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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 March

1 March: Heinrich Mann re-issue | Arno Schmidt's radio dialogues | Still single-minded NYTBR
2 March: Advertising through fiction | Mulisch review | More indices !
3 March: World Book Day -- or part of the world, anyway | NBCCAs | Michael Cunningham at Yale | More on Hotakainen | Coetzee goes public yet again | Clive James on Brecht
4 March: Books that shouldn't have been published ? | NIBF prep | Gustafsson meets Tolkien
5 March: World Book Days explanation | Jasper Fforde review | Hayek biography | Murakamis in Germany | Status Anxiety mention
6 March: Geoff Dyer on Bernhard | Alain de Botton odds and ends | Murakami Ryu review | Ridiculous advances
7 March: Dalrymple on Naipaul | Coetzee answers | Hans Blix book
8 March: Pamphlet article | UNC book debate | Paul Theroux review | Prize effects
9 March: Rushdie to head PEN American Center | Rebecca Gilman review
10 March: Roddy Doyle talks | From Speckled to Gescheckt

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10 March 2004 - Wednesday

Roddy Doyle talks | From Speckled to Gescheckt

       Roddy Doyle talks

       There was recently a stir about some comments Roddy Doyle made regarding James Joyce's Ulysses; see, for example, Angelique Chrisafis' 10 February article in The Guardian, Overlong, overrated and unmoving: Roddy Doyle's verdict on James Joyce's Ulysses (but note also J.C.'s NB column in the 27 February TLS, where he quotes from a Colum McCann rebuttal in the Irish Times entitled How a Half-truth Became a Great Lie, noting that at the event where Doyle made his comments he, in fact, expressed "an enormous amount of praise and respect for Joyce ... He talked about Ulysses being one of the finest books of the century.")
       Juliana Castedo interviewed Doyle in Monday's issue of the Columbia Spectator, but didn't ask him about this particular to-do; interested readers in the New York area had another opportunity to hear his opinion, as he read and discussed last night at Barnard (at a Forum on Migration-event).

       Among the points of interest from the interview: Doyle is teaching a course on Contemporary Irish Literature and apparently couldn't cover all the authors he'd have liked to:
I was limited by availability; some of the better books, to my mind, aren't available in paperback in the United States at the moment -- a lot of the younger writers, particularly--which is unfortunate.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       From Speckled to Gescheckt

       A book Roddy Doyle praised effusively is Hugo Hamilton's intriguing (but, to our minds, not entirely successful) memoir, The Speckled People, which is now available in German translation, as Gescheckte Menschen.
       Hamilton has always been popular in Germany, and this book (with the German mum and the linguistic and cultural confusion) should obviously attract considerable notice there (though so far the only German-language review we've come across is at -- no surprise -- Falter (though more coverage is certain to come)).
       The book attracted a good deal of notice (and positive reviews) in the US, UK, and, especially, Ireland, but the German reaction is also one worth watching.
       Those in München (Munich) can also catch him at a reading on Monday, 22 March (part of a larger publicity tour, we assume).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 March 2004 - Tuesday

Rushdie to head PEN American Center | Rebecca Gilman review

       Rushdie to head PEN American Center

       Salman Rushdie, a longtime "honorary vice president" on the board of PEN American Center (the American chapter of International PEN), has moved up a few notches and been named president; see, for example, the AP report (at USA Today).
       Meanwhile, the author who was named to head the international organisation a few months ago, Jiří Gruša (Jiri Grusa) (recall our mention), remains unmentioned anywhere. Yes, Rushdie is closer to home for the US press -- and a bigger name; still, a token mention seems warranted. (To add yet more insult to injury, some press reports about the Rushdie appointment cut the AP report to such an extent that it's implied Rushdie is now head of the global organisation, rather than just the US branch).
       But it's nice to see that PEN remains such an international organisation that nationality isn't a barrier to authors playing a prominent role in a national PEN-branch outside their own countries (recall also that Czech Gruša was a member of PEN Austria ...).
       No information about the Rushdie takeover at the PEN Ameican Center site yet, but he MCs an event on 22 March -- "Walter Mosley in conversation with Chris Abani" (which sounds worth checking out).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rebecca Gilman review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rebecca Gilman's play Blue Surge.
       We only found a copy of this title recently, but just when we think we've caught up with her work (with her four Faber-published titles now under review) we find out a new play is coming out any day now: The Sweetest Swing in Baseball will be playing 25 March to 15 May -- oddly enough in London (which, after the Goodman in Chicago, seems her second preferred venue).
       We're a bit unsure about this one, in which "Dana draws on the inspiration of American baseball star Darryl Strawberry". Darryl Strawberry ? Darryl Strawberry ? Does anyone in the UK know (or care) who this guy was ?
       Still, we're curious, and hope to eventually review it. Faber has a publicity page (a very unimpressive one) on the title, promising publication by next month, but it's not listed at either or But, if it exists, maybe Faber will send us a copy .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 March 2004 - Monday

Pamphlet article | UNC book debate | Paul Theroux review | Prize effects

       Pamphlet article

       Saturday's Globe and Mail has an article on Pamphlet paradigms, suggesting: "Publishing pamphlets seems a likely way to return pointed intellectual argument to Canadian life." And elsewhere, too, surely.
       Prickly Paradigm Press is the main example; it's nice to see them get the press-coverage. We hope to eventually have a look at their new offerings.
       (See also mention at The Reading Experience.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UNC book debate

       Like many colleges, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill picks a title for all incoming students to read and discuss; more so than most colleges, they usually manage to cause some sort of uproar with their selection process. J. Peder Zane comments on this year's "kerfuffle" in yesterday's issue of the News & Observer, in UNC's book list a menu from the mainstream. He believes:
Instead of urging students to debate today's hot-button issues -- which many will do on their own -- universities should create for them the room to think and grow outside the confines of contemporary controversy.
       Amen to that.
       At UNC it came down to a choice between Bill McKibben's Enough and David Lipsky's Absolutely American. The latter eventually won out.
       The UNC Backgrounder reported (25 February) that:
The committee’s criteria for selecting a book include finding a work that will be intellectually stimulating to 18-year-old students and provoke thoughtful discussion. Other priorities are that the book should be engaging, relatively short and easy to read and address a topic or them that students can apply to themselves, such as societal issues.
       And John Frank reported in The Daily Tar Heel that:
Committee members ultimately favored the book because of its theme of a college experience and its timely topic of public service in an election year.
       Meanwhile, Stephanie Horvath offered an opinion piece in The Daily Tar Heel (1 March), Reading committee acted in fear of more controversy, where she wrote:
However, I'm disappointed that the committee consciously backed away from a number of equally great books simply because of their controversy quotient. In doing so, the University let fear of criticism dictate its path.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Paul Theroux review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Paul Theroux's recent The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro and Other Stories.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Prize effects

       The prestigious Japanese literary prize, the Akutagawa Prize, was awarded to two women -- Wataya Risa and Kanehara Hitomi, the youngest prize winners ever -- earlier this year (15 January).
       The award-winning pieces were published in the March issue of Bungei Shunju -- and Japan Today reported (24 February) that that issue set a sales record, as it "reached its record high 1,185,000 copies". There aren't too many places where fiction actually pulls in a record number of readers .....
       Recent English-language reports about the prize-winners include Janet Ashby's New Akutagawa winners offer hope (Japan Times, 4 March) and May Masangkay's Young prize-winners taking Japanese literary scene by storm (today's Japan Today).
       See also older reports at the Foreign Press Center and The Asahi Shimbun.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 March 2004 - Sunday

Dalrymple on Naipaul | Coetzee answers | Hans Blix book

       Dalrymple on Naipaul

       It's a pain to read (seven pages to click through; print version only accessible for registered users), but William Dalrymple's piece on V.S.Naipaul (and some statements he recently made in India) in the current Outlook India, 'Sir Vidia Gets It Badly Wrong', is well worth having a look at.
       (Dalrymple is the author of White Mughals, Naipaul's most recent books is the essay collection, Literary Occasions.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Coetzee answers

       The Elegant Variation pointed to a not-quite-an-interview by the supposedly reclusive Nobel laureate J.M.Coetzee a few days ago, a transcript of an ABC report. Among other claims made there: in Stockholm: "Apart from his acceptance speech, he made no public comment."
       His comments may not be very public, but he wasn't entirely uncommunicative. We don't know how we missed it, but Coetzee actually agreed to answer some reader-questions at Aftonbladet (12 December 2003), and the results are even available in English
       Of course, with questions like these, it's a wonder he (or any author) ever agrees to this sort of thing. But at least we do learn some fascinating facts -- such as that he is not familiar with the music of the group Kraftwerk (despite, apparently, having so much in common with them ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hans Blix book

       Our copy of the 25 March issue of The New York Review of Books arrived in the mail yesterday; they'll probably make a few of the articles available online when it becomes the "current" issue (presumably on the 11th -- the date of the current 'current' issue (don't even get us started on the dating-practises of American periodicals ...)). There's a lot of good stuff, including: a review by Freeman Dyson, Pankaj Mishra on Kipling, Vijay Joshi and Robert Skidelsky on Peter Singer's One World, and Michael Chabon on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials-trilogy.
       ((Updated - 9 March): Now available online (but probably only for a couple of weeks): the pieces by Dyson, Chabon, and the Urquhart mentioned below.)

       Of particular interest, however: the always thoughtful Sir Brian Urquhart on the Hutton Report (see The Hutton Inquiry site for all that material) and Hans Blix's about-to-be-published book, Disarming Iraq. This should be getting a lot of press in the coming weeks. Early information includes:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 March 2004 - Saturday

Geoff Dyer on Bernhard | Alain de Botton odds and ends
Murakami Ryu review | Ridiculous advances

       Geoff Dyer on Bernhard

       For a while all the book-articles at the Financial Times were only accessible to registered users, but this week they've opened things up again. This week's Speaking Volumes column by Stephen Pincock is on Geoff Dyer.
       Among the books he's reading: Thomas Bernhard's Extinction. Dyer explains:
He's the funniest writer ever. This book is just an endless rant. He's a scream.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Alain de Botton odds and ends

       An essay by Alain de Botton can also be found at the Financial Times' site: Off their pedestals. We always approve of novel-defences, so it's of some interest, de Botton explaining:
In short, novels grant due authority and prestige to values that are underrated or overlooked by the mainstream.
       His TV series, Status Anxiety, begins airing tonight in the UK. See also his piece in The Guardian (4 March), All you need is status.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakami Ryu review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Murakami Ryu's In the Miso Soup, recently translated into English.
       Murakami (no relation to Haruki) has written dozens of novels, but this is just his fourth work to be published in English. Interestingly, he's better-known (and more extensively translated) in France; generally, Japan is one of the few places from which translations are far more likely to be made into English than other languages

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ridiculous advances

       In today's issue of The Guardian, Granta-editor Ian Jack "puzzles over the huge amounts paid for politicians' stories" in Thanks for the memories.
       We certainly can't disagree with his conclusion:
Why do publishers do it ? I have heard several explanations. The publicity adds glamour to the imprint, it's good to have a politician at your party, and, well, you never know, it might be a good book. However, the most convincing one I have heard is: because we're stupid.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 March 2004 - Friday

World Book Days explanation | Jasper Fforde review | Hayek biography
Murakamis in Germany | Status Anxiety mention

       World Book Days explanation

       Yesterday was World Book Day -- in the UK and Ireland.
       As we noted two days ago, most of the rest of the world celebrates World Book and Copyright Day on 23 April. In his article in yesterday's issue of The Independent, When it comes to reading, bookkeepers top the league (yes, as dozens of other newspaper articles with similar headlines testify to, that was apparently the big story about World Book Day ...), Terry Kirby offers an explanation for the separate dates:
A Unesco initiative, World Book Day is the world's biggest celebration of books and reading and will be marked by numerous events in the UK today and in the rest of the world on 23 April, Shakespeare's birthday. Publishers and booksellers in Britain chose the first Thursday in March because 23 April often falls during school Easter holidays.
       Publishers and booksellers in continental Europe apparently had no such qualms (though we understand they too celebrate Easter, and that it is often also a school holiday). (We suspect more than a few of the English-folk who decided when to set the UK date were more concerned about WBD celebrations interfering with the Shakespearean celebrations than about Easter.)

       In any case, we like our alternative much better: Every day is World Book Day !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jasper Fforde review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of the third instalment of Jasper Fforde's fantastically bookish Thursday Next-series, The Well of Lost Plots, which has just come out in the US.
       The US edition comes with an "exclusive" bonus chapter at the end -- inadvertently highlighting one of the few problems with Fforde's books: there isn't that much of a beginning or end to them, and episodes can be thrown in (or could be taken out) without affecting the overall impression much. (Fortunately, most of the episodes are entertaining -- though this volume is again proof that more is not always better.)

       Good news: the previous Fforde novels came to the US with terrible delays, long after UK publication, but the next Next novel, Something Rotten (pre-order your copy at or, is scheduled for simultaneous release in both markets -- and that nice and soon too, at the beginning of August.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hayek biography

       We're tempted to cover it but don't know if we'll manage any time soon: Bruce Caldwell's Hayek's Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F.A. Hayek.
       It's been getting decent review coverage, including a write-up in the new issue of The Economist. They find:
Hayek's Challenge is a welcome introduction. It has several merits. As an editor of Hayek's collected works, Mr Caldwell knows his texts. Unlike many writers on Hayek, he does not treat him as a guru. He admits his obscurities and longueurs.
       Noteworthy also the conclusion -- a too-oft heard lament:
Hayek believed that markets and societies generally exemplified spontaneous order: as a rule even the best-meant interventions make things worse. True or not in economics, that is, alas, not true for books. Hayek's Challenge, for all its virtues, could have done with the hidden hand of an editor.
       Other recent reviews include Jason Steorts' in the National Review (27 February) and Richard North's in The Independent (15 January).
       For additional information see the University of Chicago Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakamis in Germany

       We don't get it: Murakami Haruki's 2002 novel, Umibe no Kafuka, has now appeared in German translation (brought out by DuMont, and directly from the Japanese this time -- which hasn't always been their policy) as Kafka am Strand. The Viennese weekly Falter -- which surprises us yet again with its solid literary coverage -- even has a review already.
       An English translation (as Kafka on the Beach) is expected later this year: already lists it; doesn't (though you can get Mingzhu Lai's "traditional Chinese" translation)
       Murakami Haruki is popular both here and there, but it's amazing the Germans got to to this one first. They have a poor track record -- and several of Murakami's books (when they finally got around to them) are only on offer second-hand (see our piece on Twice Removed: The Baffling Phenomenon of the Translated and then Re-Translated Text).
       More typically, German publisher Suhrkamp is bringing out the paperback edition of Andrea Viala's translation (from the American) of Murakami Ryu's (no relation) 69 later this year; they can't bothered to (re-)translate it directly.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Status Anxiety mention

       It's the first review of Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety that we've seen -- and it's not good.
       In today's issue of The Independent Laurie Taylor writes on Show me some respect. Please. Taylor finds:
(T)his new offering is desperately disappointing. De Botton has nothing much to say about status anxiety that hasn't already been said a thousand times by knowing journalists or populist sociologists.
De Botton works his socks off to bring this material to life, but for all the neat phrases and quirky illustrations, it still sounds more like a writer following a greedy publisher's brief than the de Botton of former times -- the literary flâneur happily indulging himself.
       We've reviewed all his other books, so we'll probably also do this one (when it becomes available in the US). But even before this review it didn't sound particularly promising.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 March 2004 - Thursday

Books that shouldn't have been published ? | NIBF prep
Gustafsson meets Tolkien

       Books that shouldn't have been published ?

       At About Last Night Terry Teachout mentions a Baltimore Sun article from last week (22 February), where Craig Eisendrath asked a number of people (including Teachout) What book do you wish had never been written ?
       The answers weren't too inspired, and included Mein Kampf and several fad-launching titles (Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, Thomas Harris' I'm OK - You're OK, and Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People). Teachout suggested:
I doubt that mass murder can be blamed, however peripherally, on very many books (Mein Kampf was less a cause than a symptom), but if ever a book were written that inspired the piling up of corpses, it was Karl Marx's Das Kapital.
       (He's right about Mein Kampf -- but surely some other books have caused far worse: the Bible and the Koran and their fanatical (and enormous) fan base over the ages come to mind.)
       Still, it's a fun exercise -- though we're hard pressed to suggest any book the world would be better off without. Sure, there are an enormous number of terrible works we could do without (certainly the world did not need, say, The Devil wears Prada) but if there are people who get something out of a book, no matter how poor in quality it is, that's worth something too. And the whole censorship idea (which is, essentially, what the question boils down to) makes us decidedly uncomfortable.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NIBF prep

       The Nigeria International Book Fair is still two months away (it runs 6 to 10 May), but preparations are under way. In yesterday's issue of This Day Bukola Olatunji reports on this More Than International Market Place for Books.
       The official NIBF introduction-page also has its charm. How can you not root for an event that is introduced with the wonderful pronouncement:
The world today, as exposited by Macmann Luhan, is a global village.
       Good old Macmann Luhan, how we always enjoy his expositions !
       On a more serious note, among the issues of concern:
With the NIBF 2004, it is hoped that the problems of high tariff on book production materials, duty on books and other bottlenecks against free flow of books between countries will soon become a thing of the past.
       It's sad that these are still issues, and that governments (the Nigerians aren't alone in this) can't see the benefits of fostering a literary culture (or simply a literate culture) -- which would certainly be easier if taxes and duties on books weren't prohibitive.
       Interesting also that Olatunji notes:
There is something else the government needs to look at -- piracy. Lawal-Solarin, who described pirates as armed robbers, said all that publishers can do it tell parents to avoid buying pirated books. The National Copyright Commission is there, but it has not been financially empowered by the government to carry out its duties.
       Such 'piracy' is not unknown in the US etc. either (consider the legal disputes regarding copying of (especially academic) material), but is obviously a bigger problem in Nigeria, making it even harder for publishers to earn money with their products.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Gustafsson meets Tolkien

       We recently reviewed a recent title by Swedish poet and novelist (and University of Texas, Austin academic) Lars Gustaffson, Windy berättar.
       He also just penned a column for Expressen (29 February), Professorn fick en idé, describing his meeting with J.R.R.Tolkien in 1961.
       We heard about the article via Perlentaucher, who mentioned that it appeared in German translation in the 3 March Süddeutsche Zeitung (not available online). It's not uncommon for such articles by European intellectuals to make their way across Europe in various translations; it's too bad more don't show up in English language papers. (Juan Goytisolo, the occasional French intellectual, and a select few who happen to be in the news make for the exception rather than the rule.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 March 2004 - Wednesday

World Book Day -- or part of the world, anyway | NBCCAs
Michael Cunningham at Yale | More on Hotakainen
Coetzee goes public yet again | Clive James on Brecht

       World Book Day -- or part of the world, anyway

       In the UK and Ireland they're celebrating World Book Day 2004 tomorrow (4 March) (see also John Walsh's article, The next chapter, in today's issue of The Independent).
       They also offer the related World Book Day Online Festival 2004 -- a fancier site which:
will showcase a fantastic line-up of authors giving interviews, readings and live chat sessions, providing unique insights into their reading and writing lives.
World Book Day was designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and was marked in over 30 countries around the globe last year.
       Thirty countries doesn't sound all too worldly, i.e. this doesn't really seem to have caught on in this form -- or, as it turns out, on this day.
       It seems that at the UNESCO site we're informed that they're celebrating something slightly different -- World Book and Copyright Day -- on a different day (23 April 2004) and with a different focus:
By celebrating this Day throughout the world, UNESCO seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.
       Obviously there's only one solution, which is the way we've looked at things all along: Every day is World Book Day !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       Competing against the (British and Irish) World Book Day (see above) tomorrow (4 March) in the US will be the awards ceremony for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, at 18:00 at 66 West 12 Street in New York.
       Probably more interesting: the Finalists' Readings tonight (also 18:00, also at 66 West 12 Street). (See also all the list of all the finalists and their work on that page.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Michael Cunningham at Yale

       In yesterday's issue of the Yale Daily News, Jeff Muskus reports that 'Hours' author Cunningham shares. An audience of a hundred or so listened: "to Cunningham read excerpts from his work and field questions about his old and new projects, writer's block and baking cakes."
       We've not read any of his work, but were pleased to hear an author admit:
"Everybody writes differently," he said. "But I like to take a stupid idea and see how it expands."
       On the other hand, maybe that's why we've avoided his work. As tempting as it is to learn what an author can do with a stupid idea when s/he runs with it ... well, quite honestly, we encounter that far too often.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Hotakainen

       We mentioned a few days ago that Finnish author Kari Hotakainen's novel, Juoksuhaudantie, won this year's Nordic Council Literature Prize (which, given the reaction everywhere else -- deafening silence --, is clearly not among the sexiest literary prizes out there).
       There's additional English information about the winning book and the author at Books from Finland, as well as a translated excerpt.
       The most extensive English-language coverage you're likely to find about Hotakainen's prize-winning is now available from Helsingin Sanomat, where Jukka Petäjä dramatically relates: From the trenches of Northern Helsinki to the front line of Nordic literature (and Maija Alftan offers additional background information about: Hotakainen - a local and national hero).
       The Petäjä piece does offer some insight into Nordic differences (or at least takes the opportunity to get in some nice digs at the neighbours):
While marketing the fresh Swedish translation of his book Hotakainen came face to face with the surrealism of Swedish society, when Swedish journalists wanted to ponder with him whether or not going into therapy might have helped Matti get rid of his violent nature.
       "The journalists were seriously asking why Matti hits people. It was hard to give any answers, because the person in question was a made-up character in a novel, whose actions take place with the greater whole of the novel in mind."
       Hotakainen pondered how Dostoevsky would have reacted to a suggestion that one of his characters should go into family therapy.
       So pathetic has the general level of literary discourse become (especially in the media) that for a few moments we actually gave some credit to the Swedish journalists, thinking to ourselves: hey, at least they're in some way engaged with the text, at least they're thinking about it, hell, at least they read it. Then, of course, we came to our senses, went off in a corner and cried for a bit, and then did spend a while pondering how, indeed, Dostoevsky might have reacted to such inanity.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Coetzee goes public yet again

       A few weeks ago we mentioned a public appearance by Nobel laureate J.M.Coetzee (he accepted the 'Keys of the City' of Adelaide). Despite his reclusive reputation (not very well-deserved, we feel), he's back. As reported in various Australian papers, Coetzee has now even done a book signing at the Adelaide Writers' Week.
       In today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald Malcolm Knox reports on the Motto of the reluctant teacher. Apparently we're meant to believe: "The South African, who lives in Adelaide Hills, gives no interviews." (This no doubt comes as a surprise to David Attwell, whose interview with him was published in a Swedish translation in Dagens Nyheter, as En motvillig mästare, less than three months ago.)
       Knox also notes:
Coetzee opened his talk by explaining his reluctance to speak publicly. He said that as an academic in South Africa, his lectures were "disappointing without exception". He "lacked conviction" and "had no talent for lecturing", or, as he put it, for "standing in front of a microphone jawing away".
       Penelope Debelle discusses Coetzee's curt answers (asking us to believe that he doesn't lecture any more either), while in The Advertiser Chris Brice offers something of a second-hand interview in Just a very few words, with most of the piece made up of a Q & A with former arts minister Diana Laidlaw who got the master to sign some of her books.
       As The Elegant Variation mentioned only a few days ago, Coetzee will be the Isaac and Madeline Stein Visiting Writer at Stanford in the spring (last year Michael Ondaatje had that gig). Teaching in the creative writing programme means he can probably get away without those convictionless lectures, and the scheduled reading (14 April) presumably also poses few problems -- but what about that colloquium (12 May) ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Clive James on Brecht

       Clive James is interviewed by U-En Ng in today's issue of the New Straits Times.
       Nothing special, but we always like to point out when someone shares our opinion on this important point, as James says re. Bertolt Brecht:
He was a very good poet; to my mind he and Rainer Maria Rilke are the two great German poets of the 20th century.
       Yes, he also says: "But Brecht in many ways was an awful man", etc. but the poetry is the point. Indeed, we've been known to argue (admittedly generally after a few beers) -- as have a few others (perhaps even sober) -- that over the long term (i.e. centuries from now) Brecht will be best remembered as a poet (and a great one at that), with his plays largely only of historic interest.
       So we can even excuse U-En Ng's bizarre (but not uncommon) misspelling of the master's name, as: "Berthold Brecht".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 March 2004 - Tuesday

Advertising through fiction | Mulisch review | More indices !

       Advertising through fiction

       It's not unheard of: Fay Weldon sold out, and product placement is common in film. Now comes yet another story from the UK of a 'writer' who is willing to do some product-placement in her fiction in exchange for cash.
       At the BBC site Martin Plaut reports that Ford advertises the literary way, while in the Telegraph Gitangeli Sapra finds Ford pays the author to make its car the star. As Sapra puts it:
A British author is being paid by Ford motor company to feature one of its cars in her new book to increase sales of the vehicle. (...) Matthews will promote the Ford Fiesta in her next two novels and also write a series of short stories featuring the car in return for an undisclosed payment. The deal is thought to be worth several thousand pounds.
       Of course, it's more fun to read how the Ford company describes this unholy union:
The Ford Fiesta comes alive in the pages of The Sweetest Taboo and will also star in a selection of short stories that Carole is writing. The short stories will appear here on and will be snapped up by women's magazines and national newspapers.
       The car comes alive ? Didn't Stephen King already do that ? (And did that boost car sales ?)
       As to the stories being "snapped up by women's magazines and national newspapers", we can only imagine that might occur if Ford pays to get them printed.

       The author in question is someone named Carole Matthews (see also her 'world website'). She's had some success, apparently, -- previous books seem to have sold well -- so it's unclear why she is doing this (but then we don't understand why actors or athletes prostitute themselves by appearing in adverts either -- all-consuming greed is apparently a powerful motivator).

       We can't imagine this will be a success: early examples have the look and sound of a parody site, not anything vaguely literary (in even the basest popular form). For a laugh, do see Carole on her Fiesta Ghia. She calls the thing 'Flossie', and writes about it:
Nippy, nice. No hernia or knicker-flashing getting in and out. Stylish with comfort ie my teeth don’t rattle in your head on country lanes and my kidneys don’t dislodge on the speed humps in my road.
       Dear god ! What automobile experiences has she had that left her teeth rattling in our heads (never mind those kidney-dislodging speed humps) ? Or maybe she is going for the Stephen King approach to fiction ... ?
       (We understand that publishing houses, with their lack of business sense and cash flow, can't be bothered to waste what little money they have on copy-editors, but surely a mega-multi-national like Ford could afford their services. Also: if this is what Ford considers adequate 'quality control' regarding the written word, think how they must be piecing together their automobiles.)

       We promise: we will not review any books written by this person (no matter how much her teeth rattle in our heads, scared though we are of that).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mulisch review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Harry Mulisch's poem, What Poetry Is.
       With our review of this small volume we have now covered all of Harry Mulisch's work that has been translated into English -- a mere eight titles, published over the past 40-odd years. We've also reviewed three of his books that haven't been translated yet, but even so it all amounts to just a fraction of his output.
       Amusing, then, to come across James Brockway's 1961 (!) mention of him in a survey-article of Dutch writers in The London Magazine (compare also our mention of J.M.Coetzee's collection of Dutch poetry). Among Brockway's observations:
His verve, his abundant talent cry out for a wider audience than he is likely to find in the Dutch-speaking world, and given that audience, its higher standards and more stringent criticism, he might discard his less mature quirks and poses and a seeming compulsion to impress by exhibitionist stratagems.
       That's a damn good call for 1961; too bad nobody seems to have been listening (or reading The London Magazine): the first Mulisch-translation into English appeared in 1962 (The Stone Bridal Bed) -- and Brockway presumably expected there to be a steady trickle of translation after that; instead, the next Mulisch translation (Two Women) only appeared in 1980

       Note: we've mentioned the site before but recommend it again: the Poetry Library (where we found Brockway's piece) offers the full text (and an excellent search engine to find it) of almost the entire contents of The London Magazine and quite a few other impressive British poetry and literary magazines. Well worth browsing through: it is a superb resource.

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       More indices !

       The Mulisch title we just reviewed, What Poetry Is (see also our mention above), is a bilingual text. We have a handful of these under review now, and so, just as we have an index listing the Foreign Books we have under review (i.e. reviews of books that have not (yet) been translated into English), we have now added an index of Bilingual Editions under review.
       We have also added another new index (with considerably more titles) covering all the Series and Sequels and other multi-volume variations under review. (We were a bit surprised to find how many titles were parts of series and the like.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 March 2004 - Monday

Heinrich Mann re-issue | Arno Schmidt's radio dialogues | Still single-minded NYTBR

       Heinrich Mann re-issue

       In yesterday's issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer Marc Schogol reviews a re-issue of Heinrich Mann's 1935 novel, Young Henry of Navarre. (Overlook is also bringing out the sequel, Henry, King of France; Duckworth is bringing out Young Henry of Navarre in the UK in May) Schogol has his doubts:
This new edition of a medieval historical novel that was written in 1930s German doesn't translate especially well into Y2K English literature.
       But Mann -- brother of Thomas -- is an interesting case, and undeservedly obscure -- though Schogol puts it a bit strongly:
Little known nor long remembered, Mann mostly has been relegated to dusty shelves in libraries and secondhand-book stores.
       But, as pointed out at, for example, this USC page:
Despite his name and literary stature, Heinrich Mann remained virtually unknown in this country. By contrast, in pre-Hitler Germany, Heinrich had been both respected by fellow writers and popular with readers, perhaps even more so than his brother.
       For additional information, see also the Heinrich Mann page at books and writers and the introduction to Wayne Vincent Miller's dissertation, The Literary Canon as Process: Early Novels by Heinrich and Thomas Mann in Their Contemporary Reception.
       And if you really want to check out Young Henry of Navarre (not necessarily the H.Mann title we'd recommend ...), get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arno Schmidt's radio dialogues

       We're great fans of Arno Schmidt, and highly recommend the selection of his radio-programmes devoted to introducing overlooked authors that are available in English (as Radio Dialogs I and Radio Dialogs II -- with one more volume to come). Now we learn -- from a review by Uwe Ebbinghaus at the (outrageously) registration-requiring Die Welt -- that there's a 12-CD collection of some of the original (German) broadcasts (get your copy at
       We're not fans of audio-books, but since these pieces were originally written for radio-broadcast this actually is the proper format in which to enjoy them.
       We wonder whether any US or UK broadcaster will have a go at recording the English translations .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Still single-minded NYTBR

       As we mentioned, it was even worse two weeks ago (and, admittedly, slightly better last week), but The New York Times Book Review continues to cover far, far more non-fiction than fiction. In the 29 February edition:
  • 4 out of 15 full-length reviews were devoted to fiction (less than 27 per cent)
  • 4 out of 21 reviews total (including 'Books in Brief') were devoted to fiction (19 percent)
       Supposedly the new editor is to be named any moment now. S/he surely can't do worse .....

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