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.”