Of Time and the City is a 2008 documentary collage film directed by Terence Davies. The film has Davies recalling his life growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s and 1960s, using newsreel and documentary footage supplemented by his own commentary voiceover and contemporaneous and classical music soundtracks. The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival where it received rave reviews... (wikipedia)... read more
It’s good practice, if you are going to argue with something, to aim at the best version of that thing you are arguing with. In Reason, Faith, and Revolution, Terry Eagleton argues that opponents of religion like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (or ‘Ditchkins’ as Eagleton calls them) should criticize religion as it actually exists, not the lesser versions of their imagination. Reason, Faith, and Revolution, originally from the Dwight H. Terry Lectures in 2008 at Yale, finds Eagleton wading into the “religion debates” made famous by the New Atheists. As Dawkins and other New Atheists continue to tour... read more
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
Fifty years ago, Terry Eagleton—one of the foremost and polemical cultural critics and literary theorists—was appointed Fellow in English at Jesus College, Cambridge shortly after graduating from the university himself with a First in English. He was the youngest fellow in the history of the college since the eighteenth century, and he hasn’t stopped working at such an accelerated pace. While accepting professorships in the U.S, the UK, and Ireland (not to mention countless guest speaker appearances worldwide), he has published more than forty books that cover topics across the board, perhaps because, as he joked to The New York... 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
Amanda Prantera and I go back a long way. I’ve had a good deal of pleasure from her novels – she’s written 16, most of which I’ve read – and a certain amount of frustration that she never seems to have had the recognition she deserves. Perhaps this is because her style is often, as The Times put it, “so delicate, so light to the touch that it belies the weight of the substantial talent that produced it.” Perhaps, too, it’s because she – like Brian Moore – is so varied in her subject matter that she hasn’t built up... read more
Often, I think, we retain a special affection for the first book we read by an author. Certainly that’s true for me with Gerard Woodward, whose second novel I’ll Go to Bed at Noon, the keystone in his Jones family trilogy, still floats high above his others. Recently I read the third volume, A Curious Earth, which I’d been holding off as I’d been told it was almost unreadably grim and sad – I was surprised (and a little disappointed) to find that it was more funny than sad, though sometimes a bit of both. But it was his gift... read more
Last week I wrote that Jenny Offill’s second novel Dept. of Speculation was probably my favourite new book of the year so far. It doesn’t seem to have attracted the attention of other UK reviewers yet, and amazingly, the Baileys Women’s Prize judging panel hasn’t resigned in embarrassment at leaving it off its recently-announced longlist. Doubtless the Booker and Folio judges will get it right, but in the meantime, I took the opportunity to ask Offill some questions about the book and her work generally.
Dept. of Speculation deals with everyday life but is unusual in its form and content. (“She... read more
Here is my review in the Guardian of Jenny Offill’s miraculous novel, Dept. of Speculation. It is perhaps my favourite new book of the year so far, and the list of books Offill cites as influences for it – including those by Jean Rhys, Denis Johnson, Robert Walser and Richard Yates – is pretty thrilling too.
... read more
I wrote about Lorrie Moore a couple of years ago, after having mixed feelings about the few stories of hers that I’d read. Now she has a new collection, her first in 16 years, though it’s pretty skimpy at eight stories in 160 pages. More than that, four of these stories were in her 2008 Collected Stories (you can read one of them here), so what Moore’s fans will get is four new stories in 80 pages. Only one of these four is entirely new, as three previously appeared in magazines: Harper’s, The Paris Review and The New Yorker.
Bark is an interesting... 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
The most compelling motive for including a photograph in a fiction is to discount it. There are forty-four plates in André Breton’s Nadja and not one of them clarifies a thing. The snaps from Koos Prinsloo’s family album seem more unreal, more obviously made up than his fictions. In Sebald, the images are cut down to size and drained of authority. They are always less than or more than illustrative; they do not live up to the text or they carry an excess that demands an explanation. Their purpose is less to define than to disrupt, to create ripples and... read more
It’s Chris Marker time in London. The exhibition “Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat” opens April 16, 2014 at the Whitechapel Gallery. I can’t imagine many better ways of spending time this spring than absorbing everything in this exhibition. Below is the exhibition description and program information from Whitechapel’s website.
Visionary French filmmaker Chris Marker (1921–2012) created vivid film-essays that lace realism with science fiction and lyricism with politics. Changing his name, declining to be photographed or interviewed, Marker was both enigma and legend. His influence extends across art, experimental film and mainstream cinema: his 1962 masterpiece La Jetée was the... read more
…not knowing where
or how she had arrived at her decision to lie down in a line of verse and be buried there, that is to say, be born again as a simple set of words, “the bubble in the spirit-level.” So, said she to her remaining self, which words were they to be? grave behaving words, map signs
That became Miss Emma Bishop’s project: to find another body for her bones, bones she could at first scarcely see, but which were now ridgy, forming Ws, Ys and Zs…
Thirty years after William H. Gass published his photo-embedded novella... read more
W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn gets some attention from non-literary disciplines in two recent posts elsewhere. Over at Celluloid Wicker Man, Adam Scovell has written about Grant Gee’s film Patience (After Sebald). He gives a thoughtful examination to the relationship between Sebald’s book and Gee’s film, especially the way in which the film and the book attempt to capture perception.
There are a number of reception possibilities attainable when watching Grant Gee’s 2011 essay film, Patience (After Sebald). Any film based on a book or around an author is always going to separate its viewers into two groups; those who have... read more
A new scholarly book on Sebald will be published this month: Lynn L. Wolff’s W.G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics: Literature as Historiography (Berlin: De Gruyter). From the publisher’s website:
This book offers a new critical perspective on the perpetual problem of literature’s relationship to reality and in particular on the sustained tension between literature and historiography. The scholarly and literary works of W.G. Sebald (1944–2001) serve as striking examples for this discussion, for the way in which they demonstrate the emergence of a new hybrid discourse of literature as historiography.
This book critically reconsiders the claims and aims of historiography by re-evaluating core questions of the literary discourse... read more
“I held a small, limp pen.” – William H. Gass on the writing he did as a student at Kenyon College.
I want to devote two or three posts to a writer with a sporadic but intriguing relationship with photography: William H. Gass. I’ll start with the publication of his 1968 novella Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. In 1968, TriQuarterly magazine, which is still run out of Northwestern University, published the second of several independent “supplements” to their literary magazine. This supplement was Gass’s novella Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife. The paper bound version, which was sent to subscribers, features front and back covers that have, respectively,... read more
In his diary Kafka said he enjoyed reading books of letters and memoirs because they helped him find some distance from himself and become the author's counterpart in their experiences and feelings. Nothing very unusual about that of course; it's why many of us read. Except Kafka recognises the self-deceit involved. On closing the book, he says he's always surprised that such an escape is possible because "experience inclines us to think that nothing in the world is further removed from an experience than its description". The experience he refers to here is his own writing tormented by a dynamic... read more
It's been said that Boyhood Island is "the most Proustian" of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle series, and while this is true that both Proust and Knausgaard present intense remembrances of childhood, the same could be said of many other novels, for example Tomas Bennerhed's The Ravens, recently published by the Clerkenwell Press and, like Boyhood Island, a novel of a 1970s childhood set in Scandinavia. Both Proust's and Knausgaard's would surely be lost among them were it not for what sets them apart.
What sets them apart might best be summarised as the lingering uncertainty of their... read more
Today marks fifty days since I began learning German on Duolingo, a website I discovered by chance. That is, fifty days in a row. I know this because the site rewards continuity and persistence. Online e-learning has now enabled me to progress far further than I had ever imagined possible. Many years ago I signed up for a schoolroom course in which "immersive" interaction with neighbours in the new language was the sole method of learning. No lists of nouns, no gender tables, no rules of grammar. We didn't even look at words. I should have known better: this was... read more
After days of inert wondering why Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes felt like more than "a weakish book" and thereby, according to the dictates of professional reception, valuable only for throwing the so-called greatness of his novels into finer relief, or, rather, why it felt that this so-called weakness was in fact a strength in the same way that the illness, or, to be more precise, the double illness that I was enduring, demanded the choice of an episodic book to read was fortunate, as it enabled me to consider basic questions rather than suffering to read another product of industry-friendly... 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
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Picador (August 2013)
378 pages, hardback
Bought by me, from Amazon
I savoured the thought of reading Hannah Kent’s debut novel for almost six months. I pre-ordered it, and then hoarded it, like I do with books I hope I’m going to relish. It ticked lots of boxes for me: historical fiction; female protagonist; set in a cold climate; dark murderous plot. The book itself was beautiful, with its stark and striking cover and black edged pages. It sat patiently on my TBR, always hovering near the top, while the accolades came rolling in: it was chosen... read more
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch
I know, I know, the Baileys shortlist has been out for almost a week now and is officially Old News in the blogosphere, but I've only just properly caught up. It's been a busy little time for me recently. We're about to move house for the second time in two years, this time out to the country. I'm six months into my part-time PhD and it... read more
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Austen Project, The Borough Press, March 2014
352 pages, paperback proof
Kindly sent by the publisher
I've never read Val McDermid before, and I heartily wish now that my first encounter hadn't been with Northanger Abbey. If there was ever a book that wasn't for me, it's this one. I eagerly snapped up a review copy because I was quite curious about The Austen Project- which has commissioned six bestselling authors to reimagine Austen's novels in contemporary settings - and because I enjoy following Val on Twitter. I'm not a huge crime fan; Austen is far more... read more
The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt
Simon and Schuster, March 2014
Paperback proof, 374 pages
Review copy from the publisher
A puzzling reading experience, this one. The proof comes replete with glowing recommendations from Nathan Filer (winner of this year’s Debut Costa for The Shock of the Fall) and Samantha Harvey (of The Wilderness fame), and it has been long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize this week. But I struggled to get through it: 374 pages dragged by and I had to bribe myself to keep up a steady pace. It wasn’t that I was disappointed or bored as such (although I was a... read more
I didn't realise how long it had been since I last posted. Over a month. Ahem. So much for my new year resolution to write more frequently. Better get back on the horse.
While I've been away the Orange Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction longlist has been announced, and what an excitingly rounded list it seems. I've read The Luminaries so far, and have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld waiting in the wings. Of the others I'm keen to get my mitts on The Signature of All Things, Reasons She Goes to 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
In keeping with my annual tradition (borne of not being allowed out to play on Good Friday as a child) dovegreyreader scribbles will have a quiet phase over Easter... and this year signing off for a little bit longer, which I hope you will understand, because we have busy family times ahead when I need to concentrate on things temporal for a few weeks. Some travelling, some welcome homes, some fare thee wells and a very full house, which always means an empty fridge unless I have my wits about me.
So a lovely vase of daffodils for you to enjoy and... read more
Thoughts of painting in churches as I read A Month in the Country reminded me of my visit to Berwick Church in Sussex last year with Fran, and the promised pictures which never quite materialised on here. This seemed like the perfect week to take a look at them.
The church of St Michael and All Angels at Berwick (pronounced Berrick for anyone who may be wondering) in East Sussex is set on a small hill with a glorious, God's-Own-Country panoramic view of the South Downs from the churchyard...
...and is famous for its unique twentieth century murals, painted during the... read more
'We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever....they've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass...'
I have been giving some thought to my COBALT (Crisis Of Brilliance Art & Literature Trail) reading plans for this year, and much as I used to hate having to come up with Aims and Outcomes back in my working days (couldn't we just get on with it and see) I did want to try and outline for myself the Objects of the Project..
1. Not to be cast down (as in become overwhelmed and... read more
'When warned to expect questions about his favourite author at the Edinburgh Festival, Vikram Seth turned to the critic he was with and asked "Do you have the name of a bad Scottish saga writer?" On being supplied with a name, Seth vowed that, if asked, he would say he read the novels of Dorothy Dunnett "with the greatest admiration."
This little anecdote was quite a prescient find this week because I had just bagged up about twenty Dorothy Dunnett novels for the charity shop having finally decided that life really is too short, as are my shelves, and I have... read more
Off to our local nursery at Endsleigh for potting compost and some of the free pots left for customers ...
On with the gardening trousers, and this year I have kidnapped a pair of the Kayaker's work trousers, made for builders I think. They are nice and baggy with loads of pockets, and places to put secateurs and string and things, but best of all a large pocket in front of each knee for some clever padding. I can't tell you how these things have transformed my gardening life. I was planting out seedlings on my knees for about two hours... read more
Much as I love a hand-knitted woollen jumper it has to be said that I love Polartec fleece just as much, for its practicality, its washability, its dryability and its many-togs of warmth, so I wear quite a lot of it. This winter two of Bookhound's man-sized jumpers that almost reach my knees thus keeping a lot of me warm, but I also have two favourite fleece cardigans that have been wardrobe staples for longer than I can remember. Bought from American company Eddie Bauer, in the days when they had shops here in the UK, I was surprised to... read more