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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 July 2006

21 July: Arab publishing | Extended Q & A | Handke-Comédie-Française postscript
22 July: BookScan hits Australia | Dylan Thomas Prize longlist | The Natural Disorder of Things review
23 July: Psychogeography
24 July: 'Espresso Book Machine' | Legal threats to fiction in Germany ?
25 July: Updike reviews Ngugi | New set of RCF reviews | Elif Shafak profile | Radek Knapp reviews
26 July: Another Nothomb profile | Troubling Love review
27 July: Conveniently In the Country of Men ? | Ludvik Vaculik turns 80 | Lahiri on Narayan | Welish on Queneau
28 July: Riches from translation ? | New original On the Road | Salvayre on Molly Bloom
29 July: Mukherjee on Welsh | Javier Marias profile | Penguin weblog | Sulei/ai/ieman
30 July: MacLennan revival ? | Wayne Rooney's ghostwriter
31 July: Greer, Rushdie, and Brick Lane | Soyinka prize excitement | Empress review

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31 July 2006 - Monday

Greer, Rushdie, and Brick Lane | Soyinka prize excitement | Empress review

       Greer, Rushdie, and Brick Lane

       As you've probably heard, some people in Brick Lane have protested (successfully) against the filming of Monica Ali's Brick Lane on location.
       Last week Germaine Greer weighed in with Reality bites in The Guardian -- and on Saturday The Guardian printed several letters responding to that piece, including one by Salman Rushdie. Leading, of course, to articles such as Paul Lewis' 'You sanctimonious philistine' - Rushdie v Greer, the sequel (also in The Guardian) and Jonathan Thompson's Rushdie vs Greer in the Independent on Sunday.
       Other reactions include Jasper Gerard's in the Sunday Times (scroll down), where he notes:
You know the anti-film lot has a weak case when batty Germaine Greer takes its side. With similar inevitability Salman Rushdie, the socialite and occasional author, has waded in against the protesters.
       See also Sam Leith on Burning books, burning bras: what's going on ? in the Telegraph and Jonathan Heawood's The battle for Brick Lane.

       Meanwhile, no word yet whether the citizens of Mamarrosa (apparently the locale of Monica Ali's follow-up, Alentejo Blue) are mobilizing to prevent any filming there as well .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Soyinka prize excitement

       Only a few days left until the winner is announced -- and then (so McPhilips Nwachukwu and Ben Njoku in Vanguard) The world in the hands of winner of Wole Soyinka prize ....
       What excitement ! As Dr. Promise Ogochukwu, spokesperson for the Lumina Foundation said:
Whoever wins the prize, according to her, will not only dine and wine with the elders, but will equally assume a colossal position in the literary world. He or she will be schemed into a reading tour of the whole country and beyond. Besides, the winning book will also be made available and affordable across the continent of Africa, as efforts are being intensified to ensure that the reading public gains access to the winning book which will, invariably, enhance the quality of the material life of the winner and as well bring about the much needed development of the human minds.
       How will they ever choose when:
Explaining the essence of the prize, which, according to the organizers, include a celebration of excellence, patriotism, integrity, heroism, intellectualism, selfless service and promotion of African authors and their works

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Empress review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Shan Sa's Empress.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 July 2006 - Sunday

MacLennan revival ? | Wayne Rooney's ghostwriter

       MacLennan revival ?

       In the Toronto Star Judy Stoffman writes that Dead novelist poised to make comeback. Once-renowned Hugh MacLennan has slipped into some obscurity since his death in 1990:
The author of seven novels, three books of non-fiction, and three essay collections, he won the Governor General's literary award five times -- a record never beaten. Almost none of his sizeable oeuvre is available to readers today.
       But McGill-Queen's University Press is now set to reissue some of his work -- see, for example, their publicity page for The Watch that Ends the Night (with links to other titles to be reissued).
       We often complain about literary estates not acting in the best interest of authors, but in MacLennan's case the problem wasn't one of over-exploitation and selling out -- quite the contrary:
When he died, MacLennan willed his copyrights to McGill University, where he had taught for 34 years. McGill did nothing with this splendid legacy.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wayne Rooney's ghostwriter

       In My life as Wayne's other half in The Observer Hunter Davies writes about ghostwriting English footballer Wayne Rooney's My Story So Far (get your copy at !).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 July 2006 - Saturday

Mukherjee on Welsh | Javier Marias profile | Penguin weblog | Sulei/ai/ieman

       Mukherjee on Welsh

       In The Times Neel Mukherjee takes on -- and takes down -- Irvine Welsh's new novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (see the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at or
Let's call a spade a spade -- Irvine Welsh’s sixth novel is so awful that, to paraphrase James Wood, it invents its own category of awfulness.
       And Mukherjee concludes:
This is a demeaning book that cants the reader’s soul downwards, making it feel complicit with the writer’s dishonest short-changing of his readership, telling them that this lazy, dishonest, appallingly written rubbish is the real thing while laughing all the way to the bank as a result of our gullibility. Those howls of rage of his early years have turned to the empty baying of a dog. Take him away.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Javier Marias profile

       In The Independent Christina Patterson profiles Javier Marias.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Penguin weblog

       Bookslut points us to the new The Penguin Blog (so new it's not even really there yet).
       They certainly think they've hit on something new:
Penguin Books launches the first blog from a mainstream publisher on Monday 31st July
       The first ? That might surprise some of the 16 other publisher weblogs we already link to -- which includes the likes of Overlook, Simon & Schuster, several HarperCollins-affiliated weblogs, and Holtzbrinck Publishers, as well as quite a few university presses.
       Still, the British do seem to be behind in this area, and it'll be interesting to see how many others jump on the bandwagon. (The more the merrier, we say !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       We recently reviewed Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men. Though set in Libya, the book was written in English, so there really shouldn't be any transliteration issues -- but reviewers seem to have found some nevertheless.
       The book is narrated by Suleiman.
       In Kamila Shamsie's review in The Guardian she refers to: Sulaiman instead (11 times).
       Meanwhile, Samir El-Youssef opts for Sulieman in a New Statesman review (6 times).
       Does anyone still employ copy editors ? (We can't afford to, and we do make these sorts of mistakes too, but surely these media outlets should manage a bit better .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 July 2006 - Friday

Riches from translation ? | New original On the Road | Salvayre on Molly Bloom

       Riches from translation ?

       Translator Matsuoka Yuko has apparently made so much money that Japanese tax authorities have charged her with failing to declare 3.5 billion yen in income -- around 30 million dollars ! Even given the fact that she's the one who translated the Harry Potter books into Japanese, that still seems an awful lot ... until one learns that she was, in fact, the president of Say-zan-sha Publications, the Japanese publisher of the Harry Potter books. I.e. she was the one who decided on the generous compensation. (We're not sure about corporate governance laws in Japan, but -- much though we like to see translators share in the riches -- this is a very dubious way of going about things.)
       See 'Harry Potter' translator's spell fails on tax office in The Japan Times and 'Harry Potter' translator busted for dodging taxes at Mainichi Daily News.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New original On the Road

       As widely reported (see, for example, Jenna Russell's Kerouac's `Road' will be unrolled in the Boston Globe) a new edition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road has been arranged for next year, restoring many of the cuts made in the existing editions.
       We're just disappointed that it's being published in book form, not like the scroll-manuscript; surely they could at least publish a limited-edition facsimile scroll version !
       We're also curious what impact this announcement will have on existing editions of the text (which, after fifty years, is at the very least some sort of standard edition). Given that the old and superseded edition of Elie Wiesel's Night nevertheless made it to the bestseller lists (along with the new translation) after Oprah named it a book club selection the publisher probably has nothing to worry about.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Salvayre on Molly Bloom

       It's in French, but too hard to resist: in Le Monde Lydie Salvayre writes Molly Bloom, l'âme enjouée de la littérature.

       (We have several Salvayre-titles under review; see, for example our review of The Award.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 July 2006 - Thursday

Conveniently In the Country of Men ? | Ludvik Vaculik turns 80
Lahiri on Narayan | Welish on Queneau

       Conveniently In the Country of Men ?

       Samir El-Youssef reviews Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men (see also our review), noting:
Free publicity is too tempting for publishers and literary agents to resist. Books tied to current affairs, particularly those about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya or anywhere else connected with the so-called war on terrorism, are eagerly snapped up by commissioning editors. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the book in question is a non-fiction attempt to delve behind the headlines. But when it comes to fiction, topicality at any price can be undesirable.
       El-Youssef finds Matar definitely tried too hard:
Matar seems to have set out to write a novel about a lonely child in Tripoli but -- perhaps to tempt a publisher -- shoehorns in Libyan politics under Gaddafi in a manner that precisely tallies with western stereotyping.
       We didn't think that was the only problem with the underwhelming book, but certainly the political aspect is problematic. Still, quite a few of the other reviewers were impressed by the Libyan connexion .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ludvik Vaculik turns 80

       CESLIT points us to Linda Mastalir's Renowned author Ludvik Vaculik turns eighty, and there's a second longer piece at the site too, Ludvik Vaculik: a Czechoslovak man of letters.
       (Several of his works have been translated into English.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lahiri on Narayan

       Several weblogs have pointed to the now-online issue of the Boston Review, which includes Narayan Days by Jhumpa Lahiri, her introduction to the forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of R.K.Narayan's classic Malgudi Days (due out in August).
       See also the Penguin publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Welish on Queneau

       Also in the Boston Review: Science Into Poetry, Marjorie Welish's take on Raymond Queneau -- fairly interesting.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 July 2006 - Wednesday

Another Nothomb profile | Troubling Love review

       Another Nothomb profile

       Will Amélie Nothomb's The Life of Hunger be her break-out title, at least in the UK ? (It's not even available in the US yet .....)
       She's certainly getting decent press coverage surrounding its publication, most recently now with Jasper Rees's profile in The Telegraph.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Troubling Love review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Elena Ferrante's very Troubling Love.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 July 2006 - Tuesday

Updike reviews Ngugi | New set of RCF reviews
Elif Shafak profile | Radek Knapp reviews

       Updike reviews Ngugi

       One of the books we've most been looking forward to this year is Ngugi wa Thiong’o's Wizard of the Crow, due out soon. In the current issue of The New Yorker John Updike reviews it.
       (Recall that James Gibbons' review at Bookforum has been up for a while -- and see also Henry Munene's review (of the latest Gikuyu instalment) at The New Times.)
       See also the Pantheon publicity page, or get your copy from and

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New set of RCF reviews

       There's a new set of reviews up at the Review of Contemporary Fiction.
       The usual interesting selection -- including reviews of two of the current batch of Litblog Co-op-nominees, Kellie Wells' Skin and Paule Constant's White Spirit (see also our review).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Elif Shafak profile

       We recently mentioned the re-opened 301 proceedings against author Elif Shafak in Turkey. In In Istanbul, a writer awaits her day in court in The Guardian Richard Lea profiles her and the case:
Shafak herself believes the charges were brought for two reasons: "The overt reason is my latest novel and the critical tone of the book. The latent reason is deeper and more complex. I have been active and outspoken on various 'taboo' issues, critical of ultranationalism and all sorts of rigid ideologies, including those coming from the Kemalist elite, and I have maintained a public presence on minority rights, especially on the Armenian question. It is a whole package."
       Shafak has written fiction in both Turkish and English and has some interesting things to say about that too:
Shafak has been published in Turkey, the US and Britain, though only two of her six novels are available in the UK at the moment. Since writing The Flea Palace, which was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction prize in 2005, she has begun writing in English -- an act which has been seen by Turkish nationalists as a "cultural betrayal".

It was a choice motivated more by her passion for language, by the search for new modes of expression. "There are certain things I'd rather write in English, certain others I'd rather write in Turkish," she explains. "English, to me, is a more mathematical language, it is the language of precision. It embodies an amazing vocabulary and if you are looking for the 'precise word', it is right out there. Turkish, to me, is more sentimental, more emotional." English seems more suited for philosophy, analytical writing or humour, "but if I am writing on sorrow I'd rather use Turkish."

       And just to state the obvious once again: Article 301 is among the stupidest and most offensive laws on the books (especially the way it is being applied) and if Turkey really wants to be taken in any way seriously they have to get rid of it completely. Not re-write it or amend it, just toss it right out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Radek Knapp reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two novels by Radek Knapp:        Pretty light entertainment, but he's definitely got considerable talents. We're a bit surprised that he's not more widely translated -- not that he's not translated into English (since so (relatively) little is), but even into, say, French. Here's an author that has, after all, garnered the praise of the generally critical Stanislaw Lem (though the Polish-Viennese connexion -- they're both Poles that wound up living in Vienna -- may have helped in that regard).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 July 2006 - Monday

'Espresso Book Machine' | Legal threats to fiction in Germany ?

       'Espresso Book Machine'

       In Newsweek Elise Soukup writes about the 'Espresso Book Machine', a P.O.D.-variation that has some potential:
The current model of the machine can print the text for a 300-page book, with a color paperback cover -- and bind it -- in just three minutes and for only a penny per page. It will retail for less than $100,000.
       On Demand Books LLC is the company behind it (and despite a $766,000 grant they haven't spent much on their website ...). The first machine was set up a couple of months back at the World Bank -- see their report.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Legal threats to fiction in Germany ?

       One of the bigger literary-legal cases of recent years in Germany was that surrounding Maxim Biller's Esra: two acquaintances of Biller's saw themselves in characters in the book and sought to have the book withdrawn from the market. They were, amazingly enough, successful.
       Not satisfied, they've also sued for damages -- and the possible repercussions if they're successful are scaring the hell out of the German literary community.
       A lot of authors have now gotten together and signed a decleration expressing their concern; among those signing on were two Nobel laureates (Grass and Jelinek) and authors such as: Herbert Achternbusch, Jakob Arjouni, Marcel Beyer, Peter Demetz, Jenny Erpenbeck, Daniel Kehlmann, and Ingo Schulze.
       The problem they warn of is that if anyone who believes themselves to be depicted in a work of fiction can sue for damages it would have, to put it mildly, a chilling effect on creativity. (Interestingly, German books don't have that ridiculous disclaimer so widespread in American and British works of fiction (along the lines of: 'Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental' etc.).) As they put it:
Es wäre der Ruin der Literatur, es wäre der Bankrott der Kunstfreiheit, wenn künftig jeder, der sich in einem Werk der Fiktion wiederzuerkennen glaubt, auf Schadensersatz klagte. Statt der Lektoren wären die Anwälte die ersten Gegenleser, statt um Qualität ginge es nur noch um Unangreifbarkeit. Wer ein Buch veröffentlichte, riskierte den Ruin. (...) Unter solchen Bedingungen hätten weder Die Leiden des jungen Werthers noch die Buddenbrooks erscheinen können. Soweit darf es nicht kommen.

(It would mean the destruction of literature, the bankruptcy of artistic freedom if in the future everyone who thought they saw themselves in a work of fiction sued for damages. Instead of editors, the first readers would be lawyers, instead of quality only untouchability would matter. Anyone publishing a book would risk ruin. (...) Under such circumstances neither The Sorrows of Young Werther nor Buddenbrooks could have appeared. It can't come to that.)
       The issue is, of course, not unique to Germany -- and it's not entirely clear-cut (there seems to be widespread agreement that merely slapping the 'fiction' label on a book doesn't give authors a right to portray real people however they wish ...). Still, it's nice to see so many authors rally around the cause.

       (By the way, it's not entirely true that the book no longer exists: enough copies made it into circulation that you can even find copies at -- albeit at a hefty premium over the original list price.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 July 2006 - Sunday



       In An A-Z for one track minds in Scotland on Sunday Stuart Kelly ostensibly reviews Merlin Coverley's Psychogeography (in the 'Pocket Essentials'-series). He doesn't have much to say about the book, but does at least cover the topic -- including, of course, favoured author and psychogeographer Iain Sinclair.
       See also the Pocket Essentials publicity page, or get your copy at or

       (Updated - 24 July): See now also Jah Wobble's review in the Independent on Sunday.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 July 2006 - Saturday

BookScan hits Australia | Dylan Thomas Prize longlist
The Natural Disorder of Things review

       BookScan hits Australia

       After making a big splash in the US and UK, BookScan has now hit Australia -- and led to all the usual debate and discussion. The Australian looks at the consequences in a number of articles, with Rosemary Neill's The biblio files one of the more extensive pieces on it.
       She talks to BookScan-founder Michael Webster and:
Melbourne author and academic Mark Davis says BookScan has been a boon for mass-market fiction but a killer for literary fiction.

Webster responds: "Not everybody likes the statistics, but don't shoot the messenger, I say." (He uses this phrase twice during our two interviews, suggesting it has become something of a reflex.)
       There are, however, real dangers:
He says that as booksellers have homed in on what BookScan tells them is hot and selling fast, there has been a dramatic rise in demand for new books (known as frontlist in the trade) and a steep decline in demand for backlist titles.
       (So much for that 'long tail' idea .....)
       Also: there are some significant BookScan weaknesses that make it less useful than it should be:
Random House's executive publisher, Jane Palfreyman, says BookScan is a grey area when it comes to independent bookstores. She says its independents' sales figures can be "really out of whack". (This is because BookScan surveys only about 28 per cent of that sector.)
       That's certainly problematic (and makes the results a lot less useful than they could be).

       In Hard fact on book sales sells good fiction short D.D. McNicoll finds:
Australia's bestseller lists have become a battleground between "literary" authors and populist writers, with a computerised sales system killing off the highbrow novel in favour of the latest trendy diet book.
       It's pretty weird to think that more accurate information (since BookScan is undoubtedly an improvement over traditional supposedly comprehensive bestseller lists) is "killing off" literature -- but given how publishers are using the data it is, unfortunately, not entirely far-fetched.
       Still, we can't quite accept that:
"If you are a writer of serious non-fiction, say history or biography, you're competing unfavourably in the public mind with diet books and a guide to Melbourne's roads"
       Does the 'public mind' really pay such close attention to bestseller lists ? Come on -- what reader interested in biography turns instead to a diet book because it's higher placed on a bestseller list ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

       The 14-title strong longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize -- "awarded to the best published writer in English under the age of 30 from anywhere in the world" -- has been announced. We actually have one of the books under review: Susan Barker's intriguing Sayonara Bar.
       We're not entirely sure about this prize -- and they don't help matters by quoting (and having a huge picture of) ... Catherine Zeta Jones on their Why the Dylan Thomas Prize ?-page .....

       For press coverage, see, for example: Literary prize keeps alive the spirit of Dylan Thomas by Louise Jury in The Independent and Young writers' £60,000 prize hope at the BBC.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Natural Disorder of Things review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Andrea Canobbio's The Natural Disorder of Things.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 July 2006 - Friday

Arab publishing | Extended Q & A | Handke-Comédie-Française postscript

       Arab publishing

       In Publish or perish in Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian reviews Franck Mermier's very interesting-sounding Le Livre et la ville, Beyrouth et l'édition arabe ('The Book and the City: Beirut and Arab Publishing').
       As he notes:
Arabic is one of the world's great languages, and the Arab world contains hundreds of millions of potential readers. In theory, Arab publishing should be thriving.

In practice, however, as Franck Mermier makes clear in Le Livre et la ville, Beyrouth et l'édition arabe, a study of the Arab publishing industry, this is far from being the case. Not only are many Arab publishers under-capitalised, often being simply extensions of family-run bookstores, but they have had real difficulties in breaking into larger regional markets and sometimes even in effectively circulating their books in national ones.
       But Mermier is optimistic:
As a result of the deregulation that has taken place in the industry in recent years, particularly in Cairo and Beirut, its most important centres, a host of small, independent publishers has sprung up, significantly extending the range of titles available to Arab readers. New publishing possibilities have grown up in countries that previously relied on Cairo and Beirut for books, notably in the Gulf, and new technologies, particularly the Internet, hold out the promise of extending existing markets and developing new ones.
       Mermier also believes that Beirut is best-placed to take advantage of all this (though it's unclear to what extent the situation has now changed, given recent Israeli nation-undermining and -destroying activity there).
       Country-by-country analysis leads to some interesting observations:
Among the surprises here is the weakness of the publishing industry in the Maghreb countries, which, with the exception of Libya, have tended to rely on France for French-language books and have developed little by way of Arabic-language publishing, depending instead on imports from the Middle East. While the state has tended to dominate the publishing industry in Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, given over, on the whole, to the production of educational textbooks, the Moroccan industry has long been more diverse, with many small independents producing books in French and in Arabic.

Nevertheless, Mermier writes, in the mid-1990s only 10% of the books available in Morocco were produced by Moroccan publishers, and of the impressive number of publishers officially listed -- 65 in 1997 -- only 29 managed to publish three books or more per year. With the liberalisation of the publishing industry that has taken place in recent years, however, notably in Algeria, this situation is expected to improve, even if the Maghreb countries have thus far failed to develop a sub-regional market.
       Certainly sounds interesting; get your copy of Le Livre et la ville at or see the Actes Sud publicity page.

       Meanwhile we (and presumably the local literary scene) continue to miss the Cairo Review of Books, the once monthly supplement at Al-Ahram Weekly (last issue was from 5 April). As the editor explained back then:
Changes are afoot at the Weekly itself, and as the paper prepares for its re- launch in a new, more reader-friendly format with this edition we are suspending publication of the Cairo Review of Books. Once the Weekly's redesign is complete the Review will re-appear as a separate publication of the Weekly. In the meantime, book reviews and other regular features of the Review will continue to appear on the newspaper's pages.
       We hope the redesign is finished soon !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Extended Q & A

       Vikas Swarup's Q & A has been much-translated, but foreign publishers seem to be having trouble with the title. The Germans settled for the lame Rupien ! Rupien !, and now the French have greatly expanded on the original three-character title, going completely overboard with: Les Fabuleuses Aventures d'un Indien malchanceux qui devint milliardaire.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Handke-Comédie-Française postscript

       Two months ago there was lots of fun and fuss when Comédie-Française-administrateur général Marcel Bozonnet dumped a Peter Handke play from the forthcoming programme (see, for example, our earlier mention).
       Now it's his turn: as reported (here in the Nouvel Observateur, but it's in all the French papers) his contract was not renewed -- i.e. they kicked the bum out. (No surprise that the consensus is that he was pushed out for his creating and then mishandling the Handke-affair.)
       (Running the Comédie-Française is a pretty big deal, by the way -- the président de la République him- (or her)self has to sign off on the choice.)
       So this has all really worked out well for everybody involved, hasn't it ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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