In The Scotsman David Robinson profiles Hari Kunzru, author.
Kunzru's (not Man Booker-longlisted) Gods without Men is just out in the UK -- get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; surprisingly, there's no US listing yet.
Last week, the judges of the Booker Prize produced a longlist in which a third of the books fell into the category.
Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised, since four of the five judges have themselves written thrillers in an amateur capacity -- some quite good, some, such as Dame Stella Rimington’s faltering efforts, atrociously bad.
(No doubt, there's no connection whatsoever, but I hasten to remind you that Hensher's own King of the Badgers -- get your copy at Amazon.co.uk -- was not Man Booker-longlisted this year, despite the fact that as a previously shortlisted author his publisher could have submitted the title without it counting against their two-submission limit (which doesn't mean they bothered to do so ...; indeed, Fourth Estate didn't place anything on the longlist, so maybe they didn't bother submitting anything at all ...).)
Hensher also suggests:
Ask yourself this: is anyone, even the grittiest of Scandinavians, ever going to write a thriller about this week’s murders in Norway ?
Of course not. It would be like a murder mystery set in Auschwitz.
Thrillers operate according to a set of rules, if not always to a formula.
The reason that we love them is that they are not, fundamentally, going to surprise us.
Have there really been no Auschwitz murder mysteries ?
Horrible as thte thought is, it would actually seem to be a pretty tempting locale for mystery writers; I'd be astonished if no one has used it as the basis for a series, or at least a stand-alone.
As to "this week’s murders in Norway", well, aside from the fact that this hardly qualifies as 'murder' in the ordinary (or certainly murder-mystery) sense, there's not much great material here -- one of the problems of incomprehensibly stupid evil of this sort, which, after all, sadly remains an almost everyday occurrence (in the form of 'suicide bombings', drone assaults, and any number of other singular and collective rampages) in many parts of the world.
In The Observer Brian Oliver also considers how Norwegian writers might react, in When writers are confronted by a national trauma ... -- and it's good to see him name-check some of the other important local writers: Jens Bjørneboe and his History of Bestiality-trilogy (see, for example, Moment of Freedom) and Jan Kjærstad and his Wergeland-trilogy (see, for example, The Seducer), beside the usual crime-suspects, such as Jo Nesbø (see, for example, The Redbreast).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Thomas Bernhard's Victor Halfwit: A Winter's Tale, a previously untranslated story from 1966 which Seagull has certainly gone all out with.
Hungarian-born, French-writing Swiss author Agota Kristof has passed away; see, for example, the hlo report.
If you're not familiar with her work, the three novels collected in The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie is a decent place to start; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
TLS editor Peter Stothard said her departure was the result of a "purely budgetary" restructure.
"We, like everybody else, have to meet our budget this year on the TLS," he said.
And Duguid's "portfolio" will apparently: "be redistributed among the remaining team".
(Note also that Stothard has been rather quiet at his weblog recently -- it's been a month since he posted anything ......)
The Vodafone Crossword Book Awards -- one of the major Indian book awards -- have announced their shortlists.
Disappointingly, I haven't seen any of these books -- though others by several of the authors (Sudhir Kakar, Upamanyu Chatterjee) are under review at the complete review.
Lynn Barber's review of Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art World in The Telegraph from 2008 (not so surprisingly apparently not available online any longer ...) already occasioned an apology a while back, but Thornton pressed her case and has now also won £65,000 in damages; see, for example, The Telegraph's own report.
[(Updated - 30 July): See now also the useful overview of the legal ruling, Case Law: Thornton v Telegraph Media Group, an offer of amends defence fails – Hugh Tomlinson QC]
[(Updated - 31 July): See now also Thornton claiming My libel victory underlines the need for journalists to check their facts at The Guardian's commentisfree -- worth reading for her description of how she managed the legal proceedings alone.
(I'd suggest, however, that 'journalists' and 'reviewers' are two very different things, and Thornton's (or The Guardian's) headline claim that Barber should be considered the former is ... unfortunate (and further blurs this already messy issue); Barber's inaccuracies ('lies' ?) are certainly problematic, but for heaven's sake, it was in a book review, and when was the last time anyone -- other than an aggrieved author -- took any of those seriously ?]
This has led, of course, to much hand-wringing about whether or not this will have a chilling effect on book reviewing -- e.g. Has Lynn Barber killed the art of criticism ? asks Rob Sharp in The Independent.
In the Barber/Thornton case it wasn't so much a matter of opinion but rather of facts, which Barber apparently got wrong, so it seems rather unlikely (I would suspect and hope that the only one to get chilled is Ms. Thornton, as I can't imagine any literary editor in their right mind would ever assign any of her writings to be reviewed again, no matter how worthy -- but given that the previous poster boy for critical litigation and legal threats, Orlando Figes, still gets his work -- which, admirable though it may be, I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, much less read or review -- covered, who knows ?)
Still, cases like this do lead to entertaining looks at previous hatchet jobs, such as Suzi Feay's No critic sets out to 'kill' a book in The Independent, noting:
Every so often a particularly savage review will be met with the claim, "Is this the worst book review ever ?"
Tibor Fischer's evisceration of Martin Amis' Yellow Dog is still remembered fondly in this context, though not by Mr Amis.
(In this context recall also that Fischer was also once the subject of a devastating dismissal, as William Deresiewicz wrote about Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid (I Like Being Killed) in The New York Times Book Review: "So devoid are these pieces of any literary merit, it's a tribute to Fischer's lingering reputation that they got published at all".)
And John Wilson Croker's review of some Keats has also been getting a lot of attention; see also Robert Pinsky's How Not To Write a Book Review at Slate.
(I don't know if they're hatchet jobs, but see also what I consider to be the Worst Books under Review at the complete review; some harsh judgments, but nothing actionable -- I hope .....
(And, as I said, I refuse to risk reviewing anything by that Figes character.
Or Thornton, too, now.))
So they've announced the thirteen-title-strong longlist for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, selected from 138 titles (which, outrageously, they won't tell you the names of ...) -- with, shockingly, a mere seven called in by the judges (last year it was fourteen !).
Amazingly, no publisher/imprint scored more than a single title on the list -- suggesting some really bad submission decisions on the part of the majors (including Faber, Bloomsbury, etc.) (recall that each publisher/imprint is only allowed (!) to submit two titles -- along with making a few more suggestions, which obviously the judges weren't particularly impressed with this year).
Impressive that several smaller/regional publishers -- notably Seren and Sandstone -- got titles on the longlist (again pointing to the failings of the majors ...)
As for all those who will whinge about the absence of any true 'genre' fiction on the list: forget it: even without either the prize or the publishers admitting to which titles were submitted, rest assured it's all basically 'literary' titles, publishers not wanting to waste their limited chance at getting attention for a title on genre stuff.
Disappointingly -- but as expected -- I haven't so much as seen a single one of the longlisted titles, so I can't make heads or tails of the quality of this longlist; impressively, Graeme Neill reports that Hollinghurst favourite to win Man Booker in The Bookselller, as William Hill has already set odds on the titles.
(Given how little information is available about some of the titles -- reviews, etc. -- I suspect some of these odds are way off and punters could do quite well here.)
For early longlist commentary, see, for example:
So the Knopf galley of Murakami Haruki's 1Q84 is apparently now out -- see, for example, here.
(I haven't seen a copy yet, but look forward to getting my hands on one -- my review (based on the German edition) covers volumes one and two, but the English translation apparently also includes volume three !)
Yes, it's that time of the year again, as they've announced the 2011 winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.
(The succinct winning entry is pretty good.)
As an inveterate Bulwer-Lytton fan -- I've read a significant portion of his output, near 10,000 pages worth -- who finds him, despite obvious weaknesses, grossly under-rated, I'm not too thrilled by the contest.
On the other hand, it does keep his name in circulation, so that's something.
The Man Booker Prize for Fiction longlist is to be announced today; look for it here.
Judge Susan Hill has tweeted that there were about 155 (or 154) books in the running -- which would be considerably more than usual; in 2010 138 books were in the running.
[Updated - 27 July: Apparently Hill was seeing double under the weight of all the tomes: it turns out that there were, yet again, only 138 books under consideration.]
Regrettably (and outrageously), the Man Booker folk apparently still refuse to reveal what the titles in the running actually are/were, so it's very hard to say if it's the cream of the crop that's being judged, or the smells-like-a-Man-Booker-Prize-books that publishers (limited to two submissions apiece !) have submitted
I don't expect any of the titles will be under review at the complete review yet; many probably haven't even appeared in the UK yet, and very few will be available in the US yet.
Quite a few sites have offered predictions, of sorts, though there's not much going out on any limbs here; see, for example, predictions at:
Canada's intelligence service spied on renowned literary scholar Northrop Frye, closely eyeing his involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement, an academic forum on China and efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.
Newly released archival records show the RCMP Security Service relied on a secret informant to help compile a 142-page file on the esteemed University of Toronto professor, who died in 1991 at age 78.
Taxpayer money was clearly put to good use, as obviously the best men were on the job:
The 1967 biographical memo, prepared by an RCMP constable, reveals that at least one thing stumped the spies.
"At the present time, we are unable to ascertain what the initial 'H' stands for in Frye's name."
(It's 'Herman', for what it's worth -- presumably quite a few RCMP SS man-hours.)
Beer in the Snooker Club is not a history lesson, nor does it serve as simply a distorted mirror image of Egypt today.
But the book feels surprisingly contemporary.
The Waguih Ghali book is not under review at the complete review, but I do hope to get to it eventually (if I can get my hands on a copy ...); meanwhile, see the Serpent's Tail publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Naguib Mahfouz's Love in the Rain, now available in English.
This is the Naguib Mahfouz centenary-year; I wish more people were showing more interest in the Nobel laureate .....
It was literary award time in Japan again, as they handed out the Naoki Prize -- and, perhaps more significantly, didn't hand out the Akutagawa.
As The Japan Times reported last week, Writer Ikeido wins Naoki Prize, as:
Jun Ikeido has won the Naoki Prize for seasoned writers for his work "Shitamachi Rocket," [下町ロケット] a story about a small rocket component factory in an old downtown area.
The selection committee, however, didn't name a winner for the Akutagawa Prize, awarded biannually to promising writers of serious fiction.
Not a great sign, when you can't settle on a book by a promising writer .....
For more on the Naoki-winner, see now also A book for the times, also from The Japan Times.
Rather than have his heirs deal with his library, Schindler's Ark (or Schindler's List, if you prefer) author Thomas Keneally decided to make arrangements for it while he is still alive, and in The Age Andrew Taylor reports on this, in A library he calls his own.
It's gone to the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, where they've set up a soon-to-open Tom Keneally Centre.
There, then, is the trouble with my own age of writers.
We have no story; no drama, simply because we have lived in diapers all our lives, secluded from the messier details of real power; sheltered by the romantic view that writers are isolate figures, shielded from the rest of society by their moral sensibilities.
This is, of course, false and self-serving.
There is not a single memorable and vivid character among my generation of writers because they have not lived vividly and memorably.
There is not a powerful experiential detail that undergirds the vision of our art as writers in this generation.
I'm not sure that living "vividly and memorably" is necessary for great writing (in fact, I'm pretty sure it's not), but I suppose it does lend authors a certain authority -- certainly in a case like Okigbo's, who after all paid for it with his life.
I do think a greater focus on the works -- rather than what those behind them have experienced -- would be more useful.
But, of course, I don't think the contemporary Nigerian fiction scene -- the actual books, as opposed to the authors -- is anywhere near as feeble as Nwakanma does either.
In Partners in crime fictionThe Guardian has a number of prominent crime writers -- including 'Benjamin Black' (John Banville), Len Deighton, P.D.James, and David Peace -- write about their best-loved fictional characters in the genre.
Among the choices: Nancy Drew and Shaft.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates through four genres, and this year it is being awarded for children's literature -- certainly worthwhile, but perhaps not quite as ... literarily interesting as in other years.
Nevertheless, it is worth some attention: with $100,000 awarded to the winner this certainly looks to be among the (monetarily) biggest children's book prizes (as opposed to author prizes) being handed out anywhere this year .....
As Next reports, Six writers make 2011 Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist, with the six titles selected from 126 that were submitted -- good to see that there were that many entries !
At PopMatters Oliver Ho reviewsThe Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature -- a collection that sounds like a fairly amusing (if misleadingly titled, because non-Oulipian) exercise.
As the Cow Heavy publicity page has it:
This book is a catalog of textual desire, of wished-for and ideal books as described by a diverse collection of writers, critics, and text-makers.
The maligned blurb form herein becomes, time and again, the entryway into unreadable books and the anticipation that comes before opening them.
(I couldn't find an Amazon.com listing, but it should be readily available via the publisher.)
Every now and then I'll have yet another go at a 'graphic novel', and so the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bernar Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carrière's The Sky Over the Louvre.
So, sure, in the abstract, I can see taking comics book seriously; in practice, however .....
But I'll keep looking.
At Brazzil Isaura Daniel reports that World Interest in New Brazil Leads to More Translations of Brazilian Authors -- at least as measured by the grants they give out for translations (and, as we know, very little gets translated from or into any language any longer without a government subsidy ...).
Not surprisingly, even the cash inducements aren't enough to convince many American publishers:
Last year, for example, Argentina had the largest number of grants: ten.
The country was then followed by England, with seven and Spain, France and Italy, each with six.
Also in the list were Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Israel, Sweden, Chile, Mexico, the United States, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Lebanon, the Ukraine and Peru
In Asia Times Andrei Lankov reports on a North Korean short story, The Fifth Photo, by Rim Hwawon, in Pyongyang takes literary potshots at Moscow.
Personally, I'd prefer to see the actual story, as North Korean fiction remains frustratingly out of reach and second hand .....
(See also, for example, B.R.Myers' recent The Cleanest Race.)