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Showing posts from March, 2009

Tristram Hunt on Engels

Tristram Hunt, whose biog on Friedrich Engels is due to be released at the end of April, has written a timely piece for History Today on Engels' often neglected yet humongous contribution to what is now known only as Marxist ideology. See here.


Today I bought The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin, another hardback if you please! I bought it on the grounds that it may prove more surprising and fulfilling than the paperback I was going to buy, Zweig's The Post Office Girl, which I had come to feel as though the narrative had become too familiar to warrant buying it and actually reading it, if that makes sense - Cinderalla turned very bleak. I also bought The Street Philosopher because it is set in the years of the Crimean War and also in Victorian Manchester, my area of interest at the moment. It is Plampin's debut novel, and he is an academic specialising in the period, so I have high hopes.

Anyway, I wanted to post a full review of Zoe Heller's The Believers which in many ways is a simple read in the way that Notes on a Scandal was, by that I mean it is written very clearly, almost in a Yatesian manner, and which I also read as a masterclass in pacing and structure. Each family member's life unfolds slow…

Dancing at Lughnasa

Yesterday evening marked my first visit to the Old Vic on the curiously named The Cut, just over the road from Waterloo station, to see Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa. I seem to automatically expect more from an Irish play than any other, just as I do from Irish-penned novels and stories. An expectation borne from hereditary pride and a degree of creative superiority built up from a sure foundation. The stereotypical gift of the gab played large, or even just played with poetic concision. The gift of the gab was here, in Dancing at Lughnasa, but a little too much for my liking. I felt Andrea Corr played her part well, better than well, as the mother of michael, the narrator looking back on his seven year old self in this household of aunties and a malaria stricken pagan 'bewildered' priest of an uncle who had spent twenty-five years in Uganda. Dancing at Lughnasa is a 'memory play' and I felt, perhaps appropriately given the often unreliable or sketchy nature of…

Short stories...

The BBC National Short Story Award, the richest prize for a short story, has opened. Details here. Also, The Strand Magazine are to publish a previously unpublished short story by Mark Twain. Called The Undertaker's Tale it seems it will be anything but maudlin. Strand editor, Mark Gulli, said: “Though the story is called ‘The Undertaker's Tale,’ I would hazard against bracing for something gloomy—Twain uses his razor sharp wit to pen a tongue-in-cheek tale about the funeral industry, which could easily have been written today. After rereading several of Twain’s tales and essays, it became even clearer to me that Twain’s writings can never be dated. He tackles the same problems we're challenged with today, and pokes fun at the same characters that inhabit our present-day world.” And if that isn't enough of a coup The Strand will also be publishing a previously 'lost' P.G. Wodehouse story.

Reading... Writing...

I'm reading The Believers by Zoe Heller. I bought the hardback for a fiver from the British Library shop. Asked why it had been reduced so drastically within months of it being released I was told it was because they couldn't return them! It received good reviews on Newsnight Review and so far, having reached the second chapter, I am enjoying the dynamics of the Litvinoff family.

I'm also about to read, again, yawn, another draft of a couple of my own manuscripts. Writing feels like a trudge at the moment. I had a good old chinwag with a good friend yesterday evening, a screenwriter, and we lamented the status of writers, and the earning power of all but an elite few. I mainly fired off about Niffennegger's (sic?) $5 million advance, which I felt was no different from giving a banker an as yet unearned bonus!

However, I have to add that, on my 'main' project, the Victorian political biography/novel, I am feeling somewhat invigorated, having gone to the British L…

The Orange Longlist

Debra Adelaide: The Household Guide to Dying (HarperCollins)

Gaynor Arnold: Girl in a Blue Dress (Tindal Street Press)

Bernadine Evaristo: Blonde Roots (Hamish Hamilton)

Ellen Feldman: Scottsboro (Picador)

Laura Fish: Strange Music (Jonathan Cape)

V.V. Ganeshananthan: Love Marriage (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Allegra Goodman: Intuition (Atlantic Books)

Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness (Jonathan Cape)

Samantha Hunt: The Invention of Everything Else (HarvillSecker)

Michelle de Kretser: The Lost Dog (Chatto & Windus)

Deirdre Madden: Molly Fox's Birthday (Faber and Faber)

Toni Morrison: A Mercy (Chatto & Windus)

Gina Ochsner: The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight (Portobello Books)

Marilynne Robinson: Home (Virago)

Preeta Samarasan: Evening is the Whole Day (Fourth Estate)

Kamila Shamsie: Burnt Shadows (Bloomsbury)

Curtis Sittenfeld: American Wife (Doubleday)

Miriam Toews: The Flying Troutmans (Faber and Faber)

Ann Weisgarber: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (Macmillan)

The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol 1 1929-40

No, alas, this is not a review of said letters, but only a review of a review. Well, it's not even that really, but more of a 'the letters of Samuel Beckett are out!!!' And this week's issue of the TLS has Beckett on the cover, with his almost goat-like piercing pale blue eyes - and a bowler clad character in the background. The excitement around the publication of these letters - with three more volumes to follow - reminds one just how important these prolific letter writers are to us - years after their deaths. I recall from an earlier blog that it is such a shame that we will surely, or at least the next generation will, lose out on this part of literary studies - the letters collection. Tell me - who writes letters to friends and colleagues in any great depth - if at all - anymore? And no - emails and texts DO NOT count. Nor do blog posts!

So what will we have of the daily workings of this and future figures?

Maybe if they all go down the Julie Myerson route we won…

Last night at the London Capital Club

One often wonders just how many 'literary' readings take place throughout the country on any one evening. But the only place to be at yesterday evening, in my humble opinion (!) was the London Capital Club's 'Evening of Literary Splendour' in equally splendendous surroundings. Warmed up with free-floating scallops wrapped in pancetta on sticks and other such nibbles the four writers - myself, James Woudhuysen, Marina Fiorato, and Alex Burrett, gave the assembled listeners readings of our works and our motivations for writing them in the first place. Most people were gently sozzled by the end of the evening, loosening up tongues for the end of session Q & As - especially for James Woudhuysen's funny, passionate, tragi-comic talk on energy issues.

The Myerson Betrayal

Yes, you read it right, that's my take on it the Myerson debacle - it can be summed up as nothing short of a betrayal. Some, like Yasmin Alabiah-Brown, have claimed that Myerson is doing nothing wrong in writing of her son as The Lost Child, that all writers draw on shared experiences and people they know - but, I don't know of many who do it so blatantly as branding it 'A True Story', whose only outcome could be on shaming their son. If Jake Myerson is a fully-fledged addict then having his life splayed out in the public domain would do nothing to bring him back from the edge of Skunk-dom, if anything it would give him every reason to continue what he's doing, if indeed that is the case. Many agree it could be nothing more than a phase. We don't know the ins and outs of Jake's ingestion habits/hobbies. We also don't know the ins and outs of the Myerson's family past or present. But the future doesn't look exactly healthy, although the rushing…


Never go into nearby bookshops in your lunch-break if you're trying to be 'frugal'. I had heard of Simon Critchley's The Book of Dead Philosophers a couple of months ago and it stuck in my mind where it stayed until I went over and bought the hardback today - paperback not out til October!