Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Boneland by Alan Garner: review

Garner: bardic
I've reviewed Alan Garner's Boneland for The Telegraph - it's a strange book, and I think I may be the only person in the world to have liked it (of the reviews I've read, anyway). It's certainly not a children's book, but it is rather weirdly marvellous.

****UPDATE: Ursula Le Guin, that great fantasy novelist, has written a great piece for The Guardian about Boneland.****
****UPDATE: Another brilliant fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman, has also reviewed Boneland, and has found it good. He did it for The Times. I've so far noted that those who write fantasy seem to like it more than those who don't.****


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey gets greyer

"I do think that if they’re going to write at all, they ought to sit down and learn about sentence structure and not punctuate with ludicrous phrases like, “Holy s***” and “Holy
crap”. You have to learn to write. You can’t just decide to be a writer, in the same way that I couldn’t suddenly decide to be Darcey Bussell and jump on to the stage and do ballet, could I? It takes practice. I don’t begrudge anyone making money, but it seems tragic that people are rushing to buy these books at the expense of a lot of very good writers who are really struggling."

This is from the excellent and lovely Jilly Cooper in The Times, about Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. I think that says it all, really, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus: review

Ben Marcus: fiery
Ben Marcus' new novel, The Flame Alphabet, is an experimental work in which language takes on toxic capabilities. I first read a passage from it in the excellent Harper's Magazine, and was intrigued; therefore I was rather pleased to be asked to review it for the New Humanist, which I have done, and which is now available on their website. Check it out here.


Monday, 20 August 2012

Patrick Leigh Fermor's The Violins of Saint Jacques

This is Patrick Leigh Fermor, who may well be described as legendary. I have just finished reading his only novel, The Violins of Saint Jacques, which is a lusty, dreamy, liquid thing; a tale of humour and humanity in an anachronistic society on a Caribbean island; here the Masques of the islanders mingle with the balls of the aristocrats; little boys dressed as wizards set deadly snakes free at parties; people live and love to the full, in a way that seems impossible now. Elopements, betrayals, forbidden desires and characters drawn so vividly they dance before your eyes long after you've closed its luscious pages.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Review of O Outro Livro by Philip Womack

Here's a nice thing to brighten up my Sunday - a review of O Outro Livro, the Portuguese translation of my first book, The Other Book, on a website called Riot. "Totalmente recomendado!" Which has got to be good, right?

Penguin 60s

I have always enjoyed my little library of Penguin 60s. I used to save up my pocket money to buy them - they cost 60 pence, which was also the price, at the time, of a copy of The Beano and a bag of tuck. I've always thought them a brilliant idea - they are so easily digestible, and introduced me at a young age to some brilliant authors whose longer works might seem a little too off putting. One of the best things that they brought me was The Story of The Stone by Cao Xuequin, a Chinese romance of the eighteenth century, in several volumes, which I hungrily consumed. These tiny books opened a window onto worlds I'd never seen before; and they are worlds to which I now often return.
Sam Thompson’s Communion Town: A City in Ten Chapters is on the Booker longlist. Whilst I wasn't entirely convinced by it, there are some very strong passages, and Thompson is a beautiful writer of great style, able to shift perspectives and to pastiche everything from Raymond Chandler to Sherlock Holmes.

As a whole these loosely linked stories, designed to capture the many styles and sectors of an imaginary city, seem too elusive to offer any true insight. This is a shame, as it’s a wonderful conceit, and there is no doubt a lot to look forward to from Thompson. I would still recommend it, heartily so, as a strange, often absorbing, and often brilliant read.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Other Book now available as The Other Electronic Book

Some nice news today - I've discovered that my first-born child, The Other Book, who was born four years ago, has had a new lease of life on the Amazon Kindle. You can download it from the site below. Naturally it would be nicer if you went and got hold of an actual real-life copy from an actual real-life bookshop... The Other Ebook doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it - but still.

10 Most Difficult Books: Which ones have you read?

Djuna Barnes' Nightwood is on the list
The Millions have published a list of what they regard as the 10 Most Difficult Books of all time, based on a variety of factors including length, syntactical complexity and abstraction. You can look at the list here. I've read three - Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen, which I have been re-reading intermittently this year; Jonathan Swift's A Tale of A Tub, although it was a fair while ago; and Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, the inclusion of which has caused most commentators to raise an eyebrow. I really ought to have read Samuel Richardson's Clarissa; as for James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, I'm not sure I'm ever going to tackle it. Nightwood is another one I should have approached - it's mentioned in an Edward St Aubyn novel:  Patrick Melrose carries it around in his pocket, along with Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus, which, in imitation, I carried around in my pocket, although I never got round to reading it.

I'm not sure I agree with posting lists based on difficulty - who can say with any certainty what is difficult or not? Some might say that reading the Bible is difficult; what about reading The Aeneid in Latin, or Lucretius' De Rerum Natura in English? It is, of course, entirely arbitrary, as it's only really based on what the choosers of the lists have themselves read. So is there any point in it at all? Some people find some things difficult; others don't. The point is that we should all challenge ourselves to read the unfamiliar, to grapple with things that are beyond our reach - until those things become in themselves easy. It's like being an athlete or a concert pianist. Some are content to paddle in the tepid waters of Harry Potter and E L James; I'd argue that we should all push ourselves further. Only in this way do we grow. Otherwise we just stare at shadows, flickering on the back of the cave, unaware of the beauties and joys that exist outside. If anything, this list should make us all look behind us and into the light: it may be blinding, but through it, beyond it, there are universes to explore and inhabit. Although maybe not Finnegans Wake.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Brace of Booker Books: The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, and Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Dan Stevens: Judge
Morning all: I've reviewed a couple of Man Booker longlisted novels for The Telegraph - The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, and Swimming Home by Deborah Levy. Both are brilliant, skewed, original and gripping. Click on the links to read the reviews. Dan Stevens (pictured, as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey) is one of the judges that chose an interesting longlist - much more so than last year, I think - and one that clearly favours experimentation. I'd say that Michael Frayn, Hilary Mantel, Will Self, Nicola Barker and André Brink were dead certs for the shortlist, but with a list like this it's hard to guess. Number six could be Ned Beauman or Deborah Levy; I don't think Alison Moore or Jeet Thayil will make it on. We wait with breath bated...


Monday, 6 August 2012

Vainglory by Ronald Firbank: review

Ronald Firbank: orchidaceous
A champagne-tinged hello to you all: I've reviewed three novels by Ronald Firbank for The Observer. They are decidedly orchidaceous; somebody once described Fr Corvo's books as tyrianthine, which I think applies equally well to Firbank. He's an acquired taste, but once you've acquired it, there's much to enjoy. Read the review here.