Click here to read my Irish Times review of two new Lucia Berlin books: Evening in Paradise (more stories, following from A Manual for Cleaning Women) and the memoir/photos/letters collected as Welcome Home.
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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.
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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
Michelle Bailat-Jones. Unfurled. NY: Ig Publishing, 2018.
Olga Medvedkova. Going Where. London: Sylph Editions, 2018. The Cahiers Series 33.
Neither of us realized we had been living in a borderland all that time, a place where rules are too often unspoken, never declared. We didn’t understand there were passports and checkpoints involved. And that not all three of us would make it through.
So begins Michelle Bailat-Jones’s second novel Unfurled, whose narrator Ella is about to have one very bad week. Ella is a veterinarian, highly sensitized to the health and needs of animals, but prone to ignoring those things that make... read more
Let me just say right from the start that Uwe Schütte’s new short, general introductory book W.G. Sebald is excellent. Published in Liverpool University Press’s “Writers and their Work” series, Schütte’s book is now the place to start with one’s study of Sebald. I am really surprised that something like this had not been done in the seventeen years since Sebald’s death. It seems so simple, doesn’t it—summarize an author’s life, books, and impact in 130 pages? Schütte makes this look easy, which is a credit to the clarity of his writing and critical thinking. But in truth this is... read more
I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness.
Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Females (Two Lines Press) is an angry explosion of a novel. The target of Hilbig’s haunting wrath in this brief book is the nation of his birth, the German Democratic Republic. Hilbig (1941-2007) lived in East Germany until he was finally allowed to emigrate in 1985 to West Germany.
Whenever I’d felt within me the unforeseen power to examine myself, even to know myself, and consequently, perhaps, expunge the germs of my sickness, I found that the state snatched every tool from my hands . . . For me, reality... read more
Leonardo da Vinci, Whirlpools of Water. Windsor, Royal Library.
The Institute of Advance Studies at University College London has announced a one-day symposium on W.G. Sebald. There is a call for papers “on any aspect of turbulence, in the widest sense.” Proposals are due November 8. See below for details, or visit the website. For more on the topic of turbulence, look here.
Call for Papers
Turbulence: The Work of W.G. Sebald
An Interdisciplinary Symposium
Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), UCL, London, 29 November 2018
This symposium explores the theme of turbulence in the literary work of W.G. Sebald (1944-2001), from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Sebald’s work is celebrated... 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
‘The best things in museums are the windows’ Paintings on gallery walls have always been distant to me. I think of Pierre Bonnard's quip as I wander, aware that I am too soon drawn toward the text panel on the wall beside each painting, to the wall itself, to the design of the gallery space – what if there were a hundred windows and only one painting? – and then to the giftshop, as if in search of something to close that distance: a postcard or Mondrian mug. I am always trying to understand this space, specifically why a painting, any... 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
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
'Perhaps every long distance walk is a pilgrimage, whether the walker is a believer or not. The reconnection with ourselves through immersion in the world is inevitably therapeutic.'
I'm not going to make the overdone wisecrack about buses, you know, waiting for hours and then three come along together, so forget I said that. Just know that having read two books by Horatio Clare in quick succession I'd be quite pleased if a third would hove into view around the bend.
Firstly The Light in the Dark, the winter journal and an antidote to the challenge of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and now... read more
A little cohort of the dovegrey Candlestick Chapter have kindly emerged from winter hibernation to share their thoughts on the season's offerings from Candlestick Press. Jessica and Fran have penned this post about two of them and the rest of us will chime in via comments, which I hope you will too.
Three beautiful pamphlets to send instead of a card, Christmas Lights Ten Poems for Dark Winter Nights, Ten Poems About Robins, (both of which also include a postcard with another poem alongside the customary bookmark) and a short story The All Night Bookshop by David Belbin.
Firstly Jessica who luxuriates in... read more
Candlestick Press very kindly send out copies of the pamphlets for the Chapter members to read and they send me two of each. I keep one copy on my shelf and set the spares aside, sending them hither and yon when the moment arises, especially In Memoriam Thirty Poems About Bereavement, which arrived in my life at exactly the right moment and copies of which I have sent to some of you.
At year's end I have a small accumulation of pamphlets on various themes, including this year's Christmas collections, which I think would be much better re-homed than left sitting... read more
A small regathering of the Candlestick Chapter has been convened and we have been busy reading the latest pamphlets (Robins, Christmas Lights, and, pre-empting the Chapter verdict but I loved it, an exquisite short story The All Night Bookshop) and will be reporting back on them dreckly. Meanwhile I thought I would parade a pentameter of poetry books that are by my side at the moment, and likely to stay there for a while because it takes me months to read a collection of poetry properly.
Seamus Heaney 100 Poems
It was apparently always on his list of Things to Do. To... read more
Staying north of the border for one more post, I'm hoping some of you will have heard of The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and if not you are about to, so please settle back in your chair and read on because I NEED you.
Honouring the achievements of the founding father of the historical novel, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world. With a total value of over £30,000, it is unique for rewarding writing of exceptional quality which is set in the past.
Sponsored by Sir Walter Scott’s distant kinsmen... read more
The bells of waiting Advent ring, The Tortoise stove is lit again And lamp-oil light across the night Has caught the streaks of winter rain In many a stained-glass window sheen From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.
The holly in the windy hedge And round the Manor House the yew Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge, The altar, font and arch and pew, So that the villagers can say 'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.
Why stray from annual tradition and the words of John Betjeman. I couldn't think of a good reason not to fire up the tortoise stove again. So here we are then, 'tis Advent, we... read more