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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 October

11 October: Tyler Cowen interview | Literary Oxford | García Márquez memoir | New Alasdair Gray collection
12 October: Czech translation | Wertenbaker reviews | The Observer's list of 100 greatest novels
13 October: Nothomb review
14 October: More on Bertolucci's Adair-adaptation | Sontag's Peace Prize | New VLS | Eccentric pocket guide review | The Poetry Library's online archive
15 October: García Márquez memoir | Perec's "53 Days" | Pseudonymous Australian rogue wins Man Booker
16 October: Krabbé redux | Borges auction | National Book Awards nominations
18 October: Nobrow list ? | Susan Sontag's Peace Prize speech
19 October: 50 more for greatest book list | Auto da Fay review
20 October: Siegfried in English | Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) | The Singing Detective, version II

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20 October 2003 - Monday

Siegfried in English | Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003)
The Singing Detective, version II

       Siegfried in English

       A new work by Dutch grand-master Harry Mulisch is always cause for great rejoicing, and it's hard to imagine that it wouldn't count among the highlights of the season. Siegfried certainly does. Our review has been available for two years already, but finally the book is also accessible to English-speaking readers, in the translation that has just appeared.
       The first review we've seen in the American press is Carlin Romano's in yesterday's issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Romano is duly impressed, noting among much else:
One of the pleasures of the European literary novelist, secure in a tradition of transcendent ideas, hyperverbal players, and memories that darken their characters like an overcast sky, is willingness to introduce sensational plot elements from which American literary novelists recoil.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003)

       Popular Spanish author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán is dead, felled by a heart attack in Bangkok on Saturday. Most famous for his detective, Pepe Carvalho, the jet-setting author (born 1939) was widely translated and internationally acclaimed.
       We don't have any of his titles under review -- and, truth be told, never really got the hang of him. For some background information, see the multilingual Manuel Vazquez Montalban site, or this interview from The UNESCO Courier.
       Obituaries can be found at:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Singing Detective, version II

       Dennis Potter's classic, The Singing Detective, has been re-made into a movie that is now slated for limited release in the US on Friday. Like they did with another of his well-known mini-series, Pennies from Heaven, Hollywood has radically cut the original material and compressed the piece into a simple film version; instead of Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters (who starred in the Hollywood Pennies from Heaven), the new The Singing Detective features oft-convicted drug addict Robert Downey Jr. (who's been getting a lot of press for this, including a gush-piece in this weekend's issue of The New York Times Magazine), Sean's wife Robin Wright Penn, Mel Gibson (who's busy worrying about another film, we understand), Katie Holmes, and recent Oscar-man Adrien Brody.
       See our review -- of the full-length mini-series script, mind you -- and rent/buy the video/DVD of the original: this doesn't sound like it can stand being trimmed down to Hollywood-size -- especially without Potter having a hand in the trimming.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 October 2003 - Sunday

50 more for greatest book list | Auto da Fay review

       50 more for greatest book list

       As we mentioned -- yesterday and previously -- The Observer recently came up with a list of 100 greatest novels or essential reads or some such muddled thing. One reason for doing so is, of course, that readers like to argue and debate such lists -- and so they have. Today's issue of The Observer offers reader reactions: "Here we print a selection of your best responses and we publish your Top 50 missing titles, in order of preference."
       Not much improvement, but at least another fifty titles added to the mix .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Auto da Fay review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Fay Weldon's memoir, Auto da Fay.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 October 2003 - Saturday

Nobrow list ? | Susan Sontag's Peace Prize speech

       Nobrow list ?

       We mentioned The Observer's list of 100 greatest novels last week.
       So far the list has only led to a very tepid response (mostly of the can-you-believe-this-crap-? sort); among the few longer looks is Charles Paul Freund's Reading for Nobrows at Reason. In his estimation:
This is a reading list for nobrows. (...) How many of these works depend for their reputations on critics and historians ? How many require authoritative guidance in order to surrender their meaning ? Hardly any. Almost all of the choices involve books with powerful narratives and open meaning. These are, overwhelmingly, works that offer not heavy lifting, but pleasure.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Susan Sontag's Peace Prize speech

       We previously mentioned that Susan Sontag received the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (the peace prize of the German booksellers' association). Her speech from last Sunday's award-ceremony is finally available online -- in English --: the centrepiece of this week's review section in The Guardian.
       Note that the American media has neatly avoided almost any mention of Sontag's speech (and it hasn't been a big hit in the blogging community either, for what that's worth), and draw whatever conclusions you like.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 October 2003 - Thursday

Krabbé redux | Borges auction | National Book Awards nominations

       Krabbé redux

       Tim Krabbé is a Dutch writer who has gotten a decent amount of exposure and attention abroad. In the English-speaking world he's still best known as the author of the novel behind the twice-filmed movie, The Vanishing, but several of his other titles have also been translated (we only have The Cave under review) and he's gotten some decent press -- see, for example, this recent profile in The Guardian.
       The Vanishing was filmed twice, first in Dutch, then as a Hollywood knock-off. The novel the films were based on -- Het Gouden Ei -- was also published back then (1993), in a translation by Claire Nicolas White. Here's where it gets interesting: for some reason (maybe because the translation was terrible ? -- a not uncommon occurrence when dealing with translations) Bloomsbury has had the book re-translated, by Sam Garrett (see their publicity page).
       We find this fascinating -- and are also curious why everyone is dancing around this very odd situation. The one review we've found -- barely more than a mention in Metro -- only parenthetically refers to the fact that it's "in a new English translation". The Bloomsbury page just says it's a "new translation" (declining to explain why one might be needed, a mere decade after the first). The Guardian portrait similarly skirts the issue, noting only that:
Krabbé's renaissance here is thanks largely to his publisher, Bloomsbury, which has teamed him with a gifted new translator, Sam Garrett, who has just won an award for doing full justice to Krabbé's lean, precise prose.
       We're all for uniformity in translation (one voice tackling an author, rather than a different translator for every book), but re-translations of this sort, of contemporary works, are almost unheard of (Peter Hoeg's international bestseller, Smilla's Sense of Snow, is a rare example of a double-translation, the US publishers refusing to accept what we've been led to believe was the apparently terrible version originally published in the UK). And given how few books are translated into English it's also an odd use of scarce resources -- wouldn't the public be better served by the translation of a previously untranslated Krabbé book ?
       So many questions ..... We hope someone picks this story up and provides some answers.
       Meanwhile, check out De Website van Tim Krabbé (which has an English section -- but no information about the double-translation), or buy the the new version of The Vanishing at (no US edition available yet).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Borges auction

       An impressive collection of Borgesiana is being put up for auction. On 20 November Bloomsbury Book Auctions is holding an auction of all sorts of Jorge Luis Borges goodies, from manuscripts to first editions to books from his library. 238 lots -- which they'll first try to sell as one single lot (estimate: £ 400,000 - 450,000) and only then offer up piece by piece.
       Check out the catalogue.
       Oh, what marvellous things !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       National Book Awards nominations

       One prize is announced (the Man Booker) and the next day the nominations for the next prize are announced. This time it's the National Book Awards; see also their press release.
       Our poor record of reviewing titles deemed worthy of prize-consideration continues: after managing a mere one out of the twenty-odd Man Booker longlist, we find we don't have a single one of these nominated titles under review. All worthy stuff, no doubt (well: possibly, anyway), but you probably won't find any reviews (or much discussion) of these title before the award is handed out next month.
       (In any case: everyone seems to be focussing on Stephen King anyway: he is apparently getting some sort of honorary lifetime achievement award at the awards-ceremony -- the thing they gave Oprah ? -- so he'll very much be the centre of attention and there probably won't be much interest in the nominated/prize-winning books anyway.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 October 2003 - Wednesday

García Márquez memoir | Perec's "53 Days"
Pseudonymous Australian rogue wins Man Booker

       García Márquez memoir

       We briefly mentioned that, with Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living To Tell The Tale, about to appear in English, the publicity blitz has begun.
       It turns out The Guardian offers not one but three edited extracts -- one and two and three -- , along with a short piece by that unusual literary commentator, Fidel Castro.
       Also of interest: Solitude & Company An Oral Biography of Gabriel García Márquez by Silvana Paternostro in the Paris Review (link first seen, a few days ago, at Kitabkhana) -- and, of course, our review of Living To Tell The Tale.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Perec's "53 Days"

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Georges Perec's posthumously published (and unfinished) novel, "53 Days", a book we're very pleased to finally have gotten our hands on.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pseudonymous Australian rogue wins Man Booker

       Actually, of course, it was Vernon God Little -- yes the book, not the author -- which won the Man Booker. But it's so much easier to talk and write about the man, rather than the work ..... We haven't read it, but we dearly hope it is a worthy book and that they didn't just throw the prize at this guy because of his colourful past (translating into much more extensive press coverage than even a Monica Ali -- not to mention a Margaret Atwood -- win would have resulted in, and thus thrilling the corporate sponsors).
       The author behind Vernon God Little is some guy named Peter Finlay, who published the book under the name DBC Pierre (and no doubt you've heard the cute story for what 'DBC' stands for -- not that we'd repeat this crap for you).
       Early press coverage of the prize-win has led to some predictable headlines:        Mr Finlay sounds like a real prince. The Guardian article notes;
In his 42 years he has managed to get himself shot by a neighbour in Mexico City, work up debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars, cultivate drug and gambling addictions and leave behind a trail of wronged women, despite having to have his face reconstructed by surgeons after a horrific car crash. In between he has managed unsuccessful careers as a filmmaker, treasure hunter, smuggler and graphic artist.
       Or read, in the Sydney Morning Herald, how this Australian scribe admits murky past.
       But hey, if the book is any good, it's all forgivable -- though we do wish the focus were more on the book than this stuff.

       Interesting note: Faber brought out the book in the UK (see their publicity page) but, despite something of an American presence, they aren't the ones publishing it in the US -- and neither is any of the American houses. Instead it's upstart Canongate -- who seem to have just opened a US branch -- that have brought it out in the US.
       Get your copy from or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 October 2003 - Tuesday

More on Bertolucci's Adair-adaptation | Sontag's Peace Prize | New VLS
Eccentric pocket guide review | The Poetry Library's online archive

       More on Bertolucci's Adair-adaptation

       We previously mentioned that Bernardo Bertolucci has made a new film based on Gilbert Adair's The Holy Innocents, The Dreamers, (and that Adair is re-novelizing the film version ...).
       In this week's issue of The New Yorker Louis Menand writes about Bertolucci and the film, in After the Revolution. He finds:
The movie is intense and languid, gritty and dreamy, sexy and silly, sentimental and pretentious, didactic and inconclusive -- that is, pure Bertolucci.
       Menand also briefly discusses the American-ratings issues: "The Dreamers has a ratings problem", he notes, since the film has -- gasp ! - nudity. A cut version will apparently open in the US next spring. (For more articles about the ratings-problem, see links at our previous mention.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Susan Sontag's Peace Prize

       She was named this year's winner of the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (the peace prize of the German booksellers' association) months ago, but the official ceremony was only over the weekend, in conjunction with the Frankfurt Bookfair.
       An official version of Susan Sontag's speech doesn't seem to be available online anywhere yet. The Börsenblatt site promises to print it on 16 October -- presumably in German -- and we'll link you up with it then; meanwhile there are extracts at taz (fairly comprehensive) and Die Welt (fairly brief). The English version will surely be printed somewhere or other soon enough, but we haven't seen it yet.
       Meanwhile there are reports from the Deutsche Welle (in English) and the Börsenblatt (German) -- as well as German newspaper reports in Die Welt, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and the FAZ.
       Most note that Sontag began her remarks by noting the absence of invited dignitary Danny Coats, the American ambassador to Germany. As DW put it:
She drew attention to the "deliberate absence" from the ceremony of the U.S. ambassador to Germany as typical of Washington’s current ideology of distancing itself from "old Europe.".
       Maybe the ambassador had some other pressing business (though it was a Sunday), but this seems like just another petty, symbolic (non-)act of the sort typical in the current American administration. (Recall that American President George jr. Bush refused to congratulate Germany's chancellor Schröder on his re-election -- a gesture (or rather: the lack thereof) unheard of in international politics, and taken instead straight from the elementary school playground.)
       The no-show ambassador isn't so much a representative of an ideology distancing itself from "old Europe", but rather a puppet-figure dangled by an administration that has no interest in participating in any way (except entirely on its own terms) in the international community.
       What Coats' absence demonstrates most clearly is the unwillingness of the current American administration to show any tolerance for any sort of diversity of opinion. Coming to the ceremony, proud (or at least pretending to be proud) that the accomplishments of an American are being honoured (with a prize that has generally been considered very prestigious) would have been an act that in no way prevented the ambassador from still taking issue (very loudly if he -- or his tasksmasters -- wished) with Sontag's ideas, ideology, or actions. But this administration has no interest in any sort of public debate or dialogue -- and it believes it can safely ignore all opinions not its own -- : according to it there is only one truth, and woe to those who dare suggest otherwise.
       Coats' absence from the Peace Prize ceremony is one more in a long list of administration embarrassments. No doubt, such pathetic petty symbolic acts play well among many voters: Sontag is an easy target. But the American ideal is to allow for views even as offensive as some of Sontag's are apparently considered to be -- and the beauty of America, at its best, is that it not only allows for but encourages an engaged dialogue in which such views can be criticised and/or defended by any- and everyone to their heart's content. This administration doesn't care for either. In this case, the results are trivial -- the slap in the face of the German booksellers' association probably the worst of it -- but because it is representative of the current administration's general attitude towards all matters it can be taken as yet another warning sign of a government headed very much in the wrong direction.
       (For the record: there was token American representation, in the form of the local passport-stamper, Frankfurt consul Peter Bodde.)

       Note that there was also considerable disappointment about the absence of the most prominent German politicians: the president, the chancellor, and the foreign minister all stayed away from the award-ceremony (and/or Sontag's speech). (Maybe the US ambassador invited them over for some beers ?) Schröder apparently doesn't show up to these things (honouring insignificant figures such as writers) as a matter of course, but the fact that there wasn't a heavyweight government delegation present for the awarding of this renowned prize (among the best Germany has to offer) hasn't gone over too well. Certainly none too impressive either, whatever their reasons (a general disinterest in the arts ? kowtowing to the Americans ?).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New VLS

       A new issue of the now very intermittent Voice Literary Supplement (appearing, it seems, only about twice a year now) is now available.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Eccentric pocket guide review

       Among the books discussed (though not at much length) in the new VLS is The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases; see Nick Mamatas' review.
       Our review (with links to others) has been available for a while. It's a fun idea, fairly well done -- and will probably be getting a decent amount of press coverage in the next month or two.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Poetry Library's online archive

       Forget everything else we've written today -- if there's one thing you should check out it is this fantastic resource: the Poetry Library's online archive of English 20th and 21st century poetry magazines.
       A nice-looking site, a good search engine, and great content.
       We've just begun to wade into all this -- and figure we could spend a week or two doing little else. Tons of poetry -- everything imaginable -- and commentary as well (James Atlas On Translation from the first issue (1973) of Poetry Nation, for example ...).
       But go explore for yourself .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 October 2003 - Monday

Nothomb review

       Nothomb review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Amélie Nothomb's 2002 novel, Robert des noms propres.
       We're pleased to see that Faber & Faber has decided to hop on the Nothomb-bandwagon: they're apparently coming out with a translation of this title (Dictionary of Proper Names, expected May 2004 -- though there doesn't seem to be any US publisher).
       And we hope to finally review her most recent offering, Antéchrista, in the next couple of weeks.

       As always, to tide you over, we recommend you read what remains her masterpiece, Loving Sabotage.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 October 2003 - Sunday

Czech translation | Wertenbaker reviews | The Observer's list of 100 greatest novels

       Czech translation

       Five translators discuss translating Czech into English in The Prague Post (link first seen at languagehat).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wertenbaker reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of three plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Observer's list of 100 greatest novels

       Another list, another debate. In today's issue of The Observer they offer what they call: The 100 greatest novels of all time -- though Robert McCrum's accompanying article notes a few caveats -- "For the moment, our list largely draws a line at 1989" and "our list is fundamentally English and inevitably reflects the age, sex and education of its Observer contributors."
       Arranged quasi- (but not strictly) chronologically it is supposedly a "list of essential fiction from the past 300 years" -- though the first two titles (Don Quixote and Pilgrim's Progress) were, in fact, first published more than three hundred years ago ..... Good start, guys !
       McCrum is certainly right when he acknowledges the list is "fundamentally English" -- 82 of the 100 titles were written in English, an absurd percentage. (They acknowledge this to some extent in inviting comment at the end: "What's happened to novels in translation such as Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Hesse's Siddhartha, Mishima's The Sea of Fertility, Süskind's Perfume and Zola's Germinal ?" they suppose some might wonder (Perfume ? Perfume ?!?? we certainly do wonder -- how this could count in anyone's list of, say, 100,000 most essential reads). Certainly the only token foreign presence is the list's greatest weakness -- but far from the only one.)
       The choices are also debatable -- starting or ending with The Black Sheep as the only Balzac title to make the cut.
       Disturbing is also the bold title -- "The 100 greatest novels of all time" -- and only in the fine print the closer explanation -- some foolishness about it being "a catalogue of just a hundred 'essential' titles", the three-hundred-year cut-off mark (despite it's being missed), etc.
       They welcome debate, so feel free to send your list of suggestions .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

11 October 2003 - Saturday

Tyler Cowen interview | Literary Oxford
García Márquez memoir | New Alasdair Gray collection

       Tyler Cowen interview

       Reason offers Really Creative Destruction, as Nick Gillespie interviews Tyler Cowen.
       We have three Cowen-titles under review -- Creative Destruction (the most recent one, and the one at issue here), In Praise of Commercial Culture, and What Price Fame ?. Certainly an interesting perspective, and fun to argue about .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary Oxford

       Not too inspired, but the Oxford Student offers a list of Top 10 Oxford Literary Legends.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       García Márquez memoir

       With the forthcoming publication (early November) of the English translation of Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living To Tell The Tale, the publicity blitz has begun. The 6 October issue of The New Yorker had an excerpt, and now The Guardian offers edited extracts.
       Look for a lot more coverage in the weeks to follow -- and remember that our review has long been available .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Alasdair Gray collection

       Alasdair Gray's new collection of "13 Sorry Stories", The Ends of Our Tethers, is now available in the UK -- get your copy at (no US listing yet) and see the Canongate publicity page.
       Irvine Welsh reviews it in today's issue of The Guardian. See also this interview at the Sunday Herald.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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