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Showing posts from April, 2011


I have two new books waiting for me to read - both by Irish writer Aifric Campbell: The Semantics of Murder and The Loss Adjustor.


Today I went to the Richmond Theatre for the first time. It's a quaintly grand building - a proper theatre. I saw a friend, Cassie Raine, play Anya Hendrik in Agatha Christie's 'Verdict'. It was a good play - twists and turns - and I didn't fidget once - despite suffering from a headache. Cassie played the Hungarian wife of Prof Hendrik, with whom she has had to seek exile in London because of his political ideals. Anya is also an invalid - a rather odd word now - looked after by her cousin, Lisa. Ali Bastion also stars as a generally spoilt mercurial minx. The emotions are played superbly by all - but I had to wonder at the inclusion of a young man who is meant to be one of the Professor's students. He seems to have no real place in the story, except for the Professor and the others to bounce the odd remark off. Maybe that's enough? There are many morals to this story, not least that people come before ideas and ideals. Verdict is on at Richmond until the …


I haven't quite finished Dermot Healy's A Goat's Song. I'm not even a third of the way into Lionel Shriver's So Much for That - the problem with the latter, thus far, is that it contains soooo much information on the US healthcare system; I've decided it is the one reason I could never live over there. It's shockingly profiteering and conniving and terribly difficult to work out with reams of forms having to be completed by sick people. However, I went into my local bookshop, Kew Books, today - they are so good - and I was recommended Jon McGregor's 'Even the Dogs', about a group of addicts in Nottingham. So I'm starting on that. I've also ordered Aifric Campbell's The Loss Adjustor. Tomorow I'm off to Richmond Theatre to watch a friend act in Agatha Christie's 'The Verdict'. More anon. I shall also have to find something to do, somewhere to be on Friday. Half of the street I live in has come together in an act of mas…

Oranges and Sunshine

Last night I took myself off to my local cinema - Waterman's, just around the corner from Kew Bridge. It was my first time there, and I must say, it wasn't exactly an environment conducive to sitting back and relaxing in front of the big screen. It's a large, somewhat Brutalist council building overlooking the Thames. Yet it seemed fairly popular. Maybe it had something to do with the Indian restaurant in the basement. As soon as I entered the building the spicy aromas hit me and the thought of skipping the film and opting for a korma instead. But I settled for the film. It is Jim Loach's directorial debut - he, the son of Ken, produced it under his father's production company, Sixteen Films. He also shares his father's social conscience. Oranges and Sunshine is the true story of how Margaret Humphreys, a Nottingham social worker played by the brilliant Emily Watson, stumbled across the covert mass deportation of children from the UK to rural Australia, from th…

The Upright Piano Player

David Abbott was a founder of Abbott Mead Vickers, one of the most successful advertising agencies. Abbott served as both copywriter and creative director. No surprise then that The Upright Piano Player, his debut novel from the Maclehose Press (imprint of Quercus) would bear some of the hallmarks of his previous career. The prose is that of a consummate and measured professional, although containing the odd sickly simile. Brands and companies are mentioned throughout - The Body Shop, Conran, and others, but this doesn't jar, although time will tell if they date into confusion. The real world of fact also creeps in through highly publicised news stories, such as the case of farmer Tony Martin, jailed for shooting a burglar, used to highlight the dilemma faced by Henry Cage, the novel's protagonist.
Cage, the back cover synopsis informs us, seemed to have it all, but as he retires his life unravels at the rate of knots. There are as many knots as characters - an estranged bookse…

This week

This week has been a right old trudge. Wading and treacle inevitably come to mind. I always seem to feel heavier and bleaker in warm weather. My bones are Celtic. I can't bear heat-induced enervation. I need to feel a spring in my step. Or an autumn! Anyway. I took myself off to two photography exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday. For a tenner I gained dual admission (student rate) to Hoppe's portraits and those of bohemian photographer Ida Kar. Both were very good and are to be recommended. Many of Hoppe's portraits struck a chord, but the two that have stayed with me are those of an old, wild-eyed and dishevelled Augustus Johns, and the second of an old Thomas Hardy. The latter reminded me of my Dad - it bore a resemblance - and helped me picture more of an aged yet healthier image of him had he lived beyond his 59 years.

I have once again been struggling with the writing. The re-writing, the structuring - call it what you will. It's par for the c…

Samuel Johnson prize longlist

The Samuel Johnson Prize, the UK's top literary award for non-fiction, has announced its longlist. Biography dominates, comprising 8 of the 18 titles, including Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes and Andrew Graham-Dixon's tome on the artist Caravaggio. List:
Tolstoy - Rosamund Bartlett
Afghansty - Rodric Braithwaite
Through the Language Glass - Guy Deutscher
The Hare with the Amber Eyes - Edmund de Waal
Mao's Great Famine - Frank Dikotter
Caravaggio - Andrew Graham-Dixon
Liberty's Exiles - Maya Jasanoff
Capitalism 4.0 - Anatole Kaletsky
Scott-Land: The Man who Invented a Nation - Stuart Kelly
People Who Eat Darkness - Richard Lloyd Parry
The Bridge - David Remnick
The Rational Optimist - Matt Ridley
Bismark: A Life - Jonathan Steinberg
Reprobates - John Stubbs
Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl - Donald Sturrock
Bomber Country - Daniel Swift
Sex Before the Sexual Revolution - Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher
Amexica: War Along the Borderline - Ed Vullaimy


I'm currently reading Georgina Harding's The Spy Game, Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Save Your Life and Dermot Healy's A Goat's Song (which, based on the first few pages, has the potential of special!).

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Monday saw the announcement of the shortlisted authors for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, with Spanish language authors making up half:

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky from the German, published by Portobello Books
Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras, translated by Frank Wynne from the Spanish, published by Atlantic Books
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely from the Turkish, published by Faber and Faber
I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, translated by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson from the Norwegian, published by Harvill Secker
Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated by Edith Grossman from the Spanish, published by Atlantic Books
The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jull Costa from the Spanish, published by MacLehose Press

Orange Shortlist

The Orange shortlist has been announced, with debut novelists making up half of the six:

Emma Donoghue - Room
Kathleen Winter - Annabel
Emma Henderson - Grace Williams Says it Loud
Aminatta Forna - The Memory of Love
Téa Obreht - The Tiger's Wife
Nicole Krauss - Great House

I have read none of them. I read Krauss's The History of Love, and that was a favourite for a while. Emma Donoghue's Room has never appealed to me, largely because I feel I already know the story too well because of the glut of coverage it has had. It will be interesting to see who wins.

of Beasts and Beings

Of Beasts and Beings is the second novel by Zimbabwean writer Ian Holding. I was haunted by his debut a few years ago, Unfeeling, in which the protagonist, sixteen-year-old Davey Baker, witnesses the murder of his parents by Mugabe's followers who have come to 'reclaim' their farm. Davey is taken in by neighbours and then goes off to school but he escapes and sets off on a journey across Africa to return home to his family's farm. The prose style in Unfeeling was spare and yet evoked, contrary to the title, much feeling. Whilst there was undoubtedly sympathy for Davey, I also saw the arrogance of the white man, which left me feeling uneasy. It is an arrogance - perhaps the blind spot - that the second main character of Of Beasts and Beings possesses. It is arranged as a split narrative; two stories running parallel - it opens on an unnamed figure who is desperately searching for food when he is lassoed and taken captive. The journey that follows, where this figure is e…

Whispers and Ripples

One of my closest friends, Laura Solomons, is a photographer and has, with a group of others, collaborated on a blog called Whispers and Ripples. Each member posts a response to the previous post, and so on. It's a great, creative idea and I particularly like Laura's posting of a photograph of her great uncle and the love letter and poem he wrote for his wife-to-be. Romantic.