Monday, 28 September 2009

Book of the Week - Sadie Jones, Small Wars

I'm back to books after a week off, and I would like to recommend Sadie Jones second novel Small Wars. Jones was raised in London, the daughter of Evan Jones,a Jamaican-born poet and scriptwriter and Joanna Jones, an actor. She lived in Paris as a young woman, worked as a waitress and wrote four unproduced scripts and a play, among other things, before her debut novel, The Outcast was published. It won the First Novel award in the 2008 Costa Book Awards and has been translated into several languages. Small Wars is set in Cyprus in 1957, but inspired by the current war in Afghanistan. Her screenplay for a movie version of The Outcast has also been completed. She lives in Notting Hill with her husband, the architect Tim Boyd, and their two children. Jones is an emotionally intelligent writer, and both of her novels have been very well received, although print runs are likely to be high and the books are both easily obtainable.

"Hal Treherne is a young and dedicated soldier on the brink of a brilliant career. Impatient to see action, his other deep commitment is to Clara, who sustains him as he rises through the ranks. When Hal is transferred to the Mediterranean, Clara, now his wife, and their baby daughters join him. But Cyprus is no 'sunshine posting', and the island is in the heat of the Emergency: the British are defending the colony against Cypriots - schoolboys and armed guerrillas alike - battling for enosis, union with Greece. The skirmishes are far from glorious and operations often rough and bloody. Still, in serving his country and leading his men, Hal has a taste of triumph. Clara shares his sense of duty. She must settle down, make no fuss, smile. But action changes Hal, and Clara becomes fearful - of the lethal tit-for-tat beyond the army base, and her increasingly distant husband. The atrocities Hal is drawn into take him further from Clara; a betrayal that is only part of the shocking personal crisis to come. The prizewinning and bestselling author of "The Outcast" returns with an emotionally powerful portrait of a marriage in extremis and a world-view in question. Sadie Jones has produced a passionate, gut-wrenching and brilliantly researched depiction of a 'small war' with devastating consequences; and in doing so, raises important questions that resonate profoundly today."

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Some thoughts on the Man Booker Prize shortlist

The shortlist for this year's prize is notable for its preoccupation with the past. Like Robert McCrum, I was particulerly disappointed that neither Colm Toibin (or William Trevor) made the shortlist. I thought Brooklyn was beautifully written, and I am sure it will feature on other prize lists later in the year. Wolf Hall remains a strong favourite, although not the most elusive of the shortlist for a collector. At the moment, that appears to be The Glass Room, although there are quite a few copies on EBay at present. Many of these are expensive and remain unsold; a few have been bought, for between £53 or £120. Unless The Glass Room wins (which seems unlikely), these prices will seem very expensive in a couple of months. An added compication this year is that both The Children's Book and The Little Stranger were issued in the normal hardback edition plus a 1000 copy signed and slipcased edition available via Waterstones. Whether to collect this or the standard copy is a difficult decision, and probably only time will tell which is best.

Byatt, AS - The Children's Book, Chatto and Windus
Coetzee, JM - Summertime, Harvill Secker
Foulds, Adam - The Quickening Maze, Jonathan Cape
Mantel, Hilary - Wolf Hall, Fourth Estate
Mawer, Simon - The Glass Room, Little Brown
Waters, Sarah - The Little Stranger, Little Brown

Monday, 14 September 2009

Book of the Week - Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

"Let the Great World Spin" is the fifth novel from Colum McCann, who was born in Dublin in 1965 and began his career as a journalist in The Irish Press. In the early 1980's he took a bicycle across North America and then worked as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents in Texas. After a year and a half in Japan, he and his wife Allison moved to New York where they currently live with their three children, Isabella, John Michael and Christian. McCann teaches in Hunter College in New York in the Creative Writing program, with novelists Peter Carey and Nathan Englander.

Let the Great World Spin was published to considerable acclaim in the US earlier this year, and has just been released by Bloomsbury in the UK, apparently in a small hardcover print run. Reviews in the UK have been less positive, but this still looks an interesting book and well worth a read.

“An American masterpiece from internationally bestselling novelist Colum McCann—a dazzling and hauntingly rich vision of the loveliness, pain, and mystery of New York City in the 1970s In the dawning light of the late summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. . . .
It is August, 1974, and a tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter-mile in the sky. In the streets below, ordinary lives become extraordinary as award-winning novelist Colum McCann crafts this stunningly realized portrait of a city and its people. Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among prostitutes in the Bronx. A group of mothers, gathered in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn the sons who died in Vietnam, discovers how much divides them even in their grief.
Further uptown, Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenaged daughter, determined not only to take care of her “babies” but to prove her own worth.
Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful novel comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the tightrope walker’s “artistic crime of the century.”

Monday, 7 September 2009

Book of the Week - Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Monro

Apologies for the delay in this week’s posting, but I am travelling this week and have very limited internet access. However, my Ipod has helped to pass the time. Nick Cave is one of my favourite musicians, in any of his incarnations (The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Grinderman). He is a great lyricist as well as a musician, with a penchant for the doom-filled and apocalyptic, but also capable of great tenderness and insight into human nature. His first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, was published in 1989, and is now very collectible. Twenty years later his second novel, “The Death of Bunny Munro”, has just been published to very good reviews. Recommended.

"The Death of Bunny Munro recounts the last journey of a salesman in search of a soul. Following the suicide of his wife, Bunny, a door-to-door salesman and lothario, takes his son on a trip along the south coast of England. He is about to discover that his days are numbered. With a daring hellride of a plot The Death of Bunny Munro is also a modern morality tale of sorts, a stylish, furious, funny, truthful and tender account of one man's descent and judgement. The novel is full of the linguistic verve that has made Cave one of the world's most respected lyricists."