Posts tagged ‘novels’

December 24, 2010

Our 2010 Favorites

by thiszine


Yes, it’s the time of year to reflect on our favorite books of the year. We asked our staff to give us some insight on what they’ve loved this year from what they’ve read. Keep in mind, not all the books were necessarily published in 2010, just enjoyed in 2010.




Louise Gluck’s A Village Life, no doubt about it.


This Cake Is For The Party by Sarah Selecky is a great contemporary vision of mid-life Canadians’ issues, written with the sharpness of a sword.

The Sentamentalists by Johanna Skibsrud Giller Prize-winning novel, showing underdogs can dominate Can Lit, in both style and subject matter.


I love to love books more than I love to hate them – honest! My “Top Shelf” books for the year include:

-Stoner by John Williams
This was the best book of 2010 and possibly one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

– Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
A travel book from the seat of a bicycle, Mr. Byrne’s essays and observations while on his bike were insightful, interesting, funny and evocative. A great book to take-along for intermittent reading.

– First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant
This beekeeping book was written in 1917, revised and rewritten over the years by Dadant’s descendants, has everything for every level of beekeeper. One of the best beekeeping books out there.

– Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
It held up despite the controversy, Franzenspec and Oprah. Dragging parts aside, Freedom was well done.

– Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
This book was placed in my hands by a bookstore manager and it was possibly the best novel of 2010 that I’d never heard about. I completely lost myself in this beautifully written novel.

– Tinkers by Paul Harding
This small novel, elegantly written, is a hefty, substantial read and has stayed with me since I finished it.

– Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
My finest library find of 2010, this a collection of stories about New York city from the 1930s and 1940s that are so well done, I traveled back in time with these stories in my hands.

– The Man In The Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
The prequel to my second-favorite novel of 2010, this is the story of Betty Feathers, wife of Old Filth. Jane Gardam is one of the most insightful, sharp, skilled and brilliant writers I have had the pleasure to happen upon.

– The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
This collection of stories demonstrates the versatility and wit of my new favorite author.

– Old Filth by Jane Gardam
I finished this book wishing I hadn’t read it so I could enjoy it again. This was the first Jane Gardam novel I read and, as you can see by my list, I couldn’t get enough of her. Old Filth was her masterpiece. A close second to Williams’ Stoner for me.


My favorite book of the year was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which is the type of novel that converts you to an author and leaves you determined to read everything he’s ever published. This novel is the type of meta-fiction that puts Paul Auster to shame: clever, beautiful, and intricate without descending into flashy showmanship. My other favorites of the year include:

– Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in our Times by Eavan Boland
An autobiographical meditation on the act of writing poetry as an Irish woman, Boland’s breathtaking prose and shrewd synthesis of the traditions of poetry, both as a male pursuit and as a political act in the Irish tradition, is required reading for women as readers of good poetry and literature and for women intent on carving themselves a name as a writer.

– A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
The story of five generations of women unable to reconcile the dissatisfaction with their lives to their heritage as progeny of a revolutionary, Walbert reaches forward and backward in time to shape this vibrant, richly expressed narrative through each woman’s voice.

– The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Set in post-WWII England, the myriad specters that haunt Waters’ novel – social class, class envy, sexual repression, and the rapidly changing world – are vibrantly rendered as the isolated and suffering gentry family at the tale’s center witness increasingly violent and preternatural acts. The Little Stranger is a chilling Gothic novel enveloped by beautiful prose that imbues the malevolence with careful restraint.

– Wolf Hallby Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel utilizes every aspect of history to re-create a vivid world while providing dramatic tension from a contemporary vantage point and knowledge of history. Her prose is perfect. Her themes ring true to the current political climate (and, one suspects, to every political climate).

– The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Mengestu’s novel is set Washington, DC’s Logan Circle neighborhood which, as a DC resident, I thought I knew well. Reading Mengestu’s novel taught me how wrong I was. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is more than an immigrant story: it’s a novel about missed opportunities – in relationships, in life – and the inevitability of, sometimes violent, change. What is gentrification if not sanctioned class violence against the less privileged? And in a country built by immigrants, how does the contemporary, unfiltered immigrant experience compare to the mythology of America’s promise? Mengestu speaks to both of these questions in this stunning, beautiful novel.

– Tinkers by Paul Harding
For the first 40 or so pages of Tinkers, I was unconvinced that Paul Harding should have won the Pulitzer for this father-son novel. However, as the two stories about father and son enter the same frame the magic of Tinkers comes through in its striking imagery and gentle pacing that quietly build momentum through to the powerful ending.


photo by Ethan Anderson

December 14, 2010

Book Review: The Matter with Morris by David Bergen

by thiszine

by David Bergen

Harper Collins
(September 2010, CAN $29.99, 254 pages)

A link is drawn between Morris Schutt, fifty-one year old writer and main character of David Bergen’s Giller Prize-nominated novel The Matter With Morris, and Haggai, whom Bergen’s third person narrator tells us is “a less than minor prophet [. . .] who in the Bible gets two chapters.” The image of Haggai – a silenced prophet – is a lot like Morris. Once a syndicated columnist read by people worldwide, he loses his writing contract when his thoughts turn sour. Wouldn’t yours after your son dies at war?

Indeed, the matter with Morris and the Schutt family is the death of their son and brother Martin while serving in the Canadian army in Afghanistan. The fallen infantryman haunts this text; his absence tears apart a modern family along with their aging home. Solemnly, Morris and his wife, Lucille, part by way of a death they never expected. And Morris holds squalid relations with his daughters: Meredith, a working class mother with a grudge toward her selfish father, and Libby, a distant teen too smart to be trapped by adulthood’s hypocrisy. In a touchingly realist depiction of the new millennium as war era, the Schutts are today’s army family strewn by tragedy.

Living alone in a condo, Morris is patted down by moral anguish. Museless and desperate, he focuses on his life’s worst moment: a father-son huff, daring Martin to join the army. To boot, Martin was killed accidentally by one of his own men. For Morris, it’s just as well as pulling the trigger himself.

Mentally and spiritually unhealthy, Morris copes through self-destruction. Most pertinent of all, he is hooked on a woman’s touch and hires prostitutes to relieve his inner tension. There is also Ursula, an American reader of Morris’s column who, too, lost her son to war (in Iraq). Ursula and Morris become intimate pen pals, and eventually meet. Contemplating his choices in a hotel room as Ursula sleeps, Morris yearns for the solace he is searching for. Eventually, he does declare a breaking point. Things will change, he will get his family back, even if it takes some extreme measures.

Bergen admits in Morris’s afterword to borrowing ample inspiration from Cicero, Plato, Socrates and Bellows when creating Morris’s deep philosophical rhetoric. For some readers, his pondering of freedom, humanism and rabid individualism may seem pretentious, constantly lathered on without letting the last big question settle. However, I empathise with the abstractness needed to make sense of this character’s gall-filled world.

This empathy solidifies in many scenes that war parents and families can relish in. “[Morris] had heard of the Highway of Heroes near Toronto,” Bergen writes in sardonic prose, “he wondered how it was that he had come to live in a place where a fallen soldier was driven ignominiously past warehouses and big box stores.” Revenge is also offered through Morris’s habitual letter writing, one to the Prime Minister and another to the company who manufactured the gun that killed Martin. Morris notes the absurdity of sending a letter that will never be read, nodding at Bergen’s apostrophe technique and the simple closure the act offers.

Aside from lashing outward, Morris’s hurt drives hard toward nihilistic tendencies too. His son’s death causes him so much despair, loneliness, inadequacy, guilt, and scepticism, it’s no wonder he contemplates suicide more than once. His existential traits, borrowed from Kafka and Kierkegaard, lead him to declare solitude and to have feelings of despair and worthlessness. Don’t worry Morris, we hear your story, along with the 152 lonely Canadian fathers that live it every day. It’s the bleak story of modern global politics and its disastrous impact on the family. And, it’s something Bergen obviously wants us to consider.

John Coleman

November 6, 2010

Writers Pick Their Faves

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Like that old question asked of Catholic priests, “To whom does the confessor confess?”, writers are often asked to name authors and novels that have influenced their work or, at the very least, left an impression upon them. Here are some links to a few of our favorites.

Julia Glass’s most recent novel The Widower’s Tale was published in September. Not to be pinned down by the enormous task of selecting the ten best novels ever, Glass instead lists “ten terrific works of fiction” she’s read in the past year.

DC-based wonk newspaper the Politico asked writers at a recent PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction gala to recommend books for President Barack Obama. Jane Hamilton suggested Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (but not its more recent companion Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ) while Audrey Niffenegger opted for George Orwell’s 1984. ZZ Packer referred the president to DC writer Edward P. Jones’s novel The Known World and to Toni Morrison’s latest A Mercy. For the presidential daughters she recommended Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

NPR’s column “You Must Read This” presents conversations with writers about the books they love to read and recommend. In case you were grasping to fill out your reading list, “You Must Read This” is a springboard with old and new recommendations – including many surprises.

New York Magazine’s the Vulture has the most fun with authors recommending books. Some of our faves include Myla Goldberg’s Tales About Friendship Betrayed and Sam Anderson’s Anti-Franzen Novels.

November 2, 2010

Book Review: What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

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by Howard Norman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(October 2010, US$25.00, 256 pages)

At the beginning of Howard Norman’s What Is Left The Daughter, Wyatt Hillyer, a teenage boy recently orphaned by double parent suicides, embarks on an apprenticeship to his uncle Donald as a toboggan maker. Odd, but these two scenarios are more closely knit than you may think. They set up the depressing chain of events that this World War Two era novel follows.

Written as a letter to Wyatt’s long-lost daughter Marlais, this novel’s most striking trait is its focus on tragedy-touched characters. The fatal theme flourishes quickly, once Wyatt is moved from Halifax to Middle Economy, Nova Scotia, a small town in the maritime province where his aunt and uncle live. Here, Wyatt reunites with Tilda, his adopted cousin whom he secretly loves. Also in her late teens, Tilda decides to become a professional mourner – yes, she weeps alongside deceased loners whom no one else will pity. In diverse representation, Wyatt isn’t the only one full-up on sadness. The man Tilda eventually marries is Hans Mohring, a German exchange student of philology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

And then there is Tilda’s father, Wyatt’s toboggan-making mentor Donald, overcome with paranoia caused by German U-boat attacks off Canada’s east coast. Donald withdraws from the family, gives up the sleigh racket, and starts bunking alone in his work shed like a soldier. On her last night in town before travelling to Newfoundland on a family visit, Wyatt’s aunt Constance, Donald’s wife, breaks the shield and sleeps with Donald between walls tacked up with war stories from the newspaper.

Things climax when a German torpedo takes out a ferry with Constance onboard. With this, Donald’s hate for Hitler peaks; his paranoia proves its worth. He even goes as far as smashing his beloved Beethoven and Bach gramophone records, the ones that always got caught in the last groove before the needle could lift: a broken record repeating its last note over and over again, like the newspaper and radio reports Donald couldn’t ignore.

In one last, foul move, Donald tricks Wyatt into inviting Tilda’s German husband, Hans, to their house, apparently to make peace. Instead, Donald’s rage overpowers wit when he kills Hans with a steel toboggan runner. Daughter takes on a small town, court drama feel for a couple chapters. Donald gets life in prison for the murder; Wyatt receives a couple years for his involvement.

Upon his release, Wyatt slowly becomes part of Tilda’s life again and one night they conceive a child: Marlais. However, Wyatt is once again abandoned when Tilda moves to Denmark with Marlais, and until the point that the book is written—March 27, 1967—Wyatt goes without seeing his daughter for nearly thirty years. The story ends with Wyatt encountering more death (from both important characters and not), old friends, and living his life as a dedicated gaffer at the Halifax Harbour.

Daughter is a bleak and empathetic story, dissolved slightly with pockets of classic, uppity, home front war era scenes. To Norman’s credit, there are many unforeseen right turns that follow constant tragic foreshadowing. From page one, death is on the mind, and the avenues in which the theme is experimented with are not obviously revealed. Like any wartime novel, Daughter does have flavours of stories told once before. Hitler’s encroach on Middle Economy, even though he and his troops are distant, is represented only by a foreign sit-in. When it’s revealed that there are Nazis posing as RMC soldiers roaming around Nova Scotia and that a friend of Wyatt’s was attacked by them, you start to sympathize with Donald, the unabashed defender of reasonable revenge. Although he sacrificed an innocent bystander, he had the right intention. I guess that’s the worth of any good war novel: breaking down misconceptions loaded with controversial politics.

John Coleman

October 15, 2010

Video of the Week: Emma Donoghue

by thiszine

In the video below, Emma Donoghue reacts to a creative book display at the Next Chapter Bookshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and discusses her book Room with an audience gathered for a reading.

Room was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.

October 12, 2010

From Shortlist to Winner, the Man Booker Committee Pulls an Upset

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Howard Jacobson‘s novel The Finkler Question was announced the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize in a London ceremony earlier today, dispensing with Tom McCarthy’s C, which was considered the front-runner for winning the prize and even caused the British bookmaker Ladbrokes to close betting on wagers for the prize after they received nearly $24,000 USD in a single day.

Jacobson’s previous novels include Who’s Sorry Now and Kolooki Nights, both of which we shortlisted for the prize in 2002 and 2006, respectively. The prize comes with a $79,000 USD monetary award and an almost guaranteed bestseller status in the United Kingdom. Assuring the winner’s book will fly off the shelves in North America is another matter, one that last year’s winner, Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall, surprised with its commercial success abroad. Wolf Hall went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award in the U.S.

October 12, 2010

Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Don Borchert

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by Don Borchert

Tor Books
(August 2010, $13.99, 304 pages)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is about a young boy growing up in a small town along the Mississippi River. It’s also the latest novel to be zombified. I’ve amassed so many mash-ups of classical literature and zombie fiction that if future archaeologists ever found my collection…well, the historians would have a field day with the discovery…probably the psychologists too. Some novel hybrids are just the originals with zombies jammed in, while others offer a spectacular blending of genres. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Undead falls somewhere in the middle.

Don Borchert’s take on this classic started out rather boring. The editor’s note, written from the world of the Zum, was extremely hokey, completely unnecessary, and did more harm than good. If a story is interesting, it should not need an explanation of the plot in advance. Read the editor’s note at your own risk; you have been warned.

In the first half of the book, the story follows the original pretty closely with a few minor changes, tailored to fit in the Zum – the name of the zombies that have overrun the United States. For instance, instead of being required to paint the fence white, Aunt Polly tells Tom to sharpen the tops of the fence posts. There was very little mention of Zum, which is a let-down when “undead” is in the title. More attention is given to descriptions of the survival modifications to the village that Tom lives in than the Zum or the infection.

I kept finding excuses to put the book down, and, truthfully, I only continued reading because this book was a gift. I also have a policy of only reviewing books that I’ve read from beginning to end. I was shocked at the difference in the narrative once “Injun Joe” made his entrance into the story: more Zum scenes, plenty of action, and lots of surprises. This novel is the perfect example of why people should read the entire book before they form an opinion. (Or you could just start on page 95.)

Before reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead, Zombiephiles should know:

1) most Zum are mindless shamblers, but there are a few thinking-Zum
2) source of infection is unknown and can be spread to animals
3) headshots don’t necessarily work; burning bodies is necessary

If you like mash-ups between genres or anything to do with zombies, it’s worth reading at least once. If Don Borchert decides to try his hand at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I hope he works in more Zum hunting.

Ursula K. Raphael

October 10, 2010

Book Review: Henry VIII: Wolfman by A.E. Moorat

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by A.E. Moorat

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
(July 2010, $9.55, 416 pages)

Once upon a time, I was offered the chance to review Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, A.E. Moorat’s first novel. I almost passed on it because I was a little wary of historical fiction mash-ups, but I knew it had zombies in it, so I figured it was worth reading at least once. In the novel, Queen Victoria fights the evil clan of Baal with the help of the Royal Protektor, Maggie Brown. Most of England is completely ignorant of the demonic dangers, so the Royal battles are suppose to be kept secret.

It turned out to be one of the best novels I have ever read. I was expecting a mix of Brian Keene & Phillipa Gregory; instead, Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter was more like “Army of Darkness” meets “The Mighty Boosh”: a very entertaining fantasy-adventure, but not quite horror. The novel made me a Moorat fan, so I was very excited to read the next novel.

In Henry VIII Wolfman, the King also deals with the clan of Baal but the novel is very different from Queen Victoria. In an extremely long and elaborate flashback between the prologue and epilogue, mainly told from Henry’s point of view, Henry VIII: Wolfman is an alternative historical account from a universe completely different from the believable, behind-the-scenes story of real historical events in Queen Victoria. Even though I didn’t find Wolfman nearly as amusing as Moorat’s first novel, it was a great psychological-horror story about a king struggling with a major life change while trying to save his people.

In the prologue, Henry has transformed into a werewolf and has devoured the Queen, though which wife is not specified. He then remembers everything that led up to the moment described in the prologue: Henry is beginning to get fat, he’s in the Palace of Greenwich and Anne Boleyn catches his eye. There are also hints at a romantic interest with Jane Seymour, who turns out to be quite the noble woman.

Henry’s major problems begin when a wolfen cell, led by a werewolf Malchek and tired of being the lowest rung on the ladder among the Baal descendants, uses King Henry as a pawn by infecting him with lycan blood. The king tries to hide this turn of events from everyone at court. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas More is falsely accused of being a werewolf by fake witchfinders and, due to court politics, Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk refuse to come to his aid. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who is searching for More, is desperate to find a reason for the Pope to declare war on the Wolfen, despite the treaty signed at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, or else convince the King to abandon his quest for revenge.

The best parts of this story, for me, were the witchfinders, Hob and Agatha. These two reminded me of the entertaining Lord Quimby and his man-servant Perkins in Queen Victoria. I wish there had been more of their humor in this novel. I wasn’t sure what type of mash-up the author was trying to write aside from the obvious twist on Henry’s reign. I am still a fan of Moorat, though I’m hoping he will finally give Lord Quimby and Perkins from a spin-off novel of their own.

Ursula K. Raphael

October 2, 2010

Book Review: Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

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by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

Three Rivers Press
(October 2010, $15, 352 pages)

If you’ve ever read the original story Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or loved movies like “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” and “The Bride,” you need to read this novel. I couldn’t pass up a chance to read this sequel; it picks up where Shelley wrote, “borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance,” revealing what happened after Dr. Frankenstein died on the ship.

Frankenstein’s Monster: A Novel, by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, begins with a detailed journal entry by Captain Robert Walton. He addresses this particular entry to “Margaret,” who is later revealed to be Walton’s sister. He describes the friendship & brotherly feelings he had for Victor Frankenstein and explains why he feels obligated to hunt down the monster that Frankenstein failed to kill: when Walton had found the monster standing over Frankenstein’s body, he realized he realized Frankenstein’s ramblings were not those of a madman after all. Walton immediately gives chase across the ice, planning to kill the monster so he may return to his quest to reach the North Pole. Instead, he loses a finger to the monster, and barely survives the encounter himself.

The story then switches to the monster’s point-of-view and is also written in journal format, with location and date at the start of each entry. Walton has tracked him to Rome, so the monster flees to Venice where he finds companionship with a beggar, Lucio, and a mute woman, Mirabella. O’Keefe does an excellent job of evoking sympathy for the monster, sharing his most intimate thoughts in his journal, with bits of poetry and quotations from the many books that he reads. Despite his acts of violence, I am reluctant to refer to him as “the monster,” but he doesn’t take a name for himself until later in the story, eventually adopting the name Victor Hartmann.

When Walton destroys Victor’s meager life in Venice, he becomes the novel’s obvious villain. Victor blames himself for putting his friends in harm’s way; having been hunted down repeatedly by Walton over the past ten years, Victor feels he should have realized Walton would never give up his obsession. Victor finds out that Walton has family in northern England and plots his revenge, not unlike what he did to Frankenstein’s family in the first book.

After finding Walton’s family, Victor also finds his journal, which reveals Walton’s twisted view of the events over the past ten years. While Victor writes his own journal entries, he includes passages from Walton’s journal as well. Walton’s words highlight his madness; Walton’s sister, Margaret, and her daughter, Lily, contrast sharply with Victor’s ideals of what it is to be human and their characters hint at a sickness that runs in the family.

I was crying by the end of the novel; the epilogue (a personal letter from one of the characters) was a superb finish to a tragic tale of a life that wasn’t wanted. A reader’s guide is also included at the back of the book.
This novel is the first one Susan Heyboer O’Keefe has written for an adult audience; previously she has written several children’s books, and has been nominated for numerous literary awards. You can read more about the author here.

– Ursula K. Raphael

September 7, 2010

Old School Book Review: Stoner by John Williams

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by John Williams

NYRB Classics
(June 2006, $14.95, 288 pages)

How could a book about a reserved, quiet assistant professor of Classic English, Latin translation and grammar, set in a small southern college early in the twentieth century, be so incredibly riveting?

I know your eyes glazed over after the first half of the first sentence! Mine did too – as I wrote it! None of the pieces that make up this beautiful novel, originally published in 1965, had the ability to draw my slightest interest: dry academia, small college politics, poor farming to middle class life, unhappy marriage. It presents as so run-of-the-mill when in this day and age, only the epic will do.

Fear not! Don’t even despair for wading through several chapters to get the rhythm of the book because novelist John Williams (not the composer) writes with simple, direct and heart-achingly beautiful prose that will set you on a straight path.

The first paragraph is a clear outline of the novel beginning when our protagonist, William Stoner, enters the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910 at the age of nineteen and ending with, “Presented to the Library of the University of Missouri, in memory of William Stoner, Department of English. By his colleagues.” The rest that follows may well fall into the category of the perfectly written novel.

The novel’s humble beginning is much like the beginning of its subject. William Stoner was born to two uncomplicated, hard-working parents who’s goal in life was to raise a son who would take over the farm. The only snag in their plan was gifting their only son with enough brains to attend Missouri’s new university.

Initially this was not so much a tragedy as it is a delay his assumption of the family yoke. Stoner was to study “agronomy.” Then, in his sophomore year, his world was transformed by the power and pull of literature. There was no way to reconcile the two; it was either agriculture or English and for Stoner, there was no choice. He elected a life of literature with only one regret: breaking the news to his parents.

Living his life with the kind of certainty and purpose was not as easy as he hoped. Even in small circles of academia, petty arguments and misunderstandings grow and fester into lifelong, bitter resentments. Stoner’s inflexibility delivers him unto a path that, while others may find humiliating and limited, fills his time with purpose and a desire to be a better teacher.

Novelist John Williams

Meanwhile, the rest of his life remains unfulfilled. Stoner’s unhappy marriage to the mentally unbalanced Edith, a sheltered and shallow woman, is one of the saddest relationships that have ever lived in prose. His two friendships, while strong and lasting, do not provide him enough support or sustenance to let him leave his lonesome path or travel a wider road of male companionship. His daughter Grace, his delightful kindred spirit and true joy in his life until Edith interferes, is the embodiment of a product of two truly incompatible people. Stoner’s one true love, Katherine Driscoll, is half his age but equal in his brilliant passion and becomes his mistress. She provides him with a brief respite and the good fortune of a compatible woman that ends sadly and far too soon. They part before they become a University scandal that may jeopardized all they worked to achieve.

It is Stoner’s ability to carry on, to rise above evil but never preach or proselytize that I admire so much. He is not a martyr, but a strong man who is above all, human. Stoner is strong and true to the end, where he remains the same quiet, calm and never-regretful man of purpose.

While this might sound like a tragedy – which in all aspects I believe it is the Great American Tragedy – it is neither maudlin, sappy nor wallowing in self-pity. I could not get Stoner off my mind when I finished it (which I have to confess was in a puddle of tears while flying from San Fransisco to Boston – not my ideal spot for ending such a brilliant novel). I re-read passages and was able to gain more insight from a second look. I found it hard to start something new because I couldn’t even think of another novel that could top it. I was able to find a rare interview with John Williams about Stoner. In the interview, he regarded his protagonist as a hero who lead a good life doing the things he wanted to do. Well, honestly, what’s so sad about that?


September 7, 2010

The Man Booker Shortlist Surprise

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The shortlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize was announced today with a few surprises.

The six name list was cut from the original “Booker dozen” of thirteen novels. The popular and well-selling title The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas failed to make the cut, as did previous shortlist nominee David Mitchell, whose novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was thought to be a strong contender.

The 2010 Man Booker shortlist is:
–Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America

–Emma Donoghue,

–Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room

–Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question

–Andrea Levy, The Long Song

–Tom McCarthy, C

McCarthy’s novel C, set in early 1900s England that melds science and the subconscious, is a critical favorite and may be a strong contender for the winner.

The winner of the 50,000 pound ($76,790) prize, which can catapult an unknown author to worldwide success, will be announced on October 12.

September 1, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

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Dan Chaon‘s Await Your Reply, recently in paperback in the U.S., examines the lives of three strangers who interconnect in unforeseen ways. Miles Cheshire can’t stop searching for the twin brother who’s been missing for ten years, alive but unwilling to be found. A few days after her high school graduation, Lucy Lattimore leaves her small town in Ohio with her former history teacher, only to end up at a deserted Nebraska hotel. College student Ryan Schulyer abruptly leaves his life one day. Presumed dead, Ryan attempts to remake himself through any means possible.

The book trailer is perhaps one of the most disturbing we’ve seen – not because the images are particularly upsetting, but because the narrator’s voice and tone worm into your head and expand into your nightmares.

August 30, 2010

Double Review: Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog and The Gourmet

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by Muriel Barbery

translated by Alison Anderson
Gallic Books
(May 2009, £7.99, 320 pages)

by Muriel Barbery

translated by Alison Anderson
Gallic Books
(May 2010, £6.99, 136 pages)

I read The Gourmet (published in the U.S. as Gourmet Rhapsody ) when I was in bed with tonsillitis. This is not extraneous atmosphere-building information designed to humanise the reviewer – if you suffer from recurrent tonsillitis, you will know this immediately, because nothing is more likely to make someone stop reading literary webzines, rush off to take vitamin C, and aerate the bedroom than being reminded of those vile days when swallowing brings tears to the eyes and the whole world is distorted through a fog of misery (extraneous humanising information – I am rubbish at being ill). In this state, a book about delicate French food might seem an odd choice. But it was short, it had a jolly cover, and the journey to the bookshop stocked with trashy fiction was beyond contemplation. So I set to it, having originally judged the cover favourably by the least justifiable criteria – trendily embossed Art Nouveau typeface and fulsome reviews from sophisticated-sounding French magazine editors.

The thing about tonsillitis (I promise I won’t mention it again) is that it doesn’t encourage you to engage much with the written word, unless it’s the instructions on painkiller packets. However, reading The Gourmet I was gripped with the sort of joyous abandonment I thought had peaked when reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’ at the bottom of the garden in childhood summers, ignoring my family and eating forbidden biscuits. Principally, the main character in The Gourmet is wonderfully unsympathetic. He is arrogant, self-obsessed, cruel and blind – nevertheless, we wait breathlessly for his next pronouncement, the next wrinkle that emerges in his character. It’s tough to pull off a bastard as your hero, especially if he is old and fat rather than young and sexy – but Barbery does it with a confidence and sensitivity that I like to think is particularly Gallic. The fact that this is her first novel is enough to make one give up on the writing lark altogether, but that’s another story.

The bastard Gourmet is Pierre Arthens, dying in his apartment on Rue de Grenelle in Paris at the end of a stellar career as a food critic and all-round offence to humanity. He cheats on his wife, aggressively alienates his children and is a horrendous, inexcusable snob, all the while maintaining his superior veneer of taste and cultivation. All this emerges only in fragments, as he, his family, and friends tell his story. He is dying, and he knows it – but more urgently, he knows that there is a dish that he must taste once more before he leaves this world, and which eludes him. This is the story of his quest to remember, in the process exploring some of the finest meals and most telling memories in a life of extravagant epicureanism, be it a tomato from an aunt’s kitchen garden or the most elevated restaurant meal France has to offer. It is impossible not to be charmed, moved, and full of resolutions to eat better.

After The Gourmet, there is The Elegance of the Hedgehog. We are back on Rue de Grenelle and Pierre Arthens is still dying. Thank goodness, mutters the building’s concierge. Renée is small and plump, always dressed in black, with bunions on her feet, pots of coarse casserole on her stove and a cat in her armchair. But what no one in the building realises is that she is probably better educated than all of its self-important residents, and that their concierge has carefully cultivated her stereotypical image. She excoriates phenomenology while watering the plants, and shuts her inner door at night to secretly watch magical Japanese films.

There are souls in the building, however, who find a way behind her façade: twelve-year-old Paloma, possessed of unusual intelligence and a carefully drawn-out plan to kill herself; blue-blooded Portuguese cleaner Manuela, whose kindness knows no bounds; and the mysterious new Japanese resident, Monsieur Ozu, who buys the Arthens’ apartment. Slowly, through chance and attraction and the power of ideas, Renée’s life changes. Wit, friendship, sadness, loss and beauty in this world become hers – and, by extension, ours. Suffice to say, it is an extraordinary book, both luminously intelligent and completely gripping.

If I go on much longer about Barbery’s novels, the good people at this will cut me off. But please – beg, borrow or steal these books, and consume them, preferably at the bottom of your garden and in excellent health. You deserve it – we all do, once in a while.

~Ellen Hardy

August 21, 2010

Super Sad True… Whatever. Just Watch It.

by thiszine

Gary Shteyngart‘s satiric novel Super Sad True Love Story was released in late July and here at this we wonder how we could have possibly missed the book trailer for what is the most star-studded and bizarre-o trailer ever for a book. Shteyngart is listed as one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” though the book trailer leads one to question, does he deserve it?

Authors Mary Gaitskill, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jay McInerney all make appearances, in addition to actor James Franco and some very svelte Mt. Holyoke debutantes.

According to Eugenides, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex “Gary [Shteyngart] has managed to escape the anxiety of influence by the sheer fact that he has never read a word.”

Catch the trailer below. It’s long but totally worth it, especially if you’re a book nerd.

August 18, 2010

Pop Music Tribute to Ray Bradbury

by thiszine

Ray Bradbury is best known for his novel of a dim, disutopic world, Fahrenheit 451, but over the course of his life he has written eleven novels, almost 400 short stories, and several screenplays. Now 89, we can’t help but wonder what the post-octogenarian Bradbury thinks of this tribute to his life’s work.