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Tag: Book Quotes

Writers On Writers

Agatha Christie_Vladimir Nabokov_ Edna St. Vincent Millay_ Fyodor Dostoevsky_Mary McCarthy_ Edgar Allan Poe_ Eudora Welty_ E. M. Forster_ F. Scott Fitzgerald_ V. S. Naipaul

“I really like Agatha Christie. She obeys the rules of the genre at first, but then occasionally she manages to do very personal things.”
Michel Houellebecq

“There’s no music in Nabokov, it’s all pictorial, it’s all image-based.”
John Banville

“It’s so much better, you see, for me, when a writer like Edna St. Vincent Millay speaks so deeply about her concern for herself and does not offer us any altruisms.”
Maya Angelou

“Dostoyevsky was one of the first writers…to identify a crisis of modern civilization: that every one of us is visited by contradictory voices, contradictory physical urges.”
Czeslaw Milosz

“I think Miss [Mary] McCarthy is often brilliant and sometimes even sound. But, in fiction, she is a lady writer, a lady magazine writer.”
Lillian Hellman

“Poe’s stories still inhabit my head.”
Susan Sontag

“Eudora Welty has tremendous class, not just in her work, but in the way she walks, the look in her eyes, the way she has conducted her life.”
Ken Kesey

“I suppose E. M. Forster is the best.”
Dorothy Parker

“I often feel about Fitzgerald that he couldn’t distinguish between innocence and social climbing.”
Saul Bellow

“Naipaul is a great person to read before you have to do a piece.”
Joan Didion

Source: The Paris Review 

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Seminal Lines

Photograph by Christer Stromholm

“There’s little in taking or giving,
There’s little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest’s for a clam in a shell,
So I’m thinking of throwing the battle-
Would you kindly direct me to hell?”

Coda – Dorothy Parker

Writers On Writers

Anthony Powell_Beryl Bainbridge_Jack Kerouac_Virginia Woolf_William Blake_Ernest Hemingway_William Faulkner_ Rebecca West_William Shakespeare_John Updike

“Important novelists often say that writing a novel is hard. I think Anthony Powell said it was like conducting foreign policy—that you have to be prepared to go and do it every day no matter how you feel.”
James Salter

“Beryl Bainbridge understood the absurdity of life and how humour lurks in even the most tragic situation.”
Deborah Moggach

“Jack Kerouac influenced me quite a bit as a writer . . . in the Arab sense that the enemy of my enemy was my friend.”
Hunter S. Thompson

“There was a period in my early career that was determined by the images of women writers I was exposed to—women writers as genius suicides like Virginia Woolf.”
Margaret Atwood

“Blake’s poetry has the unpleasantness of great poetry.”
T. S Eliot

“In writing She Came to Stay, I was certainly influenced by Hemingway insofar as it was he who taught us a certain simplicity of dialogue and the importance of the little things in life.”
Simone de Beauvoir

“I find Faulkner intolerably bad.”
Evelyn Waugh

“Rebecca West’s novel The Fountain Overflows taught me a lot.”
Andrea Barrett

“Every year or so I read Shakespeare straight through.”
P.G. Wodehouse

“Updike is a master of effortless motion — between third and first person, from the metaphorical density of literary prose to the demotic, from specific detail to wide generalisation, from the actual to the numinous, from the scary to the comic.”
Ian McEwan

Sources: Bartleby, The Independent, The Paris Review, Wikiquote

Intermission by Owen Martell

Intermission by Owen Martell

Writing about the death of a lover in a letter, Edna St. Vincent Millay described his absence as “a hole in the world,” which she found herself “constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night”. Jazz pianist Bill Evans fell into an identical hole in 1961 following the death of his friend and fellow band mate, bassist, Scott LaFaro. The difference was Bill never returned from the abyss, not wholly and certainly not intact. His retreat into the introspective darkness is the subject of Owen Martell’s new book, which chronicles this largely isolated and deeply troubled period of the pianist’s life. The story of Intermission is told primarily by Bill’s family with Bill casting his eminent shadow over the narrative from afar. We are introduced to him by his older brother Harry at the start of his fame, with a handful of albums already behind him. The success of the Bill Evans’ Trio is, however, impeded when LaFaro dies, leaving Bill utterly devastated.  “You wouldn’t have put them together, that was for sure,” Harry says thinking about the two musicians, “Scott was happy to assume all the authority of this youth. Bill, thirty-two in August but only a few years older, looked like the junior partner. You’d have said coming at them blind, that they were too different. Scott was astounding – he actually sounded as good as he looked. Bill, on the other hand, well, you heard him feeling his way. Or you felt him listening…Then you spoke to him after and he wanted to fade into the decor. As if the places he played weren’t already dim lit or unfussy enough. He didn’t want to talk about the set or listen to you tell him that you’d enjoyed it.” But people did enjoy it and the Trio were on their way up after recording two live albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. It was reportedly Bill and Scott’s rapport that made magic, their “opposite identicality” which bound the two together into what Bill thought would be an indefinitely “lasting partnership”.

But the partnership was cut short when Scott died unexpectedly in a car crash. Martell takes this particular period of Bill’s life and fashions it into an imaginative fictional account of a man’s plight to come to terms with loss. Already under the spell of heroin, Bill finds himself yielding more and more to the paregoric. Concerned about his brother, Harry takes Bill in to look after him. It is through his interaction with other people and their reactions to him that we learn of Bill’s fractured consciousness and the magnitude of his bereavement. Bill remains almost exclusively silent throughout the book, ever-present in the background but rendered mute by grief. He vanishes like a ghost from his brother’s apartment at night, disappearing into nocturnal drug-addled trysts around New York City. The only time he comes alive is in the company of his niece Debby, the “bounding, boundless” child who seems to dispel his demons. Martell juxtaposes Innocence and Experience, freedom and constrain,  in a similar way William Blake did in the pointed prophesies of his eponymous Songs, where he contrasts good with bad, concluding that one preordains the other. Martell uses this method throughout the book, when Harry, for example, envious of his “odd” and troubled brother’s budding relationship with his daughter packs him off to their retired parents in Florida, under the pretext of safeguarding his own family. “He persuaded himself by Monday morning, sleeping on it hard, that, for Debby’s sake, they could no longer have Bill in the house,” writes Martell of Harry, “He was too erratic and might only become more so.” Bill’s mother feels a similar anxiety and copes with it the only way she knows how, by infantilising her son who to her mind is a little boy lost and needs protecting.

Here, again, Martell pits virtue against vice when conveying a mother’s love toward her addict son to show how one is connected to the other. Martell writes poignantly of familial ties, of mother and son sitting on the sofa in a soft embrace and later of Mary watching him sleep unable to bed down for the night herself. “She wanted to take Bill out of the world, she thought,” Martell says of Mary as she sits by her son’s bedside, “That was her goal all along.  Out of localised hardships – Pennsylvania, New Jersey – and out of the greater patchwork too. Gifts and ingratitude, immodesty, all the capital crimes. To allow him access at least to a different world. One in which he wouldn’t be obliged to remake the imperfect cycle…Again Mary tried to see Bill through the dark and she reached out her hand now as though decided at last that she would touch him. She drew a long sustaining breath and held it. Bill had music.” It is in fact the music that the whole family is counting on to disperse Bill’s “sadness that won’t bear discussion, that won’t even bear recognition”. Even his father, who at first appears stoically taciturn, is terrified for his son’s future and hopeful that the music might came to the rescue. In a few very short chapters Martell manages to capture the whole history of the Evans’ family, their life prior to Florida, their early years in Plainfield, New Jersey, the brothers’ first band and the genius of Bill’s ensorcelled musical flourishes.

Intermission is a craftily formulated and written book, which traverses several genres – history, biography, fiction. It is also a haunting and maudlin work that dares to sideline and subordinate its subject – to achieve something quite novel – choosing to tell his story through the people around him. Bill looms over the narrative, but remains a spectre throughout; even in the last couple of chapters when Martell shifts his attention away from the family and on to the pianist. Back in New York, after two months away, Bill is suddenly struck by the realisation that he owes it to his “mother to not be unhappy…and to his father too” and to “the troubled look in his brother’s eyes and the togetherness of their youth”. Above all, however,  he knows he owes it to himself and yet he continues to wish he could keep the “world at bay for as as long as possible”. Nevertheless, Bill gets up and out of bed and by the onset of winter begins touring again, now “more or less operational” and back in the realm of the living.  Intermission is Martell’s first book in English, the rest of his work being in Welsh the language he grew up with in Pontneddfechan. Speaking about his decision to write in English, Martell said it had less to do with the pianist’s American origins and more with Evans himself. “I’ve wanted to write a book based in some way on Bill Evans’ story for a good many years now,” he explained in an interview recently, “The idea came from the music – a friend gave me a copy of Sunday at the Village Vanguard back in 2001. It was a thrilling thing to discover. As well as being improvisatory in large part there are structures there too. It’s a way of putting freedom and constraint to the test, playing one against the other, and figuring out, perhaps, that the distinction between the two is less meaningful than we imagine.”

This idea of duality, of being liberated and manacled, good and bad, and the line that falls in between is something that Martell ruminates on from the outset. Thinking about Scott and Bill in the first few chapters Harry chronicles their differences, which in the end was the thing that bound them. “Scotty handles his bass with implausible, almost arrogant ease,” Harry tells us, while for Bill playing was something that “troubled him – in the sense of movement inside, rather than affliction necessarily – the way he bent double over the piano, head almost touching the keys, fingers like willow stalks dragging along in the swell.”  Intermission is by no means a comprehensive account of Evans’ life, work or his legacy. It is, however, a skilfully constructed interpretation of a very dark period in Bill’s history, which shaped him both as a person and a musician. “I don’t think the book I ended up writing is a jazz book – in the sense that its rhythms aren’t jazz rhythms,” Martell says, “But having to make phrases and think about form is common to jazz, music in general, writing, everything, pretty much, and I’m happy to engage with that”. And he certainly does, through his deft manipulation of language and the way it communicates a sense of melancholy and ruefulness almost by itself, almost miraculously. Intermission is a captivating and evocative book, which compounds the mystique of Bill Evans, adding to his inviolable elusiveness which reverberates with Martell’s very own brand of music.

The Independent | Owen Martell 

Publisher: William Heinemann
Publication Date: January 2013
Paperback: 192 pages
ISBN: 9780434022045

Writers On Writers

Rebecca West_ Fyodor Dostoevsky_ Willa Cather_ Walt Whitman_ Margaret Drabble_Raymond Chandler_ Katherine Anne Porter_ Blaise Pascal_ Eugene O’Neill_ Émile Zola

“Rebecca West was one of the giants and will have a lasting place in English literature.”
William Shawn

“I don’t like Dostoevsky. He is like the rat, slithering along in hate, in the shadows, and in order to belong to the light professing love, all love.”
D.H. Lawrence

“Willa Cather. I loved Death Comes for the Archbishop and Shadows on the Rock—really all of her work.”
Paula Fox

“Hey—Walt Whitman, isn’t he magnificent?”
Jim Crace

“Well, now I’m over sixty I can simply say this: the reception of my early books was completely meshed up with the fact that my sister Margaret Drabble was a writer.”
A. S. Byatt

“Chandler is all about the wisecracks, the similes, the constant satire, the construction of the knight.”
James Ellroy

“Katherine Anne Porter was an influence on me.”
Nadine Gordimer

“Pascal was the shock of my life. I was fifteen. I was on a class trip to Germany, my first trip abroad, and strangely I had brought the Pensées of Pascal.”
Michel Houellebecq

“I remember at one point going through everything of Eugene O’Neill’s. I was struck by the sheer theatricality of his plays.”
Joan Didion

“When I said that Zola was my favourite writer, I meant that I loved his courage, his indignation.”
Anita Brookner

Sources: The Paris Review, GoodReads 

Sheila Heti: Representing the feminist narrative with renewed resonance and verve

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

How Should A Person Be? is a question that has no definitive answer, varying from one individual to the next. The only absolute is that one should always be oneself because “everyone else is already taken,” as Oscar Wilde observed some years ago. This is something Sheila Heti explores during the course of her book, which she spends trying to answer this pressing query. Written in semi fictionalised free-form, How Should A Person Be? comprises dialogue, monologue, meditation, reverie and playwriting elements into a loosely assembled whole.  A substantial part of it is based on Heti’s conversations with several of her friends, most notably an artist by the name of Margaux who has very admirably “never quit anything”. The narrator – also named Sheila – uses her personal experiences as a framework to explore modernist themes such as freedom, creativity, language, gender and the underlying impetuses that drive us. Heti’s work is defined by a very discernible feminist ethos both in her creative endeavours – a play about women – and her quest for self-actualisation by means of interaction with Margaux. “I felt like I was the tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow in one,” Sheila tells us thinking of her life before meeting Margaux, “I could not feel my heart, I had no courage, I could not use my brain.” This sentiment is later echoed in Sheila’s perception of her new friend, who in turn becomes the sum of all her aspirations. “I admired her courage, her heart, and her brain,” Sheila says, “I envied the freedom I suspected in her, and wanted to know it better, and become the same way too.”

The pair’s friendship begins in earnest when Sheila decides that Margaux may be the inspiration she needs to finish her play despite having reservations about female friendships. “Two women as alchemy I did not understand,” Sheila says contemplating the subject, “…ever since I was a teenager, I had been drawn to men exclusively, and they drew themselves to me – as lovers, as friends. They pursued me. It was simple. It was men I enjoyed talking to at parties, and whose opinions I was interested in hearing. It was men I wanted to grow close to and be influence by.” Somewhere mid-way through the book, after a dozen conversations with Margaux and a trip to Miami, Sheila realises that her sense of self-realisation has always been defined by men, especially men who “wanted to teach her something”. Among these is her new lover Israel, who wants to teach Sheila how to suck cock and fuck with complete abandon. And at one point Sheila finds herself completely immersed in the distraction – “the interlude” – which only drives her further away from her goal of self-discovery, her fledgling relationship with Margaux and most importantly from her playwriting. “I don’t know why all of you just sit in libraries when you could be fucked by Israel,” she says thinking about her new lover, “I don’t see why you’re getting so excited about, snuggling in with your book, you little bookworms, when instead Israel could be stuffing his cock into you and teaching you a lesson.” In the end, however, it is Sheila that teaches us a lesson by manumitting herself from the need to conform to what someone else thinks a person should be.

In many ways How Should A Person Be? is a nubile (twice removed and reworked) extension of Simone de Beauvoir’s assertion that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. In Sheila’s case this realisation is reached when she ceases to see herself through the eyes of the men in her life – past and present. Yet despite her  attachment to the feminine, Sheila promotes an androgynous ideal of self-formation relaying her experiences through a traditionally male model of storytelling, belonging to the coming of age genre. Yet there are moments, when feeling lost, nullified and caught up in the search for love, creative freedom and oneself – all very unisex goals – Sheila speaks with a non-gender-specific ineligibility. “We are worse off than we were at the beginning,” she says thinking on humanity, “but this could have been predicted from our starting point. In the beginning the gods gave us liberty; in the end, we discovered cheating. Instead of developing the capacities within, we took two roads: the delusion and oblivion of drugs – which didn’t start off as cheating, but as access to the sublime…One is a reproduction of the human type – one sleeps like other humans, eats like other humans, loves like other humans, and is born and dies like other humans. We are gestures, but we less resemble an original painting than one unit of a hundred thousand copies of a book being sold. Now the gestures we chose are revealed as cheating. Instead of being, one appears to be.” This form of scepticism is very closely aligned with Immanuel Kant’s idea of transcendental reality, which Heti ruminates on briefly without much gravitas or depth.

There are several other moments in the book when one can very clearly see her academic credentials in philosophy, particularly when Sheila ponders subconscious impulses, the meaning of life and relationships. “…Love, which can’t be helped, slips into the death drive,” she says, “The death drive seeks comfort and knowledge of the future. It wants the final answer and is afraid of life…It hopes to drive you off your course like a car plunging into the center of the earth. It strives for love, annihilation, comfort and death. Now the future is clear! it cries. It wants to drag you down…It is death coming, masquerading as life, and blessed is the man who can see the death drive in the woman. Blessed is he who leaves in the morning without any promise of love. And blessed is the woman who can answer for herself, What about living? What is it about living that you want?” This is a question which Heti’s fictional self finds even harder to answer than her original probe, as she vacillates between wanting everything (fame, veneration, personal and professional fulfillment)  and nothing at all. Speaking about how Sheila’s yearning for celebrity materialised Heti said she was trying to identify and exaggerate similarities between herself and “those girls like Lindsay Lohan who were in the tabloids”. This experimental projection adds a somewhat contrived dimension to the book and leads to several very banal exchanges between Sheila and Margaux, most notable of which is over a dress. How Should A Person Be? could have done without it but Heti says she has always associated writing with performance and “if you understand yourself to be in relation to the people around you, and to the world around you, the audience for the performance expands”. An interesting point, but the performance in How Should A Person Be? expands a little too liberally, detracting from rather than enhancing the work.

Equally there are some very shrewd and interesting observations in the book like, for example, when speaking about modern day recreational pursuits Sheila says “the rule is: drink as much as you can afford to drink. We all, anyway, work better when we are drunk, or wake up the next morning, hungover. In either case, we lack the capacity to second-guess ourselves,” or when thinking about one of her past relationships she concludes that sadly “we don’t know the effects we have on each other, but we have them” or notes that “women apologise too much” and needlessly. Women and their relationships with men as well as each other is Heti’s strong point. Speaking about the subject in an interview she recently said: “I always thought marriage hurt female genius more than it helped.” This is a sentiment Sheila reiterates several times in the book, after leaving her husband, liberating herself from Israel and trying to find the courage to construct an identity on her own terms.  How Should A Person Be? is a novel from life which as the by-line suggests attempts to capture the immediacy of experiences and thoughts as they unfold.  And in a way Heti succeeds by employing a number of genres to convey the “benevolent operation of destiny in every moment” and a sense “of the inevitability of things” as they materialise, even if she sometimes does so at the cost of her prose which veers from inspired to jejune. How Should A Person Be? is Heti’s second book but a first in a much greater sense of the feminist narrative defined here by renewed resonance and verve.

Joyland Magazine | Sheila Heti

The Paris Review | Sheila Heti 

Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication Date: January 2013
Hardback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781846557545

“The lights must never go out/The music must always play.”

Christer Strömholm

Here’s hoping the lights never go out and the music always plays in 2013!

Happy New Year!

Nicholas Royle: Gripping, innovative and fluent

First Novel by Nicholas Royle

Nicholas Royle’s First Novel is a bit of a misnomer because in fact it is his seventh. The title, however, is integral to the book whose protagonist Paul Kinder is obsessed with literary debuts. This is something he shares with Royle who says he’s also “very interested in first novels”. And that’s not the only similarity between the two men. Royle like Kinder is a novelist and a lecturer, albeit a more successful one than his fictional counterpart. He has several novellas and six other novels to his name while Kinder is a one book wonder, striving to complete his second undertaking in between teaching, dogging, housebreaking, petty pilfering and uncovering a connection between his former wife Veronica, his neighbour Lewis and a man called Trevor. In truth, Kinder’s literary aspirations are secondary to the plot unlike his fascination with first novels, especially those that “have been lost or supressed or never followed up”. Kinder’s pathological interest in the subject is a projection of his own predicament, of his own failure to follow up his debut and his subsequent exploration of the psychologies of singular authors. “Why do we hear no more from these very talented writers,” he says to one of his students, “while others, far less talented, continue to write book after book after book?” It is a question that is never really answered, except to say “that first novels are important because it’s the first thing an author says about the world”. This notion is fundamental to the plot, which twists toward a startling and wholly unexpected revelation divulged by way of someone else’s first book.

Kinder is an idiosyncratic man. We know he’s idiosyncratic because he’s probably the only “Mancunian in his forties who doesn’t like the Smiths” and is into pyramids, straight lines and fucking to the sonic onslaught of a 747. He’s also quite a compelling man, whose inner thoughts and ruminations keep the reader intrigued throughout. Royle’s prose and his plot amuse and surprise, challenging the reader’s powers of anticipation at every other turn. The tone of First Novel is expertly set in the opening chapter, when in an impromptu bout of Luddite revolt Kinder dismantles a Kindle. “I pick up the waste-paper bin and return to my side of the desk,” he says having taken the device apart, “I hold the bin under the edge of the desk and use my other hand to sweep all the various part and pieces of the Kindle into it.” A Kindle doesn’t smell of anything, Kinder tells us, unlike its print equivalents, which contain within them infinite possibilities and just as many scents. Trampled grass, funfairs, futility, life are but to name a few. As the novel progresses we discover that Kinder is actually a bit of a shit and yet quite likable, despite his calculated womanising, passive but pervasive egotism and anti-social behaviour.  All of which has been exacerbated by the loss of his wife and two children, following revelations about his philandering.  There is little indication of just how acute Kinder’s separation anxiety from his family is until toward the end of the book, which given the conclusion perhaps demanded a little more focus on the subject all the way through. “I kept up appearance, but when I was alone I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I couldn’t read or write,” Kinder tells us with a sense of overwhelming defeat in regard to losing his twins, “There was a chance or so I believed at that stage, before the case reached the courts, that I’d get visitation rights. A good chance. But I felt that chance receding once the case began and Veronica’s lawyer, predictably, went to town on the dogging angle.”

There’s another story that runs in tandem with Kinder’s, that of a former RAF pilot turned poet called Ray and his son Nicholas. The stories appear completely unconnected until the last chapter, and while in theory the idea is brilliant in practice Ray’s tale just doesn’t grip the reader in the same way as Kinder’s. Royle’s technique and delivery is innovative and fluent, although occasionally inconsistent. It nevertheless puts his work into a category entirely its own. The book is written in episodic vignettes, which skip back and forth in time. “Everything is either or,” says Kinder at one point, “and inside each either or is another either or, like Russian dolls”. This is essentially the principal upon which First Novel operates, because there’s always something lurking beneath the surface of the narrative, something offering nebulous clues if one is discerning enough. In many ways, First Novel is a book about the chaos of modern day life, upon which, according to Henry Miller, “reality is written”.  This chaos is presented in First Novel through the overabundance of choices we face every day and the ensuing confusion that can lead our lives into disarray. “Sometime I will look at the taps on a wash basin,” Kinder says while contemplating this predicament, “even ones affixed with a blue or red spot, and I don’t know which one to turn. Like on and off. Televisions have become so complicated, having so many external devices. Standby, remote, on/off, hard switch off. Sometimes I don’t know whether it’s on or off. Life and death is another.”  In Kinder’s case, this confusion is also indicative of his general mental health, which is more unbalanced than idiosyncratic as we eventually learn.

“Nothing is beautiful. Nothing makes me feel anything,” he confesses candidly, “Everything either exists or it doesn’t. Everything either has a physical presence or it doesn’t. Everything – everyone – is either alive or dead. And that’s about all I can say.” It is at this point that the reader is alerted to the fact that Kinder may be undergoing some sort of existentialist crisis, which Royle builds up slowly, adding momentum, to the climax which reveals the second one of the two major twists. First Novel defies categorisation, albeit Vintage publisher Dan Franklin had a point when he said it was combination of “a murder mystery, a campus novel, [and] a meditation on identity”. All these elements are certainly present and blend together quite well into a unique book. The genre hoping is no surprise when one discovers Royle’s key literary influences are Derek Marlowe and M John Harrison, both of whom are known to “flit in and out of genres”. There are also other influences or perhaps unwitting likenesses, between Royle’s protagonist and others of his ilk. There is definitely something of Chris Duffy of Palace Pier by Keith Waterhouse, about Kinder in his fixation with the literary world and his personal lack of success, his diffidence and arrogance, substance and blatherskite. And there is undeniably something of Malcolm Bradbury’s Stuart Treece about him, especially when it comes to his commentary on campus life and all the bureaucratic hoops one is expected to jump through.

Reading First Novel, one also wonder about the similarities between Kinder and Royle, who teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, while working as an editor (Salt) and a publisher (Nightjar Press). One certainly  wonder whether some of Kinder’s views about the industry (“Few are interested in articles about untranslated foreign-language novels that are not set to become the latest publishing sensation,”) and his fiction (“It was overwritten, it was too weird, it was unlikely to gain a mass audience,”) may also belong to Royle. But it is difficult to say, at least without speaking to the author, and yet one thing’s for sure Royle is a writer’s writer. Unlike Kinder who wouldn’t recommend writing as a career to anyone, Royle spends a great deal of his time mentoring, whether through “editing anthologies or publishing stories with Nightjar Press, or novels at Salt or teaching creative writing, or even doing actual professional mentoring”. In fact, Royle says he loves it. “I find it exciting,” he explains, “and satisfying to work with people who I can see – and you do see it straight away, in the first paragraph, the first line sometimes – are really, really good, but maybe their talent has rough edges, their craft needs a little work, and all you have to do is encourage them and help them to see what works and what doesn’t.” This is undoubtedly the mark of a true teacher and more importantly a true writer, whose latest book is a great addition to his already large and varied oeuvre.

Negative Press | Nicholas Royle 

Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Publication Date: January 2013
Hardback: 304 pages
ISBN: 9780224096980

Favourite Reads – 2012

Favourite Reads 2012

Allen Ginsberg by Steve Finbow

Finbow is a resolutely straight-shooting biographer who treats his subject with complete candour, examining Ginsberg’s neuroses, his guilt over his mad mother, his suicidal tendencies, his petty jealousies and sexual perversities in relation to his work and how it shaped him as a poet. The biographer draws on secondary sources and first-hand knowledge with great proficiency and skill in order to evaluate Ginsberg’s place in American letters and beyond.

Reaktion Books  | 239 pages| £10.95

Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Maupassant explores the dynamics of urban society through its relationship with politics and the press, power and sex. This book is a conscientiously observed and rendered tale of intrigue, liberated women and old-fashioned men, love, loyalty and social climbing. Written in the 1880s, the book records the social milieu of bourgeois capitalism under La Troisième République, mirroring the reality of its day in this sprightly and compelling tale.

Penguin Classics | 416 pages | £9.99

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

A uniquely relayed story of love, abandonment, pain and triumph of the will. Smart conveys the multifarious graduations of emotion with a sentience rarely matched, but she also has a tendency to fluctuate between disclosing too much and too little, between superbly lyrical prose and overlaboured writing, between aesthetic excellence and a propensity for the melodramatic. Overall, however, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is superb.

Flamingo | 112 pages | £5.59

Hell by Henri Barbusse

A semi-philosophical study of the human condition devised to show us that man’s desire for solitude cannot be reconciled with his desire to live to the utmost degree of fulfilment. A tragic book in many ways but also a triumphant one, which reads like a bold rejection of philosophia Christiana and a homage to secularism, daringly rendering God obsolete.

OneSuch Press | 136 pages | £7.95

John Berger by Andy Merrifield

This wonderful critical study contains an array of insights about Berger the man, the artist, the “concerned citizen” and the “uneasy rider” aboard his Honda Blackbird. Merrifield documents the trajectory of Berger’s professional life with expertise, showing how the modernist novelist, who had given the English novel an art-house Continental twist, has evolved into a craftsman storyteller. In doing so, the biographer conjoins different aspects of Berger together, demystifying the seeming disparities and deriving new meaning from his art, his life and his politics.

Reaktion Books  | 224 pages | £10.95

Museum Without Walls by Jonathan Meades

There really are no walls to Jonathan Meades’ Museum as this book contains everything from seventeenth century literary dicta to the demerits of the Theory of the Value of Ruins. Meades’ spellbinding enthusiasm, his acuity and his crafty prose in writing about social, political and religious issues – which he contemplates with wit and gravitas – are surpassed only by his uncompromising candour, which also extends to his personal life.

Unbound | 352 pages | £20

The Lowlife by Alexander Baron

A compelling and moving book full of optimism where one might see none, relayed in a precise and engaging narrative driven by a rogue but very likable protagonist, who despite his trials, troubles and tribulations aims to see the good in all things. Baron’s extraordinary eye for period detail and his astute observational abilities, combined with his ostensible penchant for storytelling, make The Lowlife a highly enjoyable read.

Black Spring Press | 192 pages | £9.99

The Richard Burton Diaries edited by Chris Williams

The Diaries offer a very candid look at Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s volatile married and professional lives; their travels, interests, passions and temperaments. The collection spanning from 1939 to 1983 comprises frank and spirited accounts of Burton’s carousing, his ambivalent feelings toward his own talent, his caustic impressions of the film industry and its personalities, his role as a doting father, his scholarly appetite for learning and avid interest in literature.

Yale Books  | 704 pages | £25

The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet

A murder mystery with a seemingly straightforward plot, which is anything but straightforward. Robbe-Grillet spent his career experimenting with themes of repressed memory and nebulous identity, the ambiguous complexity of space and time and the intricate nature of truth. The Voyeur is an early example of his style and the erratic chronology, mystic symbolism, incantatory narrative, rounded repetitions and stylised deconstructions of plot that later came to define it. It is a truly new vision of the novel, depicting a familiar yet numinous universe, where a man by the name of Mathias may or may not be implicated in a murder.

Alma Classics | 178 pages| £7.99

White Noise by Don DeLillo

White Noise is a valiant and veracious postmodernist depiction of “human dread” as well as of the horrors and ecstasies of life. DeLillo captures the state of modern family, the society of the spectacle and the notion of the future as the here-and-now with considerable deft. Not only that, he manages to create a neoteric social satire, funny, plangent, absurd, terrifying and skilfully evocative of modern-day life and all its ecstasies and encumbrances.

Picador | 400 pages| £7.99

Seminal Lines

Photograph by Robert Frank

“In love there are no vacations. No such thing. Love has to be lived fully with its boredom and all that.”

On Love – Marguerite Duras

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