March 2022

Blog Archive - April 2022

1 April 2022

Something old, something new

I removed the interview with Michael Duffy about his book The Problem with Murder from our front page this morning. We reviewed the book in January and Michael kindly agreed to do an interview for the Reading Project. The interview can still be found at the bottom of our review for Michael’s book.

Michael has a sequel coming out later this year. We look forward to reviewing it and maybe speaking to Michael again when it comes out.

Also in my world, I took a trip to Sydney with Jenny, known as WaywardWoman on this site (read her biography on our About/Blog page to know why). She wanted to look through the bookshops in Sydney and asked if I’d go. Funnily enough, as these things happen, I ended up buying two books and she bought none.

The first is a book I’ve been thinking about for a while. The Tale of Genji is a Japanese story written a thousand years ago by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, from an influential family, and widely considered to be the first novel. The copy I bought was the first English translation which largely summarises the story and omits a lot of detail (It’s just over 200 pages long). I decided to read this version first since it was a first translation, and it might also give me the overall feel for the story. I intend to purchase a translation of the complete work, which extends to well over a thousand pages. A copy I had seen in Sydney a few weeks ago had been sold and the bookstore was awaiting new stock.

My second book purchase was purely an impulse buy. I had neither heard of the author nor the book before. But The Corner that Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner, with its promise of a tale set in a medieval nunnery, sounded intriguing, as did the opening two pages.

I am currently reading Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor as background for a novel I have long intended to read, Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman.


8 April 2022

Booker International Shortlist Announced

It hardly seems any time at all since the Longlist for the International Booker was announced, but here we are with the Shortlist already out! The winner of the International Booker Prize will be announced 26 May. Here's the Shortlist below:

Shortlisted books:

Cursed Bunny
(저주토끼) by Bora Chung, translated from Korean by Anton Hur (Honford Star)

Blurring the lines between magical realism, horror, and science-fiction, Chung uses elements of the fantastic and surreal to address the very real horrors and cruelties of patriarchy and capitalism in modern society.

A New Name: Septology VI-VII
(Eit nytt namn - Septologien VI - VII) by Jon Fosse, translated from Norwegian by Damion Searls (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Asle is an aging painter and widower who lives alone on the west coast of Norway. His only friends are his neighbor, A sleik, a traditional fisherman-farmer, and Beyer, a gallerist who lives in the city. There, in Bjorgvin, lives another Asle, also a painter but lonely and consumed by alcohol. Asle and Asle are doppelga ngers--two versions of the same person, two versions of the same life. Written in melodious and hypnotic "slow prose," A New Name is the final installment of Jon Fosse's Septology, "a major work of Scandinavian fiction"

(ヘヴン) by Mieko Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Samuel Bett and David Boyd (Europa Editions)

Kawakami's novel is told in the voice of a fourteen-year-old student subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy suffers in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormenters.

The young friends meet in secret in the hopes of avoiding any further attention and take solace in each other's company, completely unaware that their relationship has not gone unnoticed by their bullies . . .

Elena Knows
(Elena sabe) by Claudia Piñeiro, translated from Spanish by Frances Riddle (Charco Press)

After Rita is found dead in a church she used to attend, the official investigation into the incident is quickly closed. Her sickly mother is the only person still determined to find the culprit. Chronicling a difficult journey across the suburbs of the city, an old debt and a revealing conversation, Elena Knows unravels the secrets of its characters and the hidden facets of authoritarianism and hypocrisy in our society.

Tomb of Sand
(रेत समाधि) by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell (Tilted Axis Press

An eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a hijra (trans) woman – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more 'modern' of the two.

At the older woman's insistence they travel back to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

The Books of Jacob
(Księgi Jakubowe) by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

As new ideas-and a new unrest-begin to sweep the Continent, a young Jew of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a spell that attracts a fervent following. He reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike, with scandalous rumours of his sect's secret rituals and the spread of his iconoclastic beliefs. The story of Frank-a real historical figure, a divisive yet charismatic man-is the perfect canvas for the genius and unparalleled reach of Olga Tokarczuk.

I haven't read any of these books, but Cursed Bunny somehow appeals to me.

- Toriaz

21 April 2022

Minor Updates

I spent far too long on a whim this afternoon, and ended up reshuffling the layout of our reviews slightly. The previous two reviews now incorporate a slightly different format. Publication information like the date published and the number of pages has now been moved beneath the cover image. Added to that, now, is publisher information as well as an ISBN for the specific edition reviewed. I decided to do this since the previous two reviews were specific to particular editions, either a particular translation, in the case of The Tale of Genji, or a special illustrated edition, in the case of The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

If you click on the publisher name or icon, you will be taken to the publisher’s website. If you click on the ISBN, you will be taken to the publisher’s page for the specific edition under review. I have decided to do it this way since I don’t wish to endorse any particular retail website over others. Many publishers sell directly to the public, or offer their own links where their books can be purchased.

- bikerbuddy

29 April 2022

The Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist

The shortlist for the Women's Prize for fiction was announced yesterday. We featured the longlist in last month's blog. The winner will be announced on 15 June. The shortlist is as follows:

Great Circle
by Maggie Shipstead

From the night she is rescued as a baby out of the flames of a sinking ship; to the day she joins a pair of daredevil pilots looping and diving over the rugged forests of her childhood, to the thrill of flying Spitfires during the war, the life of Marian Graves has always been marked by a lust for freedom and danger. In 1950, she embarks on the great circle flight, circumnavigating the globe. It is Marian's life dream and her final journey, before she disappears without a trace. Half a century later, Hadley Baxter, a scandal-ridden Hollywood actress whose own parents perished in a plane crash is irresistibly drawn to play Marian Graves, a role that will lead her to probe the true mystery behind the vanished pilot.

Sorrow and Bliss
by Meg Mason

Martha knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn't know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going. Martha told Patrick before they got married that she didn't want to have children. He said he didn't mind either way because he has loved her since he was fourteen and making her happy is all that matters, although he does not seem able to do it. By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn't really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing - if you can find something else to want.

The Book of Form and Emptiness
by Ruth Ozeki

After his father dies, Benny Oh finds he can hear objects talking- teapots, marbles and sharpened pencils, babbling in anger or distress. His mother, struggling to support their household alone, starts collecting things to give her comfort. Overwhelmed by the clamour of all the stuff, Benny seeks refuge in the beautiful silence of the public library. There, the objects speak only in whispers. There, he meets a homeless poet and a mesmerising young performance artist. There, a book reaches out to him. Not just any book- his own book. And a very important conversation begins.

The Bread the Devil Knead
by Lisa Allen-Agnostini

Alethea Lopez is about to turn 40. Fashionable, feisty and fiercely independent, she manages a boutique in Port of Spain, but behind closed doors she's covering up bruises from her abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair with her boss. When she witnesses a woman murdered by a jealous lover, the reality of her own future comes a little too close to home. Alethea unravels memories repressed since childhood and begins to understand the person she has become. Her next step is to decide the woman she wants to be.

The Island of Missing Trees
by Elif Shafek

It is 1974 on the island of Cyprus. Two teenagers, from opposite sides of a divided land, meet at a tavern in the city they both call home. The tavern is the only place that Kostas, who is Greek and Christian, and Defne, who is Turkish and Muslim, can meet, in secret, hidden beneath the blackened beams from which hang garlands of garlic, chilli peppers and wild herbs. This is where one can find the best food in town, the best music, the best wine. But there is something else to the place: it makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows. In the centre of the tavern, growing through a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree. This tree will witness their hushed, happy meetings, their silent, surreptitious departures; and the tree will be there when the war breaks out, when the capital is reduced to rubble, when the teenagers vanish and break apart. Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. Desperate for answers, she seeks to untangle years of secrets, separation and silence. The only connection she has to the land of her ancestors is a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.

The Sentence
by Louise Erdrich

A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store's most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls' Day, but she simply won't leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading 'with murderous attention,' must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation and furious reckoning.

Winner of the Stella Prize Announced

In other news, the winner of the Stella Prize, established in 2013 to help overcome the traditional gender bias against women in literary prizes, has been announced. The prize is open to Australian women. This year Evelyn Araluen has won the $50,000 prize for her book of poetry Dropbear. This year was the first time that poetry was eligle for the prize. Araluen has an Aboriginal heritage, and she says Dropbear was written as a response to traditional colonial literature, especially Australian children's literature like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Blinky Bill.

The publisher's blurb states: “This fierce debut from award-winning writer Evelyn Araluen confronts the tropes and iconography of an unreconciled nation with biting satire and lyrical fury. Dropbear interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history with an alternately playful, tender and mournful intertextual voice, deftly navigating the responsibilities that gather from sovereign country, the spectres of memory and the debris of settler-coloniality. This innovative mix of poetry and essay offers an eloquent witness to the entangled present, an uncompromising provocation of history, and an embattled but redemptive hope for a decolonial future.”

- Toriaz

May 2022