Sunday, 28 August 2011

Book of the Week - Belinda McKeon, Solace

Solace is a first novel from Irish author Belinda McKeon. She was born in 1979 and grew up on a farm in Co. Longford. She studied English and Philosophy in Dublin, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York and in Ireland. Her writing has been published in a number of literary journals including The Paris Review, The Dublin Review and Irish Pages, and has been included in a couple of anthologies (Fishamble Firsts: New Playwrights (New Island, 2008) and The News from Dublin: New Irish Stories (Faber, 2011)).

Solace was published in the US by Scribner earlier this year, but the UK edition has just been published by Picador. It has been named a Kirkus Outstanding Debut of 2011 and has been nominated for the Newton First Book Award. Reviews are positive – I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but will review elsewhere when I get a chance. There is a genre of Irish literary fiction typified by Colm Toibin and John Banville into which Solace seems to fit and which I enjoy very much. It is much too early to say whether McKeown will have a successful future, but I think this is a book well worth picking up at £12.99 (signed).

“Mark Casey has left home, the rural Irish community where his family has farmed the same land for generations. He is a doctoral student in Dublin, a vibrant, contemporary city full of possibility. But to his father, Tom, who needs help baling the hay and ploughing the fields, Mark’s pursuit isn’t work at all, and they are set on a collision course, while Mark’s mother negotiates a fragile peace.
To escape the seemingly endless struggle of completing his thesis, Mark finds himself whiling away his time with pubs and parties. His is a life without focus or responsibility, until he meets Joanne Lynch, a trainee solicitor whom he finds irresistible – and who he later discovers happens to be the daughter of a man who once spectacularly wronged Mark’s father, and whose betrayal Tom has remembered every single day for twenty years.
Joanne too has escaped the life circumscribed by her overbearing father, and she is torn between the opportunities to succeed in this new wealthy Dublin and the moral dilemmas it presents. But for a brief time Mark and Joanne are able to share the chaos and rapture of a love affair, an emotional calm, until the lightning strike of tragedy changes everything.”

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Book of the Week - Ross Raisin, Waterline

Waterline is Ross Raisin’s second novel, after the very well received God’s Own Country. Like its predecessor, it follows the downward spiral of an isolated male figure who becomes dislocated from his usual world. In this case Mick is an ex-shipyard worker from Glasgow whose wife dies from an asbestos related cancer, almost certainly a consequence of Mick’s work. Following her death, he moves to the south of England and drifts into homelessness and alcoholism. The arc of the storyline is downwards, but ultimately it takes an upward turn (perhaps a little unrealistically).

One of the characteristics of God’s Own Country was the use of some fairly dense Yorkshire vernacular – in Waterline this is replaced by the Glaswegian equivalent. Raisin’s strength lies in getting inside the heads of his characters. He clearly has a particular interest in those on the edge of society, and a concern about social divides which is very topical. I think he is a writer to follow. Waterline is published as a paperback only (always a little disappointing) by Viking.

"Mick Little used to be a shipbuilder on the Glasgow yards. But as they closed one after another down the river, the search for work took him and his beloved wife Cathy to Australia, and back again, struggling for a living, longing for home. Thirty years later the yards are nearly all gone and Cathy is dead. And now Mick will have to find a new way to live: to get away, start again, and try to deal with the guilt he feels over her death.

In his devastating new novel Ross Raisin brings vividly to life the story of an ordinary man caught between the loss of a great love and the hard edges of modern existence. Tracing Mick's journey from the Glasgow shipyards to the crowded, sweating kitchens of an airport hotel, to the streets and riversides of London, it is an intensely moving portrait of a life being lived all around us, and a story for our times."

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Book of the Week: Daniel Polansky - The Straight Razor Cure

I thought I would take one of my occasional forays into the world of fantasy fiction this week, an area with a very enthusiastic core of collectors. The Straight Razor Cure is the first book is a projected series by Daniel Polansky set in the fictional world of Low Town, and is a blend of noir crime and science fiction/fantasy. It has received very positive reviews and I a sure will be a good holiday read. I don’t know what the first print run will be, but my guess is that a signed copy has a reasonable chance of proving to be a good investment. The US edition is released under the title Low Town and is available from 16th August, with the UK edition available officially from 18th August, suggesting that the US edition is officially the true first. However, Goldsboro Books have some signed, lined and dated copies which predate the US release. The difference in titles and cover is interesting – the US title seems more neutral, with the UK title and cover giving a more obvious indication of the fairly violent content. Presumably this reflects marketing concerns, although there may be another explanation.

"Welcome to Low Town.

Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.

Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You'd struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.

But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley.

And then another.

With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he's the only man with a hope of finding the killer.

If the killer doesn't find him first."

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending, including limited editions

Julian Barnes is a well established and successful writer, shortlisted on three previous occasions for the Booker Prize. The Sense of an Ending, which has just been released, has already been longlisted for this year’s Prize. It is a short novel (only around 150 pages) which is about the impact of memory (or forgetting) on the chain of events that give us our sense of self. Unlikely to be an easy read, but certain to be thought provoking.

Barnes was born on January 19, 1946 in Leicester and has written numerous novels and other books (details on his very good website). The Booker shortlisted novels were Flaubert's Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005. He has also written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh. Barnes is one of the best-loved English writers in France, where he has won several literary prizes, including the Prix M├ędicis for Flaubert’s Parrot and the Prix Femina for Talking It Over. He is an officer of L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

The Sense of an Ending is published by Jonathan Cape as a hardcover. The London Review Bookshop is offering a signed, limited first edition of The Sense of an Ending, published in association with Jonathan Cape, comprising 100 copies, 75 of which have been quarter-bound in Tusting Chestnut fine grain leather with Rainforest cloth sides, numbered 1 to 75, and 25 copies fully bound in the same leather, numbered i to xxv. All books have head and tail bands, brushed green tops and green Bugra Pastell endpapers, and are housed in suedel-lined slipcases. Edition of 75: £150 (£170 after 4 August). Edition of 25: £260 (£280 after 4 August).

“The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, The Sense of an Ending is laced with Barnes’ trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world's most distinguished writers.

Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian's life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Now Tony is in middle age. He's had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?”