Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Book of the Week - James Robertson, And the Land Lay Still

"And The Land Lay Still" is the fourth novel of James Robertson. Robertson is a Scots writer, and all of his books are grounded strongly in Scottish life and culture. He is the author of three previous novels, The Fanatic, Joseph Knight and The Testament of Gideon Mack. Joseph Knight was awarded the two major Scottish literary awards in 2003/4 – the Saltire Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year – and The Testament of Gideon Mack was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, picked by Richard and Judy's Book Club, and shortlisted for the Saltire Book of the Year award. The other side of Robertson's career for the last decade has been Itchy Coo, a publisher of children's books in the Scots language. Initially funded by the Scottish Arts Council, Itchy Coo has proved to be a popular enterprise. Robertson's interest in and use of Scots is also featured heavily in his poetry and prose, and notably in his first two novels, which blend modern English with Scots. Politically, Robertson has generally been viewed as a supporter of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and was involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the 1980s. "And the Land Lay Still" is a large book, and takes a broad overview of Scottish life in the last century. Reviewers have highlighted it as a potentially important novel, though only time will tell. However, if you can find a signed copy at around cover price it is well worth picking up.

“Michael Pendreich is curating an exhibition of photographs by his late, celebrated father Angus for the National Gallery of Photography in Edinburgh. The show will cover fifty years of Scottish life but, as he arranges the images and writes his catalogue essay, what story is Michael really trying to tell: his father's, his own or that of Scotland itself? And what of the stories of the individuals captured by Angus Pendreich's lens over all those decades? The homeless wanderer collecting pebbles; the Second World War veteran and the Asian shopkeeper, fighting to make better lives for their families; the Conservative MP with a secret passion, and his drop-out sister, vengeful against class privilege; the alcoholic intelligence officer betrayed on all sides, not least by his own inadequacy; the activists fighting for Scottish Home Rule – all have their own tales to tell. Tracing the intertwined lives of an unforgettable cast of characters, James Robertson's new novel is a searching journey into the heart of a country of high hopes and unfulfilled dreams, private compromises and hidden agendas. Brilliantly blending the personal and the political, And The Land Stay Still sweeps away the dust and grime of the postwar years to reveal a rich mosaic of 20th-century Scottish life.”

Monday, 18 October 2010

Book of the Week - Rebecca Hunt, Mr Chartwell

My choice for a book of the week is an interesting first novel with elements of magical realism, dealing with the nature of depression. The author, Rebecca Hunt, was given a substantial two book deal by Penguin Fig Tree, and her first novel has been launched on the back of a considerable publicity campaign. It has been widely reviewed, generally favourably, and has already been long listed for the Guardian first book award. Signed copies at £12.99 seem very good value.

"It's July, 1964. In bed at home in Kent, Winston Churchill is waking up. There's a visitor in the room, someone he hasn't seen for a while, a dark, mute bulk, watching him with tortured concentration. It's Mr. Chartwell. In her terraced house in Battersea, Esther Hammerhans, young, vulnerable and alone, goes to answer the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette the size of a mattress. It's Mr. Chartwell. He is charismatic and dangerously seductive, and Esther and Winston Churchill are drawn together by his dark influence. But can they withstand Mr. Chartwell's strange, powerful charms and strong hold? Can they even explain to anyone who or what he is? Or why he has come to visit? For Mr. Chartwell is a huge, black dog. In this utterly original, moving, funny and exuberant novel, Rebecca Hunt explores how two unlikely lives collide as Mr. Chartwell's motives are revealed to be far darker and deeper than they seem."

Monday, 11 October 2010

Book of the Week - Claire Keegan, Foster

Foster is a first novella from Claire Keegan, an accomplished writer of short stories.  If she can successfully make the transition to writing full length novels in the future, this may prove to be a very collectable book. Keegan was born in 1968 and grew up on a farm in Wicklow, the youngest of a large Catholic family. She travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana when she was seventeen and studied English and Political Science at Loyola University. She returned to Ireland in 1992. She started writing in 1994 and lived for a year in Cardiff, taking an MA in Creative Writing and teaching undergraduates for a year at the University of Wales. Her first collection of short stories, Antarctica, was completed in 1998 and was awarded the Rooney Prize for Literature. Her second short story collection, Walk the Blue Fields, was published in 2007 and won her the 2008 Edge Hill Prize for Short Stories. She currently lives in County Louth, Ireland.

Unusually for a novella, Foster has attracted very positive reviews from a number of the major broadsheets. It is published both in hardcover and paperback, with the print run of the former likely to be fairly modest. In addition, there is an edition of 90 copies signed by the author in yellow cloth boards, contained in a grey cloth covered slipcase.

"A small girl is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in rural Ireland, without knowing when she will return home. In the strangers’ house, she finds a warmth and affection she has not known before and slowly begins to blossom in their care. And then a secret is revealed and suddenly, she realizes how fragile her idyll is. Winner of the Davy Byrnes Memorial Prize, Foster is now published in a revised and expanded version. Beautiful, sad and eerie, it is a story of astonishing emotional depth, showcasing Claire Keegan’s great accomplishment and talent."

Monday, 4 October 2010

Book of the Week - Anjali Joseph, Saraswati Park

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that I am interested in modern Indian fiction. There are a significant number of very fine young Indian authors, particularly writing literary fiction. Saraswati Park is the first published novel of Anjali Joseph, who was born in Bombay in 1978. She read English at Trinity College, Cambridge, and has taught English at the Sorbonne. More recently she has written for the Times of India in Bombay and been a Commissioning Editor for ELLE (India. Recently, and before the publication of this novel, The Daily Telegraph featured her in 2010's Top 20 novelists under 40. Reviews of the book are just beginning to appear, but seem strong, and it certainly sounds like a book which I will enjoy. I have yet to see signed first editions available in the UK, but will be watching out for them. In the meantime, if any of my readers are aware of signed copies then please send me an e-mail!