Book of the Month
by Joseph O’Neill
This astonishing and deeply elegiac novel is a firm favourite for this year’s Booker Prize, and it’s easy to see why. Dutch businessman Hans van der Broek is left floating when his wife returns to London with his young son, unable to handle the tension of post-9/11 New York. In an effort at assuaging his loneliness – and to try and recapture a more secure childhood – he immerses himself in the rambunctious cricket scene flourishing on the fringes (physically and socially) of The Big Apple. Here he meets larger-than-life entrepreneur Chuck Ramkissoon, with distinctly complex results. Told as a re-examination of this phase of his life from the comfort of hindsight, this is a pitch-perfect and potent examination of loss and memory, marriage and friendship, that which endures…and that which is lost.
Sea Of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh, author of the exceptional In an Antique Land, returns to the world of Indian Ocean trade in his latest novel, Sea of Poppies. The first installment in Ghosh’s new Ibis Trilogy, Sea of Poppies tells the story of a widely divergent group of people who find themselves on board an old slave ship called the Ibis. While the novel gives a fascinating overview of the world of the lascars and the history of indentured Indian labourers, the beauty of Ghosh’s prose lies in the subtle humour and compassion with which he portrays a host of astounding characters one will long remember.
A River Called Time
by Mia Couto
Latest novel by the outstanding Mozambiquean author of The Last Flight of the Flamingo and Under the Frangipani, this tells the tale of Mariano who returns to his family village to attend the funeral of his grandfather. He is surprised to discover that his grandfather “has not died completely“. Mariano soon starts to receive letters – allegedly written by his grandfather telling him about his family – and so he starts to discover the true secret of his own birth. This has just arrived, so none of us have had a chance to read it yet, but the buzz is already building.
by Irvine Welsh
Any lead character penned by one of Scotland’s finest, is not going to be uncomplicated. DI Ray Lennox is still recovering from his traumatic last case involving a horrendous child murderer. On holiday in Miami with his fiancee, he is supposed to be relaxing and not thinking about horrible people doing horrible things to little kids when he stumbles into a bunch of low lifes. Holiday? What holiday. Written in Welsh’s characteristic taut style, though with less of the Glaswegian lingo of Trainspotting and the like, this is an excellent read.
by Alessandro Baricco
In an idyllic setting, at a seaside inn, a beautiful and fatally ill girl, a painter and a lovelorn professor all converge. They are brought together by the ocean, the pull and push of the sea forming an underlying rhythm, setting the pace of life. There is a magical air about the emerging connections, the pain and the beauty of these lives. Deeply emotional and passionately crafted, Ocean Sea is potently translated from the original Italian. Alessandro Baricco’s writing is as evocative and powerful as it was in Silk, which became an international bestseller. The Times described Ocean Sea as “A beguilingly unusual beach book.”
The Consequences of Love
by Sulaiman Addonia
This is the debut novel of Sulaiman Addonia, a fascinating writer, born in Eritrea to Eritrean and Ethiopian parents, he grew up in a refugee camp in Sudan. As a teenager he studied in Saudi Arabia before settling in London. The Consequences of Love is the story of main character Naser and how he finds love in a country where relationships between unmarried men and women are deemed illegal under the strict Saudi state rule. He picks up a love note in the street one day, addressed to him. The writer of the note tells him that she will wear pink shoes so he can pick her out among the other women, all dressed in identical black abayas. They begin to write letters to each other. Passion as well as frustration soon runs high as Nasser falls for a girl whose face he has never seen, and soon their love is fraught with danger.
by Gail Schimmel
Johannesburg-based writer Gail Schimmel, perhaps better known as Gail van Onselen for her children’s book Claude & Millie brings us a romantic tale of deceit. Main character Jordi Gordon wakes up on her fifty-fifth birthday. Her life is perfect. She is happily married and enjoys a successful career. Although, as we follow her on this special day in her life we begin to realise that she is hiding a secret from her family and acquaintances. Despite her marriage, she is in love with someone else…
This is comic farce at its gastronomic best. Gerald Samper is nothing short of ambitious. His stint as caterer in Suffolk is short-lived when the guests succumb to wild vomiting fits caused by his field-mouse vol-au-vents. Gerald returns to Tuscany to find his erstwhile home in ruins. But when he learns that it has become a site of religious pilgrimage after a certain deceased English princess has been rumoured to appear there he teams up with a sly estate agent and they exploit the money-making potential of this miraculous apparition. Gerald, simultaneously, embarks on a collaborative project with his neighbor. Together they write an opera based on the life of Princess Diana. Although rollicking in its comic irreverence, do take the warning on the cover seriously: “As riotously satirical as its predecessors, Cooking with Fernet Branca and Amazing Disgrace, James Hamilton-Paterson’s latest novel is not for those who take royalty – or anything else – too seriously.“
Armageddon in Retrospect
by Kurt Vonnegut
When Kurt Vonnegut Jr passed away last year, the world lost not only a great writer brimful with ideas and mordant wit, but also one of the lodestars of its moral compass. Vonnegut was a consistent and trenchant anti-war writer, as well as a fierce moral polemicist whose writing was filtered through his trademark humour and extremely simple style. It is therefore fitting that this posthumous collection of short fiction, speeches and essays should deal precisely with war and peace. Introduced by Vonnegut’s son, this collection is as good a starting point as any to get to grips with this writer whose work often teetered on the edge of despair, only to be redeemed by his deep humanism.
Looking closely at the lives of well-loved children’s authors is obviously all the rage at the moment, and yet the approaches to the following three books could not be more different.
Captivated: J.M Barrie, The Du Mauriers & The Dark Side of Neverland
by Piers Dudgeon
In Captivated, Piers Dudgeon sets out to debunk the happy myth about the character of Peter Pan creator JM Barrie, as recently depicted in the film Finding Neverland. There, Barrie’s relationship to the Llewelyn Davies boys (who were to become the ‘Lost Boys’ in Peter Pan) was all sweetness and light; Dudgeon points out all of them died tragically (two of them as suicides), not to mention their cousin – Daphne Du Maurier – who had plenty of demons of her own. Dudgeon traces these blighted lives back to the malign influence of none other than Barrie, in a discomforting and disturbing debunking of the myth, well supported with sensitive biographical and literary research. Disconcerting perhaps; engrossing – yes, and captivating – certainly.
Looking for Enid: The Mysterious and Inventive Life of Enid Blyton
by Duncan McLaren
Looking for Enid is an altogether lighter, more reverent affair. Even the style and the construction of the plot is closely and lovingly modelled on Blyton’s own, and the effect is of a Famous Five adventure on the trail of this enigmatic woman, as McLaren follows her career – literally – by seeking out all the places she herself used to haunt.
Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life
by Robin Wilson
Lewis Carroll is entirely another type of snark again. Robin Wilson departs from the standpoint that Carroll (or rather, Charles Dodgson) was not only a great writer and a groundbreaking photographer, but also an exceptionally talented – and playful – mathematician (from the age of 23 he was a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College, Oxford). This book tries to show just how important a mathematician Dodgson was, but also how his lifelong love affair with numbers found its way into all his books, as well as the numerous mathematical and logical puzzles he composed, both for fun and for the newspapers. The style is light and clear, and never dry – and neither is the maths! It’s a delight for anyone with a soft spot for Carroll, or for maths.
Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance
by Giles Milton
Giles Milton has written some wonderful historical yarns before (Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, White Gold, Samurai William and more), and the destruction of the Turkish-Greek city of Smyrna has long fascinated writers (Hemingway wrote some searing eyewitness accounts of its destruction, and Jeffrey Eugenides at the start of Middlesex gives a terrifying description). It is therefore no surprise that a book by the former about the latter should be a most fascinating affair. In 1922, Smyrna was the “richest and most cosmopolitan city in the Ottoman Empire“. Having been first ceded to and then won back from the invading Greeks, the Turkish revenge was swift and brutal. First the cavalry attacked the city, then a massive conflagration destroyed most of the city; finally, all who were left were deported. It is a story with incredible drama, power and tragedy, and Milton’s dramatic gifts do it ample justice.
City Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development
by Edgar Pieterse
Local academic Pieterse gives a trenchant critique of current thinking about how to deal with the challenges of rapid urbanisation affecting especially the developing countries of the Southern Hemisphere in this highly readable yet thoroughly respectable academic book. It is no secret that the cities of the South are turning into sprawling megalopolises, inundated with millions of new arrivals every year who cannot be absorbed into creaking infrastructures and are all too often left to fend for themselves in massive and squalid squatter camps and slums.
Pieterse cuts through the short-term and superficially palliative measures usually advocated by experts, and gets straight to starting to elaborate a solution that can address the causes, and not the symptoms. Accordingly, any real solution, Pieterse argues, must involve a reinvigorated civil society, radical democracy and environmental sustainability, amongst other features. A book which provides a great deal to think about, especially for Capetonians.
New South African Keywords
edited by Nick Shepherd & Steven Robins
“Words and the names that we give to things play an active and determining role in constructing social reality“, contend the editors of this brand new volume. The idea was to give several leading South African intellectuals and commentators certain keywords that characterise South African public discourse, and get them to write short, punchy accounts of what these words have come to mean in current usage. In so tracing the ways in which words have shifted their meanings (especially in the last 20 years), much is revealed about the shifts in the social, political and civic fronts in South Africa, but also the world climate. Contributors include Edgar Pieterse, Jonny Steinberg, Achille Mbembe, Helen Moffett and the Comaroffs. An indispensable shorthand for keeping an ear to the ground.
How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken
by Daniel Mendelsohn
Daniel Mendelsohn has long been considered one of the top critics (book, theatre, film) of New York, and this is a wonderful collection ideally placed to show why. His subjects here range from the classical (Thucydides) to the postmodern (Kill Bill) and touches on most things inbetween. He is erudite, elegant and provides depth without pedantry, is sharply critical at times while never being dismissive, and not scared to engage with history without losing his immaculate sense of the pulse of the present. This is one of those books that can almost – all by itself – act as an exemplar for that vast word ‘culture’.
Glamour: A History
by Stephen Gundle
“From Napoleon to Paris Hilton, from Beau Brummell to Gianni Versace, this is the first ever history of glamour – capturing the beauty, the allure, the excitement, the fashion, the vanity, and the sex appeal, but also the sleaze and the tragedy that represent the darker side of this tantalising phenomenon.”
This fascinating book traces the various ideas and manifestations of glamour down the last few ages, from its early glitz in Paris, to its latest sizzle in Hollywood, with everything inbetween. It is both a tantalizing read for those who avidly follow the latest thing, as well as a serious history for those with a more factual interest. A sumptuous read.
Le Corbusier Le Grand
Phaidon publishers have increasingly cornered the high-end design and architecture market, and who better to publish this massive (in all senses of the word) collection of work by modernist master, Le Corbusier. In roughly chronological order, this slipcase-bound volume chronicles Corbu’s career (but also his life, interests and acquaintances) through his own documents, resulting in a book that is as much a vast collection of his work as it is a monumental telling of his life and times. And, as with everything Phaidon does, and befitting a designer of this stature – the book is gorgeously put together.
Short Stories of the Month
The Book of Other People
edited by Zadie Smith
This fabulous collection of stories from a veritable who’s who of top young writers (David Mitchell, A.L. Kennedy, Jonathan Safran Foer, Miranda July, Dave Eggers etc etc) as well as – intriguingly – some of the top comic artists working today (Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes) has as its impulse a sense that character is often neglected in short fiction, and that, yet, it can often make for most intriguing stories. Hence, each of the 23 writers gathered here were given the instruction to write a story about a single character, the name of whom forms the title of the story. The resulting stories are – as one might expect – as diverse as people can be, not just in content, but also in form (the only consistency here is the very high quality of the writing!). The book is beautifully bound, and all royalties go the 826 New York non-profit organisation set up by Eggers to assist inner-city kids with writing.
Author of the Month
Iain Banks, described by The Times as “The most imaginative novelist of his generation” sprang to controversial popular acclaim with his debut novel The Wasp Factory in 1984. It was a deeply unsettling Gothic horror story about a disturbed and rather eloquent teen murderer on a tranquil Scottish isle. Since then Banks has firmed his reputation as a great writer of literary thrillers and has been equally successful as a Science Fiction writer, penning several acclaimed novels under the semi-pseudonym Iain M Banks. He lives in Fife, Scotland, where he spends three months of the year writing, while the other nine months are spent indulging his other love: fast cars and motorcycles. He is a naturally gifted writer, his prose always complex, yet eminently readable and filled with dark and intriguing insights into the human condition. He wrote Dead Air in three weeks, and famously, when he heard Tony Blair was supporting George W. Bush in the war on Iraq tore up his passport and sent the pieces to No. 10 Downing Street.
He is best known for his novel, The Crow Road, which was made into a television series. The novel is about main character Prentice McHoan’s return to his birthplace in Scotland, and his preoccupation with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances. It starts with this simple, yet memorable paragraph: “It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.” His latest novel, The Steep Approach to Garbadale is now available in paperback and the Sunday Telegraph described it as being “As good as anything Banks has ever written, if not better.”
His Science Fiction paints vivid pictures of a distant future that is not all doom and gloom. An interesting New Culture pervades, a society in which the barriers of race and gender have been largely removed. This makes his Sci-Fi titles like Feersum Endjinn, The Algebraist and his latest offering Matter well worth a look.
He comes highly recommended by The Book Lounge. Take it from us, if you haven’t been seduced into staying up into the cold hours of the morning, lost in his velvety eloquence, it is simply because you have yet to read him.
Hoekie vir Afrikaanses
Noudat Slapende Honde
deur Ronelda S. Kamfer
Daar is baie maniere waarop ˜n mens Ronelda Kamfer se werk kon beskryf: ˜n vonds, ˜n nuwe dagbreek in Afrikaanse poesiÃ«, ˜n welige magrietjiebos wat nog jare in die tuin van die taal sal groei, ens. Tog al wat ek wil sÃª is dat haar werk my kinderlike gelukkig maak. Sy skryf gedigte wat my laat wens ek ken haar, dat ons saam kan gesels oor die alledaagse en tog ook die donker van die nag. Sy skryf opreg. Sy maak my weer lief vir die Afrikaanse taal. Kamfer is ˜n Kaapse meisie wie se gedigte al in verskeie bundels opgeneem is, soos My Ousie is ˜n Blom en Nuwe Stemme 3. Sy mag dalk jonk wees, maar haar gedigte verklap die letsels van vroeÃ« wysheid.
Aural Poetry, or CD of the week
Remember That I Love You and Hidden Vagenda
by Kimya Dawson
In My Rollercoaster, Ms Dawson relates how: “My mom would say ˜I hope some day you get paid for being Kimya Dawson’” – well, if she hadn’t been before, then after the massive success of the film Juno (and Kimya’s equally successful, sassy, tuneful, funky, romantic soundtrack) Ms Dawson is certainly doing very well. And it’s no surprise: discovering this ex-member of The Moldy Peaches feels like stumbling on someone’s best-kept, most cherished secret. The songs are deceptively simple, yet driven by witty, wonderful and frequently zany lyrics – and Kimya’s not afraid to tell it like it is, whether dealing with her own upbringing, or 9/11. With their bouncy rhythms and snotty cuteness, these are two albums to fall maddeningly in love with.
Return of the Rowling
While it’s not another Harry Potter, there will be a new JK Rowling book later this year. The Tales of Beedle the Bard was originally handwritten and illustrated by Rowling herself and was given as gifts to six close friends who helped her through the 17 years of Harry Potter. A final and 7th copy was auctioned by Sotheby’s in December last year and was bought by Amazon for a staggering 1.95 million pounds, which was donated to a charity called the Children’s Voice, to help institutionalised children. Amazon promised to take the book on a tour of children’s libraries across the world, and everyone was very happy. Except the millions of Potter fans who could never own The Tales of Beedle the Bard. On the 4th of December this will all change as it will be available in a beautiful little hardback collection, translated from the original runes by Hermione Granger with illustrations by the author herself. It will also contain notes from Professor Dumbledore which were discovered after his death. A never seen before collection of wizardry tales for Christmas! At The Book Lounge we are planning an evening of storytelling which will continue until midnight when the book’s embargo is lifted. Interested? Let us know (you can just mail us, not necessary to write a note in a secret language).
For Lovers of Children’s Books
A new illustrator to be very excited about is Olivier Tallec. Born in France in 1970 he has illustrated over 40 children’s books and is well-known in Europe for his great imagination. He has done a great series of pencil illustrations for a series of books about a little girl called Rita and her dog Whatsit, which are funny and slightly reminiscent of Olivia. He also illustrated a series of books about an inquisitive boy called Gus who explores different areas of the planet earth through his dreamy imagination. The Gus-series, written by Claire Babin have a great educational edge to the picture book (a funky educational series to add to the Oscar the cat series by Geoff Waring), helping little ones to learn more about nature and awaken their senses to the world around them. THEN The Book Lounge discovered the most beautiful work, entitled, This Is a Poem That Heals Fish, in which the young boy wants to save his fish from boredom and in the process learns what a poem is. Tallec draws the most magical pictures, linking his imagination with the reader’s. Jean-Pierre Simeon’s text and his poem is memorable and the greatest introduction to poetry for any age. Sigh, some people are just so talented…