Sunday, 30 January 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Adam Mars-Jones, Cedilla

Adam Mars-Jones is somewhat of an enigma as a writer.  He was selected by Granta as one of its 20 'Best of British Young Novelists' in both 1983 and 1993, but Cedilla is only his third novel (The Waters of Thirst appeared in 1993, and Pilcrow in 2008).  Cedilla is the second volume of a trilogy, and follows closely on from the end of Pilcrow.  The story is that of John Pilcrow, physically crippled by Still’s Disease but with his mind and determination to live an independent life very much intact.  In Cedilla, he goes to University, travels and becomes independent.  I suspect it would be best to read Pilcrow first, before attempting Cedilla. This is an ambitious work attracting critical praise and it is probably a good time to get aboard the bandwagon.

Mars-Jones was born in London in 1954. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he studied and then taught Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. He was film critic for The Independent between 1986 and 1997 and for The Times between 1998 and 2000. He is an occasional contributor to The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, and a regular reviewer for The Observer.  His fiction includes the collections of short stories, Lantern Lecture (1981), his first book, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; and Monopolies of Loss (1992). The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis (1987) was co-written with Edmund White. Mars-Jones' first novel, The Waters of Thirst, was published in 1993.  Blind Bitter Happiness (1997), a collection of essays, includes 'Venus Envy', originally published as a pamphlet in the CounterBlasts series in 1990. Pilcrow was published in 2008.

“Cedilla continues the history of John Cromer begun by Pilcrow, described by the London Review of Books as "peculiar, original, utterly idiosyncratic" and by the Sunday Times as "truly exhilarating". These huge and sparkling books are particularly surprising coming from a writer of previously (let’s be tactful) modest productivity, who had seemed stubbornly attached to small forms. Now the alleged miniaturist has rumbled into the literary traffic in his monster truck, and seems determined to overtake Proust’s cork-lined limousine while it’s stopped at the lights. John Cromer is the weakest hero in literature -- unless he’s one of the strongest. In Cedilla he launches himself into the wider world of mainstream education, and comes upon deeper joys, subtler setbacks. The tone and texture of the two books is similar, but their emotional worlds are very different. The slow unfolding of themes is perhaps closer to Indian classical music than the Western tradition -- raga/saga, anyone? This isn’t an epic novel as such things are normally understood, to be sure. It contains no physical battles and the bare minimum of travel, yet surely it qualifies. None of the reviews of Pilcrow explicitly compared it to a coral reef made of a billion tiny Crunchie bars, but that was the drift of opinion. Page by page, Cedilla too provides unfailing pleasure. It’s the book you can read between meals without ruining your appetite.”


Lantern Lecture   Faber and Faber, 1981
Mae West is Dead: Recent Lesbian and Gay Fiction   (editor)   Faber and Faber, 1983
The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis   (with Edmund White)   Faber and Faber, 1987
Venus Envy: On Masculinity and its Discontents   (CounterBlasts series)   Chatto & Windus, 1990
Monopolies of Loss   Faber and Faber, 1992
The Waters of Thirst   Faber and Faber, 1993
Blind Bitter Happiness   Chatto & Windus, 1997
Pilcrow   Faber and Faber, 2008
Cedilla Faber and Faber, 2011

Monday, 24 January 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Linda Grant, We had it so good

"We Had it so Good" is Linda Grant's first novel since "The Clothes on Their Backs" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2008. She has a very successful record in literary prizes. There have been some very positive reviews for her new novel, and a simultaneous hardcover and paperback release, presumably with a small print run for the former. In view of this, I think that "We had it so Good" is likely to be both a good read and a good buy.

Grant was born in Liverpool in 1951, the child of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. Her first book, "Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution" was published in 1993. Her first novel, "The Cast Iron Shore", published in 1996, won the David Higham First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. "Remind Me Who I am Again", an account of her mother's decline into dementia and the role that memory plays in creating family history, was published in 1998 and won the MIND/Allen Lane Book of the Year award and the Age Concern Book of the Year award. Her second novel, "When I Lived in Modern Times", set in Tel Aviv in the last years of the British Mandate, published in March 2000, won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly Prize and the Encore Prize. Her novel, "Still Here", published in 2002, was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Her non-fiction work, "The People On The Street: A Writer's View of Israel", published in 2006, won the Lettre Ulysses Prize for Literary Reportage. Her Booker Prize shortlisted novel, "The Clothes On Their Backs", was published in February 2008 and won the South Bank Show award. Her previous book, The Thoughtful Dresser was published in March 2009.

"“In 1968 Stephen Newman arrives in England from California. Sent down from Oxford, he hurriedly marries his English girlfriend Andrea to avoid returning to America and the draft board. Over the next forty years they and their friends build lives of middle-class success until the events of late middle-age and the new century force them to realise that their fortunate generation has always lived in a fool's paradise.”


Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution HarperCollins, 1993. £15-20 in dw; relatively uncommon.

The Cast Iron Shore Picador, 1996. £5-10 in dw.

Remind Me Who I Am, Again Granta, 1998. £5-10 in dw.

When I Lived in Modern Times Granta, 2000. Around £15 in dw.

Still Here Little, Brown, 2002. £10-15 in dw.

The People on the Street: A Writer's View of Israel Virago, 2006. Paperback only – plentiful and cheap, but printings unclear from listings.

The Clothes on their Backs Virago, 2008. £30-50 in dw.

The Thoughtful Dresser Virago, 2009. Paperback only, £25-30.

We had it so good. Virago 2010. Simultaneous hardcover and paperback release.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Book of the Week - Belinda Bauer, Darkside

About this time last year I recommended Blacklands by Belinda Bauer, a first novel (crime fiction) which had some positive reviews. As the year went on, Blacklands went on to accumulate considerable critical acclaim and was awarded the Golden Dagger for the best crime novel of the year. Blacklands’ success was based on strong characterization and an unusual plot angle. I didn’t find it as strong as most reviewers, but it was certainly a worthwhile read and signed first editions currently retail at around £50 from dealers. Bauer’s second novel (Darkside) has just been published, and to follow the success of Blacklands was always going to be a challenge. However, the first reviews are again very positive. Darkside is set in the same village in Exmoor, with some minor characters reappearing, but a mainly new cast. It is a simultaneous paperback and hardcover release – I am not sure of print numbers but a signed hardcover is most likely to hold or gain in value.

“Jonas had always felt the local police held him in warm regard. Now a small dagger of ice had pierced that warmth and everything had changed in an instant.
Shipcott in bleak midwinter: a close-knit community where no stranger goes unnoticed. So when an elderly woman is murdered in her bed, village policeman Jonas Holly is doubly shocked. How could someone have entered, and killed, and left no trace?
Jonas finds himself sidelined as the investigation is snatched away from him by an abrasive senior detective. Is his first murder investigation over before it’s begun?
But this isn’t the end of it for Jonas, because someone in the village blames him for the tragedy. Someone seems to know every move he makes. Someone thinks he’s not doing hisjob. And when the killer claims another vulnerable victim, these taunts turn into sinister threats.
Blinded by rising paranoia, relentless snow and fear for his own invalid wife, Jonas strikes out alone on a mystifying hunt. But the threats don't stop - and neither do the murders . . .”

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Book of the Week - Tessa Hadley, The London Train

The London Train is Tessa Hadley’s fourth novel. Her novels are studies of relationships, well written and reflective, and The London Train falls into this pattern. There two main protagonists, Paul (a writer) and Cora (wife of a senior civil servant), both living in Wales and dealing with the aftermath of parental death and a broken marriage. It has been well reviewed and is the sort of book which might do well in the Orange Prize, or as an outside chance for the Booker. Signed copies should begin to appear later this month.

Hadley lives in Cardiff and teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, her special interests including Jane Austen, Henry James, Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bowen. She reviews regularly for the London Review of Books. She wrote a study of Henry James in 2002 – Henry James and the Imagination of Pleasure – and is the author of three previous novels: Accidents in the Home (2002); Everything Will Be All Right (2003); and The Master Bedroom (2007). Her short stories have been published in The New Yorker and Granta, and a collection, Sunstroke and other stories, was published in 2007.

"Paul lives in the Welsh countryside with his wife Elise, and their two young children. The day after his mother dies he learns that his eldest daughter Pia, who was living with his ex-wife in London, has gone missing. He sets out in search of Pia. But the search for his daughter begins a period of unrest and indecision."

Monday, 3 January 2011

Book of the Week - A.D.Miller, Snowdrops

A new year and a new reading list to be constructed. My first choice this year is a first novel, Snowdrops by A.D.Miller, set in post-communist Russia. Its title comes from a slang word used to describe bodies which appear when the snow thaws in spring. Miller was born in London in 1974 and studied literature at Cambridge and Princeton, where he began his journalistic career writing travel pieces about America. Returning to London, he worked as a television producer before joining The Economist to write about British politics and culture. In 2004 he became The Economist's correspondent in Moscow, travelling widely across Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is currently the magazine's Britain editor.

Snowdrops is Miller's first novel, although he is also the author of the non-fiction The Earl of Petticoat Lane,” a family history about love, friendship, memory, immigration, class, the Blitz and the underwear industry”, published by William Heinemann in 2006. Snowdrops is published in the UK by Atlantic, and rights have been sold in 22 countries, making it a major debut. Initial reviews have been very positive.

Goldsboro Books produced a 250 copy signed, numbered and dated edition as their Book Club offering for December. This is now sold out, but signed firsts of the Trade edition are available at cover price (12.99) if you look around.

“Nick Platt is an English lawyer living in Moscow during the wild Russian oil boom. Riding the subway on a balmy September day, he rescues two willowy sisters, Masha and Katya, from a would-be purse snatcher.

Nick soon begins to feel something for Masha that he is pleased to believe is love. As the snow starts to fall, the sisters introduce him to Tatiana Vladimirovna, their aged aunt and the owner of a valuable apartment. Before summer arrives, Nick will travel down to the sweaty Black Sea and up to the Arctic, and he'll make disturbing discoveries about his job, his lover and, most of all, himself.

Snowdrops is a fast-paced drama that unfolds during a beautiful but lethally cold Russian winter. Ostensibly a story of naive foreigners and cynical natives, the novel becomes something richer and darker: a tale of erotic obsession, self-deception and moral freefall. It is set in a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical hideaways and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets, and corpses, come to light when the snows thaw.”