Dec 30, 2010

THE WRONG BLOOD by Manuel de Lope

from the New York Times
This absorbing novel — the first from the distinguished Spanish author to be translated into English — is full of mild sensations. Mild humor (bacalao soaked for dinner in the toilet tank) gives way to mild horror (a woman bends over another’s baby with “the posture of certain all-consuming insects”), which in turn yields to mild philosophizing (on the “admiration that denizens of the rural world feel for folding things”). At times, the mildness turns to provocation, as when the main character, a simple yet baffling woman named María Antonia Etxarri, watches a troop of soldiers and has “a feeling that one of those soldiers, if not more than one, was going to rape her.” The placidity with which she faces this prospect is galvanic. But de Lope’s languid sentences, artfully translated by John Cullen, continue to unfurl, and you find yourself sinking back into the narrative as if it were quicksand.

On the face of it, the story, which begins just before the Spanish Civil War, is a straightforward one. María Antonia is indeed raped — by a sergeant marking his first wedding anniversary far from his wife. Decades later, she has inherited the estate of Las Cruces from her employer, Isabel Cruces. Enter Miguel Goitia, Isabel’s grandson, who is training to become a notarial lawyer and has chosen Las Cruces as a quiet place to study. There is some ineffable bond linking these three characters, but no one asks questions, and no one provides answers unbidden. READ MORE....

Dec 22, 2010

The Etiquette of Freedom: Gary Snyder, Jim Harrison, and The Practice of the Wild

description from shelfari

Gary Snyder joined his old friend, novelist Jim Harrison, to discuss their loves and lives and what has become of them throughout the years. Set amidst the natural beauty of the Santa Lucia Mountains, their conversations—harnessing their ideas of all that is wild, sacred and intimate in this world—move from the admission that Snyder’s mother was a devout atheist to his personal accounts of his initiation into Zen Buddhist culture, being literally dangled by the ankles over a cliff. After years of living in Japan, Snyder returns to the States to build a farmhouse in the remote foothills of the Sierras, a homestead he calls Kitkitdizze. For all of the depth in these conversations, Jim Harrison and Gary Snyder are humorous and friendly, and with the artfully interspersed dialogue from old friends and loves like Scott Slovic, Michael McClure, Jack Shoemaker, and Joanne Kyger, the discussion reaches a level of not only the personal, but the global, redefining our idea of the Beat Generation and challenging the future directions of the environmental movement and its association with “Deep Ecology.” The Etiquette of Freedom is an all-encompassing companion to the film The Practice of the Wild . A DVD is included which contains the film together with more than an hour of out-takes and expanded interviews, as well as an extended reading by Gary Snyder. The whole offers a rare glimpse of their extended discussion of life and what it means to be wild and alive.

Dec 19, 2010

W. H. Auden, from "The Fall of Rome"

All together elsewhere,vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

Dec 16, 2010


Reviewed by Peter Scowen Globe and Mail

 It’s funny all the different things people will take away from one good book.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, Bond Street Books/Doubleday Canada, 358 pages, $29.95 I had never heard of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand when it landed on my desk, but its opening scene hooked me. Intrigued by the force and originality of the writing, and still at my desk, I searched the Internet for reviews and found them uniformly positive, but always with the critic trying to deposit Major Pettigrew into a different pigeonhole.

One critic described the novel as an intelligent updating of “the English village novel,” a genre known for its colourful stock characters (the stuffy retired colonel, the wacky vicar, etc.) and picturesque settings (cottages, hedgerows, sheep). Another placed it in a new, and apparently growing, genre: “romance for wrinklies,” a reference to the age of the title character and the woman he falls in love with. Another reviewer, perhaps already wrinkly himself, simply called it a “romantic comedy.”

None of these is incorrect, and in fact there is no question that the author, Helen Simonson, who grew up in a small East Sussex town (but now lives in the United States), is winking at the English village novel of yore. But it still seems downright odd to try so determinedly to pigeonhole, and thereby neuter, a generous-hearted novel about people of real character struggling to overcome a vast array of benumbing conventions: those of race, class and family; of the political correctness that seems to be the modern world’s only answer to the sins of past empires; and the particularly self-serving ethics espoused by the Youtube generation. READ MORE....

Dec 5, 2010

IN FREE FALL by Juli Zeh

review by Material Witness

The inside of the dust jacket of In Free Fall, contains a photograph of the author staring back at the reader through piercing, ice blue eyes. Juli Zeh's stance in the photo is challenging, almost confrontational. It suggests the intellectual equivalent of the old football hooligan's chanted challenge. "Come and have a go if you think you're smart enough."

The photograph is perfect for a challenging novel. Was I smart enough for a novel focusing on a mystery centred around the relationship between two quantum physicists, one in which nothing is ever quite as it seems? Just about. I think I was in control of the narrative about 85% of the time...

But the freshness of Juli Zeh's voice and the refusal of In Free Fall - published elsewhere in the English-speaking world under the title Dark Matter -  is the charm and power of a book that is unconventional.
Sebastian and Oskar are physicists - the former teaching in university in Germany and settled into domestic life with wife and son, the latter trying to uncover the secrets of the universe in Geneva. More-than-friends in earlier days, the relationship between the two is strained and increasingly abrasive. Oskar believes Sebastian has sold out on his true calling and is essentially wasting his talents when he could be working with his old friend on joining the list of immortal physicists.

Sebastian, who carries his genius heavily, has his equilbirum disturbed by a monthly dinner with Oskar and his family, and is in a troubled state by the time he drives his son Liam to scout camp. During the journey a catastrophic event takes place that ruptures the lives of all the characters.  READ MORE....

Dec 3, 2010


review by Material Witness

Kate Atkinson writes prose of such simplicity and clarity that she makes the process look as if it is ridiculously easy. And even if the writing is almost certainly not easy - although it might be - the reading is.  Her words flow off the page like the nectar of the Gods: delicious, golden, life-giving.  Minutes and hours can pass without notice in her company.

Did I mention I like her books? I love her books. If Kate Atkinson wrote dishwasher manuals, I would read them. If Jackson Brodie, her private detective, spent 100 pages tying his shoelaces or mowing the lawn or reading a Kate Atkinson dishwasher manual, I would read it.
Tied to the deceptively simple, fluent writing are Atkinson's acute and incisive observational skills and fresh view of the world which allow her to bring new life to moribund and ordinary. These talents are deployed with particular precision and impact when describing human emotions and behaviour, which makes her characters multi-dimensional and fascinating and such compelling company on the page. Atkinson also has the gift of timing, continually delivering just the right line at the right moment. This is particularly true of Julia - Brodies' former lover - who is a peripheral character in this book but acts as a sort of commentator on Jackson's choices and actions, as he remembers what she might say at any particular juncture. (This is one of the attributes that makes her books so perfect for audio).

With all this going for it, Started Early, Took My Dog - the fourth book of the Jackson Brodie series - scarcely needs a plot, but Atkinson provides one anyway.

Brodie is back in hs native Leeds, searching out a family history for an adoptee who was moved to New Zealand by her new parents. Despite working all available official channels, he cannot find a trace of Hope McMaster's former life, and is forced to the conclusion that his client's history is less straightfoward and probably less legal than she believes.  READ MORE....

Dec 2, 2010

FROZEN MOMENT by Camilla Ceder

taken from Material Witness

Another week, another Scandinavian crime fiction author. Another strong, well-structured, terrifically readable novel and yet another strong, introspective leading man.

Inevitably, Camilla Ceder's debut novel Frozen Moment has led the marketing department at publisher Weidenfeld & Nicholson to draw comparisons with the famous names of Nordic fiction. "Move over Wallander", declares the back cover of the advance reader copy.

As good as this debut is - and it is very good, and full of promise for what is set to be the beginning of a series featuring Swedish detective Christian Tell - it's important to maintain a sense of perspective. Ceder has a long way to go before she will earn a place in the pantheon of Scandinavian crime fiction champions where Henning Mankell, the late Stieg Larsson and a very select number of others - Jo Nesbo perhaps - currently reside.

What she shares with these notables, and others such as Camilla Lackberg and KO Dahl, is a strong sense of place, excellent plotting and credible characterisation. If anything defines the extraordinary and apparently relentless rise of Scandinavian fiction, for me it is these three qualities, and in particular the plotting.
It would be easy to draw cheap stereotypical conclusions about ordered minds and ordered societies producing writers with organized minds who produce impeccably plotted and well executed novels. Cheap maybe, but the more Scandinavian fiction I read the more I am drawn to this idea. READ MORE....

Nov 20, 2010


taken from Euro Crime  
by Maxine Clarke

THE SNOWMAN is a complex, intellectually satisfying plot with many twists and turns. I half-guessed what was behind one aspect of it, guessed wrong on another, and failed completely to spot a third. Every time events seemed to be explicable, something else happens to cause further confusion - and these constant wrong turnings are so well dovetailed together in such an exciting manner, as flaws in the logic of one outcome lead directly to the next phase of the chase, that this book really is impossible to put down. Not once, but time and again, we are forced to re-think what we thought was true, as the author shows events from a range of views and cleverly reveals just enough to stay several steps ahead of the reader.

The novel is superbly translated by Don Bartlett, who conveys the author's naturalistic, humorous style - and perhaps most importantly, Nesbo's sensitivity to the human condition, to fathers' relationships to their children, and to the random cruelness of biology. It's always hard to point to flaws in a crime novel in case one gives away too much to those who have not yet read it, but as usual with this author, I found the main climax over-elaborate, and spotted one or two other slight inconsistencies. I am also surprised that Harry remains so trusting of people, both in his home and at work, given what's happened to him in previous novels.

But never mind - this book is fantastic. It really is a must-read, not least putting to rest the unfair cliche that Scandinavian novels are all about doom and gloom - but mainly it's just a brilliant police procedural novel, whose plot and characterisation can't be beaten. Do yourself a favour and read it.

Nov 14, 2010

RED WOLF by Liza Marklund

taken from the Nordic Bookblog by Peter

Red Wolf is the fifth book in Swedish crime fiction writer Liza Marklund’s series featuring reporter Annika Bengtzon. It is set in the middle of a very cold spell during the Swedish winter. Annika is still recovering from the traumas suffered in The Bomber, and still struggles with anxiety.

Now she has arranged a meeting with a journalist up in the northern Swedish town of Lulea about an old case of terrorism – a terrorist attack on a military airport named F21 by a group that called themselves The Beasts. However, when she arrives in Lulea to meet him, she is told that the journalist has been killed in a hit and run accident. It doesn’t take Annika long to find out that he has been brutally murdered.

Annika Bengtzon, an experienced crime reporter, suspects that the murder is linked to an attack against a nearby air base in the late sixties – the case she came up there to talk about. She makes a few small findings and starts to pursue them. And as more people are killed she uncovers evidence that links the killings: A mass-murderer is one the loose in Sweden. Seemingly one of the terrorists that were involved in the attack on F21 – a man who has since fled to France, and who is a known assassin – has now returned to Sweden and is behind the brutal murders. He was the leader of The Beasts and used to be code-named Dragon. READ MORE....

Nov 12, 2010

Shakespeare's sonnets by Don Paterson

taken from the

Shakespeare's sonnets are synonymous with courtly romance, but in fact many are about something quite different. Some are intense expressions of gay desire, others testaments to misogyny. Wary of academic criticism, Don Paterson tries to get back to what the poet was actually saying.

William Shakespeare
Detail of a painting of Shakespeare, claimed in 2009 to be the only authentic image made during his life, dating from about 1610 – but since questioned. 

The problem with reading Shakespeare's sonnets is the sonnets themselves, by which I mean their reputation. Much in the same way as it's almost impossible to see the Mona Lisa as anything but a parody of itself, or hear Satie's Trois Gymnopedies without the feeling that someone's trying to sell you something – a bar of chocolate perhaps – it's initially hard to get close to the sonnets, locked as they are in the carapace of their own proverbialism. "A Shakespeare sonnet" is almost as much a synonym for "love poem" as "Mona Lisa" is for "beautiful woman". When something becomes proverbial, it almost disappears; and worse, we're allowed to think we know it when we really don't.

The sonnets are close to being one such cultural cipher. If you'd asked me a year ago, I'd have been breezily confident that I knew a fair number of them reasonably well, and had a few by heart. Then there was the literary dinner party. A hideously exposed bluff prompted me to re-examine my avowed familiarity. (Lesson: only bluff at parties where you can immediately walk to another, darker, part of the room – so you're not obliged to remain in your seat, blushing through the cheese course.)

At least I wasn't alone. Twain's definition of the classic, "something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read" is well known, but I might also add, less memorably, that a classic is a book you can safely avoid reading, because no one else will admit they haven't either. READ MORE....

Nov 9, 2010

Steal These Books

taken from the

Published: December 16, 2009

Like many teenagers, I went through a brief shoplifting phase, pilfering a Maybelline Kissing Potion, a pack of Adams Sour Apple Gum and, as my final heist, a Toffifay candy bar. But I never would’ve considered stealing a book. Books, I believed, were sacred.

Apparently, not everyone shares this idea. With the recession, shoplifting is on the rise, according to booksellers. At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., the rate of theft has increased to approximately one book per hour. I asked Steve Bercu, BookPeople’s owner, what the most frequently stolen title was.

“The Bible,” he said, without pausing.

Apparently the thieves have not yet read the “Thou shalt not steal” part — or maybe they believe that Bibles don’t need to be paid for. “Some people think the word of God should be free,” Bercu said. As it turns out, Bibles are snatched even at the Parable Christian Store in Springfield, Ore., the manager told me, despite the fact that if a person asks for a Bible, they’ll be given a copy without charge.

But this holiday season, the Good Book is hardly the only title in danger of being filched. At independent bookstores, thieves are as likely to be taking orders from Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” as from Exodus.

Fiction is the most commonly poached genre at St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village of Manhattan; the titles that continually disappear are moved to the X-Case, safely ensconced behind the counter. This library of temptation includes books by Martin Amis, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo and Jack Kerouac, among others. Sometimes the staff isn’t sure whether an author is still popular to swipe until they return their books to the main floor. “Amis went out and came right back,” Michael Russo, the manager, told me.

At BookPeople in Austin, titles displayed with staff recommendation cards are a darling among thieves. “It’s so bad lately that I feel like our staff recommendation cards should read: ‘BookPeople Bookseller recommends that you steal ________.’ Apparently the criminal element in Austin shares our literary tastes, or are very prone to suggestion,” Elizabeth Jordan, the head book buyer, wrote in an e-mail message. READ MORE.....

Nov 4, 2010

HYPOTHERMIA by Arnaldur Indrisdason

published in Canada by Random House

review by Maxine Clarke at Euro Crime

HYPOTHERMIA is among the very best of the books I've read this year. It's the sixth of the author's Erlendur series to be translated into English; it is truly a mature, masterful and utterly fantastic book.

It's a story stripped bare to the bone. A young woman, Maria, commits suicide at her holiday cottage on the shores of Lake Thingvellier. About 30 years ago, Maria's father Magnus fell from his boat and drowned in the same lake. Ever since then, Maria has been extremely close to her mother, Leonora, still living with her even after graduating from university and her marriage to a doctor named Baldvin, who moved in with the two women after his wedding to Maria. Leonora died of cancer two years before the book opens, during which time Maria gave up her job to nurse her mother, constantly at her side. Everyone assumes that part of the reason for Maria's suicide was her inconsolable loss.


Nov 1, 2010


review by The Bookbag

Albino, unusually-named, half-Inuit, half-Irish and owner of an enormous estate, nobody could call Light a run-of-the-mill child. But things are about to get considerably more unusual for this newly-orphaned girl. With a father mysteriously missing in the Arctic for long enough to be declared dead and a funeral to organise, you would think she had enough on her plate. But within days, she's been followed by a mysterious man, attacked by a rogue bird of prey in her own garden, survived a kidnap attempt by men with cat's eyes, rescued by another man with the head of a shark, and entered into a death-pact with a shadow that's two hundred years old. And that's not to mention an old family retainer who appears to know more than he's letting on...

... Time for a trip to the Arctic to face the evil Frost and find her father, then!


Oct 31, 2010

BEDTIME STORY by Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher's notes from

Following his bestselling 2006 debut, Before I Wake, Wiersema returns to his exquisitely plotted blend of supernatural thriller and domestic drama.

Novelist Christopher Knox began his writing career with a bang. The echo of that success still rings in his ears as he sets to work every morning on his second novel, ten years later. His wife feels like a single parent, and with Chris living in exile in a studio above their garage, it won't be long before she is.

Chris discovers a fantasy novel by an obscure author he loved as a child and gives it to his son, David. Father reads to son nightly, and To the Four Directions soon enthralls him. Until one night, when young David is reading alone, an inexplicable seizure leaves him in a mysterious state of unconsciousness. As his seizure recurs every night, his father learns that only one thing will calm it, a bedtime story from his strange new book.

Convinced that the secret of David's collapse is within its pages, Chris traverses the continent in search of the truth. Meanwhile, David wakes up within the story he has been reading, and as his father struggles to free him David struggles to survive, facing perils unimaginable in a world created to capture the hearts and souls of children like him. Both father and son are headed toward a fateful collision of worlds, and a showdown with ancient evils, both fictional and very real.

Oct 27, 2010

E-books: an up side you may not have considered

In a Globe and Mail interview conducted at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival, author Andrew O'Hagan makes the following observation about e-reading: "Oh, I love e-books. Good writing will sing off the screen and off the page just the same. On the other hand, there's one serious disadvantage to e-books that nobody has considered. What are the book-burners going to do? I'm from Scotland via Ireland, places where people have a history of burning books -- and Germany is a near neighbour, and Iraq's never off the telly. E-books may prove to be a serious challenge to the unenlightened. On the up side, nobody will be burning books."

Oct 25, 2010

Göran Lindberg and Sweden's dark side

from the

The Sweden of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson - all shadowy rightwing conspiracies and prostitution rings – might not be so far from the truth 

by Andrew Anthony

    Retired Swedish police chief Göran Lindberg, who was jailed last week for rape and assault. Photograph: Rolf Hamilton/Scanpix/Press Association Images
    If there was ever a real-life policeman who came close in progressive Swedish affections to Kurt Wallander, the bestselling creation of Henning Mankell, it would probably be Göran Lindberg, chief of police of Uppsala, the city north of Stockholm that is home to Sweden's most prestigious university. Although he lacked Wallander's humility and reticence, Lindberg was concerned, like Wallander, with the marginalised and neglected in Swedish society. He was the sponsor of a sanctuary for abused juveniles, for example, and was at the forefront of the campaign to institute a more sympathetic response to rape victims
    READ MORE....

Oct 24, 2010


I thought it was really, really good.

review taken from Some Novel Ideas

The Knife of Never Letting Go is narrated by Todd Hewitt, a boy living in a town of men and Noise. A war with the planet natives left all of the women dead and spread a germ through the male population that makes every thought audible (the Noise). The town, Prentisstown, named by Mayor Prentiss after himself, is populated by mostly miserable men, with a few sadists thrown in, and the Noise makes for a chaotic overload of information that no one can escape. Todd is fairly miserable, too, since he hasn't reached manhood yet, he is ignored by most of the men, and there's no escaping the Noise, no matter where he goes.  That is until Todd and his dog, Manchee, find a hole in the Noise.  This discovery opens a Pandora's Box of secrets about Todd's world, secrets the men of Prentisstown have worked for years to lock up. With a target on his back and his every thought available to others through his Noise, Todd runs from Prentisstown with Manchee, only to be pursued by a relentless army across the landscape of his planet.
    The characters Ness creates in The Knife of Never Letting Go are vivid, sharp, terrifying, and terrified.  Todd is a frightened boy whose poignancy is as palpable as his Noise is audible, and Ness manages to make Manchee into the most truthful dog-character I've ever encountered.  The preacher/madman Aaron who hunts them is monstrous and wretched.  And Ness somehow manages to make the Noise into a sort of character itself, one which reveals and betrays without sentimentality.

    Todd's flight is also his journey into manhood, and Ness makes that odyssey at once tense and humorous, epic and human.  Through Todd, Ness poses some thoughtful questions about manhood: When does a boy become a man?  Are there rites of passage through which a boy must go in order to be considered a man?  And what are the characteristics of a man?  In addition to the questions about manhood, Ness addresses the idea of privacy and individuality.  How can one realize his individuality without the privilege of privacy? What does it mean to be an individual?  Can a person really have an individual identity in our world when we have lost so much of what was private to us?

Oct 23, 2010

Untranslatable Words from Around the World

taken from

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Around the World 

Written by Jason Wire

Photo: laogooli

There are at least 250,000 words in the English language. However, to think that English – or any language – could hold enough expression to convey the entirety of the human experience is as arrogant of an assumption as it is naive.

Here are a few examples of instances where other languages have found the right word and English simply falls speechless.
1. Toska
RussianVladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
2. Mamihlapinatapei
Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start” (
3. Jayus
Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh” (
4. Iktsuarpok
Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.” (
5. Litost
Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
6. Kyoikumama
Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement” (
7. Tartle
Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. (
8. Ilunga
Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.” (
9. Prozvonit
Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.” (
10. Cafuné
Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.” (


Oct 21, 2010

BURY YOUR DEAD by Louise Penny

This sixth Gamache mystery is set partly in the tiny fictional (and oddly murderous) village of Three Pines, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. But most of the action takes place in Quebec City. A vibrant, sophisticated fortress city, which lives in the present but guards its past.

For that’s the other location of this novel. The past.

It's February and bitterly cold in Quebec City. But Chief Inspector Gamache barely notices. He's nearly consumed with grief and guilt over a police action he led - and the mistakes he made. He spends his time with his now-retired mentor, and in the peaceful library of the Literary and Historical Society. A bastien of the dwindling English population.

But if Gamache thought death was finished with him, he was wrong. The body of a celebrated eccentric is found in the Lit and His, and Gamache is drawn again into hunting a murderer. The victim is an amateur archeologist who was monomaniacal in his pursuit. He had spent his life trying to find the body of Samuel de Champlain.

This is the great mystery that has haunted Quebec for centuries.

Where is Champlain?

The founder of Quebec died 400 years ago. And while the burial places of nuns and farmers and minor functionaries of the time are known, no one knows what became of the Father of Quebec.

How could this be?

As Chief Inspector Gamache digs through the crime and the venerable old city it becomes clear the murder is rooted in this 400 year old mystery, and in people long dead. But perhaps not buried.

It also becomes clear to the Chief Inspector that to find the truth he needs to confront his own ghosts, and bury his own dead.

Publishers Weekly starred review says:

"Few writers in any genre can match Penny's ability to combine heartbreak and hope..."

Oct 20, 2010

Quiz: Banned Books

taken from the

Banned books

Find out what books censors have sat on with this quiz from the Guardian.

Oct 17, 2010

On Ted Hughes' 'Last Letter' to Sylvia Plath

written by Al Alvarez, taken from the

Critic and friend of both Plath and Hughes, Al Alvarez ponders the rather 'uncooked' poem published for the first time last week
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath"Last Letter", found by Melvyn Bragg in the British Library with the help of Hughes's widow Carol, and published for the first time in the New Statesman this week, is more a document than a poem. I can see why Hughes spent so long rewriting it (there are at least three unfinished versions in the archive, apparently) and then deciding it still wasn't really ready for publication. To me it has a slightly uncooked air, though of course he was a wonderful poet and there are some great passages in it. What is interesting for us now is that it does go part-way to solving the mystery of what happened on the weekend before Sylvia Plath died. (She was found dead around midday on Monday 11 February 1963.)

According to the narrative of the poem, Plath wrote Hughes some kind of suicide note, or a note hinting at the possibility of suicide, on the Friday, and by some perverse miracle of the Royal Mail it arrived too early: she posted it in the morning and he received it in the afternoon post. So he got the message before she intended him to. As the poem tells us, he went round to her home, having read the letter, which she then burnt in an ashtray "with a strange smile".

What then happened, according to the poem, is that the worst of all the possible jealous fantasies that were torturing Sylvia at that time (when I last saw her, on the Christmas Eve before her death, she was in terrible shape) were fulfilled: the poem says he spent the weekend with a girl called Susan (whom Bragg identifies as the poet Susan Alliston), with whom Hughes was having an affair. He took her to rooms in Rugby Street, in London, where he and Plath had celebrated their wedding night. He then spent the weekend with Susan, in the same bed he had shared with Sylvia. Meanwhile, he imagines Plath calling him repeatedly at his flat and getting no answer.

In other words, the poem is a confession: he is a guy in the witness box pleading guilty. It's very strong stuff, but it ain't finished. And I suppose it is one of those documents that will now be pored over up by a host of biographers. What is certain is that Hughes spent the rest of his life tormented by what had happened, which is probably why the poem was never published in his lifetime. Unlike, say, John Donne's equally tormented but beautifully modulated "A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy's Day", Hughes must have decided that "Last Letter" was not balanced enough to be printed.

Oct 14, 2010

Dirt! The Movie - Official Trailer

The Movie Inspired by William Bryant Logan's acclaimed book 'Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth', this documentary is a witty yet poignant look at man's relationship with dirt.

Oct 13, 2010

61 HOURS by Lee Child

The household got right back into its settled routine. Peterson left, and the two day watch women went up to bed. Janet Salter showed Reacher to the front upstairs room with the window over the porch roof. In principle the most vulnerable, but he wasn't worried. Sheer rage would overcome any theoretical tactical disadvantage. He hated to be woken in the night. An intruder came through that window, he would go straight back out like a spear.

Five to two in the morning.

Twenty-six hours to go.

Oct 12, 2010

David Sedaris talks to Hadley Freeman

taken from the by Hadley Freeman

David Sedaris

A life in writing: David Sedaris

'Someone suggested that my new book is bedtime stories for children who drink'. The humorist David Sedaris talks to Hadley Freeman

The man routinely described as the best living humorist in America, David Sedaris, was recently enjoying a plate of marinated salmon over greens while signing books in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois when a fan decided he wanted more than the writer's autograph. So he reached over and grabbed a handful of food off the Sedaris plate. Understandably, Sedaris was not best pleased. In fact, he was downright annoyed, which is not a common reaction from a writer who tends to regard the world in general with wide-eyed affection and his readers in particular with real fondness ("I always think it's a good policy to like the people who like you," he says with an almost straight face). It wasn't the hygiene issue that bugged him. It wasn't even the loss of the food, although he was a little upset about that ("I'd been looking forward to that salmon!") – it was the fact that the man was trying to cheat. READ MORE....

Oct 6, 2010

Oct 3, 2010


The latest in the Inspector O series is here! And once again we are caught in the North Korean bureaucracy and twisted by multi-government plots, this time a combined effort to unite North and South Korea. Maybe. Inspector O figures it out. Sort of.

Sep 29, 2010


This book has been getting great reviews for awhile , and I have put off reading it for some reason. Well, I have read it now and there is no reason not to. I can recommend it to anyone who wants a good story, especially a good story set in Northern Canada, a good story that will inform you and stay with you and remind you of your own courage and fortitude.

review by Nicolas Lezard from The Guardian UK

Some eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Stef Penney had won the Costa (previously Whitbread) first novel award: although it is set in Canada, she had done all the research for her novel in the British Library and, being agoraphobic, had not set foot in Canada at all.

Yet this doesn't seem to be a problem. The novel is set in 1867, about a century before her birth, and how she's going to get back to that time without a time machine escapes me. Besides, it is not necessary to visit the location of one's novels; Saul Bellow didn't go to Africa before writing Henderson the Rain King; nor, for that matter, did Julie Burchill visit Prague to write No Exit. Actually, you can easily tell, for slightly differing reasons, that neither author visited the scenes they wrote about. But Penney's evocation of the frozen lands of northern Canada couldn't ring truer if she'd spent months wandering through the land with nothing but a pack of huskies and a native tracker for company. (If there is a possibility that the judges' decision was in some way skewed, one might more usefully look at the way that coffee figures repeatedly in the novel.) READ MORE....

Sep 27, 2010

THE HORSE BOY by Rupert Isaacson

Everyone should read The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson. It's about a horses and an autistic boy. Its about fathers and sons, fathers and mothers, parenting and love, parenting and unmitigated frustration, family and strangers. It's about shamans in all sorts of places. It's about Mongolia and that part alone makes it a good read. It makes you cry and wish you were there. It's about our lives and our communities, our children and ourselves. Please read it, even if you have seen the movie.  It's good.

Sep 5, 2010


taken from

A timely teen sci-fi gives food for thought

Review by Heather Seggel 

Fifteen-year-old Mason has never met his father. His responsibilities at home include picking his mother up from the local tavern when the bouncers set her on the curb, then sobering her up for another shift at the nursing home, and occasionally sneaking in to help her complete a shift. One day when he’s at the nursing home he pops in a DVD—footage of his father, his face obscured, reading a children’s book—and a previously comatose teenage girl wakes up at the sound of his voice. She turns out to be part of an experiment in genetic engineering intended to turn kids into self-sustaining life forms who can survive without food or water. She’s also gorgeous, which motivates Mason to err on the side of running away with her in a valiant but dangerously misguided attempt at saving her. The only thing standing in his way is the faceless man behind this plan, known only as the Gardener.

Author S.A. Bodeen has laced this sci-fi-tinged page-turner with thoughtful commentary on world hunger, sustainability, biology and biomedical ethics, plus several high-speed chases and a believable budding romance, and the whole thing works like a charm. The giant Tro-Dyn Corporation and its generous scholarships that keep local kids indentured—and quiet about what really goes on there—make for high tension, and the notion that these photosynthetic food-and-water-free teens, originally conceived to combat famine, might make perfect low-budget soldiers is downright eerie to contemplate. I stayed up late to find out how it all ended, and stayed up after that because The Gardener raised so many timely and pointed questions.

DREAMING IN CHINESE: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language By Deborah Fallows

excerpt taken from

Forget Your 'Please' And 'Thank Yous'

To someone who grew up learning all the "pleases" and "thank yous" of polite English, Chinese as it is spoken between family and friends can sound extremely terse and direct.

"I felt I was being very blunt, very abrupt and even often very rude," Fallows says. Chinese, when spoken between two people who are close with one another, leaves out what Fallows calls the "grace notes" — please, thank you, no thank you.

For example, if a friend offers you a glass of water, and you don't want a glass of water, the proper response translates as: "Don't need" or "Don't want."

There is a lot of "padding and softness" that Fallows says is woven into our everyday English, even when addressing people we know well. But in Chinese, "pleases" and "thank yous" are reserved for people with whom a degree of formality is expected.

"If you're inserting these niceties, these softeners ... the Chinese will see that as actually setting up a distance between you and the person you're talking to," Fallows explains. Trying to be polite can actually come off as offensive.

These are just a few of the many cultural and linguistic puzzles Fallows describes in Dreaming in Chinese, as she recounts her struggle to master the countless nuances of communication in another culture.


Sep 3, 2010

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay is in! Here is a bit with Suzanne Collins reading from the first chapter.

Aug 30, 2010

Banned on BC Ferries

taken from

Alexander the Great novel gets bum rap in Canada

Annabel Lyon's novel of Alexander the Great's childhoood banned from BC Ferries bookshops in Canada on grounds that jacket features a naked man on horseback
by Alison Flood,
Alexander the Great's bare bottom is keeping a highly-praised debut novel off shelves in Canada.

Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean is the story of Alexander's childhood, told through the eyes of his tutor Aristotle. Praised as "a triumph of erudition and story-telling" by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author John Boyne and shortlisted for Canada's top literary award, the Giller prize, it was published last year in Canada and is just out in the UK where the Financial Times has admired its "eerie earthiness".
But apparently its jacket – featuring a naked man lying on the back of an equally naked white horse – is offensive to some. Although stores across Canada and the UK are selling the book, Lyons revealed on her blog that British Columbia ferry company BC Ferries is not stocking it "since the trade paperback still features a bare bum on the cover".

BC Ferries said it had told the book's publisher, Random House Canada, that it would carry the book if it featured a "belly band" wrapped around the offending parts "because we're obviously a 'family show' and we've got children in our gift shops". But Random House refused, and the transportation company decided against stocking the title.

"While some people might think it's art or appropriate or whatever, parents of young people might not think it's appropriate for young children to view," BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall told Canadian paper the Province.

Lyon, the author of two previous short story collections, has refused to take the decision to heart. "Oh, BC Ferries. You have one too, you know you do!" she wrote on her blog.

Aug 28, 2010

INHERENT VICE by Thomas Pynchon

taken from the Wall Street Journal

Aug 15, 2010

Great Summer reads for anyone

He was another kind of other.

Here are two fine young adult vampire series and a great summer reads for anyone:


MARKED by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Enter the dark, magical world of The House of Night, a world very much like our own, except here vampires have always existed.  Sixteen-year-old Zoey Redbird has just been Marked as a new vampire and is sent off to the House of Night, a school where she will train to become an adult vampire.  It sucks to begin a new life, especially away from her friends, and on top of that, Zoey is no average vampire-in-the-making. She has special powers. To add to her stress she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters (the school’s stuck-up elitist group), is misusing her powers. Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to challenge those that do harm to others.

and from

THE SOCIETY OF S by Susan Hubbard

What if everything you knew about your family was a lie?

What if, when the lies began to crack, beneath them lay a truth so dark and deep, yet so compelling, that it pulled you inside?

Ariella Montero is seeking the true identities of her mother and father--and of herself. She's been taught literature, philosophy, science, and history, but she knows almost nothing about the real world and its complexities. Her world is one wherein ghosts and vampires commune with humans; Edgar Allan Poe and Jack Kerouac are role models; and every time a puzzle seems solved, its last piece changes the entire picture.

When the last piece is murder, Ari goes on the road in search of her mother, who disappeared at the time of her birth. The hunt nearly costs Ari her life, and, in finding her mother, she loses her father. But gradually she uncovers the secrets that have kept the family apart, and she begins to come to terms with her own nature and its chances for survival.

Set in upstate New York, England, and the American South, The Society of S explodes stereotypes--of the homeschooled, vampires, monkeys, FBI agents, and academics. In this strange new world, vegetarianism, environmentalism, biomedical research, and the abiity to disappear are options for those who drink blood and face the prospect of eternal life.

A taut, character-driven literary mystery, The Society of S is the future of vampirism, told in a voice that will haunt you-and make you think.
 "One of the really good reads of the year...Any Stephenie Meyers fan would enjoy The Society of S." --Charlaine Harris

 "One of the really good reads of the year...Any Stephenie Meyers fan would enjoy The Society of S." --Charlaine Harris

Jul 30, 2010

DOGHEAD by Morten Ramsland

Winner of the book of the year in Denmark.

taken from 

Doghead is a highly imaginative, exuberant saga that follows three generations of a wildly dysfunctional Norwegian family. When Asger, the narrator, visits his dying grandma, he learns that contrary to popular belief, Grandpa was not a war hero. Instead, his nickname was “Crackpot,” and both before and after he escaped from a Nazi concentration camp, he was, to put it bluntly, a cheat and a liar. From there the real family history unfolds, and like all great stories, it is a tale that will stay with the reader forever.

Jul 7, 2010

Fresh details surface about fourth book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium series

from the

A friend of Stieg Larsson's has revealed new details about the fourth book in the late Swedish author's bestselling Millennium series, which he said is set in a remote area of northern Canada in September.

John-Henri Holmberg told the Associated Press that he was sent an email by Larsson about the book shortly before the novelist's death in November 2004. "The plot is set 120 kilometres north of Sachs Harbour, at Banks Island in the month of September ... According to the synopsis it should be 440 pages," wrote Larsson in the email, which Holmberg showed the news agency.

"Did you know that 134 people live in Sachs Harbour, whose only contact with the world is a postal plane twice a week when the weather permits?" continued the author. "But there are 48,000 musk-ox and 80 different types of wild flowers that bloom during two weeks in early July, as well as an estimated 1,500 polar bears."


Jul 5, 2010

Why Lee Siegel is wrong to declare the novel dead

by Robert McCrum, taken from the

Every few years, some columnist in Britain or America pops up to declare the novel dead, or at the very least in the ICU.

From memory, the last time anyone in the UK got any traction from flogging this elderly nag was in 2001 when Andrew Marr told readers of the Observer that the novel was deader than a dozen doornails. Sure enough, the ensuing debate ran on for days.

Now, this seasonal ritual has been revived by the US critic Lee Siegel, writing in the New York Observer. Contemporary fiction, says Siegel, has become "a museum piece genre". The real creative energy today lies with non-fiction.

Siegel and his editors will have been delighted at the ink generated by this unexceptional opinion. In the US, from the LA Times to the Huffington Post, everyone has weighed in. The last time this topic was so comprehensively ventilated was in 2003, when Harold Bloom denounced Stephen King as unworthy of a National Book Foundation award.


Jun 27, 2010

WONDER by Hugo Claus

translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim

In his novels, Hugo Claus lays bare the haunted underbelly of twentieth-century Flanders with portaits of a shattered society and warped psyches rising to a mythic pitch. In Wonder, Victor-Denijs de Rijckel, a bewildered schoolteacher, is led to a distant village in pursuit of a mysterious woman. Tracking her to an underground political conference in a remote castle, he poses as an expert on Crabbe, a messianic Belgian fascist who disappeared in World War II. Drifting into a dense fog as his sanity begins to crumble, de Rijckel soon finds himself trapped among a handful of desperate individuals still living out the consequences of their collaboration with the Nazis decades earlier, all of whom are united by their belief that Crabbe's return is imminent. The subtle cadences of the prose and the dense emotional texture of characters lost in complex moral labyrinths make Wonder a symphony only Claus could have composed.

Fine and ambitious. . . . A work of savage satire intensely engaged with the moral and cultural life of author’s Belgium. . . . Packed with asides, allusions, and fierce juxtapositions, a style created to evoke a world sliding into chaos where contrast and contradictions are so grotesque that we can only ‘wonder’. . . . [Wonder is] a reminder of the energy and experimental verve with which so many writers of the Fifties and Sixties (Malaparte, Bernhard, Grass, Böll, Burgess, Pynchon) conjured up [a] disjointed and rapidly complicating world." —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

While fully aware that such an honorable title can only be used in great exceptions in Flemish literature, I would call Wonder a masterpiece. —Vlaamse Gids

Jun 17, 2010

THE TWIN by Gerbrand Bakker

translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Winner of the IMPAC/Dublin Award
An NPR Best Foreign Fiction Pick
A School Library Journal Best Adult Book for High School Students

When his twin brother dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return from university life to take over his brother’s role on the small family farm, resigning himself to spending the rest of his days with his head under a cow. The novel begins thirty years later with Helmer moving his invalid father upstairs to have him out of the way as he sparsely redecorates the downstairs, finally making it his own. The Riet, the woman who had once been engaged to marry Helmer’s twin, appears and asks whether her troubled eighteen-year-old son could come to live on the farm. Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, The Twin is ultimately about the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one’s own hands. It chronicles a way of life that has resisted modernity, a world culturally apart yet laden with romantic longing.

The charm of Bakker’s book is how finely every element is balanced, how perfectly the story is paced. . . . Bakker shows a fine gift for laconic comedy. . . . The great pleasure of this novel is how it has just enough plot to allow us to relish its beautifully turned observations of birds and beasts, weather and water. —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

Jun 8, 2010

Rudyard Kipling

Is it possible that our reading, if so be we read wisely, may save us to a certain extent from some of the serious forms of trouble; or if we get into trouble, as we most certainly shall, may teach us how to come out of it decently.

Jun 2, 2010

Libraries turn a new page with live gigs

originally posted on

Get it Loud in Libraries is a five-year project that aims to increase access to libraries while developing youth talent.

Diana Vickers, Lancaster library 

A trip to the library can change your life. That is the founding philosophy of the Get it Loud in Libraries project, which challenges the stereotype of whisper only noise levels. The dulcet tones of chart topper Diana Vickers rang out recently, surrounded by books as well as fans, at Lancaster library. Plan B, Adele, Florence and the Machine, Speech Debelle, and the Thrills have also performed for the project.

Winner of an award from the Love Libraries campaign led by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the five-year project aims to increase access to libraries while developing youth talent and has attracted more than 8,500 visitors, 5,000 of them first-time library users. Lancashire county council backed Get it Loud in Libraries and the MLA has commissioned a UK rollout.

"I think it's absolutely incredible. It's wonderful," Vickers say of the project. "I've been playing in front of big crowds and I'm excited about intimate settings where you can be close to your fans."

As a child, growing up in nearby Blackburn, she says that her school library was a "second home" to her. When she was young she loved Peter Rabbit and Mr Men books, and later her favourites included Little Women and The Lovely Bones. Amber King, 21, a project volunteer who attended the gig, said the crowd was one of the most diverse she'd seen, aged from four to 50. "Libraries can feel inaccessible but this project makes them feel unrestricted and places to explore. The reactions have been positive."

Attracted initially by the lure of the stage, youngsters who would once never have been to a library have been returning to borrow books and CDs. The project's founder, Stewart Parsons, has worked in libraries for 25 years and senses that the gigs have achieved something fresh, making libraries something that the young want to be part of. He shows me a text message he received following the gig from mother Lauren Zawadzki: "Your work is complete!!! Both Izaak and Dom [her sons] have (of their own accord) been reading in the library for the last half hour ... You should be proud. They would never have suggested that before the gigs".

Opportunities have also opened up for youngsters such as Lauren Sobers, a project volunteer who worked on the Plan B show in Rugby library. Her experience has led to an offer of work in the music industry.

Parsons hopes that the scheme is changing the way people view libraries: "My big beef is that libraries trail behind slightly; they shouldn't. This is about bringing libraries up to date. The beautiful thing is that people are reconnecting with the library in a way they hadn't done before."

The next gig at Lancaster library is Professor Green on 7 June.

May 27, 2010

When crime pays: Names to watch out for

taken from the by John Crace

Stieg Larsson

He spent the best part of 25 years editing a small left-wing magazine before delivering to a publisher the finished manuscripts of three books – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. They were originally intended as a 10-part "Millennium" series and the framework of a fourth book does exist, though it is not considered publishable. Larsson died of a heart attack in 2004 just before the first book was published in Sweden.

Henning Mankell

After making his name, but little money, as a writer of serious plays and novels, Mankell hit the big-time in the 90s with his series featuring Kurt Wallander, the harddrinking, divorced, lonely, angry everyman detective. The books also reflect Mankell's left-of-centre politics with cutting dissections of Swedish society and have picked up numerous awards around the world. It's been 10 years since he wrote The Pyramid, his last Wallander book, but another is rumoured to be on the way.

Peter Høeg

Like Mankell, Høeg started out as a serious writer before Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow made his a household name outside Denmark in 1992. Unlike Mankell, Høeg didn't choose to follow up his success; his next book, Borderliners, was a semi-autobiographical novel about a Copenhagen private school and in 1996 he published The Woman and the Ape, which was mauled by the critics. Høeg went into hibernation for 10 years before publishing The Quiet Girl in 2006 which was also panned for being too difficult and postmodern.

Arnaldur Indridason

He began the Detective Erlendur series in 1997 with Sons of Dust and has one on to write a further eight, becoming the most widely read Icelandic author in the process. Has been acclaimed both by his peers – Harlan Coben is a big fan – and by the critics for transcending genre with the quality of his writing . Arctic Chill, his most recent book in translation, won the prestigious Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger in 2006. A new book, Hypothermia, is due out in translation this year.

Håkan Nesser

Only became a full-time writer in 1998, having already knocked out eight books – mostly crime fiction – while working as a teacher in Uppsala. So far only his early books, The Mind's Eye, Borkmann's Point and The Return, which feature a detective called Van Veeteren, have been translated into English, though a fourth, Woman With a Birthmark, is due out this year. Since 2006, Nesser has written three books with a new character, Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti, that have picked up prestigious awards in Sweden and should appear in English in the near future.

Jo Nesbø

After dumping careers fi rst as a journalist and then as a stockbroker, Nesbø now splits his time between singing lead vocals for Norwegian rock band Di Derre and writing thrillers featuring Harry Hole, a typical maverick anti-authoritarian cop. Most pundits reckon he should stick to the writing. So far only The Redbreast, The Devil's Star and Nemesis are in print in the UK, though The Redeemer is due out in March. If that does well, expect translation of the other three Harry Hole thrillers shortly.

Karin Fossum

Started out as a poet – her first collection, published when she was just 20, won a major prize in Norway - but has since been dubbed the "Norwegian Queen of Crime" for her Inspector Sejer series that has been translated into more than 15 languages. Her most recent UK book is Black Seconds about a missing child, and The Water's Edge is due out later this year.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö

The husband and wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö can legitimately claim to be the grandparents of Scandinavian crime fiction with their series of 10 novels published between 1965 and 1975, featuring Martin Beck as a Stockholm detective, that were published between 1965 and 1975. Beck was the archetypal loner and the books established the principle of turning a critical eye on contemporary society. Their books are still in print in the UK, though they are much more popular on mainland Europe – most French bookshops have piles of them. Almost certainly overdue a revival here.