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....