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
Readers of this blog (if there are any left after months of inactivity: sorry, and hello again) will know that I’m a sucker for a series design. If something in me aligns with what Trinny and Susannah would have called matchy-matchy, then I justify it on the basis that it’s less judging a book by its cover than allowing my eyes to be opened to new things. And the Penguin Worlds series is just that: a mixture of science fiction, horror and urban fantasy from across the 20th century, chosen and introduced by Naomi Alderman and Hari Kunzru. And they come... read more
A couple of weeks ago I called attention to an exhibition that had just opened in London called “Melancholia: A Sebald Variation.” Poet and translator Will Stone recently paid a visit to the Inigo Rooms of Somerset House and wrote a review of the exhibition for The London Magazine. “This exhibition constitutes a rare gift” to the viewer, he wrote. Unfortunately, the magazine doesn’t provide online access to non-subscribers, so I asked Will if I could reprint small portions of his piece.
According to Will, the exhibition is really “about destruction, or rather W.G. Sebald’s eponymous work On the Natural History... read more
“A new order of space.”
Ann Quin’s Passages (1969) is a brilliant blur of a novel. When you are done with its 112 pages, you will know you have been on breathtaking roller coaster of a journey, but you won’t know where you’ve been or remember much of what you witnessed on the way. A man and a woman (both nameless) are traveling through some vaguely Mediterranean country. Part of the time the couple appear to be searching for the woman’s missing brother, who might already be dead. There are fleeting rumors of torture, a firing squad, detention camps, a sinister... read more
Albrecht Durer, “Melencholia I” [Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Here is more about the exhibition “Melancholia: A Sebald Variation,” which I posted about last week. From the Eventbrite invitation:
John Banville and Brian Dillon in conversation with Lara Feigel
Free discussion followed by a drinks reception
Is melancholy, as Freud thought, an indulgent, unproductive form of mourning? Or can it be a form of sadness that is ultimately uplifting for the consciousness it brings of life and its more startling possibilities?
The exhibition “Melancholia. A Sebald Variation” (Inigo Rooms, Sept 21-Dec 10) traces a melancholic path from Albrecht Dürer to W.G. Sebald to Anselm... read more
Guido van de Werve, Nummer Veertien: Home (video still), 2012*
At Inigo Rooms, King’s College London, Somerset House East Wing, the exhibition “Melancholia: A Sebald Variation” has just opened and can be seen until December 10, 2017. To quote from the exhibition’s website
“Melancholia: A Sebald Variation” takes the viewer on a Sebaldian journey from the ruins of 1945 to the present day. It begins at that ‘zero hour’ after the war when melancholy found its physical form in the rubble scattered throughout its cities after the Second World War and its human form in the refugees who wandered around them.
Tracing its... read more
Behind every name is a story.
In the middle of Croatian writer Daša Drndić’s documentary novel Trieste (MacLehose Press, 2012) there is a forty-four page, double-columned list naming the 9,000 or so Jews “who were deported from Italy or killed in Italy in the countries Italy occupied between 1943 and 1945,” starting with Clemente Abeasis and ending with Jerachmil Zynger. This memorial to the murdered is followed by another, much shorter listing—complete with mini-biographies—of the more senior S.S. members of the Aktion T4 group who worked in Trieste at the notorious prison known as San Sabba, which served as a transit... read more
As part of the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin this year, Markus Joch and Uwe Schütte will talk about W.G. Sebald on Tuesday, September 12 at 19:00 at the Institut Français. Tickets here.
The full program (in German or in English) can be found here. The long list of invited guests is impressive and includes people such as Edward Snowden (via Skype), artist Christian Boltanski, László Krasznahorkai, Yoko Tawada, Yasmina Reza, mystery writer Donna Leon (one of my favorites), Salman Rushdie, and Hari Kunzru. Several other programs caught my attention:
Thursday September 7 at 22:30 is a screening of a new film about James... 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 time," he says. "I understand that we're here now, but not how people could have been here 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 what is otherwise a predictable portrait of a successful author, in which mastery... 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
Last week in the TLS the good and the ghastly offered their summer reading plans so, without anybody asking, here's my alternative list.
The left and right choices are related in that, for Bernhard, "Trakl’s influence on my work was devastating; if I had never heard of him I would have come a lot farther by now". (I now realise some time after posting that it's exactly 25 years since I saw the edition below of the Gesammelte Gedichte on display in a small town's library in the Sauerland region of north-west Germany and thinking in that moment of... read more
Robert Minto belongs to a rare and special group of people: he bought my book. Even rarer, he wrote a response, classifying it alongside Ben Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry under a new genre, apophatic criticism: “a way of writing about literature that treats it as a commentary on itself, a seeking for its own limits”. Whatever the validity of the label, this is one the best things ever to happen in all my years of blogging, as I realise there are some critics who will never receive anything more than a cheque in the post. If there is one... 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’m here and the days are flying by. So much to see and do and all that living in the moment, so blog posts will happen in the weeks after I get back, when I know I will be pleased to revisit all the wonderful memories of New Zealand and my three week stay with Offspringette.
Christchurch is as lovely as ever, rebuilding and vibrant, and I am really enjoying spending time in the city in the spring.
I’ve done a few days at the International Quilt Symposium and have more to come but today (Sunday) we are off (in pouring rain)... read more
It's no good, I can't keep quiet about this a minute longer and I need to squeeze in the news while I head off on my antipodean adventure from whence I will try and write the occasional blog post, but will definitely be putting pictures and a few words over on Instagram (recently described as the Radio 3 of social media) so please do follow and comment there if you want to. The link is here but the pictures will also appear on the sidebar over here <<<<<<<<<
Jacob's Room is Full of Books, with its glorious cover, will be published on... read more
The Candlestick Chapter is still very much out there and active, a small group of you who receive the newest poetry pamphlets from Candlestick Press and then offer thoughts on them, it's just me who has let the summer break run away with her and must now play catch up.
And we have a lot of catching up to do so thoughts and discussions will be coming in comments from Chapter participants about these (and hopefully you will join in) and my thanks to them for their hard work. And thank you to Candlestick Press for posting the pamphlets around the... read more
I have been soaking up Alice Oswald's Dart all year. Matching the words to the walks as my Walking Friend and I have meandered alongside the East Dart and up the valley on Dartmoor...
and with my sights set firmly on the journey to Cranmere Pool I booked that place on the guided walk months ago.
'The Dart, lying low in darkness calls out Who is it? trying to summon itself by speaking...'
This was further fuelled by a poem in Alice Oswald's latest collection Falling Awake called very aptly A Drink From Cranmere Pool..
neither pool nor land
under whose velvet
three rivers spring to... read more
"I do not believe any lady could get to Cranmere in a damp year, when every crack in the soil would be filled with water, and the ground soaking and shaking underfoot. Indeed I presently grew quite exhausted ; we knew the pool must be quite close to us, yet could not find it...'
Beatrix F. Cresswell, writing in the Homeland Handbook 'Dartmoor and Its Surroundings' in 1900 did get to Cranmere Pool, directed by old Mr Perrott, the legendary moorland guide of the day, who she had been to visit the night before for instructions.
' An expedition to Cranmere Pool... read more
I had absolutely no intention of reading anything on the Man Booker short list this year.
Nothing, not a single book. I was over it.
That was until a reading friend persuaded me otherwise, lauding The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 in the same sentence. It was a Sunday morning, it was gloomy and raining and all of an instant I had to have the books in my hand, Kindle versions wouldn't do.
Does this happen to you...this all-of-a-suddeness about a book (or two books).
I had Waterstones Loyalty Card stamps to hand (£10-worth) so off we went... read more