Fiction

Culture Wars reviews contemporary fiction along with regular feature coverage of fiction festivals such as Jewish Book Week and prizes like the Orange Prize and Man Booker.

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Friday 4 February 2011

Expecting the unexpected

Slaughterhouse 5, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut

When Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens, this does not mean he was taken to the reality of his train of thought or stream of consciousness; it does not have a metaphorical meaning. In the context of Slaughterhouse 5, Billy Pilgrim really is abducted by aliens – or at least it has been written to be understood as so; this does not sustain an ‘allegorical’ or ‘poetic’ interpretation.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Complacent wit

Tell-All, by Chuck Palahniuk (Jonathan Cape, 2010)

The splicing of scenes together to make them unfold concurrently and intermittently, a device commonly used in movies, but easily taken for granted, is surprisingly thought inducing in written form. But the offshoot of this script-like style is unfortunately, a rather monotonous matter-of-factness that irritates from an early stage.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Literary orienteering

Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants, by Mathias Énard (Leméac/Actes Sud Coédit, 2010)

Énard sumptuously evokes the fragile Constantinople in transition, as she slipped from being the spiritual and political hub of the ancient Holy Roman Empire, into the hands of the marauding Islamic conquerors, who were now, under the rule of Sultan Bayezid, moulding and transforming the city in their own idealised image.

The review of the review of the nonexistent

Nazi Literature in the Americas, by Roberto Bolaño (Picador 2010)

Roberto Bolaño offers the reader a fictional biographic encyclopaedia of fascist writers of the American continent. Even if one doesn’t sympathise with their fascist ideas, when reading, one is moved by the fierce idealism in which magazines and journals get published and disdained, poems go unnoticed, novels ignored.

Thursday 11 November 2010

The brahminical brain

The Story of My Assassins, by Tarun J Tejpal

Just like poor Kabir, language is the undoing of Tejpal: you simply cannot believe that a writer who uses English so inventively and richly despises the canon as much as he claims. Perhaps, like one of his many characters, he is enjoying denouncing it with the one hand while using the other to nab a share for himself.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Angry, misunderstood and resentful

The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas (Atlantic Books, 2010)

What The Slap appears to rail against is the perceived failure of liberalism in Australia in the era of John Howard. Here is a society built on the protection of the rights of the individual (Hugo, only three years old, asserts confidently ‘No-one is allowed to touch my body without my permission.’) and a policy of open immigration.

The human predicament

Nemesis, by Philip Roth (Jonathan Cape, 2010)

Bucky Cantor is described as having an unbending sense of duty and honour, instilled in him by his now dead grandfather. The novel is in three parts, each corresponding to one of Bucky Cantor’s moral failures – failures in his own view, of course.

Thursday 28 October 2010

This is fact, not fiction (on biography)

Many writers, and examples could easily come from the sci-fi genre, did not have to endure the predicaments present in their characters and their plots in order to write. Furthermore, normalcy, or middle-class bourgeois normalcy, is, these days, predicament enough. Still, each individual’s account, in fiction or real life, is full of drama because it is one’s own.

Friday 3 September 2010

Life and letters in Manila

Ilustrado, by Miguel Syjuco (Picador, 2010)

The great problem with Syjuco’s novel is Salvador himself, who fails to become the equal of Miguel’s labours. An introductory essay promises a rumbustious figure, possessed of sufficient moral vigour to expose police brutality, but enough impish humour to pen an essay titled ‘It’s Hard to Love a Feminist’.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Where do I fit in?

The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno (Picador 2010)

The novel’s brilliance, and what makes The Great Perhaps stand out from other similar-sounding tales of everyday American life, is its eccentricity. Madeline finds herself following a drifting cloud figure in her car every night; Thisbe wanders the neighbourhood baptising local cats.

Jo Caird in • Fiction

Controlled and subtle inner rage

Blood etc, by Gee Williams (Parthian Books, 2008)

The various characters do seem to foster romanticised versions of themselves, and fail miserably in their attempts to realise them. So really, the author is making a statement through her characters about how ordinary people become trapped in socially constructed forms of behaviour.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

The omission of Amis

Money, BBC television, May 2010

This adaptation fails to engage with the nature of the novel; where insight and dramatic irony are necessary, jokes and feelings are watered down by what must be a thorough misunderstanding of the entire project.

Defined by vulnerability

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson (Quercus)

For sure, the frame is pitted and buckled – as the genre demands – but overall, its integrity remains. We do not go beyond good and evil, as Nietzsche once urged, but instead luxuriate within its normative parameters. The three bogey-men thrown-up in the course of the story all get their just desserts.

No room for shades of gray

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson (Quercus)

In his attempt to emphasise Salander’s vulnerability in the first book much was made of her underdeveloped, girlish body and the apparently endless series of dirty old men driven to distraction by it. Here she keeps the schoolgirl body and vulnerability, but this time PHWOAR! LOOK AT HER KNOCKERS!

Feminism comes triumphantly home

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, by Stieg Larsson (Quercus)

What motivates this abuse of authority, according to the author, is (male) sado-masochism on the level of the individual, whereas the political reasons are directly intertwined with the pragmatic and soul-less capitalism most Western societies subscribe to at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium.

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Resources

Contemporary Writers
New writers, new works, databased by the British Council

Pen Pusher
London-based free literary magazine

Story
Celebrate the short story!

Orange Prize
Only the fairer sex need apply

Man Booker Prize
Literary Prize of the Finest Quality

Granta
The up and coming speak

The Bookseller
Infused with news from the world of books

International Pen
Writers around the world campaign for freedom of expression

Serpent’s Tail
Independent publisher for experimental voices

Random House
Fiction from the biggest publisher around

Edinburgh Book Festival
Books books and discussing books galore

Jewish Book Week
Celebrating, discussing and critiquing Jewish Lit


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