Sunday, 26 April 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall is the tenth novel of Hilary Mantel, an English author of Irish ancestry. Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, England on 6 July 1952. She studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She was employed as a social worker, and lived in Botswana for five years, followed by four years in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Britain in the mid-1980s. Wolf Hall is a novel written from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, about a period about which most readers will know something, but told from an unconventional angle. It is a novel written by an author at the peak of her powers, and initial reviews are very positive.

“'Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,' says Thomas More, 'and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks' tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.' England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages. From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.”


Every Day is Mother's Day (Chatto & Windus, 1985)
Vacant Possession (Chatto & Windus, 1986)
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (Viking, 1988)
Fludd (Viking, 1989)
A Place of Greater Safety (Viking, 1992)
A Change of Climate (Viking, 1994)
An Experiment in Love (Viking, 1995)
The Giant, O'Brien (Fourth Estate, 1998)
On Modern British Fiction (contributor: "No Passes or Documents Are Needed - the Writer at Home in Europe"; Oxford University Press, 2002)
Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir (Fourth Estate, 2003)
Learning to Talk: Short Stories (Fourth Estate, 2003)
Beyond Black (Fourth Estate, 2005)
Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate, 2009)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows

 Burnt Shadows is the fifth novel of Pakistani born author Kamila Shamsie, who was born in 1973 in Pakistan. Her first novel, In the City by the Sea, was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and her second, Salt and Saffron, won her a place on Orange's list of '21 Writers for the 21st Century'. In 1999 Shamsie received the Prime Minister's Award for Literature in Pakistan.  She writes for The Guardian, The New Statesman, Index on Censorship and Prospect magazine, and broadcasts on radio.  She lives in London and Karachi.  Burnt Shadows has been very well reviewed and is longlisted for the Orange Prize.  I think it has a strong chance of at least making the shortlist.


"In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this, he wonders?  August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost.In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi two years later. There she walks into the lives of Konrad's half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts.But the shadows of history - personal, political - are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel's astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound them together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences. Sweeping in its scope and mesmerising in its evocation of time and place, Burnt Shadows is an epic narrative of disasters elided and confronted, loyalties offered and repaid, and loves rewarded and betrayed."





In the City by the Sea   Granta, 1998

Salt and Saffron   Bloomsbury, 2000

Kartography   Bloomsbury, 2002

Broken Verses   Bloomsbury, 2005

Burnt Shadows   Bloomsbury, 2009

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Nick Laird, Glover's Mistake

Glover's Mistake is a second novel from Nicholas 'Nick' Laird, who was born in 1975 in Northern Ireland and grew up in Cookstown, Co.Tyrone. He studied at Sideny Sussex College, Cambridge, where he attained a first in English. He went on to work at the global law firm Allen & Overy in London for six years, before leaving to concentrate on his writing. Since 2004, he has been married to novelist Zadie Smith, whom he met while at Cambridge. All of Laird's books, both poetry and novels, have been well-reviewed and he has won a number of awards - 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection shortlist) and Rooney Prize for Irish Literature; 2006 Betty Trask Prize and Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best First Book, shortlist); 2008 Somerset Maugham Award; 2009 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Some critics have argued that his marriage to Zadie Smith and his prominence within the London literary world have exaggerated his success, but I think this is unfair and he is without doubt a very talented writer. Now is a good time to build a collection of his work - the limited edition of his second poetry collection, On Purpose, is likely to be a key book if he achieves long term success, and it is a fine production.

"When David Pinner introduces his former teacher, the American artist Ruth Marks, to his friend and flatmate James Glover, he unwittingly sets in place a love triangle loaded with tension, guilt and heartbreak. As David plays reluctant witness (and more) to James and Ruth's escalating love affair, he must come to terms with his own blighted emotional life. Set in the London art scene awash with new money and intellectual pretension, in the sleek galleries and posh restaurants of a Britannia resurgent with cultural and economic power, Nick Laird's insightful and drolly satirical novel vividly portrays three people whose world gradually fractures along the fault lines of desire, truth and jealousy. With wit and compassion, Laird explores the very nature of contemporary romance, among damaged souls whose hearts and heads never quite line up long enough for them to achieve true happiness."


To A Fault (Faber and Faber, 2005). First poetry collection, original in French wraps.

Utterly Monkey (Fourth Estate, 2005). First novel; paperback original.

On Purpose (Faber and Faber, 2007). A second collection of poems. Paperback original, but in addition there was a 50 signed/numbered limited edition hardback, bound in cream boards with quarter blue cloth and contained in matching blue slipcase.

Glover's Mistake (Fourth Estate, 2008). Hardcover in dustwrapper.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Man Booker Prize bibliography



The Elected Member. Bernice Rubens, Eyre & Spottiswood, London, 1969. An uncommon title. A small number of available copies at present, from £200 upwards depending on condition; top end signed copy, just under £1000.

Bernice Rubens was born in Cardiff, Wales in July 1928, of Russian Jewish descent. She came from a very musical family, both her brothers becoming well-known classical musicians. She was married to Rudi Nassauer, a wine merchant and novelist. They had two daughters, Rebecca and Sharon.. She began writing at the age of 35, when her children started nursery school. Her second novel, Madame Sousatzka (1962), was filmed by John Schlesinger filmed with Shirley MacLaine in the leading role in 1988. Her fourth novel, The Elected Member, won the 1970 Booker prize. She was shortlisted for the same prize again in 1978 for A Five Year Sentence. Her last novel, The Sergeants’ Tale, was published in 2003. She was an honorary vice-president of International PEN and served as a Booker judge in 1986. She died in 2004 aged 76.

Norman is the clever one of a close-knit Jewish family in the East End of London. Infant prodigy; brilliant barrister; the apple of his parent’s eyes … until at forty-one he becomes a drug addict, confined to his bedroom, at the mercy of his hallucinations and paranoia. He beomes addicted to amphetamines and sees silverfish wherever he goes. For Norman, his committal to a mental hospital represents the ultimate act of betrayal. For Rabbi Zweck, Norman’s father, his son’s deterioration is a bitter reminder of his own guilt and failure. Only Bella, the unmarried sister, still in her childhood white ankle socks, can reach across the abyss of pain to bring father and son the elusive peace which they both so desperately crave.


John Brown's Body. AL Barker, Hogarth Press, London, 1969. Uncommon, but can be obtained with patience for under £20 in reasonable condition.

Born in Beckenham, Kent, Audrey Lilian Barker (generally known as Pat) was the only child in a family of modest means, and went to schools in Beckenham and Wallington, Surrey. Her father, a railway clerk, disapproved of further education, and sent her out to work in a clockmaking firm when she turned 16. In 1947, Barker's debut collection of stories, Innocents, won the first Somerset Maugham award, which allowed her to spend time in France and Italy, useful background settings for her future stories and novels. In all, Barker published 11 novels and nine collections of short stories. For her, poetry was the greatest form of literature: next came the short story, and then the novel. She was happiest writing short stories, which she once described as explosions in the dark. She died in 2002.

Marise Tomelty is a child-wife who dislikes sex and is terrified of open spaces. Ralph Shilling lives in the flat above the Tomelty's and is a dealer in pesticides. Marise's commercial traveller husband casually mentions that he recognizes Ralph as John Brown, acquitted for lack of evidence of an atrocious double murder. Nevertheless, Marise encourages Ralph's attentions, in need of the exciting combination of passion and fear. A serious exploration of the nature of our experience of ourselves and each other, of the tug between body and soull, life and death, truth and fantasy.

Eva Trout. Elizabeth Bowen, Cape, 1969. Readily available at less than £20.
Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen (7 June 1899 – 22 February 1973) was an Irish novelist and short story writer. She was born in Dublin moved to England in 1907 when her father became mentally ill, settling in Hythe. After her mother died in 1912, Bowen was brought up by her aunts.
After some time at art school in London she decided that her talent lay in writing. She mixed with the Bloomsbury Group, becoming good friends with Rose Macaulay, who helped her find a publisher for her first book, Encounters in 1923. In 1923 she married Alan Cameron, an educational administrator who subsequently worked for the BBC. The marriage has been described as "a sexless but contented union". She had various extra-marital relationships, including one with Charles Ritchie, a Canadian diplomat seven years her junior, which lasted over thirty years. She also had an affair with the Irish writer Sean O Faolain and at least one lesbian relationship,with the American poet, May Sarton. Bowen was based in England, but made frequent visits to Ireland.
Eva Trout was the last of Bowen's eleven novels. Orphaned at a young age, Eva has found a home of sorts in Worcestershire with her former schoolteacher, Iseult Arbles, and Iseult's husband, Eric. From a safe distance in London, her legal guardian, Constantine, assumes that all's well. But Eva's flighty, romantic nature hasn't entirely clicked with the Arbles household, and Eva is plotting to escape. When she sets out to hock her Jaguar and disappear without a trace, she unwittingly leaves a paper trail for her various custodians—and all kinds of trouble—to follow.

Bruno's Dream. Iris Murdoch, Chatto & Windus. Readily available at least than £20, although the purple dustwrapper is prone to minor damage so a fine copy may cost significantly more.
Murdoch's twelth novel and the second in a row to be shortlisted for the Booker prize, and not to win. Though intellectually sophisticated, her novels are often melodramatic and comedic, rooted, she famously said, in the desire to tell a "jolly good yarn." She was strongly influenced by philosophers like Plato, Freud, Simone Weil and Sartre, and by the 19th century English and Russian novelists, especially Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as Marcel Proust and Shakespeare. She also met and held discussions with philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Her novels often include upper middle class intellectual males caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously "knowing" children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male "enchanter" who imposes his will on the other characters — a type of man Murdoch is said to have modeled on her lover, the Nobel laureate, Elias Canetti.

Bruno, dying, obsessed with spiders and his box of stamps, and preoccupied with death and reconciliation, lies at the centre of an intricate spider's web of relationships and passions. Including creepy Nigel the nurse and his besotted twin Will, fighter of duels and possessor of a flintlock pistol. Set against a backdrop of 60's London.

Mrs.Eckdorf in O'Neill's Hotel. William Trevor, Bodley Head, London 1969. Moderate availability, but may need to pay around £50 for a very good copy with dustwrapper.

Mrs.Eckdorf was the fifth 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.

"What was the tragedy that turned O'Neill's hotel from a plush establishment into a dingy house of disrepute? Ivy Eckdorf is determined to find out. A professional photographer, she has come to Dublin convinced that a tragic and beautiful tale lies behind the facade of this crumbling hotel."

The Conjunction. TW Wheeler, Angus & Robertson, 1969. Exceptionally rare - one copy only available onlne at present, at £1250. However, this has been available for some time and is not selling at this price. A facsimile edition of 250 copies was published by The Pennywell Press in 2006. This is almost identicle to the original edition, differing only in having two blank pages before the half title, with the limitation and signature being on the reverse of the half title. It is available at around £45 at present. The original edition (probably somwhat faded dustwrapper) and the facsimile are pictured opposite. The facsimile is around 2mm taller that the original, in addition to the difference noted above.

Little information is available about Wheeler so far as I am aware. Terence Wheeler was born in Portsmouth in 1936. He read English at Wadham College, Oxford. He subsequently taught at a North London Comprehensive before going to teach in India with his wife Sara. At the time of writing The Conjunction, he was a lecturer in English, living at Whitstable, Kent, with two daughters and a son.

The Conjunction is set in India, and tells the story of Dr.Dev Raj Jobwal, Principal of Nawab's College, and his decline and fall in the face of a young rival.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck

The Thing Around Your Neck is a volume of short stories from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who was born in Nigeria in 1977. Adichie wrote two early books (a play and a volume of poetry; both now uncommon) under the name Amanda N Adichie, with more recent works publiched as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was also short-listed for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and long-listed for the Booker Prize. Her second novel, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Prize.

Adichie is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka where she attended primary and secondary schools and briefly studied Medicine and Pharmacy. She then moved to the United States to attend college, graduating summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a Masters degree in African Studies from Yale. She currently divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.

Adichie is a young writer, but one who has already made a significant impact on a global stage. Her current volume of short stories has been very well received, and coupled with two successful novels this suggests that she is a good author to start collecting now. She may well become an important and internationally recognised writer in the future.

"In 'A Private Experience,' a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she's been pushing away. In 'Tomorrow Is Too Far,' a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother's death. The young mother at the center of 'Imitation' finds her comfortable life threatened when she learns that her husband back in Lagos has moved his mistress into their home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to re-examine them. Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow and longing, this collection is a resounding confirmation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's prodigious storytelling powers."


As Amanda N.Adichie

Decisions (London: Minerva Press, 1997).
For Love of Biafra (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1998).

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus (London: Fourth Estate, 2004)
Half a Yellow Sun (London; Fourth Estate, London, 2006). There was, in addition, a 250 copy slipcased edition, signed and numbered.
The Thing Around Your Neck (London: Fourth Estate, 2009)

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Man Booker Prize bibliography

I have now completed the Philip Pullman bibliography, and have now decided to start work on a Man Booker Prize bibliography. This will be an ongoing project, depending on time availability, so don't hold your breath! I will aim to give a little information about each book, with first edition points and comments where appropriate. Any comments or corrections from readers welcome!



Something to Answer For.
PH Newby, Faber and Faber, London, 1968. Available relatively easily in its orange boards and orange dustwrapper, although copies are typically several hundred pounds at present. Top end signed copy £1250.

The first winner of the Prize was by a writer who was also managing director of BBC radio. His books are now little remembered or read, but Something to Answer For , which is set in Egypt, goes down in history as the winner of the inaugral Booker Prize.

"It was 1956 and he was in Port Said. About these two facts Townrow was reasonably certain. He had been summoned there, to Egypt, by the widow of his deceased friend, Elie Khoury. Having been found dead in the street, she is convinced he was murdered, but nobody seems to agree with her. What of Leah Strauss, the mistress? And of the invading British paratroops? Only an Englishman, surely, would take for granted that the British would have behaved themselves. In this weirdly disorientating world, Townrow is forced towards a re-examination of the basic rules by which he has been living his life; and into a realization that he too may have something to answer for."


Figures in a Landscape.
Barry England, Cape, London, 1968. Easy to find at less than £20.
Figures in a landscape was a first novel, and the author has since published only one other, in 1997, although he has written a number of plays. Two professional soldiers, Ansell and MacConnachie, have escaped from a column of prisoners of war in an unnamed country in the tropics. Safety across the border lies 400 miles away; in the meantime, they must make their way through alien territory, battling the climate and the terrain as well as the enemy's soldiers and helicopters. Reviews at the time described the novel as a thriller - it has been recently suggested that Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith was the first thriller to get a listing for the Booker prize in 2008, so it seems that Figures in a Landscape remains largely forgotten even by the literary establishment.

The Impossible Object. Nicholas Mosley, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968. Should be aasy to find at less than £20.
Nicholas Mosley is a member of a famous family, son of Oswald Mosley and daughter of Diana Mitford, and half brother of Max Mosley. He was born in 1927, and Impossible Object is probably the best known of his books. The book was a somewhat controversial nomination, as it consists of a number of separate but connected stories, rather than taking traditional novel form. Eight carefully connected stories are joined by introspective interludes on related subjects. The author pursues the notion, through the lives of a couple seen by different narrators, that "those who like unhappy ends can have them, and those who don't will have to look for them." The impossible object of the title, "the triangle that can exist in two dimensions but not in three," is a controlling symbol for the impossibility of realizing the good life unless one recognizes the impossibility of attaining it: only then can it be possible to realize it, through a kind of renunciation, especially in "a sophisticated, corrupt, chaotic world." The book was hailed by the critics when published as brilliant, insightful, intense, and moving, but especially original.

The Nice and the Good. Iris Murdoch, Chatto & Windus, London, 1968. Available easily, for around £20 or less.
This was Iris Murdoch's eleventh novel, in the middle of a long and successful career. Therefore the print run was relatively large, and copies of the original edition are widely available. Opening with a suicide at a government office, The Nice and the Good plunges the reader into a novel that explores the many aspects of love including obsession, disinterest and the secrets that individuals keep from one another. The novel revolves around the entanglements, secrets and relationships of one extended household. John Ducane, who has been given the task of investigating Radeechy's suicide, is involved with two women. One is a young woman named Jessica, who is obsessed with him and manipulates him to continue their relationship. The second woman, Kate Gray, is the wife of his co-worker, Octavian, and they have embarked on a platonic relationship within the view of her husband and family. As the novel progresses, Ducane suffers growing anxiety over the investigation, guilt over his relationship with Jessica and fear that the women will learn about each other.

The Public Image. Muriel Spark, London, Macmillan, 1968. Readily available at less that £20.
Muriel Spark is perhaps best known for her 1961 novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but The Public Image was the first of two novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the second being Loitering with Intent in 1981. Shewas born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh in 1918 to a Scottish father and an English mother. She was educated at the Edinburgh James Gillespie's School for Girls - an experience which undoubtedly inspired the representation of Edinburgh public school life in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. In 1937, Muriel Camberg married Sydney Oswald Spark and they had a son, Samuel, known as Robin. For several years of her marriage Spark lived in Central Africa. Spark's marriage later ended in divorce. During the Second World War, Spark was conscripted to the Political Intelligence Department of the British Foreign Office where she worked as a propagandist for the war effort. After the war she lived in London, where she began her literary career. She became General Secretary of The Poetry society, edited The Poetry Review 1947 -9 and wrote studies of Mary Shelley, John Masefield and the Bronte sisters. In 1952 she published her first book of poetry, a collection The Fanfarlo and Other Verse but it was her winning of the Observer prize for short fiction that finally inspired her to write fiction full-time. Her first published novel, The Comforters (1957), was written three years after Spark converted to Roman Catholicism and the novel was inspired by her studies on the Book of Job. Several critics agree that her religious conversion was the central event of her life. She write 22 novels in total and died at her home in Tuscany in April, 2006.
The Public Image is set in Rome and concerns Annabel Christopher, an up-and-coming film actress. Annabel carefully cultivates her image to keep her career on course, managing to mask her lack of talent. But she reckons without her husband Frederick's loathing of his wife's manipulations and inexplicable success for which he plans his final revenge.

From Scenes Like These. G.M. Williams, Secker & Warburg, 1968. Later paperback editions of this book are common. There is one copy of the US first edition currently available from 1969. The true UK first pictured here is exceptionally uncommon and value difficult to state. My copy cost me £10 from a charity bookshop, but a dealer would might look for a high three figure sum if a copy became available.
Gordon M. Williams is a scottish author, perhaps best known for his novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm, which was the basis of the film Straw Dogs.
From Scenes like these is set in a small west of Scotland town in the 1950's. Duncan Logan is an adolescent growing up fast in the austere years after the Second World War. His father is brutal, his life seems drab and pointless, and the future looks bleak. As his world begins to crumble around him, Duncan searches desperately for a way out, only to find himself trapped in a downward spiral of betrayal and violence.