The folks over at Wakefield Press have produced a lovely new edition of Francis Ponge's The Table (translated by Colombina Zamponi):
Written over a series of early mornings from 1967 to 1973 in his seclusion at his country home, Mas des Vergers, The Table offers a final chapter in Francis Ponge’s endless interrogation of the unassuming objects in his life: in this case, the table upon which he wrote. In his labored employment of words to destroy words and get at the presence lying beneath his elbow, Ponge charts out a space of silent consolation that lies beyond (and challenges) scientific objectivity and... read more
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
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.)
... read more
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.
... read more
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
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
Almost Island online literary magazine has published my essay “Five Novels, Five Photographs” in their Spring 2017 issue. In this essay, I look at five novels in which only a single photograph is used, examining both the different strategies that writers employ when they embed photographic images in their fictional narratives and looking at the impact a single photograph can have on a text. The five novels I chose to write about are:
Jeff Jackson’s debut novel Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio, 2013), a grimly beautiful coming-of-age novel that reminds me of Larry Clark’s infamous 1971 photobook Tulsa, with its insider’s... read more
The most authentic thing about you is your sin…
Great, long novels are something the reader inhabits for days, like a visit to a foreign country where the history and the customs and the social mores are different and take time to untangle. Even the sins may be different there. Lúcio Cardoso’s Chronicle of the Murdered House is just such a novel. Originally published in Brazil 1959, it has finally been translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson and was issued last year by the fabulous Open Letter. It is currently the only novel by Cardoso (1912-1968) in... read more
Three years ago I wrote about the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s plans to develop a dance around the Ambros Adelwarth segment of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants. “Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant” just had its world premiere on July 21, 2017 at Dancer’s Workshop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The dance is the final section of a trilogy which was first performed as a unit on the nights of July 27-29 at American Dance Festival 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. There is a 9 1/2 minute interview with Bill T. Jones on the dance on Soundcloud. The 90-minute dance was reviewed by Susan... 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
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
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 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
"With a title taken from the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the bestselling and award-winning novelist Alex Preston, most recently of the critically acclaimed In Love and War, talks about the inspiration behind his beautiful new book As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
A birdwatcher as a child, he began again in the books that he read, creating his own personal anthology of nature writing that brought the birds of his childhood back to brilliant life.
Looking for moments ‘when heart and bird are one’, Alex Preston weaves the very best writing about birds by writers from Keats to Ted Hughes, into a personal and eccentric... read more
"Nature is always full of surprises – whether it’s the strange behaviour of clothes moths or the gruesome larder of the shrike.
Stephen Moss, naturalist, co-author of the award-winning Tweet of The Day and award-winning producer of Springwatch and Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival, takes us on a year-long journey from encounters with the curious black redstart, which winters on our rocky coasts, to the early morning autumn mist of London’s Richmond Park where male red deer lock horns in competition for a mate."
Day Two of my three days at this year's Budleigh Literary Festival and what a lovely, warm and welcoming... read more
"Teacher, environmentalist and campaigner, Alastair Sawday has spent his life travelling. In his charming memoir, he will share with Carol Ackroyd his gradual awakening to the fragility of everything we love through contemplative, consciously slow journeying.
Every visit uncovers difference – from France profonde to the darker side of Sicily, and to the flora, fauna, and silence of rural Britain. He’ll give voice to those of us who have climbed no mountains or discovered no rivers, but who yearn to understand the world and make sense of its infinite variety.
The founder of Sawday’s Travel Guides, he will be celebrating regional character,... read more