Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 has been one heck of a year for fiction

Check out my faves below based on your comments and views of my book reviews....

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Thanks for following my blog, keep reading in 2016

A fictional week.....

After having read the door-stop of a novel, City on Fire, over the last few weeks I was in need of some bite-sized reads this week. Fortunately I had a couple of short story collections on my bookshelf that I'd received as gifts.

Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of essays and stories from Keegan who tragically died aged 22 having graduated from Yale with a career ahead of her at the New Yorker. Whether Keegan would have achieved her ambition as a celebrated writer we'll never know but this collection demonstrates that she had a raw and unpolished talent.

The key essay in the collection, The Opposite of Loneliness, is the most memorable. "We don't have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life" begins Keegan instantly grabbing the reader with an original and accessible voice. 

Keegan writes of her post graduate fears; "We're so young. We can't, we MUST not loose this sense of possibility because in the end, it's all we have". Her hopes and dreams are at the same time deeply personal whilst also speaking for a generation. The truthful prose is even more profound given that the work was published, in this format, post-humously. That said, the genius of the essay is that Keegan speaks for not only her generation but for anyone who has ever dreamed of the future.

Keegan's fiction is less ambitious but readable never the less which leads to the second read of the week.

Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a collection of 21 short stories previously published in magazines from Harpers Magazine to The New Yorker. As with most of Haruki Murakami's canon these stories are at times esoteric but always hugely original and imaginative best summed up by the writer himself; "I'm very realistic. But when I write, I write weird".

For me the stand out story is Chance Traveller which is, evidently, narrated by Mr Murakami himself and explores the idea of co-incidence. The piano player who meets a mysterious girl with a mole on her ear whilst reading Dicken's Bleak House is classic Murakami.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is more than a hand full of shorts, its 21 slices of life waiting to be discovered. The chances are you'll be captivated by any number and most likely moved by others. 

The pleasure of consuming 21 short stories in the same time as reading a single novel is extraordinary which is why I've decided that, next Christmas, short story collections will make the perfect gifts.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A fictional week......

City on Fire is one heck of a weighty novel. Even by the scale of some of this year's Man Booker Prize shortlisted novels, Garth Risk Hallberg's 960 page epic is am ambitious tome. As a debut novel this is unquestionably a staggering feat, but the question is, does Hallberg deliver value for his (much hyped and deftly negotiated) $2 Million advance?

The novel is set in early 1970s New York and follows a number of loosely connected characters affected by a seemingly random shooting on New Year's Eve in Central Park. The grimy New York of the novel is wonderfully researched and drawn clearly from a deep and implicit understanding of the city. The myriad characters are well conceived but it remains the city that is the star of the novel and what a splendid protagonist she is.

The narrative flips between long pensive prose and more pacey dialogue by diving in and out of the kaleidoscopic story. Characters build through a detailed narrative that flips backwards and forwards  in a technique that sees broad storytelling next to chapters devoted to specific narrative rabbit holes. Chapters are interrupted by extracts from diaries, and at one point a student magazine, which adds to the immersion in to the World Hallberg creates but is a little distracting for e-readers.

These highly articulate experiments which are often times successful but occasionally leave you wondering why the novel couldn't have been edited down by at least 250 pages. Hallberg has previously written short stories for the New Yorker and to some degree this work can be seen as an anthology in which you'll find parts you love next to parts you'll frankly want to skim.

So, did Hallberg deliver? The literary World needs new stars and the hype and column inches generated around this debut novel, for me, are a vital promotion for fiction overall. Bring on the next generation! 

Next up on the reading list is Marina Keegan's posthumous anthology The Opposite of Loneliness.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A fictional week...

Readers of this blog will know that I'm currently mid way through the Odyssey that is City On Fire. Coming in at an ambitious 960 pages long this is no quick read and proving to be a challenge to squeeze into the week. That said, its a nice problem to have. So far  I'm immersed, interested and sticking with it although there are times when I've imagined what I would do with an editor's red pen. This is a novel about New York in the 70s, predominantly, a period of crime, grime and hugely changing social attitudes. This is part social history and part family saga.

A five hour train journey to Edinburgh was certainly the best place to get through a fair chunk of the book. I'm thankful for quiet zones but why don't we have reading zones? The smell of second hand books, the gentle turning of pages and the witty literary chat that would doubtless ensue would be a brilliant tonic to the general travel experience  I'll be copying the lovely folk at Virgin Trains into this despatch.

Anyway, back to Edinburgh; city of haggis, whisky, the Royal Mile and of course Literature. You literally fall over literary landmarks in this city from JK Rowling and Alexander McCall Smith to Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle. Have a look at the brilliant  Book Lovers Tour on offer near the Writers' Museum.

For me though, the highlight has to be Armchair Books which '...ekes out its intense and blustery existence on Edinburgh's hallowed West Port". This labyrinthine altar to second hand books is a delight. The cosy atmosphere and bookish musk is as unique as the niche which this shop has established in Edinburgh. This sense of place and evocative atmosphere is exactly what is so often missing from the high street bookseller.