France's most celebrated and controversial contemporary author could be pushed off his pinnacle following an astonishingly vitriolic attack from a critic with a unique insight into his oeuvre.
She is his mother
Meanwhile, Angelique Chrisafis (also: 'in Paris') reports for The Guardian on the Revenge of hippy mum on enfant terrible.
It seems Houellebecq's mom -- octogenarian Lucie Ceccaldi -- is set to publish her own book, L'Innocente, to set the record straight.
But while Houellebecq certainly has always come across as a right son of a bitch, she ... well, it doesn't sound like she ever deserved any consideration for mother-of-the-year honours.
Chrisafis reports that:
The first extracts from Ceccaldi's book are due to be published in the literary magazine Lire this week.
The news weekly L'Express called it "reckoning at the Houellebecq Corral".
It was reported that several other publishers declined to take on the book for fear of offending him.
But interest in this story -- or her book -- doesn't seem exactly overwhelming, and pre-orders at Amazon.fr (get your copy there) look pretty mediocre, as it had a sales-rank of 14,653 last we checked -- compared to, for example, a sales rank of 6,802 for Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles (Atomised in the UK).
We couldn't find the extract up at Lire yet, but they do have an interview with the old bat; for other French coverage see, for example, La mère de Michel Houellebecq règle ses comptes avec son fils at Libération.
There's still some hope of a nice, lingering scandal -- maybe if Houellebecq erupts with a few choice comments -- but to us it looks more like it'll quickly fizzle: there just doesn't seem enough to all of this (and her book).
On April 21, 1974,and in this place (The Sunday Times Review, as it then was), the UK’s first definitive weekly national bestseller list was published.Keeping a finger on the nation’s reading pulse in this way had been routine in America since the 1890s.
Americans loved their bestseller lists. Why ?
Because US society is organised around winners and losers.
The UK loathed bestseller lists. Why ?
Because they were unEnglish. Books, we believed, did not compete against each other.
Paying attention to a book not for its quality but for the quantity it sold was Yankee philistinism.
It makes us curious about his volume in the OUP 'Very Short Introduction'-series, Bestsellers; see the OUP publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; see also Scott Pack's review in The Times.
Iran's culture minister on Monday urged writers to self-censor their books if they want to be published in the Islamic Republic, which strictly vets literature and other arts.
"This is what we ask publishers and writers: 'You are aware of the vetting code, so censor pages which are likely to create a dispute,'" conservative Minister Mohammad Hossein Safar Harandi told a news conference.
He said publications should be in line with the system's "religious, moral and national" sensitivities and warned writers against graphic descriptions of relationships or sex.
Yet one of the main complaints from authors and publishers is that they have no idea (and aren't being told) what these nuts are looking for or opposed to:
Safar Harandi was commenting on a recent letter by Tehran Publishers' Association, which accused his ministry of employing a prolonged and arbitrary vetting process.
"The publishers complained about the lack of a clear law to define the red lines, revoking of publication permits and books being lost when submitted for screening," ISNA news agency said.
"It has been frequently seen that an issue which has resulted in a book being banned," the letter said, "is abundant in another one that is published."
We look forward to the no doubt soon forthcoming Kafkaesque conclusion and advice, that the only way to get published in Iran is to write nothing at all .....
It is hard to research history's bit-players -- by their peripheral nature they leave little behind.
But for her biography of Louis XIV's mistress author Veronica Buckley hit upon a startling, apparently unmined source: the secret diaries of the Sun King himself.
The journals, writes Buckley in her book Madame de Maintenon: The Secret Wife of Louis XIV, were only found in 1997, some 282 years after they were written, "a packet of yellowed papers, wrapped in string and sealed with faded red wax" hidden "inside a heavy old chest in a Loire valley manor house".
What Buckley quotes is in fact the work of François Bluche.
In 1998 this French academic decided to imagine what the king's journals might have been like, by piecing together information gleaned from myriad historical documents.
The result was a book, Le Journal secret de Louis XIV, which Buckley got hold of and used as a primary source.
It is a mistake now costing her publishers dear, as they postpone the biography's launch by two months while they correct the offending passages.
Due out on May 5, it will now be available in July.
According to Bloomsbury, this is to give them time to "tip in" pages -- pulping the offending pages, in effect, and glueing in new ones.
A Bloomsbury spokesman would not say how many copies were affected, but it was "in the thousands".
A quick search on French Amazon takes me to Francois Bluche's Le Journal Secret de Louis XIV, published by Editions du Rochers in 1998, and rated at four and a half stars by two excitable readers.
A third exposes the hoax and warns readers to "Evitez ce livre, il vous induira en erreur."
Still, I suppose, it was in French.
We have no idea how 'academic research' is conducted nowadays, but surely this book throws up red flags left and right (and you'd figure if it was really the king's secret diary a lot more people would have paid attention and made mention of it over the years ...).
And while we'd hardly rely on Amazon to vet a title for us, even a cursory Internet search quickly yields much more damning evidence -- such as this author's note (scroll down) from 19 October 1998 where François Bluche says exactly what's going on here:
Même si "le Journal secret de Louis XIV" semble l'oeuvre du Roi, il me faut avouer que je suis l'auteur du pastiche
[Even if this 'secret journal of Louis XIV' looks like the work of the king himself, I have to confess that I am the author of this pastiche.]
If Buckley couldn't figure that out (or find that quote) how can one expect any of her 'research' to be up to snuff ?
Why is Bloomsbury even bothering publishing this book ?
Surely it has now become impossible to take it (and its author) in any way seriously.
Helen Pidd's article quotes:
"Thirty years ago this never would have happened.
Then, people who wrote biographies were trained in how to carry out archival research.
The same cannot be said of Veronica Buckley or many others like her," said Jerry Brotton, professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London.
"There is a whole industry now around historical biographies.
Publishers know that they sell, but at the same time they will knock back book proposals unless an author promises something really racy."
We're not quite sure that things were really better thirty (or any other) years ago, as incompetents and amateurs have always been knocking out biographies.
Still, it's good to see the biography-industry take a hard knock like this.
The highly anticipated PEN World Voices festival starts today in New York -- though they're only easing into it, with only five events on tap today.
We'll be reporting on several of the events over the next few days, and there should be a good deal of coverage
on MetaxuCafé (as well as at many other literary weblogs).
But, of course, if you're in the neighbourhood we strongly encourage you to check out the events yourself.
The May-June issue of World Literature Today is out -- though only a very limited amount is available online.
So if you want to read about pulp fiction in Bangladesh (and we sure do) you'll have to get your hands on a print copy
But at least they make the interviews available -- with Gao Xingjian and Linda Lê.
So, as expected, the NYTBR did offer actual review-coverage of a translated title in the 27 April issue -- though Olivier Roy's The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East did not merit its own full-length review (it shares one with Noah Feldman's The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State).
Still, that's more attention than any translated title has gotten in ages, so that's something.
The 27 April issue actually seems to have more foreign-language friendly than any that has appeared in a while, but the reviews and mentions are pretty typical of the Tanenhaus-led NYTBR.
There's a review of Simon Armitage's "dramatic retelling" of The Odyssey, which hardly
counts as a translation -- but it's certainly the kind of foreign material that Tanenhaus favours, where the original is by a long-dead author whose worth has been long since been validated.
Then there's Marilyn Stasio, who includes another translated title in this week's 'Crime' round-up -- though after her 29-word look at a Deon Meyer title we wonder whether she isn't under orders to actually not read any works originally written in a foreign language, as this week's mention also offers absolutely no information about the book in question (beyond its setting) either, reading in full:
Readers who want local color in their mysteries usually seek out exotic foreign settings.
But while we may pick up The Paper Moon, Andrea Camilleri’s latest Inspector Montalbano police procedural, expecting to be whisked off to the shores of Sicily, it can be just as transporting to view San Francisco’s colorful Italian-American neighborhood, North Beach, through the eyes of Domenic Stansberry.
The Telegraph (Calcutta) reports on bookselling in Calcutta, in Fact & fiction, as:
About 20 bookstores are scheduled to open in Calcutta over the next two years.
Books, you would think, are alive and kicking in this city, at times annoyingly boastful -- to outsiders -- of its culture.
The East, where Calcutta is the biggest market, has a share of just 10 per cent of national sales of English books.
Equality exists beyond the pale of Marxist rule: among the North, West and the South, each with a 30 per cent slice of the Rs 1,000-crore national market.
Calcutta’s apparent reputation as a city of book lovers doesn’t square with cold sales figures.
(But shouldn't they look at the Bengali-language sales figures too ?)
One big success, however:
Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth has sold 4,500 copies in its first week in eastern India.
That is about a fifth, or 20 per cent, of the nationwide number of 22,000 and double the 10 per cent share the region has of the all-India market for English books.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alberto Manguel's With Borges.
Like many of Manguel's books, this came out in Canada (in 2004, from Thomas Allen) two years before it came out in a US/UK edition (Telegram, 2006) -- but, bizarrely, the French translation, Chez Borges, came out in 2003 .....
Jiang Rong's big-advance (well, for a Chinese title ...) Wolf Totem has been getting an extraordinary amount of attention in the US and UK this spring, with a big build-up up to its publication, but from the looks of it Ma Jian's Beijing Coma is the far more interesting Chinese-novel-event of the season.
It's gotten little preview attention, but, just out in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), the first reviews have started rolling in -- and they're favourable, to say the least.
Last week Chandrahas Choudhury reviewed it in The Observer, and now Tash Aw really gets excited about it in his review in The Telegraph -- going so far as to claim:
Once in a while -- perhaps every ten years, or even a generation -- a novel comes along that profoundly questions the way we look at the world, and at ourselves.
Beijing Coma is a poetic examination not just of a country at a defining moment in its history, but of the universal right to remember and to hope.
It is, in every sense, a landmark work of fiction.
It's only coming out a month from now in the US, from FSG (see their publicity page) -- but so far there seems essentially no pre-order interest in the title: it languishes with a sales rank of 623,911 (last we checked) at Amazon.com (where you can pre-order it and improve the ranking).
We're certainly looking forward to it.
The writer and diplomat turned 60 this month, and he can look back over the past 40 years to his vast contribution in the world of literature, which includes more than 50 novels, 150 short stories and 200 poems.
With a concise yet touching style, his themes range from teenagers to Bedouin warriors to power-greedy politicians.
So where are the translations ?
Essentially none are to be found, of course -- indeed only a tiny amount of Thai literature is available in English.
So we were glad to hear about the Thailand Rights Center, which was:
established with a firm commitment to help promote and distribute literary work from Thai and Asian writers to what is viewed as a receptive global market.
Viewed through what rose-tinted glasses, we wonder .....
The stat counter on the TRC page suggests this has not been a very successful site -- no single day with more than three (!) visitors in the past month (and all from Thailand itself), and the most successful month in recent memory last October, with all of 119 visitors (March: 44).
So it does not look like this has become a much-used information portal .....
Part of the problem might be with the site itself.
We were intrigued, for example, by the Bangkok Post article mention that:
Using Time in a Bottle lyrics in his novel Wela Nai Kuad Kaew (Time in a Bottle) proved to be effective as the novel became an all-time favourite for Thai teenagers.
And the Thailand Rights Center even has an information page about the title.
Okay, it's not much information, but still .....
But wait: the information-page claims:
This is a sequel to Country Playboys. All leading characters continue to bring laughters to their community.
Since Country Playboys is a Rong Wongsawan-title this seemed pretty odd.
Until we clicked on the information-page for Rong Wongsawan's Folk Drama Lovers -- where we learn that: "This is a sequel to Country Playboys."
So either everyone is writing sequels to Country Playboys or someone screwed up.
Might we suggest: with an online presence like this they're not doing themselves any favours -- or improving the odds of any European and American publishing house taking a chance on any of these titles .....
We hope they get their act together, since we'd love to see more contemporary Thai fiction in translation.
(Of course god forbid that any US/UK publisher would actually seek out any themselves .....)
We (and everyone else on the planet) have mentioned that Dmitri Nabokov has now apparently decided not to torch dad Vladimir's fifty-notecard-novel, The Original of Laura.
We're still not entirely clear what is going on, but at The New York Times Paper Cuts weblog Steve Coates offers some interesting historical background, while at Slate Ron Rosenbaum covers recent events in The Fate of Nabokov's Laura
Among the fun titbits:
In Dmitri's ALL-CAPITAL-LETTERED E-MAIL, he said that my column calling on him to end the suspense and to make a decision one way or another had complicated his life as literary executor of the Nabokov estate by drawing too much media attention to him.
If there's any lesson to be learnt in this it's that authors should realise their kids are probably the last people who should be their literary executors.
It's nice that they show such unconditional love and trust, but also astonishing how blind so many authors are to their kids' obvious (mental and other) limitations -- not to mention their greed.
PEN has announced the winners of many of their 2008 literary awards, including the PEN/Nabokov Award (celebrating: "the accomplishments of a living author whose body of work, either written in or translated into English, represents achievement in a variety of literary genres and is of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship"), which went to Cynthia Ozick, and the PEN Translation Prize, which went to Margaret Jull Costa for her translation of Eça de Queirós' The Maias.
As Hillel Italie's AP report notes, Ozick also won the PEN/Malamud prize for short fiction
-- but that, like the PEN Faulkner, is apparently run by a different part of PEN (and they didn't have information up yet at the official site, last we checked).
It's certainly worth considering: at his ABC of Reading weblog Thomas McGonigle enthusiastically suggests: Pay them not to write, expanding on what was apparently a popular policy in communist Bulgaria:
This strikes me as the first thing I have ever heard that was actually a good thing the communists did and think how much good it would do in this country and in the World Republic of Letters if for instance George Soros instead of wasting vast sums of money attacking Republicans -- who enjoy his attention too much -- would set up a fund for paying writers not to write.
He focusses on big-name authors, but that might be kind of expensive -- a lot of them rake in a hell of a lot of money for their writing, and they would be tough to buy off.
Surely, it would be much more useful to nip the authors in the bud: get those young wannabe up-and-comers after the first book or two, when it wouldn't cost that much to get them to give up their 'craft'.
But we're certainly on board with this part of the plan:
Once the program was in place Mr Soros might contemplate extending this program to include anyone who has ever published a book and somehow achieved a tenured position in the creative writing business in our universities.
The colleges and universities do a pretty good job of discouraging publication but this would provide a modicum more of security against the possibility that any of these....(fill in any word you might like) will commit a book.
Who can wait for Soros ?
Let's start with the fund-raising right now !
Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day is set to appear in the coming days in one very fat volume in German translation, as Gegen den Tag (while the French have chosen the piecemeal approach, offering only the first 500-page chunk so far, as Stone Junction).
Angela Schader has a review-article on the book in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, noting that publisher isn't expecting to make any handsome profits off this thing:
Auf Profit dürfe man bei einem solchen Buch nur schon angesichts der Übersetzungs- und Produktionskosten nicht schielen, denn der Leserkreis für einen Autor wie Pynchon sei nicht beliebig erweiterbar.
Einen Titel wie Gegen den Tag verlege man der Sache und auch dem Namen des Verlags zuliebe.
[Just given the translation and production costs one can't expect great profits off such a book, since the audience for an author like Pynchon
can't be expanded at will.
One publishes a book like Against the Day for the sake of the book itself, and also for the publisher's reputation.]
And the marketing department at Swiss bookchain Orell Füssli also don't have high expectations:
Pynchon ist ein typischer Feuilleton-Titel: Wird oft besprochen werden und mittelmässig verkauft.»
[The Pynchon is a typical feuilleton-title: it will get lots of reviews and won't sell particularly well.]
Also of interest is Schader's interview with the two translators, as they describe the undertaking (noting that translating the stylized writing wasn't hard, but that Pynchon's carefully structured long sentences were often difficult to reproduce).
And Schader asked them about the notoriously reclusive Pynchon, who apparently even shunned any direct contact with the German publisher -- but while they had to put their questions to him through his agent, he was responsive and helpful (and apparently showed a sense of humour).
So Dmitri Nabokov has apparently stopped playing with the matches and decided that, as Kate Connolly for example reports at The Guardian's weblog, daddy Vladimir Nabokov's last work will not be burned:
From his winter home in Palm Beach, Dmitri justified his decision by saying, "I'm a loyal son and thought long and seriously about it, then my father appeared before me and said, with an ironic grin, 'You're stuck in a right old mess -- just go ahead and publish!'"
He told the magazine that he had made up his mind to do so.
It was, Der Spiegel states, this "conversation" with his father that "persuaded him against assuming the role of literary arsonist".
(Der Spiegel's article does not appear to be available online at this time.)
Aside from the fact that this isn't exactly great reasoning, Dmitri appears to have changed the fundamental question, which surely started out as being a choice between burning the 'manuscript' (those note cards) and preserving them.
But all of a sudden he claims parental approval to publish, too ?
We always equate heirs publishing posthumous work with a desperate attempt to cash in -- is that what The Original of Laura has been reduced to too ?
After 20 years, the Lontar Foundation has decided on a major make-over as a modern multi-media Indonesian literary promotion agency
Publication director John McGlynn said that in the next four years, with the backing of the Ford Foundation, to bring out at least 50 books, launch an online literary journal and produce a documentary film series on Indonesian writers.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.
What is it with all these Indian authors trying to be so creative in how they present their novels ?
There was Vikas Swarup's game-show-based Q & A, or Altaf Tyrewala's No God In Sight.
But Adiga's epistolary novel certainly takes the cake -- and does by far the least with its approach .....
"There are some Arab authors," observes Samuel Shimon, author of An Iraqi in Paris and assistant editor of Banipal literary magazine, "who have discovered the West prefers to read about cliches or pornographic books and it's easier to sell them these."
"There's a lack of literary critics in the Arab world to point out new writers," explains Libyan writer and translator Ghazi Gheblawi.
"Then there's no literary network, so that if you write a book in Morocco, no one will hear about it in Bahrain.
The Internet is making things easier, but the main issue is translation."
The eagerly anticipated publishing venture Open Letter has now unveiled its official website.
Only a few more months until the books are available !
(And we already have the Dubravka Ugresic under review.)
They've announced that for the German Book Prize 2008: publishers submit 145 novels; outrageously they don't reveal what those titles are (following in the footsteps of the Man Booker Prize -- whose ridiculous two-book-limit-per-publisher (with limited exceptions) they also adopted ...).
Still, that's more books that the Man Booker folk are likely to consider.
Anyway, the longlist (of about twenty titles) will be announced on 20 August, the six-title shortlist on 17 September, the winner on 13 October.
With her latest book she has come full circle to the Rhodesia of her childhood.
There is a moving chapter in which she describes returning as an elderly woman to the country she had once loved, only to find it devastated by years of Mugabe's tyrannous rule.
She encounters a drunk and obnoxious black man who won't let her see her father's old farm.
She had been a great champion of black rule.
I ask if that encounter made her change her mind ?
'Would I have fought against the blacks if I had known what was going to happen ?
The answer is, no.
Then again it wasn't an attractive society I was brought up in.
Quite ugly, in fact.
If only it had been possible to say, "I will only support you if you behave properly once you get into power, instead of turning into a murderous beast like Mugabe."
Anyway, the fault is partly ours because why did we imagine that when the blacks got into power they would behave like, I don't know, Philip Toynbee.
Why did we assume this ?
Instead, we have this ugly little tyrant, Mugabe.
An odious man. I've never understood what happened to him.
Everyone I knew who knew him said he used to be intelligent.
What a hypocrite to throw out the whites when he said he wouldn't.
Now look at the place. Starvation. Disease. Corruption. Low life expectancy. Terrible.'
Of course, Mugabe's hypocrisy extends far beyond going back on his word in this one regard -- and the continuing election farce (in which the Mugabe-government has now ordered a recount without making the original vote public) should be the final nail in his coffin -- i.e. reason enough for even his African friends (South Africa and the like) to dump the bum.
The Mail & Guardian offers Building SA's house of literature, an edited extract from Meg Samuelson’s paper, 'Walking through the door and inhabiting the house: South African literary culture and criticism', given at South African Literary Studies: A Provocation on the State of the Field.
In The Korea Times Chung Ah-young reports on Past Koreans From Eyes of Westerners, as three foreign titles have been published in Korean translation as part of an ambitious 'Korean Heritage Books'-series:
It is part of the Korean Heritage Books series covering the eras from the 16th to the 20th century, which will be translated into Korean from other languages.
Myongji University-LG Yeonam Library has collected more than 10,000 antique books, documents and photos since 1997.
From the collection, the institute will publish a total of 92 translations by 2012.
Yoon Ji-kwan, director of the institute, said that its primary work is to publish Korean literature translated into foreign languages in other countries, but this time, it is the opposite.
The books: "show how Koreans lived, vividly depicted from the perspectives of foreigners
" -- and it sounds like a promising venture.
Barely worth a mention, but after we noted last week that The New York Times Book Review had finally again devoted a bit -- a tiny bit -- of review-coverage to a book originally written in a foreign language, they return to form again in the 20 April issue.
And, no, form isn't, as Douglas Kibbee believes, that: "Now it's rare to go a single issue without having a translated work" get reviewed, as there's not a translated work anywhere in sight in these pages.
So the latest running total is:
Only two of the past six issues of the NYTBR include any review-coverage of translated titles -- and that's counting last week's 29-word-'review' as coverage .....
In the past six issues they've now offered 87 full-length reviews devoted to individual titles, not a single one of which was originally written in a foreign language
But there's some hope on the horizon: the 27 April issue looks to include a review -- possibly full-length, even -- of Olivier Roy's The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East, a translation (we assume) of his Le croissant et le chaos (though tellingly the Columbia University Press publicity page makes no mention that the book might have been written in a foreign language ...).
To keep things in perspective, however, note that the 27 April issue apparently will also include reviews of two books written by authors both of whose first name is: "Aram".
Yes, apparently you have a better chance of getting review-coverage in the NYTBR -- at least over the seven week span through next week -- if your first name is Aram than if you wrote the book in a foreign language .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
The English-language version of this is only coming out in August (from Europa editions in the US and Gallic Books in the UK), but it's been a publishing sensation in France.
As the Gallic publicity page has it:
this unusual novel became the French publishing phenomenon of 2007 -- from an initial print run of 3,000 to sales of 871,000 in hardback.
It took 35 weeks to reach the number one bestseller spot but has now spent longer in the French bestseller lists than Dan Brown.
It didn't actually appear in hardcover, but rather that over-sized (and -priced) trade paperback format popular in France, but it's still an amazing success story.
We can see some of the appeal it might hold for the French but do wonder how that will translate to the American market.
As you can read in our lengthy review (almost three thousand words) we had quite a few issues with it .....
(By the way: we like the look of Gallic Books, and certainly look forward to following what they're trying to do.)