Month: May 2015

Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize Longlist

One of the nominees

One of the nominees

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize has announced its longlist. Here is what they say about it:
This diverse group of books has been chosen by the judges as they display the flair, range and literary rigour abounding in British writing today and should, the judges believe, be widely read. In a nation reeling from the most divisive general election for many years, this is a group of books that can unify readers in the power of a good story.

Another nominee

Another nominee

It is certainly an interesting list, not least because there were quite a few I have not heard of and I only own four of them. (Sadly, I own far too many books I will probably never read.) Nice to see that the majority are by women authors and it is also nice to see a blogger on the selection panel. I hope this helps sell some of these.

Inês Pedrosa: Fazes-me Falta [I Miss You]


The latest addition to my website is Inês Pedrosa‘s Fazes-me Falta [I Miss You]. This is a superb novel, which consists entirely of fifty small chapters, divided into two. The first part of the chapter is a woman talking, the second part a man talking. It soon becomes apparent that they are former lovers and that she is dead, talking from beyond the grave. This could be mawkish and trite but definitely is not. She has just died aged thirty-seven (we only learn how later in the book), while he is twenty-five years older and twice divorced. Both of them clearly regret that they did not talk more while she was alive. However, what they do do, is to dissect both their own lives and, more particularly, their relationship. While she can see him, she cannot hear him or read his mind so what makes this particularly interesting is their different perspectives on the same event or on the aspects of their respective characters. They are different – she is very political and is now a Member of Parliament. She is happy to jump on any bandwagon, when it looks as though people are being unfairly treated. He is more measured and conservative in his outlook, though he still favours fair treatment, though less stridently. However, she is religious, while he is not. They do examine their lives and have many regrets but, above all, as the title implies, they miss one another. Sadly this book is not available in English or, surprisingly, in French.

Alain Mabanckou: Verre Cassé (Broken Glass)


The latest addition to my website is Alain Mabanckou‘s Verre Cassé (Broken Glass), another colourful and lively novel from the Congolese author. In this novel, the narrator is called Broken Glass – we never know his real name – and he seems to spend most of his time in a bar called, simply, Credit. The bar has one advantage for the various patrons, namely it is open twenty-four hours a day. The owner had one day passed some notebooks to Broken Glass and asked him to keep the notebooks as a record of the bar, in case anything happened to him. Broken Glass, however, decides to write his own account of the bar and its patrons and this book is his account. He tells lively, colorful stories about himself and the various patrons. Several of the patrons, including Broken Glass himself, had been thrown out by their wives/partners because of their drunkenness, while the others all seemed to have had failed relationships and ended up in the bar for solace. Indeed, this novel can be said to an oral account (albeit written down) of a few men who have completely failed to achieve much in life, except to get drunk.

Yambo Ouologuem: Le Devoir de violence (Bound to Violence)


The latest addition to my website is Yambo Ouologuem‘s Le Devoir de violence (Bound to Violence). This novel was hailed on publication as, unlike previous African novels, it did not show pre-colonial Africa as a wonderful place but, rather, as subject to violence, brutality, slavery, cruelty, incest, pedophilia, ill-treatment of women and many other ills. However, Ouologuem was accused of plagiarising Graham Greene and others and the novel was withdrawn. Though reprinted, it is currently out of print. It tells the story of the fictitious Nakem Empire, led by the Saïf family. We start with the violence and brutality of the pre-colonial period. After the arrival of the French, the Saïf family manage to survive and retain some power, though they had initially opposed the colonisers. The Saïfs continue their cruelty and deviousness, even managing to assassinate the French governors, without attracting any blame to themselves. We now follow the fortune of the son of a former slave, Raymond Spartacus Kassoumi, who is sent to France for his education, qualifies as an architect and is called back to his country after independence, but is condemned, as a négraille, a word invented by Ouologuem for a black man trying to be white. it is an excellent book on the issues faced by the Africans, before, during and after colonialism and it is a pity that it out of print.

Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic: Gotická duše (Gothic Soul)


The latest addition to my website is Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic‘s Gotická duše (Gothic Soul). This is Czech Decadence at its best, a response to or, more likely, a homage to J K Huysmans’ classic decadent novel, À rebours (Against the Grain). The unnamed narrator, last scion of a distinguished family, with only a few unhinged female relatives left alive, has been planning to train as a priest or monk, more for the solitude and contemplation than because of any religious fervour but abandons the idea because of melancholy, doubt and fear of people. He lives alone, with only the occasional servant appearing, and wallows in decadence, despair and melancholy. He is obsessed with death, so much so that his image of Prague is of a deserted city, with only churches, chapels, crypts, and cloisters. He only seems to come alive when contemplating death. He struggles with his soul, with his religious views and with life. He shuns people, though occasionally seeking, unsuccessfully, to make friends (though this may well be for sexual purposes, as Karásek was gay at a time when homosexuality was very much frowned upon.) He wanders around the gloomy and deserted city, often ending up at the deserted Barnabite cloisters. He visits his aunt and, after wandering around her large house looking for her, he does find her but she mistakes him for her long dead son. The nihilism of the Czech soul also hangs over him, leaving him with nothing to hope for and nothing to live for. It is a thoroughly gloomy book but is good to finally have one of the classic Czech Decadence novels in English. Indeed, apart from a few stories translated into English, German and Spanish, this is the first work of Karásek’s to be translated and we must be grateful for Twisted Spoon Press for publishing it.

Sophie Cooke: Under The Mountain


The latest addition to my website is Sophie Cooke‘s Under The Mountain, her second and most recent novel. This is another fine novel by the very much underrated Cooke. This is a novel somwhat reminsicent of The Go-Between, in that it involves a child, sick in bed, during the summer holiday, who witnesses a key event. The child is the nine-year old Catherine Farrants. She lives with her parents, George and Natasha, and her older sister, Bernadette (Bernie). Staying with them are their somewhat older cousins, Rosa and Sam and Rosa and Sam’s widowed mother, Ellie. Catherine sees from her sick room Sam with his beloved dog, Julab. However, Sam is furious and jealous because Rosa is having affair with a visiting Spaniard, Humberto. When Julab grabs his sunglasses and won’t let go, Sam throws an urn at him, badly injuring him. The blame falls first on local boys and then on Humberto. Catherine keeps quiet till later, when she is not believed. However, though the plot is important, much of the book is about the tensions, sexual and otherwise, between the various members of the larger family and it is this that Cooke superbly portrays. This is another fine book from Cooke and it is a pity that it is not better known and she seems to have given up novel writing while focussing more on teaching how to write novels.

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