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Showing posts from May, 2011

Go against the grain

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Beautiful Books, the publisher of my debut novel, A Clockwork Apple, are this summer running a promo campaign with independent bookshops throughout the UK. Details on the poster:




Philip Roth - Nemesis

I'm just reaching the end of Nemesis by Philip Roth, which I borrowed from the library. It is the final short novel of a quartet that began with Everyman, the tale of mortality from its ageing author. The third title was The Humbling, which I also enjoyed, although I've yet to read Indignation, but most who have read it say I'm not missing much. That is far from being the case with Nemesis though. It's so well written; the register perfectly evokes the era, the 1940s, which, whilst complicated in some ways, was much simpler in others - this is reflected in the simplicity of the interior life of Bucky and his relentless earnestness, ripe for pulverising with pestle of life. There seems to be no dark shadows to any of the characters, save for Bucky's long-absent father, a gambler who stole from his job at a department store and who was then kept at bay from his son by Bucky's much-loved maternal grandfather whose nose, we are told, bore the effects of a Jewish im…

Intl Man Booker

Philip Roth has been announced as the winner of the $100,000 International Man Booker Prize for his body of fiction.



Paul Graham

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The exhibition is spread out in galleries 1,8 and 9 and arranged in titled sequences. The value of Graham's work is not only in the dignifying of seemingly mundane places, like the Little Chef in Cambs, part of the sequence depicting the A1 - The great north road 1981-1982', but in documenting those decades in which Thatcher was in power and the bleakness of it all. These are powerful political and social statements because they are real; there is no 'theory' that has been worked from. And yet it defamiliarisrs and identifies at the same time. This is shown to great effect in Interior, Rainton Services, Yorkshire, Nov 1981. The place is sparse; utilitarian, as three working men sit at separate tables away from each other; tucking into a fry up, nursing a mug of tea.

One photo of a chipped wall, upon which is painted 'PETROL' in red Communist Russian type print. The various personalities of the photographed subjects shine through, such as Tony, Tower Cafe, Bedfor…

The Semantics of Murder

I stayed up late last night to finish Aifric Campbell's The Semantics of Murder. The novel, which she wrote whilst studying at the University of East Anglia, is based on the real case of the murder of Robert Montague, a gifted Professor of Philosophy at UCLA. Montague was found strangled in his home in Beverly Hills in 1971. His killer has never been caught. The story opens, however, by following his younger brother, Jay, in present day London. Jay is a psychoanalyst who had found his brother on the bathroom floor on that fateful day. Campbell, who studied linguistics in Sweden and therefore brings her knowledge of semantics, had always known about Montague; his case intrigued her enough to want to make it the basis for this brilliantly structured and very well-written debut novel. We are treated to a somewhat chilling character in Jay - at first he seems merely distant - but as the story develops questions are raised. He is mining his patients for their stories, which he writes u…

Depression

I am not going to write about the various books on depression that I have read over the years, there are too many of them. I can see one on my shelf from here, called Undoing Depression. There are those hardliners who see it as some sort of choice that is simply made or reneged. The choice to be balanced, rational, emotionally healthy, mentally well. There are those who claim that it is not a moral issue but who then insist that it requires a moral solution; that it is nothing more than self-absorption, self-centredness, laziness, greed, rage. It may be one or all of these things - for them. But that's not how I have ever experienced it - and it's experienced differently by each sufferer, in any case it ends up debilitating, one's emotions, thoughts, actions in a vice-like grip. It is not, as those who argue that 'sadness' is a part of life, just that, nor is it a 'low' period. For me it slowly picks up speed to become like living in a dark cave. The world…

Kingston Writers School

Yesterday I went to the official launch of the Kingston Writers School, held at the Royal Society of Arts. It was a jolly gathering, with writers including Rachel Cusk, Jane Jordan, Heidi James-Dunbar, Lillian Pizzichini, Nicky Matthews-Brown and a host of others in attendance. I, however, had to leave after an hour as I had been grappling with a bad headache that was threatening to develop into a full-blown migraine for most of the day. I am not processing stress very well at the moment at all. I wish I had a button that simply cut off excess cortisol, or whatever chemical it is within me that is not being processed satisfactorily. Earlier in the day I met a friend at Tate Britain and we ambled through the twentieth century art, through the nineteenth and the favourite Pre-Raphs and down into the seventeenth and eighteenth. When we emerged on the top step of the Millbank entrance and then proceeeded to walk down towards Parliament Square we agreed, both of us northerners, that we wer…

Waterstone's Waterman's

Late yesterday afternoon I was mooching my way down Kensington High Street when I thought I may as well mooch around inside Waterstone's. This was despite the fact that I already had an unread book (Campbell's The Semamtics of Murder) in my bag. I was drawn to Tove Jansson's novel The Great Deceiver by the name, then the cover, then the back cover, then the first page. All standard criteria for judging a book. Tove Jansson has a devoted readership, and had built up particular acclaim for The Moomins. Despite my having a penchant for sparse prose coupled with snowy settings depicting solitude, preferably with the Scandinavian brand of melancholy, this was my first Jansson. I wasn't disappointed. It tells the story of Katri Kling, a yellow-eyed young woman who has bright up her younger brother, Mats. Katri has the position - popular in literature - as the truth-teller, a role that necessitates being on the outside. With it goes an absolutist awareness of motives - one…

The Loss Adjustor

I've just finished reading The Loss Adjustor, by Aifric Campbell. Born in Ireland, as a young woman Campbell moved to Sweden where she studied and taught linguistics. So why she then went into London banking for 17 years poses a question. Money, probably. But in The Loss Adjustor it's words that matter - Campbell excels in two things that make a great novel - pace and description. The Loss Adjustor is Caro, or Caroline. She works in the city, anonymously and without fuss. The reader is brought back to Caro's childhood days, when her neighbours, Cornac and Estelle, are her best friends and substitute siblings. 35 year old Caro harbours a loss that is teasingly and expertly revealed, revelling in and then quickly but not thoughtlessly smashing the fantasy that Caro lives in the grip of. The past runs parallel with the present, but the future does not feel it is a prospect until she gets to know and befriend the elderly Tom Warren, who harbours his own, thankfully and realist…