Cindytalk got me through... much of my youth, and most of my twenties. This is an unreleased demo track recorded in 1982. It was, as Gordon Sharp says in the YouTube comments, one of the first ever Cindytalk recordings... ... read more
I'm not sure I understand the concept of 'closeness' in Tomas Tranströmer's poems, but in attempting to get near I am confronted by the distance between what I gather in and what they offer up. The gap between the gift and my receptivity – how far I find myself from what is being said, so limpidly, and what I understand – is a paradoxical limitlessness. I'm being shown simplicity but it looks, to me, like illimitable complexity. In that way, a poem is like a smile or a shrug, a beckoning or a barrier: how you take the gesture makes... read more
Simone Weil's life is fascinating. Left-wing activist with a critique of both Orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism she moves ever leftwards, soon finding herself arguing for a radical syndicalism. She then finds herself at – or, better, in need of – theology. She writes herself to self-understanding coming to a heterodox Christianity which sees in Greek thought, especially The Iliad, one of the highest expressions of human wisdom. (For more on the life see McLellan's Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil, Pétrement's Simone Weil: A Life, and Cabaud's Simone Weil: A Fellowship in Love.)
In Simone Weil: An Introduction to her Thought, John Hellman shows that Weil's concept of attention is not simply some kind of effortful application of concentration (Weil: "Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort ... [a] kind of frowning application") but rather "the link between several aspects of her thought: her ascetic intellectualism, her love for mathematics, her concern for the poor and oppressed, her innovatively focussed politics, and her unusually empathetic sensitivity." Attention, then, is a complex, compound term with several overlapping concerns. Whilst singularity of focus and uncluttered thought are obviously part of the... read more
I started ReadySteadyBook because I wanted to record my reading and to review books. I had reviewed for Amazon (where I had worked for a time) and was beginning to review in the TLS and for the broadsheets. RSB was to be a continuation and extension of all that. Perhaps a place where I could write at greater length, and certainly where I could engage with books that the papers showed no particular interest in. For many years it (more or less) served this purpose. Increasingly, however, over the course of the past decade, and particularly over the last four... read more
In October last year, ReadySteadyBook had its tenth anniversary. I let the date pass without comment not only because the anniversary was not particularly noteworthy – plenty of websites have been around for as long or longer – but also because RSB has been pretty quiet for a long time now and so the anniversary didn't quite feel earned.
Regardless, time has passed. And what I conceived of ten years ago as a "book review website" has come to mean much more to me than that. What exactly it means, though, I'm still not quite sure. And that is... read more
Mavis Gallant died on 18 February 2014 – a couple of weeks ago. She had been on my radar for many years: I’d managed to acquire four collections of her stories, without ever reading them. Death is a great catalyst. Why hadn’t I opened them before? Because I have a completist impulse, partly from the desire to write about books I’ve read; to write about a book you have to read it completely. And collections of stories often aren’t suited to being read in their entirety – or not (another reason for me) at the same pace as a novel... read more
Here, as promised, is my review in the Independent on Sunday of Agota Kristof’s The Illiterate, a sort of companion to her masterpiece The Notebook. You can buy it here (and The Notebook here).
... read more
Jill Dawson is one of the most frequently-reviewed authors on this blog. Her books seem to me to epitomise the best of what might be called traditional literary fiction. There is always a strong story, and clear characters, but there is a sharpness and darkness to her work, and some element of novelty – not to say control of narrative voice – which sets it apart from the pack.
The Tell-Tale Heart has a concept which is summed up by one blurb like this: “a thought-provoking tale of a man who has a heart transplant and finds his feelings – and... read more
CB Editions is well known to readers of this blog. Its practice to date has been to publish new books, particularly those which might struggle to find a place elsewhere – through not lack of quality, but lack of mass appeal. Here, however, we have its first reissue, of a novel last in print in the UK almost 20 years ago. That made me think this must really be a book worth reading. Praise from Slavoj Zizek (“a book through which I discovered what kind of a person I really want to be”) added texture, and the deal was sealed... read more
(This post is part of my Mooreathon, a project to read all of Belfast-born author Brian Moore’s novels in order of publication.)
After The Great Victorian Collection, Brian Moore quickly published The Doctor’s Wife – just a year later. The speed was a result not of writing the book quickly but of a delay in the publication of the previous novel. It brought him acclaim previously unknown: it did well critically and commercially (“On this book, unlike others, I have finally tasted the smell of riches which most successful authors must sense,” he said), and gave him his first Booker Prize... read more
My aim when writing a review is not so much to say what I thought of a book – though, that too – as to give people enough information to decide if they might want to read it. With Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, I can guide you easily. If you are a fan of Roth and a serial consumer of his work – as I am – then you should read it and will probably like it. If you dislike Roth’s books, have no interest in them or have read just one or two,... read more
We had to wait fifteen years for an English translation of W.G. Sebald’s terribly important 1998 book Logis in einem Landhaus, but last year British publisher Hamish Hamilton gave us Jo Catling’s excellent translation under the title of A Place in the Country. We American readers have had to wait another nine months for an edition of our own from Random House, which is, like Hamish Hamilton, a division of the enormous Penguin Group. The content of the American edition hasn’t changed significantly; the footnotes are tracked differently, a typo has been corrected, and Random House, having some spare pages... read more
Bertold Brecht Haus, Charlottenberg, Berlin-Mitte
Vertigo readers in Germany should be interested in an event happening in Berlin on March 6, 2014. Uwe Schütte and Sven Meyer will have a public conversation on “The ‘Other’ Sebald,” dealing with Sebald’s poetry and critical writings. The event marks the launch of Schütte’s newly published study on Sebald’s poetry Figurationen: Zum lyrischen Werk von W. G. Sebald (Edition Isele).
Schütte is a scholar of German literature who has published widely on Sebald. Sven Meyer is editor of two posthumous collections of critical essays and poetry by Sebald: Campo Santo and Über das Land und das Wasser. Ausgewählte Gedichte 1964-2001.
The event will take place... read more
Rebecca Solnit. The Faraway Nearby. Viking, 2013. “Pared back to its bare bones, this book is the history of an emergency and the stories that kept me company then…” The emergency was the onset of her mother’s Alzheimer’s, and, nestled within that emergency, came Solnit’s own brush with cancer. Solnit’s wonderfully digressive stories take us from the depths of the Grand Canyon to a lonely residency at the Library of Water on the coast of Iceland, through the world of myth and her own family history, weaving amongst the literature and lives of Hans Christian Anderson, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf,... read more
A glimpse of ones own exile
radiating across green lawns
passing geometric laughter
someone had painted the oak yellow
2014 is the twentieth anniversary of the death of Derek Jarman, artist and queer activist. Derek Jarman was one of those artists without boundaries, simultaneously pursuing filmmaking, painting, writing, creative gardening, set design, and more. His astounding notebooks, which look like overstuffed scrapbooks, were filled with collages, calligraphy, poetry, objects, drawings, and pasted images of all sorts. As part of the celebrations taking place under the auspices of Jarman 2014, London’s Test Centre has reissued Jarman’s only published book... read more
British readers may be interested to know that Susi Bechöfer, whose life provided the major model for Sebald’s character Jacques Austerlitz, is making a public appearance at Aston University on Thursday February 13, 2014. She will be talking about her experiences as part of the Kindertransport and she will discuss how she was effected by Sebald’s use of her biography. She will be introduced by Martin Modlinger, who has written and lectured on Sebald and Austerlitz. The event is organised by Sebald’s former PhD student and German scholar Uwe Schütte. The event will take place from 2-4 PM in room North Wing... read more
Here is my list of works of fiction and poetry published in 2013 containing embedded photographs. You can see all of my previous lists via the drop-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of this page. I’ve updated a number of the annual lists recently, usually thanks to readers who point me in the direction of books I’ve overlooked. If you know of a book from any year that I might not have mentioned, please let me know in a comment. [Updated with new titles February 5, 2013, March 5, 2014.]
S.D. Chrostowska. Permission. Champaign: Dalkey Archive Press, 2013. Contains a number of... read more
Two years ago, walking by the sea, I listened to the New Yorker's fiction podcast in which the writer Lauren Groff read aloud her choice of story from the magazine's history: Alice Munro's Axis. It was pleasant company for three-quarters of an hour, telling the story of two women, Grace and Avie, as they reach adulthood in the postwar years, go to college and begin relationships. For Groff, reading an earlier story by Munro was an epiphany and changed her mind about fiction. As a young writer, the writers she wanted to emulate were "very experimental, the breakers of the... read more
You have made me unhappy. I bought your "Metamorphosis" as a present for my cousin, but she doesn't know what to make of the story. My cousin gave it to her mother, who doesn't know what to make of it either.So begins a letter to Franz Kafka written in 1917 by Dr Siegfried Wolff, a veteran of the trenches. He goes on to list other family members equally perplexed by the story and pleads for some help to protect his reputation: "Only you can help me". Apparently there is no evidence of a reply. Not that possession... read more
Robinson Crusoe, Jane Eyre, David Copperfield. Novels used to have character names as titles, reaching its peak at the end of the 19th Century; a trend notable in David Lodge's novel Author, Author about the later career of Henry James. When George du Maurier discusses plans for novels and stories with his distinguished friend, the titles are surprisingly mundane: Peter Ibbetson, Owen Wingrave, Sir Edmund Orme and, of course, Trilby. Times have changed. Look at the Booker Prize archives and the only shortlisted novel you'll find with a character's full name as the title is Elizabeth Bowen's Eva Trout from... read more
Jesus was not your everyday literary critic. Luke tells of his teaching in a synagogue: And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent... read more
I don't know how people can read an emotional novel. Unless the reader is hoodwinked into thinking the novel can deliver 'real' emotion. — Lee Rourke (@LeeRourke) August 14, 2013 Twitter is an unreliable arena for literary debate because terms cannot be defined – What is an emotional novel? What is a real emotion? – and one can only misunderstand by assuming answers. Better to move away. Displacement is therefore precisely Twitter's value for literary debate. Lee's rightful distaste for button-pushing novels displaced me to remember a passage in Saul Bellow's More Die of Heartbreak in which the narrator... read more
The first time Hans Henny Jahnn's trilogy Fluß ohne Ufer came to my attention was in Reiner Stach's biography of Kafka. I noted that of the "five monumental unfinished ruins of modern German-language prose" that includes two by his subject, River Without Shore is the only one still to be translated into English. A few years later, China Miéville recommended The Ship, the first part of the trilogy that had been translated over forty years ago. Imagine a longer, more expressionist version of The Stoker and you have a good idea of what it's like. It made me wish the... read more
The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness
Translated from Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson
The Harvill Press, 2001 (first published 1957), paperback, 246pp
Bought by me, from a bookshop somewhere.
The Fish Can Sing wasn't the book I was expecting. When I read Laxness' extraordinary sheep-farming epic Independent People I was overwhelmed and unsettled. It has stayed with me over the years, growing more majestic and psychologically acute in my mind. That novel - especially the first 2/3 of it - is a great cosmic shout, a conjuring of both the grandeur and limitations of human life. The Fish Can Sing is a... read more
Wake by Anna Hope
Doubleday (Random House), January 2014
E-book, 336 pages
Review copy from Netgalley
Anna Hope has written a gorgeous, intimate first novel in Wake, with an emotional poise that many more seasoned writers would envy. It reminded me most strongly - in character and style - of Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, with something of Sebastian Barry's more elegiac novels mixed through. I was gripped from the epigraph, which simply gives definitions of the title:
1 Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep
2 Ritual for the dead
3 Consequence or aftermath
The book's central characters are caught up in this various experience of... read more
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
Penguin, April 2013
E-book, 304 pages
Review copy from Netgalley
You, me and everyone we know heard a lot about this Australian debut last year. It went buzzing around the blogs, with lots of positive reviews from reviewers I trust. The paperback came out earlier this month and it seemed to be everywhere all over again; Waterstones have chosen it for their bookclub and stacked it high in my local store. So when I spotted it on Netgalley I thought I would take a punt, even though I had a niggling suspiscion that it wasn't going... read more
The Dig by Cynan Jones
Granta, January 2014
Hardback, 156 pages
Bought by me, from Cogito Books, Hexham
You would be forgiven for thinking that I was currently sponsored by Granta. Quite coincidentally my first three reads of the year have been from them: Night Waking, then The Luminaries and now The Dig. You might remember that it was on my list of most-anticipated books of 2014, and my chosen new release for January. Fitting, because it's a January sort of book, the perfect match to the winter darkness and the icy turn of the year. Short, brutal, bloody and uncompromising; chilly and haunting... read more
For a variety of reasons, I'm in something of a reading and reviewing slump right now; until I regain my joy, I'll be reposting old reviews from elsewhere.
The following review - a joint piece on Throne of the Crescent Moon (2012) by Saladin Ahmed, and Alif the Unseen (2012) by G Willow Wilson - was written last summer, and recently published in Vector #274. The table of contents for the issue's reviews, and Martin Petto's editorial, are both here.
(He is, naturally, utterly wrongheaded about both Julianna Baggott's Pure and Madeline Ashby's vN.)
I suspect you can guess what this review’s opening... read more
Night Waking by Sarah Moss
Granta, February 2011
Paperback, 378 pages.
Bought by me, from Waterstones in 2012.
Sarah Moss' second novel, Night Waking, just edged its way onto my 'best of 2013' list. I roared through it over Christmas like a guilty pleasure. I was feeling very well-inclined towards the world in general and it was the beneficiary. So goes the subjective project of reading I suppose; at another time of year it might not have fared so well, because I can see on reflection Night Waking is difficult in its brilliance. It's a novel of fascinating ideas and entertainments and dark humour... read more
An interesting aside to A Suitable Boy this week...
I am slowly learning the politics of all this and must confess I have not felt moved to do any background reading for fear of turning a pleasurable read into a GCSE exam, so beyond knowing that Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India and a leading light in the country thereafter, knowledge is only shaping up for me as the book allows it to and I want to keep it that way.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had just been mentioned in the book when we came across this unfinished portrait of Vijay... read more
As well as being The Bailey's-used-to-be-Orange Women's Fiction Prize longlist announcement today (Go The Goldfinch...Go The Night Guest...) it is also a landmark day here too.
I am starting to lose count but I think dovegreyreader scribbles is eight years old today or today-abouts, and it will come as no surprise that I happen to have the cards I was actually sent on my eighth birthday in 1961 ...bless my mum for keeping the scrapbook. This one was my absolute favourite and concertina-d out into a frieze
Remembering how exciting birthdays were when you were eight... so here's your party hat to... read more
I think I may have mentioned the box of dress patterns a while ago. This an accumulation of all my mum's patterns and mine, a sort of history of our shared dressmaking lives, as well as a potted history of fashion given that some go back a long way. Vintage would be the word for some of mine so my mum's must be antiques by now. I am hopelessly sentimental about all this, someone else will have to throw it away when I'm gone because I certainly can't...
I had dragged the box down from the loft and decided to... read more
It could well be redubbed The Shock of the Win, because Nathan Filer and his debut novel The Shock of the Fall was the surprise winner at the recent Costa Book Awards, weighing into victory over much heavier contenders including Life Ater Life by Kate Atkinson.
The story of Matthew's descent into madness is powerfully wrought, the first person narrative constantly unsettling, because just how reliable a narrator can he be, sectioned under the Mental Health Act, often sedated to the edge of consciousness, and with a huge tragedy in his childhood to be fathomed and faced.
The tragedy is clear from... read more
Dodging out inbetween the deluges has become an art form here.
The merest hint of sunshine and it is out with the dogs...if there is no hint of sunshine I miraculously HAVE to empty the dishwasher / sort the washing / tidy up because really what's the point of us both getting drenched.
Anyway one glorious morning we downed tools and both wandered up to Bury Wood with the sun beating down as if it was full summer...
From top left (click to enlarge)
The woods seem to have survived the worst of the storms intact, just a few stray branches down but... read more
A double-whammy Pleasing down on Plymouth's Barbican last week...
I had been bewailing yet again the lack of 'good' dressmaking fabric shops within easy reach of home, I'm like a stuck record honestly, and so Bookhound and I had planned a trip to the Fabric Warehouse in Plymouth. It's on a retail park and I wasn't hopeful, I am never good with too much choice and was imagining an aircraft hangar piled to the roof with stacks of polyester and curtain fabrics before I got anywhere near dressmaking material. Bookhound had kindly suggested that he would buy a paper and sit... read more