Sunday, 29 May 2011

Book of the Week - Ali Smith, There But For The

Ali Smith is one of my favourite writers – intelligent, funny and usually with a slightly quirky or experimental approach in her books. “There but for the” is her most recent novel – it is divided into four sections (There, But, For, The), but is a unified whole. Smith has a good track record in the Literary Prizes and I have always enjoyed her work, so I am looking forward to this one very much. There will be hardcover and paperback releases, which tends to mean a relatively modest print run for the former.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962. Her first book, Free Love and Other Stories (1995), won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award and a Scottish Arts Council Award. Her first novel, Like, was published to critical acclaim in 1997. A second collection of short stories, Other Stories and Other Stories, was published in 1999. Her second novel, Hotel World (2001), won the Encore Award, a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and the inaugural Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award. It was also shortlisted for both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Booker Prize for Fiction. Set during the course of one night, the narrative follows the adventures of five different characters, one of whom is the ghost of a chambermaid killed in a bizarre accident. Her most recent collection of short stories is The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003). In 2004, her novel, The Accidental (2004), was published, and won the 2005 Whitbread Novel Award. Girl Meets Boy (2007) was published in 2007. She has also published a play, The Seer (2006), and her most recent collection of short stories is The First Person and Other Stories (2008). The Book Lover (2008) is a personal anthology of favourite pieces of writing gathered over the course of her life.

“Imagine you give a dinner party and a friend of a friend brings a stranger to your house as his guest. He seems pleasant enough. Imagine that this stranger goes upstairs halfway through the dinner party and locks himself in one of your bedrooms and won't come out. Imagine you can't move him for days, weeks, months. If ever. This is what Miles does, in a chichi house in the historic borough of Greenwich, in the year 2009–10, in There but for the. Who is Miles, then? And what does it mean, exactly, to live with other people?

Sharply satirical and sharply compassionate, with an eye to the meanings of the smallest of words and the slightest of resonances, There but for the fuses disparate perspectives in a crucially communal expression of identity and explores our very human attempts to navigate between despair and hope, enormity and intimacy, cliché and grace. Ali Smith's dazzling new novel is a funny, moving book about time, memory, thought, presence, quietness in a noisy time, and the importance of hearing ourselves think.”

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Book of the Week - Chris Morgan Jones, An Agent of Deceit

Anyone who follows this blog will know that while my preference is for literary fiction, I occasionally dip into other genres for a little variety. An Agent of Deceit is probably best described as a thriller, and is a first novel by Chris Morgan Jones. Jones was born in Aberystwyth, and for eleven years worked for the world's largest business intelligence agency (Kroll). During his time there he specialised in dispute work, helping clients win legal battles and corporate contests, and in reputation work, gathering information about their competitors and acquisition targets. He has worked for Middle Eastern governments, Russian oligarchs, New York banks, London hedge funds and African mining companies, but in particular had an interest in Russia. The experience he accumulated in his work has undoubtedly contributed to the realistic feeling of this book. It is well written, with a good plot, and has received favourable reviews. There is a 500 copy signed and numbered edition from Goldsboro Books which is the one to go for from a collector’s persepctive.

“Ten years ago, journalist Ben Webster had his investigation into a corrupt Russian business in Kazakhstan crushed, the cost of his scrutiny a terrible tragedy. Now employed by a private London intelligence agency, Webster’s interest is piqued when a client asks him to expose the dealings of shadowy Russian oligarch Konstantin Malin. Before long Webster finds himself fixated by Malin and by his front man Richard Boot. But how far is he willing to risk the wellbeing of his family? And that of Boot himself? Meanwhile Boot finds himself under pressure to explain to the world how he – a simple lawyer – came to be one of Russia’s largest investors. And when one of Malin’s former protégées is found dead after meeting with Webster, begins to realise that he too may be at risk. Desperate to seek a haven with the wife he lost years before, Boot realises that he must now take action – but his options are fast running out.”

Friday, 13 May 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Edward St. Aubyn, At Last

The book of the moment in the world of literary fiction seems to be At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn, the fifth in a series which began in 1992 and features the character Patrick Melrose. The previous volume in the series, Mother's Milk, was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2006 and At Last may well be in the running again this year. Reviews have been universally positive; signed copies are just beginning to appear and I will certainly be picking one up.

Edward St Aubyn was born in 1960, and was educated at Westminster School and Oxford University. In some respects, his life has been very privileged. He is a cousin of Lord St Levan, whose home is St Michael's Mount, and he is godfather to Earl Spencer's son, Louis. However, as a child, he was raped by his father, and at 16, he was a heroin addict. He began taking drugs while he was at Westminster, a habit he continued at Oxford (best friend: Will Self). He turned up for his finals immaculately attired, but with heroin secreted about his person and the empty tube of a Bic biro through which to snort it.

At 28, St Aubyn decided that he would kill himself if he did not finish writing a novel. He initially wrote a semi-autobiographical trilogy: Never Mind (1992), winner of a Betty Trask Award; Bad News (1992); and Some Hope (1994), subsequently published together under the name of the last volume, Some Hope (2006). Mother's Milk (2006) is a loose sequel to the trilogy, also featuring Patrick Melrose, and was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In addition, he is also the author of On the Edge (1998), shortlisted for the 1998 Guardian Fiction Prize; and A Clue to the Exit (2000), about a hack screenwriter given six months to live.

"For Patrick Melrose, ‘family’ is more than a double-edged sword. As friends, relations and foes trickle in to pay final respects to his mother, Eleanor – an heiress who forsook the grandeur of her upbringing for ‘good works’, freely bestowed upon everyone but her own child – Patrick finds that his transition to orphanhood isn’t necessarily the liberation he had so long imagined.
Yet as the service ends and the family gather for a final party, as conversations are overheard, danced around and concertedly avoided, amidst the social niceties and the social horrors, the calms and the rapids, Patrick begins to sense a new current. And at the end of the day, alone in his rooftop bedsit, it seems to promise some form of safety, at last.
One of the most powerful reflections on pain and acceptance, and the treacheries of family, ever written, At Last is the brilliant culmination of the Melrose books. It is a masterpiece of glittering dark comedy and profound emotional truth."


Never Mind Heinemann, 1992
Bad News Heinemann, 1992
Some Hope Heinemann, 1994
On the Edge Heinemann, 1998
The Patrick Melrose Trilogy (contents: 'Never Mind'; 'Bad News'; 'Some Hope') Vintage, 1998
A Clue to the Exit Chatto & Windus, 2000
Mother's Milk Picador, 2006
At Last Picador, 2011.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz

The Forgotten Waltz is a novel chronicling an affair in Dublin, set against the background of the peak of the Irish economy and its subsequent crash. It is Enright’s first novel since The Gathering won the Booker Prize in 2007. The urban affluent setting is somewhat of a departure for Enright, but the themes of the novel will be familiar to those who know her work – many of her books and stories deal with family relationships, love and sex, Ireland's difficult past and its modern zeitgeist.

Anne Enright was born in Dublin in 1962, studied English and Philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin, and went on to study for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Enright was a television producer and director for RTÉ in Dublin for six years, producing the programme Nighthawks for four years. She then worked in children's programming for two years and wrote at the weekends. The Portable Virgin, a collection of her short stories, was published in 1991, and won the 1991 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Enright began writing full-time in 1993.

Enright's novels are The Wig My Father Wore (1995), shortlisted for the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Irish Literature Prize; What Are You Like? about twins separated at birth who meet when they are 25, winner of the 2001 Encore Award and shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Novel Award; The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002); and The Gathering (2007) about a large Irish family gathering for the funeral of a wayward brother. The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. She has also published a book of humorous essays, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (2004). She lives in Ireland.

The Forgotten Waltz has just been published as a hard cover by Jonathan Cape, and reviews are strong. A 100 copy signed and numbered limited edition is due, quarter bound in leather and in a slipcase or box. I will update with details when confirmed.

"The Forgotten Waltz is a memory of desire: a recollection of the bewildering speed of attraction, the irreparable slip into longing. In Terenure, a pleasant suburb of Dublin, in the winter of 2009, it has snowed. Gina Moynihan, girl about town, recalls the trail of lust and happenstance that brought her to fall for ‘the love of her life’, Seán Vallely. As the city outside comes to a halt, Gina remembers the days of their affair in one hotel room or another: long afternoons made blank by bliss and denial. Now, as the silent streets and the stillness and vertigo of the falling snow make the day luminous and full of possibility, Gina waits the arrival on her doorstep of Seán’s fragile, twelve-year-old daughter, Evie – the complication, and gravity, of this second life.

In this extraordinary novel, this opening book of secrets, Anne Enright speaks directly to the readers she won with the success of The Gathering. Here, again, is the sudden, momentous drama of everyday life, the volatile connections between people; that fresh eye for each flinch and gesture; the wry, accurate take on families, marriage, brittle middle age. The same verve and humour and breathtaking control are evident; the ability to merge the ordinary and the beautiful. With The Forgotten Waltz Enright turns her attention fully to love – you might even call it romance – as she follows another flawed and unforgettable heroine on a journey of the heart. Writing at the height of her powers, this is Anne Enright’s tour de force, a novel of intelligence, passion and real distinction."


• The Portable Virgin (1991) – Secker and Warburg hardcover £100-150
• The Wig My Father Wore (1995) – Jonathan Cape hardcover £10-15
• What Are You Like? (2000) – Jonathan Cape paperback £10-15
• The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002) – Jonathan Cape hardcover £25-30
• Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (2004) – Jonathan Cape hardcover. Rather uncommon but can be found at £10-15
• The Gathering (2007) – Jonathan Cape hardcover £50-60
• Taking Pictures (2008) - Jonathan Cape hardcover £10-15 (Published in US as Yesterday's Weather (2009), with slight differences)
• The Forgotten Waltz (2011) – Jonathan Cape hardcover £16.99