Friday, September 29, 2006

Little Miss Muffet

Credit:Scott GustafsonLittle Miss Muffet
Gimme your tuffet!

The origin of Miss Muffet is the pith of numerous urban legends. But this one sounds convincing. Watch what you sing to your kid.
Hear the silent whispers of the Nobel tune. Come Monday, the volume will go up.

Literature favourites reads Pamuk, Roth. This lady's favourites Kundera, Oates also possibilities.

PS: in case you are interested in some authentic digging around.
The Seattle Times introduces three debutant writers in this nice review. The books mentioned seem very interesting:

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow - Faiza Guene
[Set in] the Paris of low-income high-rises, housing a restless immigrant population on the perimeter of the city. And it is rendered with tough defiance by Faïza Guène, who was just 17 when she sold her book to a French publisher (she is now 20).
Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories - Ben Fountain
offers pointed prose, nimble revelation, some stunning description of flora and fauna, and a rueful generosity toward a string of well-intentioned bumblers who get in over their heads
Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe - Doreen Baingana

"Tropical Fish" is set against the backdrop of "the Amin days and each coup thereafter."

That would be Idi Amin, Uganda's brutal 1970s dictator, who made headlines around the world for his arbitrary laws and his expulsion of his country's Indian population. What Doreen Baingana brilliantly evokes here is the experience of growing up in the wake of his regime, in Uganda's former colonial capital of Entebbe.

C'mon Potter bashers, let us see you resist this paragraph
Harry Potter is more than the sum of its parts. Some of the book is so moving that three of the four listners were reduced to tears. J K Rowling is not the world’s greatest stylist, or creator of characters, but her unparallelled plotting ability combined with her breathtaking ability to convey layers of emotional meaning and intensity, not on just one theme but on many --- sacrifice, love, fate, hate, death— is pure Greek tragedy. If that woman doesn’t get a Nobel prize when book seven is finished, then there is no justice in the world.
(more here)

Thursday, September 28, 2006


At Georgia Tech, poetry is courseware for engineers (via)
"Poetry is a human thing," says Lux. "I never understood how it got usurped into an elitist thing — something you had to be initiated into and only a small group of people were smart enough to get it."
Atwood tells Glasgow University creative writing students, go get a proper job.

The backstory of Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian) makes interesting reading.

Bookbrowse has a Q&A with Claire Messud.

K & N who tell me this blog is "awfully boring" and the others who would love to tell me that, hopefully these will mollify you.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Theft - Peter Carey

Umpteen reviews of Theft have been floating around ever since its release and they uniformly create an impression of Theft being a book whose (yeah whose - aren't books alive somehow?) way with words will make rereading far more enjoyable than the reading.

While the Booker 2006 longlist was as far as it went in terms of a prize, that doesn't really matter when the author is Peter Carey. There will certainly be elements of the book that a reader can savour, recollect, return to.

NPR Podcast review by Maureen Corrigan - Theft will arrest your attention.

Complete-Review's links to various reviews. A seems to be the rating.

Ali Smith in the Telegraph observes
Carey loves to goad acceptable style, knock it off its perch. As a writer he is in love not just with the place where 'fakery' meets 'reality' but with the Molotov mix of so-called high and low art; here he courts everything from Rembrandt to Pollock, obsessed with what doesn't get to be 'art' and why. In particular Theft's headlong helterskeltering owes a lot to that favourite book of Hugh's, Norman Lindsay's riotous Australian children's book, The Magic Pudding (1918), all farce, thievery and swaggering joy, a work of shapeshifting brilliance in both voice and illustration. But - is it art?
John Updike in the New Yorker also alludes to Nabokov, Joyce and of Carey 'running away with it' in Theft.
{aside: I've linked to the Smith and Updike review because their introduction and conclusion are eerily similar}

Theft buzz in the blogs.

Other related links.

Links: Body language, vocabulary, cultural psychology...

A perfectly funny start to this morning is reading this hilarious review.

Recently a friend and I were talking about Nurnberg & Rosenblum and what worthy gifts their books would be. Guess what, these books cost a cent across the ocean and about Rs.60-90 in this part of the world.

Geography of Thought is a very interesting book mon ami.

Are you addicted to StumbleUpon yet? My friends' mailboxes have been flooded with my recommendations from stumbling.

A Chain Reading experiment. Sarky cousin and Rand hater, read this and fume some more!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Slow to read

Reading is not information processing.

Reading faster does not mean reading better.

If there is one thing better than reading, it is rereading.

Learning How to Read Slowly Again (need to register/sign-in to read article) makes all the above points and takes a look at the recent books that talk about reading.

The lines that appealed the most to me are the ones on rereading because it sums up exactly how I feel about rereading.
Oddly enough, none of the books discussed above deal with the pleasures of rereading. The book we read and loved at 20 is not the same book a decade or two later. The words have not changed, but the reader has. I recently reread “Lolita,” a book I first encountered as a callow undergraduate and thought I understood. How wrong I was. “Lolita,” on my much later reading, seemed much more shocking, and twice as brilliant. How did I miss the boat so badly? That’s one of the drawbacks of rereading: it involves a face-to-face confrontation with an earlier you, which can be a highly embarrassing encounter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Ruby in her Navel - Barry Unsworth

So the shortlist came out and The Ruby in her Navel did not make it.
So it is no longer a thriller-like excitement to look at longlisted ones that did not make the Booker 2006 shortlist. Yes? No!
We are curious readers. Barry Unsworth is a wonderful writer. So discovering the buzz about a new book is always exciting. No? Yes!

Right. So let us get on with the books we left off then (yes, three sentences that start with So)

In the Independent's review, The Ruby in her Navel does not sound like a potential award winner.
Meet Thurstan, Purveyor of Pleasures and Shows in the Diwan al-tahqiq al-ma'mur of King Roger of Sicily: a blond-haired Norman who cares about clothes and girls, enjoys singing and getting laid. He is the narrator of Barry Unsworth's 15th novel, born to knighthood but compelled by circumstance to the altogether sissier occupation of royal talent scout. The year is 1149. Sicily is threatened by the rulers of the Western and Eastern empires, "the two most powerful men in the world", and Christians and Muslims are vying for King Roger's favour.
The writer of a first-person narrative faces many challenges, which multiply if the setting is historical. One is the need to convey information to the reader which the narrator knows. Another is the narrator's choice of diction - should the novelist be consciously archaic, or write in a manner more accessible to modern readers?

Unsworth adopts a curious register, sometimes "medieval" in its word order but essentially modern. This can lead to occasional moments of jarring dialogue.
Unsworth does not, perhaps, succeed in taking us vividly and with realism into the past, as Mary Renault's novels of classical civilisation do - but how much does that matter? To some it will matter a great deal. Others will find an entertaining story of sexual temptation, forbidden love, crazy monks and treacherous Christians: a riotous period soap opera.

The Observer review, however has another take:
Such is the compelling vision of the mid-12th century conjured by Barry Unsworth in The Ruby in Her Navel, a novel set at a redefining moment in European history. As he has demonstrated so often in the past, the chronometer of his time machine is a sensitive instrument and precisely calibrated. Here, he lands us on the front line of the ideological struggle, in the Kingdom of Sicily, and offers as narrator a young Norman from the arriviste ruling ethnic group, whose position renders him an appetising dupe for the rival factions at court.
A historical romance shorn of medieval flummery, a conspiracy thriller to shame lesser talents, The Ruby in Her Navel is far more than either. Delicately intricate in its construction and psychology, morally resonant and hugely satisfying, it is the work of a novelist at the height of his powers.

In the Scotsman review, Unsworth is quoted:
"The crusade in 1147, nearly a thousand years ago, had the same arrogance, greed and expediency masked as morality that we see today. It reinforced what I feel about the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and it was one of my motives in writing the book. As I write, I become aware of the way the present and past reinforce one another."

When Unsworth began researching and writing The Ruby in Her Navel some three years ago, the attack on the Twin Towers was fresh in his mind, President Bush had recently named Iraq as part of the Axis of Evil, and then, in the spring of 2003, war was declared on Iraq. To Unsworth it didn't seem so far removed from the uneasy peace of Sicily in the 1140s, when the fall-out from war led to severe racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

The point that the past, very distant or merely few decades, invariably returns in the guise of the present just goes to show that man and his ego have stayed the same! For that interesting exploration, The Ruby in her Navel sounds like a promising read.
Other People's Books - a cosy read (via)
What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements.

Other people's books draw my attention, of course. They excite curiosity about their owners and the worlds they inhabit. But it's finally my own books that matter, as they tell me about where I've been, and where I hope to go.

Booker has a blog

On the day of the shortlist, there was this article talking about how reading club members will play a crucial role in deciding this year's Booker Prize winner.
Due to a soaring popularity of book clubs across the country, the organisers this year decided to pluck six remarkable groups from relative obscurity to join their distinguished panel.

For the first time in the award’s 40-year history, the fierce bank of academics, playwrights and actors will be joined by ordinary members of the public with a love for literature.

And now, these reading groups have their own blog space on the Man Booker website to talk about the shortlisted books. Night Watch and Mother's Milk have been discussed a bit already. Go take a look.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Reprint of a Der Spiegel interview with Salman Rushdie. As always, the man has interesting answers
Eric Follath: While researching your books -- and especially now after the recent near miss in London -- you must be asking yourself: What makes apparently normal young men decide to blow themselves up?

Salman Rushdie: There are many reasons, and many different reasons, for the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism. In Kashmir, some people are joining the so-called resistance movements because they give them warm clothes and a meal. In London, last year's attacks were still carried out by young Muslim men whose integration into society appeared to have failed. But now we are dealing with would-be terrorists from the middle of society. Young Muslims who have even enjoyed many aspects of the freedom that Western society offers them. It seems as though social discrimination no longer plays any role -- it's as though anyone could turn into a terrorist.
EF: And yet there must be reasons, or at least triggers, for this terrible willingness to wipe out the lives of others -- and of oneself.

SR: Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right. That's exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality -- that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual, too.
EF: National political issues play a major role in the struggle over Kashmir, but religious issues are also key. Are you worried about the power of radical religious currents worldwide?

SR: Fundamentalists of all faiths are the fundamental evil of our time. Almost all my friends are atheists -- I don't feel as though I'm an exception. If you take a look at history, you will find that the understanding of what is good and evil has always existed before the individual religions. The religions were only invented by people afterward, in order to express this idea. I, for one, don't need a supreme "sacred" arbiter in order to be a moral being.

EF: Perhaps not, but many people seem to need a god. Religions worldwide are experiencing a comeback. Striving for spirituality is more pronounced than ever. Is this a negative development in your opinion?

SR: Yes.

EF: That's a clear answer. But also offensive to many people.

SR: In my opinion, the word "spiritual" ought to be put on an index and banned from being used for, say, 50 years. The things that are put about as being "spiritual" -- it's unbelievable. It even goes as far as a spiritual lap dog and a spiritual shampoo.

EF: You yourself once wrote: "We need answers to the unanswerable. Is this life all there is? The soul needs explanations, not rational ones but ones for the heart."

SR: Of course there are things beyond material needs; we all sense that. For me the answers are simply not in the religious, heavenly realm. But I don't dictate to anyone what to believe and what not to. And I don't want that to be dictated to me either.
EF: Which compromises should and could the West make in order to contain the threat of terrorism?

SR: I'm not the man for compromises, either. I think you're talking to the wrong person.

Classics piecemealed

If you are like me, you've never managed to finish War and Peace. Well, you know, this word called long that describes it makes you come up with one of your own, later.

What if you were served a tiny manageable portion of the book on the days you want it? Maybe at the time you want it too. Sounds doable now? Well, I've signed up and shall let you know if I get to the end of War and Peace.

Signed up? Where? At DailyLit, classics email-sized (via)

The Booker Shortlist buzz

Now that David Mitchell has failed to make it to the Booker 2006 shortlist, Sarah Waters becomes the uniform favourite. The shortlist itself is very interesting because none of the shortlisted authors are previous winners and except for Waters (Fingersmith 2002), no other author had made it to the shortlist earlier.

Snippets from some news items on the shortlist:

CBC Canada:
Literary experts were surprised that several heavyweights, such as previous winners Peter Carey and Barry Unsworth, were left off the list.
But Kiran Desai is the daughter of Indian novelist Anita Desai - previously shortlisted on three occasions.

Hisham Matar is the only first-time novelist to make the cut. His novel, In the Country of Men, tells the story of a young boy growing up in Libya under Colonel Gaddafi.

Book chain Waterstone's expressed surprise that Mitchell did not make the final list with his rites-of-passage novel Black Swan Green.
Reuters calls it a shock Booker shortlist.

Bloomberg calls the excluded a long and starry list of omissions.

The Independent's summing up borrows John Sutherland's phrase and calls it a turning of literary tide.
Nearly all the favourites to win this year's £50,000 Man Booker Prize have fallen at the penultimate fence after the judges chose one of the youngest and most eclectic shortlists in years.
The selection surprised commentators. John Sutherland, last year's chairman and author of How to Read a Novel, said it was a "bizarre" list that might signal a changing of the literary guard. "If you compare it with last year, the average age is five or 10 years younger. What we may be seeing is a turning of the tide, the older generation giving way to the new."

The buzz will get louder.
I missed the Harry Potter stuff given my Booker distraction. But you have to read this old piece of news - The Pope has a chief exorcist(?) who calls Harry Potter an agent of Satan.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Booker 2006 Shortlist

Booker 2006 Shortlist out and wow, what a surprise!

Author Title Publisher
Desai, Kiran The Inheritance of Loss Hamish Hamilton
Grenville, Kate The Secret River Canongate
Hyland, M.J. Carry Me Down Canongate
Matar, Hisham In the Country of Men Viking
St Aubyn, Edward Mother’s Milk Picador
Waters, Sarah The Night Watch Virago

Over here for details.

The Perfect Man - Naeem Murr

I like author websites because they provide a one-stop spot for author biography, bibliography, interviews, press blurbs and so on. So convenient.

I dislike author websites because they provide a one-stop spot for author biography, bibliography, interviews, press blurbs and so on. Why did you steal my puzzle?

In the case of Naeem Murr, it is a good thing that he has a website because there aren't too many other resources on the web that help.

The Perfect Man, Murr's third novel and Booker 2006 longlistee, appears to be a coming of age novel though, as this review suggests, it is not merely that.
Murr chooses a young boy called Rajiv Travers, his half-Indian name and his dark skin eternal reminders that he is born of an abandoned Indian mother, to take the reader to Pisgah in the 1950s, "in a flood year, by the night train, on tracks raised by men then called Negroes out in the darkness". Rajiv's arrival in that small town is a deliberate telescoping of the wide world beyond, its distant limits marked by India, where he was born, by England, where he was left by his father with an uncle and a most unwilling aunt, and by Australia, where his father now is looking for more adventures. On the night of his arrival, Rajiv's second uncle, to whom he is now being tossed, commits suicide. The woman with whom the uncle was living, enigmatic Ruth, a tireless writer of old-fashioned romances, in a strange decision agrees to keep Rajiv with her.
The boy's gentle humour begins to earn him friends, overriding, for the most part and more easily than would have seemed possible, the difference in skin colour, and finally a childhood begins to take root in this new place.
At one level, The Perfect Man is a very competent coming-of-age novel, exploring friendship, love, heartbreak and the chilling dawn of adult wisdom in Rajiv and his group of friends. But it is also a book about arrival and departures, about developing roots in a place, particularly as an outsider.
One blogging reader, doing a Booker-thon, has many words of praise for The Perfect Man.

Will it? Won't it? Few hours to go for the announcement of the shortlist.



The Testament of Gideon Mack - James Robertson

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson is one book I wish I had gotten to earlier, in the one month of endless searching for reviews, links, author profiles for the Booker 2006 longlisted 19.

In the Guardian review of The Testament of Gideon Mack, Irvine Welsh sounds honest and warmly appreciative
Simply recounting the narrative of The Testament of Gideon Mack does the novel scant justice. In the hands of great writers the unlikeliest stories are generally the most rewarding. What Robertson produces here is a parable of organised religion, the supernatural (surely one of the necessary components of true religious belief) and mental illness, and the opaque but evident relationship between them.
Robertson's last two novels, The Fanatic and Joseph Knight, have established him as one of the foremost Scottish (and British) writers. The Testament of Gideon Mack easily cements this position, dealing with some of life's big themes: mental illness, death, (im)mortality and the way history and culture can potentially deceive as well as illuminate. In an age of obsession with cheap Z-list "fame" and reality TV, this overwhelmingly compassionate and thought-provoking book, destined to be open to several interpretations, poses stark questions about the anxious way we steadfastly avoid such grandiose topics. In the meantime, it demands another read.

The book is based on a manuscript The Testament of Gideon Mack that a journalist Harry Caithness finds. Reverend Gideon Mack and the mystery and controversy surrounding him have necessitated a dedicated website Scotgeog. Head over there for interesting details, author interview and links to various reviews.

James Robertson is one versatile person! He is a novelist who has published several poetry and short story collections, edits children's books in the Scots Language for Itchy Coo, and owns the pamphlets publishing company Kettillonia.

A conversation with Robertson at the Penguin UK author page:
Where do you write?
I have a room which I use solely for my work – a luxury I’ve only enjoyed in the last few years. Last summer I had bookshelves built along the length of one wall and got a new desk and filing cabinet, all of which was designed to curb my tendency to untidiness. It’s worked but only up to a point. A certain amount of chaos is conducive to creative thinking and writing. I write straight on to a PC most of the time, although I make a lot of handwritten notes on scraps of paper. It bothers me that the advent of the ‘word-processor’ has changed the whole nature of the creative process. Something is lost in the ‘processing’, in the speeding up, in the fact that you’re editing a sentence even before you get to the end of it. What’s a first or second ‘draft’ these days? Sometimes I yearn for the physical decisiveness of a typewriter key striking paper through the ink-ribbon.
One wish; what would it be?
To be a brilliant musician.

Get a Life - Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer needs no introduction. She has won the highest accolades and fought for the worthiest causes.

Get a Life, her fourteenth novel and Booker prize longlistee for 2006, has been reviewed in several publications given the stature of its author. This novel tells the story of Paul Bannerman (an in-your-face name?) who becomes radioactive after being treated for cancer in the thyroid. Paul, in order to protect his wife and child from being affected by the radioactivity, goes to live with his parents for a few weeks.

As this Times Online Review puts it,
Apparently, this [radioactive iodine] will render him hazardous for weeks. It seems a bit drastic, but since Nadine Gordimer has the big gold medallion of the Nobel prize for literature on her sideboard you assume she is not just making it up for a laugh.
Gordimer’s immense reputation earns her a certain amount of indulgence, but the story falls quite badly into two halves, the various themes are stated rather than examined, the characters have scant existence beyond name, age and occupation plus the odd stereotypical attribute, and the writing tends uncomfortably towards self-parody.
The Christian Science Monitor review sums up the book in two very interesting ways - one: its story, two: its intended reader
Gordimer's 14th novel puts a 'modern-day leper' in an upscale Eden where two marriages eat of the tree of knowledge.
[But] in the end, "Get a Life" is more for those who want to think about ideas than for people who love to read.

Shooting with Guns at Dawson College

Yesterday, a gunman walked into Dawson College in downtown Montreal and indiscriminately shot at and killed over a dozen people.

Jay, a Montreal Metroblogger, was in his office at Dawson College when the shooting happened and provides a first hand account here.
As we were running through the upper atrium, toward the de Maisonneuve doors, I looked over to my left and saw a relatively long trail of blood which led to the same exit doors we were heading for. The trail looked as if is was from someone that had been dragged outside. Hopefully that person is OK.

Also read Carnage and Courage in Montreal.
The Montreal Metroblog tries to make sense of this random act of violence.

Sympathies and prayers...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Martin Sheen, back to school at 66 (via)

Edward Mendelson's The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life - A collection of essays on what the classics say about various stages of life. Related article here.
One of the reading life's great pleasures is to reread in adulthood the books you think you know from adolescent or academic encounters. Unless you've recently done that with these novels, the ideal way to enjoy these linked essays would be to read them in tandem with the books. Mendelson is an ideal companion in such a process.

An article in The Independent on the new Leonard Woolf biography - Leonard Woolf: A Life by Victoria Glendinning - highlights the best points of the new book
It needed a biography as compelling as this to bring out Woolf's full stature. Many will rate this as Glendinning's finest biography, for there is not a page that does not contain something of interest or surprise. It is impossible not to admire this man who, in old age, went in on Tuesdays to the Hogarth Press that the Woolfs had founded, "a small greying figure radiating intelligence, muted humour and benignity". Even the astringent Beatrice Webb was moved to describe Woolf as a "saint with very considerable intelligence; a man without vanity of guile, wholly public-spirited". Woolf himself, would, I think, have been content with his own words: "an unredeemed and unrepentant intellectual".
The Annual Jane Austen festival starts September 16, 2006 in Bath. Costume promenade and various activities from the Austen-era are on the schedule. Austen blog has updates.
AR Rahman will compose the music for the movie Rockstar (John Abraham, shooting slated to start in a couple of months)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Kalooki Nights - Howard Jacobson

Kalooki Nights is perhaps the only book in the Booker 2006 longlist that would qualify as funny despite being grounded on a serious subject.

The Guardian review is both detailed and somehow, I guess the word is kind.
The misanthrope at the heart of Kalooki Nights is Max Glickman, a cartoonist who hopes that his caricatures will reveal a "greater truth". Born into an irreligious Jewish family in the 40s, he was raised in an atmosphere of sweet reason comprising "socialism, syndicalism, Bundism, trade unionism, international brotherhoodism, atheism" ad absurdum. His father, a boxing enthusiast, is a product of the "great years of secular and muscularist Judaism" when "pugilist Jews" queued up to take on Mosley's thugs. His mother, rather than confront such realities, organises Kalooki card evenings.

This is a welcome return to the bittersweet Yiddish-inspired humour at which Jacobson excels, and which has rightly earned him comparisons with Philip Roth. Jacobson is an acute observer of the bottomless embarrassment of Jewish adolescents who are at home neither in their families nor in the wider culture. The novel goes back to the boyhood years of Max and his two friends, Manny and Errol, who offer two extreme ways of coping with their discomfiture. Manny, as a "weird" asexual Orthodox Jew, accepts his fate and becomes the eternal isolate. The priapic Errol revels in his super-sexed Jewishness and organises an after-school "ring of onanists". What unites this unlikely trio is an unhealthy preoccupation with the Nazi death camps.

The Observer reviewer writes

Max, growing up in Manchester's Crumpsall Park, has two childhood friends, randy Errol Tobias, who he believes leads him astray, and devout Manny Washinsky - 'not a person who responded well to pressure. Demand anything of Manny and he'd hold his breath for half-an-hour'. It is Washinsky who will gas his parents, and it is a TV company, Lipsync Productions, that commissions Max to search for his childhood friend.

This provides the spine of the novel, but along the way, everything and anything is thrown into the plot as Jacobson, in prose sharper and brighter than any of his contemporaries, worries over, struggles with and laughs at what it means to be Jewish. The marriages to Chloe, Zoe and Alys provide comic highlights but Jacobson can make you laugh with a one-word sentence just by picking the right word (for example, 'geography').

The jacket says Jacobson has won just one prize for his novels. The Everyman Wodehouse award for comic writing in 1999 brought the honour of having a pig named after him. A book about the ramifications for English Jews of the gravest injustice of the 20th century deserves to redress the injustices meted out on its author. But for that to happen, the judges will need a sense of humour.

Like his books, the only way to describe this interview with him (just before the publication of Kalooki Nights) is funny. Go read the whole thing.

On paper, Howard Jacobson is not at all my cup of tea - as a man, I mean, not as a writer. As a writer, he is everything you could wish for. His prose is clever, funny, stylish and full of learning. But as a man ... no, he should not really be my bag. For one thing, there is his temperament, which is incredibly male: part of him thinks he is the ant's pants; part of him craves praise because he fears rejection. This is always a bit tiring.

Then there is the fact that, on arrival at his swanky Soho pad, with its enormous picture window and its two paintings by Lowry, I spy what looks like a bust of his head. I'm not sure that I trust a man who keeps a bust of his own head about the place. Last of all, there is the fact that he adores DH Lawrence. Who on earth, these days, likes creepy old DH Lawrence?

But I'm teasing. Like him, I'm being contrary. Perhaps it's contagious. Actually, in person, he is adorable. He has a lovely face - prophet-like and comic at the same time, with pale green eyes the colour of those odd shards of glass that you used to find on gravestones - and he is incredibly warm and open; there is nothing you cannot ask him. He is, however, a little twitchy.


I'm not normally magnanimous enough to praise other people, but I really like him and he is old and he didn't look well. I did it once with John Updike, but my heart wasn't in it. I feel more generous if I'm doing well. If I'm not, I don't have any spare kindness.'

Everyone who profiles Jacobson (this old one at The Telegraph) wants to make the piece funny!

Spot him across a room and you would not guess that he is our funniest living writer. The face has a mordant grandeur, and when the eyebrows join forces on the bridge of the nose he looks like God after a bad day at the bookmaker.

Howard Jacobson on Wikipedia, his weekly columns in The Independent, a profile at Contemporary Writers, a glowing review at The Independent, the Booker forums calling Kalooki Nights more an exploration around a story than a story itself.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Other Side of the Bridge - Mary Lawson

The Other Side of the Bridge is Mary Lawson's second novel, her first one being Crow Lake in 2002.

A summary at the Random House Canada page for The Other Side of the Bridge says
Two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, are the sons of a farmer in the mid-1930s, when life is tough and another world war is looming. Arthur is reticent, solid, dutiful and set to inherit the farm and his father’s character; Jake is younger, attractive, mercurial and dangerous to know – the family misfit. When a beautiful young woman comes into the community, the fragile balance of sibling rivalry tips over the edge.
This review at the NSLS blog rates The Other Side of the Bridge very high while indicating that it may not be the winner given the formidable competition (in comparison with the 2005 heavyweights, a lot of people are of the opinion that 2006 is a lean year. But let's not get into that here) it is up against
This is a powerful book, written in a very understated but lyrical style. It's absolutely gorgeous. But will Lawson be the breakthrough winner of the Booker? I'd be inclined to think not, considering the staggering competition and her comparative newcomer status (though this isn't her first book). However, if she does by some small chance win I would be thrilled. Her style reminds me a bit of two other tremendously skilled native Canadian writers, Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood. She seems to be following in the footsteps of these two icons, and I think she's well on her way to achieving her own literary greatness.

But my final bet is no, The Other Side of the Bridge won't be the victor. If it doesn't win it won't be from lack of worthiness, but rather from the lack of a big literary reputation backing her up.
An interview with Mary Lawson on the inspiraton for Crow Lake:
Q. ‘Setting too much store by education can be a subtly dangerous thing’. Do you agree and if so, why?

A. I think setting too much store by any ideal, however admirable, can be dangerous. It can take over; it can damage your sense of proportion and blind you to other things.
Unfortunately there is very little on the Web on this Booker 2006 longlistee. This post will be updated when I find more details (actually, why don't you go buy it, read it and let me know what you think ;)

Update 9/23: The Scotsman review of The Other Side of the Bridge.

Shortlist, Odds, a month of fun

I am having a thoroughly enjoyable month trying to dig details on all the Booker 2006 longlisted books. Ever since the longlist came out on August 14, some books have been featured repeatedly in various mainstream publications, while others still remain invisible, links deeply buried in Google's big basket.

In a few days, September 14, the shortlist will be out and the articles will get more focused as the shortlisted authors get their familiar share of the limelight, once again, some more than the others. As soon as the longlist was out, the Scotsman had an article on the odds of winning and David Mitchell came out tops.

From a lay reader's understanding of the noises in the literary scene, it seems that the following are likely shortlistees:
David Mitchell - Black Swan Green
Peter Carey - Theft: A Love Story
Sarah Waters - The Night Watch
Barry Unsworth - The Ruby in her Navel

Personally, I'd like to see the following shortlisted (going by the reviews, extracts):
David Mitchell - Black Swan Green
Peter Carey - Theft: A Love Story
Claire Messud - The Emperor's Children
James Lasdun - Se7en Lies
Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss
Sarah Waters - The Night Watch

Update: The Observer lists odds for all 19 here.

I shall continue to explore the longlisted books while saving my personal shortlist favourites for after September 14. The links post on Mary Lawson's The Other Side of the Bridge will be up soon.

PS: Got myself a copy of Black Swan Green. Intend to start reading it in a few days. Given its likely shortlist presence, you can expect me to keep returning to that book often this month.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Carry Me Down - MJ Hyland

Like fellow Booker 2006 longlistee David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, MJ Hyland's Carry Me Down, focuses on thoughts and events in an important year in the adolescent life of John Egan.

Reviews are mostly laudatory:

Reading Matters has a crisp, insightful review

Carry Me Down is a deeply unsettling and disturbing read. Hyland's prose is carefully controlled so that the reader is barely aware of John's slow descent into madness. She conveys that nowhere time between childhood and adulthood with aplomb, and the tight, first-person narrative deftly captures John's confusion and naivety: a boy who looks and sounds like a man but is still very much a child unable to control the people and circumstances around him.

But as much as I admired this book, especially it's powerful, oh-my-goodness climax, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd read this type of story before: poor Irish boy growing up in difficult circumstances who doesn't understand the own violence within him. (Patrick McCabe's brilliant The Butcher Boy and Roddy Doyle's Booker-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha come to mind.)

Geraldine Bedell, in the Observer, talks of acute physical ache that Carry Me Down is capable of evoking in a reader

Carry Me Down is a tour de force character study. Beyond this, it is a portrait of a child in Ireland at a particular time, the Sixties or perhaps Seventies, oppressed by a lack of opportunity. It's also an attempt to track the mental damage done by misunderstanding, by neediness that is not met with affection.

It conveys its narrator's apprehension of the world brilliantly, but its triumph is also a novelistic drawback: John's is a powerful, utterly believable voice but by the end, it was leaving me gasping for air, for something to take me out of his partial, almost grub-like sense of the world.

In the Age, Gregory Day calls Carry Me Down a work full of compassion
In Hyland's work, ordinary life is drawn as a perpetual seesawing between the unconventionality of truth on one hand and the omnipresence of lies on the other. Her debut novel, How the Light Gets In, was widely acclaimed but perhaps will now be seen as merely the forerunner to Carry Me Down.

In the Guardian, Kate Thompson writes that troubled childhood/adolescence is an oft-repeated subject
The author introduces some interesting themes. There are Oedipal undercurrents when John succeeds in getting his father removed from the flat and moves into his mother's bed. There is a concern, very relevant today, about the effects upon a child when he is taken into the confidence of adults and told more about family relationships than he is mature enough to understand. The idea of a boy's reaching an early puberty and the resulting confusions surrounding it is potentially a fascinating subject, but this, along with the other themes, isn't well enough developed. A pity, because a closer examination of any or all of these ideas might have strengthened what is otherwise a rather unconvincing story.

John is an only child, and enjoys a level of physical and emotional intimacy with his parents that would have been extremely uncommon in 1970s Ireland. This intimacy extends to practically every adult he meets, and rarely does a scene go by without some attentive and supportive person taking John's hands and responding to his concerns. This grates, not only because it is inconsistent with the time and place, but because it makes it hard to understand why John should react to the events of his life in the way he does.


The narrative is one-paced and somewhat meandering, with many repetitive and redundant scenes, particularly towards the end. A mild, ghoulish curiosity kept me turning the pages, but the novel's tidy resolution left me with more questions than answers.

Others: Carry Me Down on TimeOut, an MJ Hyland interview soon after her first book How the Light Gets In was out, another interview (dated) at B&N, a review in the January magazine, the author website (for How the Light Gets In) that has not been updated in a long while.

Though the work is widely acclaimed, it does not seem likely that Carry Me Down will make the shortlist given that its subject matter has already been favoured often for the Booker. But then, let's wait and watch.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

There is something very absorbing and contemplative about a walk on busy roads. Everyone rushes past while you soak in the mechanics of routine set against the steady vastness of nothing. Last week, at the Chennai Metblog, I wrote about my most recent walk.

Will I identify this road if not for these buildings I remember them by?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Seven Lies - James Lasdun

Poet, Novelist, Teacher, England, United States, Columbia, Princeton, Booker 2006 longlist, Seven Lies, James Lasdun.

The reviews for Seven Lies are notably short. However what they let on, that of Seven Lies being a political thriller with an unreliable narrator, really piques my curiosity.

According to the Guardian, which slots Seven Lies under Crime and offers such a short review that I finished reading it as soon as I started it,
Lasdun's second novel has much of the thriller about it. (cannot quote more. I'd have the entire review here then)
The Man Booker forums have a review and a plot synopsis up for Seven Lies.

What really interested me in all the James Lasdun related reading that I did, is this interview with Robert Birnbaum for Identity Theory.

Seven Lies is a hybrid narrative of a thriller and a middle-European, early-20th-century meditation on desire and the darkness that may hide in each of us. A young East German, Stefan Vogel, grows up fantasizing a life in America, the golden land of his dreams. He makes it to New York, marries the girl of those dreams, seemingly having achieved his goals when, as is inevitable, things fall apart.

RB: On one level, it seems to be more difficult—or claimed to be more difficult—to write a novel, but on the other hand it seems to be harder to write a really good short story or really excellent poem.

JL: I think it is. I also think more people have a novel in them—a novel or two, than have a poem or a short story. Short stories are phenomenally hard to do—

RB: Novels are more forgiving?

JL: Yeah, they are. That’s exactly the word. You can go off on digressions—it doesn’t have to be perfect, in a way. A really good short story doesn’t have much tolerance for imperfection. And a really good poem has none.

RB: When you mention the things you like to read, what would those be?

JL: I like all kinds of things. I do like Kafka and I have alluded to Kafka in The Horned Man. And he is certainly writing about people who are estranged from their own society and who see themselves in relations, not being one of a simple continuum. They are not usually representative types of a social world. They are usually at odds with the particular worlds to the extent there is even a social world in the first place. Kafka is so metaphysical and metaphorical. I also love Tolstoy and the great realists. I am very drawn to Russian fiction. I’m not exactly sure why. But everyone in it from the most naturalistic writers like Chekov to Gogol, I feel an affinity with their sensibility.

RB: What about American writers?

JL: Many Americans, yeah. I love Saul Bellow. And I like him as a stylist, principally.


RB: In the two novels the people—it’s hard to call them heroes, the protagonists—do you like them? Stefan Vogel [protagonist of Seven Lies] and Lawrence Miller.

JL: Liking or not liking has never been an issue for me as a reader. Or as a writer. For me it's sympathy, or are you engaged? Is this a narrative journey that you are interested in taking? And yeah, I am well aware they are not the most obviously likeable people.

Other stuff:
Lasdun bibliography
Listen to the author reading his story Snow (not free)
More Seven Lies links.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Conversation

I want to know what you are thinking.

But I am not thinking and I don't think either.

How can that be? You are speaking aren't you? It means you are thinking.

I meant I don't think for the sake of thinking. I think in order to get something done.

Rubbish. You are one of those modern self-obsessed fools. God, I have been blind!

Why are you so angry now?

Nothing. I am not angry.

You are angry. And I know why.

I see. You do? Hmm...out with your theory that has not been thought but has landed readymade in your mouth.

I did not have to think now, I just knew why. But you forget that thinking used to be my favourite hobby.

See, you are full of your 'I's. I this I that I then I now. Gosh! Can we please speak of other things?

Speak about you, you mean?

Not me. I am not obsessed like you are. Let us talk about us.

What is there to talk about us?

So we are not worth talking about? I see clearly. It was that new age book...what was it? New Earth something....and why are you laughing like that you jerk?

Nothing. Come, let's have ice cream.

Don't treat me like a kid.

I am the kid, okay? Come now. Nice highlights by the way.

The highlights are a week old. But they are nice. I like them.

Will you have the banana split again?

No way, you'll eat half of it then. I want a milkshake.

Milkshake it is. Chocolate...mmm....

Like all conversations, this one does not conclude anything either. Words are indicative, not definitive. Are they?

Friday, September 01, 2006

She surfs blogs.
Whimsy, Clumsy,
Prissy, Prosy.
Anything goes.

She makes guesses.
Public, Private,
Popular, Wannabe.
Sitemeter validates.

The game goes on.