Sunday, 11 December 2011

Book of the Week - Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory

Michel Houellebecq is a controversial writer, but one who is unlikely to be forgotten and who is capable of greatness. He was born on the French island of Reunion, but lived in Ireland for many years and is currently based in Spain. The Map and the Territory is his fifth novel, although he has published a number of volumes of poetry and non-fiction in addition. It was published in France in 2010 and was well received, winning the Prix Goncourt.

In typical Houellebecq fashion, it was not without controversy, in this case because he used a number of passages taken directly from the French version of Wikipedia without acknowledging these. In tribute, therefore, let me quote directly the Wikipedia plot summary: “The novel tells the story of the life and art of Jed Martin, a fictional French artist who becomes famous by photographing Michelin maps and painting scenes about professional activities. His father is slowly entering old age. Jed falls for a beautiful Russian executive from Michelin but is unable to hang onto this relationship. He becomes extraordinarily successful and therefore suddenly rich. He meets Michel Houellebecq in Ireland in order to ask him to write the text for the catalog of one of his exhibits, and offers to paint the writer's portrait. A few months later Houellebecq is brutally murdered.”

The Map and the Territory was published in the UK simultaneously in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions. The first of the three is the one to go for – I have yet to see signed editions. I strongly suspect I would not like Houellebecq as a person, but he is an important French writer and his views are significant so I am sure that this is worth reading.

“Part thriller, part satire, Houellebecq's prize winning new novel will be a publishing sensation. If Jed Martin, the main character of this novel, was to tell you its story, he would perhaps begin by talking about a boiler breaking down, one 15th December. He would certainly recall Olga, a very pretty Russian he met at the start of his career. At the end of his life he will find a certain serenity, and utter only murmurs. Art, money, love, death, work, and France are some of the themes of this novel, which is resolutely classical and openly modern.”

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Book of the Week - Kevin Barry, City of Bohane

New book releases slow down at this time of year, so I want to highlight a first novel which I picked up a few months ago and which remains available signed for around cost. Kevin Barry is an Irish writer from Limerick. In 2007 he won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for his short story collection There are Little Kingdoms. City of Bohane was his first novel, released in paperback only, a futuristic story set on the west coast of Ireland. It received very good reviews and has been shortlisted for the Costa first novel award. A very good read, once you adapt to the extensive use of slang and dialect, and a good buy.

The once-great city of Bohane on the west coast of Ireland is on its knees, infested by vice and split along tribal lines. There are the posh parts of town, but it is in the slums and backstreets of Smoketown, the tower blocks of the Northside Rises and on the eerie bogs of Big Nothin’ that Bohane really lives. For years, the city has been in the cool grip of Logan Hartnett, the dapper godfather of the Hartnett Fancy gang. But there’s trouble in the air. They say his old nemesis is back in town; his trusted henchman is getting ambitious; and his missus wants him to give it all up and go straight - and then there's his mother. City of Bohane is a unique and visionary novel that blends influence from film and the graphic novel, from Trojan beats and calypso rhythms, from Celtic myth and legend, from fado and the sagas, and from all the great inheritance of Irish literature. A work of mesmerising imagination and vaulting linguistic invention, it is a taste of the startlingly new.