Sunday, 26 February 2012

Book of the Week - Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

There are several interesting first novels out at the moment. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey has been receiving top reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. The author was named by her mother after a character in The Lord of the Rings, and was brought up in Alaska where she still lives with her husband and two daughters. They harvest salmon and wild berries, keep a vegetable garden, turkeys and chickens, and hunt caribou, moose and bear for meat. They don't have a well and live outside any public water system, so they haul water each week for their holding tank and gather rainwater for their animals and garden. Their primary source of home heat is a woodstove, and they harvest and cut their own wood. At least she should be able to write with authority about snow.

The Snow Child is also the title of one of the stories in Angela Carter’s book of feminist fairy stories The Bloody Chamber, which I love (also the inspiration for one of my favourite films, The Company of Wolves). Not sure if there is any link or not......

Eowyn Ivey has been in the UK recently, so it should be possible to pick up a signed copy of the Headline edition in illustrated boards for cost price if you look around. 

"Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for a couple who have never been able to conceive. Jack and Mabel are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone, but they catch sight of an elusive, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and leaves blizzards in her wake. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who seems to have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in the Alaska wilderness, life and death are inextricable, and what they eventually learn about Faina changes their lives forever."

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book of the Week and Bibliography - William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise

Waiting for Sunrise is William Boyd’s 11th novel. He is an author who has won many accolades, without perhaps achieving the popular recognition of some of his contemporaries. Although Boyd is often considered a Scottish writer, he was actually born in Accra in Ghana. However, he was educated at Gordonstoun School and subsequently attended the University of Glasgow. Boyd has won many literary prizes, though not yet the Booker Prize. I think that Waiting for Sunrise may be an early contender – we will see, but well worth picking up a signed copy from Bloomsbury when they appear.

“It is a fine day in August when Lysander Rief, a young English actor, walks through the city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist Dr Bensimon. Sitting in the waiting room he is anxiously pondering the particularly intimate nature of his neurosis when a young woman enters. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her strange, hazel eyes and her unusual, intense beauty. Her name is Hettie Bull. They begin a passionate love affair and life in Vienna becomes tinged with a powerful frisson of excitement for Lysander. He meets Sigmund Freud in a cafe, begins to write a journal, enjoys secret trysts with Hettie and appears - miraculously - to have been cured. Back in London, 1914. War is imminent, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander in the most damaging way. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence - a world of sex, scandal and spies, where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day .Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain's safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life. Moving from Vienna to London's West End, from the battlefields of France to hotel rooms in Geneva, Waiting for Sunrise is a feverish and mesmerising journey into the human psyche, a beautifully observed portrait of wartime Europe, a plot-twisting thriller and a literary tour de force from the bestselling author of Any Human Heart, Restless and Ordinary Thunderstorms.”


A Good Man in Africa; Hamish Hamilton, 1981 - £300 or above in dustwrapper.
On the Yankee Station and Other Stories; Hamish Hamilton, 1981 - £300 or above in dustwrapper.
An Ice-Cream War; Hamish Hamilton, 1982 - around £15 in dustwrapper
Stars and Bars; Hamish Hamilton, 1984 - less than £10 in dustwrapper
School Ties; Hamish Hamilton, 1985 - uncommon.  Over £200 in dustwrapper
The New Confessions; Hamish Hamilton, 1987 -less than £15 in dustwrapper
Brazzaville Beach; Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990 - less than £10 in dustwrapper
The Blue Afternoon; Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993 - less than £10 in dustwrapper
The Destiny of Nathalie 'X' and Other Stories; Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995 - less than £10 in dustwrapper
Armadillo; Hamish Hamilton, 1998 - less then £10 in dustwrapper
Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960; 21 Publishing, 1998 - less than £20 in dustwrapper
Any Human Heart; Hamish Hamilton, 2002 - £50 or above in dustwrapper.
Fascination (collection of short stories); Hamish Hamilton, 2004 - suprisingly uncommon.  Around £25 or above in dustwrapper..
Bamboo; Hamish Hamilton, 2005 (non-fiction) - uncommon. £35 or above in dustwrapper.
Restless; Bloomsbury, 2006 - under £10 in dustwrapper.
The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth (Short Story) Notes from the underground; 2007 - a small paperback single short story. Under £10.
Ordinary Thunderstorms (2009); Bloomsbury, 2009.  Relatively common, but at £35 or above in dustwrapper.  Probably a little overpriced...
Waiting for Sunrise (2012) At cost.

Literary Prizes and Awards

1981 Whitbread First Novel Award A Good Man in Africa
1982 Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist) An Ice-Cream War
1982 Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize An Ice-Cream War
1982 Somerset Maugham Award A Good Man in Africa
1983 Selected as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Novelists' by Granta magazine and the Book Marketing Council
1990 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) Brazzaville Beach
1991 McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year Brazzaville Beach
1993 Sunday Express Book of the Year The Blue Afternoon
1995 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Fiction) The Blue Afternoon
2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (shortlist) Any Human Heart
2006 Costa Book Award Restless
2007 British Book Awards Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year (shortlist) Restless

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Book of the Week - Andrea Gillies, The White Lie

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies is a first novel about the unreliability of personal history, a theme which seemed to crop up a lot last year and on which I have commented previously. The White Lie is set against the background of a decaying highland estate. We quickly learn that the narrator is dead and much of the book is about how and why this happened, and how a secret can become distorted and lost. History is inherently unreliable, and personal history more than most.

While The White Lie is Gillie’s first novel she has had previous significant success.  She cared for her mother-in-law, who had Alzheimer's disease, and the book that emerged from this experience, Keeper, was a factual account of that relationship, a meditation on the nature of consciousness and identity as much as on dementia and its treatment. Its scope – from science to politics – won it both the Wellcome Trust book prize and the Orwell prize. The White Lie has been very positively reviewed, and is the sort of book to watch out for in the literary prizes this year. So far as I can see it is released as a paperback only by Short Books Ltd

"On a hot summer's afternoon, Ursula Salter runs sobbing from the loch on her parents' Scottish estate and confesses, distraught, that she has killed Michael, her 19 year old nephew.

But what really happened? No body can be found, and Ursula's story is full of contradictions. In order to protect her, the Salters come up with another version of events, a decision that some of them will come to regret.

Years later, at a family gathering, a witness speaks up and the web of deceit begins to unravel. What is the white lie? Only one person knows the whole truth. Narrating from beyond the grave, Michael takes us to key moments in the past, looping back and back until - finally - we see what he sees."