Saturday, 1 September 2012

Review - The Yips, Nicola Barker

I approached The Yips by Nicola Barker with a certain amount of caution. It is a large book (almost 550 pages) from an author with a reputation for experimental writing and from its title seemed to be set around the game of Golf, or to be more precise on a Golfer.  When I finished it, I felt significantly more positive – it was an entertaining read which seemed shorter than its page length, always a good sign.  It has now been long listed for this year’s Booker prize and seems to be one of the favourites to progress onto the shortlist.  Hopefully, this will help to draw it to the attention of a wider readership.

"The Yips" refers to the disabling twitch which some golfers develop when attempting short putts, usually a sign of anxiety or psychological stress. In order to deal with this they will frequently switch from a standard putter to a long “belly putter” in an effort to compensate. The central character of this novel, Stuart Ransom, has such an affliction, although it is one of the least of his many problems.  He has a colourful (and unrealistic) back story, but has become a flamboyant and successful professional golfer, greatly loved by the tabloid press and forever embroiled in one scandal or another. As we meet him, his golfing career seems to be on downward trajectory to disaster.  The development of The Yips is symptomatic of this, but in the context of the novel provides a metaphor for the many other flaws possessed by him and by almost all of the other characters with whom he interacts.

Among these are a man who has had cancer seven times, his wife (a priest given to outbursts of bizarre and erratic behaviour) and the family of a notorious local fascist. On a previous visit to the town, Ransom managed to hit the fascist’s wife on the head with a stray golf ball, leading to an ongoing public feud with her son.  Meanwhile, her daughter has become an agoraphobic recluse, making a living as a hyperrealist tattooist of pubic hair for mainly far Eastern clients.  Mixed in with these eccentrics is an ever-present barmaid with multiple personas, a freethinking Islamic sex therapist and his family and Ransom’s long-suffering entourage.  It is a heady mix which works more successfully than you might expect from my descriptions.

Towards the end of the novel there is a section where two of the characters discuss what life is like.  Mainly consisting of stuff they conclude. All sorts of stuff, piled up fairly randomly and sometimes threatening to fall over, at which point everyone starts to build it up again. To an extent, this sums up Barker’s writing style and in particular the plot development in this novel. But it works - it made me laugh in places and provoked a few ideas and thoughts worth pursuing.  It represents an easier introduction to her work than her previous Booker prize listed novel (Darkmans).  Recommended.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Review - Dark Lies the Island, Kevin Barry

Short stories have a strong place in Irish writing, and many Irish authors of literary fiction have turned their hand to the genre.  Kevin Barry is a very fine addition to the list.  Dark Lies the Island is his second volume in this format and maintains a superb standard throughout, ranging from the touching, romantic and poignant through the humourous to the threatening.  There are hints of an older more traditional Ireland, but the overall tone is very much one of an Ireland overtaken by new values, promulgated by a range of dystopian subcultures. And even where rural Ireland is portrayed, it is a sinister, off-kilter rural Ireland rather than the bucolic ideal of the past.

Barry writes beautifully, and has the knack of being able to portray the essence of a character in a few short sentences or paragraphs.  It is in the nature of the short story that we have to grasp the characters quickly and this is where Dark Lies the Island is particularly successful.  Some of these characters and their experiences will live in my memory even if their names quickly fade  I read this book quickly, but I find that I want to go back immediately to read some of these stories again, to re-experience the emotions which they have stirred.

There are thirteen stories in total, ranging from six pages to just over twenty.  Most are set in Ireland, though a minority deal with the Irish abroad - a Real Ale Club from Liverpool takes a day trip to Llandudno, a young Irish writer spends a summer on the margins of Berlin Society and an IRA cell plan a bombing in Camden. 

Dark lies the Island opens on a wistful note with Across the Rooftops – the story of a kiss which may or may not happen, but in the end doesn’t go quite as planned.  Wifey Redux relates the narrative of a blissful marriage which has gradually deteriorated and the difficulty of a father coming to terms with the sexuality of his daughter – the tone is one of dark humour. Other stories deal with the darker side of human relationships – A Cruelty follows a day in the life of a young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder, while Ernestine and Kit are two elderly ladies with some very bad intentions.

Most of the characters here are inadequate in one way or another.  Barry writes about them with a degree of compassion while not shying away from highlighting their weaknesses and failures.
Overall, I loved this collection for its range and scope.  There is not a bad story here and more than a few great ones which will live long in the memory.  It deserves to be widely read.  Barry is a very talented writer with a very will received novel (City of Bohane) and two excellent collections of short stories who may well become a major figure in Irish Fiction in the years to come.  From the perspective of a collector, it would be worth picking up all of his books now and following him in the future.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Book of the Week - Will Self, Umbrella

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, so there may be a few posts over the next week or so as I catch up with my blog.  First up is Will Self’s Booker longlisted novel, Umbrella.  I haven’t had a chance to read this and I suspect it will be very much an outsider for the prize, but Self is always an interesting writer if an uncompromising one.  I have had the pleasure of meeting him on more than one occasion, and once won a signed book which he offered as a prize (a story for another day).  He likes to parade his extensive vocabulary and loves walking and cycling (on his Brompton fold up bike).  Indeed, I recall him describing how he rode on one Brompton while carrying a second in a bag over his shoulder, something which he described as “bike on bike action”. 

Umbrella has a medical theme – encepahalitis letharigica and the use of L-dopa , and medical matters are something in which Self is interested (and the reason I won the book from him). For years he injected heroin and also took cocaine and amphetamines. He went to Oxford to read PPE, graduating with a third after spending much of his spare time "hanging out" with schizophrenic outpatients from a local hospital. There was a brief period of cold turkey in the 1980s but he continued to use until a spectacular fall from grace in 1997 when he was found snorting heroin on John Major's jet while covering the election campaign for the Guardian.  He now suffers from polycythaemia rubra vera, an uncommon and potentially serious blood disorder. 

 Like many of his books, Umbrella is unlikely to be an easy read.  Let me quote from the Guardian review – “400 pages of unbroken stream-of-consciousness dotted across three time frames, leaping jaggedly between four points of view, and with barely a paragraph break, let alone a chapter heading.”  You have been warned.  The cover also looks very unattractive.

"Recently having abandoned his RD Laing-influenced experiment in running a therapeutic community - the so-called Concept House in Willesden - maverick psychiatrist Zack Busner arrives at Friern Hospital, a vast Victorian mental asylum in North London, under a professional and a marital cloud. He has every intention of avoiding controversy, but then he encounters Audrey Dearth, a working-class girl from Fulham born in 1890 who has been immured in Friern for decades.

A socialist, a feminist and a munitions worker at the Woolwich Arsenal, Audrey fell victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the First World War and, like one of the subjects in Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, has been in a coma ever since. Realising that Audrey is just one of a number of post-encephalitics scattered throughout the asylum, Busner becomes involved in an attempt to bring them back to life - with wholly unforeseen consequences.

Is Audrey's diseased brain in its nightmarish compulsion a microcosm of the technological revolutions of the twentieth century? And if Audrey is ill at all - perhaps her illness is only modernity itself? And what of Audrey's two brothers, Stanley and Albert: at the time she fell ill, Stanley was missing presumed dead on the Western Front, while Albert was in charge of the Arsenal itself, a coming man in the Imperial Civil Service. Now, fifty years later, when Audrey awakes from her pathological swoon, which of the two is it who remains alive?

Radical in its conception, uncompromising in its style, Umbrella is Will Self's most extravagant and imaginative exercise in speculative fiction to date."

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Book of the Week - Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident

The Teleportation Accident is Ned Beauman’s second novel and has just been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In a year when the judges made a point of focussing on a new generation of authors, Beauman seems very much part of that trend.   He is 27 years old and lives in London. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University and is the son of Nicola Beauman, who runs Persephone Books.  

Beauman has a quirky website and an interesting blog.  His  debut novel Boxer, Beetle featured a character with the uncommon and unfortunate metabolic disorder trimethylaminuria, and therefore attracted my professional attention.  It won the UK Writers' Guild Award and the Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize.  When I recommended it back in 2010 it was available at cover price, but now seems to have largely disappeared with the only copy online at £70.   

Both Boxer, Beetle and The Teleportation Accident are comic novels, somewhat chaotic, based on real historical events and characters.  Boxer, Beetle was a very good read and I am looking forward to Teleportation – well worth picking up a signed copy now. It has a very attractive cover too!

"HISTORY HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE HUNGOVER. When you haven't had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone. If you're living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn't. But that's no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can't, just once in a while, get himself laid.From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn't know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can't remember what 'isotope' means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it. LET'S HOPE THE PARTY WAS WORTH IT."

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2012

The longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize has been announced.  Not a particularly good year for me.  Three of the twelve have yet to be published, and one just appeared this week (The Teleportation Accident by Ned Bauman, whose debut novel Boxer Beetle I recommended previously).  Of the remaining eight, I have featured three but missed five.  I will now be trying to catch up on the others before the shortlisting!  Four first time novels feature on the list (Joyce, Moore, Thayil and Thompson).

Brief initial details of the books are given below and I will update if necessary.

The Yips - Nicola Barker – Fourth Estate  Hardcover

The Teleportation Accident - Ned Beauman, Sceptre Hardcover  just released this week

Philida - Andre Brink  - Harvill Secker, presumed Hardcover, Available on September 6

The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng  - Myrmidon Hardcover

Skios - Michael Frayn – Faber Hardcover

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce – Doubleday Hardcover,with limited edition of 500 copies in slipcase

Swimming Home - Deborah Levy – And Other Stories, Paperback only

Bring Up The Bodies - Hilary Mantel – Fourth Estate Hardcover, plus alimited edition of 2000 copies in slipcase

The Lighthouse - Alison Moore – Salt Modern Fiction, paperback only, available 15 August

Umbrella - Will Self – Bloomsbury Hardcover, available 30 August

Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil – Faber and Faber paperback

Communion Town - Sam Thompson – Fourth Estate Hardcover

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Book of the Week - Nicola Barker, The Yips

Nicola Barker is an author who tends to push the boundaries so far as traditional plot and structure are concerned. She writes big books brimming with ideas and intelligent humour, but frequently leaving loose ends and unclear plot elements in her wake. The Yips is in some respects typical of her work - it is a large book full of unrealistic chaos, but with engaging ideas, very funny stories and set pieces, and larger than life characters who you might well hate to meet in real life but who work in the context of this novel.

Don’t expect realism or neat endings; do expect to be challenged while being entertained. This book will not be for everyone, but approach it with an open mind and you may well be entranced. Reviews have reflected the strong opinions which Barker tends to induce – some think it is a near masterpiece and others a mess. It does contain some golf content and is set in Luton, but don't allow that to put you off. The Telegraph describes it as “ A bizarre, bad-taste story of unhappy families”. I'm quite enjoying it, but will withhold final judgement until I have completed it.  Signed copies are available now.

" 2006 is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Tiger Woods' reputation is entirely untarnished and the English Defence League does not exist yet. Storm-clouds of a different kind are gathering above the bar of Luton's less than exclusive Thistle Hotel. Among those caught up in the unfolding drama are a man who's had cancer seven times, a woman priest with an unruly fringe, the troubled family of a notorious local fascist, an interfering barmaid with three E's at A-level but a PhD in bullshit, a free-thinking Muslim sex therapist and his considerably more pious wife. But at the heart of every intrigue and the bottom of every mystery is the repugnantly charismatic Stuart Ransom – a golfer in free-fall."

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Book of the Week - Nikita Lalwani, The Village

The Village is Nikita Lalwani’s second novel. I enjoyed her previous book, Gifted, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007 and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. She also won the Desmond Elliot Prize which to her considerable credit she donated to human rights organisation Liberty. Gifted can still be picked up for close to the original price, and I think is well worth holding on to. The Village has received generally strong reviews and she is definitely an author to watch.  Signed copies are available now if you look round.

“Ray, a young British-Asian woman arrives in the afternoon heat of a small village in India. She has come to live there for several months to make a documentary about the place. For this is no ordinary Indian village - the women collecting water at the well, the men chopping wood in the early morning light have all been found guilty of murder. The village is an open prison. Ray is accompanied by two British colleagues and, as the days pass, they begin to get closer to the lives of the inhabitants of the village. And then it feels too close. As the British visitors become desperate for a story, the distinction between innocence and guilt, between good intentions and horrifying results becomes horribly blurred. Set in a village modelled on a real-life open prison in India, The Village is a gripping story about manipulation and personal morality, about how truly frail our moral judgement can be. Nikita Lalwani has written a dazzling, heartfelt and disturbing novel which delivers on all the promise of her first.”

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Review - Madeleine Miller, The Song of Achilles

Almost all readers have some vague knowledge of the Greek myths.  At one time they would have been a core component of a rounded education, but that era for most people has now gone and for many their awareness will come mainly from films or increasingly from video games.  The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller is a novel which retells part of the Iliad, from the perspective of Patroclus, companion of Achilles.  The Iliad, of course, is a complex story, and many readers are put off by the multitude of characters.  Miller succeeds here by focussing on a narrow (but vital) part of the story, and developing a limited number of characters who take central stage in a way that makes the events very approachable.

The Greek Myths exist in many variants, and one of the challenges facing any modern author is what perspective to take and what variant to follow.  The plot is laid out already, and may be known to some readers, so for a novel to be successful it has to bring freshness to the story telling and to make the characters live again in a new way.  The Song of Achilles works in this regard – while I knew the story in outline, and was aware of what would happen to the main characters, Miller brought it alive and made me empathize with them.

The Song of Achilles follows Patroclus from his early life, through his exile and the start of his friendship with Achilles while they were children.  Through the eyes of Patroclus we see the main events of their lives leading up to the Siege of Troy and their respective deaths.  The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has been portrayed in different ways in different versions of the story, most commonly as a close male friendship (a bromance in contemporary terminology), but in this telling the relationship is unashamedly a sexual one.  Therefore, at one level, The Song of Achilles is simply a love story, and a moving one.

Of course, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is rather more complex than that, and there are other important players in the story.  Thetis, the sea nymph mother of Achilles, is a vital and continuing presence, albeit a mysterious and other worldly one.  But other characters, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Briseis, Chiron, spring to life in a way which makes their actions and motivations seem real and vital.  Some of the set pieces – the scene where the Greek Kings bid for the hand of Helen,  the speech of Achilles when plague has broken out in the Greek camp, the final battle scene leading up to the death of Patroclus – have a real tension, even when the reader knows the outcome in advance.

The Song of Achilles won this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction.  It was a deserving winner – a very engrossing work of literary fiction which is one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review - Every Contact Leaves a Trace, Elanor Dymott

Every Contact Leaves a Trace is Elanor Dymott’s first novel, and is best described as a literary whodoneit. The setting is the University of Oxford. The main characters are students or academic staff, or closely associated with the University. The story is narrated by Richard, now a lawyer in early middle age. At the start of the novel he meets, apparently by accident, Rachel, with whom he has been at University. We know very quickly that the two have a shared past, but the details of their previous relationship are only revealed slowly during the course of the novel.

Very rapidly, Richard and Rachel marry and settle down into what appears to be idyllic married life. Before long has passed, they pay a visit to Oxford to visit an ex-tutor, Harry. After dinner Rachel goes for a walk in the College Garden and is violently killed. The core of the novel is the gradual unravelling by Richard of what may have happened to his wife, and the reasons behind it. Every Contact Leaves a Trace has a small cast of characters. Apart from Richard, Rachel and Harry, only three others play a major role. Anthony and Cassie were the other members of Rachel’s tutorial group at College, and Evie was her stepmother. There are a number of others who play minor roles, but it is this central group of six who provide the key to what has happened.

There seem to be two key themes at play. Firstly, and introduced in the very first paragraph, is the idea of how little we know about other people, even those closest to us. “If you were to ask me to tell you about my wife”, says Richard, “I would have to warn you at the outset that I don’t know a great deal about her.” But it is not just Rachel about whom Richard knows little; the same can be said about many of the other characters. And when they speak about themselves, it is generally to reveal only partial truths or sometimes lies. Even Richard only slowly and partially reveals his deepest truths to others, and to the reader. Linked to this is the idea of the unreliability of memory. Frequently during the novel, Richard recalls previous events or fragments of them which increase his understanding of what is happening in the present. Often such recall is triggered by some chance present event, like the taste of the Madeleine in Remembrance of Things Past or the sound of Norwegian Wood in Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name.

Secondly, is the idea that we need to create a narrative to allow us to make sense of disparate facts, and that until we settle on a narrative we are likely to be uncomfortable with ourselves and others. In Every Contact, some characters weave their narrative to fit the facts (Richard, an analytical lawyer), while others mould the facts to fit their preferred narrative (Harry). Even at the end we are not quite sure if the truth has been revealed.

Overall, I enjoyed Every Contact, but felt that the gradual reveal was overdone. Atmosphere and tension were built reasonably well, but the grief of Richard was overdone, and his gradual recall of key events from his past became a little repetitive. Once, maybe, but several times was too much. The novel could have lost one quarter of its length with some firm editing without losing its impact, and it would probably have gained strength from the process. However, overall a worthwhile read and an author to watch in the future.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Review - Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days

The Last Hundred Days is set in Bucharest just before and during the fall of the Communist regime led by Nicolai Ceausescu. I read it during a recent trip to Romania, as one of the few books I was aware of with a Romanian setting (apart from various vampire novels!). It is the first novel of Patrick McGuinness, poet and Professor of Literature at Oxford University, who lived in Romania in the years leading up to the revolution. A reader can, therefore, assume that the general tone of the novel and its portrayal of the atmosphere in Bucharest at that time is likely to be accurate. One of the problems this creates, however, is  uncertainty about how accurately historical events are portrayed, which characters or real or which are not. This is, after all, a work of fiction, but one that is now likely to provide most of my knowledge about an important series of events in European history.

The narrator and chief protagonist is a young Englishman who has just been appointed to a position in the English Department of a Bucharest University. His appointment appears almost an accident, as he did not have the basic qualifications required and failed to turn up for interview. Almost his first test in his new position is to sign a reference written by someone else for a girl he does not know to visit the UK, and after a few qualms of conscience he acquiesces. This introduction sets the scene for much of what will follow – Romania is portrayed as run by a ruling elite who arbitrarily promote or demote their underlings, a country where merit is likely to be a disadvantage and where the key characteristic required for success is likely to be complete obedience to the whims of the people in charge. The vast majority of the population live in fear and poverty, struggling for the basic necessities required for survival while old Bucharest is destroyed around them and replaced by a shoddy alternative. Nonetheless, the people maintain a bitter sense of humour and a vague hope that better days might be to come.

The narrator quickly falls under the spell of a colleague, Leo O’Heix, a man possibly less interested in lecturing even that him.  Leo who has fallen in love with Bucharest and is running a complex black market in all sorts of luxury goods for the elite. Gradually the narrator becomes involved in Leo’s activities, mixing with both the elite and those struggling on the margins of society, whether in promoting the rumoured revolution or trying simply to survive, and realises that there are very few people he can trust.

Some aspects of The Last Hundred Days are reminiscent of Kafka (The Castle or The Trial), other parts of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Dictator. It is well written ad convincing, and having read it I was left with a sense of understanding this period in Romanian history much better. The characters are convincing, even if some of the events seem a little forced at times. Took a little while to get going, but overall a worthwhile read, though not outstanding.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Book of the Week - John Banville, Ancient Light

I have been travelling a lot over the last few weeks, so my time for the blog has been limited.  I hope to catch up this week since I have a few days off.  John Banville is one of my favourite writers, and his new novel Ancient Light looks well worth picking up.  It is the third book in a lose trilogy featuring Alexander Cleave, who was also in the earlier novels Eclipse and Shroud.  Here Cleave is looking back to a disastrous affair with his best friend's mother 50 years earlier.  Ancient Light can be read as a stand alone novel.  There is a special edition signed by Banville on a separate tipped in leaf, and this would be the one to pick up.

"'Billy Gray was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother.' Alexander Cleave, an actor who thinks his best days are behind him, remembers his first unlikely affair as a teenage boy in a small town in 1950s Ireland: the illicit meetings in a rundown cottage outside town; assignations in the back of his lover's car on sunny mornings and rain-soaked afternoons. And with these early memories comes something sharper and much darker - the more recent recollection of the actor's own daughter's suicide ten years before.
Ancient Light is the story of a life rendered brilliantly vivid: the obsession and selfishness of young love and the terrifying shock of grief. It is a dazzling novel, funny, utterly pleasurable and devastatingly moving in the same moment."

Monday, 25 June 2012

Review - Railsea, China Mieville

Imagine a world in which the ocean has been replaced by a complex system of railway tracks overlying a hostile & mysterious subterranean world, a world where ships are replaced by the trains which ride the tracks & mariners by the train crews.  This is the world of Railsea, the most recent novel by China Mieville, his second novel aimed at young adults, but a book which makes few concessions & which should appeal equally to adult readers. Mieville has won almost every prize going for fantasy/science fiction writing, & there is a reason – his writing stands comparison with the best in any genre.  This is a book which should not be pigeon holed & which deserves a wide readership.

The hero of Railsea is Sham, a young man setting out on his first trip on board the moletrain Medes.  The objective of the trip is to hunt moldywarpes, vicious giant moles which live in the railsea.  The Medes runs under the command of Captain Naphi, an intimidating veteran of the railsea.  Naphi is a well known mole hunter who many years previously lost one of her arms to an albino Great Southern Moldywarpe, whom she has named Mocker Jack.  Her goal in life, (her “philosophy” in the language of the book) has become to kill Mocker Jack, & hence to fulfil what she sees as her purpose. The hunt for Mocker Jack is one of the key elements of Railsea, but there are a number of other plots & subplots. 

Mieville has an extraordinary capacity to conjure up an imaginary world which is a distorted but convincing version of our own, & in doing so to address contemporary & fundamental human issues.  There are rail pirates, trains powered by sails & wind, submariners in tunnelling vehicles & a corrupt navy. The railsea itself is seething with eruchhonous life, a fauna like our fauna but with extra teeth & always surprising.

Railsea is the second novel I have read this year which is clearly inspired in part by Moby Dick (the other having been The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach).  If you are not familiar with Moby Dick (which I guess may be the case for many younger readers) then it does not really matter, but if you are then there is added reading pleasure in looking for &  thinking about the parallels.  Railsea is a rollicking story, but without doubt (as in much of Mieville's writing) there is more serious intent.  The place & role of Philosophy/religion in human life & the impact of Capitalism & market forces on how people live are two obvious themes, but Mieville is also concerned with where his world comes from & what it means to live a happy & fulfilled life.  & there is his usual playful occupation with language.  Railsea joins my shortlist of books with linguistic quirks – in this case the word “and” is replaced throughout by the ampersand, a reminder of the railtracks which curve everywhere.....

Friday, 22 June 2012

Review - The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey is a novel for the mind rather than the heart. I have read nearly all of Carey’s novels, but if you are coming to him for the first time I would probably not recommend The Chemistry of Tears as your starting point, although it is a very fine book. It is engaging, intellectually challenging and thought provoking, but not a book to grab the emotional attention. I think that this is deliberate on Carey’s part – there are several themes at work, and an interesting structure, but this is a book which is the product of deliberate, cold choices, a book which skates over the surface of devastating emotional events and focuses on the ability of the intellect (and science) to manufacture a simulacrum of life as a substitute for confronting and dealing with life head on.

Carey has said that he started this book from a collection of objects and ideas, and worked backwards to see how they could be incorporated into a novel. The automaton silver swan which connects the parallel story lines is clearly one such object and part of the pleasure of reading The Chemistry of Tears is spotting the others. He made several false starts before setting on two main narratives. Catherine is a horologist, an expert on the conservation and reconstruction of clocks and automata working in a London museum. As we encounter her, she has just discovered that the married colleague with whom she has been having a passionate and fulfilling affair for many years has suddenly died. She is devastated; all the moreso because she cannot share her grief with anyone and her life is otherwise an isolated one. However, one senior colleague (Crofty) has been aware of the situation and arranges for Catherine to be moved to an annexe and assigned the reconstruction of a mysterious automaton in order to distract her.

As Catherine begins to assemble the object and unravel its mysteries, she deconstructs and disassembles her affair, deleting the secret emails between herself and her lover one by one from a computer. She is assigned a new assistant, Amanda, gifted but unstable who turns out to be linked to Catherine’s life in unexpected ways.

Alternating with this present day story is the tale of the original construction of the automaton, deep in the Black Forest in the Victorian Era. Henry Brandling, the son of a family who had become wealthy in the Industrial Revolution, has been rejected by his wife and is terrified that his ill son will die. His quest is an attempt to create a magnificent object that will reignite his son’s love of life and his wife’s love for him. In Germany he will encounter a strange and unstable family who will help him in his task, as Amanda is helping Catherine, though again not always in ways that he will appreciate or understand.

In some ways I found this an unsatisfying novel, yet in the couple of weeks since I have read it I have found myself thinking about it at odd times. The lack of stability of many of the characters makes it difficult to warm to them – I did not feel that I got to know them or could understand their actions. Nonetheless, the book is beautifully constructed and clearly has been written in this way deliberately. Many ideas are at work, and the complexity of the novel mirrors the beauty and complexity of the automaton at its core. I may well read it again.  See Carey talking about the novel below....

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Book of the Week - Emily Perkins, The Forrests

The Forrests is Emily Perkins’ fourth novel, a family saga set in New Zealand where she grew up and currently lives, teaching creative writing at The University of Auckland and hosting TV New Zealand’s book programme The Good Word.  Perkins grew up in Auckland and Wellington. She left school to act in the TVNZ drama Open House, and trained at the New Zealand Drama School. However, her acting career did not take off and she subsequently studied creative writing at Victoria University. In 1994 she moved to London, where Picador published her first book in 1996. Her novels Leave Before You Go and The New Girl followed. As well as fiction, book reviews and personal essays she wrote a long-running column for the Independent on Sunday. She returned to New Zealand in 2005 and currently lives in Auckland with her husband, artist Karl Maughan, and their children.

The Forrests may be Perkins’ breakthrough novel and has received very positive notices. I have not seen signed copies of the UK edition yet, but she has been at Hay this week and I would expect these to appear soon.  Paperback only in the UK, with French Folds. Look out for this one on the literary prize lists later in the year.

“Dorothy Forrest is immersed in the sensory world around her; she lives in the flickering moment. From the age of seven, when her odd, disenfranchised family moves from New York City to the wide skies of Auckland, to the very end of her life, this is her great gift and possible misfortune.Through the wilderness of a commune, to falling in love, to early marriage and motherhood, from the glorious anguish of parenting to the loss of everything worked for and the unexpected return of love, Dorothy is swept along by time. Her family looms and recedes; revelations come to light; death changes everything, but somehow life remains as potent as it ever was, and the joy in just being won’t let her go.

In a narrative that shifts and moves, growing as wild as the characters, The Forrests is an extraordinary literary achievement. A novel that sings with colour and memory, it speaks of family and time, dysfunction, ageing and loneliness, about heat, youth, and how life can change if ‘you’re lucky enough to be around for it'”.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Powell and Murakami in the Auctions

Anthony Powell and Haruki Murakami are two authors in whom I have a particular interest, both as a reader and a collector. In many ways they are at opposite ends of the spectrum of literary fiction in terms of their focus and style, though both like to use a rather neutral/passive central male character who observes and sometimes comments on often extraordinary events around them. I have provided complete bibliographies for both (Powell here and Murakami here), and continue to update my Murakami bibliography as new books appear in English.

My collection of Murakami is complete, while my Powell collection is extensive but incomplete (and will probably remain so, for reasons discussed below). Although I have all of his post-war books, the pre-war ones are prohibitively expensive and difficult to find in dustwrapper. I did manage to pick up two of these in damaged but complete dustwrappers reasonably cheaply about ten years ago, and a second copy of A View to a Death in dustwrapper which was too cheap to pass on. I have held onto this to use in a possible swap, but an opportunity has not arisen as yet.

 A search online will quickly identify copies of all of Powell’s pre-war novels for sale, but at prices which I would be unwilling to pay at the moment. As a result of the above considerations, I keep an eye out for Powell’s novels at auction, and for the less frequent appearances of Murakami. Any of Murakami’s limited editions at close to original price should be snapped up – he has a very large fan base, and is likely to remain highly collectible for many years to come. The situation with Powell is more complex. However, my sense is that there has been a steady rise in the prices for his rarer books over recent years, with the usual fluctuations. I’m therefore very interested in two current/recent lots as they should give a good indication of market values for both authors (retail prices in the secondary market will be significantly higher).

Powell is represented by a nice set of the Dance to the Music of Time novels in a Christies' sale, with an estimate of £3000 – 4000. My set (assembled piecemeal while Powell was alive) cost around £1000, and I can recall a second set on the secondary market shortly after his death for £1500, so this auction should provide an indication of how values have risen in recent years. Of course, condition is key and must be borne in mind when considering fluctuations in price*.

*The set of Dance novels went for  £5625 including the premium - Powell's  stock among collectors is clearly on the up.

In the case of Murakami, Bloomsbury offered today a group of four novels, including the metal box set of Norwegian Wood (one of 500), Kafka on the Shore in a leather binding (one of 100), Norwegian Wood (gold cardboard box), and Kafka on the Shore in boards and slipcase (one of 1000). The estimate at £200-300 seemed very low to me based on advertised secondary market prices for these, and so it turned out to be with the lot making £793 including commission. A solid result, suggesting strong interest in Murakami from collectors. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Book of the Week - Nick Harkaway, Angelmaker

Now that June is upon us, my thoughts begin to turn to the summer reading list. Of course, there will be some literary fiction, but during the summer months I prefer to leaven the more serious stuff with a few books from other genres. Angelmaker is the second novel from Nick Harkaway, son of John Le Carre, but an emerging and interesting author in his own right. His first novel, The Gone-Away World, was well received and Angelmaker seems to have advanced his cause further. It was originally released back at the beginning of February and attracted some outstanding views. In fact, it has topped the CultureCritic Review Chart for at least a couple of months. It also seems to be the second book which I have recommended this year where one of the central characters is concerned with clockwork automatons.....synchronicity in action.

Harkaway writes novels which are a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, very inventive and enjoyable, although as with many books of this type there may be a few misses along with the large number of hits. The limited edition of The Gone-Away World has at least retained its value if not gained a little. There is not a limited edition of Angelmaker, but signed and dated first editions are still available at cover price from Goldsboro Books and represent a bit of a no-brainer in terms of a buy. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr Harkaway will do very well in the long term and these early novels may well represent a good investment.

 “All Joe Spork wants to do is live quietly. He repairs clockwork and lives above his shop in a wet, unknown bit of London. The bills don’t always get paid and he’s single and in his mid thirties and he has no prospects of improving his lot, but at least he’s not trying to compete with the reputation of Mathew “Tommy Gun” Spork, his infamous criminal dad. Edie Banister lives quietly and wishes she didn’t. She’s nearly ninety and remembers when she wasn’t. She used to be a spy, and now she’s… well… old. Worse yet, the things she fought to save don’t seem to exist anymore, and she’s beginning to wonder if they ever did. When Joe repairs one particularly unusual clockwork mechanism, his quiet life is blown apart. Suddenly he’s getting visits from sinister cultists and even more sinister lawyers. One of his friends is murdered and it looks as if he may be in the frame. Oh, and in case that wasn’t enough, he seems to have switched on a 1950s doomsday machine – or is it something even more alarming? Edie’s story and Joe’s have collided. From here on in, nothing will be the same – Joe’s world is now full of mad monks, psychopaths, villainous potentates, scientific geniuses, giant submarines, determined and extremely dangerous receptionists, and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe – and if Joe’s going to fix it or even survive, he must show that he can be everything Mathew was, and much, much more.”

Monday, 4 June 2012

Review - David Park, The Light of Amsterdam

David Park is a well established author of literary fiction from the North of Ireland, who deserves to be better known than he currently is at present. For instance, he seems to lack an entry in Wikipedia, something which I may attempt to remedy in the near future! The Light of Amsterdam is his 8th novel, published by Bloomsbury to generally good reviews. It starts and finishes in Belfast, but the bulk of the events occur over a weekend in Amsterdam.

The Light of Amsterdam follows the interacting stories of three pairs of characters who travel for a weekend away. Alan is a College lecturer in Art who has recently separated from his wife. His career is failing and he has lost his enthusiasm for his subject and for life. He is planning a trip on his own to Amsterdam to see Bob Dylan in concert, attempting to capture the spirit of an earlier visit at a formative stage in his life. His ex-wife, however, also has plans, and he finds that he has to take his teenage Goth son Jack with him. He thinks that this may allow him an opportunity to break down some of the barriers that marital breakdown and adolescence have caused in their relationship, but it is unlikely that the trip will be an easy one.

Karen is a working class single mother heading to Amsterdam for her daughter Shannon’s hen party. She has worked incredibly hard all of her life in a series of menial jobs to provide for Shannon, but has a burgeoning sense that her daughter takes her for granted and is not a very nice person. She has never been abroad before and is anxious about every aspect of the trip and worried about her future.

The third couple, Richard and Marion, own a Garden Centre and are traveling to Amsterdam for a weekend break. Marion is acutely aware of the aging process and worried that she is becoming dangerously unattractive to her husband. Each of them has a secret objective for the trip, and both are in for a considerable surprise.

During the course of the novel, the characters bump into each other at different stages of the trip, interacting in a range of ways. Most are concerned in different ways with aging and the sense that their lives are running out of time and opportunity, but an impression is left that providing they make an effort there is still time for them to reinvent themselves. The writing is strong, the characters interesting and the plot generally convincing, at times a little predictable but also with some surprises. I know both Belfast and Amsterdam well, and both places are conjured up with considerable conviction. The Light of Amsterdam is a gentle book, but with an edge. For me, the ending jars a little with what has gone earlier, but the characters will linger in my memory. Not an outstanding or groundbreaking book, but a worthwhile read.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Orange Prize 2012

The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller was announced as the winner of the 2012 Orange Prize last night. Miller is a Latin teacher in the US and The Song of Achilles is the only first novel on the shortlist. I should confess at this point that I have not read it as yet, although I have a copy which I was looking at last night. This is the signed, numbered limited UK edition of 500 copies from Bloomsbury, which is a hardcover in pictorial boards without a dustwrapper. The inner side of the front board has a mirror like gold finish, which is striking but would mark very easily. This edition is currently available from Amazon UK for £25.50 (including UK delivery). I can imagine that many collectors would be too scared to read it – luckily plenty of cheaper editions are now available!  For the moment the UK first edition remains at its original price.

 The other shortlisted books are listed below.

Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues Serpent’s Tail Canadian  
Anne Enright The Forgotten Waltz Jonathan Cape Irish
Georgina Harding Painter of Silence Bloomsbury British

Cynthia Ozick Foreign Bodies Atlantic Books American
Ann Patchett State of Wonder Bloomsbury American

Monday, 28 May 2012

Prize Updates

Several literary prizes have announced their shortlists in the last couple of weeks, and books which I have featured previously have been doing well.

The Desmond Elliot Prize has only been running since 2007, but has quickly established its importance as an award for the best first novel written in English and published in the UK. The shortlist of three novels includes The Land of Decoration (Grace McCleen) and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce), as well as The Last Hundred Days (Patrick McGuiness) which featured on the longlist for last year’s Booker Prize.

The James Tait Black Prizes are, in contrast, the UK’s oldest literary awards, and are made by the University of Edinburgh. This year’s fiction prize includes Snowdrops (AD Miller), There But For The (Ali Smith) and Solace (Belinda McKeon), as well as You and I (Padgett Powell).

Meanwhile, Orange announced that this will be the last year of their sponsorship of the Orange Prize (for female writers in English). I have been collecting and reading the shortlisted books since the inauguration of the prize seventeen years ago. Good luck to Anne Enright with The Forgotten Waltz – I will update on the winner later in the week.

Book of the Week - China Mieville, Railsea

China Mieville is one of my favourite writers in any genre. He prefers to call his writing “weird fiction”, though most people would classify it as science fiction or fantasy. He is also a very interesting and highly political writer, as I highlighted in an earlier article. His most recent novel, Railsea, has just been published and is my second book of the week this year to take significant inspiration from Moby Dick (after The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach). Railsea is described as a crossover novel, targeting the young adult and adult markets. Reviews have been outstanding and given the quality of Mieville’s writing and the success of his earlier books I am certain that this will do very well.

The UK hardback from Macmillan already appears to be into more than one printing. Interestingly, there is a signed limited slipcased edition of 500 copies which seems to be available only from The Book Depository and in addition there will be a limited edition from The Subterranean Press. You pay your money and you make your choice.....

“On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt. The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one's death and the other's glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life. Even if his philosophy-seeking captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she's been chasing ever since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds in the derelict leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides: by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea”.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Book of the Week - Adam Thorpe, Flight

Adam Thorpe is an unusually versatile writer, with success as a poet, dramatist and novelist in a number of different genres. There is something refreshing about the breadth of his scope, but it has probably worked against him at times when it comes to the main literary prizes. Flight is his tenth novel and is described as a literary thriller, a class of book which has achieved a modicum of recognition by the Booker Prize judges over the last couple of years (for instance, Child 44 and Snowdrops). Reviews for Thorpe’s novels have generally been good, and this one is no exception. He is due success in one of the major literary prizes – for a thriller to win would be a significant surprise, but this is sure to be a good read.

Thorpe was born in Paris in 1956 and grew up in India, Cameroon and England. After graduating from Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1979, he started a theatre company and toured villages and schools before moving to London where he taught Drama and English Literature. He currently lives in France with his wife and three children.

“Bob Winrush used to fly passengers, then worked for years as a 'freight dog', flying consignments of goods and sometimes people to all the corners of the world - including bush-strips in war zones: 'real flying,' as he called it. Until, one day, he walked away from a deal that didn't smell right - something a freight dog should never do. Now working as a private pilot for an Emirate prince in Dubai, he finds that moment of refusal catching up with him. Caught between those who want to find out more and those who want to cover their traces, he becomes a marked man, and flees to a remote Scottish island. Pursued by both armed assassins and a ruinous, bitter divorce, he struggles to re-fashion himself in this barren, beautiful place, taking on another identity. But back in the world of smuggled AK-47s and heroin, the stakes are rising. Despite the presence of Judith, the alluring environmentalist, memories of his uglier flights return to haunt him. Even in the furthest Hebrides his past is with him, and the predators are closing in. Adam Thorpe's tenth novel is an extraordinary amalgam: a vertiginous, page-turning thriller and a masterful work of literary fiction. Fast, funny and very frightening, Flight shows a new facet of this most brilliant of writers.”

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Oak Tree Fine Press - Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

Oak Tree Fine Press have just issued the tenth book in their First Chapter Series – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Each book in the series consists of the first chapter of a novel which has won the Booker Prize, presented in a signed and numbered edition. Each book is illustrated, in some cases by a leading contemporary artist (Gilbert &George and Antony Gormley, for example), and some of these illustrations are available separately for framing. Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981 and was subsequently voted the “Booker of Bookers” in both 1993 and 2008, in events celebrating the 25th and 40th anniversary of the prize. It is undoubtedly Rushdie’s iconic work, and this edition includes a new introduction from Ion Trewin, acclaimed author and Administrator of the Booker Prize. The book is bound in a blue cloth, selected to match the dominant cover of the first English edition (Jonathan Cape), and is numbered and signed by Rushdie and comes in a matching cassette. The frontpiece is by Thomas Howard, described as an up and coming art student. The books in the first chapter series are produced to a very high standard, and some of the illustrations are superb – a look at the website is recommended. One of the best things about this series is that the profits go to African Charities, and to date over £50 000 has been raised.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Review - HHhH, by Laurent Binet

HHhH is Laurent Binet’s first novel and won two major literary prizes in France. It tells the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague during the second world war, the events leading up to it and some of its aftermath. It is, therefore, a work of historical fiction, telling a story which I knew in outline, but in a way which made it seem fresh. Heydrich was the number two to Himmler in the Nazi hierarchy, a ruthless persecutor of the Jews and an effective administrator with a high level of ideological commitment. He was known as “The Hangman of Prague” and “The Blond Beast” and was the highest ranking Nazi to be killed until near the end of the Second World War. The title of the book comes from a German phrase of the time - Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich) – highlighting Heydrich’s importance to the Germans.

 At the core of HHhH are some dramatic, almost unbelievable events – heroic resistance on the part of the Czech’s and extraordinary courage in the face of considerable danger. Binet narrates these events well, and the climax of the book in particular is moving and gripping. However, this is a quintessentially French novel, and just as slightly surreal inventive twists are a feature of some modern French Cinema (see Amelie or Gainsbourg) so Binet introduces a strong experimental element into HHhH.

In this case, intertwined with the narrative, are the reflections of the author about writing the book and more generally about the challenges of writing historical fiction. The author becomes a self-observing additional character in the events, commentating on his own behaviour and motivation while also narrating the events of the novel. While this may sound a little irritating to some potential readers, I thought that it worked very well and it certainly added to my enjoyment of the book. So, when near the end Binet writes (of himself) “ I am coming to the end and I feel completely empty,” it summed up how I felt as a reader as well, though not just empty, but rather emotionally drained by the intensity of what I had been reading.

At times HHhH reads like a history text, but as a reader I was left feeling unsure about how much of the book is fact and how much authorial speculation. In some places Binet says that he is speculating, whereas in others he will state something as a fact, only to correct himself a few pages later, saying that more information has emerged. His intention, in part, is presumably to remind us that much of what we believe to be history is in fact fictional speculation, an attempt to fill the holes which exist between a few available facts in a way which allows us to tell a persuasive story in tune with our contemporary mood and beliefs. These thoughts and others are likely to be provoked by HHhH in many readers, but perhaps it is enough to say that it is a well written (and translated) French novel telling an exciting story in a stimulating way.

Finally, a word about HHhH as an object. My edition (the first English edition) is a beautiful book, with the letters HHhH blocked in a red Cyrillic-style script on the edges of the page block. Interestingly, there are no page numbers, just short chapters with their own numbered heading. Long live real books......

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Book of the Week - Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was the best selling Booker Prize winner of recent years. You could have picked up a signed first edition when I recommended it in 2009 for cover price, and the cheapest online copy is currently around £300. Bring up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall, the second novel to feature Thomas Cromwell with a third in the pipeline. Reviews seem if anything to be better than those for Wolf Hall, although I should confess at this point that I was one of those who was underwhelmed by the latter and who failed to see what all of the fuss was about. Bring up the Bodies comes as a standard hardcover in dust wrapper (first print run unknown to me but likely to be relatively large) and a limited signed hardcover in a slipcase with a print run on 2000 copies. I’m sure that neither will ever reach the value of Wolf Hall, but still a worthwhile book to pick up.

 'My boy Thomas, give him a dirty look and he'll gouge your eye out. Trip him, and he'll cut off your leg,' says Walter Cromwell in the year 1500. 'But if you don't cut across him he's a very gentleman. And he'll stand anyone a drink.' By 1535 Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith's son, is far from his humble origins. Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes have risen with those of Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church. But Henry's actions have forced England into dangerous isolation, and Anne has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. When Henry visits Wolf Hall, Cromwell watches as Henry falls in love with the silent, plain Jane Seymour. The minister sees what is at stake: not just the king's pleasure, but the safety of the nation. As he eases a way through the sexual politics of the court, its miasma of gossip, he must negotiate a 'truth' that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne's final days. In Bring up the Bodies, sequel to the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel explores one of the most mystifying and frightening episodes in English history: the destruction of Anne Boleyn. This new novel is a speaking picture, an audacious vision of Tudor England that sheds its light on the modern world. It is the work of one of our great writers at the height of her powers.”

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Review - Pure, by Timothy Mo

PurePure by Timothy Mo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is over 10 years since Timothy Mo’s last novel, but Pure has been worth the wait. Mo has written an effervescent novel overflowing with verbal ticks and tricks, addressing some serious topics in a most unusual way. The book is set in southern Thailand, where a small but vigourous Islamic insurgency, vaguely linked with global backers, dreams of a South Asian caliphate and embarks on a campaign of terrorism. In an effort to infiltrate one of the Islamic cells, the police recruit a most unlikely double agent, Snooky - a Thai ladyboy of Islamic origin working as a film critic in the city. Against all expectations, Snooky proves to be a very effective terrorist and a somewhat less effective informant for the authorities.

Pure is told mainly in the first person, with several key voices alternating their stories. Snooky is the most important and most entertaining, displaying all of the characteristic traits of the unreliable narrator. Beginning with vivid descriptions of the life of a ladyboy, moving through police brutality to life as part of an Islamic cell in the jungle, Snooky observes all that is happening and increasingly participates, maintaining a constant commentary on events and the people she meets. She has a tendency to refer to herself in the third person, and peppers her narration with cultural, and in particular cinematic, references. Snooky is highly intelligent, a trait which she continually underplays and uses to her advantage.

The second main narrator is Victor, a Church of England clergyman in a high academic position in an Oxford college, who for many years has acted as a recruiter for the security services. Because of his connections with the Far East, Victor becomes involved in an electronic correspondence with Snooky the double agent, and eventually visits Thailand to make contact with her.

Much of the novel is concerned with the clash between fundamentalist Islam and Western (and Eastern) democratic values. All battle for control of Snooky’s heart and mind, while she deteriorates physically and metamorphoses mentally. Pure contains serious philosophical discussion, historical review, theological musings, fantastic pen portraits and sketches of minor characters, surreal interludes, and above all a torrent of words, puns and verbal pyrotechnics. It is at times a challenging read, and perhaps fades a little in the latter third, but it is certainly one of the most interesting and innovative books I have read this year.

There is a danger that Pure may pass most readers by, which would be shame. Mo fell out with mainstream publishers in the 1990’s and his last couple of novels have been published independently. Pure is published by Turnaround Books, but lacks the benefits which come from a major publicity machine and promotion behind it. It is a book which deserves to do very well in the literary prizes. If this does happen, it will hopefully attract more attention. However, in the meantime it is well worth seeking out.

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