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Archive for the ‘Misc’ Category

Launch: Ballenesque by Roger Ballen (12 December)

P H Centre – Photo Gallery & Bookstore is proud to be hosting the launch of Roger Ballen’s latest book, Ballenesque – Roger Ballen: A Retrospective.

This timely and comprehensive retrospective takes a linear path, with personal reflections by Ballen, which are central to this detailed exploration of his style. With over 300 photographs and an introduction by cultural theorist and critic, Robert J. C. Young, Ballenesque offers a new way of looking at the work of one of the world’s most important and original photographers.

As part of the opening, Ballen will give a presentation about his work, with images and videos related to the book and his career. The winner of the Ballenesque Photo Competition will also be announced.

An exciting exhibition, featuring a selection of iconic Ballen images from the artist’s highly acclaimed career runs until the 9th February 2018.

About the Author:

Roger Ballen is an American-born photographer who has lived and worked in South Africa since the 1970s. His previous award-winning books include Platteland (1994), Outland (2001), Shadow Chamber (2005), Boarding House (2009), Asylum of the Birds (2014) and The Theatre of Apparitions (2016). Ballen’s photographs are collected by some of the most important institutions in the world and he has won numerous prestigious awards in photography and filmmaking. Robert J. C. Young is a British postcolonial theorist, cultural critic and historian. He is currently the Dean of Arts and Humanities at New York University Abu Dhabi.

Event Details


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Wenners van kykNet-Rapport-boekpryse 2017 bekend

Die wenners van die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse – die grootste pryse van hul soort in Afrikaans – is op Saterdag 30 September 2017 in Kaapstad bekend gemaak. Die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys vir die beste debuutroman in Afrikaans asook die twee kykNET-Rapportpryse vir boekresensent van die jaar is by dieselfde geleentheid oorhandig.

Hulde is gebring aan ontslape skrywers soos Karel Schoeman en PG du Plessis, maar die aand het behoort aan die huidige geslag skrywers, wat sulke geleenthede moontlik en gedenkwaardig maak. Hettie Scholtz, sameroeper van die drie hoofboekpryse, het die skrywers geloof vir boeke wat diep sny, diep delf, en ’n aar raak boor. “Dit het by my ’n insig van Chesterton opgeroep, sy geloof dat daar één ding is wat ’n helderheid aan dinge verleen: die vermoede van iets nét om die draai. Ek kan werklik nie wag om te sien waarmee hierdie skrywers volgende vorendag gaan kom nie! Hierby sluit ek die inskrywings vir die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys in.”

Die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse met ’n gesamentlike prysgeld van R500 000 is toegeken aan die volgende skrywers:
- Fiksie: Huilboek, Ryk Hattingh (Human & Rousseau)
- Niefiksie: Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde Verraaier, Elsabé Brits (Tafelberg)
- Film: Al wat ek weet, Marita van der Vyver, (Lapa)

Die keurders het die fiksiewenner, Ryk Hattingh, geloof “vir sy sagkense behandeling van groot dinge, die subtiliteit van segging, die beskeie toon en algehele gebrek aan selfkoestering. Die manier waarop hy persoonlike pyn uiteindelik, sonder politieke grandstandery, vestig in die konteks van ’n hele land se trauma, is uitsonderlik en maak van Huilboek ’n prestasie in hoe groot kragte in beweging gestel kan word deur ’n minimum aan woorde en vertoon.”

Waardering is ook uitgespreek vir die niefiksiewenner, Elsabé Brits, se herbesoek aan ou bronne oor Emily Hobhouse “wat ons in staat stel om opnuut in hierdie merkwaardige vrou die eienskappe te sien wat aan die kern lê van ons universele menslikheid – die vermoë om te empatiseer met die onderdruktes, op te staan vir reg en geregtigheid selfs teen ’n hoë persoonlike en politieke prys, om nood en lyding te verlig ongeag waar dit voorkom. Sy skets Hobhouse as die vergestalting van verset soos dit in die woorde van die Nederlandse digter Remco Campert gedefinieer word: Om aan jouself ’n vraag te vra, daarmee begin verset – en om dit dan aan ’n ander te vra. Dit noop ons om in die Suid-Afrika van vandag weer hierdie kritiese vrae te vra oor menswaardigheid, gelykheid, en weerstand.”

Marita van der Vyver se jeugboek Al wat ek weet het van die prysaand ’n behoorlike rap-aand gemaak. Sy is geloof vir die ligte, vaardige hand waarmee sy die sensitiewe verhaal van ’n seun van gemengde afkoms stuur tot waar hy sy plek in die groter bestel van die lewe vind. En dit deur die skryf van rap songs waarmee hy sy verliese en woede transendeer en sy eie stem vind. “Dis ’n verhaal wat getuig van besondere vakmanskap, een wat smeek om verfilm te word,” sê keurder Herman Binge. “Dink – nét vir ’n oomblik – aan die nuwe Afrikaanse treffers wat hierdie film gaan oplewer, die eerste volwaardige hip-hop-fliek in Afrikaans!”

Die Jan Rabie-Rapportprys ter waarde van R35 000 is vanjaar toegeken aan Valda Jansen vir Hy kom met die skoenlappers (Human & Rousseau). Volgens die keurders is Jansen se debuutroman in vele opsigte meer as “’n elegie aan verlore liefde”, soos dit op die omslag bestempel word. Dit word “’n pynlik intieme en deurtastende verkenning van al die maniere waarop ’n hele lewe soos een byna noodwendig verspeelde kans kan voorkom . . . Jansen kleur nie dit wat persoonlik is ooit met groot politieke stellings nie, maar wys hoe onontwarbaar die persoonlike en die politieke in Suid-Afrika verstrengel is. Haar debuut gee ’n aangrypende en ontstemmende blik op ’n bevreemdende, bruin middelklas-ervaring van apartheid; ’n genuanseerde perspektief op ’n benarde posisie wat nog bitter min in Afrikaanse fiksie belig is.”

Die kykNET-Rapportpryse vir boekresensent van die jaar, vir die beste Afrikaanse resensies wat in 2016 oor ’n Afrikaanse fiksie- of niefiksiewerk onderskeidelik verskyn het, is ook oorhandig. Die wenners, wat elk R25 000 ontvang het, is:
- Fiksie: Danie Marais vir “Die ‘Kook en Geniet’ van oneerbiedigheid” (oor Anton Kannemeyer en Conrad Botes se Bitterkomix 17, Media24-dagblaaie, 4 Julie 2016), en
- Niefiksie: Emile Joubert vir “Die afkook van ’n vol lewe vind hier beslag” (oor Wat die hart van vol is deur Peter Veldsman met Elmari Rautenbach, Media24-dagblaaie, 31 Oktober 2016).

Die keurpanele vir die onderskeie pryse was: kykNET-Rapport-fiksieprys: Frederik de Jager, Elmari Rautenbach, Steward van Wyk en Gerrit Schoonhoven; kykNET-Rapport-niefiksieprys: Herman Wasserman, Irma du Plessis, Darryl David en Herman Binge; kykNET-Rapport-filmprys: Herman Binge en Gerrit Schoonhoven; kykNET-Rapport-boekresensentpryse: Bibi Slippers, Alfred Schaffer, Jomarié Botha en Yvonne Beyers; Jan Rabie-Rapportprys: Elna van der Merwe, Danie Marais en Kerneels Breytenbach.

Die seremoniemeesters vir die aand was Karen Meiring van kykNet en Waldimar Pelser van Rapport. Die prysfunksie is by die Dapper Coffee Company restaurant in Kaapstad gehou.

Boekbesonderhede

Huilboek

 
 
 
 
Emily Hobhouse

 
 
 
 
Al wat ek weet

 
 
 
 
Hy kom met die skoenlappers

 
 
 
 
Bitterkomix 17

 
 
 
 
Wat die hart van vol is


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Kortlyste vir die kykNET-Rapport Boekresensent van die Jaar-toekennings 2017 bekendgemaak

Die Afrikaanse resensiebedryf kan homself op die skouer klop te oordeel na die gehalte van inskrywings wat vir vanjaar se kykNET-Rapport Boekresensent van die Jaar-wedstryd ontvang is.

Die kortlyste is pas bekend gemaak vir dié pryse, wat ingestel is om die belange van boeke en die leesgenot van boekliefhebbers te bevorder deur die wêreld van Afrikaanse boeke vir die breë Suid-Afrikaanse publiek toeganklik te maak. Dit dien ook as aanmoediging om hoë standaarde in die Afrikaanse boekjoernalistiek te handhaaf.

Altesaam 33 van die voorste resensente in Afrikaans het vanjaar ingeskryf, tien meer as verlede jaar. Twee pryse van R25 000 elk word toegeken vir die beste Afrikaanse resensie wat in 2016 oor Afrikaansie fiksie en niefiksie onderskeidelik verskyn het. Die kortlyste, wat uit 90 inskrywings saamgestel is, is soos volg:

Fiksie

Danie Marais: “Die ‘Kook en Geniet’ van oneerbiedigheid” (oor Anton Kannemeyer en Conrad Botes se Bitterkomix 17, Media24-dagblaaie, 4 Julie 2016)
Charl-Pierre Naudé: “Digterlike afdruk van ‘n lewe verbeeld” (oor Bibi Slippers se Fotostaatmasjien, Media 24-dagblaaie, 5 Desember 2016)
Elmari Rautenbach: “Debuut se stiltes ’n elegie aan verlore liefde” (oor Valda Jansen se Hy kom met die skoenlappers, Media 24-dagblaaie, 18 Julie 2016)

Niefiksie

Reinhardt Fourie: Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P. Brink en Ingrid Jonker (geredigeer deur Francis Galloway, Tydskrif vir letterkunde, September/Oktober 2016)
Daniel Hugo: “Een van die heel grotes” (oor Om Hennie Aucamp te onthou, saamgestel deur Danie Botha, Rapport, 14 Februarie 2016)
Emile Joubert: “Die afkook van ’n vol lewe vind hier beslag” (oor Wat die hart van vol is deur Peter Veldsman met Elmari Rautenbach, Media24-dagblaaie, 31 Oktober 2016)

Die keurders was boekjoernalis en digter Bibi Slippers (sameroeper), senior joernalis en skrywer Jomarié Botha en digter en dosent Alfred Schaffer. Aangesien ’n werk van Slippers geresenseer is, is sy vir die finale keuring deur die redakteur van Huisgenoot, Yvonne Beyers, vervang.

Die keurders was dit eens dat die inskrywings deur die bank van ’n baie hoë gehalte was en werklik leeslus aanwakker.

“Daar was heelparty gevalle waar ek nie noodwendig onder normale omstandighede in ’n sekere boek sou belangstel nie, maar die resensent se entoesiasme en insigte het my genoeg geprikkel om dit ’n kans te wil gee,” sê Slippers.

“Dit was ook veral heerlik om verskillende resensies van belangrike boeke soos Die na-dood, Vlakwater en Koors te lees, en uiteenlopende interpretasies en leesbenaderings te kan ervaar via die resensente.”

Daar was vanjaar heelwat nuwe name onder die resensente wat ingeskryf het. “Ek hoop dat ons deur inisiatiewe soos dié die poel selfs verder kan vergroot. Hoe meer ingeligte, intelligente menings uit verskillende perspektiewe verteenwoordig is, hoe beter vir alle rolspelers in die boekbedryf,” sê Slippers.

Die wenners word op 30 September 2017 saam met die wenners van die kykNET-Rapport-boekpryse in Kaapstad aangekondig.
 

Bitterkomix 17Boekbesonderhede

 
 

Fotostaatmasjien

 
 

Hy kom met die skoenlappers

 
 

Vlam in die sneeu

 
 

Om Hennie Aucamp te onthou

 
 

Wat die hart van vol is


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First round of international authors for Open Book Festival 2017 announced

The authors have been announced for the seventh Open Book Festival and you can have the chance to play a part in it.

Brought to you by the Book Lounge and The Fugard Theatre, Open Book Festival will be presented from 6 to 10 September, once again offering a world-class selection of book launches, panel discussions, workshops, masterclasses, readings, performances and more. The event, which also includes the popular Comics Fest, #cocreatePoetica, children’s and outreach programmes, takes place at The Fugard Theatre, District Six Homecoming Centre and The Book Lounge in Cape Town.

Open Book Festival has established itself as one of South Africa’s most innovative and leading book festivals. Last year, nearly 10 000 people attended the festival’s 125 events featuring 251 authors and it has been shortlisted twice for the London Book Fair Excellence Awards. It is committed to creating a platform to celebrate South African writers, as well as hosting top international authors. The festival strives to instill an interest in and love of reading among young attendees, while the programme is designed to engage, entertain and inspire conversations among festival goers long after the event.

“In addition to announcing the first round of incredible international authors for Open Book Festival 2017, we are inviting people to help be a part of it and launching a Thundafund campaign for this year’s festival,” says festival director Mervyn Sloman.

“Anyone who works on major events will have an understanding of the budgetary challenges and current financial climate that are part and parcel of the sector. Open Book is no different and while we continue to work with key sponsors, we are inviting people who recognise the value of the festival to get involved and support us, so we can retain our independence and continue to put on an event of the scale and calibre visitors have come to expect. You can support the campaign for as little as R100 and every rand makes a difference.”

To contribute visit www.thundafund.com/project/openbookfestival

“We are excited to be announcing our first round of international authors and have again compiled a useful guide of their books so you can start reading now.”

Author: Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Nigeria)
Books include: Stay With Me
Why we’re excited: Ayọ̀bámi was shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. In 2015, she was listed by the Financial Times as one of the bright stars of Nigerian literature. She has been a writer in residence at numerous institutions and she was shortlisted for the Miles Morland Scholarship in 2014 and 2015.
 
 
Author: Paul Beatty (USA)
Books include: Slumberland, Tuff, The White Boy Shuffle and The Sellout. Also poetry book Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. Editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor
Why we’re excited: The current Man Booker Winner for The Sellout.
 
 
 

Author: Maylis de Kerangal (France. Attending thanks to the support of IFAS)
Books include: Mend the Living, Birth of a Bridge; the novella Tangente vers l’est
Why we’re excited: Mend the Living was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016 and won the Wellcome Book Prize 2017.
 
 
Author: Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe)
Books include: The Book of Memory and short story collections An Elegy for Easterly and Rotten Row
Why we’re excited: An Elegy for Easterly won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2009.
 
 
 
Author: Nathan Hill (USA)
Books include: The Nix
Why we’re excited: Hill’s debut novel The Nix was named one of the year’s best books by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Slate and Amazon, among others. It was also the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction and will be published worldwide in 30 languages.
 
 
Author: Elina Hirvonen (Finland. Attending thanks to the support of the Embassy of Finland)
Books include: When I Forgot, Farthest from Death, When Time Runs Out
Why we’re excited: This acclaimed author, journalist and documentary filmmaker has had her work translated into seven languages. When Time Runs Out was chosen as ‘The Most Important Book of the Year 2015’ in a project by the Finnish Broadcasting Company.
 
Author: Scaachi Koul (Canada. Attending thanks to the support of Canada Council for the Arts)
Books include: Her debut collection of essays in One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter
Why we’re excited: A culture writer for BuzzFeed, Scaachi’s writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Hairpin, The Globe and Mail, and Jezebel.
 
 
Author: Ali Land (UK)
Books include: Good Me Bad Me
Why we’re excited: Good Me Bad Me has been translated into over twenty languages. After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali Land spent a decade working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health nurse in hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia.
 
 
Author: Ken Liu (USA)
Books include: The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms, The Paper Menagerie
Why we’re excited: Liu’s short stories have won a Nebula, two Hugos, a World Fantasy Award and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award. His short story, “The Paper Menagerie”, was the first work of fiction to win all three major science fiction awards, the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award.
 
 
Author: Fiston Mwanza Mujila (DRC. Attending thanks to the support of the Goethe Institut)
Books include: Tram 83
Why we’re excited: His writing has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Prix du Monde and he was longlisted for MB International
 
 
 

Author: Chibundu Onuzo (Nigeria)
Books include: The Spider King’s Daughter, Welcome to Lagos
Why we’re excited: The Spider King’s Daughter was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize, and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Literature.
 
 
 

Author: Malin Persson Giolito (Sweden. Attending thanks to the support of The Embassy of Sweden)
Books include: Quicksand, the first of her novels to be translated into English
Why we’re excited: A former lawyer, her novel Quicksand was awarded the Best Crime Novel of the Year Award 2016, Sweden’s official suspense literature award, which is given by the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy.
 
 
Author: Carl Frode Tiller (Norway. Attending thanks to support from NORLA)
Books include: The Encircling trilogy, Skråninga (The Slope)
Why we’re excited: His awards include the European Union Prize for Literature and Nordic Critics Prize. His Encircling trilogy has been twice nominated for the Nordic Council’s Prize. The trilogy is considered one of the great contemporary portraits of Nordic life. It has been adapted for the theatre and published in eighteen languages.
 
Author: Iman Verjee
Books include: Who will Catch us as we Fall, In Between Dreams
Why we’re excited: Winner of the 2012 Peters Fraser & Dunlop/City University Prize for Fiction for her debut novel In Between Dreams.
 
 
 
 
Author: Alex Wheatle (UK)
Books include: Crongton Knights, Liccle Bit, Brixton Rock, East of Acre Lane, The Seven Sisters, Island Songs, Checkers, The Dirty South
Why we’re excited: Known as ‘the Brixton Bard’ Alex was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to literature in 2008. He is UK’s most read Black British author, with his books on school reading lists, he takes part in Black History Month every year, works with Booktrust and the Children’s Discovery Centre to promote reading and represents English PEN. Crongton Knights won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016.
 
Author: Zoe Whittall (Canada. Attending thanks to support from Canada Council for the Arts)
Books include: The Best Kind of People, Holding Still for as Long as Possible
Why we’re excited: This award-winning Canadian author won a Lambda Literary award, was shortlisted for the Relit award, and was an American Library Association’s Stonewall Honor Book for Holding Still for as Long as Possible. She has also published three books of poetry.

The final programme will be available in early August, at which point bookings can be made at www.webtickets.co.za.

The seventh Open Book Festival will take place from 6 to 10 September at The Fugard Theatre, D6 Homecoming Centre, and The Book Lounge, from 10:00 to 21:00 each day. For further information visit www.openbookfestival.co.za.

For more information about and to support the Thundafund campaign, visit www.thundafund.com/project/openbookfestival

The Open Book Festival is made possible thanks to the support of its sponsors and partners: Leopard’s Leap, The Fugard Theatre, The District Six Museum, Open Society Foundation, Kingdom of the Netherlands, City of Cape Town, Townhouse Hotel, Penguin Random House, NB Publishers, Jonathan Ball Publishers, Pan Macmillan Publishers, The French Institute of South Africa, The Canada Council for the Arts, NORLA, the Embassy of Finland, the Embassy of Sweden, Dutch Foundation for Literature, PEN SA and the Goethe-Institut.

Stay With Me

Book details

 
 
 
Slumberland

 
 
 
 
Mend the Living

 
 
 

When I Forgot

 
 
 

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

 
 
 

Good Me, Bad Me

 
 
 

The Grace of Kings

 
 
 

Tram 83

 
 
 

The Spider King\'s Daughter

 
 
 

Quicksand

 
 
 

Encircling

 
 
 

Who Will Catch Us As We Fall

 
 
 

Crongton Knights

 
 
 

The Best Kind of People

 
 
 

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
EAN: 9780571249916
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Durban next literary capital of the world?

TimesLIVE recently reported that Durban is aspiring to hold the title of ‘literary capital of the world’.

This coastal city synonymous with beaches, bunny chow and kief barrels is preparing to bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature‚ the 21st in the world and the first in Africa.

International cities which hold this title include Edinburgh, Melbourne, Barcelona, Heidelberg and Krakow.

Darryl David, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal asserted that the designation could make Durban “the literary capital of South Africa”.

As intrigued as we are? Click here for more.


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Tango and tears: Annetjie van Wynegaard reviews Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Swing Time is a dramatic dance, but it’s also about race, class, sexuality, and identity, writes Annetjie van Wynegaard for the Sunday Times

Swing TimeSwing Time
Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
*****

Win a signed copy of Swing Time here!

“It was the first day of my humiliation.” These are the opening lines to Zadie Smith’s exuberant new novel, Swing Time. The story starts just as it’s about to end, with exile and a scandal. In present-day London, the unnamed narrator finds herself in a hotel room with the curtains drawn and her phone switched off – shamed, shunned and shut off from the world.

Like the Sankofa bird with its neck eternally bent backwards, a recurring motif in the novel, the narrator looks to the beginning of her life, which she marks not as her birth but the day she met her best friend Tracey. The first thing she notes is the difference between their mothers – the narrator’s mother is a determined yet aloof autodidact from Jamaica; Tracey’s white mother’s only ambition is to “get on the disability”. Despite their differences – the narrator’s family is slightly better off than Tracey’s, yet the latter is the one with all the expensive toys – the two girls become closer than sisters. Their friendship is cemented in their shared passion for dance. The first part of the novel is a beautiful coming-of-age story of two very different girls who continue to have a lasting effect on each other’s lives into adulthood, even from a distance.

The adult narrator is, not unlike her mother, not a very likeable character. Neither is Tracey. Both girls grow up and away from each other, into roles they didn’t so much choose as submit to. Tracey, the ambitious one, makes it into dance school, while the more academically minded narrator sabotages her own chances of getting into a good school as an act of rebellion against her mother. Still driven by her love for music and dance, she becomes a personal assistant to a superstar celebrity named Aimee.

Her relationship with Aimee echoes the passive-aggressive patterns of her friendship with Tracey. Aimee is happy to have her around, as long as she’s at her beck and call and knows who the real star is. When Aimee decides to build a school in a rural West African village, the narrator starts to see her for who she really is – someone who takes and exploits and dominates. From here the story unravels fast, until the two ends meet once again.

Swing Time is a story about relationships – between two mixed-race girls, between mothers and daughters, between fathers and daughters, between friends and co-workers – and the power relations within these relationships and how they shift over time.

It’s also about race, class, sexuality, and identity. Early on in the novel little Tracey informs the unnamed narrator that having a white father is different from having a white mother.

“It turned out Tracey was as curious about my family as I was about hers, arguing, with a certain authority, that we had things ‘the wrong way round’. I listened to her theory one day during break, dipping a biscuit anxiously into my orange squash. ‘With everyone else it’s the dad,’ she said, and because I knew this to be more or less accurate I could think of nothing more to say. ‘When your dad’s white it means —’ she continued, but at that moment Lily Bingham came and stood next to us and I never did learn what it meant when your dad was white.”

In a recent essay in The Guardian, Smith writes: “I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do.” The inspiration of dance is evident between the pages of Swing Time. The novel moves effortlessly between the different timelines, pulsing and vibrating with its own rhythmic energy, flawless in its execution, demanding that you hold your breath until the very last beat.

Follow Annetjie van Wynegaard on Twitter @Annetjievw

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Out of the mouths of unborn babies: Sue de Groot reviews Ian McEwan’s Nutshell

Ian McEwan’s new novel has an unexpected narrator. By Sue de Groot for the Sunday Times

NutshellNutshell
Ian McEwan(Penguin Random House)
****

You don’t have to be familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet to enjoy Ian McEwan’s latest novel, but it helps. Allusions and inferences and in-jokes abound, from the title (“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams,” said Hamlet) to the names (the narrator’s mother is Trudy and his wicked uncle is Claude – Gertrude and Claudius, geddit?) to the baked meats ordered from a delicatessen after a murder.

Unlike Hamlet, the protagonist of Nutshell has a good excuse for his dithering passivity – he cannot take up arms against an amniotic sea of troubles because he is still trapped within his mother’s womb, waiting to be born.

Most people give a shiver of distaste at the thought of a story told from a foetus’s point of view, but this book is not visceral or gross – it is engaging and thoughtful, a thriller that sometimes veers into comedy.

Readers of a sceptical bent will have to suspend rational objections to the advanced intellect of an organism yet to enter the world. McEwan solves the problem of how an unborn child has such an extensive vocabulary thus: “How is it that I, not even young, not even born yesterday, could know so much, or know enough to be wrong about so much? I have my sources. I listen.”

From his mother’s ears “sound waves travel through jawbone and clavicle, down through her skeletal structure, swiftly through the nourishing amniotic”. He listens closely to news broadcasts, source of bad dreams, and absorbs knowledge through his mother’s addiction to podcasts (no doubt the pun is intentional) on all manner of subjects: “self-improving audio books … biographies of 17th-century playwrights, and various world classics”.

There is dark humour in his appreciation of the wine that reaches him via his mother’s bloodstream – and perhaps a subtle warning to pregnant imbibers of alcohol – but it is the live conversations, permeating porous skin, that provide the meat of the plot: “Lodged where I am, nothing to do but grow my body and mind, I take in everything.”

This is a strangely effective place from which to examine and dissect human flaws and foolishness, desires and discoveries. Like Hamlet, this narrator is not a fully formed human but a sounding board, a tabula rasa, a reflective surface for the unravelling of those around him. And the ending, when it comes, it not nearly as predictable as one might expect.

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Andy Martin describes the unusual process of writing Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me

Published in the Sunday Times

Reacher Said NothingReacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me
Andy Martin (Penguin Random House)

“I’ve just written this great four-word sentence,” said Lee Child. “Come and have a look.” He ushered me into his apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. He works in an office in the back, adorned with framed pages of the New York Times bestseller lists featuring his own novels sitting squarely at no. 1. I perched on the couch and he hit me with his four words. They were good words. High quality, high value. Each word emerging from his keyboard was worth $100. Each of his books is at least 100 000 words long. Make Me, the book he was working on, was his 20th Jack Reacher novel. You do the math.

Child, numero uno thriller writer, a giant in airport bookstores around the world, is half-poet, half-pirate, both ruthless materialist and dreamy head-in-the-clouds fantasist. The real mystery was: what the hell was I doing there? Which is a question a lot of his friends were asking. “Lee, hold on a second. You’ve got a Cambridge academic sitting behind you watching you write? You cannot be serious, man! He’s going to put you off your stroke. He is a literary voyeur!”

It was a crazy idea, I admit. Bear witness to the moment of creation, be there while a writer is writing and write about him writing in real time. Follow the composition of an entire novel from the first word (“Moving”) all the way through to the last word (“needle”). Capture the process at close quarters, try to climb inside the writer’s head, spectate while the words are spun into a book, like watching an alchemist transform lead into gold. Complete madness, obviously.

But Child said, “Yes, cool idea. You’d better get over here. I’m starting next Monday.” He always starts a new book on September 1, it’s a religion with him. It could have been any writer, in theory. But Donna Tartt takes 10 years, so I crossed her off. And Albert Camus was dead. I saw Child as not just a bestselling phenomenon, but as a serious writer whose first book, Killing Floor, reads like a sequel to Camus’s The Outsider.

Child has this theory that anyone in the world might want to kill quite a few people, given the opportunity. Jack Reacher kills people on our behalf. He enacts the revenge we so rarely get the chance to carry out ourselves. He is a Messiah and avenging angel all rolled into one. And he is like a kid, just a very big one (1.95m and 113kg).

Those four words? Reacher is surveying the street before breaking into a house. It’s empty. “No eyes, no interest,” Child writes. A characteristic structure: “No x, no y.” No hell, no heaven. A double negation. Notice that, in those four words, Reacher is an inaction hero. And this for me is what makes Reacher work, as a protagonist. Of course he beats people to death with his elbows. But he is also a philosopher who thinks his way through his fights.

Child is the same when it comes to writing. I didn’t really have to ask him questions. He was like Lionel Messi running rings around the opposition and at the same time commentating on what he is doing and exactly how he is going to score.

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The problem with death: Oliver Roberts reviews Don DeLillo’s Zero K

In his latest novel Don DeLillo returns to imponderable themes, writes Oliver Roberts for the Sunday Times

Zero KZero K
Don DeLillo (Picador)
****

In Don DeLillo’s ninth novel, White Noise, narrator Jack Gladney asks, in relation to himself and his wife Babette, “Who will die first?” Later on, Jack discovers that Babette is taking a black-market drug called Dylar that reduces the fear of death, while Jack – after being exposed to toxic air after a chemical explosion – finds out, via computer analysis, that it is he who is more likely to die first.

Jump forward 31 years and seven novels, and the characters in Zero K are jostling with the same fears of death and loneliness, and asking (in just one passage of dialogue):

“Why should some keep living while others die?”

“What good are we if we live forever?”

“What ultimate truth will we confront?”

“Isn’t the sting of our eventual dying what makes us precious to the people in our lives?”

“What does it mean to die?”

“Where are the dead?”

“When do you stop being who you are?”

Critics of DeLillo have said that he too often poses these kinds of questions without ever really answering them. For others, however, this open-endedness is precisely what they love about reading DeLillo – the experience is, at times, like having a philosophical discussion with him right there in the room with you.

You don’t read DeLillo for a strong plot, reliable structure and/or solid resolution – you read him for his charged sentences, his posing of those difficult and sometimes unanswerable questions, the way in which he lends everyday occurrences a mysterious meaning, and for the eerie, soothsayer-like prescience that has marked so many of his works.

And if the mid-2000s saw a slight straying from type in his novels Cosmopolis and Point Omega, Zero K marks a more extended return to the mystical tones of White Noise, Libra and even his magnum opus, Underworld. Considering that DeLillo will turn 80 in November, this is quite a feat. If anyone is edging towards immortality, it is the writer himself.

In Zero K, we are taken to a compound in the middle of an Uzbekistan desert where an organisation called “The Convergence” is offering cryogenic preservation to the dying or those who are still healthy but will not accept death. In both instances, the idea is that the body will be frozen until a cure for death has been found.

Protagonist Jeffrey Lockhart travels to the compound to visit his billionaire father (and Convergence benefactor) Ross, who is there to support his wife (Jeffrey’s step-mother) Artis – who is suffering with multiple sclerosis – as she prepares for the cryogenic process. The compound is the kind of trippy DeLilloworld regular readers have come to know and depend on – a strange place with humanoid and sometimes mute characters roaming the halls, multiple doors that seem to lead to nowhere, and TV screens all over showing unsettling and/or unrelated footage.

And it’s cold, too, in its architectural character – lots of glass and aluminium – in the thoughts and mannerisms of members of The Convergence, and in the ambience of the confusing white passageways, which all eventually lead to the place where the living go to be cryogenically suspended.

“I walked the halls,” says Jeffrey Lockhart. “The doors were painted in gradations of muted blue and I tried to name the shades. Sea, sky, butterfly, indigo. All these were wrong and I began to feel more foolish with every step I took and every door I scrutinised. I wanted to see a door open and a person emerge.”

The idea of this suspended state between life and death is explored with characteristic dreaminess, inanity and a kind of anxiety-ridden search for truth, for solid answers, which of course DeLillo never really gives because, as usual, he appears to adore navigating concepts that are unknowable. One chapter is simply the (imagined?) fractured thoughts of Artis as she lies in her suspended state. Her questions come without question marks, the message perhaps being that the complexity of these questions turn them into statements.

“But where is here. And how long am I here and am I only what is here,” she asks.

“Does it keep going on like this.”

“Am I someone or is it just the words themselves that make me think I’m someone.”

Zero K is not for DeLillo neophytes. A better entry into his work would be 1985’s White Noise, to which Zero K appears, either by design or development, to be a type of sequel, returning to the same kind of questions while providing different solutions, different and more desperate ways to defeat death or at least delay it.

DeLillo’s readers will be hoping that the writer himself will continue to do the latter for a little while yet.

The life and times of Don DeLillo

  • Born on 20 November 1936 in the Bronx, New York. His parents came to the US from Italy.
  • He was a copywriter at a Madison Avenue advertising agency (the TV series Mad Men is set in the same period).
  • He quit his job in 1964. “I quit my job just to quit. I didn’t quit my job to write fiction. I just didn’t want to work anymore.”
  • He is also a playwright.
  • His first novel was Americana, published in 1971.
  • His ninth novel, White Noise, won the National Book Award.
  • David Cronenberg directed the film Cosmopolis, based on DeLillo’s novel. Released in 2012, it starred Robert Pattinson.

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Pound of flesh: Annetjie van Wynegaard reviews The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

This South Korean novel addresses the plight of women everywhere, writes Annetjie van Wynegaard for the Sunday Times

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian
Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (Hogarth)
*****

South Korean author Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian is about what women put up with for the sake of being perceived as normal. It’s about crossing boundaries — both mental and physical — and severing the familial ties that bind you to society.

The novel starts when Yeong-hye — up until this point a docile, unremarkable wife, according to her husband — decides to become vegetarian.

The first vignette is told through the eyes of her husband who finds her in the kitchen late one night, discarding all the meat products she can find. When he brusquely asks her what on earth she’s doing, Yeong-hye gives a simple yet startling reply — “I had a dream.”

Kang cleverly sketches the different sides of Yeong-hye’s gradual decline through the eyes of her brute of a husband, her lewd brother-in-law, and her sister, the epitome of the submissive wife and mother.

The reader catches brief glimpses of Yeong-hye’s thoughts and feelings through her disturbing dreams, but this insight dissolves as she locks herself inside her body, away from the world. The first part culminates in a family lunch that takes a violent turn when Yeong-hye’s family try to force-feed her morsels of meat.

The second part of the novel takes place two years after the events of the first and is told from the perspective of the brother-in-law. He becomes obsessed with Yeong-hye’s birthmark and what follows is his feverish obsession to make her body the canvas for his erotic fantasies.

In the final chapter — through the eyes of perhaps the person closest to Yeong-hye, her sister In-hye — we see the total disintegration of Yeong-hye’s body and mind. As she watches her sister waste away, In-hye remembers a moment when she too attempted to escape. She realised how easy it is to lose yourself: “Perhaps, at some point, Yeong-hye had simply let fall the slender thread that had kept her connected with everyday life.”

Deborah Smith’s translation captures the poetic simplicity of this short novel, which was published in 2007 and recently received the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

The Vegetarian is foremost a story of abuse, rebellion and taboo. A simple act of swearing off meat causes Yeong-hye’s family to react violently; each person in turn asserting their right to control her body. No one knows how to handle her “disobedience”; going against the wishes of your husband and father is not something that you do in Korean culture. Yet, it’s her “otherness” that inspires her brother-in-law to pursue his innermost desires.

It’s quite fitting then, that Yeong-hye never speaks for herself in the novel but rather speaks through the metamorphosis of her body, from docile to defiant, a site of struggle and protest. The Vegetarian shook the ground I walked on. It was a necessary awakening.

Follow @Annetjievw

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