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

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Book of the Week - Rick Gekoski, Outside of a Dog

Rick Gekoski is one of the world's top end bookdealers in modern fiction, specialising in signed, inscribed and association editions and original manuscripts. Outside of a Dog is described by him as a bibliomemoir, a partial autobiography constructed around the books which have had the greatest influence in his life. The title is from Groucho Marx: "Outside of a Dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." Gekoski is an entertaining raconteur, and this book is a good summer read. His books may be too expensive for all but a tiny minority, but this volume will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in book collecting.

Outside of a Dog - Constable and Robinson, 2009

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Twelve - limited edition

The Twelve by Stuart Neville has had some very positive reviews, and will be published in the US (as The Ghosts of Belfast) in October. The UK softcover edition from Harvill is being reprinted. However, in addition a very collectable limited edition hardcover of the book has now been produced, 50 copies only, with illustrations by Julie Chalmers. The book is in green boards and with a gold foil stamped design, and in a black blindstamped cloth case. It is number and signed by the author and illustrator. Copies (if any are still available) from No Alibis bookshop in Belfast.

A collection of short stories, The Six, can be downloaded as a pdf file from Stuart Neville's website, and this has also been produced in a strictly limited softcover edition of only 50 copies, numbered and signed by the author. Neville is an author to watch, and if he is successful both of these limited editions will be avidly pursued in years to come.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Book of the Week - William Trevor, Love and Summer

William Trevor has been shortlisted four times for the Booker Prize, and Love and Summer, which has just been published, is on this year's longlist. Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland 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 is the acclaimed author of several collections of short stories, and has adapted a number of his own stories for the stage, television and radio. The Children of Dynmouth (1976) and Fools of Fortune (1983) both won the Whitbread Novel Award, and Felicia's Journey (1994), the story of a young Irish girl who becomes the victim of a sexual sociopath, won both the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Sunday Express Book of the Year awards. Trevor currently lives in Devon, in South West England.

"It’s summer and nothing much is happening in Rathmoye. So it doesn’t go unnoticed when a dark-haired stranger appears on his bicycle and begins photographing the mourners at Mrs Connulty’s funeral. Florian Kilderry couldn't know that the Connultys were said to own half the town; and, in any case, he had come to Rathmoye only to see the scorched remains of the cinema. But Mrs Connulty's daughter, liberated at last by the death of her imperious mother, resolves to keep an eye on Florian Kilderry, and it's she who comes to witness the events that follow. A few miles out in the country a farmer called Dillahan lives with the knowledge that he was accidentally responsible for the deaths of his wife and baby. He has married again: Ellie is the young convent girl who came to work for him when he was widowed. But she falls in love with Florian and though he plans to leave Ireland, a dangerously reckless attachment develops between them . In a characteristically masterly way Trevor evokes the passions and frustrations felt by Ellie and Florian, and by the people of a small Irish town during one long summer."

Friday, 14 August 2009

Simon Scarrow Update

The latest volume in Simon Scarrow's Macro and Cato series has just been released. Gladiator is the ninth book, and like the last volume (Centurion), there is a version available with an additional short story (Deadly Games). This has not been widely advertised, and is the version to watch out for (apart from a special signed version, which was available directly from the author's website, but is now sold out).

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Sarah Hall, How to Paint a Dead Man

"How to Paint a Dead Man" is the fourth novel by Sarah Hall, who was born in Cumbria in 1974. It has been included on the longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize; her three previous novels all won literary prizes, and she is clearly an author to watch.

Hall took a degree in English and Art History at Aberystwyth University. She began to take writing seriously from the age of twenty, first as a poet (several of her poems appearing in poetry magazines), then as a fiction-writer. She took an M.Litt. in Creative Writing at St Andrew's University and stayed on for a year afterwards to teach on the undergraduate Creative Writing programme.

Hall's first novel, Haweswater, was published in 2002. It is set in the 1930s, focuses on one family - the Lightburns - and is a rural tragedy about the disintegration of a community of Cumbrian hill-framers, due to the building of a reservoir. It won several awards, including the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book). Her second book, The Electric Michelangelo (2004), set in the turn-of-the-century seaside resorts of Morecambe Bay and Coney Island, was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book). The Carhullan Army (2007), won the 2007 John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the 2008 Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction. How to Paint a Dead Man has now joined this list of successful novels, although it remains very much an outsider for this year's Booker Prize.

" Italy in the early 1960s: a dying painter considers the sacrifices and losses that have made him an enigma, both to strangers and those closest to him. He begins his last life painting, using the same objects he has painted obsessively for his entire career - a small group of bottles. In Cumbria 30 years later, a landscape artist - and admirer of the Italian recluse - finds himself trapped in the extreme terrain that has made him famous. And in present-day London, his daughter, an art curator struggling with the sudden loss of her twin brother while trying to curate an exhibition about the lives of the twentieth-century European masters, is drawn into a world of darkness and sexual abandon. Covering half a century, this is a luminous and searching novel, and Hall's most accomplished work to date. "


Haweswater. Faber and Faber, 2002. Card covers with dustwrapper.
The Electric Michelangelo. Faber and Faber, 2004. Card covers with dustwrapper.
The Carhullan Army. Faber and Faber, 2007. Hardcover with dustwrapper.
How to Paint a Dead Man .Faber and Faber, 2009. Card covers with dustwrapper.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - David Peace, Occupied City

Occupied City is the second book in the Tokyo Trilogy by David Peace, and is a striking and unusual novel. Peace has had huge publicity this year, as a result of the success on television of Red Riding and in the cinema of The Damned United. He has an unusual writing style, which has become more pronounced in Occupied Territory, favouring repetition and use of multiple voices. His writing style does not appeal to everyone, and will probably come as a considerable shock to anyone buying this novel based on their experience of the television or cinema adaptations of the earlier books. Occupied City has received some very polarised reviews, with at least as many negative as positive. Nonetheless, if approached in the way you might approach poetry, this novel (and Peace’s earlier books) have much to offer. Peace has given a number of interviews recently indicating that he only intends to write twelve novels. He has accumulated a significant body of work and is certainly a writer worth investigating, and collecting.

David Peace was born in 1967 and grew up in Ossett, near Wakefield. He left Manchester Polytechnic in 1991, and went to Istanbul to teach English. In 1994 he took up a teaching post in Tokyo and lived there with his family for a number of years. He has recently returned to the UK. His formative years were shadowed by the activities of the Yorkshire Ripper, and this had a profound influence on him which led to a strong interest in crime. His quartet of Red Riding books grew from this obsession with the dark side of Yorkshire. These are powerful novels of crime and police corruption, using the Yorkshire Ripper as their basis and inspiration. They are entitled Nineteen Seventy-Four (1999), Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001), and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002), and have been translated into French, Italian, German and Japanese. In 2003 David Peace was named by Granta magazine as one of twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'. His novel, GB84, set amid the 1984 miners' strike, was published in 2005. His most recent books are The Damned Utd (2006), recreating Brian Clough's time at Leeds United Football Club; and Tokyo Year Zero (2007), the first of a trilogy set in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II. Occupied City is the second book in this trilogy.

'We all know what this could be: we know it could be dysentery, we know it could be typhoid. In the "Occupied City", we all know what this could mean -' Tokyo, January 26th, 1948. As the third year of the US Occupation of Japan begins, a man enters a downtown bank. He speaks of an outbreak of dysentery and says he is a doctor, sent by the Occupation authorities, to treat anyone who might have been exposed. Clear liquid is poured into sixteen teacups. Sixteen employees of the bank drink this liquid according to strict instructions. Within minutes twelve of them are dead, the other four unconscious. The man disappears along with some, but not all, of the bank's money. And so begins the biggest manhunt in Japanese history. In "Occupied City", David Peace dramatises and explores the rumours of complicity, conspiracy and cover-up that surround the chilling case of the Teikoku Bank Massacre: of the man who was convicted of the crime, of the legacy of biological warfare programmes, and of the victims and survivors themselves.


The Red Riding Quartet
1999 Nineteen Seventy-Four (Serpent's Tail, paperback)
2000 Nineteen Seventy-Seven (Serpent's Tail, paperback)
2001 Nineteen Eighty (Serpent's Tail, hardcover)
2002 Nineteen Eighty-Three (Serpent's Tail, paperback)

2004 GB84 (Faber, paperback)
2006 The Damned Utd (Faber, paperback)

Tokyo Trilogy
2007 Tokyo Year Zero (Faber, hardcover)
2009 Occupied City (Faber, hardcover)