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the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review
opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 April 2024

1 April: Martin Bax (1933-2024) | Salome performances | Traces of Enayat review
2 April: Sami Michael (1926-2024) | Fernanda Eberstadt Q & A | Cats in Japanese literature
3 April: John Barth (1930-2024) | Maryse Condé (193?-2024) | Windham-Campbell Prizes
4 April: Jessica Cohen profile | 'Most Anticipated', spring/2024
5 April: EU Prize for Literature | Stella Prize shortlist | Book design | 25 years of the Complete Review | The Counterlife review
6 April: Académie Goncourt spring prize shortlists | Sheikh Zayed Book Awards | PW 'Summer Reads'
7 April: Bhadariya Library | Cloud Atlas at 20 | The Villain's Dance review
8 April: OCM Bocas Prize finalists | Salomé in Metz | Cut Guavas review
9 April: RSL Ondaatje Prize longlist | Jean Genet's Héliogabale
10 April: International Booker Prize shortlist | PEN America Literary Awards longlists | Carol Shields Prize shortlist

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10 April 2024 - Wednesday

International Booker Prize shortlist | PEN America Literary Awards longlists
Carol Shields Prize shortlist

       International Booker Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six-title-strong shortlist for this year's International Booker Prize.
       None of these are under review at the complete review, though I have two of them (the two published by Scribe).
       The winner will be announced 21 May.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       PEN America Literary Awards longlists

       PEN America has announced the longlists for their Literary Awards.
       The only titles under review at the complete review are PEN/Jean Stein Book Award-longlisted title Biography of X, by Catherine Lacey, and PEN Translation Prize-longlisted The Premonition, by Banana Yoshimoto.
       The small print at the bottom of the announcement notes: "These longlists have been amended and updated at the request of individual authors", as there has been considerable criticism of PEN America for their stance (or lack of one) regarding what is happening in Gaza and so, for example, Eugenia Leigh has withdrawn her originally longlisted book from consideration for the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. See also, for example, the Sublunary Editions Statement on the 2024 PEN America Awards or Esther Allen declining the PEN/Ralph Manheim Award for Translation. (As longtime readers know, while I think it's perfectly fine for authors (or translators) to decline a prize -- à la Sartre or, as here, Allen -- I do not think prizes should take authors' (etc.) wishes into consideration when deciding on whether to long- or shortlist a book, or in awarding the prize (the author (etc.) can always decline it if they win), they should only concern themselves with the book(s). The book -- the text -- is all that counts.)
       The winners will be announced 29 April.

       (Updated - 11 April): See now also the statement from the Translation Prize judges.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Carol Shields Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Carol Shields Prize for Fiction -- celebrating: "creativity and excellence in fiction by women and non-binary writers in Canada and the United States", and notable not only for its US$150,000 top prize but for also for awarding the four other shortlisted losers $12,500 each, making it one of the most remunerative runner-up prizes going.
       I haven't seen any of these.
       The winner will be announced 13 May.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

9 April 2024 - Tuesday

RSL Ondaatje Prize longlist | Jean Genet's Héliogabale

       RSL Ondaatje Prize longlist

       The Royal Society of Literature has announced the longlist for this year's RSL Ondaatje Prize, awarded: "for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place" -- fourteen titles; see, for example, Olivia Emily's report in ... Country & Town House.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Jean Genet's Héliogabale

       Yet another newly-found work by a deceased author -- Gallimard has published a four-act play by Jean Genet, Héliogabale; see their publicity page and the report at franceinfo.
       I hope to see this -- I'm always curious about Heliogabalus-stories. Antonin Artaud famously wrote one -- Heliogabalus or, the Crowned Anarchist; see, for example, the Infinity Land Press publicity page -- and Louis Couperus wrote a Heliogabalus-novel as well, De berg van licht. The only Heliogabalus-title under review at the complete review at this time, however, is Martijn Icks' The Crimes of Elagabalus. (I had a look at Harry Sidebottom's The Mad Emperor -- see the Oneworld publicity pae -- but didn't take to it.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

8 April 2024 - Monday

OCM Bocas Prize finalists | Salomé in Metz | Cut Guavas review

       OCM Bocas Prize finalists

       They've announced the three category winners -- in fiction, non, and poetry -- for this year's OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, which will now compete for the final prize -- which will be announced 27 April.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Salomé in Metz

       The title of my new novel, Salome in Graz, refers to a 1906 performance of the Richard Strauss opera -- though there's a whole lot more to it -- and if you're reading it, or tempted to, you might want to check out other performances of the opera, such as the one at the Opéra Théâtre de Metz, which premiered on Saturday
       This one is interesting because it's a rare production of Strauss' French version of the opera -- as, yes, with the help of Nobel laureate Romain Rolland, he adapted Wilde's original French text (remember, Wilde wrote the play the opera is (closely) based on in French). It was performed a few times back in the day, but Strauss pretty much gave up on it -- buoyed, no doubt, by the incredible success the German version was having -- and it was more or less out of circulation for ages. Even in France, the German version is much more frequently performed -- so also the Paris Opera production that you can catch next month.
       Salome in Graz is very much about translation (and textual fidelity), so Strauss' French version -- and the English (and German and other) versions of Wilde's play -- play a significant role in the novel.
       Back to the Metz production: see the bande-annonce for the production, or José Pons' (French) review at Ôlyrix (where he finds, regarding the two versions that: "la version originale déploie des ressorts plus puissants que la version française qui tend à temporiser un peu les événements et à en réduire leur éclat").

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Cut Guavas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A novel shapeshifting as a screenplay by Robert Antoni, Cut Guavas or ... Postscript to the Civilization of the Simians.

       (This was shortlisted for the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

7 April 2024 - Sunday

Bhadariya Library | Cloud Atlas at 20 | The Villain's Dance review

       Bhadariya Library

       In the Deccan Herald V.Raghunathan writes about A literary oasis in the desert -- the Bhadariya Library, which I was unfamiliar with.
       No pictures with that article, but see, for example, Priti David on Jaisalmer's underground library -- and, wow.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Cloud Atlas at 20

       Stephen King's Carrie is fifty -- see, for example, Neil McRobert in Esquire on Why Carrie Is Still Scary as Shit -- and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is twenty, with Gabrielle Zevin explaining in The Guardian Cloud Atlas at 20: What makes a novel tattoo-worthy ?
       I like the opening observation:
A literary agent once told me that when a fledgling writer compares their novel to David Mitchell’s, he invariably knows it will be awful. Once you have written a book like Cloud Atlas, you have not written Cloud Atlas because Cloud Atlas is not like anything.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Villain's Dance review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Fiston Mwanza Mujila's The Villain's Dance, just out in English, from Deep Vellum.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

6 April 2024 - Saturday

Académie Goncourt spring prize shortlists | Sheikh Zayed Book Awards
PW 'Summer Reads'

       Académie Goncourt spring prize shortlists

       The Académie Goncourt has announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the shortlists for their three spring prizes -- for first novel, short stories, and biography; see also the Livres Hebdo report.
       Interesting to see that none of the finalists are published by Gallimard .....
       The winners will be announced 14 May.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Sheikh Zayed Book Awards

       They've announced the winners of this year's Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, with Sons of the People-author Reem Bassiouney's الحلوانى - ثلاثية الفاطميين winning the literature category.
       (I also have her Al-Qata'i (Georgetown University Press), another of her historical trilogies, and look forward to getting to it.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       PW 'Summer Reads'

       Publishers Weekly has published its lists of Summer Reads, in a variety of categories.
       Some titles of interest -- Ogawa Yoko's Mina's Matchbox ! (Pantheon; I just got the ARC, review to follow shortly) -- but fewer than I had hoped for.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

5 April 2024 - Friday

EU Prize for Literature | Stella Prize shortlist | Book design
25 years of the Complete Review | The Counterlife review

       EU Prize for Literature

       They've announced the winner of this year's European Union Prize for Literature, selected from the thirteen national nominees considered this year (the prize rotates through the forty participating countries, thirteen or fourteen at a time), and it is Jordisk, by Theis Ørntoft; see also the Gyldendal Group Agency foreign rights page.
       This has also been nominated for this year's Nordic Council Literature Prize, and though it's a fat one -- 599 pages -- I think it's a pretty safe bet we'll see this in English sooner rather than later (though presumably quite a bit depends on the American characters and locale -- the European prize juries obviously approve, but it's unclear how US/UK publishers will see that).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Stella Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Stella Prize, a leading Australian prize for women and non-binary authors.
       Six books are left in the running; the winner will be announced 2 May.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Book design

       Via I'm pointed to Elizabeth Segran's Fast Company article on how HarperCollins is: 'reducing the number of pages in its books by tweaking their fonts and layout', in HarperCollins made a tiny tweak to its book design -- and has saved thousands of trees as a result -- pretty interesting.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       25 years of the Complete Review

       Twenty five years. Twenty five.
       The first reviews were posted at the complete review on 5 April 1999. A quarter of a century ago – making the site older than a fair share of its readers, and a relic of the twentieth century ..... It, and I, are still chugging along steadily (well, occasionally wobbling ...), 5222 reviews -- and many, many Literary Saloon posts -- later. (This Literary Saloon was a somewhat later addition to the site, with posting starting here only in August, 2002.)
       As always, I'm not sure how to *celebrate* such an occasion, as arbitrary as it is; perhaps the most notable thing about the site is simply its constancy, and it will be pretty much the same tomorrow as it was one year ago, and five, and fifteen, so this anniversary-marker doesn't really mark anything.
       There is, of course, the temptation to say it's been a good run and simply close shop, going the way of Bookslut (archived), the Quarterly Conversation (archived), or RALPH (The Review of Arts, Literature,Philosophy and the Humanities; archived), but my (deeply ingrained) sense of inertia goes both ways, and once in motion it seems just as easy to stay in motion ..... (So also, obviously, I will never try to reïnvent the site or myself as a BookTok-thing or whatever the next big thing is.)
       While I generally don't concern myself with the size of the site's audience -- the number of *hits* -- it's a bit hard to be in a celebratory mood given the recent tailspin of numbers. Google-searches provide most of the traffic to the site, and the latest re-jigging of their algorithm, from a couple of months ago, has hit the site hard, burying most review-page results in regions only the (fool-)hardiest of searchers venture. (I go there, looking for reviews to link to, and it's not only the complete review's pages that are buried deep down; Google has become terrible for (among many other things ...) simple 'title + author' searches.) This is (probably) a cyclical thing (it's happened before) -- the review-pages should bubble up again on search results, in a year or two -- but currently it's cut readership considerably, with 55% (!) fewer visitors in March of this year than March 2023 -- frustrating because I think many internet users are missing out: my reviews may not be particularly helpful, but the review-pages surely provide more information and better linkage than the majority of pages -- the ones Google serves up higher up ... -- on any particular title. So, yes, it can make this exercise -- what I do here -- feel a bit pointless -- but, also, over the long term, it all seems to even out -- and at twenty-five years the site has certainly reached long term horizons, at least reckoned in internet time.
       (Usually backlist-dominated, the Google-abyss has made for a significant shift in what the most-read pages at the site are, the core audience of regular readers -- fortunately a reasonably large base -- who now make up a much greater proportion of overall users checking in what the new reviews are as well as regularly checking out the latest Literary Saloon posts, making the site now very top-heavy (i.e. new pages getting the majority of views, unlike before when old reviews of titles people googled were the most popular; see, for example, the shift in the list of recent bestsellers.)
       In other respects, too, it's hard not to feel blah about how things are going. I very much appreciate the review copies I receive, but the trend continues to be to less and less incoming, with requests for specific titles as frustratingly hit or miss as always; old age has certainly not conferred any greater status on the site (helped no doubt by the constant churn of publicists -- some of whom are, no doubt, younger than the site ...) and it's certainly not a/the hot new thing ..... (As of today, I've received 65 review copies this year -- the fewest in that time span since back in 2004.)
       The smaller readership of course also has a financial impact, with sales through the Amazon links as well as advertising revenue all continuing their long decline -- another source of frustration. The sheer size of the site does help some in this regard, but the cash flow really is down to a mere trickle. I greatly appreciate the reader-support that I do get, but it also doesn't amount to very much right now.
       Finally, there's that whole sense (or lack thereof) of an online literary community. There was a mid-2000s heyday of activity and networks of connection with literary blogs, but that's largely long gone -- Daniel Green reflected on it recently at his 'litblog', The Reading Experience, in What Hath the Blog Wrought ? -- and while there is still a great deal of activity, so much of it is fragmented, all over the place. (One of the advantages of searching not only for literary news to link to but to reviews is that it still leads me to many individual reader-sites -- but so many of these float out there more or less in isolation.) The decline of Twitter has hurt as well, as it's no longer nearly as interesting a place of literary exchange either (though I still linger there).
       The complete review (and this Literary Saloon) has always been basically about aggregation -- collecting information, and linking to it, rather than engaging in discussion and conversation, but most of what I do feels evermore like talking into the void (though I do know there are quite a few of you dedicated readers who follow all of it !).
       All in all, rather than being in a celebratory mood, I pretty much just feel old.

       And what next ? Well, as I said -- and have often said -- probably just more of the same. I suspect I won't last another twenty-five years, but we'll see how it goes. And, yes, sorry -- don't look for the complete review-BookTok channel anytime soon .....
       A variety of unavoidable distractions and obligations will continue to temper activity here some for a while longer -- the pace of things has slowed down some over the past year or so, and that will continue through at least the summer, I'm afraid -- but I hope to get a bit better back on track before the year is out, and hopefully things -- including my mood -- will pick up again.

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       And remember that I have a new book out, a novel, Salome in Graz.

Salome in Graz: A Novel

       If you like what I do at the complete review and this Literary Saloon you might like this as well; it's very complete review-ish, for a novel .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Counterlife review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Philip Roth's creative 1986 novel, The Counterlife.

       This was reviewed by, among others, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, and William H. Gass -- with Gass noting in his review (presumably paywalled) in The New York Times Book Review that: "In many ways it's everything that people don't want in a novel".

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

4 April 2024 - Thursday

Jessica Cohen profile | 'Most Anticipated', spring/2024

       Jessica Cohen profile

       In The Jewish News of Northern California Andrew Esensten explains How Jessica Cohen became the go-to English translator of Israeli literature.
       Among her (impressively many) recent translations is Maya Arad's The Hebrew Teacher.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       'Most Anticipated', spring/2024

       The Millions has its Most Anticipated: The Great Spring 2024 Preview up.
       Lots of books to look forward to .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

3 April 2024 - Wednesday

John Barth (1930-2024) | Maryse Condé (193?-2024) | Windham-Campbell Prizes

       John Barth (1930-2024)

       American author John Barth has passed away; see, for example, the obituary by Michael T. Kaufman and Dwight Garner, and Dave Kim's appraisal, both in The New York Times (both presumably paywalled).
       Dalkey Archive Press has re-issued several of his works recently, such as The Sot-Weed Factor (publicity page), and several are also in print from Anchor.
       (I read all of these ages ago, before I started the site, but they're certainly worth revisiting.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Maryse Condé (193?-2024)

       Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé has passed away; see, for example, reports in The Guardian and from the AFP.

       Much of her work has been translated into English -- including several titles recently published by World Editions and Seagull Books -- but the only title under review at the complete review is her What is Africa to Me ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Windham-Campbell Prizes

       They've announced the eight recipients of this year's Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes -- each receiving: "an unrestricted grant of $175,000 to support their writing".
       There are two recipients in each of the four categories -- fiction, non, drama, and poetry.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

2 April 2024 - Tuesday

Sami Michael (1926-2024) | Fernanda Eberstadt Q & A
Cats in Japanese literature

       Sami Michael (1926-2024)

       Israeli author Sami Michael has passed away; see, for example, Melanie Lidman's AP report.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Fernanda Eberstadt Q & A

       At Interview Stephanie LaCava has a Q & A with Writer Fernanda Eberstadt on Growing Up at Warhol’s Factory.
       Amazing to hear:
EBERSTADT: The first pieces I ever published in my life were at Interview Magazine.

LACAVA: Really ? I didn’t know that.

EBERSTADT: Yeah. I worked there when I was 16 years old. I did a bunch of pieces in that magazine, an interview with Bruce Chatwin

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Cats in Japanese literature

       At Her Campus Erin Kelley looks at Feline Figures: Exploring the Enduring Presence of Cats in Japanese Literature -- including, of course, Natsume Sōseki's I am a Cat.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

1 April 2024 - Monday

Martin Bax (1933-2024) | Salome performances | Traces of Enayat review

       Martin Bax (1933-2024)

       Doctor and author Martin Bax has passed away; see, for example, the Mac Keith Press tweet.

       As a writer he is best-know for his novel, The Hospital Ship.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Salome performances

       Yesterday I mentioned how popular (or not) Richard Strauss' opera, Salome is -- or was, ranking outside the top 50 most performed operas since the 2020/2021 season. But, of course, it continues to regularly be staged -- and, if you've read my Salome in Graz or are planning too, you might want to catch a performance.
       So where and when are the next productions ?
       You can catch it:        The Opéra Théâtre de Metz production is of interest because they are playing it in French -- though unfortunately they do not make clear which French version they're playing; if you've read my novel, you know that -- as is the case with Wilde's play -- there's more than one to choose from .....

       The Metropolitan Opera production is also one to look forward to -- the "first new production at the company in 20 years" --, with Elza van den Heever in the title role (or rôle, as one of the protagonists in my novel would have it ...).
       This will also be shown in the Live in HD-series on 17 May, so you may be able to catch it at a venue near you .....

       Performances of the Wilde play are much harder to find ..... (But you can always read that -- which is what the protagonists in my novel would recommend in any case .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Traces of Enayat review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Iman Mersal's Traces of Enayat, out last year in the UK from And Other Stories and now available in the US from Transit Books.

       Conveniently timed -- well, the US edition is just about to be released ... --, Aida Alami has a big story about the author and the book in The New York Times, A Book Found in a Cairo Market Launched a 30-Year Quest: Who Was the Writer ? (presumably paywalled).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

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