road to nowhere
The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus - Orange Prize
If anyone can spot
an incident in the book that doesn’t seem inspired by the Guardian
editorials page, then I would be indebted if they would point it out.
Wolf Totem, by Jiang Rong - translated by Howard Goldblatt (Hamish
Rong is dual spokesman: Outer Mongolian to the
Chinese and Chinese to everybody else, not caught between fact and fiction
but navigating a path between the two roles.
The Isle of Dogs, by Daniel Davies (Serpent's Tail)
But then Davies does something halfway through
which threw me utterly, so subtle it’s difficult to be sure whether
pinnacle of matriarchy
When We Were Bad, by Charlotte Mendelson (Picador - Orange
Prize for Fiction 2008 Shortlist)
Mendelson keeps a firm hand on her style. The
prose is economical, and characters are stung off the page with sharply
aimed epithets – Frances, for example, is described by her mother
as ‘a particularly disappointing segment of tangerine’.
Fault Lines, by Nancy Huston (Atlantic Books - Orange Prize
for Fiction 2008 Shortlist)
Language, a recurring theme as the generations
of the family move from country to country, is both a symbol of identity
and an expression of the pragmatism of children, who learn to get along
wherever they are.
Engleby, by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)
Using the protagonist as a uniquely-minded spy
into the world of mundane middle-class existence, Faulks is able to
give the reader a fresh insight into the issues that we all know so
Liza and Her Men, by Alexander Ikonnikov; trans. Andrew Bromfield
Her men can be interpreted as both a commentary
of the political climate and a criticism of the female condition: each
new lover embodies everything from the con artist to the corrupt politician
and each one seems to close off yet another section of her original
he, won't he?
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
Diaz’s narrator masters a fabulously authentic
idiolect, combining phrases of Spanish (refreshingly unitalicised) whose
onomatopoeic meanings are often clear but occasionally opaque to the
non-speaker, whilst touching on – but never quite becoming –
the stereotypical streetwise Noo Yawk-based Latino.
Something To Tell You, by Hanif Kureishi
The novel takes us on the kind of ‘where
were you’ journey, from Thatcher through to Tavistock Square,
from charmed youth through to the first deaths of his generation.
problem of belonging
Day, by AL Kennedy - winner of the Costa Book Award 2008
Kennedy makes you work to fathom what is going
on, intentionally leaving you at times as confused as Alfred is himself.
diamond in the rough
The Bridge of the Golden Horn, by Emine Sevgi Özdamar
This is novel at pains to take a viewpoint that,
while not aloof or dispassionate, avoids being either unpalatably saccharine
or being so emotionally heavy-handed as to constitute the literary equivalent
of being hit in the face with a chapati pan.
Nymphet and the Granny
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov / The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz,
translated and edited by David Cairns
as both books are, they have quite another effect when read in parallel,
the resonances from each forming interesting interference patterns inside
the reader’s head. In their obsessive overlap, unavailing devotion
appears almost lubricious, while greedy carnality is validated as a
kind of love.
Anarchy to Grace
Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon
Though the characters may lose sight of their
own purposes, there is always something happening, or about to happen,
that keeps the pages turning. In fact, the inchoate dread that gradually
spreads through the book after the clean optimism of the World Fair
adds a suspense that never quite goes away.
Book Week 2008
a selection of featured novels
Thirlwell argues that, rather writing than for the reader, great writers
always write against the reader, meaning that expectations
based on identity or ethnicity are bound to be confounded, except perhaps
in mediocre literature. Might it even be said that Jewish writing is
an attempt to escape Jewishness?
by Mary Gaitskill
Veronica is an accomplished work of nostalgia,
harking back to the moment the partying turned sour and offering glimpses
of the tragedy that befell those seduced enough to submit to 1970s/80s
New York hedonism, but it feels it could easily have been written ten
or fifteen years ago.
by Christopher Hope
Hope is preoccupied with the notion of identity,
as it exists in the context of a colonised land. His skill as a novelist
lies in his ability to play around with archetypes and exploit some
fairly overt symbolism whilst also allowing his story, or stories, and
the colourful characters that inhabit them, credibility.
Steep Approach to Garbadale
by Iain Banks
Very good indeed. Until page 264. My frank advice
to you is – read this book until the top of page 264, then stop.
Go away and imagine for yourself what the answer is to Alban’s
riddle, the dark secret the family hides. You won’t be wrong:
it’s been flagged up pretty well.
Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
by Haruki Murakami
The overlapping of Toru’s dreams and reality
and the other characters’ frequent forays into the past add to
Murakami’s portrayal of the world as fragmented and chaotic, yet
the transitions between them are seamless and it is a testament to the
author’s wonderful storytelling that he pulls it off so well.
Kiranjeet Kaur Gill
by Indra Sinha
For an author who professes to want to avoid making
pitiful victims of his subjects, and whose protagonist’s often
crude and disinterested outlook is designed to unsettle the reader,
Sinha displays unfortunate sentimentalist tendencies.
by Linda Barker
Barker’s paranoia is revealed as history
itself, and her fluid perspective is temporal, skittering up and down
the centuries, making arbitrary connections between characters separated
by aeons, and generating baffling laws of series to which the narrative
continually cross refers.
by Anne Enright - WINNER
Popular newspapers and ITV dramas are rightly
challenged when they use this emotive issue in an exploitative way,
to sell papers or a story – and perhaps the chattering classes
should look at themselves and their literature and do the same.
by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid redeems a plot that could be a political
documentary synopsis, taking it compassionately and beautifully into
the realm of literature, affording us a richer, wiser and more permanent
view of one of our decade’s quintessential stories.
by Lloyd Jones
So, let’s run through the checklist. The
story is set on a Pacific Island largely untouched by Western civilisation
(they don’t even know what a car is!). It is a narrated by a child
on the cusp of puberty. It contains a white man who is neither wholly
good or wholly bad but human (how post-mo-co!)...
by Ian McEwan
The master of ‘first chapters’ trips
himself up at his own smart literary game. For once, he has managed
to extend a first chapter into an entire novel, without much loss of
momentum. Yet, there is something quite superficial in the way this
pace is maintained.
by Cathi Unsworth
Most rock-based cultural commentary is produced
by writers who seem never to have experienced the hedonistic pleasure
of dressing up, hitting the dance floor or going with the flow. With
a possible rise in popularity of noir crime writing, however, the rock
novel may provide some backstage passes that give access to all areas.
by Margaret Forster
Forster is unable to sustain interest in this
nuclear family fallout through the whole novel. Once the details of
Miranda’s death are revealed, the momentum evaporates. Forster’s
writing throughout is clean and crisp, resisting melodramatic perorations,
but the lack of narrative strand does lead to dry, often lifeless text.
by André Brink
Just 122 generously
spaced pages, with a luscious matt laminate cover of alternating panels
of cadmium yellow and ultramarine, abutting just over the edge of the
flaps to give a pleasing juxtaposition of tones, which represent the
author’s fantasies of a blue-doored followed by a yellow-doored
Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by JK Rowling
While long time readers
will find that the character development of the young wizards draws
to its logical conclusion, the author also forces a rapid re-evaluation
of Professors Dumbledore and Snape, injecting a dose of moral relativism,
and hence reality, into the proceedings.
the advent of post-Potterdom
Harry Potter shows what stories can mean to people
when they grip the popular imagination. His popularity shows that, no,
stories aren't dead; they can inspire, motivate and comfort, they can
say something about contemporary society - however obvious - they mean
things to people.
by Marie Phillips
The style is pure read-me-standing-up-on-the-tube,
don’t-want-to-put-me-down fun. The content is altogether more
metaphysical. Phillips asks herself, what if all religions are not equally
valid, and wonders what would happen if the one that was literally true
turned out to be ancient Greek.
Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories
by Michael Faber
I cannot savage a collection which contains a
story entitled ‘A Mighty Horde of Women in Very Big Hats, Advancing’.
This concluding tale is also the most successful – perhaps because
it moves away most successfully from the novel to which these stories
are a sort of sequel.
Shadow of the Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The characters tend to be absolute goodies and
baddies, as in childhood stories, but they still rouse our sympathy
or antipathy when they re-enter the stage. You also feel flashes of
recognition across the procession of characters – an unsettling
edge of déjà vu, at the double-take of coincidence over
a good storyteller
On Daphne Du Maurier's centenary
In her own time, Du Maurier was often dismissed
as a romantic novelist, an author who wrote mainly for a female, popular
audience, with her mix of mystery, romance and suspense. In fact there
is little to be compared to the pure pleasure and escapism that comes
from reading a really good novel.
Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007 (last
updated 25 April)
criteria for entry are only two: one must only be a member of the fairer
sex and write in English. But despite this elegance, the Orange manages
to raise some provocative – and messy - issues.
by William Boyd
Boyd’s attention to historic detail, his
easy prose, wry humour and excellent structure are all employed to superb
advantage and its not a surprise that – and this is a sort of
back-handed compliment – the Richard and Judy book club and the
Costa Novel Award both recognised Restless with their prizes and praise.
by Alan Brayne
Brayne mines just about every murder mystery thriller
there is to put his protagonist through a truly cathartic experience,
forcing him to confront his selfish amorality and emerge a changed man.
Aside from the pager turner narrative are Brayne’s efforts to
explore and explain the practical and moral dilemmas of the ‘free’
by Julia Bell
Oksana is a Russian teenager who was lured to
Europe under the promise of a better life, and Hope is a spoilt English
girl. The alternating narrative voice is fine when the two characters
are racing to their inevitable collision, but when they’re sharing
a bed in a room with two freebasing Estonian prostitutes?
by Markus Zusak
Death and, for the Western World, the Holocaust
in particular, is a negation of words: silent and indescribable. So
for Zusak to give a voice, especially such a distinctive and whimsical
voice, to the quintessential concept of nothingness, is essentially
a nice surprise.
Dictator and the Hammock
by Daniel Pennac
Drunks have the advantage over ideologues because,
periodically, the drunk sobers up. There is more than a hint of ambiguity
from Pennac on this one. After all, 'The people pretend to believe what
we want them to believe, to the point where they sometimes talk themselves
into believing that they believe it'.
by Ray French
One by one the elements that make up Aidan are
being shut down - so he decides to shut himself down. What he opts for
is nothing as grand and Continental as a suicide. No - Aidan decides
to bury himself alive in his own garden. The British are, after all,
a nation of gardeners.
by Daniil Kharms
The satire is rich and thick, and often written in coarse, colloquial
language, which makes it all the funnier. Nonsense, amusing literalism
and striking or surreal visual evocations find the citizens of St Petersburg
constantly subjected to bizarre happenings, and yet hardly flinching.
by Elfriede Jelinek
Jelinek, a Nobel Prize winner, certainly has a
darkly comic view of human nature, and the skill with which to render
it vividly. It just seems that sometimes in detaching her voice from
herself, she forgets the clarity that structures and drives the most
Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs
by Irvine Welsh
the sense of familiarity, Welsh is a technically better writer than
a lot of his critics give him credit for. Although it may often have
felt that he was trying to relive past glories, he can still provide
vivid and interesting insights into addiction and self-destruction.
by Nicholas Royle
is telling that the stories keep returning to empty spaces and hollowed-out
shells. They appear to hold a fascination for Royle. Here, I think,
lies the problem with the collection: Royle's writing itself is strangely
hollow and substance-less and unsatisfying to read.
Short Story Competition 2006
five stories display a dissatisfaction with contemporary life and all
its trappings that is hard to articulate, and it is this elusive extra
that these stories are striving to find; stretching out and brushing
against salvation with eager finger tips, only to find it just out of