The Arab British Centre has announced that the winners of The Arab British Centre Award for Culture 2017 are playwright Hannah Khalil and Arts Canteen:
The winners were announced at The Arab British Centre’s 40th anniversary reception at City Hall in front of over 250 guests, including Lord Owen, who inaugurated the Centre in 1977, and H.E. Sulaiman Almazroui, The Ambassador of the UAE.
A distinguished panel of judges selected the winners of the 2017 prize, from a shortlist of ten candidates. The panel included Sir Derek Plumbly KCMG, Chairman of The Arab British Centre, Venetia Porter, British Museum... read more
"Considered by many to be the 'Icelandic Ulysses' for its wordplay, neologisms, structural upheaval, and reinvention of what’s possible in Icelandic writing, Tómas Jansson's Bestseller was indeed a bestseller, heralding a new age of Icelandic literature..."
A retired, senile bank clerk confined to his basement apartment, Tómas Jónsson decides that, since memoirs are all the rage, he’s going to write his own—a sure bestseller—that will also right the wrongs of contemporary Icelandic society. Egoistic, cranky, and digressive, Tómas blasts away while relating pick-up techniques, meditations on chamber pot use, ways to assign monetary value to noise pollution, and much more. His... read more
And whilst I'm plugging websites, it's also worth me mentioning Five Books. Been going a while, but I only came across it fairly recently. Five Books "ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview. [The] site has an archive of over one thousand interviews, or five thousand book recommendations." They publish a new interview every Monday and Thursday.... read more
The wonderful city of Glasgow has been my second home for the past year or more. As that phase of my life comes to an end, it's probably worth me remembering to give a shout out to the excellent Glasgow Review of Books an online "review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised... read more
Congratulations to poet Jenny Lewis (When I Became an Amazon, Iron Press; Fathom and Taking Mesopotamia, Oxford Poets/ Carcanet) for being shortlisted for the Gladstone's Library 2018 Writer in Residence Award!
Winners will be announced next month.... read more
In an act of poetic justice, the other Tchaikowsky, André Tchaikowsky—pianist, composer, and posthumous celebrity—is finally receiving the recognition he craved in his lifetime. His opera, The Merchant of Venice, in a production directed by Keith Warner, comes to the Royal Opera House in July.
It is impossible to consider this setting of a distressing and eternally awkward play without reflecting on the life of its composer, who died leaving it almost complete and regarding it as his magnum opus. Of the many extraordinary tributes paid to him, perhaps the most telling is that of his former manager, Terry... 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
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 new multi-CD audio set of W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz has just been issued. The entire book is read by Michael Krüger, Sebald’s long-time friend and publisher. Plus, there is a section of Austerlitz read by Sebald, which (I am guessing) is taken from his 2001 reading at the Unterberg Poetry Center of New York’s 92 Street Y, which can be seen on YouTube. Krüger’s reading of Sebald’s final novel gets very good reviews on Amazon.de. There is also a related six-minute podcast with Krüger about the new CD set that can be heard (and downloaded) at the website of WDR3. From 1968... read more
At such moments invisible and tangible become confused.
Yves Bonnefoy, The Arrière-pays.
An open book is naturally a split screen divided by the book’s gutter, although few books actually take full advantage of this. Teju Cole’s new book Blind Spot (Random House, 2017) manages to put each of some 160 or so double-page spreads into truly astonishing dialogues between text and image. Blind Spot balances Cole’s color photographs on the right hand side with texts that are generally very brief on the left. In the texts, which are titled according to the city where the photograph was taken, Cole recounts... read more
“only the journey to oneself is important.”
On a mild, early spring Sunday in February 1950, the writer Robert Walser and his friend Carl Seelig were eating in a pastry shop in St. Gallen, Switzerland. “Robert rolls a misshapen cigarette,” Seelig writes. “Since it isn’t well tamped, it flares a bit. The couple next to us begins to giggle; they apparently take Robert for an unworldly farmer. He tells me that now he sorts and unravels twine for the post office. But he is content with the work. He simply takes what comes.” This episode delights me no end, in part... read more
In an interview in the current issue of The Paris Review, Ali Smith recounts going to a 1998 interview for a fellowship at the University of East Anglia.
I got met at the office by a man named Max—a very nice German man who took me along the corridor to the interview and who sat in as an onlooker. That night, I got home, I went to bed—and I woke up in the middle of the night, going, Oh dear God —was that Sebald?
It was. Smith got the fellowship and got to know Sebald a bit.
What I know, even from that... read more
Mathias Énard’s Zone, which I wrote about in 2011, is one of the best written and most urgent novels that I have read in this quickly aging century. Zone‘s Homeric scale attempts to encompass some of the twentieth century’s most critical themes within the framework of the narrator’s memories during a train ride from Milan to Rome. In Énard’s view, history is perennially unable to free itself from the eternal male infatuation with violence, warfare, and other forms of “manliness,” which in the last century alone resulted in misery and death for hundreds of millions of people. His narrator has... read more
Peter Mendelsund cover design for The Emigrants, (New Directions, 2016)
In the current issue of The New Yorker (June 5 & 12, 2017), James Wood writes at length about W.G. Sebald. It’s a nice, modestly insightful overview of Sebald’s four books of prose fiction, interspersed with bits and pieces of Sebald’s biography, but its basically a rehash of several essays Wood has previously written about Sebald. Perhaps in an effort to find some new way to approach the writer, Wood decides this time to examine “W.G. Sebald, Humorist.” Wood has to work hard to uncover examples of Sebald’s dry, ironical humor,... 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
From the front page of Brighton & Hove Council's free newspaper.
That word, invariably connected to public art: accessible. What does it mean?
The Festival is held once a year across May, heralded on the first Saturday of the month by the noisy, pavement-blocking Children's Parade that disturbs my trawl of the North Laine's secondhand bookshops. Otherwise I never notice that the festival is on, so promotion of these "arts hubs" must be irreproachable in its motivation. After all, as Kate Tempest says in the flyer pushed through each resident's letterbox, art should be "no big... read more
“There is an element, in any good novel, of something that cannot be taken away without dissolving the whole book. If you remove everything else, that’s what remains. But what that core quality is, is hard to say. You can talk about it in negative terms. It’s not that the novel is so terribly exciting from a psychological point of view. It’s not that it has such unusually interesting or original insights into structures of contemporary society. It’s not that it’s so fascinating to get to know the characters, however eccentric or unique or typical.... read more
You will likely have already read many reviews of Mathias Énard’s novel: a “seductive narrative” (Irish Times) that consists of the Austrian musicologist Franz Ritter’s “insomniac monologue” (Economist) about “scholarly adventures” (Guardian) and Sarah “his unrequited love” (New Republic) that “has appeared on our shores at precisely the right time” (Washington Post) because it is “an encyclopaedic survey of the intersections between oriental and occidental high culture” (Literary Review)”. And you might also have noticed that it has impressed many other readers – “a book that I could vanish into forever” (Times Flow Stemmed) – and inspired them to seek out... 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
Confession : I started to read Love of Country - A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting (published by Granta) soon after we returned from our trip to Orkney last year. I got as far as Rum before realising that my head and my imagination were still full of Orkney and all those amazing images; somehow I just couldn't shuffle off the memory of that beautiful day at Waulkmill Bay and the scattering and nor did I want to...
I set the book aside and decided to wait until I was properly ready for another excursion north, this time from the armchair because... read more
No, I'm not going but next week the Kayaker is.
He will be busy doing some future work planning while he's there but is hoping to have time to see the sights, camera in hand.
So a favour to ask. In order to make the best use of limited time and budget...
Where should he go...
Where is off-the-beaten-track lesser-known New York..
What shouldn't he miss...
Any photography or other exhibitions...
He says all suggestions gratefully received and thank you.
... read more
This the second of my musings on this year's Wainwright Prize Short list, and I don't often splay a book out like this for your delectation but first things first with The January Man, A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville, and this delightful dust jacket...
The artwork is by Carry Ackroyd and this is one of those book covers that dawned on me as I read, realising that I was traversing the months across the jacket, written as they are chapter by chapter as Christopher Somerville 'walks' his father's life. Interesting that Carry has another book jacket on the... read more
Would you mind if we had a conversation about spectacles...as in glasses, as in opticians and eye tests and things.
Having chugged along happily with very simple reading glasses for years I have suddenly plunged into the realms of definitely needing distance glasses for the first time. This is probably at least a couple of years after I should have had them but I really just thought it was the quality of the TV that blurred the words.
I had an eye test last November, a very slick computerised affair that said not enough change to warrant a new prescription, even though... read more
'Few today would go to war for the fields, woods, brooks of Britain. Or, rather, what is left of them. We have become de-natured and über-urban.'
I take extra convincing to read a book about the First World War these days. That might sound callous and narrow-mined but that's not the case... the truth is that though I have read so much over the years the older I get somehow the more harrowing I find it. I felt I knew enough, almost too much and so, when I saw that Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel was on the Wainwright Prize... read more
As I was writing my thoughts (for your delectation soon) on the Wainwright shortlisted Where Poppies Blow The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel, I remembered that one book had come to mind constantly throughout the chapter on horses. I eventually found the book, Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben, and then donning my overalls I braved the dusty blog cellar and found this post from 2008. Given that this was written nine years ago I'm hoping anyone who was reading here back then will have forgotten all about it, so I am bringing it back... read more