Just out from Bloomsbury, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism: Theory of a Catastrophe (translated by Scott Davidson):
Both a unique witness of transformative events in the late 20th century, and a prescient analysis of our present economic crises from a major French philosopher, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism adds an important economic dimension to his earlier social critique. It begins by tracing the collapse of communist regimes back to their failure to implement Marx's original insights into the irreplaceable value of the living individual. Henry goes on to apply this same criticism to the surviving capitalist economic systems,... read more
As I tried to make very clear in my post on Sunday, the small and contained argument that I'm advancing is not that serious and interesting writing about books is not happening online. Categorically, it is. I listed five blogs and bloggers in my original Guardian post – This Space, David Winters, 3:AM, Flowerville, Time's Flow Stemmed – and in my follow up blog, I listed several more – John Self, Berfrois, LARB and Dan Green. Very many more wonderful book-related spaces and places could be mentioned – The Quarterly Conversation and HTMLGiant both deserve a shout, as do Marooned... read more
I was honoured to be invited to speak at The Literary Consultancy's Writing in a Digital Age conference yesterday. (A particular personal pleasure because I got to see Lynne Hatwell and Sam Leith again, and it had been far too long in both cases.) Huge thanks to the organisers for inviting me. Seemed to be a very vibrant and well run affair, and I enjoyed the discussion immensely.
The conference was the occasion for writing this piece (What became of literary blogging?) for the Guardian last Monday. It was the subs at the Guardian who framed the piece thus: I hoped... read more
Two music-related books to get me through Sunday...
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine (she of The Slits; if you don't know, you probably won't care, but maybe you should – she writes well about "art school, squatting, hanging out in Sex with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, spending a day chained to Sid Vicious, on tour with The Clash, and being part of a brilliant, pioneering group of women making musical history").
And Emily Petermann's The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction: read more
I’ve suffered from depression intermittently since I was a teenager. Some of these episodes have been highly debilitating – resulting in self-harm, withdrawal (where I would spend months on end in my own room, only venturing out to sign-on or to buy the minimal amounts of food I was consuming), and time spent on psychiatric wards. I wouldn’t say I’ve recovered from the condition, but I’m pleased to say that both the incidences and the severity of depressive episodes have greatly lessened in recent years. Partly, that is a consequence of changes in my life situation, but it’s also to... read more
These guys popped up on Twitter the other day (@FitzcarraldoEds): "a London-based publisher, will be publishing long-form essays and novels." They start publishing "[i]n August, a novel: ZONE by Mathias Enard (originally published by @open_letter in the US and @ActesSud in France)... In September, an essay: MEMORY THEATRE by Simon Critchley, with images by Liam Gillick."
Great books to start with. (ZONE was reviewed by Steve at This Space here: "Everything is coursed into a recital, a unique poetic ritual of mourning to reach the destination that is itself. Zone is indeed soaked in trauma yet, in Mathias... read more
Recently I read Here and Now, the letters of J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster (I don’t recommend it). In it, Auster claims that he never reads his reviews. It’s not an uncommon stance, but I wonder how true it is of writers generally. At a literary event a few years ago, I met two Booker-winning authors. Both, when I was introduced to them, immediately had a strikingly clear recollection of everything I’d written about their books (which, given that it wasn’t all complimentary, was awkward). I raise this because the author of this book, Jonathan Gibbs, is what we might call... read more
Here is my review for the Independent on Sunday of Elizabeth McCracken’s excellent new collection of stories, Thunderstruck. If you’re sampling it, or have a copy and are wondering where to start, my favourite stories were ‘Juliet’, ‘Some Terpsichore’ and ‘Property’.
... read more
Ben Marcus first came to my (largely baffled) attention with his debut book, The Age of Wire and String. I was going to call it ‘a collection of stories’, but that doesn’t really sum up short pieces of prose like this, titled ‘Intercourse with Resuscitated Wife’:
Intercourse with resuscitated wife for particular number of days, superstitious act designed to insure safe operation of household machinery. Electricity mourns the absence of the energy form (wife) within the household’s walls by stalling its flow to the outlets. As such, an improvised friction needs to take the place of electricity, to goad the natural currents... read more
Amanda Prantera and I go back a long way. I’ve had a good deal of pleasure from her novels – she’s written 16, most of which I’ve read – and a certain amount of frustration that she never seems to have had the recognition she deserves. Perhaps this is because her style is often, as The Times put it, “so delicate, so light to the touch that it belies the weight of the substantial talent that produced it.” Perhaps, too, it’s because she – like Brian Moore – is so varied in her subject matter that she hasn’t built up... read more
Often, I think, we retain a special affection for the first book we read by an author. Certainly that’s true for me with Gerard Woodward, whose second novel I’ll Go to Bed at Noon, the keystone in his Jones family trilogy, still floats high above his others. Recently I read the third volume, A Curious Earth, which I’d been holding off as I’d been told it was almost unreadably grim and sad – I was surprised (and a little disappointed) to find that it was more funny than sad, though sometimes a bit of both. But it was his gift... read more
Last week I wrote that Jenny Offill’s second novel Dept. of Speculation was probably my favourite new book of the year so far. It doesn’t seem to have attracted the attention of other UK reviewers yet, and amazingly, the Baileys Women’s Prize judging panel hasn’t resigned in embarrassment at leaving it off its recently-announced longlist. Doubtless the Booker and Folio judges will get it right, but in the meantime, I took the opportunity to ask Offill some questions about the book and her work generally.
Dept. of Speculation deals with everyday life but is unusual in its form and content. (“She... read more
It’s time to think about visiting France in September. The Centre Culturel International de Cerisy has announced a week-long colloquium on Sebald and the issue of documentary ethics in literature. It’s quite an impressive group of participants and it all takes place in a 17th century chateau. (Everything that follows is from the CCIC website, where there is this additional information, including details on each of the participants.)
“W.G. Sebald: Littérature et Éthique Documentaire”
Monday Septembre 3 through Monday Septembre 10, 2014
DIRECTION : Mark ANDERSON, Muriel PIC, Jürgen RITTE
ARGUMENT : History is no longer the past but also the present in which the... read more
The fabulous Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is currently working on a major new dance called Analogy, which involves using W.G. Sebald’s story of Ambros Adelwarth from The Emigrants as part of the program. Here’s the official description from the company’s website.
Analogy (working title) is the Company’s newest creation, currently in development. Bill T. Jones, along with Janet Wong (Associate Artistic Director of the Company) and the Company dancers, are developing a new evening-length work in two parts, focusing on the memory and the effect that powerful events have on the actions of individuals and-more importantly-on their often unexpressed inner life.... read more
Who owns words? Can you inherit them? Do you have a special responsibility for words that have been written “to” you? These are just some of the questions raised by Joseph McElroy’s 1998 brief, rich novel The Letter Left to Me.
Inspired by Bibliomanic‘s intelligent passion for McElroy’s writing, I recently decided to dip back into my half shelf of McElroy’s books. I first encountered McElroy sometime in the early 1970s through A Smuggler’s Bible and have had a soft spot for his books ever since, especially Lookout Cartridge. I adore McElroy’s sentence-making and I’m attracted to the breadth of his... read more
Spain’s Taller de Escritura Fuentetaja recently posted a short (5:05) video excerpt from a longer interview with W.G. Sebald, in which he talks about the role of photographs in his books. The interview is in English with Spanish subtitles. Although uncredited, it is a segment of the June 23, 1998 Amsterdam interview with Michaël Zeeman. The full text of the interview can be found in W.G. Sebald: History, Memory, Trauma. edited by Scott Denham and Mark McCulloh.
(Thanks, Juan and Kim!)
I would also point to a worthwhile article over at Numéro Cinq by Patrick Madden called “Walking, Researching, Remembering: W.... read more
[photograph by Álvaro Sánchez-Montañés]
Here is a summer-themed post for all of those Vertigo readers who might find themselves on a beach in the coming months, trying to eject a few grains of sand from in between the toes.
On the opening page of The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald’s narrator reflects briefly upon the walk through the county of Suffolk which he is about to relate to us in the remainder of the book.
In retrospect I became preoccupied not only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had overcome me at times with the traces... read more
In fiction, when someone is known only by the name of the place they came from, it’s often a sign that they will never be anything but an outsider wherever else they go. And that’s the case with the woman known only as Reno, the protagonist in Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Scribner’s 2013). The Flamethrowers is a thoroughly engaging and finely written, if utterly conventional, novel. It takes place in the 1970s at the Bonneville Salt Flats (the Utah location where world speed records are routinely made and broken), the New York City downtown art scene, and various locations in... read more
Some novels offer the perfect opportunity for reviewers to palliate otherwise desolate and sundered lives. Notable examples in recent years include Vila-Matas' Montano's Malady, Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones and Tao Lin's first novel Eeeee Eee Eeee. There are many others but Tao Lin's Taipei, published last year, is an extreme case. One reviewer found relief in the "vapid stupidity" of its prose, another in its "massive discharge of waste matter", a third in its "mindless kitsch". As we watch them scurry in haste to the well-furnished bunkers of polite literary society, we can infer each reviewer found clarity and... read more
Revue LISA, a print journal published by the University of Rennes, has a very welcome edition dedicated to the work of Gabriel Josipovici. It is also online.
Readers new to his fiction and criticism would do well to read Vesna Main's Beyond the "Grammar", in which the grammar is "the formulaic apparatus of most novels", and Victoria Best's very moving essay on The Cost of Creativity in his work.
The editor Marcin Stawiarski is also organising Zig Zag, Twist and Turn, a conference on Josipovici's work, to be held at Dalarna University in Sweden this... read more
Going back to a beloved novel after many years can be a disconcerting experience. Often you wonder what you saw the first time around to prompt such nostalgia and loving reverence. Much of the detail is unfamiliar, alien even. Unlike a poem, whose aura is embedded in words recited both subconsciously and at will, a novel is recovered en bloc, masking many details and existing almost like a Platonic form we contemplate with awe in its absence. But, when trodden again, the perfect lawn has molehills.
In effect, our personal library is a collection of portals... read more
In his diary Kafka said he enjoyed reading books of letters and memoirs because they helped him find some distance from himself and become the author's counterpart in their experiences and feelings. Nothing very unusual about that of course; it's why many of us read. Except Kafka recognises the self-deceit involved. On closing the book, he says he's always surprised that such an escape is possible because "experience inclines us to think that nothing in the world is further removed from an experience than its description". The experience he refers to here is his own writing tormented by a dynamic... read more
It's been said that Boyhood Island is "the most Proustian" of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle series, and while this is true that both Proust and Knausgaard present intense remembrances of childhood, the same could be said of many other novels, for example Tomas Bennerhed's The Ravens, recently published by the Clerkenwell Press and, like Boyhood Island, a novel of a 1970s childhood set in Scandinavia. Both Proust's and Knausgaard's would surely be lost among them were it not for what sets them apart.
What sets them apart might best be summarised as the lingering uncertainty of their... read more
Today marks fifty days since I began learning German on Duolingo, a website I discovered by chance. That is, fifty days in a row. I know this because the site rewards continuity and persistence. Online e-learning has now enabled me to progress far further than I had ever imagined possible. Many years ago I signed up for a schoolroom course in which "immersive" interaction with neighbours in the new language was the sole method of learning. No lists of nouns, no gender tables, no rules of grammar. We didn't even look at words. I should have known better: this was... read more
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Picador (August 2013)
378 pages, hardback
Bought by me, from Amazon
I savoured the thought of reading Hannah Kent’s debut novel for almost six months. I pre-ordered it, and then hoarded it, like I do with books I hope I’m going to relish. It ticked lots of boxes for me: historical fiction; female protagonist; set in a cold climate; dark murderous plot. The book itself was beautiful, with its stark and striking cover and black edged pages. It sat patiently on my TBR, always hovering near the top, while the accolades came rolling in: it was chosen... read more
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch
I know, I know, the Baileys shortlist has been out for almost a week now and is officially Old News in the blogosphere, but I've only just properly caught up. It's been a busy little time for me recently. We're about to move house for the second time in two years, this time out to the country. I'm six months into my part-time PhD and it... read more
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Austen Project, The Borough Press, March 2014
352 pages, paperback proof
Kindly sent by the publisher
I've never read Val McDermid before, and I heartily wish now that my first encounter hadn't been with Northanger Abbey. If there was ever a book that wasn't for me, it's this one. I eagerly snapped up a review copy because I was quite curious about The Austen Project- which has commissioned six bestselling authors to reimagine Austen's novels in contemporary settings - and because I enjoy following Val on Twitter. I'm not a huge crime fan; Austen is far more... read more
The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt
Simon and Schuster, March 2014
Paperback proof, 374 pages
Review copy from the publisher
A puzzling reading experience, this one. The proof comes replete with glowing recommendations from Nathan Filer (winner of this year’s Debut Costa for The Shock of the Fall) and Samantha Harvey (of The Wilderness fame), and it has been long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize this week. But I struggled to get through it: 374 pages dragged by and I had to bribe myself to keep up a steady pace. It wasn’t that I was disappointed or bored as such (although I was a... read more
I didn't realise how long it had been since I last posted. Over a month. Ahem. So much for my new year resolution to write more frequently. Better get back on the horse.
While I've been away the Orange Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction longlist has been announced, and what an excitingly rounded list it seems. I've read The Luminaries so far, and have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld waiting in the wings. Of the others I'm keen to get my mitts on The Signature of All Things, Reasons She Goes to the... read more
The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness
Translated from Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson
The Harvill Press, 2001 (first published 1957), paperback, 246pp
Bought by me, from a bookshop somewhere.
The Fish Can Sing wasn't the book I was expecting. When I read Laxness' extraordinary sheep-farming epic Independent People I was overwhelmed and unsettled. It has stayed with me over the years, growing more majestic and psychologically acute in my mind. That novel - especially the first 2/3 of it - is a great cosmic shout, a conjuring of both the grandeur and limitations of human life. The Fish Can Sing is a... read more
and we have moved in and made ourselves at home...
The board since corrected to say Four Sisters.
Had a wander around the bookshop next door (convenient) already and bought a book which I have been wanting for ages and Booker longlisting makes no difference...I still wanted to tackle The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, who by coincidence will be doing an event at the festival over the weekend.
I have also started to adorn my festival hat with frivols...
Team dovegrey are gathering, Fran H-B and Barbara arrived today and Curzon arrives with us tomorrow. Becky and... read more
Across the land I imagine people packing up cars and vans ready for the trek west this week, so how lucky are we to have just a thirtyish minute drive up and over Kit Hill (that's it in the distance) into Cornwall and along the narrow twisty lanes to Port Eliot.
We've made a start to this whole business of bringing dovegreyreader scribbles to life...piling up the bags of quilts and other bits and pieces that will soon adorn the tent, finding deckchairs, wellies, the cool box, vases, insect repellent, Factor 30...you name it, never knowingly under-prepared is us... read more
The cut flower glut continues; gorgeous little vases bursting with our own blooms and I particularly liked this delicate white one...an Iceberg rose, a plant inherited from Offspringette's garden before she headed to New Zealand, some Cosmos 'Purity' and my wonderful new best Flower Arranging Friend Ammi Majus. For proper Ammi advice check with Mr Higgledy but I sowed mine in pots in the autumn and quickly planted them out (because they hate being moved apparently) and they grew like crazy when nothing else was. Sowing direct is hopeless here, the slugs are on it for a gourmet meal before you... read more
I've done a really unusual thing for me...well two unusual things actually.
I keep getting emails related to that time when I was a nurse once upon a time. Professional questionnaires to be precise, and I always delete them thinking far too much bother because can I even remember anything. Well another one arrived, and it was related to my exact bit of the NHS world...and it would take about thirty minutes...and in return I would be sent a £15 Amazon voucher.
Well suddenly and miraculously of course I thought perhaps I could remember everything after all. So I did it and... read more
Some more of our cut flowers to decorate today's post...
and thank you so much everyone, ninety four heartfelt comments and well over fifty suggestions...a book a week for a year or more. As you can see from her replies, Lesley Ann has been incredibly moved by your kind thoughts, and wise words and I know that for many who read here sometimes knowing you are not alone, even in a virtual way, can help
I wonder how many of us started reading a book off the list week. I certainly did and am really enjoying The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery and the suddenly very... read more
...because ours is galloping away after such a slow start, and isn't July wonderful...most of the hard work of growing and planting out done and now's the time to sit back and enjoy it
We have bells ringing all over the place... Canterbury Bells..
and Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis.) Native to Turkey and in cultivation since the 1500s, and interestingly, from the same packet of Higgledy Garden seeds, one tray germinated while the other did nothing, but we love them and will definitely be growing again...
Sweet Peas have been filling every vase since the end of May...Lord Nelson (blue) Queen... read more