Sunday, 31 January 2010

Book of the Week - Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America

One of the features of the major literary prize lists is the recurrence of a few common names, writers who have become established favourites (usually with good reason) of reviewers and readers alike. Peter Carey undoubtedly falls into that category, and his new novel is released in the UK on 4th February. He has won the Booker Prize twice previously - it should be possible to pick up a signed copy of Parrot and Olivier in America at cost this week, and this should be a good read and a good investment.

Carey was born in Australia in 1943. He was educated at the local state school until the age of eleven and then became a boarder at Geelong Grammar School. He was a student there between 1954 and 1960 — after Rupert Murdoch had graduated and before Prince Charles arrived. In 1961 he studied science for a single unsuccessful year at Monash University. He was then employed by an advertising agency where he began to receive his literary education, meeting Faulkner, Joyce, Kerouac and other writers he had previously been unaware of. He was nineteen. For the next thirteen years he wrote fiction at night and weekends, working in many advertising agencies in Melbourne, London and Sydney. After four novels had been written and rejected The Fat Man in History — a short story collection — was published in 1974. This slim book made him an overnight success. From 1976 Carey worked one week a month for Grey Advertising, then, in 1981 he established a small business where his generous partner required him to work only two afternoons a week. Thus between 1976 and 1990, he was able to pursue literature obsessively. It was during this period that he wrote War Crimes, Bliss, Illywhacker, Oscar and Lucinda. Illywhacker was short listed for the Booker Prize. Oscar and Lucinda won it. Uncomfortable with this success he began work on The Tax Inspector. In 1990 he moved to New York where he completed The Tax Inspector. He taught at NYU one night a week. Later he would have similar jobs at Princeton, The New School and Barnard College. During these years he wrote The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, Jack Maggs, and True History of the Kelly Gang for which he won his second Booker Prize. In 2003 he joined Hunter College, New York, as the Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing. In the years since he has written My Life as a Fake, Theft, and His Illegal Self.

"Olivier is an aristocrat, one of an endangered species born in France just after the Revolution. Parrot, the son of an itinerant English printer and twice Olivier's age, always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Starting on different sides of history, their lives will be permanently joined by an enigmatic, one-armed Marquis. When Olivier sets sail for the New World — ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to avoid yet another revolution — Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, between their picaresque adventures apart and together — in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands — a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy — in theory, in practice, and in ongoing argument. Parrot and Olivier in America is a dazzlingly inventive reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey, brilliantly evoking the Old World colliding with the New. Above all, it is a wildly funny and deeply tender portrait of two men who come to form an almost impossible friendship, and a completely improbable work of art."

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Book of the Week - Belinda Bauer, Blacklands

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter, and her script The Locker Room earned her the Carl Foreman/Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters, an award that was presented to her by Sidney Poitier. She was a runner-up in the Rhys Davies Short Story Competition for “Mysterious Ways,” about a girl stranded on a desert island with 30,000 Bibles. Belinda Bauer now lives in Wales. Blacklands is her first novel, and has been released simultaneously as a paperback and hardcover. Reviews are positive. The hardcover print run has apparently been small, and is well worth seeking out now. And if that's not enough for you, it's also one of the ten featured books on Channel 4's new TV Book Club!

"Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb digs holes on Exmoor, hoping to find a body. Every day after school, while his classmates swap football stickers, Steven goes digging to lay to rest the ghost of the uncle he never knew, who disappeared aged eleven and is assumed to have fallen victim to the notorious serial killer Arnold Avery. Only Steven's Nan is not convinced her son is dead. She still waits for him to come home, standing bitter guard at the front window while her family fragments around her. Steven is determined to heal the widening cracks between them before it's too late. And if that means presenting his grandmother with the bones of her murdered son, he'll do it. So the boy takes the next logical step, carefully crafting a letter to Arnold Avery in prison. And there begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game between a desperate child and a bored serial killer. A game that will have more terrifying consequences than Steven could ever imagine..."

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Book of the week - Nadifa Mohamed, Black Mamba Boy

Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somalia in 1981 as the country fell into dictatorship. She moved to London with her family in 1986, just before the beginnings of civil war as Siad Barre lost his grip on power. She was educated in London and went to Oxford to study History and Politics. Her début novel, Black Mamba Boy, based on the true story of her father’s life in 1930s, was acquired by HarperCollins UK in 2008. Nadifa is currently working on her second novel, also to be published by HarperCollins. Black Mamba Boy has attracted favourable reviews in several national papers, and the subject matter will appeal to judges of literary prizes. I have not seen any signed copies available as yet, but will keep an eye open and post a footnote to update. Available as paperback only.

"Aden,1935; a city vibrant, alive, and full of hidden dangers. And home to Jama, a ten year-old boy. But then his mother dies unexpectedly and he finds himself alone in the world. Jama is forced home to his native Somalia, the land of his nomadic ancestors. War is on the horizon and the fascist Italian forces who control parts of east Africa are preparing for battle. Yet Jama cannot rest until he discovers whether his father, who has been absent from his life since he was a baby, is alive somewhere. And so begins an epic journey which will take Jama north through Djibouti, war-torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt. And from there, aboard a ship transporting Jewish refugees just released from German concentration camp, across the seas to Britain and freedom. This story of one boy's long walk to freedom is also the story of how the Second World War affected Africa and its people; a story of displacement and family."

Monday, 11 January 2010

Book of the Week and bibliography- Henning Mankell, The Man from Beijing

Henning Mankell is one of my favourite crime writers, with his Kurt Wallander books (currently being televised by the BBC) being especially collectible. They are superbly written, and Wallander is a fascinating character. Mankell lives in Africa for most of the year, and signed copies of his books are therefore relatively uncommon. However, he will be visiting London for a few days this month and will sign copies of his most recent stand along novel, The Man from Beijing, which will be well worth picking up. I will provide a bibliography of his earlier books later this week.

"One cold January day the police are called to a sleepy little hamlet in the north of Sweden where they find the vitcim of a savage murder lying in the snow. As they begin their investigation they notice that the village seems eerily quiet and deserted. Going from house to house, looking for witnesses, they uncover a crime unprecedented in Swedish history. When judge Birgitta Roslin reads about the massacre she realises that she has a family connection to one of the couples involved and decides to investigate. A nineteenth-century diary and a red ribbon found in the forest nearby are her only clues. What Birigtta eventually uncovers leads her into an international web of corruption and a story of vengeance that stretches back over a hundred years."

UK Bibliography

The Kurt Wallender novels are very collectible at present, and Mankell's children's books and other novels less so. A number of the early Wallender books were first published in English in the US from 1997 on. The listing below focuses on UK editions.

Kurt Wallender

2000 Faceless Killers (Harvill, London; £60-80)
2000 Sidetracked (Harvill, London; £30-50)
2001 The Fifth Woman (Harvill, London; £75-100)
2001 The Dogs of Riga (Harvill, London; £165-250)
2002 One Step Behind (Harvill, London; £60-80)
2003 The White Lioness (Harvill, London; £20-30)
2004 Firewall (Harvill, London; £15-20)
2005 The Man who Smiled (Harvill, London; £10-15)
2008 The Pyramid (Harvill, London; £20-30)
2011 The Troubled Man (Harvill, London,17.99)

Other books

2000 Secrets in the Fire (Allen & Unwin; paperback; uncommon, but little collected, so inexpensive if you can find a copy)
2002 Playing with Fire (Allen & Unwin; paperback; inexpensive)
2003 Return of the Dancing Master (Harvill, London; £10-15)
2005 A Bridge to the Stars (Andersen Press; paperback; uncommon, but likely to be inexpensive)
2006 Depths (Harvill, London; £15)
2006 Chronicler of the Winds (Harvill, London; £10-15)
2007 Shadows in the Twilight (Andersen Press; paperback; inexpensive)
2007 When the Snow Fell (Andersen Press; paperback; inexpensive)
2007 Kennedy's Brain (Harvill, London; £10-15)
2008 The Eye of the Leopard (Harvill, London; £15)
2008 The Journey to the End of the World (Andersen Press; paperback; inexpensive)
2009 Italien Shoes (Harvill, London; £15-20)
2010 The Man from Beijing (Harvill, London; £20)

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

One in and one out

As I remarked earlier, my book collection has now reached the point were no more books can accumulate. Indeed, it would be better (at least from the point of view of space) if my collection were to shrink. This might be achieved by only buying thin books and disposing of fat ones, but more realistically I need to let go more books this year than I buy. Most book collectors reach this point sooner or later, although for some the problem becomes a pathological one (see Diogenes syndrome).

So how to start? There are a variety of options available - donate books to a charity shop, give them to friends (or perhaps enemies in some cases), sell on ebay or to a dealer, or at a sale of some kind. I will probably do all of these over the next year, and I am open to other suggestions! And as part of the deal I will keep a record of the ups and downs of what happens, and provide a tally at the end of the year. So far, one book has arrived this year (A rather nice catalogue of the Gilbert and George exhibition at the Tate Modern, along with a very cheap signed poster, still available from the Tate Modern Online Shop; £11 for both!), so one book must go. Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell by Susanna Clarke (signed limited first in slipcase, of course) will go up on ebay tomorrow night, and I will report what happens in due course.

PS - Jonathan Strange found a good home at £45, meaning a small profit for me, to be reinvested!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Brooklyn wins the Costa Novel Award

The category winners in the Costa Book Awards have been announced, and I was very pleased to see that Colm Tóibin beat Hilary Mantel, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize, to take the Costa Novel Award for Brooklyn (my book of the year for 2009). Also of interest, Patrick Ness won the Children's Book Award for The Ask and the Answer (Book Two of the Chaos Walking trilogy) which the judges acclaimed as "a major achievement in the making". I previously recommended the first book in the Trilogy, The Knife of Nevel Letting Go, which is now valued at around £50 or above. The first novel award went to Raphael Selbourne for Beauty, the story of a young Bangladeshi woman on the run from her family, inspired by his experiences of teaching in a deprived area of Wolverhampton. Debut biographer Graham Farmelo took the Biography Award for his work on the pioneer of quantum mechanics, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius, which the judges called "the most compelling biography of the year". Christopher Reid finally claimed the Poetry Award for A Scattering, a tribute to his wife following her death in 2005. On now to the overall award, with Toibin having been installed as the Bookies' favourite.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Book of the Week - Simon Lelic, Rupture

A new year and new books to be bought and read. I will be operating a “one in one out” strategy this year, as unfortunately I cannot find accommodation for any more books (more on this later). My first book of the week is a first novel – Rupture by Simon Lelic. Lelic has worked as a journalist and currently runs his own business. He was born in Brighton in 1976 and recently returned with his family to live there. Rupture is his first novel, and will be published in the US later this year as A Thousand Cuts. There is a 250 copy numbered and signed edition available from Goldsboro Books at £12.99 which may well prove popular.

It's North London; in the depths of a sweltering summer, teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into a school assembly and opens fire. Three pupils and a teacher are shot dead before Samuel turns the gun on himself. As the only woman in her office at CID, Detective Inspector Lucia May is finding it difficult to be taken seriously by her colleagues. When she is assigned the school-murders case, she is expected to tie things up quickly and without a fuss. The incident is a tragedy that couldn't have been predicted and Szajkowski a psychopath beyond help. But as Lucia begins to piece together the testimonies of the teachers and children at the school, a much uglier and more complex picture of the months leading up to the incident begins to emerge - one which leaves many at the school culpable. As the pressure to bury the case builds and the high jinks of her colleagues take a more sinister turn, Lucia begins to realize that she has more in common with Samuel Szajkowski than she could have imagined. And she is determined to tell the truth about what really happened, whatever the consequences.