Thursday, 31 December 2009

Man Booker Prize bibliography - 1974


In 1974 the judges were unable to separate two books, and the prize was shared:

The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer, Jonathan Cape, London 2004. Fairly common. £30 up to £200 for a fine signed copy.

Nadine Gordimer (born 1923) is a Nobel Prize-winning author of short stories and novels reflecting the disintegration of South African society. While her early works were in the tradition of liberal South African whites opposed to apartheid, her later works reflect a move toward more radical political and literary formulations. She was born on November 20, 1923, in Springs, a mining town on the Eastern Witwatersrand, South Africa. Of Jewish heritage, her mother was from England and her father, from Russia. He worked in the gold mines, first as a mining engineer and later as secretary. Most of Gordimer's life, apart from a brief period in Zambia in the middle 1960s, has been spent in South Africa and the Witwatersrand, and it was here that she received her education, first as a day scholar at a convent and later as a student at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her first short story, entitled "Come Again Tomorrow," was published in the Johannesburg magazine The Forum in November 1939. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1991.

"Mehring is rich. He has all the privileges and possessions that South Africa has to offer, but his possessions refuse to remain objects. His wife, son, and mistress leave him; his foreman and workers become increasingly indifferent to his stewardship; even the land rises up, as drought, then flood, destroy his farm."

Holiday, Stanley Middleton, Hutchinson, London, 1974. Perhaps the rarest of the Booker Prize winners. From a dealer, likely to be around £1000 or more.

Stanley Middleton (1 August 1919 – 25 July 2009) was a British novelist. He was born in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire and educated at High Pavement School, Stanley Road, Nottingham and University College Nottingham. Middleton began writing at university and in 1958 published A Short Answer. He taught English at High Pavement Grammar School for many years, and was a highly prolific author. Her Three Wise Men, his 44th novel, was published in 2008. Middleton was an accomplished organist, playing regularly at St Mark's Methodist Church, Ravensworth Road in Bulwell and stepping in to cover others, often at Mansfield Road Baptist Church in Nottingham. He was also a fine water colourist and contributed his own artwork to the 2006 re-publication of the first chapter of Holiday by Oak Tree Press (2008). In 2006, a reporter for The Sunday Times sent the first chapters of Holiday to a number of publishers and literary agents as a journalistic stunt. Almost all rejected it. Peter Bowles, the well known actor, was taught by Stanley Middleton when Bowles was a pupil at High Pavement. Many years later when Bowles was the subject of the popular TV programme, This Is Your Life, Stanley Middleton was a guest on the programme. Middleton was married to Margaret Welch from 1951 until his death; their two daughters, Penny and Sarah, both born in the 1950s, survive him. He had cancer, and died in a nursing home.

Edwin Fisher is on holiday at the English seaside - but this revisiting of childhood haunts is no ordinary holiday. Edwin is seeking to understand the failure of his marriage to Meg, but it turns out that her parents are staying at the same resort - whether by accident or design - and are keen to patch up the relationship. As the past and his enigmatic wife loom larger, deeper truths emerge and the perspective shifts in unexpected ways.


Ending Up, Kingsley Amis, Jonathan Cape, London, 1974. Easily available at around £15.

Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE (16 April 1922 – 22 October 1995) was an English novelist, poet, critic and teacher. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. According to his biographer, Zachary Leader, Amis was 'the finest British comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century'. He was the father of the English novelist Martin Amis. As a young man at Oxford, Amis briefly joined the Communist Party. He later described this stage of his political life as "the callow Marxist phase that seemed almost compulsory in Oxford. He eventually moved further right, a development he discussed in the essay "Why Lucky Jim Turned Right" (1967. Amis was by his own admission and as revealed by his biographers a serial adulterer for much of his life. Not surprisingly, this was one of the main contributory factors in the breakdown of his first marriage. A famous photograph of a sleeping Amis on a Yugoslav beach shows the slogan (written by wife Hilly) on his back "1 Fat Englishman - I fuck anything".
In one of his memoirs, Amis wrote: "Now and then I become conscious of having the reputation of being one of the great drinkers, if not one of the great drunks, of our time". He suggests that this is due to a naive tendency on the part of his readers to apply the behaviour of his characters to himself. This was disingenuous; the fact was that he enjoyed drink, and spent a good deal of his time in pubs. Hilary Rubinstein, who commissioned Lucky Jim, commented: "I doubted whether Jim Dixon would have gone to the pub and drunk ten pints of beer ... I didn't know Kingsley very well, you see." Clive James comments: "All on his own, he had the weekly drinks bill of a whole table at the Garrick Club even before he was elected. After he was, he would get so tight there that he could barely make it to the taxi." Amis was, however, adamant in his belief that inspiration did not come from a bottle: "Whatever part drink may play in the writer's life, it must play none in his or her work." For 'many years',Amis imposed a rigorous daily schedule upon himself in which writing and drinking were strictly segregated. Mornings were devoted to writing with a minimum daily output of 500 words. The drinking would only begin around lunchtime when this output had been achieved. Amis's prodigious output would not have been possible without this kind of self discipline. Nevertheless, according to Clive James, Amis reached a turning point when his drinking ceased to be social, and became a way of dulling his remorse and regret at his behaviour toward Hilly.

"Beset by boredom and the decay of old age, the septuagenarian inhabitants of Tuppenny-hapenny Cottage find that malice is the best recipe for keeping their spirits alive. And when the grandchildren arrive to do their duty on Christmas Day, the festivities degenerate into an unforeseen riot."

The Bottle Factory Outing, Beryl Bainbridge, Duckworth, London, 1974. Easily available - look to pay around £15.

Beryl Bainbridge was born in Lancashire on 21 November 1934. Even as a small child she enjoyed writing, and by age 10 she frequently updated her diary. She had elocution lessons and by 11 she was appearing on the radio alongside Billie Whitelaw and Judith Chalmers. She was expelled from Merchant Taylors' Girls' School, Crosby at age 14 when she was caught with a rude note, written by someone else, in her pocket. That summer she fell in love with a former German POW who was waiting to be repatriated. For the next six years, the couple corresponded and tried to get permission for the German man to return to Britain so they could be married. The relationship ended in 1953. The following year she married artist Austin Davies. The two divorced soon after, leaving Bainbridge a single mother of two children. She later had a third child by Alan Sharp, a daughter who is the actress Rudi Davies. She spent her early years working as an actress and appeared in a 1961 episode of the soap opera Coronation Street playing an anti-nuclear protester. In 1958 she attempted suicide by putting her head in an oven. She was awarded a DBE in 2000. Baonbridge's first published novel, A Weekend with Claud, appeared in 1967 (revised edition 1981), and was followed by Another Part of the Wood (1968), and The Dressmaker (1973), which was adapted as a film in 1989. Her more recent novels, based on real lives and historical events, include The Birthday Boys (1991), the story of Captain Scott's ill-fated Antarctic expedition; Every Man For Himself (1996), set on board the Titanic; and Master Georgie (1998), chronicling a young surgeon's adventures during the Crimean War. Beryl Bainbridge lives in north London.

"Freda and Brenda spend their days working in an Italian-run wine-bottling factory, and their nights in a dismal one-room apartment. Little wonder then, that the works outing offers such promise for Freda-determined to capture the heart of Vittorio, and such terror for Brenda - constantly escaping the clutches of Rossi. But passions run high on that chilly day of freedom, and life after the outing can - tragically - never return to normal."

In Their Wisdom, C.P.Snow, Macmillan, London, 1974. Easily available at £10.

Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow CBE (15 October 1905–1 July 1980) was an English physicist and novelist, who also served several important positions in the UK government. Born in Leicester, Snow was educated at the Leicestershire and Rutland College, now the University of Leicester, and the University of Cambridge, where he became a Fellow of Christ's College in 1930. He served several senior positions in the government of the United Kingdom. He was knighted in 1957 and made a life peer, as Baron Snow of the City of Leicester, in 1964. Snow married the novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson in 1950. He is best known as the author of a sequence of novels entitled Strangers and Brothers depicting intellectuals in academic and government settings in the modern era, and for "The Two Cultures", a 1959 lecture in which he laments the gulf between scientists and "literary intellectuals".

""In their Wisdom is a moving, tough-minded, and curiously heartening elegy of our times. The story opens as the economic and industrial storm clouds grow darker and a decade of foul political weather is forecast for the nation. Three elderly peers, old friends if not political allies, and each a distinguished citizen in his own right, look wryly from the plush sidelines of the House of Lords at the looming crisis. It could mean the end of a certain way of life for all their countrymen; and each has the bitter knowledge that his life and work may have contributed not to a golden harvest but to a grim reckoning. Against this sombre (and disturbingly topical) background C.P. Snow tells the story of an epic struggle, in and out of court, over a disputed will. In Their Wisdom may well be compared to Dickens' Bleak House in the way that it transforms the majestic processes of the law into an image of a whole society. The catalyst is a vengeful millionaire. His intervention, for purely personal reasons, in the affair causes the stakes to rise immediately and almost vertically. What might have been a mildly scandalous minor suit - or even no suit at all - escalates into a battle with consequences and implications reaching deeply into the political and establishment life of the country. The love affairs of two women are intricately involved. The three peers are among those drawn into the fray, and the patterns of many relationships are changed, at first subtly and later sharply (a notable exception is the close friendship between the two leading and opposing QCs). The great law case with its built-in tensions, its measured time scale, and its eventual resolution, displays the plotting of a master."

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Man Booker Prize bibliography - 1976


Saville, David Storey, Jonathan Cape, London, 1976. Readily available at less than £20.

David Malcolm Storey (born 13 July 1933) is an English playwright, screenwriter, award winning novelist and a former professional Rugby League player. He was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the son of a miner, and educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Wakefield. After completing his schooling at Wakefield at age 17, Storey signed a 15-year contract with the Leeds Rugby League Club; he also won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. When the conflict between rugby and painting became too great, he paid back three-quarters of his signing-on fee, and Leeds let him go. Storey wrote the screenplay for This Sporting Life (1963), directed by Lindsay Anderson, adapted from Storey's first novel of the same name, originally published in 1960, which won the 1960 Macmillan Fiction Award. The film was the beginning of a long professional association with Anderson, whose film version of Storey's play In Celebration was released as part of the American Film Theatre series in 1975. Home and Early Days (both starred Sir Ralph Richardson) were made into television films. Storey's novels include Pasmore, shortlisted for the 1972 Booker Prize, Flight into Camden, which won the 1963 Somerset Maugham Award and the 1961 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

“Saxton, a mining village in south Yorkshire, is the setting for David Storey's new novel, his most complex and ambitious since Radcliffe. Against a background of war, of an industrialised countryside, town and coalmine and village, Colin Saville grows up to be shaped not merely by the spiritual and social ambitions of the starkly contrased parents – the mother slow, long suffering and deep feeling, the father mercurial, outward going and violently charged -- but by the character, richly observed and idiosyncratic, of the mining community itself. Out of this context of home and industrialised village emerges a deeply driven and resourceful child, set against the forces which have made him. Saville, David Storey's sixth novel, is an epic, gripping in its evocation of Colin Saville’s struggles and of the sights and sounds of his place of birth, and powerful in its depiction of his spiritual and moral growth: it amply confirms David Storey's status as one of our leading novelists.”


An Instant in the Wind, Andre Brink, W.H.Allen, London, 1976.  Reasonably common - should be possible to pick up at under £20.

André Philippus Brink, OIS, (born 29 May 1935 in Vrede) is a South African novelist. He writes in Afrikaans and English and is a Professor of English at the University of Cape Town. Brink was brought up in a traditional Calvinist Afrikaans household, and at University was very much part of a small Afrikaans elite. His views began to change following two extended visits to Paris, and he and Breyten Breytenbach were key figures in the 1960s Afrikaans literary movement known as Die Sestigers ("The Sixty-ers"). These writers sought to use Afrikaans as a language to speak against the apartheid government, and also to bring into Afrikaans literature the influence of contemporary English and French trends. His novel Kennis van die aand ("Knowledge of the night") (1973) was the first Afrikaans book to be banned by the South African government. Brink writes his works simultaneously in English and Afrikaans. While his early novels were especially concerned with apartheid, his more recent work engages the new range issues posed by life in a democratic South Africa. His books were influential in the era of political change in South Africa - Nelson Mandela, who once told him: "When I was in prison, you changed the way I saw the world" – but he has now become a more marginal figure as a result of his opposition to the current South African government. "Now that the ANC has moved into power," he has written, "its regime sadly must be branded as the enemy of the people." An Instant in the Wind was the first of two books to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize in the 1970s.

"In the early 1749 the EriK Larsson expedition into the South African interior came to its final halt somewhere along the Great Fish River. The guide had committed suicide, the Hottentot bearers had all deserted, and all but two of the oxen had been stolen by raiding bushmen. Elizabeth Larsson did not yet know it, but her husband lay dead in a thicket some miles away, beneath a blanket of branches....
Elizabeth’s fate was decided by the arrival of Adam Mantoor, and ex-carpenter and runaway slave from the Cape, who for some weeks had been secretly and compulsively tracking the wagons.
At first their relationship was guarded, poisoned by the black and white in them both. But, slowly and breathlessly, there emerged between them a fellowship that engulfed their most private selves.
Such a long journey ahead for you and me. Oh God, oh God.
An Instant in the Wind is the poetic reconstruction of a true life drama, told with passion and yearning. The terrain of South Africa is described with exceptional mastery, alongside that other, intimate, human landscape of happiness.
This no one can take away from us, not even ourselves.“

Rising, RC Hutchinson, Michael Joseph, 1976.  Uncommon, and often in relatively poor condition.  Expect to pay at least £75 for a very good or better copy.

Ray Coryton Hutchinson (January 23, 1907 – July 3, 1975) was a best-selling British novelist. He was born in Finchley, Middlesex and educated at Monkton Combe School, near Bath. He received his BA at Oriel College, Oxford in 1927 and joined the advertising department at Colman's in Norwich. He married Margaret Owen Jones in April 1929. His first novel, Thou Hast a Devil, was published in 1930. It was followed by The Answering Glory (1932), and The Unforgotten Prisoner (1933), which sold 150,000 copies in the first month. Subsequent novels also sold very well and in 1935 he left Colman's to begin writing full-time. In March 1940 he joined the army, and in July was posted as captain in the 8th Battalion of the Buffs Regiment. He travelled widely during the war, while continuing to write. In October 1945, after preparing the official history of the Paiforce campaign, he was demobilized with the rank of Major. After the war he wrote many more successful novels, often recommended by book clubs. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in June 1962. He died before completing the last chapter of his novel, Rising (1976), which is the only Booker Prize novel to have been published posthumously, and therefore unobtainable in signed form! It was published in September 1976 and short-listed for the Booker Prize in November of that year. Hutchinson published work comprises 17 novels and 28 short stories, as well as one play, Last Train South (1938). He wrote from a conservative perspective.

"R.C.Hutchinson's last novel, whose final pages he was writing on the day of his death, is ostensibly the study of an episode in South American history.  At a deeper level it is an examination of racila and other human relationships and of the eternal problem of evil.  R.C.Hutchinson himself regarded Rising as his final testament and his most important creative acheivement.
The centre of the story is Sabino, the outcast member of a rich South American mine-owning family, and his military expedition to safeguard a railway line from saboteurs.  Sabino's men are virtually slaves - half-starved miners pressed into unwilling service - and the description of the desparate forced march they make together achieves something in the nature of poetry.  At the beginning Sabino is alienated from all around him: his soldiers, his wife, and his son Patricio, who joins the march to protect his sister's lover.  With a realism which is all but physically shared by the reader, R.H.Hutchinson shows his characters growing and changing against an almost biblical background of harsh trials and illuminating incidents.
R.C.Hutchinson's passionate concern for humanity is always salted with irony and with joyous undertones.  He paints a large canvas with supreme confidence and an accuracy of vision which is deeply satisfying to the reader."

"The Doctor's Wife, Brian Moore, Cape, London, 1976. Reasonably common at £10-15.

Brian Moore (25 August 1921 – 11 January 1999) was born and grew up in my home town of Belfast, Northern Ireland. His father was a surgeon and his mother was a nurse. He grew up in a large Roman Catholic family of nine children, but rejected that faith early in life. Some of his novels feature staunchly anti-doctrinaire and anti-clerical themes, and he in particular spoke strongly about the effect of the Church on life in Ireland. A recurring theme in his novels is the concept of the Catholic priesthood. On several occasions he explores the idea of a priest losing his faith. These works were criticized by his sister, a Roman Catholic nun, and some were banned by the Church. He once described Ireland as "a nation of masturbators under priestly instruction."
Moore was a volunteer air raid warden during the bombing of Belfast by the Luftwaffe. He also served as a civilian with the British Army in North Africa, Italy and France. He went on to work in Eastern Europe after the war ended for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Moore emigrated to Canada in 1948, worked as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, and eventually became a citizen of Canada. While he eventually made his primary residence in the United States, he continued to live part of each year in Canada up to his death. He also taught creative writing at UCLA.
Moore lived in Canada from 1948 to 1958, and wrote his first novels there. His earliest novels were thrillers, published under his own name and the pseudonyms Bernard Mara and Michael Bryan. Moore's first novel outside the genre, Judith Hearne, remains among his most highly regarded. The book was rejected by ten American publishers before being accepted by a British publisher. It was made into a film, with Dame Maggie Smith playing the lonely spinster who is the book/film's title character. Several other Moore novels were adapted for the screen, including Intent to Kill (1958), The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Catholics, Black Robe, Cold Heaven, and The Statement. He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain and The Blood of Others, based on the novel Le Sang des autres by Simone de Beauvoir. Brian Moore died in 1999 at his home in Malibu, California, aged 77, of pulmonary fibrosis. He had been working on a novel about the 19th-century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud.
The Doctor’s Wife was the first of three novels to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which he never won.

"Like Judith Hearne, Sheila Redden is a Belfast woman. But she is married, to a successful surgeon, and the mother of a child.  The time is now, and the Belfast that looms over her is blighted by civil war. In Paris, on the way to a second honeymoon on the Riviera, she meets a young American student, with whom she falls into an extraoridinarily passionate affair.  He is at least ten years younger than Shiela, and obsessed with her, and even when they have only know eachother a few days, Shiela begins to feel curiously elated.  Nothing has ever mover her so powerfully or obtruded so completely on her sense of duty or the continuity of her life.
The Doctor's Wife isamoving portrait of a contemporary woman who submerges her aspirations in a dull marriage; a spare but telling evocation of Paris, the south of France, and Northern Ireland.; a deft sketch of hopeless political realities; an explicit, detailed account of the devastating power of sudden, highly erotic love.  It is stunningly well told: Brian Moore's narrative is always beautifully fluid, exquisitely textured. Every character is drawn boldly, but tenderly and carefully.  This is the sort of novel, so rare nowadays, that engages the reader not only because of the passions and predicaments of its characters, but also because at every moment one simply must find out what happens next."

King Fisher Lives, Julian Rathbone, Michael Joseph, 1976.  Relatively uncommon, but should be availble for £30-40.

Julian Christopher Rathbone ((10 February 1935 – 28 February 2008) was born in 1935 in Blackheath, southeast London. His great-uncle was the actor and great Sherlock Holmes interpreter Basil Rathbone, although they never met. He was brought up in Liverpool until he was 5 when war broke out and he and his parents moved to North Wales. He was educated at Clayesmore School, Dorset, and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read English and took tutorials with F. R. Leavis. After university Rathbone lived in Turkey for three years, making a living by teaching English. On his return to England jobs in various London schools were followed by the post of Head of English at a comprehensive school. Having originally aspired to be an actor or a painter, Rathbone had also taken up writing and initially had three novels published, all set in Turkey and informed by a background of which he had intimate knowledge. In 1973 he finally gave up teaching and from then made his living by writing. Various threads run through Rathbone's novels over their forty-year span, although he always refused to be tied to a single genre, and this perhaps restricted his commercial success. Rathbone was an atheist and man of the left who, like many a thoughtful human being before him, had undergone a religious phase in his youth only to have a sudden realisation, on being dazzled by the yellow autumn leaves on some chestnut trees, that “this is life. It begins and ends right here with what you’ve got.” It was an epiphany, he said years later. “I never worry about whether my works will be read posthumously.” He published almost 40 books in total, include crime, thrillers and historical novels. King Fisher Lives was the first of two Booker shortlistings, although he never won the prize.

"Lewis Fisher - wise man of the sixties, author of The Fuck Haters and The Venus High... Lewis Fisher - shining star of the younger generation of seminal thinkers....  Lewis Fisher - gunned down by the Civil Guards in an onscure corner of Spain.
“King Fisher Lives” say the T-shirts of the young and the myth grows that he was yet another victim of the CIA and the forces of reaction in Spain.
But what really happened on that 13th of December in a lost paradise of Las Batuecas?
Here are the journals of his English friend Mark Southam, the frank record of Lewis's ambiguous relationship with Mark and Mark’s untamed sister, Nadia; here too is traced the chain of ideas and events that led to the ultimate in dropping out, the breaking of the last taboo, and the inevitable retribution.
In his latest book, Julian Rathbone breaks new ground. To his penetrating study he brings the suspense, the strong narrative line, the vigourous descriptions of exotic backgrounds that characterised his thrillers. The result is a powerful novel -- disturbing, thought provoking, but above all in intensley gripping, vivid and moving, in its swift progress to an unforgettable climax."

The Children of Dynmouth, William Trevor, Bodley Head. Rasonably common, but expect to pay £90 or more.

The Children of Dynmouth was the eighth novel of Irish novellst and short story writer William Trevor, who was born to a Protestant family in Mitchelstown, County Cork, on 24 May 1928. He was educated at St Columba's College, County Dublin, and Trinity College, Dublin. He worked briefly as a teacher, and later as a copywriter in an advertising agency before he began to work full-time as a writer in 1965. He was also a sculptor and exhibited frequently in Dublin and London. His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, was published in 1958. His fiction, set mainly in Ireland and England, ranges from black comedies characterised by eccentrics and sexual deviants to stories exploring Irish history and politics, and he articulates the tensions between Irish Protestant landowners and Catholic tenants in what critics have termed the 'big house' novel. He currently lives in England, in Co.Devon.

"Dynmouth is a pretty little seaside resort on the Dorset coast and like many another smalltown it has its secrets. These might remain well kept were it not for the presence of fifteen year old Timothy Gedge. With his yellow zipped jacket and almost white hair, his smile, his chatter and his endless stock of bad jokes, he is one of those boys whom nobody wants but who are impossible to get rid of. He is a relentlessly inquisitive voyeur, worming his way into several of the town's households, his insinuations and accusations often exposing panic and shame beneath the adult facade.
But it is with two younger children that Timothy Gedge more sensationally comes into his own. Stephen and Kate are both twelve (Stephen's widowed father has just married Kate's mother). While the parents honeymoon abroad, the children return to Dynmouth for the Easter holidays, and become victims of a master tormentor. Timothy Gedge is always there, dogging their footsteps, seeking their freindship, demanding their co-operation. He implants in Stephen the suspicion that his parents hate one another, that his father actually killed his mother.
Gawky and prowling, this malignant figure dominates the novel as gradually it becmoes a tale of horror. The victims of Timothy Gedge - adults and children alike - may in the end recover, and even gain strength, from the poison he has administered. But what of Timothy Gedge himself? Does his future lie in one of his fantasies? or in the town's sandpaper factory? And one way or the other has he already become a monster?"

Monday, 28 December 2009

Book of the year

I have recommended forty six books this year in my book of the week slot, partly from the perspective of a collector and partly the perspective of a reader. Looking back on the list (at this very early stage), three have substantially increased in value. Q&A by Vikam Swarup appreciated due to the Oscar Success of Slumdog Millionaire, signed copies of The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell proved to be very uncommon, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell went on to win the Man Booker Prize. Of course, this does not mean that long term value will be retained, and selling all three now would probably be a sensible financial strategy. Indeed, it is common for Booker Prize winners to show a large transient increase in value after winning the prize, before price falls to a more sustainable level, and other modern first edition prices can be similarly volatile.

However, my favourite book of the year has to be the book which I enjoyed most, and looking back on my choices one stands out - Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. Toibin writes beautifully, and Brooklyn captures superbly the atmosphere of a small country town in Ireland, and the isolation and loneliness of an immigrant to New York torn between the experiences offered by a new world and the call of family ties at home. If you haven't read this book as yet, then I cannot recommend it more strongly.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Phillip Pullman - A Outrance

What to get for Christmas for the book lover with everything? The Oak Tree Fine Press have released a limited edition of an excerpt from Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, A Outrance. The book tells the story of how the rightful bear-king Iorek Byrnison regained his throne through a fight to the death with the false usurper Iofur Raknison. It is limited to only two hundred and sixty five copies and features original woodcut illustrations and features original woodcut illustrations by Chris Daunt, Harry Brockway and Andy English. The book is available in three different editions, including fifteen individual hand bound copies with unique bindings by some of the world’s leading designers, which were recently exhibited at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. As with all Oak Tree Press editions, the profits will support children in Africa with HIV. Highly recommended both as a book and a cause.

Phillip Pullman Bibliography

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir

There is an interesting article in this week's Times about a new translation of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and published by Jonathan Cape. The exisiting translation by H.M.Parshley, a biologist, came out in 1954. Parshley was the author of a scientific book on human reproduction, and was selected by the publisher Knopf because they believed The Second Sex was a French version of The Kinsey Report. He was, therefore, ill equipped to translate many of the passages and as a consequence misunderstood or omitted altogether many key parts. Nonetheless, his translation was enormously influential in the development of feminist thinking in English speaking countries. The campaign for a superior translation has been ongoing for a number of years, and the result is now about to be published.

The original French version (Le deuxieme sexe) is a very attractive set in two volumes, published by Editions Gallimard in Paris in 1949, bound in stamped cloth. The edition is numbered out of 2050 copies; Vol I is subtitled: Les Faits et Les Mythes and vol. two : L'Experience Vecue. Many years ago I was able to pick up the two volumes very cheaply from separate dealers, reconstructing a set. However, for such an influential book it remains surprisingly affordable even today.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Book of the Week - Laleh Khadivi, The Age of Orphans

Laleh Khadivi was born in Esfahan Iran and emigrated with her family shortly after the Iranian revolution. In 2002 she began to research the Kurds, particularly their fate in the southwestern region of Iran under the first Shah. Her debut novel, The Age of Orphans, is the first novel in a trilogy that follows the lives of three generations of Kurdish men as they grapple with landlessness, migration and national identity. She is the recipient of a Whiting Foundation Award, a Carl Djerassi Fellowship and an Emory Fiction Fellowship and has also worked extensively as a documentary filmmaker and received a number of grants and awards for her films about women in prison and the criminal justice system. Currently, she is at work on the second novel, The Walking, that tells the story of Reza Khourdi’s youngest son and his move to the United States. Signed copies of the first edition are currently available from several modern first specialists, and look like a good buy.

Kurdistan, Persia. A village high in the Zagros mountains. A small green-eyed boy wrestles free from his mother and climbs atop a straw and mud hut to gaze at the dusty landscape; the jagged mountains and azure sky, the cattle in the distance. With his arms stretched out beside him he pretends to be a bird, to lift up and soar over this land: the land of his fathers and forefathers. Kurdish land. Soon after the boy is ritually initiated into manhood, messengers from the hills bring whispers of war; rumours that the Shah's army is moving from village to village, stamping out any tribal rebellion that may stand in the way of the creation of a unified 'Iran'. Just nine years old, the boy must stand alongside his men and fight for their land. Years later, Reza Pahlavi Khourdi can only faintly recall the brutal murder of his father and cousins. Orphaned on the bloody battlefield, conscripted into the great column of the army and given a new name, he has quickly risen up the ranks, proving both his prowess in battle and allegiance to the Shah's troops. Now in Tehran, Reza is about to marry to a beautiful, educated, city girl, and become a Capitian. But there are stirrings within his heart. He will soon move west to be the Shah's servant in Kermanshah, the land of his birth, and a figurehead of modernization. At once rich and bleak, The Age of Orphans unleashes a tapestry of untold horrors and pleasures, of blood and smoke, hopes, dreams and desires. It is a profound and darkly poetic story of a land roughly sewn together under the ambitious imagining of a nation, and of the life of a boy whose identity does not - can not - unite with this vision.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Book of the Week - Christopher Nicholson, The Elephant Keeper

As it gets near the end of the year, the number of interesting new novels begins to dwindle, so for the next couple of weeks I will look back to a few books I missed earlier in the year. The Elephant Keeper is a second novel from Christopher Nicholson, which was published back in February. It has just been shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year (although I hope this will be a win for Brooklyn, also the Sunday Times novel of the year). The Elephant Keeper was published in hardcover by Fourth Estate, and deserves to do well.

"I asked the sailor what an Elephant looked like; he replied that it was like nothing on earth. In the middle of the 18th century, a ship docks at Bristol with an extraordinary cargo: two young elephants. Bought by a wealthy landowner, they are taken to his estate in the English countryside. A stable boy, Tom Page, is given the task of caring for them. The Elephant Keeper is Tom's account of his life with the elephants. As the years pass, and as they journey across England, his relationship with the female elephant deepens in a startling manner. Along the way they meet incredulity, distrust and tragedy, and it is only their understanding of each other that keeps them together. Christopher Nicholson's charming and captivating novel explores notions of sexuality and violence, freedom and captivity, and the nature of story-telling -- but most of all it is the study of a profound and remarkable love between an elephant and a human being."

Monday, 30 November 2009

Book of the Week - Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

Wells Tower is an American writer of short stories and non-fiction. He was born in Vancouver in 1973. He is the recipient of The Paris Review Discovery Prize, a Pushcart Prize and a Henfield Foundation award. He lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and owns a house in North Carolina. Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Tower's first short story collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned in 2009, to outstanding reviews. It has recently been published by Granta in paperback, and is highly recommended. Perfect for reading when time is limited.

A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the sweat-smudged footprint on the inside of his windscreen doesn't match her own. Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods. A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl. In the stories of Wells Tower, families fall apart and messily, hilariously try to reassemble themselves. His characters - marauding Vikings, washed-up entrepreneurs, and jobbing hacks on local papers - are adrift from the mainstream, confused by contemporary masculinity, angry and aimless. Combining electric prose with compassion and dark wit, this is a major debut.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Stiff competition for bad sex award

I have done well this year in predicting winners and shortlists for some major literary awards, but somewhat to my surprise three of my selections feature in the shortlist for the bad sex award. Nick Cave, Jonathan Littell and Richard Milward join a select group of overwhelmingly male authors, but Philip Roth looks a good bet to me this year. The award is meant to be for bad writing about sex, rather than good writing about bad sex, so I think that maybe some of the books have been shortlisted for the wrong reasons. Anyway, good coverage in the Guardian for those who are interested, and I will update this entry after the climax of the ceremony.

PS - Victory for Jonathan Littell - and well deserved!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Johan Theorin, The Darkest Room

Nothing especially takes my eye in this week’s book releases, so I have selected a book released earlier this year. Scandinavian Crime Fiction is on a high at the moment, and I particularly recommend Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. Johan Theorin is a relatively new exponent on the scene, with two novels released in the UK. Theorin is a journalist and author, born in 1963 in Gothenburg, Sweden, where he still lives. Throughout his life, he has been a regular visitor to the island of Öland in the Baltic sea. His mother’s family – sailors, fishermen and farmers – have lived there for centuries, nurturing the island’s rich legacy of strange tales and folklore. His first novel was Echoes from the Dead (originally published in Sweden as Skumtimmen by Wahlström & Widstrand). In 2007 it was voted Best First Mystery Novel by the authors and critics of the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy, and it has been sold to eighteen countries. It was awarded the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger in the UK in 2009. His second novel, The Darkest Room, (in Swedish Nattfåk) was voted the Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2008 and won the Glass Key award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction in 2009. The books form the first half of a loose quartet of novels set on the island of Öland, with each one intended to take its mood from one of the four seasons on the island. Both books were published in softcover only in the UK by Doubleday, and first printings do not seem widely available. Now is a good time to pick both up at cover price if you are lucky.


Echoes from the Dead - Doubleday, 2008
The Darkest Room - Doubleday, 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Book of the Week - Attica Locke, Black Water Rising

Most UK collectors prefer UK first editions, even for American authors where the true first is likely to be the US edition. Sometimes, however, the American first may be a better buy. Black Water Rising, a first novel from Attica Locke, has just been released in the UK as a paperback with jacket from Serpent’s Tail. However, the American edition released earlier this year was a hardback from HarperCollins. The book has impressed almost all reviewers and is into multiple reprints; a few signed first editions are still available, whereas at present no signed copies of the UK edition have appeared (although this might change). I was able to purchase a signed American first at cover price, although these have now gone. The author is an experienced screenwriter for both film and television, and there must be a good chance that this book will translate through to the screen in due course.

"Reminiscent of early John Grisham and Walter Mosley, this taut, fast-paced novel heralds an exciting and powerful new voice in fiction. Big oil and its twin, corporate corruption, meet their match with Jay Porter, a struggling personal injury attorney down on his luck, who suddenly finds himself in a situation spiraling out of control. Jay knows a boat ride on the Bayou won't measure up to his wife's expectations of a birthday celebration, but it's all he can afford. Once a man of virtuous ideals, he is now just waiting for a break. All that changes when midway through dinner, gun shots and sharp cries for help ring out. When he fishes a woman out of the Bayou, his sixth sense tells him this charitable act will lead to no good. Unraveling the woman's past, Jay finds himself enmeshed in a web that weaves together greed, politics, and corporate corruption. And the secrets of his own past come back to either haunt or save him."

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Book of the Week - Ryan David Jahn, Acts of Violence

Macmillan New Writing is an imprint which does exactly what it says – introducing previously unpublished writers to the unsuspecting public. Some of these writers may well publish little else in their careers, but others will go on to have successful careers, Brian McGilloway being a good example. Ryan David Jahn is an American writer, whose first novel has just been published and has attracted considerable attention. Acts of Violence is based on a real event - in 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her home in New York City. Thirty eight people witnessed her attack, but did nothing to help, leading to what became known as the "Bystander Effect". This is a book full of violence, and not for the weak hearted. Goldsboro books published a 250 copy edition, signed, numbered and with the author’s thumbprint in red ink. These copies, and the trade edition, are published in decorated boards with no dustwrapper. The limited edition is now sold out, but a couple of copies are available at a not unreasonable price on ABEbooks and there are also a couple on Ebay. Jahn has signed a deal for a further two books which will be published in 2010 and 2011.

“ Katrina Marino is about to become America’s most infamous murder victim. This is Katrina’s story, and the story of her killer. It is also the story of Katrina’s neighbors, those who witness her murder and do nothing: the terrified Vietnam draftee; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child, and her husband who will risk everything for her; the former soldier planning suicide and the man who saves him. And others whose lives are touched by the crime: the elderly teacher whose past is catching up with him; the amateur blackmailer who’s about to find out just what sort of people he’s been threatening; the corrupt cop who believes he is God’s “red right hand.” Shocking and compassionate, angry and gripping, Acts of Violence is a sprawling, cinematic tour-de-force, a terrifying crime novel unlike any other.”

Friday, 6 November 2009

Simon Armitage - The Twilight Readings

I am a big fan of Simon Armitage's writing, and I have been browsing through The Twilight Readings, a short volume of readings which he gave while writer in residence at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Armitage is always an interesting poet, whether writing his own verse or translating the classics into contemporary language, and in his prose he is a wry and humorous story teller. The Twilight Readings is no exception, as in this excerpt from the start of a short story:

"The Apprentice

So George has this theory: the first thing we ever steal, when we're young, is a symbol of what we become later in life, when we grow up. Example: when he was nine he stole a Mont Blanc fountain pen from a fancy gift shop in a hotel lobby - now he's an award winning novelist. We test this theory around the table and it seems to check out. Clint stole a bottle of cooking sherry, now he owns a Tapas Bar. Kirsty's an investment banker and she stole money from her mother's purse. Tod took a Curly Wurly and he's morbidly obese."

The story subsequently takes a slightly sinister turn for the worse, but it still sounds like an interesting party game, and Armitage without doubt would be a very entertaining guest.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Book of the Week - Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna

Barbara Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1955. She spent some of her childhood in Africa where her father was a medical doctor, but mainly grew up in the US. She initially attended DePauw University, on a music scholarship (studying classical piano), but eventually changed her major to biology. In the late 1970s, Kingsolver lived in a number of places, including Greece, France, and Arizona, working variously as an archaeological digger, copy editor, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator. She earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. She then took a job as a science writer for the university. The science writing led to some freelance feature writing and journalism. In 1986, she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing. Her first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988, and The Lacuna is her thirteenth book, and her first novel since The Poisonwood Bible, shortlisted for The Orange Prize in 1999. The Lacuna is set in a period in which I am interested, and I am looking forward to reading it. Reviews are very good, and it will be a contender for The Orange Prize next year.

“"The Lacuna" is the story of a man's search for safety in the grinding jaws of two nations, at a moment when the entire world seemed bent on reinventing itself at any cost. Born in the U.S., reared in a series of provisional households in Mexico, Harrison Shepherd is mostly a liability to his social-climbing flapper mother, Salome. Sometimes she gives her son cigarettes instead of supper. Making himself useful in the household of the famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo and exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky, young Shepherd inadvertently casts his lot with art and revolution, and the howling gossip and reportage that dictate public opinion. A violent upheaval sends him north to a nation newly caught up in the internationalist good will of World War II. In the mountain city of Asheville, North Carolina he remakes himself in America's hopeful image. But political winds continue to throw him between north and south, in a plot that turns many times on the unspeakable breach - the lacuna - between truth and public presumption. This is a gripping story of identity, connection with our past, and the power of words to create or devastate. Crossing two decades, from the vibrant revolutionary murals of Mexico City to the halls of a Congress bent on eradicating the color Red, "The Lacuna" is as deep and rich as the New World.”

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Guardian First Book Award

The shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award 2009 has just been announced, and includes two books which I recommended earlier this year. The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey deals with Alzheimer's Disease; it made the Man Booker longlist and has become relatively uncommon. The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton was for me a more enjoyable book, if perhaps a litle self-consciously clever. It is still readily available in the first edition. Previous winners have included a number of highly collected books, including A Month in the Country by JL Carr (1980) and Kepler by John Banville (1981).

Full shortlist:

•A Swamp Full of Dollars, by Michael Peel (IB Tauris, non-fiction)

•The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton (Granta, novel)

•The Wilderness, by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape, novel)

•The Selected Works of TS Spivet, by Reif Larsen (Harvill Secker, novel)

•An Elegy for Easterly, by Petina Gappah (Faber, short story collection)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Predicting long term literary success

There was an interesting article in today's Guardian, looking at the results of a poll conducted in 1929 which sought to predict which authors would still be read in 100 years. The striking feature of the poll is the absence of most of the authors from that era who we would now consider to be important. This, of course, raises the question of which of today's authors are likely to be considered important in the future........ Comments welcome!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Book of the Week - Liam McIlvenney, All the Colours of the Town

All the Colours of the Town is a first novel by Liam McIlvanney, although he has previously authored or contributed to several academic books. McIlvanney was born in Ayrshire, and is currently Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He won the Saltire First Book Award for Burns the Radical in 2002, and his work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. He lives in Dunedin with his wife and three sons. All the Colours of the Town is a book set in Glasgow and Belfast, two cities which share close cultural links, not always positive ones. It joins a growing list of novels which address the legacy of “The Troubles”, bit for individuals and society. Reviews have been very positive. The book is published by Faber, as a paperback only, in French wraps.

“When Glasgow journalist Gerry Conway receives a phone call promising unsavoury information about Scottish Justice Minister Peter Lyons, his instinct is that this apparent scoop won't warrant space in the Tribune. But as Conway’s curiosity grows and his leads proliferate, his investigation takes him from Scotland to Belfast. Shocked by the sectarian violence of the past, and by the prejudice and hatred he encounters even now, Conway soon grows obsessed with the story of Lyons and all he represents. And as he digs deeper, he comes to understand that there is indeed a story to be uncovered - and that there are people who will go to great lengths to ensure that it remains hidden. Compelling, vividly written and shocking, All the Colours of the Town is not only the story of an individual and his community, it is also a complex and thrilling enquiry into loyalty, betrayal and duty.”

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Man Booker Prize bibliography - 1972


"G", John Berger, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1972. One of the most uncommon Booker Prize winners. Expect to pay over £150 for a very good copy. Signed £650.

John Peter Berger (born 5 November 1926) is an English art critic, novelist, painter and author, working mainly from a Marxist/Humanist perspective. He was born in London, and educated at the independent St Edward's School in Oxford. Berger served in the British Army from 1944 to 1946; he then enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and the Central School of Art in London. He began his career as a painter and exhibited work at a number of London galleries in the late 1940s - Berger has continued to paint throughout his career. While teaching drawing (from 1948 to 1955), Berger became an art critic, publishing many essays and reviews in the New Statesman. His Marxist humanism and his strongly stated opinions on modern art made him a controversial figure early in his career. After a childless first marriage, Berger has three children: Jacob, a film director; Katya, a writer and film critic; and Yves, an artist. His writing has been influential in a number of fields. Of his novels, G is undoubtedly the best known; "From A to Z" was also longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

"In this luminous novel - winner of Britain's prestigious Booker Prize - John Berger relates the story of "G.", a young man forging an energetic sexual career in Europe during the early years of this century. With profound compassion, Berger explores the hearts and minds of both men and women, and what happens during sex, to reveal the conditions of Don Juan's success: his essential loneliness, the quiet culmination in each of his sexual experiences of all those that precede it, the tenderness that infuses even the briefest of his encounters, and the way women experience their own extraordinariness through their moments with him. All of this Berger sets against the turbulent backdrop of Garibaldi and the failed revolution of Milanese workers in 1989, the Boer War, and the first flight across the Alps, making G. a brilliant novel about the search for intimacy in history's private moments."

"The Bird of Night", Susan Hill, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1972. Reasonably common - expect to pay around £20 for a very good or better copy.

Susan Hill is a British author of fiction and non-fiction works. She was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire in 1942. She attended Scarborough Convent School, where she became interested in theatre and literature. Her family left Scarborough in 1958 and moved to Coventry where her father worked in car and aircraft factories. She attended a girls’ grammar school, Barr's Hill, proceeding to an English degree at King's College London. By this time she had already written her first novel, The Enclosure which was published by Hutchinson in her first year at university. The novel was criticised by The Daily Mail for its sexual content, with the suggestion that writing in this style was unsuitable for a "schoolgirl". In 1975 she married Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells and they moved to Stratford upon Avon. Their first daughter, author Jessica Ruston, was born in 1977 and their second daughter, Clemency, was born in 1985. Hill has recently founded her own publishing company, Long Barn Books, which has published one work of fiction per year. Apart from Bird of Night, her novels include the The Woman in Black, The Mist in the Mirror and I'm the King of the Castle for which she received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1971.

"Francis Croft, the greates poet of his age, was mad. His world was a nightmare of internal furies and haunting poetic vision. Harvey Lawson watched and protected him unti his final suicide. From his solitary old age Harvey writes this brief account of their twenty years together and then burns all the papers to shut out an inquisitive world. The tautness and control that characterize Susan Hill's work are abundantly evident in The Bird of Night as she magnificently handles the heights and depths, the splendours and miseries of madness and friendship."

"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith", Thomas Keneally, Angus and Robertson, 1972. Uncommon - expect to pay over £40 for a very good copy. My copy shows the publisher as Angus and Robertson and lists addresses including Sydney, London, Melbourne, Brisbane and Singapore. The book was printed in Australia by Halstead Press, Sydney. So far as I am aware, there is not a UK printed first edition, but I would be very interested if anyone can confirm or correct this.

Thomas Keneally was born in Sydney, in October, 1935, and educated at St Patrick's College, Strathfield, where a writing prize was named after him. He entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly to train as a Catholic priest but left before his ordination. He worked as a Sydney schoolteacher before his success as a novelist, and he was a lecturer at the University of New England (1968-70). He has also written screenplays, memoirs and non-fiction books. Keneally was known as "Mick" until 1964 but began using the name Thomas when he started publishing, after advice from his publisher to use what was really his first name. He is most famous for his Schindler's Ark (1982) (later republished as Schindler's List), which won the Booker Prize and is the basis of the film Schindler's List. Many of his novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style. Keneally has also acted in a handful of films. He had a small role in the film of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and played Father Marshall in the Fred Schepisi movie, The Devil's Playground (1976). He is a strong advocate of the Australian republic, meaning the severing of all ties with the British monarchy, and published a book on the subject Our Republic in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the web site of the Australian Republican Movement. Keneally is a keen supporter of rugby league football, in particular the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles club of the NRL.

"Jimmie Blacksmith is the son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father. A missionary shows him what it means to be white - already he is only too aware of what it means to be black. Exploited by his white employers and betrayed by his white wife Jimmie cannot take any more. He must find a way to express his rage.
"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is based on an actual incident that occurred at the turn of the century. Set against the background of a turbulent Australian history, Thomas Keneally records with clarity the chant of one troubled man."

"Pasmore", David Storey, Longman, London, 1972. Readily available at less than £10.

David Malcolm Storey (born 13 July 1933) is an English playwright, screenwriter, award winning novelist and a former professional Rugby League player. He was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the son of a miner, and educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Wakefield. After completing his schooling at Wakefield at age 17, Storey signed a 15-year contract with the Leeds Rugby League Club; he also won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. When the conflict between rugby and painting became too great, he paid back three-quarters of his signing-on fee, and Leeds let him go. Storey wrote the screenplay for This Sporting Life (1963), directed by Lindsay Anderson, adapted from Storey's first novel of the same name, originally published in 1960, which won the 1960 Macmillan Fiction Award. The film was the beginning of a long professional association with Anderson,[1] whose film version of Storey's play In Celebration was released as part of the American Film Theatre series in 1975. Home and Early Days (both starred Sir Ralph Richardson) were made into television films. Apart from Pasmore, Storey's novels include Flight into Camden, which won the 1963 Somerset Maugham Award; and the 1961 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; and Saville, which won the 1976 Booker Prize.
"Colin Pasmore is almost thirty, a lecturer in history at a university college in London. Married, with three young children, settled in his job as well as in his provate life, he is suddenly beset by a dream which, almost without his being aware of it, undermines his entire life. He sees his home, his friends, his work gradually slip away from him; terrified and bewildered, he seems condemned irretrievably to experience the total destruction not only of the life he know but of his own moral and psychic nature."
Not a lot of laughs then!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Book of the Week - Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmmetry is the second novel from Audrey Niffenegger, and is set in London around Highgate Cemetery. The brief biography below is taken from her excellent website, which is highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed her first novel (The Time Traveler's Wife), the UK first of which is currently selling for around £70 and upwards. Her current book can also be highly recommended for fans on all things gothic. Given that her first novel was an international bestseller, a high print run wouldhave been anticipated for this book. However, it is already into reprints, suggesting that demand is high.

Audrey Niffenegger was born in 1963 in the idyllic hamlet of South Haven, Michigan. Her family moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was little; she has lived in or near Chicago for most of her life. She began making prints in 1978 under the tutelage of William Wimmer. Miss Niffenegger trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. She has exhibited her artist’s books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics at Printworks Gallery in Chicago since 1987. Her first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two of these have since been commercially published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters.
In 1997 Miss Niffenegger had an idea for a book about a time traveler and his wife. She originally imagined making it as a graphic novel, but eventually realized that it is very difficult to represent sudden time shifts with still images. She began to work on the project as a novel, and published The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, and has been made into a movie.
In 1994 a group of book artists, papermakers and designers came together to found a new book arts center, the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Miss Niffenegger was part of this group and taught book arts for many years as a professor in Columbia College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She still teaches at Columbia College; currently she is teaching writing courses that specialize in text-image relationships. Miss Niffenegger has also taught for the Newberry Library, Penland School of Craft and other institutions of higher learning.
"Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin .but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time."

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bloomsbury Auctions - Alexander McCall Smith

Bloomsbury Auctions autumn sale of Literature, Manuscripts and Modern First Editions was held yesterday, and results are now available online. Prices seem to hold up well for rare and unusual items, but a significant proportion of sales for modern firsts were at or below the lower estimates, and some notable books did not make their reserve.

One of the most striking sales was a paperback first of Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. The first printing from Polygon, 1988, was apparently issued in a print run of around 1500 copies, and is distinguished by a picture of Precious Rambotswe on the cover. There must be copies lurking around bookshelves, but many are likely to be tattered by now, and certainly very few appear on the secondary market in collectible condition. The Bloomsbury copy was estimated at £200 -250, and sold for £500 (or £610 including the buyer's premium). This seems an exceptional price for a modern paperback, but the only other copy currently available online is £800. The series is exceptionally popular, but probably too late to assemble now. This is a book whose value could easily be missed by an unwary seller, as it looks unremarkable.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Book of the Week - Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore is best known as a short story writer, and A Gate at the Stairs is her first novel for 15 years. Marie Lorena Moore (nicknamed "Lorrie" by her parents) attended St. Lawrence University and, at 19, she won Seventeen magazine's fiction contest. In 1980, Moore enrolled in Cornell University's M.F.A. program, where she was taught by Alison Lurie. Upon graduation from Cornell, a teacher encouraged her to contact agent Melanie Jackson. Jackson sold her collection, Self-Help, composed almost entirely of stories from her master's thesis, to Knopf in 1983, when she was 26 years old. Subsequently, she has published several volumes of short stories and two previous novels. She won the 1998 O. Henry Award for her short story "People Like That Are the Only People Here," published in The New Yorker on January 27, 1997. In 2004, Moore was selected as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre. She is currently a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A Gate at the Stairs has been very positively reviewed both here and in the US – signed UK firsts do not seem to have hit the market as yet, but are worth watching out for. The novel could be a contender for next year’s Orange Prize.

“With America quietly gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, a 'half-Jewish' farmer's daughter from the plains of the Midwest, has come to university - escaping her provincial home to encounter the complex world of culture and politics. When she takes a job as a part-time nanny to a couple who seem at once mysterious and glamorous, Tassie is drawn into the life of their newly-adopted child and increasingly complicated household. As her past becomes increasingly alien to her - her parents seem older when she visits; her disillusioned brother ever more fixed on joining the military - Tassie finds herself becoming a stranger to herself. As the year unfolds, love leads her to new and formative experiences - but it is then that the past and the future burst forth in dramatic and shocking ways. Refracted through the eyes of this memorable narrator, "A Gate at the Stairs" is a lyrical, beguiling and wise novel of our times”.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

An update on various postings

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was the hot favourite of the shortlisted novels for this year's Booker Prize, and she duly won. When I read Wolf Hall earlier this year, I enjoyed its scope and ambition, but did not rate it as highly as most reviewers. Therefore, it would not have been my choice for this year's prize. If you want a signed copy (first edition) from a dealer at present, you would have to pay £300 plus. Next year it will almost certainly be significantly cheaper. Back in June, when I recommended it, my signed, dated and lined copy cost under £20. Such are the vagaries of the book collector's world!

Two of my other recent recommendations are also currently available as limited editions. Rick Gekoski's Outside of a Dog in a limited edition of only 64 copies from Coombe Hill Books, and Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave as a limited slipcased edition of 500 copies directly from Canongate. Canongate have taken the unusual step (in the bookworld, but not the art world) of increasing the price of the books as the edition sells out, so that the book is currently at £120, having started at £80. I will stick with my £16.99 version!

Also just out, The Gates by John Connolly. I happened to meet John in No Alibis bookshop today, and got my signed copy directly from his hand. It was a pleasure to chat to him for a couple of minutes, and he could not have been more friendly. I will provide a bibliography when I get a chance, but I would also recommend The Lineup, a limited edition anthology from The Mysterious Bookshop, in which the "The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives", and which includes the story of how Charlie Parker came about. Twenty one profiles in total, all signed by the respective authors, and likely to be highly sought after in years to come.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Book of the Week - Stieg Larsson, The Girl who kicked the Hornets'Nest

This week I have would like to recommend “The Girl who kicked the Hornets'Nest”, the final book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. These books have taken the crime fiction world by storm, and have become bestsellers across the globe. Larsson was a revolutionary socialist Swedish Journalist who died before any of these novels were published. There has been considerable coverage of the problems which arose from the absence of a witnessed will – Larsson’s estate went to his father and brother, with nothing going to his long term partner, highlighting a major problem with Swedish inheritance law. There are rumours of a possible fourth novel on Larsson’s laptop, which is in the position of his partner, but it seems likely that these three books will be his complete fictional output.

If you are a fan of crime fiction and haven't yet encountered these books, start with the first (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), which I recomended back in September 2008. At that stage a first edition could be found for around £20, but at present, the cheapest on sale on the internet is just under £400, with other copies up to £1000. This is a good example of the very rapid rise in values of some modern first editions, which of course may not be sustained. If your only interest is financial, now might well be a good time to sell, when interest in the series is high with the publication of the third volume. However, it seems likely that the trilogy will be recognised as a highpoint in crime fiction in years to come.

"Salander is plotting her revenge - against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back. "

Monday, 28 September 2009

Book of the Week - Sadie Jones, Small Wars

I'm back to books after a week off, and I would like to recommend Sadie Jones second novel Small Wars. Jones was raised in London, the daughter of Evan Jones,a Jamaican-born poet and scriptwriter and Joanna Jones, an actor. She lived in Paris as a young woman, worked as a waitress and wrote four unproduced scripts and a play, among other things, before her debut novel, The Outcast was published. It won the First Novel award in the 2008 Costa Book Awards and has been translated into several languages. Small Wars is set in Cyprus in 1957, but inspired by the current war in Afghanistan. Her screenplay for a movie version of The Outcast has also been completed. She lives in Notting Hill with her husband, the architect Tim Boyd, and their two children. Jones is an emotionally intelligent writer, and both of her novels have been very well received, although print runs are likely to be high and the books are both easily obtainable.

"Hal Treherne is a young and dedicated soldier on the brink of a brilliant career. Impatient to see action, his other deep commitment is to Clara, who sustains him as he rises through the ranks. When Hal is transferred to the Mediterranean, Clara, now his wife, and their baby daughters join him. But Cyprus is no 'sunshine posting', and the island is in the heat of the Emergency: the British are defending the colony against Cypriots - schoolboys and armed guerrillas alike - battling for enosis, union with Greece. The skirmishes are far from glorious and operations often rough and bloody. Still, in serving his country and leading his men, Hal has a taste of triumph. Clara shares his sense of duty. She must settle down, make no fuss, smile. But action changes Hal, and Clara becomes fearful - of the lethal tit-for-tat beyond the army base, and her increasingly distant husband. The atrocities Hal is drawn into take him further from Clara; a betrayal that is only part of the shocking personal crisis to come. The prizewinning and bestselling author of "The Outcast" returns with an emotionally powerful portrait of a marriage in extremis and a world-view in question. Sadie Jones has produced a passionate, gut-wrenching and brilliantly researched depiction of a 'small war' with devastating consequences; and in doing so, raises important questions that resonate profoundly today."

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Some thoughts on the Man Booker Prize shortlist

The shortlist for this year's prize is notable for its preoccupation with the past. Like Robert McCrum, I was particulerly disappointed that neither Colm Toibin (or William Trevor) made the shortlist. I thought Brooklyn was beautifully written, and I am sure it will feature on other prize lists later in the year. Wolf Hall remains a strong favourite, although not the most elusive of the shortlist for a collector. At the moment, that appears to be The Glass Room, although there are quite a few copies on EBay at present. Many of these are expensive and remain unsold; a few have been bought, for between £53 or £120. Unless The Glass Room wins (which seems unlikely), these prices will seem very expensive in a couple of months. An added compication this year is that both The Children's Book and The Little Stranger were issued in the normal hardback edition plus a 1000 copy signed and slipcased edition available via Waterstones. Whether to collect this or the standard copy is a difficult decision, and probably only time will tell which is best.

Byatt, AS - The Children's Book, Chatto and Windus
Coetzee, JM - Summertime, Harvill Secker
Foulds, Adam - The Quickening Maze, Jonathan Cape
Mantel, Hilary - Wolf Hall, Fourth Estate
Mawer, Simon - The Glass Room, Little Brown
Waters, Sarah - The Little Stranger, Little Brown

Monday, 14 September 2009

Book of the Week - Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

"Let the Great World Spin" is the fifth novel from Colum McCann, who was born in Dublin in 1965 and began his career as a journalist in The Irish Press. In the early 1980's he took a bicycle across North America and then worked as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents in Texas. After a year and a half in Japan, he and his wife Allison moved to New York where they currently live with their three children, Isabella, John Michael and Christian. McCann teaches in Hunter College in New York in the Creative Writing program, with novelists Peter Carey and Nathan Englander.

Let the Great World Spin was published to considerable acclaim in the US earlier this year, and has just been released by Bloomsbury in the UK, apparently in a small hardcover print run. Reviews in the UK have been less positive, but this still looks an interesting book and well worth a read.

“An American masterpiece from internationally bestselling novelist Colum McCann—a dazzling and hauntingly rich vision of the loveliness, pain, and mystery of New York City in the 1970s In the dawning light of the late summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. . . .
It is August, 1974, and a tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter-mile in the sky. In the streets below, ordinary lives become extraordinary as award-winning novelist Colum McCann crafts this stunningly realized portrait of a city and its people. Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among prostitutes in the Bronx. A group of mothers, gathered in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn the sons who died in Vietnam, discovers how much divides them even in their grief.
Further uptown, Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenaged daughter, determined not only to take care of her “babies” but to prove her own worth.
Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful novel comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the tightrope walker’s “artistic crime of the century.”

Monday, 7 September 2009

Book of the Week - Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Monro

Apologies for the delay in this week’s posting, but I am travelling this week and have very limited internet access. However, my Ipod has helped to pass the time. Nick Cave is one of my favourite musicians, in any of his incarnations (The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Grinderman). He is a great lyricist as well as a musician, with a penchant for the doom-filled and apocalyptic, but also capable of great tenderness and insight into human nature. His first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, was published in 1989, and is now very collectible. Twenty years later his second novel, “The Death of Bunny Munro”, has just been published to very good reviews. Recommended.

"The Death of Bunny Munro recounts the last journey of a salesman in search of a soul. Following the suicide of his wife, Bunny, a door-to-door salesman and lothario, takes his son on a trip along the south coast of England. He is about to discover that his days are numbered. With a daring hellride of a plot The Death of Bunny Munro is also a modern morality tale of sorts, a stylish, furious, funny, truthful and tender account of one man's descent and judgement. The novel is full of the linguistic verve that has made Cave one of the world's most respected lyricists."

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Tracy Chevalier, Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures is the sixth novel by Tracy Chevalier. Chevalier is known as a writer of historical fiction, and this book fits firmly in that category. The novel also addresses the issue (which remains problematic) of recognition of the contribution of female scientists. Chevalier’s novels are all collectable, especially her second “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. Early copies were issued with the misspelling “Earing” on the rear cover. This was subsequently corrected, and the version with the error remains her most valuable book in the secondary market (£250 plus at present from a dealer).

Chevalier was born in October 1962 in Washington, DC. She is of Romande Swiss descent (with possible French Huguenot ancestry) on her father's side, and currently lives in London with her husband and son. She was raised in Washington, D.C and after receiving her B.A. in English from Oberlin College she moved to England in 1984 where she worked several years as a reference book editor. Leaving her job in 1993, she began a year-long M.A in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her tutors on the course were novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. Her career began with the book The Virgin Blue but she became well known with her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, a book based on the creation of the famous painting by Vermeer. The film based on the novel received three Academy Award nominations in 2004.

"In the year of the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species, set in a town where Jane Austen was a frequent visitor, Tracy Chevalier once again shows her uncanny sense for the topical. In the early nineteenth century, a windswept beach along the English coast brims with fossils for those with the eye! From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is marked for greatness. When she uncovers unknown dinosaur fossils in the cliffs near her home, she sets the scientific world alight, challenging ideas about the world's creation and stimulating debate over our origins. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is soon reduced to a serving role, facing prejudice from the academic community, vicious gossip from neighbours, and the heartbreak of forbidden love. Even nature is a threat, throwing bitter cold, storms, and landslips at her. Luckily Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly, intelligent Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who is also fossil-obsessed. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty and barely suppressed envy. Despite their differences in age and background, Mary and Elizabeth discover that, in struggling for recognition, friendship is their strongest weapon. Remarkable Creatures is Tracy Chevalier's stunning new novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and gender to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, it is a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship."


The Virgin Blue, Penguin, 1997
Girl With A Pearl Earring, HarperCollins, 1999
Falling Angels, HarperCollins, 2001
The Lady and the Unicorn, HarperCollins, 2003
Burning Bright, HarperCollins, 2007
Remarkable Creatures, HarperCollins, 2009