed and took copious notes which are now like gold-dust to me, and as a few of you have asked for more details I will share a few nuggets. I won't flesh them out with too many of... read more
Firstly thank you to those of you out there who suggested that I must read Handywoman by Kate Davies. I have been following Kate Davies for several years, saw all the pre-publication publicity but had wondered whether I really wanted to read it. Well of course I did, I have and am filled to the brim with admiration and much-to-think-about since I turned the final page.
Now the non-knitters amongst you, and even the knitters amongst you who don’t move in online knitting circles like Ravelry might be wondering who Kate Davies is.
In fact some of you might now be wondering... read more
Do you love it or hate it?
Is it world domination yet?
I wonder if West country homes are fast filling up with all-things Ikea since the latest store finally opened its doors in Exeter in May. Until now we've all had to drive up to Bristol and that really sorts the stalwarts from the can't-be-bothereds. Offspringette and I went about twenty years ago and ended up buying so much 'stuff' that we hadn't really given much thought to how we'd get it all in the car. It was a long-wheelbase Shogun which possibly demonstrates just how much I mean by 'so... read more