Archive for May, 2013

May 27, 2013

The Silence of Animals: John Gray

by Andre

John Gray THE SILENCE OF ANIMALSPhilosopher John Gray has written a sequel to Straw Dogs that is hauntingly beautiful, sometimes bleak and often admonitory. Certainly liberal humanists and Christians alike will feel challenged by Gray’s arguments, particularly the debunking of his opponents’ faith in the “myth” of human progress, which he compares to “cheap music” for its simultaneous spirit-lifting and brain-numbing effect. “There is only the human animal, forever at war with itself,” he writes, rejecting any demarcation between the savage and the civilised. The rational human is, according to Gray, a modern myth; he even questions the notion that humans desire freedom.

There’s a lyrical, discomforting quality to the literary quotations he deploys. J.G. Ballard writes of the sense that “reality itself was a stage set that could be dismantled at any moment” when he recalled the abandoned casino he tiptoed through as a boy in wartime Shanghai. “Progress in civilisation seems possible only in interludes when history is idling,” notes Gray. The flood of quotations – from Norman Lewis and George Orwell, Joseph Roth and Ford Madox Ford, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Georges Simenon – sometimes makes The Silence of Animals read like the finest footnotes selection you’ll ever encounter. However, Gray’s own voice is just as quotable: he’s scathing about the “post-modern plantation economy” of the US, describes a perpetual search for happiness as like being burdened with a character in a dull story and regrets that “the pursuit of distraction has been embraced as the meaning of life”. The title alludes to the human struggle for silence as an escape from language. Turning outside yourself and contemplating the animals and birds, Gray writes, may finally enable you to “hear something beyond words”.

May 25, 2013

The Shining Girls: Lauren Beukes

by Andre

Lauren Beukes THE SHINING GIRLSLauren Beukes has sprung herself from the South African science fiction ghetto into more lucrative high-concept thriller territory, following her sardonic cyberpunk debut Moxyland and the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Zoo City. The Shining Girls is a serial killer story set not in Cape Town but Chicago, and it’s based firmly in the 20th century. True, Harper Curtis – a limping drifter who guts his victims, usually moments after a burst of folksy charm – can track his targets (his ‘shining girls’) at various points in time via a portal in a creepy, abandoned house. But, like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, the constrained time travel is a fantastical conceit that you accept within a few pages.

Beukes’s restless narrative certainly jumps across the decades: Harper will be shuffling around Depression-era Chicago then committing a grisly murder in 1943 a few pages later, while in 1993 his pattern of killings is confounding the novel’s protagonist, journalism intern Kirby Mazrachi, the shining girl who got away four years earlier. The writing is economical and affecting and the use of research is almost as formidable as Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels: Beukes weaves in toxic period detail – racial inequality during World War II, underground abortion clinics in the Sixties – while her authorial voice has an all-American register even if it was honed 8,500 miles away in Cape Town.

The violence is shocking and graphic and Harper is not a murderer we ever really understand. The real strength of the novel is the voice Beukes gives to Harper’s victims, whose lives are documented with humanity and a keen historical perspective. If Studs Terkel had written Silence of the Lambs it might have turned out something like The Shining Girls.

May 22, 2013

Maggie & Me: Damian Barr

by Nicola

Signed copies available – £14.99

Damian Barr MAGGIE AND MEIt wasn’t much fun being a gay kid in Thatcher’s Britain during the Eighties – especially not for Damian Barr, growing up in an aggressively straight community in a Lanarkshire village. His parents separate in 1984, the day that  ‘the blonde woman with a man’s voice’ is seen by the young boy rising from the rubble of The Grand Hotel in Brighton – bombed by the IRA – and taking control. In her he recognises another outsider, a survivor, and this encourages him to work hard and make a better life for himself. I laughed, cried and got angry but I didn’t want it to end.

May 13, 2013

Hilary Mantel – prices chopped

by Andre

Get £2 off the Booker winner’s backlist

To mark the paperback of Bring Up The Bodies (£9.99), the sequel to Wolf Hall (both of them Booker Prize winners), we’re offering £2 off the author’s earlier books. So it’s a chance to explore her epic take on the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, the haunting novel of life in Saudi Arabia, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, and the remarkable memoir Giving Up the Ghost while you wait for Mantel’s next Tudor novel, The Mirror and the Light.
Hilary Mantel GIVING UP THE GHOST (2013)Hilary Mantel THE GIANT, O'BRIEN (2013)Hilary Mantel BEYOND BLACK (2013)
Hilary Mantel BRING UP THE BODIES (2013)Hilary Mantel WOLF HALLHilary Mantel VACANT POSSESSION

May 1, 2013

Arthur C Clarke Award 2013: Chris Beckett

by Andre

Dark Eden CHRIS BECKETTChris Beckett was the deserving winning of the UK’s major science fiction prize, which he accepted at the Royal Society tonight along with a cheque for £2,013. He won for Dark Eden, an SF novel that draws on the Adam and Eve creation story for a richly textured tale about stranded astronauts and their incestuous offspring on a sunless alien planet that is lit and kept warm by its own geothermal life. It’s a world he first visited in a 1992 story for Interzone magazine and again in 2006; as he explained to the audience, his daughter inspired him to return to Eden and use that title for a novel.

There was also strong support in the room for Ken MacLeod’s socialist dystopia novel, Intrusion, and Nick Harkaway’s riotous fantasy romp Angelmaker had its admirers too. But Beckett was a popular winner and his speech recalling his childhood staring at the ceiling and imagining other worlds, rather than playing with other kids and “learning to get along with other humans”, was warmly received. It wasn’t a surprising shortlist but there were some strong novels and, in its 27th year, the Clarke is a reliable and even inspiring guide to a genre that often gets overlooked.

It was also good to see plenty of former winners at the Royal Society supporting the award including Christopher Priest (2003 – The Separation), Geoff Ryman (1990 – The Child Garden, 2006 – Air), Jeff Noon (1994 – Vurt) and South African author Lauren Beukes, who won in 2011 for Zoo City and has been in London this week promoting The Shining Girls, a high-concept thriller about a time-travelling serial killer that’s earned strong reviews and been tipped as a bestseller that will appeal to the army of Gone Girl fans.