As I mentioned last Monday, I'm enjoying Steven Shaviro's new Whitehead-meets-Speculative Realism (SR) book Universe of Things, but before I (hopefully) review it, I should perhaps make a brief comment on why I'm reading it. And that particular story makes better sense if I mention that I'm also reading Peter Wolfendale's Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon's New Clothes (from the always excellent Urbanomic) and briefly mention why I'm reading that...
I read more philosophy books than books on any other topic – and, to be honest, it's probably more than time that RSB reflected that a little more clearly. It's a little... read more
Austin Roberts reviews Steven Shaviro's The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism:
One of the most interesting trends in recent philosophy is what is sometimes called Speculative Realism. The name comes from a conference in 2007 at the University of London that brought together four very different philosophers who nevertheless were united in their efforts to resurrect realist metaphysics: Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, and Iain Hamilton Grant. Each of them hold quite different metaphysical positions, but all four critique what they name "philosophies of correlation." As a theologian and not a philosopher, I can't help but make a connection... read more
From World Literature Today, review of The Contemporary Spanish-American Novel: Bolaño and After:
This unique collection of essays by fifty scholars and writers on the work of sixty-nine contemporary novelists from Spanish America is a valuable resource for scholars and readers alike. The authors included for discussion were born between 1949 and the early 1970s and have published the bulk of their work since 1996. The essays on individual writers are organized in six chapters based on their point of origin from one of the following geographical and cultural regions: Mexico, Central America, the Spanish speaking Caribbean and Venezuela, the Greater... read more
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of Gavin Corbett’s strong and strange new novel, Green Glowing Skull.
“You could throw it against the wall, but it would just bounce back.”
... read more
This short novella – and that is not a pleonasm, as the book could not be much more than 20,000 words long top to tail – is one of the most unpleasant stories I’ve read in ages. You can take that how you will, though I read so many books without finishing them, and finish so many without reviewing them, that you might have guessed even by now that I do recommend it.
The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (2013, tr. 2015 by Sophie Hughes) is another book – like Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant – which both attracts and repels consideration as... read more
Here is my review in the Guardian of Dorthe Nors’ first books to be translated into English, the back-to-back volume containing the excellent short story collection Karate Chop and the brilliant novella (or, as the author has it, “novel in headlines”) Minna Needs Rehearsal Space. This edition is published in the UK by Pushkin Press. In the US, Graywolf Press published Karate Chop last year and will issue Minna next year.
... read more
This book comes freighted with more expectations than many – Ishiguro may, after all, be the only novelist of his lauded generation who has never produced a bad or even mediocre novel. But there are fears, too – his last two books (Never Let Me Go, and the story cycle Nocturnes) are my least favourites. Is he on the slide?
My first response to The Buried Giant was to realise how rudderless we feel in the teeth of a new book which is really new, sui generis, and how much we rely on – or at least use as a springboard –... read more
My first encounter with Miranda July’s fiction was in the Zadie Smith-edited anthology The Book of Other People, where her story ‘Roy Spivey’ was one of the best on offer. Then I read her collection No-one Belongs Here More Than You, which impressed me with its ability to turn between funny and sad on a sixpence. Now we have July’s debut novel, which turns out to be more multifaceted still, and already seems as likely to be one of my favourite books of the year as Dept. of Speculation did last year, or May We Be Forgiven a couple of... read more
I haven’t written about Gabriel Josipovici before on this blog but I have read him and felt his influence: he is a champion of Agota Kristof’s work and he himself is championed by critics like Steve Mitchelmore and Mark Thwaite – readers in whose opinions I have faith. More than that, I read Josipovici’s book What Ever Happened to Modernism? and found it impressive: one the one hand, revelatory, but also reassuring (that I wasn’t mad, or stubborn, to like some kinds of books more than others).
Hotel Andromeda is Josipovici’s newest novel and came at just the right time for me.... read more
Over at Virtual Memories, Gil Roth has recorded a long and fascinating interview with one of Sebald’s great translators, Anthea Bell. The entire interview is fascinating and the two talk about Sebald for about five minutes starting at 23:00.
Renowned literary translator Anthea Bell joins the show to talk about getting her start in foreign languages, the schisms in the world of literary translation, the most challenging authors she’s worked on, the one language she’d love to learn, translating everything from Asterix to Zweig, and more!Anthea Bell is a freelance translator from German and French. Her translations include works of non-fiction;... read more
In her book Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, Philippa Comber wrote intriguingly of a screenplay that Sebald had written on Immanuel Kant, but which was never produced. Now, as a result of the efforts of Uwe Schütte, the script will be produced for radio by the German station WDR3 for airing on July 11. Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant is the only extensive screenplay Sebald ever wrote and drafts of it remain in his archive in Marbach. The title of the screenplay, by the way, comes from the first... read more
The Polish journal Konteksty has just put out a giant issue devoted almost exclusively to “W.G. Sebald: Antropologia, literatura, fotografia.” Nearly 300 of the 408-page issue is dedicated to articles on all aspects of Sebald’s work. The journal is in Polish, but there is a six-page summary of all the articles in English. Even if you don’t read Polish, the many illustrations are fascinating by themselves. Below is the Table of Contents for the Sebald section, taken largely from the magazine itself, but with great help from my Polish contact Tomasz. The page numbers are given to provide the length... read more
He considered it a privilege to include entire visual images within his texts that, in some way, instantly reproduced what the words and the ideograms were so pressed to represent.
from Shiki Nagaoka
A handful of the more than twenty books written by the Mexican writer Mario Bellatin have recently appeared in English, and three are books about writers and writing. Bellatin, like the Argentinian author César Aira, generally writes very brief and wonderfully bizarre novellas. In Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction (Los Angeles: Phoneme, 2012), Bellatin creates an obscure fictional Japanese author who suffered from an extremely oversized nose. After... read more
In recent months I have written about Kosmopolis, the annual “amplified literature festival” with live and online components put on by the Centre de Cultura Contemporànea de Barcelona. The 15th edition of Kosmopolis is being devoted to W.G. Sebald and there is plenty to read and see on its website, including a series of fascinating essays. But Kosmopolis15 also includes an exhibition called Sebald Variations, which is up through July 26 of this year. If you cannot make it to Barcelona, there is a very useful bilingual (Catalan and English) catalog available which can be purchased online. Here is a... read more
I was only a few pages into Anne Garréta’s novel Sphinx when I became aware that something was mildly unsettling, but I didn’t know what it could be. It took another twenty or thirty pages before it dawned on me. I was having trouble pinning something down about the unnamed narrator and the main character – known simply as A*** – with whom the narrator seemed to be falling in love. Neither had been assigned a gender. There were no revealing pronouns or any other linguistic giveaways to indicate if the narrator or A*** were masculine or feminine. There was... read more
The famous opening lines of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable constitute a modern invocation to the gods at the start of an epic. Only this one appears not at the beginning, not even in medias res, but at the end, where there are no gods, and no end.
"I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know"
Answers emerge to provide aesthetic balance, if nothing else, but at least one is conclusive: the unnamable has a name of sorts ('the Unnamable') and the positive spin placed on the... read more
In the early days of blogging, I often wrote about book prizes. At that time I trusted the aura of a shortlist, drawn by what I assumed was the light of Literature shining down and carving deep relief into the profile of an otherwise flat novel. But I also often complained precisely because once read the books themselves didn't seem to deserve such attention, while others that did were ignored. After a while, in fact after serving on a jury, it became clear that I was fascinated instead by the aura of the impersonal force of a collective honour rather... read more
What follows the break wasn't going to be posted. I wrote it last week and decided it would be more effective to summarise on my Tumblr blog and then publicise on Twitter. To my surprise, bar one message of support, there was no response. The silence was instructive.
In the early days of February 2015, 3AM Magazine advertised an event in London to celebrate "the recent boom in online criticism" and to encourage readers "to get involved in the growth of digital literary culture". My interest was piqued, as the subject is close to my heart... read more
For a short time, I stayed up most of the night. In the long summer months between years at school – my guess is 1978 – there was no all-night radio let alone all-night television. Instead I would listen to the BBC World Service on unreliable Medium Wave reception. One night around two in the morning, an actor with a mellifluous voice read an extract from what I now know as Swann's Way. This was before even Terence Kilmartin had updated Scott Moncrieff's original translation.
Next day, as I played football in the local park, I told my... read more
For eighteen years I have wanted the English translation of Georges Bataille's book La Peinture Préhistorique: Lascaux ou la naissance de l'art, ever since Maurice Blanchot's review essay appeared in the collection Friendship published in 1997. A strange yearning because Blanchot had summarised the content, so there was apparently nothing to gain and, what's more, I have never been a big Bataille reader, much preferring at university Blanchot's unparalleled prose to the jargon-scarred theory beloved of my fellow students who thought "transgression" meant wearing rubber.
Still, there was something withheld by this book, the actual thing, the physical... read more
This has been the worst year for reading, ever. In quantity that is: only a suitcase of books finished, with a communal binful for those abandoned. The reason is the same as four years ago, only worse, and has little to do with the quality of the books. Medical opinion quoted Beckett: nothing to be done.
Still, I've never been one to devour books and I maintain a certain amount of disgust for the conveyor belt of recommended reads. In trust I have opened novels much praised by bloggers to sample the first paragraph and invariably it is like... read more
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Random House, March 2015
E-book, 608 pages
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
~Warning: Here Be Really Big Spoilers~
I read Rachel Hartman's debut novel Seraphina in two days, and I liked it a lot. A really lot. In stark contrast it took me a little over a month to read her long-anticipated sequel Shadow Scale. Admittedly it's 600 pages long but that tardy reading pace is a pretty good measure of the experience. It was slow, slow going, especially in the beginning, and terribly stiff in parts. There was much less... read more
Breaking Light by Karin Altenberg
Quercus, July 2014
Hardback, 384 pages
* Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey
Jonathan Cape, September 2014
Ebook, 272 pages
* Review copy kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley
I read Dear Thief and Breaking Light in parallel, and what a strange pairing they proved to be. Neither was an unequivocally positive reading experience for me, but one was so much cleverer, bolder and more beautiful than the other that the comparison was stark.
I originally turned the offer of a copy of Breaking Light down, because I got on so poorly with Altenberg's first book... read more
Hild by Nicola Griffith
Blackfriars (Little Brown), July 2014
E-book, 560 pages
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
"I'm not pretty."
"You don't need to be pretty. You're like lightning. Like a tide. Like a blizzard."
"Something to run from."
"Something to get caught up in. Something to remember for the rest of your life."
There are some books which simply fit you, and you know them almost immediately.
It starts with the chatter. You hear about a book here and there, increasingly. It pops up in your social media feeds and on Goodreads and eventually your friends' bookshelves. The blurb begins to... read more
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback
Hodder & Stoughton, February 2015
E-book, 432 pages
*My copy was kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
"Wolf winter," she said, her voice small. "I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is."
He was silent for a long time.
"It's the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal," he said. "Mortal and alone."
Here I go again, not writing about Hild. I was absolutely going to, because I planned on a whole Sunday afternoon of quality blogging time, but then I started reading another story from Kelly Link's new collection Get in... read more
The prize season fast approaches, with both the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the International Foreign Fiction Prize announcing their longlists at the end of this week. Just after midnight on Friday 6th March I believe for all you eager beavers. I'm excited as always, because LISTS, and also because I anticipate this will be a good year for the Baileys Prize, with Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Lucy Wood, Sarah Moss and Sarah Hall all with eligible novels.
The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has got in early by releasing its longlist last Thursday. It isn't one that I've... read more
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
Faber and Faber, February 2015
E-book, 384 pages
*My copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley
Why is it so much easier for me to write about the books that I feel ambivalent about rather than the books that I really love? This post should be about Hild by Nicola Griffith, which I want you all to run out and read right now. I've got it all ready to compose: quotes transcribed, book jacket uploaded, publishing info set out. But I can't get started, because my love is getting in the... read more
Some of you might have caught a post here from yesterday cataloguing our Sad Animal Week which I quickly took down because who needs too much information about sad on a Friday...and apologies to those who still received it by email.
The gist was that either side of bidding farewell to the Tinker we have also said goodbye to one of our Dowager cats Tess back in February..
and this week Sticks ("Sticky") the Gamekeeper's faithful twelve year old gun dog, here in very happy retirement with us, but who sadly broke his front leg while we were out walking last... read more
I'm not supposed to be buying books on market stalls at the moment, this is because I have sent so many books to charity shops in recent weeks in order to clear out all the previous books I have bought on market stalls, but a while back there it was...only £1, how could I not..
English Stained Glass by Painton Cowen, published by Thames & Hudson, 200 colour illustrations and an ex-library copy. The thing I love about ex-library copies is that the dust jacket is usually in excellent condition underneath the plastic covering, so a nearly new book for £1. Bargain,... read more
'There is no flower so immediately irresistible as the Auricula... for the perfection of the stage Auricula is that of most exquisite Meissen porcelain, or the most lovely silk stuffs of Isfahan...and yet it is a living and growing thing...'
The poet and art critic Sacheverell Sitwell, writing in 1939, was as impressed as I am with the beauty of the Auricula...
It is a plant in which I can see not a thing to dislike. The colours and the symmetry warm the heart, it's a flower that just 'works', with a breath-taking and often complex beauty, and of course another... read more
We spent a glorious long day at Arlington Court in North Devon last week.
Did the house, coveted the walled garden and the conservatory, managed the obligatory tea and cake (actually some very delicious Carrot & Coriander soup and then cake, it was lunchtime) and then wandered up to the National Carriage Museum housed in the grounds.
More soon about the fascinating Rosalie Chichester and her many collections which form the main displays in the house, and to be honest I wasn't sure there would be much to inspire us in the the shape of carriages.
Barouches and broughams in close up... read more
Isn't it odd...there I was thinking I was judging my reading mood perfectly.
Some nice nature reads, some biography, more nature, some Trollope, all very gentle and then, don't ask me how, I came across Peter James and his series of ten detective novels, the first, Dead Simple just 59p on Kindle. Well I'd really enjoyed that crime trilogy Peter James had written about the Hebrides, The Black House etc so perhaps I'd enjoy this series just as much.
In fact where on earth have I been. I was quite surprised I hadn't heard about this one, especially given they have sold... read more
I've been procrastinating about writing this blog post. Not through any fault of the book but just because...
I opened Landmarks and started to read my proof copy of Robert Macfarlane's latest book on January 8th 2015. I know because I actually made a note inside. The plan was to make an early start because at the beginning of March, March 6th to be exact, I would be meeting up with six of the Port Eliot dovegreyreader tent helpers for a long weekend in Norfolk, and talking about Landmarks was on our agenda. They all had proof copies too and we were... read more