Sunday, 28 June 2009

Book of the Week - David Nicholls, One Day

I have been attending a graduation this week, so a book beginning with a graduation seems an appropriate choice. One Day is the third novel from David Nicholls, an English novelist and screenwriter probably best known for the novel and film "Starter for Ten". It tells the story of Emma and Dexter, who meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. The novel follows each of them on the same date of each succeeding year, telling their stories as their lives develop. The book has been widely reviewed and tipped for success as a bittersweet romantic comedy – it is one of the recommended summer fiction reads in The Times - and clearly has considerable potential as a film. Although just released, it has already been reprinted, and most of the signed copied I have seen have been second printings.

'I can imagine you at forty,' she said, a hint of malice in her voice. 'I can picture it right now.' He smiled without opening his eyes. 'Go on then.'15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows? Twenty years, two people, ONE DAY.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Book of the Week - Stuart Neville, The Twelve

Stuart Neville is a Northern Ireland based crime writer, and The Twelve is his first novel. He has been a musician, a composer, a teacher, a salesman, a film extra, a baker and a hand double for a well known Irish comedian, but is currently a partner in a successful multimedia design business in the wilds of Northern Ireland. He has previously published short stories in Thuglit, Electric Spec and Every Day Fiction. The Twelve has a number of very positive advance reviews and will be published in the UK and Commonwealth by Harvill Secker on July 2nd. It will also be published in the USA (as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST by Soho Press, New York,) and by Random House Kodansha in Japan. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, although I hope to pick a copy up later this week. Looks very promising, so highly recommended.

PS - there may be a hardcover limited edition of only 50 copies - contact No Alibis bookshop in Belfast for further information.

"Former paramilitary killer Gerry Fegan is haunted by his victims, twelve souls who shadow his every waking day and scream through every drunken night. Just as he reaches the edge of sanity they reveal their desire: vengeance on those who engineered their deaths. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, all must pay the price. When Fegan's vendetta threatens to derail Northern Ireland's peace process and destabilise its fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. David Campbell, a double agent lost between the forces of law and terror, takes the job. But he has his own reasons for eliminating Fegan; the secrets of a dirty war should stay buried, even if its ghosts do not. Set against the backdrop of a post-conflict Northern Ireland struggling with its past, THE TWELVE takes the reader from the back streets of the city, where violence and politics go hand-in-hand, to the country's darkest heart. Often brutal, sometimes tender, the journey will see one man find his humanity while the other loses his."

Monday, 15 June 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - Alaa Al Aswany, Friendly Fire

Alaa Al Aswany is a dentist, and also a successful author, an uncommon combination. He trained as a dentist in Egypt and Chicago, and has contributed numerous articles to Egyptian newspapers on literature, politics, and social issues. His second novel, The Yacoubian Building, an ironic depiction of modern Egyptian society, has been widely read in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, and was allegedly the best selling novel in Arabic for several years. It has been translated into English, French and Norwegian, and was adapted into a film (2006) and a television series (2007) of the same name. Friendly fire is his third book in English - the UK editions of all three are available, signed, at relatively modest cost. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novels and am looking forward to reading these stories, which have been well reviewed.

Friendly Fire is a novella and collection of short stories. Al Aswany dissects modern Egyptian society and reveals with skill and detachment the hypocrisy, violence and abuse of power characteristic of a world in moral crisis. Here, though, the focus has shifted from the broad historical canvas to the minute stitches of pain that hold together an individual, a family, a school classroom, or the relationship between a man and a woman. Can a man so alienated from his society that he regards all its members as no better than microbes wriggling under a microscope survive within it? Can cynical religiosity triumph over human decency? Can a man put the thought of a delicious dish of beans behind him long enough to mourn his father's death? Alongside these wry questions, other, less mordant perspectives also have their place: an ageing cabaret dancer bestows the blessing of a vanished world on her lover's son; a crippled boy wins subjective victory from objective disaster. Friendly Fire also features an introduction by Alaa Al Aswany giving the history of the novella, 'The Isam Abd el-Ati Papers', which was banned in Egypt for a decade.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Rawi Hage, Cockroach

One day late with my Book of the Week, due to ongoing travel commitments! Cockroach is the second novel from Rawi Hage. Hage was born in Beirut, and grew up in Lebanon and Cyprus. He moved to New York City in 1982, and after studying at the New York Institute of Photographyrelocated to Montreal in 1991 . He subsequently began exhibiting as a photographer, and has had works acquired by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Canada's capital. In addition to his work as a writer and a visual artist, Hage also spent time as a cab driver in Montreal. His debut novel, De Niro's Game (2006), won the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the most lucrative literary prize in the world for a single novel, and was shortlisted for the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2006 Governor General's Award for English fiction. His second novel, Cockroach, was published in Canada in 2008 and was also a shortlisted nominee for the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award, as well as being the winner of the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize, awarded by the Quebec Writers' Federation. Canadian firsts (Anansi Press) are very expensive, but UK firsts are well worth picking up now.

"During a bitterly cold winter in a snowy northern city, a self-confessed thief has just tried to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree in the local park. Rescued against his will and obliged to attend sessions with a well-meaning but naïve therapist, our narrator tells her – and us – his heartrending and hallucinatory story. From his childhood in a war-torn Arab country, to his current life in the smoky émigré cafes of his new city, Cockroach traces our narrator's journey – his longing for a place in the world, his guilt over his sister's death at the hands of her husband, and his love for an Iranian woman, Shoreh, whose life is also a flight from the darkness of the past. As the stories in this remarkable book converge, our narrator must confront the events of the past in the form of another moral but potentially murderous dilemma in the present."


De Niro's Game - Old Street. London, 2007. Paperback.
Cockroach - Hamish Hamilton, London, 2009.