It seems ironic that an author who is intent on remaining, not anonymous, but ‘absent‘ from her work has fuelled an intense wave of publicity on her very absence. But we live in a world where people thrive on the opportunity to reveal identities. We love it. We want to unite against bullying, raising money for a dancing man, generating a self-perpetuating hype that extends far beyond the original act. We crave the moment where a face is put to a name with the intensity of a criminal pursuit. As a book publicist, there’s always been something unsettling about my purpose. No journalist intends to write a piece on the content of a book alone, they reach out for interesting back stories: ‘has your author suffered an unusual trauma and been inspired to write as a result?’ ‘Does your author have a nice house we can photograph for our interiors page?’ It is unimaginably difficult for a book to be read on merit alone, so I find it admirable when an individual separates herself from her work, taking control over the desperate clawing for personal information and revealing only what is necessary. This person is Elena Ferrante.
The point is, you do not need to know Ferrante’s entire history to appreciate that she is one of the finest novelists you will ever read. This woman (though some say man), has crafted the most intensely beautiful bildungsroman which has been split into four to form the Neapolitan Novels. I am drawing to the close of the third, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay having been unable to truly commit to another book since beginning the tale of two young girls in 1950s Naples, and the fourth will be published in English this September. The story starts in My Brilliant Friend and if you’re looking for something to read – make it this.
And so, the long awaited day dawned of the announcement of the Man Booker longlist. I say long awaited – long awaited mainly by those who work in literary publishing and by those who seem to eagerly wait 365 days to complain about it. It dawned two hours earlier for me in fact, as I was in a holiday villa on the coast of Turkey at the time. The world of publishing for once seemed a distant dream, and reading the longlist by an azure pool it was a challenge to pull myself back to those daily realms of literary fiction. Books never let you get away that easily of course. I had stuffed my suitcase with the novels I had missed out on over the past few months (being an editorial assistant leaves a scarily slim amount of time in which to read outside of your own list I have found!). I had also given one very special book to the long suffering boyfriend to carry in his hand luggage, because as I very clearly explained to him as he staggered through security, as there was NO WAY I was letting a proof of David Nicholls’ Us go in the HOLD.
So imagine my delight that unwittingly, I had brought my first longlist candidate on holiday with me – the much anticipated follow up to the literary sensation that was One Day.
Picador are on fire and it seems like they can do no wrong. They are publishing the work of some of the finest contemporary literary writers of the year and with each new announcement, my wish list grows ever longer. We all know that I was crazy about Burial Rites (let alone Hannah Kent) and I am getting excited for the release of Station Eleven having contributed to the unbelievable hype that has surrounded it. But not only are these books intelligent, captivating and thought-provoking, they are also beautiful objects to own. If you check out some of their latest titles you’ll see that each one has been designed thoughtfully, creatively and with the end-user in mind.
But none more so than the cover for The Miniaturist.
I am so excited for the 23rd of next month, when all the excitement of the venerated Man Booker will get under way once more and stir up all that delicious controversy it manages to elicit each year. And slowly, I am limping to the finish with these reviews of the 2013/2014 shortlist, soon to be completed with a Franny vs. Perks post on The Lowland.
A Tale for Time Being was no exception to the excellence I have been greeted with so far in this shortlist. It was also an incredibly emotional book to end my reading on. Obviously I don’t want to give an ending to a story away but suffice to say it was pretty emotionally devastating while being on the enjoyable side of genius. There is so much to say about Ruth Ozeki’s masterpiece that I hardly know there to start and I am aware I won’t be able to mention half the things I want to. Early on I should emphasise, you should read this book. Not everyone will love it but if it is your type of literary fiction, it’ll stay with you for a long time past the wonderful ending.
The associations we hold with the continent of Africa are impressions that are vastly different from the reality of actually living there. The world speaks of pity and sadness in the context of those countries, while forgetting that it remains the home of millions of people, who may exist in a world fiscally poorer than ours, but by no means devoid of happiness. We Need New Names is a novel that manages to inject some of the true joy and energy of this location into its lines of prose. It opens in Zimbabwe as Mugabe tightens his stranglehold on the country, told through the eyes of Darling, a ragamuffin girl growing up in a slum called Paradise. During the course of the novel, Darling is taken by her aunt to live in America at the age of 10 to grow up in a safer world. It manages to show us a slice of the real Africa – a place where children are hungry, but play and laugh, stealing guavas from the trees of their wealthy neighbours to get by. It also shows us the reality of growing up in America as an immigrant –always grateful but never quite belonging.
Despite its recent successes – winning the inaugural Goldsmiths prize, shortlisted for the Folio Prize and a current contender for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has not been universally well received. Heralded as ‘virtuosic’, ‘remarkable’ and ‘unique’ but simultaneously ‘pretentious’, ‘challenging’ and ‘incomprehensible’, I remained unsure as to what to expect from such a divisive novel.
Following the stream of consciousness of an anonymous young girl, the reader is pulled into a fractured narrative, physically distressed by its content. Driven by the familial relationship between sister and brother – the latter always referred to as ‘you’ – and the effect that his brain tumour has on her life and decisions, the story reaches out and pulls the reader into an intimate and viscerally tormented experience. Continue reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride→
Harvest is an insular novel in many ways. I have never read something of the like before, though the general consensus seems to be that Crace’s work often covers similar ground – loss of a way of life, a transition from one age into another. This is one such novel. It centres around one village, unnamed and unmapped at any point in the story. We assume it to be somewhere in rural England around the 17th Century but the time period is also negligible. The narrative revolves around the enforced change of England’s agrarian fields to those used for livestock farming, here signalled by the arrival of the rightful lord of their manor house, Master Jordan. Our protagonist is Walter Thirsk, a man both within and without; he speaks with the collective ‘we’ and ‘us’ when we first encounter him, but it soon becomes clear that twelve years amongst these villagers is not enough to stop him being an outsider to them – an ‘other’.