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
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
The first thing that struck me about this book was the beautiful cover image, of oriental lilies, so perfect they almost looked computer-generated. Then I noticed something, and each time I looked back at it, it surprised me again by offering something new. The image is by Tom Darracott, who also designed the first cover for Hawthorn & Child. So you might expect something unusual and sinister, and you’d be right. The British Council literature site describes The Vegetarian, accurately, as a “frightening beauty” and, less clearly, as a book which “combines human violence and the possibility of innocence as... 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
Every so often, driven by an inexplicable yearning, I go straight to one of my bookshelves and pull down a book I haven’t read in years. Last week, the book I seemed to need was Carlos Fuentes’ 1978 novel The Hydra Head (Farrar Straus Giroux). I had vague recollections of a complex and sinister spy story that involved Mexican petro-politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. But what I remembered more distinctly from my reading and re-reading of that book some thirty years ago was an abrupt and almost shocking shift from third-person narrative to first-person. I was curious to read the... read more
W.G. Sebald’s Eyeglasses, from his archive at Deutsches Literaturarchivs Marbach
Kosmopolis15 continues to post new material to their Sebaldiana website. Articles recently added include:
“The Clocks of Austerlitz” by Graciela Speranza. “Two clocks mark our first encounter with Jacques Austerlitz, the protagonist of W.G. Sebald’s final novel which was launched into the new millennium in 2001 like a sombre coda to the history of the 21st century and a profession of faith in the art of the 21st century. A narrator, who is hard to distinguish from Sebald himself, approaches Austerlitz in Antwerp Centraal Station, intrigued by one of the few travellers... read more
When he went out the next morning and headed for the square, he knew, even before he looked up, that he was no longer there: he had been replaced by his legend. A legend without beginning or end, a narrative as yet illegible, but therefore almost more credible than him, than the banal mediocrity of his impoverished existence.
Written between November 1929 and February 1931, The Game for Real (Hra Doopravdy in its original Czech) is a marvelously strange and inventive novel whose narrator is suspicious that life might be nothing more than the absurd theater of his own imagination.... read more
A film adaptation of W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz premiered on the opening night at the Centre Pompidou’s Cinéma du Reél festival earlier this week. Directed by the Czech-born French director Stan Neumann and starring Denis Lavant as Jacques Austerlitz, the 90-minute film is described as “not so much a filmed book as it is a film about a book, breaking down the walls that divide documentary and fiction, just as Sebald blurred the lines between the two in his writing.” A 2:44 excerpt from the film can be viewed at the website of the Fondation de la Mémoire de la... read more
In Tess Jaray’s new book The Blue Cupboard (Royal Academy of Arts, 2014), there is a tantalizing illustration that reproduces the first page of an undated letter written by W.G. Sebald to Jaray, with whom he had collaborated on the 2001 book For Years Now, which paired his brief poems with her artwork. The letter, written on a curiously narrow and long piece of paper, makes me wish for Sebald’s letters to be collected and published one day. Here is my transcription of the visible part of the letter:
Dear Tess, Your letter did not come too soon by any... 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
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
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 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
Painting is practical day-to-day thing I think. One might say something clever, one might say something big, but one does something limited. It’s a serious thing – like religion – like love – one does the persistent thing, and then the really remarkable happens when something’s there that wasn’t there before.Frank Auerbach's words from fifty years ago were pasted above my student work desk without ever prompting attention. Inspirational quotes are there to be ignored, after all. Only lately has the contrast between his trust in a modest routine and apparent wonder in the presence of art demanded examination. After... 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
A TBR meme has been making the rounds of the blogosphere this week. I spotted it first at Here There Be Books and then lots of other places, and while I enjoyed reading everyone's posts, it got me thinking about this whole 'to be read' business. What am I really talking about when I talk about my TBR?
1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
The simple answer to this is: I don't, and I never have. I have a Goodreads account, and I have a Library Thing account too, but the latter I haven't used since 2008 and Goodreads I only... read more
Happy Camper Angela had recently visited Antony House, just across the river in Cornwall, and said we had to go soonest to see the camellias and magnolias in flower on the woodland walk. Keen to get our moneysworth from the National Trust membership Bookhound and I headed off a few Fridays backalong.
There are several ways to get to Antony from here, either over the Tamar and then across country, or into Plymouth and over on the car ferry. We opted for cross country and it was a lovely drive, except don't go on a Friday...it's closed.
Out of practice we had... read more
Heavens what a busy week of bookish happenings and there was me thinking we'd all have a rest today.
Sorry no, I'm back again because apparently it's time to pick up a Trollope.
The Trollope Society emailed to say that today, April 24th, is the bicentenary of the birth of Anthony Trollope and why not head to fictional Barsetshire and start reading Barchester Towers..
"Anthony Trollope is Britain’s most prolific Victorian author. Barchester Towers was his breakthrough novel. Trollope’s previous works, mostly set in Ireland where he was working as a Post Office official, had met with little success. The Warden, his first story set amongst... read more
...John Lewis-Stempel, the winner of this year's Wainwright Prize, for his book Meadowland - The Private Life of an English Field.
I would have been delighted for any of this excellent shortlist to have won, but of all the books I have read this year Meadowland has been another of those special ones for its daily reminder that there is a world going in the fields around us here, especially on those days in recent months when I either got nowhere near a field, or if I did was too preoccupied to notice a thing.
At some time each day I... read more
Having missed three Endsleigh Salons this year I pulled all the stops out for my return in April, so instead of (lazily) making a book I had read fit the theme I chose a specific one for this month.
For those that don't know, the Salon is a lovely group of bookish friends who have met monthly at Hotel Endsleigh for the last nearly nine years I think.. I may be losing count. We are over-subscribed and now closed to new members and just have to hope that not everyone turns up each month. We choose a theme rather than a... read more
I have been trying to remember where and when I first heard about Shadows in the Hay - Landscape, nature and the passage of time on a Herefordshire farm by Colin Williams, and I think it was on one of the really excellent Caught by the River weekly newsletters.
If you enjoy the sort of books that I have been sharing of late then signing up for the Caught by the River weekly e mail will keep you in touch with the latest bookish news and what Robert Macfarlane is having for breakfast. Noooo, sorry, that's a joke, but he is a... read more
We haven't had a Joni Mitchell conversation for ages, and I really feel we should because didn't we all get a fright.
Joni found unconscious at her home and rushed into hospital and intensive care a few weeks ago. I can't find any updates beyond the early ones, that she was improving, so I'm working on the principle that no news is good news and hoping all is well.
Suddenly Joni fans everywhere were realising we really didn't know what we'd got 'til it might have gone and there have been some great appreciation pieces in the press. All of us hugely... read more