Thursday, January 27, 2011

General Fiction – Arturo Perez Reverte, Jean Rhys, George Saunders, Carol Shields, Susan Sontag, Patrick Suskind, Graham Swift, Steve Szilagyi

Arturo Perez Reverte, though not a household name, is quite well known as the author of The Dumas Club and many other books. I have several of his novels, including The Dumas Club below. The Dumas Club was made into the film by Roman Polanski. Called The Ninth Gate, it totally ignored the Dumas portion of the book, and concentrated instead on the quest for the mysterious magic book.


A writer of mostly depressing books, Jean Rhys is best known for the novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a sort of prequel to Jane Eyre, telling the story of Rochester’s mad wife.


George Saunders on the other hand writes weird, funny sad stories of dysfunctional persons, set in his own off beat universe. CivilWarLand In Bad Decline contains the stories "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz" and “Downtrodden Mary's Failed Campaign of Terror", which sort of gives you an idea of his style. Pastoralia includes the superb short story The Falls available here on online.

saunders_civilwarland saunders_pastoralia

Now you don’t hear much about Canadian writer Carol Shields these days, no doubt because she passed away in 2003. Her novel The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize and several other awards in 1993. I recently reread the three of her books I could find in my library and enjoyed them enormously. I thought i had a copy of her novel The Republic of Love, but have yet to unearth it. Happenstance is actually two novels, back to back, telling firstly the wife’s story, then the husband’s or the other way around if you so wish.


shields_happenstance shields_maryswann

The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag is the superbly written story of vulcanologist Sir William Hamilton and Emma Hamilton who became the mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson.


Patrick Suskind is famous for just one book – Perfume The Story of a Murderer, published in 1985.


English writer Graham Swift is fairly well known and won the Booker Prize in 1996 for his novel Last Orders. My favourite of his books is Waterland, which alas I can no longer find on my bookshelf. I have others…

swift_outofthisworld swift_shuttlecock

And to end this post, the wonderful Photographing Fairies by Steve Szilagyi, loosely based on the Cottingley Fairies. It’s written with blithe insouciance, a style that belies the darker nature of the story.


I’m drawing to the end of this particular part of my book collection, but will go back to it later on, as there are still heaps of interesting fiction books to scan.

Coming up next will be “T” writers then “W” to “Y” after that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

General Fiction – Lawrence Norfolk, Robert Nye, Robert C. O’Brien, Charles Palliser, Mervyn Peake, Juan Perucho , Jayne Anne Phillips, Popol Vuh & Amanda Prantera

Lemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk is an unusual and complicated historical novel described in Wikipedia as “starting out as a detective story and mixing historical elements with steampunk-style fiction It imagines the writing of Lemprière's dictionary as tied to the founding of the British East India Company and the Siege of La Rochelle generations before”.


Robert Nye’s imaginative and clever The Memoirs of Lord Byron is quite a wonderful confection, written in a style that one imagines would be Byron’s had his memoirs not been destroyed on his death.


Robert C. O’Brien is the author of several award winning children’s books, his best known being Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.


The Quincunx by Charles Palliser is a Dickensian mystery set in Victorian times. A best seller in its day, it is a complex sprawling monster of a book.


Look what I found lurking in the general fiction shelves – Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor by Mervyn Peake. This is a 1973 edition published by Academy Editions.


An unusual magic realist vampire novel - Natural History by Catalan author Juan Perucho.


Jayne Anne Phillips book of short stories Black Tickets, won her the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and has since become a classic. This King Pengiun edition has a rather classy cover by Russell Mills.


I seem to have this edition of Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Ancient Maya, no doubt acquired during my New Age phase in the 1970s.


And finally for this post, the novels of Amanda Prantera. The first of her books that I read was Strange Loop, an elegant and haunting gothic tale of a werewolf . The Cabalist, a spooky metaphysical thriller is her second novel and well worth the effort to seek out and read. All Prantera’s early books are interesting and unusual novels, (and I dare say her later ones too) but my favourite still is Conversations with Lord Byron on Perversion 163 years after His Lordship’s Death.

prantera_strangeloop prantera_cabalist
prantera_byron prantera_sideofthemoon


Next - “R” to “S” writers

Monday, January 17, 2011

General Fiction – Bernard McLaverty, J J McRoach, David Mitchell, G H Morris

An odd bod selection this evening, starting with Bernard McLaverty’s well regarded novel Lamb published in 1980. This edition is a King Penguin with a rather splendid cover.


Something of an anomaly is the collection A Dozen Dopey Yarns by J J McRoach, who ran for parliament as a candidate for the Australian Marijuana party in the 1970s. Those were the days… I remember going to one of their rallies in the Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne CBD at the time. To say there wasn’t a strong herbal aroma emanating from the rally would be a fib.

Anyway, I knew J J McRoach personally as Peter Olszewski a journalist who was at one time editor of Australian Playboy and People magazines. He also authored A Dozen Dopey Yarns, subtitled Tales from the Pot Prohibition as well as several other books. I believe the book is pretty rare these days. My copy is the first edition published in 1979.


On a less heady note, the novels of David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas was my first introduction to the writing of David Mitchell as no doubt it was to many other readers. I was entranced by the novel and awestruck by Mitchell’s clever sleight of hand prose. At my time of life it was thrilling to discover a writer of Mitchell’s calibre as such beguiling writers are all too infrequent. Needless to say, I sought out his earlier novels and have since followed David Mitchell’s career with deep interest.

So here’s the complete collection of five books. He’s only a young man so hopefully there will be plenty more to come.

mitchell_ghostwrittenjpg mitchell_number9dream
mitchell_cloudatlas mitchell_blackswan


And finally for this post the magnificent Brightside Trilogy by G H Morris. There is very little online information about this author or the books. This trilogy is like One Hundred Years of Solitude set in a Yorkshire mining village, telling the story of the Brightside family in particular, with a cast of eccentric secondary characters. The three novels that make up the whole are Doves and Silk Handkerchiefs, Grandmother, Grandmother, Come and See and The Brightside Dinosaur. Though hard to get, if you like magic realism with a mordant twist, find a copy and read it. The omnibus edition in my library was published by Penguin in 1992.


Coming up N”, "O"“ and “P” authors.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

General Fiction – Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Molly Keene, William Kennedy, Allen Kurzweil, Lautreamont, Stanislav Lem & Jonathan Letham

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a well known novelist and screenwriter. She won several Academy Awards for her screenplays – Room With A View & Howard’s End – and also was awarded the Booker Prize for her novel Heat & Dust.

I must admit I have read hardly any of her books and have only one on my bookshelves, A New Dominion published in 1972.


I don’t know much about Molly Keene, but the Independent article (name link) on her describes her “as one of the great chroniclers of Anglo-Irish life”. Her Good Behaviour, published in 1981 was nominated for the Booker.


When I first stumbled across William Kennedy’s wonderful novel Quinn’s Book, I fell in love with it, though for some reason or other never felt tempted to read any of his other books. Anyway, here’s Quinn’s Book in a 1989 US Penguin edition.


Allen Kurzweil’s A Case of Curiosities is an unusual fantastical tale set during the French Revolution. It’s got a great cover.


Quite famous I suppose, is Lautreamont’s surreal prose poem Maldoror, though I am not sure whether I’ve ever read it.


You hardly ever hear anything about Polish Science Fiction author Stanislav Lem these days, but he was a superb writer of speculative fiction. The King Penguin edition has three of his most famous novels – Solaris, Chain of Chance and A Perfect Vacuum. Solaris of course was made into a superb film by Andrei Tarkovsky. It is one of my all time favourite films which I could watch over and over again.


Finally for this post, my collection of Jonathan Lethem novels. He is one of the best and most interesting young writers around today. He has written books in several genres, science fiction, crime etc., but his take on those genres is startling and original. Motherless Brooklyn, for example, is a mystery novel, narrated by one Lionel Essrog who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s a tour de force! His last three novels have tended to be about popular culture and are considerably more mainstream than his earlier work, though do contain fantastical elements.

letham_girlinlandscape lethem_asshe climbed
letham_motherless letham_dontloveme
letham_fortess lethem_chronic

Coming up - “M” authors including David Mitchell

Monday, January 10, 2011

General Fiction – Che Guevara, Rodney Hall, Anne Hebert, Hermann Hesse, Alan V Hewat, Russell Hoban, Spencer Holst, Glyn Hughes, J K Huysmans,

A bit out of place in the fiction shelves Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diary was first published by Lorrimer Third World Press in 1968, and is indeed the edition pictured below. Che Guevara was and still remains an iconic figure in popular culture, the archetypal revolutionary hero. I did have a poster of him at the time as well, long lost.


 Rodney Hall is a well known Australian author. His novel (the only one of his books I appear to own) Just Relations won the Miles Franklin Award in 1982.


I can’t say I know much about Anne Hebert or her novel In The Shadow of the Wind, but it won the Prix Femina in 1982.


I have a good collection of Hermann Hesse novels, mostly in Penguin and Picador editions. These two paperback editions with quite distinctive covers were published by Jonathan Cape in 1972/73. The cover art is credited to Alan Tunbridge

hesse_knulp hesse_strangenews

Lady’s Time by Alan V Hewat won the 1985 Hemingway Foundation PEN Award. It’s  an unusual magic realist, crime cum ghost story set in New Orleans. I was very impressed with this book when I first read it in the 1980s.


Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban surely needs no introduction. A wonderful dystopian tale set in a post nuclear world, written in a dialect that at first is hard to grasp, but once understood, leads to a confronting first hand account of life in the post holocaust world. The edition below is a fairly recent one, as I don’t think I acquired it when it was first published back in 1980. I won this one from Clare Dudman on her Keeper of the Snails blog, when she was giving away a copy for BAFAB week back in 2006.


Spencer Holst was an American writer of whimsical somewhat twisted short stories.

“The typical Holst story might be a gentle but twisted fable, such as the tale of a frog who, having become addicted to morphine during a laboratory experiment, was rejected by the woman whose kiss transformed him back into a prince because he was, after all, only a junkie.” from Wikipedia

I have two of his books, a UK first edition hard cover copy of The Language of Cats, published in 1971 by Jonathan Cape, and a large paperback copy of his collected stories The Zebra Storyteller (click link to read title story online). 

holst_cats holst_zebrastoryteller

The following two books by West Yorkshire writer Glyn Hughes, I would classify as rural fiction like that of Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, both novels being very much informed by the landscape of the region in which they are set.

hughes_hawthorngoddess hughes_rapeoftherose

And lastly for this post the decadent La Bas by J K Huysmans. This edition published by  Dover in 1972.


Coming up - “J”, “K” and “L” authors