Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Literary Tattoos

In many societies the symbolism of tattoos defines a person’s role or status; however, in the developed West most tattoos have personal significance for the recipient as their main function (outside certain subcultures). While a tattoo is personal, paradoxically it also provides a way of making a statement to others. is a website dedicated to the subgenre of literary tattoos, and provides an interesting insight into the uniqueness of personal literary experience, and also the way in which certain quotations capture something which speaks in a similar way to many individuals.

Now, I would imagine that only a small proportion of bibliophiles feel strongly enough about a particular book or quotation to want to make it permanent in the form a tattoo, and those who would want to post a picture of their tattoo on the internet probably represent a small minority of a small minority. Nonetheless, I am impressed by some of these, while being horrified by others (try those filed under Tattoo Misspellings). The typographical tattoos generally seem to work best to me, with the pictorial ones being more hit or miss. Certain authors and quotations seem to have become surprisingly popular - the phrase “so it goes” appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five 116 times, and also appears very popular with lovers of literary tattoos. None submitted for Haruki Murakami yet however......

Monday, 27 December 2010

Never Judge a Book by the Cover

“Never Judge a Book by the Cover” was a show a Stolenspace Gallery in London before Christmas. The show was held in association with Penguin Books (as part of its 75th anniversary), to celebrate the art of book covers. A wide range of contemporary artists were invited to design (or in some cases reproduce) a cover of a favourite book. The covers were available as originals (mostly reasonably priced) and in some cases as small signed print runs. The remaining works can be found on the gallery website, and would represent an unusual present for a book and art lover. I managed to pick up a print of Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Haruki Murakami) by Word to Mother – the original went elsewhere, but there was a very modestly priced print run of ten copies (now all sold), and I was lucky enough to get the last one.  I would certainly recommend a look at the website of what was a very interesting show.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Book of the Week - Philip Pullman, Ancient Civilizations

Most book collectors have a list of books which they would like to own, and I am like everyone else in this respect. In years gone by, searching usually meant trawling through second hand shops, writing to dealers or placing a wanted advertisement in a magazine. This process has been transformed by the internet, something on which many bloggers have written. This has undoubtedly reduced the interest of the chase, but made the process of finding books much more efficient. For a period of time there was a golden age for the astute collector – dealers began to list their stock on a variety of internet sites, and there were bargains to be found, especially for those who knew their way around search engines and sites. Things have now settled down – most dealers have listed their stock online and are careful with pricing when they add to their listings, and most collectors are familiar with the best online sites and search engines. However, it is still just as satisfying to find an uncommon book when the search has been ongoing for some time.

My wanted list is modest nowadays (and I try to operate a one in – one out rule!), and falls into two categories. Firstly, there are books which I can find fairly easily but which cost more than I am willing to pay. There are quite a few of these, mainly older editions (the Ricketts edition of the Sphinx, a Nonesuch Dickens) – I look out for a less expensive copy, or wait for a lottery win. Secondly, there are books which are uncommon but likely to be affordable. I finally managed to obtain one of these books this week, for the modest sum of £25, so my list is reduced by one. I have written previously about Philip Pullman, in whom I have been interested for many years. I have an almost complete collection of his books – Ancient Civilizations fills one of the missing gaps. It is a rather odd volume, a short educational book aimed at older children, with little intrinsic value, but it certainly seems very uncommon. This was the first copy I have seen in about two years of looking – it remains listed on ABEbooks (now twice!), so maybe the seller has come across a small stock of older copies if anyone else is looking. Alternatively it may be a listing mistake. Ancient Civilizations is only likely to be of interest to a serious Pullman collector (or a dealer), but is worth looking out for. One footnote – a number of online bibliographies list this as a 1978 publication. Having now seen a copy, the publication date for what appears to be the first edition is 1981 (which is the alternate date given by some other sites). I have now amended my bibliography to give the date as 1981, but if anyone has seen a 1978 copy I would be very interested to hear of it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog

Kate Atkinson made a considerable splash with her first novel, Behind the Scenes in the Museum, which won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and probably remains her best known (and most valuable) book. However, after publishing several more novels best characterised as literary fiction, she has turned to distinctly superior crime novels in recent years, to considerable critical acclaim. Her Jackson Brodie novels will be televised in a BBC series early in 2011, which is likely to bring increased attention to her books. Started Early, Took my Dog is a stand alone crime novel published earlier this year to very positive reviews, and is my current Book of the Week. I have just picked up a signed copy at Hatchards for below cost price, which is a very good deal. It may also be a good time to pick up copies of the Jackson Brodie crime novels.

“A day like any other for security chief Tracy Waterhouse, until she makes a purchase she hadn't bargained for. One moment of madness is all it takes for Tracy's humdrum world to be turned upside down, the tedium of everyday life replaced by fear and danger at every turn. Witnesses to Tracy's Faustian exchange in the Merrion Centre in Leeds are Tilly, an elderly actress teetering on the brink of her own disaster, and Jackson Brodie who has returned to his home county in search of someone else's roots. All three characters learn that the past is never history and that no good deed goes unpunished. Kate Atkinson dovetails and counterpoints her plots with Dickensian brilliance in a tale peopled with unlikely heroes and villains . Started Early, Took My Dog is freighted with wit, wisdom and a fierce moral intelligence. It confirms Kate Atkinson’s position as one of the great writers of our time.”


Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Doubleday, 1995. Currently £100-150 in dustwrapper. Watch out for the very similar Book People/Doubleday edition, which is essentially a book club edition of very little value.

Human Croquet, Doubleday, 1997. Hardcover in dustwrapper available at £5-10.

Abandonment, Nick Hern Books, 2000. A play, paperback only. Plenty of copies available, but unclear whether these are firsts or reprints.

Emotionally Weird, Doubleday, 2000. Hardcover in dustwrapper available at £5-10.

Not the End of the World, Doubleday, 2002. Short stories; hardcover in dustwrapper for £10-15.

Case Histories, Doubleday, 2004. First of the Jackson Brodie Crime Novels. Hardcover in dustwrapper available at £10-20.

One Good Turn, Doubleday, 2006. Hardcover in dustwrapper, £15-25.

When Will There Be Good News? Doubleday, 2008. Hardcover in dustwrapper, £15 -20.

Started Early, Took my Dog, Doubleday, 2010. Hardcover in dustwrapper, £15-20.

Monday, 29 November 2010

New books from some old favourites

Rather than highlighting any single book this week, I want to mention new releases from two of my favourites. The Legion is the latest book in the Cato and Macro series by Simon Scarrow. These are all well-written page turners, and the early books in the series and very collectible (as I have discussed previously). A limited edition of 100 copies is available directly from the author, and includes a signed postcard and an annotated page from the original manuscript. Profits go to charity, and this would make a very good Christmas present - highly recommended.

For those with rather more to spend, Colm Toibin has published a 50 copy limited edition of The Street, one of the short stories in his latest collection, The Empty Family. The book is handset, printed on hand made woven paper and all copies are signed, numbered and dated (30 September 2010) by the author. It is bound in bright blue leather and contained in a purple slipcase. It is a beautiful production, and this is reflected in the price of £250.00. Anyone who receives a copy would consider themselves very lucky indeed!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Book of the Week - Hand Me Down World, Lloyd Jones

I have been travelling extensively over the last few weeks, which has provided a good opportunity to read but less opportunity to think about new books. However, I hope to be around more over the next few months, so more regular posting can resume. A novel which has caught my eye due to a number of very positive reviews is Hand Me Down World by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, who had considerable success with his last book Mr Pip, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007. Subsequently, Jones spent a year on a writers' residency in Berlin, where he was inspired by a report he read about the hazardous sea crossings of illegal migrants. The African protagonist of this novel, who never reveals her true identity or country of origin but borrows the name "Ines", begins the novel as a hotel worker in Tunisia. The book follows her search for a lost child as she journeys through Europe as an illegal immigrant. Almost all reviewers have commented that this is a memorable and affecting book, and it will definitely be added to my reading list. Signed copies don’t seem to have hit the UK as yet, but are worth looking out for.

“This is a story about a woman. And the truck driver who mistook her for a prostitute. The old man she robbed and the hunters who smuggled her across the border. The woman whose name she stole, the wife who turned a blind eye. This is the story of a mother searching for her child. This is a novel you cannot stop thinking about.”

Monday, 8 November 2010

Book of the Week - Let the right one in, John Ajvide Lindqvist

None of this week’s releases particularly appeals to me, so for my book of the week I am going back three years to the first novel of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. “Let me in” is one of the films of the moment, and is based on the novel “Let the Right One In”, which was published in the UK as a hardcover by Quercus in 2007. This novel was previously filmed in Swedish and released under the same title in 2008, when it was the choice of many critics as film of the year (and also one of my favourite films of the year, though I don’t claim any great cinematic expertise!). I picked a copy up after seeing the Swedish film, and it has proved to be a good investment so far. By all accounts “Let me In” is true to the novel and similar to the Swedish version; it marks the return of Hammer Horror to the cinema and has also received positive reviews. I suspect that without the success of the film, the book would not have proved particularly collectible, but at present it would be difficult to find a fine copy for under £50, and signed copies are well into three figures. Any further increase in price will probably depend on greater success for the film, but vampire literature is an interesting sub-genre and this may prove to be a significant book in the field in the long term.

“It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last---revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door---a girl who has never seen a Rubik's Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night.”

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Book of the Week - James Robertson, And the Land Lay Still

"And The Land Lay Still" is the fourth novel of James Robertson. Robertson is a Scots writer, and all of his books are grounded strongly in Scottish life and culture. He is the author of three previous novels, The Fanatic, Joseph Knight and The Testament of Gideon Mack. Joseph Knight was awarded the two major Scottish literary awards in 2003/4 – the Saltire Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year – and The Testament of Gideon Mack was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, picked by Richard and Judy's Book Club, and shortlisted for the Saltire Book of the Year award. The other side of Robertson's career for the last decade has been Itchy Coo, a publisher of children's books in the Scots language. Initially funded by the Scottish Arts Council, Itchy Coo has proved to be a popular enterprise. Robertson's interest in and use of Scots is also featured heavily in his poetry and prose, and notably in his first two novels, which blend modern English with Scots. Politically, Robertson has generally been viewed as a supporter of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and was involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the 1980s. "And the Land Lay Still" is a large book, and takes a broad overview of Scottish life in the last century. Reviewers have highlighted it as a potentially important novel, though only time will tell. However, if you can find a signed copy at around cover price it is well worth picking up.

“Michael Pendreich is curating an exhibition of photographs by his late, celebrated father Angus for the National Gallery of Photography in Edinburgh. The show will cover fifty years of Scottish life but, as he arranges the images and writes his catalogue essay, what story is Michael really trying to tell: his father's, his own or that of Scotland itself? And what of the stories of the individuals captured by Angus Pendreich's lens over all those decades? The homeless wanderer collecting pebbles; the Second World War veteran and the Asian shopkeeper, fighting to make better lives for their families; the Conservative MP with a secret passion, and his drop-out sister, vengeful against class privilege; the alcoholic intelligence officer betrayed on all sides, not least by his own inadequacy; the activists fighting for Scottish Home Rule – all have their own tales to tell. Tracing the intertwined lives of an unforgettable cast of characters, James Robertson's new novel is a searching journey into the heart of a country of high hopes and unfulfilled dreams, private compromises and hidden agendas. Brilliantly blending the personal and the political, And The Land Stay Still sweeps away the dust and grime of the postwar years to reveal a rich mosaic of 20th-century Scottish life.”

Monday, 18 October 2010

Book of the Week - Rebecca Hunt, Mr Chartwell

My choice for a book of the week is an interesting first novel with elements of magical realism, dealing with the nature of depression. The author, Rebecca Hunt, was given a substantial two book deal by Penguin Fig Tree, and her first novel has been launched on the back of a considerable publicity campaign. It has been widely reviewed, generally favourably, and has already been long listed for the Guardian first book award. Signed copies at £12.99 seem very good value.

"It's July, 1964. In bed at home in Kent, Winston Churchill is waking up. There's a visitor in the room, someone he hasn't seen for a while, a dark, mute bulk, watching him with tortured concentration. It's Mr. Chartwell. In her terraced house in Battersea, Esther Hammerhans, young, vulnerable and alone, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress. It's Mr. Chartwell. He is charismatic and dangerously seductive, and Esther and Winston Churchill are drawn together by his dark influence. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell's strange, powerful charms and strong hold? Can they even explain to anyone who or what he is? Or why he has come to visit? For Mr. Chartwell is a huge, black dog. In this utterly original, moving, funny and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell's motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they seem."

Monday, 11 October 2010

Book of the Week - Claire Keegan, Foster

Foster is a first novella from Claire Keegan, an accomplished writer of short stories.  If she can successfully make the transition to writing full length novels in the future, this may prove to be a very collectable book. Keegan was born in 1968 and grew up on a farm in Wicklow, the youngest of a large Catholic family. She travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana when she was seventeen and studied English and Political Science at Loyola University. She returned to Ireland in 1992. She started writing in 1994 and lived for a year in Cardiff, taking an MA in Creative Writing and teaching undergraduates for a year at the University of Wales. Her first collection of short stories, Antarctica, was completed in 1998 and was awarded the Rooney Prize for Literature. Her second short story collection, Walk the Blue Fields, was published in 2007 and won her the 2008 Edge Hill Prize for Short Stories. She currently lives in County Louth, Ireland.

Unusually for a novella, Foster has attracted very positive reviews from a number of the major broadsheets. It is published both in hardcover and paperback, with the print run of the former likely to be fairly modest. In addition, there is an edition of 90 copies signed by the author in yellow cloth boards, contained in a grey cloth covered slipcase.

"A small girl is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in rural Ireland, without knowing when she will return home. In the strangers’ house, she finds a warmth and affection she has not known before and slowly begins to blossom in their care. And then a secret is revealed and suddenly, she realizes how fragile her idyll is. Winner of the Davy Byrnes Memorial Prize, Foster is now published in a revised and expanded version. Beautiful, sad and eerie, it is a story of astonishing emotional depth, showcasing Claire Keegan’s great accomplishment and talent."

Monday, 4 October 2010

Book of the Week - Anjali Joseph, Saraswati Park

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that I am interested in modern Indian fiction. There are a significant number of very fine young Indian authors, particularly writing literary fiction. Saraswati Park is the first published novel of Anjali Joseph, who was born in Bombay in 1978. She read English at Trinity College, Cambridge, and has taught English at the Sorbonne. More recently she has written for the Times of India in Bombay and been a Commissioning Editor for ELLE (India. Recently, and before the publication of this novel, The Daily Telegraph featured her in 2010's Top 20 novelists under 40. Reviews of the book are just beginning to appear, but seem strong, and it certainly sounds like a book which I will enjoy. I have yet to see signed first editions available in the UK, but will be watching out for them. In the meantime, if any of my readers are aware of signed copies then please send me an e-mail!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Colm Toibin, The Empty Family

I have been unusually busy with work recently (unfortunately!), so my blog has had to take a back seat.  This unfortunate state of affairs is likely to continue for another couple of weeks, although a couple of long haul flights may allow me some time for reading.  At times when I am very busy, I often turn to short stories rather than a novel, although in my experience volumes of short stories by established authors are often less valued than their full length works. This week's choice is a book of short stories which I have been looking forward to, but probably not one which is particularly attractive from the perspective of a collector. Nonetheless, it offers an opportunity to review prices of previous books from Colm Toibin, a writer working at the peak of his powers. The Empty Family is his second volume of short stories, adding to his six novels, and he has also written or edited a number of works of non-fiction. Toibin has won a considerable number of literary awards, and seems likely to go down as one of the major writers of the early part of the 21st-century. Signed copies of his books are likely to be a solid long-term investment.

Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955 and was educated at University College Dublin where he read History and English. After graduating, he lived and taught in Barcelona. He returned to Ireland and worked as a journalist before travelling through South America and Argentina. His first novel, The South (1990), set in Spain and rural Ireland in the 1950s, is the story of an Irish woman who leaves her husband and starts a relationship with a Spanish painter. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for First Book. Eamon Redmond, the central character in The Heather Blazing (1992), is a judge in the Irish High Court, haunted by his own past and the history of modern Ireland. The book won the Encore Award for the best second novel of the year. His third novel, The Story of the Night (1996), is set in Argentina during the Falklands War. The Blackwater Lightship (1999), describes the uneasy relationship between a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter, brought together by a family tragedy. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The Master (2004) was a novel about Henry James, which won the IMPAC prize. Brooklyn (2009) tells the story of an emigrant from rural Ireland to the US in the 1950s, and won the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Bibliography of Fiction

The South (Serpent's Tail, London, 1990). Paperback in French flaps, £125+.

The Heather Blazing (Picador, London, 1992)- around £100.

The Story of the Night (Picado,. London, 1996) - £15-20.

The Blackwater Lightship (Picador, London, 1999) - £15-20.

The Master (Picador, London, 2004) - £25-30.

Mothers and Sons (Picador, London, 2006) - £15 -20. Also 50 copies signed and numbered bound in quarter goatskin, with raised bands, hand tooled spine in 22 carat gold - leaf, top edge gilt, marbled boards and matching slipcase by Kenny's Fine Bindery, Galway.

Brooklyn (Viking, London, 2009) - £20-25.  Also 25 copies bound in full leather numbered I - XXV, plus 5 copies hors commerce; 75 copies bound in full cloth numbered 1 - 75 plus 5 copies hors commerce, both in mustard yellow slipcase, from Tuskar Rock Press, Dublin.

The Street (Dublin; Tuskar Rock; 2010). A separate edition of a short story from The Empty Family. Limited to 50 copies, numbered in roman numerals from I to L, the edition is signed and dated (30 September 2010) by the author. The book is hand set, 80 pages (untrimmed) long, printed on Somerset mould made and bound in full Harmatan blue leather by the Fine Book Bindery. The book is enclosed in a slipcase covered in navy blue cloth.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Book of the Week - James Forrester, Sacred Treason

James Forrester is the pen name of the well-respected historian Dr Ian Mortimer, who is an expert on the mediaeval period and has published a number of scholarly and popular books about the period.  Sacred Treason is his first novel, set against the background of Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth. The book is rich in historical detail, as would be expected, but is also by all accounts a well plotted and engrossing example of historical fiction, likened by a number of reviewers to the books of CJ Sansom. As I have discussed previously, Sansom's early books have become extremely collectable. It is much too early to say whether Forrester will have similar success, but a sequel is under way and now may well be the time to pick up a signed first edition at a bargain price.

"London, December 1563. England is a troubled nation. Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth spring up all over the country. At his house in the parish of St Bride, the herald William Harley – known to everyone as Clarenceux - receives a book from his friend and fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn. But Machyn is in fear of his life, claiming that the book is deadly... What secret can it hold? And then Clarenceux is visited by the State in the form of Francis Walsingham and his ruthless enforcers, who will stop at nothing to gain possession of it. If Clarenceux and his family are to survive the terror of Walsingham, and to plead with the queen’s Secretary of State Sir William Cecil for their lives, Clarenceux must solve the clues contained in the book to unlock its dangerous secrets before it’s too late. And when he does, he realises that it's not only his life and the lives of those most dear to him that are at stake..."

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

And then there were six - The Booker Prize Shortlist 2010

The Booker prize shortlist was announced today and brought a few surprises. Chief amongst these was the failure of The Slap or The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet to advance. In the case of the latter, it is certainly not David Mitchell’s finest book. However, given the high sales of The Slap and the significant controversy it has stirred up, I think it is disappointing that the judges did not put it through. Both books had limited editions; in the case of The Slap this has long disappeared, so collectors will probably breathe a slight sigh of relief. February by Lisa Moore has also proved very elusive. Apparently initial sales were poor, and much of the first print run was returned to the publisher for pulping. Consequently, first printings of the UK paperback have been very difficult to track down.

Of the six shortlisted novels, five have featured as one of my Book of the Week selections. Of the four I have read, my favourite is C, followed by Parrott and Olivier.  The shortlist is relatively straightforward for the collector, with one exception.  First editions of all are available online - In a Strange Room seems the least common.   The exception is the signed limited edition of 250 copies of The Room which was available only through Goldsboro books, and now appears to be sold out. There are currently two copies available online at over £150 each, with one reasonably priced copy on eBay. I will confirm what this sells for when the auction ends in a couple of day’s time. (Update - copy sold for £66).

The Shortlist 2010:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber) – hardcover in dustwrapper. Firsts easily available, but at somewhat of a premium.

Emma Donoghue, Room (Pan MacMillan - Picador) – hardcover in dustwrapper. There was also a 250 copy signed limited edition published in co-operation with Goldsboro Books.

Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books) – hardcover in dustwrapper.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury) – hardcover in dustwrapper.

Andrea Levy , The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review) – decorated boards.

Tom McCarthy, C (Random House - Jonathan Cape) – hardcover in acetate wrapper over decorated boards.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Book of the Week - Ned Beauman, Boxer, Beetle

I have a professional interest in trimethylaminuria, so a novel which in which the lead character is a sufferer is liable to attract my initial attention. In fact Boxer, Beetle has been noticed and reviewed by almost all of the main UK broadsheets, and has generally received positive comments. The consensus appears to be that it is a novel packed with energy, humour and ideas, most of which work, though there are occasional misfires – the sort of book I usually like, therefore. It is also one of five novels on the longlist for the Guardian first book award (out of ten books in total). The author, Ned Beauman, is a 25 year old Londoner, who has written for Dazed and Confused and The Guardian. The book is released as a paperback and a simultaneous hardcover in pictorial boards with no dustwrapper by Sceptre.

"This is a novel for people with breeding. Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible. It is a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase. There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles. It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining. We hope you are too."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Stuart Neville, Collusion

This is a relatively slow time of the year for book releases, with holidays in full swing. Collusion is the second thriller by Stuart Neville, and follows on from The Twelve, which was one of the successes in this genre from 2009. There is no doubt that Neville has the knack of writing page turners – Collusion moves at a fast pace, and will keep the reader engrossed by the swimming pool or on the beach. It is by no means a complex or difficult read, and could be read as a standalone novel, but since it is in effect a sequel it would be better to read The Twelve first. Both books are set in the murky world of Northern Ireland paramilitary violence and policing, with no faction presented in a good light. A dark book therefore, but not as uniformly grim in mood as the books of David Peace – Neville allows redemption for a few.

Collusion is released as a paperback only at present. There was a limited edition of The Twelve produced by No Alibis bookshop in Belfast, now only available at a premium, and the same route may follow for Collusion. It is early in Neville’s career as an author and this genre is not for all, but his career will be an interesting one to follow.


The Twelve, 2009, Harvill. Paperback edition. Published in the US by Soho Press as The Ghosts of Belfast.
Hardcover and slipcased edition, 50 signed and numbered copies, with illustrations by Julie Chalmers.

Short stories:

The Six, 2009. Six short stories available for download from Stuart Neville’s website, and privately published as a glossy softcover edition of 50, numbered and signed. No ISBN number!

Queen of the Hill, in Requiems for the Departed, Morrigan Books, 2010.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Book of the Week - Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question

The Finkler Questionis the 11th novel by Howard Jacobson since Coming from Behind was published in 1983. It is the last of the Booker longlisted novels to be published this year.  Jacobson was born in Manchester, and taught as a University lecturer before becoming a full time author.  He is a comic novelist, with common themes running through all of his work which include Jewishness, literature and sex.  He has also worked as a television broadcaster.

The protagonists of Jacobson’s novels tend to be obsessed with what it means to be a Jew and questions of self identity, and the protagonist of The Finkler Questionis typical in this regard (although he is not himself a Jew).  Signed copies will be readily available in the near future and initial reviews are positive, so if you are a Booker collector now is the time to pick one up.  There is a simultaneous paperback and hardcover release, which means that the print run for the hardcover should not be very large.

“'He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one'. Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results. Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment. It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses. And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change. "The Finkler Question" is a scorching story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, ageing, wisdom and humanity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.”

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Tom McCarthy, C

"C" was longlisted ahead of publication for the Booker Prize, and has just been released. It is likely to draw Tom McCarthy to wide public attention, particularly if it makes the shortlist. Copies are plentiful at present, and many seem signed, so there is no difficulty picking up a first edition. Reprinting is apparently taking place - the acetate jacket of the first edition is being preserved for the second printing, but will probably then disappear.

McCarthy is an interesting character - a writer and conceptual artist born in 1969 and living in central London. Since 1999 McCarthy has operated as 'General Secretary' of a 'semi-fictitious organisation' called the International Necronautical Society (INS), a reprise of early twentieth century avant-garde groupings.  The INS operates through publications, live events, media interventions and more conventional art exhibitions. For details of his activities in this regard, I refer readers to the Society's website.

McCarthy has also made artworks outside of his role as INS General Secretary. In 2005 he exhibited in Vancouver a multimedia installation piece 'Greenwich Degree Zero', produced in collaboration with artist Rod Dickinson, which (in a tribute to Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel The Secret Agent), depicted the Greenwich Observatory burning the ground. The piece was subsequently purchased by the Arts Council England's permanent collection. In 2006 he collaborated with French artist Loris Gréaud to produce an 'Ontic Helpline' for a fictitious 'Thanatalogical Corporation' - a black telephone that transfers callers through an endless loop of pre-recorded messages. The telephone was displayed in the FiAC collection in Paris, and purchased by gallerists/collectors Solene Guillier and Nathalie Boutin.

This is also an opportune moment to look at McCarthy's back catalogue, which offers a number of attractions. He is a relatively young, innovative author, and given his track record there is a reasonable chance that he will go on to wider success. His previous novels were positively reviewed, and limited editions exist of both. In addition, there are a number of uncommon minor items for the completist. These are interesting characteristics from the perspective of a collector with a long term view!

"C" follows the short, intense life of Serge Carrefax, a man who - as his name suggests - surges into the electric modernity of the early twentieth century, transfixed by the technologies that will obliterate him. Born to the sound of one of the very earliest experimental wireless stations, Serge finds himself steeped in a weird world of transmissions, whose very air seems filled with cryptic and poetic signals of all kinds. When personal loss strikes him in his adolescence, this world takes on a darker and more morbid aspect. What follows is a stunning tour de force in which the eerily idyllic settings of pre-war Europe give way to the exhilarating flight-paths of the frontline aeroplane radio operator, then the prison camps of Germany, the drug-fuelled London of the roaring twenties and, finally, the ancient tombs of Egypt. Reminiscent of Bolano, Beckett and Pynchon, this is a remarkable novel - a compelling, sophisticated and sublimely imaginative book uncovering the hidden codes and dark rhythms that sustain life.


The bibliography below may be incomplete, and I would welcome suggestions of additional items. There are several authors working under the name Tom McCarthy, which means that not all books identified using this search will belong to the current author. I am reasonably confident that the entries below are correct!


Remainder - 2005, Metronome Press, Paris. A paperback with a run of 750 copies, currently unavailable.

UK first edition 2006 from Alma Books,Surrey - Hardcover in dustwrapper; a 200 copy limited edition was numbered and signed by the Author, plus a trade edition in a different dustwrapper.

Men in Space, Alma Books, Surrey, 2008. Hardcover in a 250 copy limited edition numbered and signed by the Author to the limitation page, plus a trade edition.

C, Jonathan Cape, London, 2010. Decorated Boards in acetate jacket.

Other books and pamphlets:

2002 - Navigation Was Always a Difficult Art. General Secretary's Report to the International Necronautical Society (Vargas Organisation, London). Pamphlet – currently unavailable (see below).

2003 - Calling All Agents: Transmission, Death, Technology. General Secretary's Report to the International Necronautical Society (Vagras Organisation, London). Pamphlet – currently unavailable (see below).

“The two INS General Secretary’s reports are now out of print. For the time being no reprint is planned. However, the INS Department of Propaganda has authorised a numbered series of authorised copies to be issued, in accordance with the INS Declaration on Inauthenticity. These are expected to be available from 1 September 2010.”

2007 - Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Granta Books. Hardcover with dustwrapper.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Book of the Week - Emma Donoghue, Room

This is the time of year when I usually pick up longlisted Booker prize novels which have yet to be published.  The first of these is by Emma Donoghue, a well established Irish-born author, now living in Canada, who has published six previous novels. Roommay be a breakthrough book for her, as it has received extremely strong reviews, although the subject matter is controversial.  The novel is told entirely in the voice of Jack, a five year old who has spent him entire life with "Ma" living in a locked room that measures eleven foot by eleven . Donoghie has an excellent website, which provides plenty of background about her as a person and a writer, including an interesting FAQ section. Her previous books are often filed in bookshops under the heading of Lesbian Fiction, which may have restricted her visibility as a writer, something which she discusses on her web pages.

The UK edition of Room is the true first, print run currently unknown, although the announcement of the Booker Prize listing probably came too late to influence the print run.  Donoghue will be in the UK in the middle of August, so signed firsts should appear on the market in greater numbers then.  Goldsboro Books have an exclusive numbered edition, currently available only to members of their Book of the Month Club.  This appears to be a numbered version of the trade edition, but is likely to trade at something of a premium on the secondary market.

"Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits that there's a world outside.

Told in Jack's voice, Room is the story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible. Unsentimental and sometimes funny, devastating yet uplifting, Room is a novel like no other."

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2010

So, the longlist has been published and there is the usual mixture of the expected and the surprise. The full list is given below, along with a few comments about current availability and an indication of any special editions of which I am aware. Of the thirteen books, three have yet to be published, and five of the remaining ten have featured on my Book of the Week slot during the last year (maintaining my roughly 50% success rate recently!). I've read four of these so far, and The Slap is in my to be read file at present. I found The Long Song (3.5/5 - see book reviews on Facebook) a little disappointing but enjoyed the other three to a variable extent. Skippy Dies (4.5/5) is very funny in places, but might have been a stronger novel if the second half was tightened somewhat. Parrot and Olivier (4/5) is a typical Peter Carey novel, based on the life of Alexis de Toqueville, and has been installed by Ladbrokes as the favourite for the prize. However, since David Mitchell (4.5/5) was the only one of my two favourites to make the shortlist, my hopes will remain with him. As for Jon McGregor, I was very disappointed that he missed out, but expect to see him on other prize lists later in the year.

The Longlist

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America(Faber and Faber) – hardcover in dustwrapper. Firsts easily available, but at somewhat of a premium.

Emma Donoghue, Room(Pan MacMillan - Picador) – hardcover in dustwrapper to be published shortly. A numbered edition scheduled from Goldsboro Books.

Helen Dunmore, The Betrayal(Penguin - Fig Tree) – hardcover in dustwrapper. Uncommon at present.

Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room(Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books) – hardcover in dustwrapper. A few copies available online only.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question(Bloomsbury) – hardcover to be published shortly.

Andrea Levy , The Long Song(Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review) – decorated boards, and still widely available.

Tom McCarthy, C(Random House - Jonathan Cape) – hardcover to be published shortly.

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet(Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre). Decorated boards, with a 500 copy edition (numbered and signed) in slipcase. Likely to be the most expensive of the longlisted titles at present (except for the limited edition of The Slap – see below).

Lisa Moore, February(Random House - Chatto & Windus). Paperback original so far as I know, and uncommon at present.

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (Penguin - Hamish Hamilton). Three paperback volumes in a flimsy slipcase. Subsequently reissued in one volume. A unique Booker format, and likely to become very collectible if shortlisted.

Rose Tremain, Trespass(Random House - Chatto & Windus). Still readily available as a first edition in dustwrapper.

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap(Grove Atlantic - Tuskar Rock) – Paperback original. The very limited leather bound edition (25 copies, Tuskar Rock) long gone.

Alan Warner, The Stars in the Bright Sky(Random House - Jonathan Cape) - Paperback original (a hardback was scheduled and, indeed, an ISBN for the hardback edition appears on the colophon, but this was cancelled at a late stage).

Monday, 26 July 2010

Book of the Week - Grant Gillespie, The Cuckoo Boy

The longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize will be announced this week.  There is usually a modest boost to prices for longlisted novels, with a more substantial boost when the shortlisted books are announced. The increasing trend towards simultaneous hardcover and paperback releases (with small print runs of the former), along with a range of special/limited editions of leading novels makes collecting the Booker Prize increasingly difficult.  Nonetheless, it remains a worthwhile challenge and the shortlisted books over the years provide a useful benchmark of trends in literary fiction.  Spotting the winner at an early stage opens the opportunity to a significant profit in some years if you wish to sell.  Wolf Hall, the winner from 2009, has sold for several hundred pounds in the first edition, although among the shortlisted novels The Glass House seems more uncommon.  Of the books I have read this year, I think that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Even the Dogs are strong candidates. However, as always there are other contenders!

My book of the week for this week is a first novel issued in paperback only – The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie.  This is the first novel issued by To Hell with Publishing.  The print run was 1000 copies, and it has now been reprinted.  The book has been praised highly by a number of bloggers, and picked up reasonable reviews in the Guardian and Observer .Several reviewers have commented on the similarity of the theme to "We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, but the book has a different tone.  It’s unlikely to be a strong candidate for the prize, but perhaps has an outside chance of making the longlist and it certainly seems worthwhile picking up a copy if you can find one to read carefully and set aside for the long term.

“Armed with the wrong set of circumstances, is there anything a child isn’t capable of?

James has landed in the wrong nest. Adopted by well-meaning parents who are anxious to conform, he enters a family where any wrong can be righted by a half-hearted trip to church, cake, vacuuming or, if all else fails, denial. Stifled by shepherd’s pie and scones, James’ imagination comes to the rescue in the form of David, an invisible friend, conspirator and agitator. Then James meets a real life David whose gentle spirit soothes the turbulent and unsettling effects of his make-believe world. But as James becomes more sociable he also becomes more vulnerable. Once hurt, his revenge leads to an act which shocks his community and breaks the hearts of his parents.”

Monday, 19 July 2010

Book of the Week - Paul Harding, Tinkers

I am travelling in the US at present, so a little detached from UK book releases. However, I see that Paul Harding’s first novel, Tinkers, has just been published in hardcover by Heinemann. In the last couple of years, Tinkers was the surprise success of US literary fiction, winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and being hailed as a masterpiece by many critics. It also had an unusual publishing history and has become very collectible, although the boat has been well and truly missed so far as the US editions are concerned.

Harding (born 1967) is a Boston-based author and musician (a drummer), who has taught writing at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. He grew up on the north shore of Boston in the town of Wenham, Massachusetts. As a youth he spent a lot of time "knocking about in the woods" which he attributes to his love of nature. His grandfather fixed clocks and he apprenticed under him, an experience that found its way into his novel Tinkers. After graduating from UMass, he spent time touring with his band in the US and Europe. He had always been a heavy reader and while in the middle of reading Carlos Fuentes' Terra Nostra he remembered putting it down and thinking "this is what I want to do". In When he next had time off from touring with the band he signed up for a summer writing class at Skidmore College in New York. By pure chance his teacher was Marilynne Robinson and through her he learned about the Iowa Writers' Workshop writing program and applied and was accepted. There he studied with Barry Unsworth, Elizabeth McCracken and later Marilynne Robinson. At some point he realized some of the people he admired most were "profoundly religious" and so he spent years reading theology, and was "deeply" influenced by Karl Barth and John Calvin. He considers himself a "self-taught modern New England transcendentalist".

Tinkers was rejected by several publishers before being picked up by a small independent (Bellevue Literary Press) and published in early 2009 as a paperback (3000 – 5000 copies, according to various sources; currently USD 200-300 from secondary sellers). Of more interest to collectors, there was also a small hardcover edition (500 copies, with a subsequent printing of a further 500), most of which went to subscribers to the First Edition Club of independent Californian bookseller BookPassage (not currently available). This was followed by a separate numbered hardcover edition of 750 copies for Powells as part of Indispensable series (one copy currently available at 1800 USD).

This is a great story of individual success for a writer, and an encouragement for all new authors than (at least occasionally) quality writing will bring success. If Harding goes on to have a long and successful career, Tinkers will be the cornerstone of any collection. However, at the moment it seems overpriced for a recent book and I would expect prices to settle somewhat.

“An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks. Soon, the clouds from the sky above plummet down on top of him, followed by the stars, till the black night covers him like a shroud. He is hallucinating, in death throes from cancer and kidney failure. A methodical repairer of clocks, he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost seven decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring. Heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature.”

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Book of the Week - Per Petterson, I Curse the River of Time

I Curse the River of Time is the the fourth book in English by Norwegian author Per Petterson. Petterson was born in Oslo in 1952 and worked for several years as an unskilled labourer, a bookseller, a writer and a translator until he made his literary debut in 1987 with the short-story collection Ashes in my Mouth, Sand in my Shoes, which was widely acclaimed by critics. Since then he has written a book of essays and five novels that have established his reputation as one of Norway’s most significant fiction writers. These are Ekkoland (1989), Det er greit for meg (1992), To Siberia (1996), In the Wake (2000) and Out Stealing Horses (2003). For To Siberia, Petterson was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literary Award and nominated for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. For In the Wake he received the prestigious Norwegian literary prize, Brageprisen, and the novel was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Out Stealing Horses was awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK, as well as both the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize and the Norwegian Critics’ Award for best novel. In 2006, the novel was also named one of the 25 best Norwegian books the last 25 years by the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, and the English translation won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the world’s most valuable book prize) and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. He has, therefore a strong pedigree, and must be a candidate in years to come for the Nobel Literature Prize. Signed copies of all of his books are worth a premium, so a signed copy of I Curse the River of Time (1000 copies signed to a bookplate from Harvill) should be an interesting read and a good long term buy.

“It is 1989 and all over Europe Communism is crumbling. Arvid Jansen, 37, is in the throes of a divorce. At the same time, his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Over a few intense autumn days, we follow Arvid as he struggles to find a new footing in his life, while all the established patterns around him are changing at staggering speed. As he attempts to negotiate the present, he casts his mind back to holidays on the beach with his brothers, to courtship, and to his early working life, when as a young Communist he abandoned his studies to work on a production line. "I Curse the River of Time" is an honest, heartbreaking yet humorous portrayal of a complicated mother-son relationship told in Petterson's precise and beautiful prose.”

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Barbara Trapido, Sex and Stravinsky

Barbara Trapido could not be described as a prolific author. Sex and Stravinskyis her seventh novel since Brother of the More Famous Jack was published in 1982. Nonetheless, all have been well received and Sex and Stravinsky is no exception. Trapido was born in 1941 in Capetown, South Africa, and she studied at the University of Natal, gaining a BA in 1963, before moving to London. She taught at a school in Hackney and a remand centre in Durham, before becoming a full-time writer in 1970. She currently lives with her family in Oxford.

All Trapido's novels feature a dominating, unconventional older man. Brother of the More Famous Jack (1982)  was followed by Noah's Ark (1984). Temples of Delight (1990) was shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year award and a sequel, Juggling, was published in 1994. The Travelling Hornplayer (1998) was her second book to be shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award. Her previous novel, Frankie and Stankie, was published in 2003. It tells the story of two sisters growing up in South Africa in the 1950s.

Sex and Stravinskywas reviewed by all of the major newspapers very positively. It seems like a solid piece of literary fiction from a well-respected mid-career author who has yet to make a breakthrough in one of the major literary prizes, but with this novel has an outside chance of doing so. No signed copies available so far as I can see, but worth keeping an eye out for.

“The time is 1995, but everyone has a past. Brilliant Australian Caroline can command everyone except her own ghoulish mother, which means that things aren't easy for Josh and Zoe, her husband and twelve year old daughter. Josh has bizarre origins in a small South African mining town, but now teaches mime in Bristol. Zoe reads girls' ballet books and longs for ballet lessons; a thing denied her until, on a school French exchange, she meets a runaway boy in a woodland hut. Meanwhile, on the east coast of Africa, Hattie Thomas, Josh's first love, has taken to writing girls' ballet books from the turret of her fabulous house - that's when she can carve out the space between the forceful presence of Herman and her crosspatch daughter Cat who, after some illicit snooping, is secretly planning a make-or-break essay on mask dancers in Mali. Hattie wakes from a dream of Stravinsky's Pulcinella and asks herself about the composer, 'Do his glasses look sexy?'. His glasses are just like Josh's glasses from two decades earlier. From far and wide, they are all drawn together; drawn to Jack's place. Or is he Jacques? Or Giacomo?Beautiful, mysterious Jack, the one-time backyard housemaid's child who, having journeyed via Mozambique and Senegal to Milan, is back exactly where he started - only not for long. In its mix of people from different spheres, the book throws up the complexity, cruelty and richness of the global world while, as a sequence of personal stories, it comes together like a dance; a masquerade in which things are not always what they seem.”


Brother of the More Famous Jack; Gollancz, 1982 – less than £10.
Noah's Ark; Gollancz, 1984 – less than £15.
Temples of Delight; Michael Joseph, 1990 – less than £10.
Juggling; Hamish Hamilton, 1994 – less than £10.
The Travelling Hornplayer; Hamish Hamilton, 1998 – less than £10.
Frankie & Stankie; Bloomsbury, 2003 – less than £10.
Sex and Stravinsky; Blooksbury, 2010 - cover price or less.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Book of the Week - Justin Cronin, The Passage

The Passage
by Justin Cronin comes heavily promoted, and is a post-apocalyptic vampire novel very much in line with the current zeitgeist. Cronin (born 1962) is American, with two previous novels (literary fiction) and a novella under his belt, winning the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Stephen Crane Prize, and the Whiting Writer's Award. However, with The Passage, he appears to have set out to write a blockbuster, and as a result has hit a financial jackpot.

Cronin was born and raised in New England, and is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He taught creative writing and was the 'Author in-residence' at La Salle University in Philadelphia, PA from 1992 - 2005. He currently lives with his wife and children in Houston, Texas where he is Professor of English at Rice University. The Passage is the first in a trilogy which has apparently earned Cronin close to 3.75 million USD. In addition, Fox 2000 has purchased the film rights to the first book in the trilogy for approximately 1.75 million.

The Passage has been very heavily promoted, with the full weight of an internet marketing campaign and no less than two websites - and The original first edition was the US earlier this month. The book is now being published in the UK by Orion, presumably with a large print run, but is already into reprints. Goldsboro books have an exclusive signed, numbered and slipcased edition now sold out. In addition, there is a version signed by the author on a tipped in additional sheet. This is available from a number of dealers, but also from Amazon discounted to £17 on pre-order.

Is this a good book? In the book world it shows every sign of being this summer’s blockbuster (780 pages), and reviews have been surprisingly positive, although some inevitably a little disparaging. I think it will be going with me on holiday.

“First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.
As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.
With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.”

Monday, 21 June 2010

Book of the Week - Miguel Syjuco, Ilustrado

I'm sticking with another overseas writer this week, although in this case a book written in English. Miguel Syjuco (November 17, 1976) is a Filipino writer from Manila and the Man Asian Literary Prize grand prize winner for 2008. He is the son of Augusto Syjuco Jr., a politician allied with the party of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and received a degree in English literature from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2000 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2004. He is currently completing a PhD in English literature from the University of Adelaide.
His novel, Ilustrado, won the Grand Prize for the Novel in English at the 2008 Palanca Awards. In November of the same year, he won the Man Asian Literary Prize also for Ilustrado. "Ilustrado" (from a Spanish word meaning “enlightened,”) is a reference to the elite of late 19th century colonial Philippines, who were sent to Europe to be educated These expatriates returned to their homeland and helped oust their Spanish colonial masters in 1896. Syjuco criticizes the current 8.1 million Filipino expatriates — the current ilustrados — for not doing more to aid their homeland. Syjuco has repeatedly emphasized that Ilustrado, while sharing some parallels with his life, is a work of fiction. However, like the fictional Miguel Syjuco who narrates Ilustrado, Syjuco was urged to enter politics, a course he ultimately rejected. He currently lives in Montreal with his girlfriend Edith and two cats, Conrad and Laurent, and has already sold a second book to a North American publisher.

Ilustrado is an ambitious novel, and in some respects a challenging read. It plays with form and structure, and many readers are unsure what is true and what is fiction. It is a book with serious intent, but playful in style. Reviewers have expressed surprise at the control maintained by Syjuco in such an ambitious novel, expecially in view of his relative youth. He is certainly an author to watch, and signed first are available.

"It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River – taken from the world is the controversial lion of Philippine literature. Missing, too, is the only manuscript of his final book – meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the corrupt roots of power behind the Filipino ruling families. His student, Miguel, investigates, journeying home from a city still in shock from terrorist attacks to a country caught between reckless decay and desperate progress. To understand his mentor’s death, Miguel scours the life, charting Salvador’s trajectory via his poetry, stories, interviews, novels, and memoirs. The literary fragments become patterns become stories become epic: a generations-long saga of revolution, familial duty, political intrigue, and a people’s enduring struggle against their own worst tendencies. This is a clever, bravura, and exuberant debut novel from a new literary sensation."

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Book of the Week - Juan Gabriel Vasquez, The Secret History of Costaguana

I have a soft spot for foreign fiction in translation. Considering the enormous number of novels published in foreign languages, the mere act of acquiring an English translation is usually a mark of distinction. However, there is no doubt that this is a specialised area with restricted appeal, particularly when considering literary fiction. The Secret History of Costaguana is the second novel in translation from Juan Gabriel Vásquez, who was born in Bogotá in 1973. He studied Latin American literature at the Sorbonne between 1996 and 1998, and now lives in Barcelona. His stories have appeared in anthologies in Germany, France, Spain, and Colombia, and he has translated works by E.M. Forster and Victor Hugo, amongst others, into Spanish. His essays, reviews and reportage have appeared in various magazines and literary supplements. He was recently nominated as one of the Bogota 39, South America’s most promising writers of the new generation. Vazquez’ previous novel (The Informers) and his current book have both been very well received, and he may well have a long and very successful career as a writer. Now is probably a good time to sample his work, as signed first editions of Costaguana are available readily at present.

"It is London, 1903. Joseph Conrad is struggling with his new novel ('I am placing it in South America in a Republic I call Costaguana'). Progress is slow and the great writer needs help from a native of the Caribbean coast of South America. Jose Altamirano, Colombian at birth, just arrived in London answers the great writer's advertisement and tells him his life story. Jose has been witness to the most horrible things that a person or a country could suffer, and drags with him not just a guilty conscience but a story that has almost destroyed him. But when Nostromo is published the following year Jose is outraged by what he reads: 'You've eliminated me from my own life. You, Joseph Conrad, have robbed me'. I waved the Weekly in the air again, and then threw it down on his desk. 'Here', I whispered, my back to the thief, 'I do not exist'.

"The Secret History of Costaguana", the second novel by Juan Gabriel Vasquez to be published in English, is Jose Altamirano's riposte to Joseph Conrad. It is a big novel, tragic and despairing, comic and insightful by turns, told by a bumptious narrator with a score to settle. It is Latin America's post-modern answer to Europe's modernist vision. It is a superb, joyful, thoughtful and rumbustious novel that will establish Juan Gabriel Vasquez's reputation as one of the leading novelists of his generation"

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Book of the Week - Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap

The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas, is not a new book. However, it has just been published in the UK by Tuskar Rock Press. It originally appeared in Australia as a paperback in 2008 and has picked up a slew of prizes (including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for 2009) and uniformly positive reviews. As a book to read, it is definitely my book of the week – but what, if any, is the appear to a collector? Against, The Slap has been published as a paperback only (although not quite only – see below), which invariably results in a book being less desirable, and has been published in the UK significantly after its Australian debut. On the plus side, it will be eligible for this year’s Booker Prize and may do well. In addition, it is already into a reprint, indicating high demand and perhaps a first print run which is not too high, and signed copies are being offered by major dealers at a premium. So overall, definitely a book to read and worth picking up a signed copy at cost or a modest premium. And there is to be a very small leather bound limited edition, around 20 copies, from Tuskar Rock for those with deep pockets. .....

Christos Tsiolkas, the son of Greek migrants, lived in a working class, predominantly Greek, Melbourne inner city suburb and attended state schools including Blackburn High School. He completed an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne in 1987 and has worked as writer and artist. His interest in film is evidenced in his writing the first monograph in Currency Press's Australian Film Classics series on Schepisi's film, The Devil's Playground, and his writing and directing of short films. Tsiolkas' first novel, Loaded (1995), was filmed as Head On (1998) by director Ana Kokkinos, starring Alex Dimitriades. In 2006, his novel, Dead Europe, won The Age Book of the Year fiction award. The Slap is his fourth novel, and he has also written a number of play scripts.

“At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own. This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event. In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye on to that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires. What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse.”

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Book of the Week - Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists is a first novel from journalist Tom Rachman, set against the background of a struggling newspaper in Rome. The true first edition was the Australian paperback, but the UK edition (from Quercus) is the first hardcover and was published around the beginning of March. There have been plenty of very positive reviews in Australia, the UK and the USA. Signed copies of the UK edition have not become available yet, and may be worth holding out for. Rachman was born in 1974 in London, but grew up in Vancouver. He studied cinema at the University of Toronto and completed a Master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York. From 1998, he worked as an editor at the foreign desk of The Associated Press in New York, then did a stint as a reporter in India and Sri Lanka, before returning to New York. In 2002, he was sent to Rome as an AP correspondent, with assignments taking him to Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Egypt. Beginning in 2006, he worked part-time as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris to support himself while writing fiction. He now lives in Rome, where he is working on his second novel.

“The English-language newspaper was founded in Rome in the 1950s, a product of passion and a multi-millionaire s fancy. Over fifty years, its eccentricities earned a place in readers hearts around the globe. But now, circulation is down, the paper lacks a website, and the future looks bleak.
Still, those involved in the publication seem to barely notice. The obituary writer is too busy avoiding work. The editor-in-chief is pondering sleeping with an old flame. The obsessive reader is intent on finishing every old edition, leaving her trapped in the past. And the dog-crazy publisher seems less interested in his struggling newspaper than in his magnificent basset hound, Schopenhauer.
The Imperfectionists interweaves the stories of eleven unusual and endearing characters who depend on the paper. Often at odds, they are united when the focus of their lives begins to fall apart. Funny and moving, the novel is about endings the end of life, the end of sexual desire, the end of the era of newspapers and about what might rise afterward.”

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Andrew O'Hagan, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe is the fourth novel from Andrew O’Hagan, and is the 'memoir' of the Maltese terrier given for Christmas 1960 by Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe. In terms of theme and comedic intent, there are some similarities to Me Cheetah, the surprise of last year’s Booker Longlist. However, Maf the Dog is a more intellectual creature than Cheetah, and his memoir provides a much more ambitious tour of twentieth century culture. This is a simultaneous hardback/paperback release, with the former relatively uncommon and the print run limited. O’Hagan has a strong record in literary prizes, and is likely to be a long term stalwart of English literary fiction. Reviews of his current novel have been very mixed – some excellent, and some not liking it at all. However, on balance likely to be worth picking up.

Andrew O'Hagan was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1968 and read English at the University of Strathclyde. He is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books and Granta magazine. In his acclaimed first book, The Missing (1995), O'Hagan wrote about his own childhood and told the stories of parents whose children had disappeared. The book was shortlisted for the Esquire Award, the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award, and the McVities Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year award. Our Fathers (1999), his first novel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. The book tells the story of young Scot Jamie Bawn and a visit to his dying grandfather that leads him to uncover the truth about his family's past. Personality (2003), is about a 13-year-old girl with a beautiful singing voice growing up above a chip shop on the Scottish island of Bute and making ready to realise her family's dream of fame. It won the 2003 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction).

“In November 1960, Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn Monroe a dog. His name was Maf. He had an instinct for the twentieth century. For politics. For psychoanalysis. For literature. For interior decoration. This is his story. Maf the dog was with Marilyn for the last two years of her life. Not only a picaresque hero himself, he was also a scholar of the adventuring rogue in literature and art, witnessing the rise of America's new liberalism, civil rights, the space race, the New York critics, and was Marilyn Monroe's constant companion. The story of Maf the dog is a hilarious and highly original peek into the life of a complex canine hero - he was very much a real historical figure, with his license and photographs sold at auction along with Marilyn's other person affects. Through the eyes of Maf we're provided with an insight into the life of Monroe herself, and a fascinating take on one of the most extraordinary periods of the twentieth century.”

Bibliography and current values:

The Missing Picador, 1995 - £10 in dustwrapper.

Our Fathers Faber and Faber, 1999 - £10 in dustwrapper

The End of British Farming Profile Books, 2001 - £15 as a paperback

The Weekenders: Travels in the Heart of Africa (contributor) Ebury Press, 2001 - £10 as paperback

Personality Faber and Faber, 2003 - £10-15 in dustwrapper

The Weekenders: Adventures in Calcutta (editor) Ebury Press, 2004 - £10 as paperback, though less common than the earlier Weekenders title

Be Near Me Faber and Faber, 2006 - £10 in dustwrapper

A Night Out with Robert Burns (editor) Canongate, 2008 – £10 -20 in dustwrapper, though currently uncommon

The Atlantic Ocean Faber and Faber, 2008 – £10 -15, though less common than O’Hagan’s earlier books

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe Faber and Faber 2010 – new at cost