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Friday, October 28, 2005

Baker Street To Brick Lane

Toby Moore has a delightful article in the Financial Times on areas of London that have been irrevocably linked to novels:

"A hazard of living near Baker Street is being asked, quite often, the way to Sherlock Holmes’s house. There are three ways to treat this question. The first is by pretending to be Japanese, too, and acting equally bewildered. The second is to recommend what must have been done already: walk north from the Marylebone Road until reaching 221B. But this is cruel torture and always leads to a building site....What seems striking is that the street name titles we remember often offer a perception of place, one that precedes the author’s involvement there. Charing Cross Road, for instance, was famous already for its second-hand book shops when Hanff was deciding on a title; Piccadilly suggested raffish good living to Wodehouse’s contemporaries; and national newspaper journalists still say they’re 'Fleet Street’s finest', despite being secured in Canary Wharf, Wapping, Kensington or at Southwark Bridge."

The Greatest British Novelist Never To Write A Great British Novel

The Oxford Student offers this appreciation of Martin Amis, beginning by calling him "the Greatest British Novelist never to write a Great British Novel."

It ends, however, on a note of optimism: “The firebrand days of his early youth have all but disappeared, replaced by an increasing cultural conservatism more in line with his late father. Such filial echoes may bode well for Martin; after all, Amis senior wrote arguably his greatest work, the Booker-winning The Old Devils, age sixty-four. If the pattern continues, then, dubious title aside, 2006 may finally bring us the book that we all know Mr Amis is capable of writing.”

Mishra Reviews Slow Man

Pankaj Mishra reviews J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man for The Nation, starting with the now obligatory reference to V.S. Naipaul and his thoughts on the end of the novel. Paradoxically, this sentiment -- of the novel being a dying form -- is what permeates Mishra's appreciative review: "Coetzee seems too conscious that the novel is mostly formula, and that its characters acquire meaning and depth only to the extent that the writer invokes the social and political prejudices he shares with his readers. His recent works express a dignified refusal to play the usual game. Indeed, much of their interest arises not so much from losing oneself in Coetzee's delineations of character and plot as in observing what this extremely intelligent and superbly self-aware artist does to his creations.

In conclusion, "the novel will live, even flourish, at least in the West, and novelists will continue to pretend to be seers as they meet the general book-buyer's demand for entertainment and instruction. But Coetzee may turn out to be one of the last great novelists, exalted by the intensity of his self-awareness and his willingness to make his home in a spiritual and intellectual impasse of which few of his contemporaries were even aware."

50 Years Of Book Reviews

Lolita: "The most artificial book I've read in years."

Franny And Zooey: "It is a measure of the power of these stories that we do not go to sleep."

Herzog: "A novel by Saul Bellows (sic)"

On the occasion of half-a-century of publication, that past-its-prime counterculture icon, The Village Voice, offers a selection of book reviews from the last 50 years.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wanted: A Pair Of Scissors

John Crace, the man behind The Guardian’s engaging Digested Read, makes a telling point:

“It's in no one's interest to tell our finest authors that something isn't working or that 100 pages could safely be cut without anyone noticing. Schedules would be disrupted, departments would miss budget, the company share price would fall and, to make matters even worse, the authors might take their next books to a different publishing house. All in all, everyone would be very pissed off indeed. Far better to keep quiet, roll out a high-profile PR and marketing campaign and wait for the money to roll in.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Life Of Pi: Soon At A Theatre Near You

A teenage boy shares a lifeboat with a hyena, an injured zebra and a hungry tiger. And the good folk of Hollywood think that’s perfect movie material.

So Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, will begin the movie production of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel next summer.

There’s no word yet on who will play the animals, though agents have been spotted scouring zoos worldwide.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Svelte And Twinkling. The Prose Isn't Bad, Too

Every profile and interview of John Updike has to mention the fact that his eyes twinkle. It's a sort of legally binding agreement the author seems to have with those who write about him. Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun Times is no exception; in addition, he also calls Updike's figure "svelte". Nevertheless, it's an interesting piece:

"Asked about contemporary writers he respects, Updike ducked the question a bit, claiming, 'I'm a little at the mercy of the New Yorker,' since he spends so much time working as a book reviewer for the magazine. 'Recently, I read the new Doctorow novel, which is turning into a bestseller. I also read Salman Rushdie's new book. He's an interesting writer. Not quite a master yet, but he's getting there.'

Monday, October 24, 2005

You Mean One Has To Read The Pesky Thing?

"Books are the new snobbery", according to a new survey. The Guardian's report says:

" 'Driven partly by pressure from incessant literary prize shortlists, more than one in three consumers in London and the south-east admit having bought a book, 'solely to look intelligent'."

One in 25 surveyed had read Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; one in 100 had read Andrea Levy's Small Island and -- gasp! -- not one so far had read John Banville's The Sea.

The report continues: "Elyas Choudhury, an Expedia director, said yesterday: 'We seem to have lost sight of the fact that reading a book should be a personal, enjoyable and relaxing experience, not one dictated by social pressure.' "

Hindi-Chini Why Why?

The headline of an editorial in today’s Economic Times crows: India Beats China.

Does this refer to economic growth? Foreign investment? The number of flyovers planned but not built?

Not at all. The editorial mentions Time magazine’s recent list of the 100 best contemporary novels in the English language, stating that though Time "lists two books by authors of Indian origin and one where India figures in the title," China doesn't feature at all in the top 100.

The books in question are Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Naipaul's A House For Mr Biswas and E.M. Forster's A Passage to India.

The piece does go on to add: "Which could be because the best novels out of China are penned in Chinese, with the rest of the world catching up on translations which have not been considered for the Time list."

Nevertheless. A newsmagazine publishes an admittedly dogmatic list of 100 best novels in English; three of them happen to be linked to India; and this is seen as a reason to tom-tom superiority over China? Astonishing.

Say Cheese, Mr Roth

Writing in The Boston Globe, Amherst College professor Ilan Stavans reveals that he's oddly schizophrenic when it comes to assessing Philip Roth:

"Recently The New York Times ran a piece about the author accompanied by a photograph of him near his Connecticut home. Roth wasn't smiling; his look was stern, even sour. He appeared upset.

"That isn't surprising. I've seen scores of Roth photographs. I don't remember a single one of him smiling. In private life, I'm sure he does, of course, but not in public. In public, he is the definition of irritation.

"Roth's public demeanor, his unsympathetic gesture, is his signature. He's annoyed at America. His books are razor-sharp, intelligent, but also humorless. They are scornful, derisive, and sardonic, the forms of humor preferred by the egotist. And Roth is a self-professed egotist.

"All of which, of course, doesn't detract an iota from his talent; it only increases its echoes. Roth is, unquestionably, the most significant Jewish-American writer of his generation."

Memo to Roth: The next time you're faced with a camera, please smile. It's one way of winning over your critics.

We Hope So, Too

"It goes without saying that I stand by my words. And even more, I stand by my right to say them....I said loud and clear that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey, and I stand by that. For me, these are scholarly issues....I am a novelist. I address human suffering and pain and it is obvious, even in Turkey, that there was an immense hidden pain which we now have to face.... I have been writing novels for 30 years, like a clerk. Though, unfortunately, not in the last month. I hope I can return to my desk soon."

- Orhan Pamuk, in an interview with The Observer

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Annoying Young 'Uns

Zadie Smith, 24. Christopher Paolini, 19. Brett Easton Ellis, 21. F. Scott Fitzgerald, 23. Mary Shelley, 19.

In an article in The Times of India, Sanjay Sipahimalani considers the case of those whose first novels appeared when they were comparatively tender in years.

He ends, however, on a note of optimism:

"As always, there’s another side to this coin. PEN/Faulkner and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx’s first book appeared when she was 53. And Daniel Defoe was a hoary 62 when he wrote his first novel, the seminal Robinson Crusoe. Consider also that the average age of authors on this year’s Booker shortlist was a respectable 48.5 years – Zadie Smith notwithstanding.

"It looks like there’s hope for us age-challenged types yet."

One And A Half Lives

Though there's a great deal to like in Vikram Seth's Two Lives, there's no denying that the book would have been aided by careful editing. Sections such as those dealing with Germany's role in the world come across as essayistic set pieces, not entirely adding to the fabric of the whole. In The Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley makes much the same point:

"[T]here is a bit too much of a good thing in the central part of the book, where Seth tells Henny's story and those of her mother and sister. Those papers in the attic may have been a 'trove,' but Seth makes too much of them. The section is too long by half, with too much quotation from letters that are not as interesting to the reader as they are to Seth. Probably Holocaust stories will never -- should never -- lose their power to shock and move us, but this one would have been told better if it had been told more briefly."