Month: September 2013 Page 1 of 2

Arnon Grunberg: Figuranten (Silent Extras)


The latest addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Figuranten (Silent Extras). Grunberg tells the story of three young people – two Dutch men and and an Argentinian woman – who want to make it in the world but struggle to do so. They have ambitions to become film or theatre stars but only get auditions for second- or third-rate productions and when one of the young men, known as Broccoli, tries to stage a version of Macbeth with the Argentinian woman, it is not successful. They also have money problems. Ewald, the narrator, lives with his parents, while Broccoli’s parents, who live in Switzerland, have been subsidising him but decide enough is enough and head off for Mexico, leaving him high and dry. Even the other characters struggle to get by. It is a bitter-sweet tale and enjoyable enough, though lacking, in my view, that something special.

Georges Ngal: L’Errance [Wandering]


The latest addition to my website is Georges Ngal‘s L’Errance [Wandering]. This is a follow-up to his Giambatista Viko ou Le Viol du discours africain [Giambatista Viko or the Rape of African Discourse]. Like its predecessor, it is both a mockery of current views of African culture, particularly by Africans, as well as proposals for improving the situation. In the previous book, our two heroes, Giambatista Viko and Niaiseux, were condemned for their betrayal of African culture. We now learn they have been condemned to spend much time in convents of African culture. Their sentence has now finished and they are in the fictitious town of Marmonia, writing an account of their adventures for a major daily newspaper. Virtually the entire novel consists of discussions between the two about the problems with African culture and the perceptions of African culture and what to do to improve it. It does make for interesting reading, even if still written in the rather high blown French of the previous novel, but it does not really read like a novel and, as such, must be accounted a failure. The fact that it is out of print and has not been translated tends to bear this out.

A Reading List for David Gilmour

Aargh! A book by a Canadian woman - a no go for Gilmour

Aargh! A book by a Canadian woman – a no go for Gilmour

As has been extensively reported Canadian writer and professor David Gilmour (no, not that David Gilmour) has made a bit of fool of himself, basically saying that there are no interesting women, Canadian and Chinese writers and saying that he only reads Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth. Quite apart from the sheer stupidity of making such a statement, essentially condemning a whole range of writers purely because of their sex or nationality, and then going public with it, Gilmour’s comments are wrong-headed for other reasons.

Masturbation in public - do Roth & Gilmour both like it?

Masturbation in public – do Roth & Gilmour both like it?

1. His condemnation of women writers and his statement that he only reads heterosexual guys shows that he clearly has concerns about his masculinity. His interview appeared on the Random House Canada blog. If you look further down on that blog, you will find this post. Now we know that one of Gilmour’s literary heroes is the second-rate Philip
Roth, a man who loves masturbating in public. And Henry Miller (who reads him now but the sexually frustrated?) Is this Gilmour’s problem? I think we should be told.
2. More importantly, there are lots of very good women, Chinese and Canadian writers, David. Perhaps you should try reading them. Here is a list to get you going. I have even put links to Amazon Canada for some of them, so you can buy them.

China produced a whole range of first-class prose literature, well before your heterosexual guys were born.

Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber. Hey, it starts off with the story of a young man who prefers girls to studies. A real heterosexual guy.
The Water Margin. Lots of brawny heterosexual men here, David. Just your sort of man, even if they are not, you know, white.
Journey to the West (aka Monkey, with a monk fighting demons. Tough and maybe even heterosexual.
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. More heterosexual guys fighting.

There are modern Chinese writers as well. Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan both won the Nobel Prize. Xiaolu Guo is a woman but she is heterosexual and was on the list, though she is Chinese. Mao Dun was producing great literature when Chekhov and Tolstoy were.

And, yes, your own country produces some great writers (beside you, of course). Up on the top at the left, you will see the cover of a book by a Canadian writer – Margaret Atwood. She is very well known, very well-respected and a woman. There are other good Canadian writers as well – Michael Ondaatje, Timothy Findley and Rohinton Mistry. Some of them write in French – Marie-Clair Blais, Nancy Huston and Gérard Bessette. Here is a detailed list to help you.

As for women writers, I would not know where to start, so I will start with my women writers page. Many of the early writers were women. A Celebration of Women Writers can help you there. Oh, I see that you have apologised. A bit late, David, but do read some of these women, Chinese and Canadian authors. You might even enjoy them.

Thomas Pynchon: Bleeding Edge


The latest addition to my website is Thomas Pynchon‘s Bleeding Edge. This novel continues with Pynchon’s obsession with conspiracies within conspiracies within conspiracies. It is set at the turn of the millennium, so includes conspiracies about 9/11 and, as you can imagine, it is not Al-Qaida who gets the blame. It tells the story of Maxine Tarnow, formerly Loeffler, a fraud investigator, who finds herself investigating, at every turn, a company called hashslingrz, run by the sinister Gabriel Ice, which seems to have a finger in every pie, from deep web-based virtual world games to the dirty deeds of the US government, by way of mysterious Arabs, Mossad and an attempt to control the world server market. It is great fun, not least because Pynchon, as always, keeps the story going at a frenetic pace and throws in wisecracks galore and his usual language games, as well as characters who are, well, characters.

Mario Vargas Llosa: El héroe discreto [The Discreet Hero]


The latest addition to my website is Mario Vargas Llosa‘s El héroe discreto [The Discreet Hero]. This is his latest novel, which has yet to be translated into English, though will undoubtedly appear in English before long. Amazingly, it is already out in German. It is not one of his great works but one of his more light-hearted ones, and most enjoyable to read. It tells two stories. One is about the owner of a transport company, in a not very happy marriage, who stands up to pressure to pay protection money and the consequences of his action. The other is about an insurance executive, Rigoberto, whose boss and owner of the company, a widower, suddenly decides to marry his housekeeper, who is forty years younger than him, with the main aim of disinheriting his reprobate twin sons and the consequences of this decision for Rigoberto and his wife and others. Of course, the two stories coincide and, of course, Vargas Llosa leaves us guessing to the end.

Clemens Meyer: Im Stein [In Stone]


The latest addition to my website is Clemens Meyer‘s Im Stein [In Stone]. This book has been much discussed in Germany for its controversial depiction of a fictitious East German city, focussing on the underbelly of the city. The key element is prostitution and Meyer gives us a vivid description of the prostitutes themselves, their clients and the pimps who claim not to be pimps but businessmen. He focusses on one such “businessman”, Arnie Kraushaar, and his “girls”, as he calls them. Though the prostitutes figure strongly in the book, drugs, petty (and one or two not so petty) criminals, the police and various other denizens of the night and shadows are also depicted. It is a long book but, to all intents and purposes, has no real plot and while Meyer’s writing is superb and its descriptions first-class, I did find that swathes of descriptions sometimes left me longing for more to happen. Maybe that is just a weakness of mine, as critics have generally loved it and it has been shortlisted for the German Book Prize for this year (link in German – see Katy Derbyshire’s discussion of the longlist for a description in English). It has not been translated – only a collection of his stories, translated by the aforementioned Katy Derbyshire has been translated into English of his works – but I would suspect that it will be.

Man Booker Prize – The Yanks are coming! – Part 2

Following on from my post on Monday, the Man Booker Prize now confirms that the Prize is open to all writers writing in English, as expected. However, it now seems – and this is not 100% clear – that publishers can submit one novel as well as proposing other novels for the judges to consider, in order to control the number of novels judges must read. I am not sure of the implications of this. How do publishers tell their authors that they are not the one? There is also a cryptic comment that this will be by reference to longlisting within the previous five years. What does that mean? No doubt all will become clear later.

Ruth Ozeki

The latest additions to my website are two books by Ruth Ozeki. The first is My Year of Meats, a very witty and somewhat polemic attack on various things – sexism, racism, the US obsession with guns and, in particular, the meat industry. It tells two stories of two women in parallel. The first, clearly based on the author, is Jane Takagi-Little, a documentary film maker who gets a job working on a TV programme called American Wife, to be shown in Japan, with the not very subtle intention of promoting meat-eating. Each episode shows a typical, wholesome (i.e. white, middle class) US family, ending up with their eating meat. Jane tries to subtly sabotage this by showing other types of families (Hispanic, African-American, a handicapped child and, finally, a Lesbian couple). The other story concerns Akiko, wife of Joichi Ueno, the advertising executive in Japan, with whom Jane has to deal. He is a sexist, racist bully, drinks, abuses and rapes his wife and and even tries to rape Jane, though preferring big-breasted Texan women. However, Ozeki’s mocking is generally mild, till she gets to the meat industry later in the book, when she lets loose. Meat eaters might want to turn away at this point. However, it is a very funny book, with some serious points to make

The second book is A Tale for the Time Being, her latest book. As with My Year of Meats, this tells two stories, one of a American woman (called Ruth) and one of a Japanese woman, only this Japanese woman is a sixteen year old, called Naoko (Nao). Ruth, who lives by the sea in British Columbia with her husband, Oliver (like her creator) finds washed up a Hello Kitty box containing Nao’s dairy, some letters and an old watch. She slowly reads the diary, learning about Nao’s somewhat difficult life. Nao’s father had worked for a US dotcom but the dotcom had gone bust and he had all his money invested in stock options. He has been unable to find a job in Japan and is suicidal. Nao does not fit in at the Japanese school and is cruelly bullied. Her one comfort becomes her great-grandmother, Jiko, a one hundred and four year old nun. Ruth and Oliver, meanwhile, are worried that Nao might have been killed in the Fukushima disaster. Despite strenuous efforts to find out, they come up with very little. While still somewhat polemical, particularly on environmental issues, Ozeki introduces more philosophical ideas, such as the issue of time, quantum physics and 9/11. The book has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is a very worthy contender.

Man Booker Prize – The Yanks are coming!