Monday, 31 October 2011

Book of the Week and UK Bibliography - William Ryan, The Bloody Meadow

I like to support Irish authors were possible, and this week's choice is The Bloody Meadow, the second novel by William Ryan to feature Aleksei Korolev, a detective Working for the Moscow Criminal Investigation Division in 1930s Russia. It follows on from The Holy Thief which was very well reviewed and shortlisted for a number of crime fiction awards. The Bloody Meadow could be read as a stand-alone novel, but I would recommend that a reader starts with The Holy Thief, as it provided some of Korolev's background; he continues to grow as a character through the second novel. The books are supported by a very fine website.

I think I can claim Ryan as Irish, for though some interviews indicate that he was born in London both of his parents are from Limerick – his father was an artist and poet, his mother an architect. His parents separated, and though he grew up in Limerick, he spent a lot of time in London, California and Saudi Arabia. He went to St Gerard’s in Bray and Glenstal Abbey in Limerick, then “stumbled” into law at Trinity College. When he graduated, he did what many self-respecting young Irish job-seekers did in the 1980s – he bought a one-way ticket to London, where he quickly found gainful employment, not as a barman or a brickie, but as a barrister. Now he is a full-time writer.

Both of his books have been set in Stalin’s Russia, and display a strong knowledge of the historical period and the ability to convey the atmosphere of living in an oppressive society. Having read both, I think that they are distinctly superior examples of detective fiction and that Ryan is a writer with considerable promise. If you look around, signed copies of both can be picked up at close to cost and represent a very good investment as well as a good read.


The Holy Thief, MacMillan, 2010
The Bloody Meadowm, MacMillan, 2011

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Who will win the Man Booker Prize 2011?

The winner of the Man Booker Prize will be announced this week on 18th October.  There is some controversy around the prize most years.  Inevitably, when a panel of judges attempt to select the literary novel of the year many readers are likely to disagree with their choice.  This year’s panel (chaired by Stella Rimington, former MI5 chief) have mainly been criticized for being too populist.  The shortlist they have chosen certainly includes books which in previous years would have been unlikely choices (the first Western to be shortlisted in the history of the prize, and a post-communist Moscow thriller).  The panel have indicated that they place a high value on readability and probably less value on the traditional indicators of literary excellence – whether or not you agree with this is likely to depend on your personal perspective.  In the last week a proposal has emerged for a new prize (The Literature Prize) to uphold more traditional values.  This appears to have the support of a number of prominent authors and it will be interesting to see what comes from it.

So what about this year’s shortlist?  I suspect that the winner will come from The Sense of an Ending, Pigeon English or Jamrach’s Menagerie, and I would rank the likelihood in that order.  If any of the other shortlisted books win it really would be a surprise.  However, as usual we will see on Tuesday night...

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Book of the Week and UK Bibliography - Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”

Three novels in 18 years is not a prolific literary output but if quality matters more than quantity (as it surely does) then Jeffrey Eugenides is an important author. He was born in Detroit in 1960, and is of Greek and Irish descent. The Marriage Plot is his first novel since Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, but to many people his previous novel (The Virgin Suicides, 1993) will be more familiar as a result of the Sofia Coppola film of the same name. He has also published a number of short stories and edited an anthology of love stories (My Mistresses Sparrow is Dead).

The Marriage Plot is published in the UK as a hardcover by Fourth Estate – I expect a large print run and little long term collectible value, unless you can find a signed copy*. But books are for reading.....

*I have now discovered that there are 2000 first editions signed on a tipped in sheet.  So even signed firsts are unlikely to hold much financial value.  Firsts signed on the title page without the tipped in sheet will be preferred, but in these circumstances added value is likely to be small.

“It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead – charismatic loner and college Darwinist – suddenly turns up in a seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus – who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange – resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they have learned. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.”

UK Bibliography

The Virgin Suicides, Bloomsbury, 1993, £50-75.
Middlesex, Bloomsbury, 2002. £10-15.
My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead, 2008. Harper London,£10-15 in decorated boards.
The Marriage Contract, 4th Estate, 2011, cover price.

Haruki Murakami - 1Q84: Foyles' limited editions

The release of Murakami's 1Q84 will be the highlight of  the autumn in the world of literary fiction.   A number of bookshops are planning late night openings so that the cognoscenti can get their hands on a copy at the magic hour of midnight, or at least a copy of the first two volumes (combined in one for the UK and US release). A bit like the Harry Potter days, but with a much more refined (and shorter) queue I would imagine.  The third volume will be released one week later.

There should be a very large print run given Murakami's prominence and the anticipation and publicity for this book.  I have highlighted the high end perspex-boxed limited edition previously.  Originally this was intended for release to the UK market only, but it has now been made available world wide and demand considerably exceeds supply (surprising given its price, but indicating the strength of interest in Murakami among serious collectors).

Now Foyles bookshop in London have announced the release of a more affordable limited edition (perhaps more accurately described as a variant of the standard UK edition available from Harvill).  This is identical to the hardcover trade edition, but with red edges, and numbers are limited to 1500 copies.  It is not signed by Murakami.  True completists will need to seek a copy of  this variant out - it is available now from the Foyles' website.  You can also read the first chapter of 1Q84 there, and enter a short story competition inspired by a line from the book.