A. M. Homes: May We Be Forgiven


The latest addition to my website is A. M. HomesMay We Be Forgiven, the winner of the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Most people, including me, thought that Bring Up the Bodies would win and were quite surprised that this novel won. While I very much enjoyed Bring Up the Bodies, I think May We Be Forgiven is a very deserving winner. It is one of the funniest novels that I have read for a long time and very original. However, the humour is very black and is probably not to everyone’s taste though, as I have something of a warped mind, it is very much to mine. It tells the story of Harold Silver, brother of George, a successful TV executive who inadvertently kills two people in a traffic accident. This profoundly affects him and he is placed in an institution. He manages to leave it and comes home in the early hours of the morning to find his wife in bed with Harold. He smashes the lamp over his wife’s head and she dies soon afterwards. Harold is now left to bring up his nephew and niece, though his wife leaves him and he loses his job. Things can only get worse and they do. Homes has great fun mocking Harold and George but also a whole host of US institutions, people and behaviours. If you are not too sensitive to black humour, I can thoroughly recommend this book, a very deserving winner. of the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Sulaiman Addonia: The Consequences of Love


The latest addition to my website is Sulaiman Addonia‘s The Consequences of Love, the first Eritrean novel on my website. It tells the story of Naser, a young Eritrean, who has escaped from the war in that country and is now living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He is starved of female affection, till a woman in full burqa starts dropping surreptitious love notes to him. Under strict Saudi laws, it is impossible for a man and a woman to have an affair and, as the title implies, the consequences could be dire but the two of them continue this relationship, with great difficulty and a considerable amount of deceit. Meanwhile, Addonia is showing the hypocrisy of Saudi society, with rampant homosexuality, often with underage boys, drug use and other transgressions, while pretending that religious observance is something that all do. A well-told novel but not one likely to endear him to the Saudi government.

Yesterday’s other literary prize


Yesterday’s news in the literary prize world, at least in the English-speaking world, was about the Women’s Fiction Prize , won not by Hilary Mantel but by A M Homes. Homes’ novels have often been controversial, particularly her novel The End of Alice, about a pedophile. She is one of those all too many writers I have not read but mean to read but, as I was expecting Mantel to win this prize (my curse on a writer – if I expect her/him to win, s/he won’t win), I had not got round to reading her but have now started May We Be Forgiven. However, another prize was announced yesterday, the Spanish Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras [The Prince of Asturias Literary Prize]. It was awarded to Antonio Muñoz Molina. I have a couple of his books on my site and hope to get round to a couple more shortly, including La noche de los tiempos (The Depths of Time) (image above left), which has been translated into English. Interestingly enough, he is the first Spanish-speaking winner since Augusto Monterroso in 2000, though, before that all the prizes since the prize’s foundation in 1981 were Spanish-speaking except for Günter Grass in 1999. Muñoz Molina is a first-class writer and, given that several of his books have been translated into English, should be better known in the English-speaking world.

Carmen Boullosa: Texas


The latest addition to my website is Carmen Boullosa‘s Texas. The novel is about an event taking place in 1859 between a Mexican and an US sheriff in a thinly disguised version of Brownsville, Texas, leading to sides being taken by the two nationalities (with the Native Americans, slaves and former slaves and other itinerant nationalities thrown in). It is, of course, told not from the US point of view, with shifty or servile Mexicans, but from the Mexican point of view, showing a completely different viewpoint from the one we may be used to from Western films and where the bad guys are the Americans and not the Mexicans. A poor carpenter aand worse sheriff is beating up a drunken Mexican, who is urinating in public, when a well-to-do Mexican intervenes. It ends up in a standoff and then a shooting, with the sheriff mildly wounded in the leg. This leads to a whole chain of events, with a somewhat different outcome from your usual Western. As always, Boullosa tells a hilarious story, gives us a wild ride through the period and culture and, at the same time, makes her point about US hypocrisy vis-à-vis Mexico.

Telegraph 500 must-read books

A must-read book?  Maybe for aspiring criminals.
A must-read book? Maybe for aspiring criminals.

The Telegraph has produced a list of what it calls must-read books. The telegraph did not publish the list online (the link is to someone else who did) but, as at least one of the purposes of the list is to flog the books to the unsuspecting punter, you can also effectively view them through their online bookshop. Must-read? The article in the paper starts by telling you what they don’t mean. They don’t mean, for example, that you must read them (sic!). It is a set of suggestions, a list of books to peruse as you might glance at a menu when hungry. On dear. It gets worse. If you look at their listings in the Review section (called Where To Go, What To See), you will note that even where there are as few as four listings, each section’s compiler gets a credit. No-one gets a credit for the 500 books. That’s not surprising. If I had helped compile this list, I would not want my name on it. I am a great lover of lists of all sorts and have looked at many lists of best books and, with the possible exception of the readers’ response to the Modern Library 100 best novels, this has got to be the worse I have ever seen.

Don't know much about history - at least if you're a Telegraph reader
Don’t know much about history – at least if you’re a Telegraph reader

They have divided the books into twenty categories. We start off with War and History. They include novels, such as A Farewell to Arms, The Naked and the Dead and Catch 22; indeed all the novels are English or US, apart from The Good Soldier Schweik and All Quiet on the Western Front. Though the category is War and History, the novels are all war novels, so no Dickens, no Mantel (though she does appear in British classics), no any number of historical novels and, for war novels, no War and Peace, no Parade’s End, no Dr Zhivago (though he is in Romance), no Iliad (which appears under Antiquity Classics), no Stendhal, no Shakespeare. As for non-fiction we have 1066 and All That, no Macaulay, nothing on the US or English civil wars, nothing on the US War of Independence or its early history, nothing on the Russian Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, nothing on colonisation or decolonisation, nothing on Asian, African or Latin American history… So here’s the perfect video for the anonymous Telegraph compiler.

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took

How could anybody consider this a must-read?
How could anybody consider this a must-read?

Moving along to the other categories, it is not much better. Latin America includes your obvious Latin American authors but also includes Graham Greene and, aaargh!, Paulo Coelho. Surely, J K and Dan Brown cannot be far behind. American Classics includes Lionel Shriver, Anne Michaels, Hunter S Thompson, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Bonfire of the Vanities, no Pynchon, no Faulkner, no Oates and two African-American women but no African-American men – no Invisible Man, no Baldwin. Money includes Ayn Rand (the one author who is absolutely a must-not-read) and Who Moved My Cheese?, another book that is… (yes, I have. Idiot boss.) Of the Asian classics, half are Indian, one quarter Japanese, one eighth Chinese (counting Timothy Mo as half Chinese), with the Arabian Nights being the token Middle East entry. Seven of the twelve African classics are by white authors and one of the five who is not is V S Naipaul. British classics includes four writers who are definitely not British (they’re Irish), Henry James, who is generally considered American, though he did become a British citizen on his deathbed and, God help us, Jilly Cooper (and, if that is the case, why not J K?) (I am being facetious with the last remark, by the way).

Terrible list but what, I suppose, one might expect from the Daily Telegraph. Here is a line from elsewhere in the paper – British wildlife would be in a poorer state without the unique contribution of shooting. Yes, it would be alive. As for Telegraph book list compilers, I am not so sure.