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."