Sunday, 29 June 2008

Book of the week - Diane Wei Liang, Paper Butterfly

Paper Butterfly is the second detective novel from Diane Wei Liang featuring Mei Wang and set in modern China.

Deep in the outback of China, prisoner 3424 is released from camp and seven years of gruelling work in the mines. A young man named Lin, he was imprisoned for activism in the protests at Tiananmen Square. His student ideals were crushed, and now he makes his long way back to Beijing. In the heart of the city, private detective Mei Wang is hired on the case of a missing person by talent magnate Mr Peng, a contact of her glamorous sister Lu. The subject in question is Kaili, a gorgeous young pop star, whose life was not as glittering as it first appeared. As the case rapidly slides into murder, Mr Peng chooses a corporate cover-up over the risk of finding out too much of the messy truth. But Mei is compelled by her instincts to do just that, and is drawn on a trail that takes her from the high rises and boulevards into the old huting district, where superstitions are very much alive. Following a mysterious clue in a beautiful handmade paper butterfly, she uncovers events that take her back to her own memories of the heady days of Tiananmen that ended so brutally. Mei was lucky - Lin not so - but she plunges into the risky game of investigating the truth in a new society still catching up with the secrets of its past.

Diane Wei Liang lives and works in London, but grew up in China and experienced both a Labour Camp and Tiananmen Square. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series - signed copies of Paper Butterfly are available now. Her first book, a memoir, is to be reissued next year.


Lake with no name (Headline, paperback, 2003)
The Eye of Jade (Picador, 2007)
The Paper Butterfly (Picador, 2008)

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Bibliography and Book of the Week – Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture

Sebastian Barry is a successful poet and playwright, and The Secret Scripture makes use of a strong structure and haunting language to maximum effect. Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she's spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates.

Barry was born in Dublin in 1955 and educated at the Catholic University School and Trinity College Dublin. He now lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children. His previous novel, A Long Long Way, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize. The Secret Scripture is a powerful novel, and should be in the running for the Man Booker Prize later in the year. It has been published simultaneously in paperback and hardback – the latter is well worth picking up now.



Macker's Garden (Irish Writer's Cooperative, 1982)
Time Out of Mind/Strappado Square (Dublin, Wolfhound, 1983);
The Engine of Owl-Light (Manchester, Carcanet, 1987);
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (Picador, 1998)
Annie Dunne (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2002)
A Long Long Way (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2005)
The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber, 2008)


Andersen's English (Faber paperback orginal, 2010) 
Tales of Ballycumber (Faber paperback original, 2010)
The Pride of Parnell Street (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2007)
Fred and Jane / Whistling Psyche (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2004)
Hinterland (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2002)
Our Lady of Sligo (Methuen paperback, 1998)
Boss Gradys Boys and Prayers of Sherkin (Methuen, 1992);
The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, The Steward of Christendom (Metheun, 1995);
White Woman Street (London, Methuen, 1995)


The Water Colourist (Dublin, Dolmen 1983);
The Rhetorical Town (Dolmen 1985);
Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1987);
The Pinkening Boy (Dublin, New Island Books, 2004) [limited signed edition, Oxford, Joe McCann, 2004; 65 copies numbered 1-65 bound in cloth, in glassine dj, signed by author; 20 number I to XX in Qtr Goatskin to Brown Cloth, signed by the author. Total edition of 85.]


Elsewhere: The Adventures of Belemus (Brogeen Books, 1985)
The Inherited Boundaries: Younger Poets of the Republic of Ireland (editor) Dolmen Press, 1986

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Joseph O'Neill, Netherland

Netherland is the third novel of Joseph O'Neill, who was born in Cork, Ireland in 1964 and grew up in The Netherlands. Signed copies are uncommon of the UK edition, but can be found with a little effort. Reviews in the US have been outstanding, and the novel has topped the best-seller list. UK reviews are rather more mixed, but this book does have the potential to become one of the landmark novels of the decade.

In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans - his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in the Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he'd regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place - the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city's most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriended Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city's first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck's dream and Chuck's sense of American possibility - until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend's activities and ambitions.'Netherland' is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship.

O'Neill is a graduate of Girton College, Cambridge and a barrister (lawyer) at the English Bar, where he practiced for ten years, principally in the field of business law. He now lives in New York with his wife, Vogue editor Sally Singer, and their three sons. He is the author of three novels, a number of short stories and a non-fiction book, Blood-Dark Track: A Family History, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 2002 and a book of the year for the Economist and the Irish Times. He also writes literary and cultural criticism, most regularly for the Atlantic Monthly.


Netherland (Fourth Estate, 2008)
The Breezes (Faber and Faber, 1996)
This Is The Life (Faber and Faber, 1991)


Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (Granta Books, 2001)

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Murakami at auction - an update

The Bloomsbury Book Auction sale featuring the Murakami first editions was held earlier today. All of the Murakami lots sold, though for slightly under the estimated prices. Pinball 1973 went for a very respectible £428 including the premium, along with a later edition of Hear the Wind Sing. In my experience, the true first of Hear the Wind Sing is more difficult to obtain than Pinball, and perhaps would command a higher price in Auction.

Looking through the results, it is striking that the majority of lots were selling for under the lower estimate. It would be wrong to read too much into a single sale, but at least for the medium price lots which dominated the sale, it looks as if demand was relatively low. Given all the news about oil prices and inflation in the UK, and the strength of sterling against the dollar, maybe this is is not a great surprise.

One of the books to sell at well above its upper estimate was "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon which went for £228 for s signed first edition. Its still possible pick up an unsigned first edition (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) for around £35, which looks good value given that the author's signature might be picked up at a later date.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Book of the week - Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

Nick Harkaway's first novel, The Gone-Away World is published in a conventional hardback (Heinemann) and as a limited edition, signed, slipcased edition of around 1000 copies by Waterstones in the UK. Harkaway was born in 1972 in Cornwall. He studied philosophy, sociology and politics at Clare College, Cambridge, and worked in the film industry before becoming an author. He happens to be the son of John le Carre, and consequently there were whispers of nepotism when this debut novel was bought for a reputed £300,000 last year. However, reviews have been very positive. To quote The Independent, "On reading this magnificent, sprawling, epic work, it's clear it was published on its own merits, and is probably worth considerably more than the amount Heinemann paid for it. With the right wind behind it, The Gone-Away World could easily become a modern classic."

The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it's on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out - but there's more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself. From rural childhood in Cricklewood Cove to military service in a bewildering foreign war; from Jarndice University to the sawdust of the Nameless Bar; their story is the story of the Gone-Away World. It is the history of a friendship stretched beyond its limits; a tale of love and loss; of ninjas, pirates, politics and strange places.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Bibliography and Book of the week - Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a first novel for young adults by Patrick Ness, an American born writer who has been living in the UK for a number of years. The book is the first in a projected fantasy trilogy - a format which is now very common, and does not always indicate quality - but in this case the book has received a considerable amount of attention and very good reviews. It has also been longlisted for the Guardian Childrens' Fiction Prize. The Prize was funded in 1967, and has a tradition of finding new voices in children's fiction before the rest of the world is aware of them. Past winners include Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson and Mark Haddon.

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town full of men, a town where everyone can hear your thoughts and Todd finds out he doesn't fit in with the town's plans as he approaches the birthday that will make him a man. The town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run... "The Knife of Never Letting Go" is an unflinching novel about the impossible choices of growing up. Signed, lined and dated copies currently available for £12.99!


The Crash of Hennington (Flamingo, 2003)

Topics About Which I Know Nothing (Flamingo, 2004) - short stories, paperback original

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Walker Books, 2008)
The Ask and the Answer (Walker Books, 2009)
Monsters of Men (Walker Books, 2010)
A Monster Calls (Walker Books, 2011)