Monday, 29 March 2010

Book of the Week - Emily Mackie, And this is True

A first novel this week, which has attracted quite a bit of press interest and a very positive review in The Guardian. My copy is ordered.....

Emily Mackie was born in Winchester in 1983 and grew up in the Highlands of Scotland where "And this is true" is set. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa Universi ty in 2007 and now lives in Bristol, where she is working on her second novel.

'I kissed my father once, when he was sleeping.' Nevis Gow is fifteen. For eleven years he has lived in a van with his father Marshall, travelling the country. They don't need people or school or jobs. All they need is each other. But Nevis doesn't just love his father, he's in love with him too. Until one day Marshall crashes the van and everything changes. Stranded on a remote Highland farm amid a family overshadowed by grief, Marshall tries to steer them back to normality while Nevis fights to keep things the way they were. Soon, though, he comes to realise that nothing about his lost life in the van was quite as it seemed. In Nevis's meticulously detailed record of events, lines blur between love and obsession, reality and wish-fulfilment, dreams and memory. Shocking, funny and poignant, this is the first novel by a young writer of remarkable talent. Publisher and industry reviews : 'Emily Mackie's wonderful novel is a rare thing, delicate and dangerous at the same time. The plot is raw and shocking, the slow reveal is strikingly accomplished, the detail of the writing is fine and funny and precise'

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Man Booker Prize - the missing year shortlist

I previously explained the background to the Man Booker Prize missing year. The judges have now announced the shortlisted books, so it is over to the public to decide the winner, and you can cast your vote here. At this point, I have to confess that I have not read any of these books (I'm too young!) and know very little about them. The deadline for the votes to be cast is 23rd April, which doesn't give me enough time to read all six, so I think I will leave the voting to those with more time on their hands.

From the perspective of a collector, the one which cause most problems is Troubles by J.G.Farrell, whose early books are uncommon. The one online copy which I found appears to have sold very quickly at £250 (from a high end dealer), and copies are now not available. A very good copy along with a similar copy of The Siege of Krishnapur by the same author failed to sell at auction in 2004 with a reserve of around £60. Booker Prize completists will undoubtedly be looking at the moment, and patience will be required. Should this book win the public vote, demand may persist. Of the others, The Bay at Noon and The Birds on the Trees also seems relatively uncommon at present.

  • Nina Bawden: The Birds on the Trees (Longman, London, 1970)
  • J G Farrell: Troubles (Cape, London, 1970)
  • Shirley Hazzard: The Bay of Noon (Macmillan, London, 1970)
  • Patrick White: The Vivisector (Cape, London, 1970)
  • Mary Renault: Fire from Heaven (Longman, London, 1970)
  • Muriel Spark: The Driver’s Seat (Macmillan, London, 1970)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love

The Memory of Love is a second novel by Aminatta Forna, who was born in Glasgow, raised in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom and now divides her time between London and Sierra Leone. She worked as a journalist for BBC Television (1989-99) and is now a full-time writer. She came to prominence following the publication of The Devil that Danced on Water in 2002, a memoir of her dissident father, who was executed in Sierra Leone. It was runner up for Britain's most prestigious non-fiction award, the Samuel Johnson Prize, in 2003, and was serialised on BBC Radio. Her first novel, Ancestor Stone,s was a New York Times Editor's Choice book, selected by the Washington Post as one of the Best Novels of 2006 and one of The Listener Magazine's Best 10 Books of 2006. In 2007 Aminatta was named by Vanity Fair as one of Africa's most promising new writers and her work has been translated into nine languages. The Memory of Love will be published in early April. Early reviews are very positive and signed copies can currently be ordered at cover price.

“In an African city, an elderly and unwell man, Elias Cole, a former lecturer now living alone with his manservant, Babagaleh, reflects on his past. Carefully recorded in a series of now-frayed notebooks are memories of youth in England, the details of an obsession: Saffia, a woman he loved, and Julius, her charismatic, unpredictable husband, a colleague of Elias' at the university. Adrian Lockheart is a psychologist new to this foreign land, struggling with the intensity of the heat, dirt and dust of a country with which he has only tenuous connection. He is here to help, but frustrated by his inability to do so - until an encounter with a local woman suffering some unidentifiable form of madness gives him purpose. These two men are brought together by a letter from Elias to Adrian requesting his professional services. The relationship which develops between them explores the full extent of Elias' involvement with Saffia and Julius, and some unsettling truths which Adrian himself must address. A stunning novel about understanding our pasts and an examination of the very nature of obsessive love.”


Mother of all Myths, HarperCollins, London, 1998
The Devil that Danced on Water, HarperCollins, London, 2002
Ancestor Stones, Bloomsbury, London, 2006
The Memory of Love, Bloomsbury, London, 2010

Saturday, 20 March 2010


Oxfam have just released a limited edition of their Ox-Tales books which originally appeared in 2009. Thirty eight authors each contributed a short story themed on one of the four alchemical elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These roughly correspond with the four main areas of Oxfam’s work: from land rights to farming (earth), combating climate change (air); campaigning for arms control (fire); and safe water and sanitation (water. ) Four paperbacks were published last year (and are still available), but the authors all agreed to sign a limited edition box set of the four Ox-Tales books. This has been produced in a run of 200 numbered copies (150 for sale). The edition is printed on fine art paper, bound in cloth and board covers, and with the four books housed together in a special solander box. Not cheap, but the money all goes to support the work of Oxfam.

Every box set has been individually signed by each of the following authors: Diran Adebayo, Kate Atkinson, Beryl Bainbridge, William Boyd, Jonathan Buckley, Jonathan Coe, Geoff Dyer, Michel Faber, Sebastian Faulks, Helen Fielding, Giles Foden, Esther Freud, Xialou Guo, Mark Haddon, Zoë Heller, Victoria Hislop, A.L. Kennedy, Hari Kunzru, Hanif Kureishi, John le Carré, Marti Leimbach, Marina Lewycka, Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Morpurgo, David Park, DBC Pierre, Ian Rankin, Vikram Seth, Nicholas Shakespeare, Kamila Shamsie, Lionel Shriver, Helen Simpson, Ali Smith, William Sutcliffe, Rose Tremain, Joanna Trollope, Louise Welsh, and Jeanette Winterson.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Orange Prize longlist, 2010

This is the 15th anniversary of the Orange Prize, and the longlist was announced today. It includes quite a few books I have chosen over the last year as my book of the week (ten out of the twenty on the list (!), highlighted below), so it will be interesting to see how well they do. The shortlist will be announced on 20 April. I have collected the shortlist from the first year, and have managed to get around 80% of them signed, the main problem being that a significant proportion have only been published in paperback in the UK. At some stage I will provide a bibliography!

Rosie Alison, The Very Thought of You, Alma Books
Eleanor Catton, The Rehearsal, Granta
Clare Clark, Savage Lands, Harvill Secker
Amanda Craig, Hearts and Minds, Little Brown
Roopa Farooki, The Way Things Look to Me, Pan Books
Rebecca Gowers, The Twisted Heart, Canongate
M.J. Hyland, This is How, Canongate
Sadie Jones, Small Wars, Chatto & Windus
Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna, Faber and Faber
Laila Lalami, Secret Son, Viking
Andrea Levy, The Long Song, Headline Review
Attica Locke, Black Water Rising, Serpent’s Tail
Maria McCann, The Wilding, Faber and Faber
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, Fourth Estate
Nadifa Mohamed, Black Mamba Boy, HarperCollins
Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs, Faber and Faber
Monique Roffey, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, Simon and Schuster
Amy Sackville, The Still Point, Portobello Books
Kathryn Stockett, The Help, Fig Tree
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger, Virago

Monday, 15 March 2010

Book of the Week - Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies was released several weeks ago, but is worth highlighting as an outsider for this year's literary awards. It is a second novel by Paul Murray, and presented in the unusual format of three paperbacks in a slipcase. Paul Murray was born in 1975. He studied English literature at Trinity College in Dublin. He has a Masters degree in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Paul was a former bookseller and his first novel, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 2003 and was nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award.

Skippy Dies is a comedy about the death of a schoolboy in unusual circumstances. Some reviewers have likened it to A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, which I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of years ago. Expect a large book, with lots of dreadful puns, strange events and a serious subtext. (French teacher Father Green is popularly known by the translation Père Vert; supply teacher Aurelie McIntyre, rejecting the lustful advances of colleagues, is “not-to-be-taken Aurelie”). You have been warned....

“Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel 'Skippy' Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the Frisbee-playing Siren from the girls' school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest - including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. While his teachers battle over modernisation, and Ruprecht attempts to open a portal into a parallel universe, Skippy, in the name of love, is heading for a showdown - in the form of a fatal doughnut-eating race that only one person will survive. This unlikely tragedy will explode Seabrook's century-old complacency and bring all kinds of secrets into the light, until teachers and pupils alike discover that the fragile lines dividing past from present, love from betrayal - and even life from death - have become almost impossible to read.”

Monday, 8 March 2010

Book of the Week - Ian McEwan, Solar

I am not usually a big fan of Ian McEwan. Indeed, I have found some of his novels (Saturday, for instance), fairly irritating. Nonetheless, the release of one of his books is a significant literary event in the UK, and he almost invariably is a candidate for the Booker Prize. Initial reviews of Solar are very promising. It tackles a topical subject (climate change) along with the world of science and human relationships and greed more generally. In addition to the normal hardback edition, a signed imited edition from Waterstones is promised. I would prefer a signed copy of the former, but will provide further details of the latter when available.

"Michael Beard is a Nobel prize-winning physicist whose best work is behind him. Trading on his reputation, he speaks for enormous fees, lends his name to the letterheads of renowned scientific institutions and half-heartedly heads a government-backed initiative tackling global warming. A compulsive womaniser, Beard finds his fifth marriage floundering. But this time it is different: she is having the affair, and he is still in love with her. When Beard's professional and personal worlds collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career and save the world from environmental disaster. Ranging from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico, "Solar" is a serious and darkly satirical novel, showing human frailty struggling with the most pressing and complex problem of our time. A story of one man's greed and self-deception, it is a profound and stylish new work from one of the world's great writers."