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.