Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category
1. “I Walk in the City All the Time”: An Interview with Orhan Pamuk
From Hazlitt: Orhan Pamuk knows many things about cities. He’s written a book about the city he calls home, 2005’s Istanbul: Memories and the City, and offers another perspective on the same place in his latest book, the sprawling novel A Strangeness in My Mind. While its scope is vast, incorporating over forty years’ worth of history, its focus is humble: Melvut, the novel’s protagonist, moves to the city from a rural area at a young age, and goes on to make his living largely as a food vendor. This includes time spent selling yogurt and boza, a fermented beverage that, in Pamuk’s telling, takes on a deeper cultural significance.
2. An excerpt from Letters to Véra
From Literary Hub: My delightful, my love, my life, I don’t understand anything: how can you not be with me? I’m so infinitely used to you that I now feel myself lost and empty: without you, my soul. You turn my life into something light, amazing, rainbowed — you put a glint of happiness on everything— always different: sometimes you can be smoky-pink, downy, sometimes dark, winged—and I don’t know when I love your eyes more — when they are open or shut. It’s eleven p.m. now: I’m trying with all the force of my soul to see you through space; my thoughts plead for a heavenly visa to Berlin via air … My sweet excitement …
3. On Pandering by Claire Vaye Watkins
From Tin House: The stunning truth is that I am asking, deep down, as I write, What would Philip Roth think of this? What would Jonathan Franzen think of this? When the answer is probably: nothing. More staggering is the question of why I am trying to prove myself to writers whose work, in many cases, I don’t particularly admire? I recently finished Roth’s Indignation with nothing more lasting than a sincere curiosity as to whether Roth is aware that these days even nice girls give blow jobs.
I am trying to understand a phenomenon that happens in my head, and maybe in yours too, whereby the white supremacist patriarchy determines what I write.
4. A Storied Bookstore and Its Late Oracle Leave an Imprint on Islamabad
From The New York Times: ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After his father died, Ahmad Saeed took over the office on the ground floor of the family’s storied bookstore here, Saeed Book Bank. Then the elderly men started visiting, seeking to settle old debts.
“They all apologized and said they had tried to see my father while he was alive but his office was always too crowded and they were embarrassed,” Mr. Saeed said.
5. Lamb Two Ways by Diana Abu-Jaber
From The New Yorker: Every year between Halloween and Christmas, my grandmother Grace transforms her apartment into a bakery. Tables and chairs are covered with racks of cooling cookies, eight baking sheets slip in and out of the oven — as tiny as something in a troll’s house. The Mixmaster drones. A universe of cookies: chocolate-planted peanut butter; sinus-kicking bourbon balls; leaping reindeer and sugar bells; German press-form cookies from her grandparents’ Bavarian village — Springerle — green wreaths, candy berries; and a challenging, grown-uppy variety named for the uncut dough’s sausage shape: Wurstcakes. All part of Grace’s arsenal: she’s engaged in an internecine war with my father, Bud, over the loyalties of the children. Her Wurstcakes are slim as Communion wafers. Bud dunks them in his demitasse of ahweh and calls them “Catholic cookies.” Her eyes tighten as she watches him eat.
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In 1974 an elderly and eccentric Miss Mary Shepherd parked her van in writer Alan Bennett’s driveway in Camden Town, where she remained until her death 15 years later.
Bennett and Miss Shepherd had a peculiar bond. In his diary in the London Review of Books, Bennett writes of their first encounter when she coaxed him into pushing her van to Albany Street. The experience left him with the unsettling feeling that “one seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation”.
Yet Bennett invited Miss Shepherd to stay, another “good turn” she would not admit to being grateful for. “To have allowed herself to feel in the least bit grateful would have been a chink in her necessary armour, braced as she always was against the world,” Bennett writes in his definitive work on Miss Shepherd, The Lady in the Van: The Complete Edition.
During their 15 years together the writer observed Miss Shepherd, and in 1999 Dame Maggie Smith portrayed her in the hit West End play, The Lady in the Van. The film by the same name, and with Smith in the lead once again, was released in the United Kingdom on 13 November, and will come to South Africa in December this year.
Read an excerpt from Bennett’s diary, in which he remembers their first encounters:
She must have prevailed on me to push the van as far as Albany Street, though I recall nothing of the exchange. What I do remember as I trundled the van across Gloucester Bridge was being overtaken by two policemen in a panda car and thinking that, as the van was certainly holding up the traffic, they might have leant a hand. They were wiser than I knew. The other feature of this first run-in with Miss Shepherd was her driving technique. Scarcely had I put my shoulder to the back of the van, an old Bedford, than a long arm was stretched elegantly out of the driver’s window to indicate in textbook fashion that she (or rather I) was moving off. A few yards further on, as we were about to turn into Albany Street, the arm emerged again, twirling elaborately in the air to indicate that we were branching left, the movement done with such boneless grace that this section of the Highway Code might have been choreographed by Petipa with Ulanova at the wheel. Her ‘I am coming to a halt’ was less poised as she had plainly not expected me to give up pushing and shouted angrily back that it was the other end of Albany Street she wanted, a mile further on. But I had had enough by this time and left her there with no thanks for my trouble. Far from it. She even climbed out of the van and came running after me, shouting that I had no business abandoning her, so that passers-by looked at me as if I had done some injury to this pathetic scarecrow. ‘Some people!’ I suppose I thought, feeling foolish that I’d been taken for a ride (or taken her for one) and cross that I’d fared worse than if I’d never lifted a finger, these mixed feelings to be the invariable aftermath of any transaction involving Miss Shepherd. One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation.
The Guardian has selected extracts from Bennett’s The Lady in the Van: The Complete Edition, with touching illustrations by David Gentleman.
In the article, Bennett reflects on why he invited Miss Shepherd to park her van in his driveway that day, the making of the film and the fine line between the two Alan Bennetts as both observing writer and participating character.
Read the extract:
It’s now over a quarter of a century since Miss Shepherd died, but hearing a van door slide shut will still take me back to the time when she was in the garden. For Marcel, the narrator in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, the sound that took him back was that of the gate of his aunt’s idyllic garden; with me it’s the door of a broken down Commer van. The discrepancy is depressing, but then most writers discover quite early on that they’re not going to be Proust. Besides, I couldn’t have heard my own garden gate because in order to deaden the (to her) irritating noise, Miss Shepherd had insisted on me putting a piece of chewing gum on the latch.
Watch the trailer for The Lady in the Van:
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Smith is captivating in her poignant portrayal of a vagrant woman who’s touched the life and imagination of a brilliant but self-deprecating writer.
Bennett and Smith were both born in 1934 and have walked a long road together on stage and off, as readers will note in Michael Coveney’s Maggie Smith: A Biography.
In an interview with The Telegraph for his 80th birthday, Bennett recalls attending another 80th back in 1997 with Smith:
In a diary entry for February 1997, published in his memoir collection Untold Stories, Alan Bennett describes an 80th birthday party for the stage designer Jocelyn Herbert at the Royal College of Art. The place is packed.
“I sit on a sofa with Alan Bates and Maggie Smith,” he writes, “thinking that no one would ever arrange such a do for me or get so many people to come. I turn to Maggie and she says: ‘Don’t say it. I know. I don’t think I could even fill the kitchen.’”
Bennett sets the scene, Smith steals it.
Listen to an audio extract from Maggie Smith: A Biography, read by Welsh actress Siân Thomas (Amelia Bones in Harry Potter:
Image courtesy of The Telegraph
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Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian-born writer raised in Alabama in the United States, made headlines earlier this year when it was announced that her debut novel had been purchased in a seven-figure deal ahead of the London Book Fair.
The North American rights were acquired at auction by Knopf, who fought off competition from nine other bidders.
At the time, Knopf’s Jordan Pavlin called Homegoing “as beautiful and relevant a novel as any I’ve ever read”, adding that Gyasi “writes about race and history and identity and love with astonishing authority”.
Translation rights for the novel have been sold for a “major deal” in Spanish, as well as in Norway, Sweden and Hungary.
Viking have taken on the book in the United Kingdom, with publisher Mary Mount calling it: “enormously ambitious, incredibly moving and deeply resonant”.
“This is a rare novel about how history infuses all of our lives,” Mount told The Guardian. “Yaa Gyasi has an incredible eye for character and sense of human emotion. It will be a hugely exciting novel to publish.”
Gyasi, who was 25 at the time of the book’s sale, is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Berkeley, California.
Homegoing traces the descendants of two sisters, torn apart in 18th-century Africa, across three hundred years in Ghana and America:
Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into different tribal villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and will live in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising half-caste children who will be sent abroad to be educated before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the empire. Esi, imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle’s women’s dungeon and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and the Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the American South to the Great Migration to twentieth-century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi’s novel moves through histories and geographies and captures–with outstanding economy and force– the troubled spirit of our own nation. She has written a modern masterpiece.
The novel is due out from Knopf in June 2016.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, who recently won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me, said:
Gyasi’s characters are so fully realised, so elegantly carved – very often I found myself longing to hear more. Craft is essential given the task Gyasi sets for herself – drawing not just a lineage of two sisters, but two related peoples. Gyasi is deeply concerned with the sin of selling humans on Africans, not Europeans. But she does not scold. She does not excuse. And she does not romanticise. The black Americans she follows are not overly virtuous victims. Sin comes in all forms, from selling people to abandoning children. I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair a gifted literary mind to an epic task. Homegoing is an inspiration.
He also could help but tweet about the book when he was reading it:
This Fiction Friday, get a taste of what Gyasi is capable of by reading a story she wrote for Guernica recently.
By Yaa Gyasi
June 15, 2015
And as I parted my lips and then, later, my legs, watching the last clouds of smoke slip upward, I kept hearing my mother’s voice say, “Jesus is a fire.”
In the final days of her life, my mother began telling everyone that she was a disciple who had been called upon to write two books for the next testament of the Bible: The Future Testament. The retirement home called me when they found her scrawling on the walls of her apartment, twice in her own excrement, once in the blood of her old dog, Peace.
“It’s just that she’s scaring people,” the Cherry Grove Homes director said in his thin, nasally voice. I could picture him on the other end, a white button-down, a red tie, perpetually smiling. “And we aren’t a nursing home, you know; we’re an independent living facility. I’m afraid we have to ask her to leave.” I flew to Alabama immediately, boxed up all of my mother’s possessions, and flew her away to live with me in California.
She had not spoken more than one sentence since seeing me, standing helpless and frightened on the welcome mat of her apartment. Now, walking around my two-bedroom house in Menlo Park, she began whispering to herself in Twi.
“Why did you kill Peace?” I asked. The retirement home director told me they had found the dog in the backyard with his neck slit, his front paws folded and touching as though he were praying.
She turned sharply toward me. “Sacrifice,” she said, before continuing to pace the house. Her English was deteriorating and, though my comprehension was still good, I hadn’t spoken Twi since childhood. I crushed an Ambien into the tea that I made for her, and when she began to nod off, I tucked her into the guest bed, went into my own room, and cried until morning.
Keep an eye on Books LIVE for more about Homegoing as the publication date approaches.
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Image courtesy of Publishers Weekly
This Fiction Friday, read two excerpts from Tendai Huchu’s latest novel The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician.
Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. Huchu is a creative writing PhD student at the University of Manchester, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize. In their review of The Hairdresser of Harare, The Guardian called him: “An unusually astute and unflinching writer.”
The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician was released this year by Parthian Books in the United Kingdom and amaBooks Publishers in Zimbabwe. It will be available in the United States next year through the University of Ohio Press and it is to be translated into German and Italian.
In her column “It’s All Write” for Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper, author Lauri Kubuitsile said of the book:
The three storylines might work well alone, but are made more by being woven expertly into and through each other. The writing is beautiful, in places stunning. The descriptions of Edinburgh are from the pen of someone who loves that city and it can’t help but show through his words. There are many books about Africans in the diaspora, many books that appear similar after a while, but not this one. This one stands apart.
Jeanne-Marie Jackson recently interviewed Huchu on the Good Book Appreciation Society. She asked him about the “downward mobility” in the novel, where “former officials and highly educated people” from Harare “end up working low-wage jobs at nursing homes and grocery stores” in Edinburgh, and how that social reality corresponds to form.
Tendai Huchu: I envisioned the novel as a book of illusions. It is kinda hard to get stuck in without spoilers, but here goes. The title of the novel itself is a misnomer. It is presented as a literary novel but it is actually a genre novel of a very specific kind, The reader will find that though the narrators of all three novellas are reliable, they are still being lied to. So in that sense, looking at the “downward mobility” thing, I suppose most of the novels I read about diasporas are about folks on a sort of upward trajectory and I kind of wanted to go in the opposite direction to those narratives.
The question of form is a little trickier.
The final structure and language in the text were because of the failure of my first drafts of the damn thing which envisioned a more integrated, conventional narrative. When that didn’t work, I riffed off Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and decided to have the three characters in the same city, but inhabiting distinct universes.
Read two excerpts from The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician, shared by Huchu on The Zimbabwean:
The air shimmered there, tar melted and buckled. People walked with beads of sweat rolling down their backs. Yet, even in this small town, there were two suns. In the low density suburbs the sun was wondrous, a joyful gift of warmth and light, but one had only to cross Chipindura Road from the east or Chipadze Road from the north into the high density suburbs to find the sun fierce and angry. There it assailed the residents, wilted the few patches of grass, stripped everything bare, revealing brown, cracked earth. If the sun infused life’s essence into the low density suburbs, in the townships it drained this very same essence away.
When he thought about home, the Magistrate often looked to Arthur’s Seat. He left the loch, tracking back up the road. The gorse gripping the sides of the hill was the bright yellow of the Bindura sun. The plants were strong, aggressive, making a niche on the bare sides of the hill. There was a hill in Bindura too, right in the middle of the town. It was made of granite that had formed deep in the bowels of the earth, patiently waiting until wind and rain had, slowly, over many millennia, stripped the soil off and left the hill high above everything else. Arthur’s Seat was a volcanic creation. Magma had pushed violently up from the belly of the earth, sculpting itself by sheer will.
“I have my own night nurse,” the Magistrate replied, buttoning up his suit. Mai Chenai wore a sombre black outfit that matched her mood. Their last few weeks had been busy with visits to the midwife, meetings with the school and the social worker.
Autumn crept in regardless. The remaining vegetables in the garden were dying. The trees were crowned with orange leaves that they shed with each passing day. The wind blew the leaves along the street where they gathered in piles in the gutters and blocked drains.
“We have to face this together. That boy’s father is coming soon. We must look respectable.”
“What kind of man lets his son run around like a wild buck sticking his…” The Magistrate straightened himself. He could not finish his train of thought.
“They are both children and they’ve made a big, big mistake. We have to deal with the consequences now. There’s no changing the situation.”
But they had tried. Mai Chenai had taken Chenai to the GP, to see if there was still a chance. It was too late. The Magistrate had been relieved. He’d sent away a few women in his day for terminations. Even here, where it was permitted by law, he still had been unable to face the idea, preferring instead to let Mai Chenai deal with it. He was ashamed of his cowardice, like Pilate washing his hands.
He held Mai Chenai’s hand and kissed her cheek. She laid her head on his shoulder and wiped a tear with a handkerchief. The air was suffocating, a heavy silence settled on the house.
There was a knock on the door. The Magistrate opened it and Alfonso burst in. He grabbed the Magistrate’s arms and looked at him.
More Fiction Friday
Author image courtesy of The New York Times
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Under the Udala Trees, the debut novel by award-winning Nigerian author Chinelo Okparanta, is making waves internationally, and comes recommended by Zakes Mda.
The novel will be available locally from Jonathan Ball Publishers in March 2016. Scroll to the end for an excerpt.
Okparanta’s short story “America” was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing, and her first book, the collection short stories Happiness, Like Water, was shortlisted for the the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. She was one of Granta’s New Voices for 2012, and was featured on the Guardian’s list of the best African fiction of 2013.
Zakes Mda says: “A searing, yet delicately nuanced, story of an age of innocence first shattered by the vulgarity of war and its aftermath, and then by forbidden desire and religious intolerance.
“Under the Udala Trees is narrated in lyrical and lucid prose, in a wise and compassionate voice. It bowled me over.”
Okparanta was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and lives in New York. She received her BS from Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
In a recent interview with The Rumpus, Okparanta spoke about the status of LGTBQ rights in Nigeria, emphasising that while the United States has legalised gay marriage, the situation is very different in her home country. She also stresses that persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is by no means a thing of the past in the US either: “If we say to ourselves that there is no more homophobia in the United States, that the LGBTQ community no longer faces discrimination here, we are simply deceiving ourselves.”
Rumpus: In the novel’s epilogue you mention a “new generation of Nigerians with a stronger bent towards love than fear.” But, also in the epilogue, you document a brutal beating of a lesbian couple and in your author’s note you write about the 2014 laws criminalizing same-sex relationships with punishments ranging from fourteen years in prison in some parts of the county to death by stoning in others. How do you see LGTBQ rights gaining traction in Nigeria? What is the role of story and narrative in that?
Okparanta: The situation in Nigeria is not all that different from many places around the world. After the publication of this book, I’ve been shocked by a handful of people here in the United States who have come up to me and said things along the lines of, “Well, we’ve moved on from that. Same-sex marriage is now legal in the United States, so what’s the point writing that book?” I look at the people making the statement and I can just smell the privilege wafting out of them like perfume. And, I think to myself: this is the problem with privilege. When we live in our own privileged little bubble, it is convenient to pretend that all is well with the world, that everyone enjoys the same privileges that we do.
We conveniently forget that there are others, sometimes our very own next-door neighbors, who suffer in ways that we do not. I think the novel is a testament to this: a reminder that just because we perceive ourselves free does not mean that everyone is indeed free. [...]
Molly Rose Quinn, writing for Lithub, says Under the Udala Trees is “clearly in the tradition of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Edwidge Danticat, and others whom Okparanta calls in her acknowledgements ‘my predecessors, my guiding lights’,” but adds that Okparanta does something further: “Here we have a narrative of war, of LGBTQ Nigerians, and of Nigerians of faith.”
In a conversation with NPR, Okparanta speculates on what the reception of the novel will be in Nigeria: “Maybe they think, ‘What is this this girl doing, writing these homosexual things?’ But maybe with time they will acknowledge to themselves that I am just doing something that is humanistic.”
Listen to the podcast:
About the book
One day in 1968, at the height of the Biafran civil war, Ijeoma’s father is killed and her world is transformed forever. Separated from her grief-stricken mother, she meets another young lost girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Theirs is a relationship that will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart.
In this masterful novel of faith, love and redemption, Okparanta takes us from Ijeoma’s childhood in war-torn Biafra, through the perils and pleasures of her blossoming sexuality, her wrong turns, and into the everyday sorrows and joys of marriage and motherhood. As we journey with Ijeoma we are drawn to the question: what is the value of love and what is the cost?
A triumphant love story written with beauty and delicacy, Under the Udala Trees is a hymn to those who’ve lost and a prayer for a more compassionate world. It is a work of extraordinary beauty that will enrich your heart.
About the author
Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria. She was one of Granta’s New Voices for 2012 and her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Her story “America” was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in African Writing. She is a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award for her debut short story collection, Happiness, Like Water.
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Read an excerpt from Under the Udala Trees:
Midway between Old Oba-Nnewi Road and New Oba-Nnewi Road, in that general area bound by the village church and the primary school, and where Mmiri John Road drops off only to begin again, stood our house in Ojoto. It was a yellow-painted two-story cement construction built along the dusty brown trails just south of River John, where Papa’s mother almost drowned when she was a girl, back when people still washed their clothes on the rocky edges of the river.
Ours was a gated compound, guarded at the front by a thicket of rose and hibiscus bushes. Leading up to the bushes, a pair of parallel green hedges grew, dotted heavily in pink by tiny, star-like ixora flowers. Vendors lined the road adjacent to the hedges, as did trees thick with fruit: orange, guava, cashew, and mango trees. In the recesses of the roadsides, where the bushes rose high like a forest, even more trees stood: tall irokos, whistling pines, and a scattering of oil and coconut palms. We had to turn our eyes up toward the sky to see the tops of these trees. So high were the bushes and so tall were the trees.
In the harmattan, the Sahara winds arrived and stirred up the dust, and clouded the air, and rendered the trees and bushes wobbly like a mirage, and made the sun a blurry ball in the sky.
In the rainy season, the rains wheedled the wildness out of the dust, and everything took back its clarity and its shape.
This was the normal cycle of things: the rainy season followed by the dry season, and the harmattan folding itself within the dry. All the while, goats bleated. Dogs barked. Hens and roosters scuttled up and down the roads, staying close to the compounds to which they belonged. Striped swordtails and monarchs, grass yellows and redtops — all the butterflies — flitted leisurely from one flower to the next.
As for us, we moved about in that unhurried way of the butterflies, as if the breeze was sweet, as if the sun on our skin was a caress. As if slow paces allowed for the savoring of both. This was the way things were before the war: our lives, tamely moving forward.
But in 1967, the war barged in and installed itself all over the place. By 1968, the whole of Ojoto had begun pulsing with the ruckus of armored cars and shelling machines, bomber planes and their loud engines sending shock waves through our ears.
Author image courtesy of Ayiba magazine
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Slade House, the new novel from David Mitchell, is out – just a year after the release of the Man Booker Prize-longlisted The Bone Clocks.
The new novel inhabits the same universe as The Bone Clocks, which Mitchell calls “by far the darkest book I’ve done” and “an exercise in world building and cosmology.”
Slade House originated as a Twitter novel, The Right Sort, which Mitchell tweeted last year, just ahead of the publication of The Bone Clocks. But, as he tells The Miami Herald, “I found that it was asking more questions than it was raising. In the end, I couldn’t resist translating it back to more conventional prose, oxygenating it more than Twitter was allowing me to.”
The book’s five interlocking narratives begin in 1979 and ends in 2015; five “guests” separated enter Slade House for a brief visit, only to vanish without trace from the outside world. At just over 200 pages, Slade House is Mitchell’s slimmest novel yet. His work could be described as literary fiction shaped by science fiction and fantasy, but his latest is a ghost story. As Mitchell recently told Salon, “The idea of confining an entire genre as being unworthy of your attention is a bizarre act of self-harm.”
Mitchell is the author of the novels Ghostwritten, number9dream, Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and The Bone Clocks.
Plants died, milk curdled, and my children went slightly feral as I succumbed to the creepy magic of David Mitchell’s Slade House. It’s a wildly inventive, chilling, and – for all its otherworldliness – wonderfully human haunted house story. I plan to return to its clutches quite often. – Gillian Flynn, bestselling author of Gone Girl and The Grownup
About Slade House
Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.
Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents – an odd brother and sister – extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .
Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story – as only David Mitchell could imagine it.
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Read an excerpt:
“Tell me about your recurring nightmare, Nathan.” We’re sitting by the pond on warm paving slabs. The pond’s a long rectangle, with water lilies and a bronze statue of Neptune in the middle gone turquoise and bruised. The pond’s bigger than our whole garden, which is really just a muddy yard with a washing line and rubbish bins. Dad’s lodge in Rhodesia has land going down to a river where there’re hippos. I think of Mrs. Marconi telling me to “Focus on the subject.” “How do you know about my nightmare?”
“You have that hunted look,” says Jonah.
I lob a pebble up, high over the water. Its arc is maths.
“Is your nightmare anything to do with your scars?”
Immediately my hand’s pulled my hair down over the white-and-pink-streaked area below my right ear, to hide where the damage shows the most. The stone goes plop! but the splash is invisible. I won’t think about the mastiff launching itself at me, its fangs pulling skin off my cheek like roast chicken, its eyes as it shook me like a doll, its teeth locked around my jawbone; or the weeks in hospital, the injections, the drugs, the surgery, the faces people make; or how the mastiff’s still waiting for me when I fall asleep.
A dragonfly settles on a bulrush an inch from my nose. Its wings are like cellophane and Jonah says, “Its wings are like cellophane,” and I say, “I was just thinking that,” but Jonah says, “Just thinking what?” so maybe I just thought he’d said it. Valium rubs out speech marks and pops thought- bubbles. I’ve noticed it before.
In the house, Mum’s playing warm- up arpeggios. The dragonfly’s gone. “Do you have nightmares?” I ask. “I have nightmares,” says Jonah, “about running out of food.”
“Go to bed with a packet of digestives,” I tell him.
Jonah’s teeth are perfect, like the smiley kid with zero fill-ings off the Colgate advert. “Not that kind of food, Nathan.”
“What other kinds of food are there?” I ask.
A skylark’s Morse-coding from a far far far far star.
“Food that makes you hungrier, the more of it you eat,” says Jonah. Shrubs tremble blurrily like they’re being sketched in.
“No wonder you don’t go to a normal school,” I say. Jonah winds a stem of grass round his thumb . . . . . . and snaps it.
The pond’s gone and we’re under a tree, so obviously it’s another stem of grass, a later snap. The Valium’s throbbing in my fingertips now, and the sunlight’s a harpist. Fallen leaves on the shaved lawn are shaped like tiny fans. “This tree’s a ginkgo tree,” says Jonah. “Whoever lived at Slade House half a century ago planted it.” I start arranging ginkgo leaves into a large Africa, about one foot from Cairo to Johannesburg. Jonah’s lying on his back now, either asleep or just with his eyes closed. He hasn’t asked me about football once, or said I’m gay for liking classical music. Maybe this is like hav-ing a friend. Time must’ve passed, because my Africa’s fin-ished. I don’t know the time exactly because last Sunday I took my watch apart to improve it, and when I put it back together again some pieces were missing. Not quite like Humpty Dumpty. Mum cried when she saw the watch’s insides and shut herself in her room so I had to eat cornflakes for tea again. I don’t know why she got upset. The watch was old, dead old, made long before I was even born. The leaves I remove for Lake Victoria, I use for Madagascar. “Wow,” says Jonah, leaning his head on an elbow. Do you say “Thanks” when someone says
“Wow”? I don’t know, so I play safe and ask,
“Do you ever think you might be a different species of human, knitted out of raw DNA in a laboratory like in The Island of Doctor Moreau, and then turned loose to see if you can pass yourself off as normal or not?” Gentle applause flutters down from an upstairs room.
Author image: University of Michigan
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This week’s Sunday Read is an excerpt from Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham. The legal thriller, which will land in South Africa in mid-November, has already shot to the top of The New York Times’ bestseller list.
Earlier this year, Grisham wrote a note to his readers introducing Sebastian Rudd, the protagonist of Rogue Lawyer. “He is in no way your typical street lawyer,” the author says. Sebastian is described as a man who “carries a gun because his name and face tend to attract the attention of the kind of people who also carry guns and don’t mind using them”. He “hates injustice and those responsible for it” and cannot tolerate the legal bar’s “notions of ethical behaviour”.
Grisham, who worked in law before he started writing, says although he was too afraid to dirty his hands at the time, he “really wanted to be a rogue lawyer”.
Read the note:
I once practiced street law for ten years, a career mercifully cut short when I decided to pursue writing. Like all the other lawyers packed along Main Street, I wrote wills and deeds and occasionally went to court. It was a safe little career that did not demand much in the way of risk. I secretly admired the lawyers who had little time for the office, who preferred instead to spend their days doing battle in front of juries, often with clients and causes that were unpopular.
Watch the book trailer, shared by Doubleday Publishing, to find out more about Rogue Lawyer:
Intrigued? Read a preview of the book, shared Penguin Random House:
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This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from the much-anticipated debut novel from Elnathan John, Born on a Tuesday.
Born on a Tuesday, described as a novel that “explores life, love, friendship, loss and the effects of extremist politics and religion on everyday life in Northern Nigeria”, is due out in Nigeria from Cassava Republic on 12 November, and locally and in North America from Grove Atlantic’s Black Cat imprint on 3 May, 2016.
John is an established Nigerian writer and satirist. Born on a Tuesday is an expansion of “Bayan Layi”, John’s short story that was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013. John was again shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2015 for his short story, “Flying”.
John’s writing has been published in Per Contra, Evergreen Review and Chimurenga’s The Chronic. He is a 2015 Civitella Ranieri Fellow and lives in Abuja, Nigeria.
Elliot Ackerman, author of Green on Blue, says of the book: “Working in the tradition of Achebe, Elnathan John has penned a coming-of-age novel worthy of Twain. At times tragic, at times humorous, Born on a Tuesday is the story of those who find the courage to transcend violence even when born to its confines.”
Read the excerpt:
Extract from Born on a Tuesday, by Elnathan John
(taken from the start of Part Three)
Last month Malam Abdul-Nur stopped me at the entrance of the mosque and asked me if there was anything I wanted. First I was confused, thinking that perhaps he wanted to scold me for having done something wrong. But then his eyes were relaxed and the lines of his forehead weren’t so many and he wasn’t breathing hard like he does when he is upset. Reluctantly I told him I wanted a radio that has stations outside Nigeria – something like the big one in Sheikh’s office, but smaller, so that I can carry it around. At some point it crossed my mind that perhaps he wanted me to do something for him.
A few days after, he sent for me. He had just moved into his own office at the back of the mosque not far from where our rooms were. The new office has white walls and tiles and a small toilet inside. Since Sheikh has decided to make Malam Abdul-Nur the headmaster of the new school that is to be built on the land adjacent the mosque, the office will also be the office of the headmaster. I wonder about toilets that are built inside rooms. Will the whole room not smell when someone uses the toilet?
The office has a ceiling fan and a standing fan. The curtains in the office are not the normal type hanging from a rope nailed into the wall. They close and open when you pull a rope that has tiny plastic balls like a small chasbi. Alhaji Usman’s workmen built the office and they finished the construction and painting in only three weeks. The same men will build the school.
I chewed on my nails as Malam Abdul-Nur picked up two small cartons from under his table, and made some notes in his exercise book. I could not read what he wrote because it was upside down from where I was sitting, but I could see that he was writing in Arabic.
Malam Abdul-Nur did not raise his head from his exercise book when he asked: If Allah asks you to do something, will you refuse?
Image courtesy of Cassava Republic
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HP Lovecraft might seem an obvious choice for a Halloween-themed Sunday Read, but we can bet there are many things you didn’t know about the reclusive author who’s legacy’s inspired many a nightmarish tale long after his death on 15 March 1937.
Who was Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and why does he continue to haunt our stories today?
Born on 20 August 1890, Lovecraft was an only child. Both his parents suffered nervous breakdowns and were permanently admitted to Butler Hospital, from whence they never again emerged.
Lovecraft was a sickly child and, unable to finish high school, taught himself chemistry and astronomy and spent his days reading and writing. He wrote regular columns for astronomy magazines and ghost-wrote a story about Harry Houdini called “Under the Pyramids”. He also wrote stories for pulp magazine Weird Tales. Some of his best work include “The Call of Cthulhu” and “At the Mountains of Madness”, which he wrote in the decade just before his death.
He died of colon cancer in 1937.
For a complete biography and a comprehensive collection of Lovecraft’s writing, visit The H.P. Lovecraft Archive.
Ten things you should know about HP Lovecraft
1. Both his mother and father were separately committed to the same mental institution
Winfield Scott Lovecraft was committed to Butler Hospital after being diagnosed with psychosis when HP Lovecraft was only three years old. He died in 1898, when HP was eight. To this day, rumours persist that Winfield had syphilis, but neither HP nor his mother ever displayed symptoms.
For this week’s Sunday Read, we bring you an excerpt from one of the author’s most famous and influential horror stories, “The Call of Cthulhu”:
(Found Among the Papers of the Late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston)
“Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival … a survival of a hugely remote period when … consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity … forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds …” — Algernon Blackwood.
The Horror in Clay.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism. But it is not from them that there came the single glimpse of forbidden aeons which chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things—in this case an old newspaper item and the notes of a dead professor. I hope that no one else will accomplish this piecing out; certainly, if I live, I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain. I think that the professor, too, intended to keep silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had not sudden death seized him.
Lovecraft’s weird alien creature Cthulhu and the world he created, Arkham, to this day continue to inspire popular culture. Arkham, for example, is the name of the asylum in Batman, and Cthulhu has even made an appearance in South Park where he eats Justin Bieber. He’s also inspired many a range of movies, computer and board games.
Lovecraft fans will be thrilled by the 2016 HP Lovecraft horror film, The Dark Below.
Watch the trailer (if you dare):
Image courtesy of The Atlantic
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1. Taking the Portraits out of the Attic: Women and Horror Literature
From 4th Estate: If there were a Horror Literature Hall of Fame (or should that be Haunted Mansion of Fame?), the faces on the gilded portraits bearing down from its walls would doubtless look awfully similar. The sallow, sunken features of Edgar Allen Poe, the monumental, Moai-esque head of HP Lovecraft, the thin-lipped visage of Stephen King – the public faces of the genre have been overbearingly male since the teenage Mary Shelley had her name omitted from the first publication of Frankenstein.
2. The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire
From The Public Domain Review: A vampire is a thirsty thing, spreading metaphors like antigens through its victim’s blood. It is a rare situation that is not revealingly defamiliarised by the introduction of a vampiric motif, whether it be migration and industrial change in Dracula, adolescent sexuality in Twilight, or racism in True Blood.
3. Adriana E Ramírez: Santa Rita de los Imposibles
From Guernica: Violence isn’t always evil. What’s evil is the infatuation with violence. —Jim Morrison
JULY 1, 2007 — He chose to die in American pants. “No, no no. What he thought were American pants,” my mother corrected me. The Italian brand had a factory in Medellín, but common folk swore they were American.
4. “Horror Story” by Carmen Maria Machado
From Granta: It started so small: a mysteriously clogged drain; a crack in the bedroom window. We’d just moved into the place, but the drain had been working and the glass had been intact, and then one morning they weren’t. My wife tapped her fingernail lightly on the crack in the pane and it sounded like something was knocking, asking to be let in.
5. Care for a Scare? Read Four Exclusive Excerpts from Upcoming Horror Books!
From Goodreads: As part of Horror Week, we’ve collected four exclusive excerpts from upcoming horror books. They will leave you hanging in the most deliciously creepy of ways. Remember: Things aren’t always what they seem.
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