Kevin Barry and Sam Leith reviews

I've been more or less offline for a while (I still am, really), so the reviews have been mounting up; here's my account of Kevin Barry's City of Bohane, and another of Sam Leith's The Coincidence Engine, both of them live over at Bookmunch.

been busy

Just a quick note to mark the arrival last Monday, 18th of April 2011, of my daughter, Seren:


She turned up the same day as my copy of The Pale King, and I haven't even opened the book yet. That's totally a first.

Filippo Bologna review

My review of Filippo Bologna's How I Lost The War is live at Bookmunch.

other people done good

My pal and erstwhile fellow bookseller-in-arms, Socrates Adams, is getting his first novel, Everything's Fine, published this November by Transmission Print, a new UK press - yay, Socrates!

And Tom Fletcher, another fine chap, not only has his second novel, The Thing On The Shore, on the shelves right now, but his first book, the creepy and excellent The Leaping, has been shortlisted for the 2011 British Fantasy Society Best Novel award. He's up there with Michelle Paver and Patrick Ness and all sorts. Go, Tom!

That's it for now, at least as far as people I know are concerned; I've got to go now and get back to my heavy schedule of sitting and complaining and trying to coax a child out of my innards with promises of Jaffa Cakes and trips to the corner shop.

Lars Iyer review

My review of Lars Iyer's Spurious is live at Bookmunch.

Anthology, Amis & Ashworth

I got my contributer's copy of Spilling Ink Volume One in the post yesterday, and it looks damn fine. It's got my story, Rock A Bye, which you can read on the Spilling Ink Review website anyway - but if you have the requisite cash, the book is lovely and there's loads of excellent writing in there.

I spent much of Monday, all of this morning and half of this afternoon reading Martin Amis' The Pregnant Widow. Lately I've been busy catching up on a review backlog, so it was pretty sweet to be able to turn to the teetering stack of non-review titles in the corner of the bedroom and pluck one out - shame the one I chose was a long-winded rambling misogynistic piece of drivel. And I'm a fan of Amis - London Fields is amazing; Time's Arrow is brilliant; I didn't even mind Yellow Dog. But this - well, if I hadn't paid good money for a signed hardback edition, I'd have thrown it out the window sometime on Monday and not wasted a lovely sunny Wednesday forcing my way through the remaining three-quarters. I'm sure plenty of you will have loved the book, but man, it was a trial for me. The male characters obsess endlessly about sex; and who would have thought you could make sex so bloody dull? The female characters seemed to exist entirely to exemplify the male characters' sexual desires/needs/fears/neuroses. The sister character is based, I think, on Martin's own sister, but the tragedy of her existence seemed to be mostly that she was promiscuous - um, ain't that the lady's own choice, and not a Necessarily Bad Thing? It was all very, very tedious. Anyway. I'm not going to dwell on it long enough to analyse things. The book's finished, stacked away on the shelf, and I kind of feel like I'm on holidays now - like coming out of a stuffy exam into the fresh air. So I've eaten three bowls of Frosties and started on some Jonathan Safran Foer. Reading him, that is, not eating him. I should be writing the novel, but I'm going to blame advanced pregnancy for that particular instantiation of my usual lethargy.

Tomorrow evening, Jenn Ashworth's going to be reading and answering questions at Manchester's Martin Harris Centre. See you there?

Kevin Barry, Irish fiction and short fiction

So my mum posted me a newspaper supplement from the Irish Independent from two weekends ago that was quite literature-heavy, and there was a review in there of Kevin Barry's first novel, City of Bohane, which is out this month and which I've reviewed for Bookmunch. My review's not up yet, but I rated the book highly - Barry's short fiction is excellent and the novel's really interesting, especially for its linguistic innovations. Anyway, John Boland's review in the Indo was pretty half-hearted, and I found myself getting very irritated at some of his criticisms - so much so that I think I started mumbling crossly to myself while reading it at a park bench the other day. Crazy pregnant lady ahoy, eh? I'm not going to go into a huge old rant here, but I would like throw out some topics for discussion. First up, he says:
Nor will those seeking a pertinent fable of a contemporary or future Ireland feel much rewarded [...] Indeed, there's no trace here of an Ireland with which any reader might be familiar -- the action might just as well be set in an imagined Scotland or Wales or wherever.
Call me a demented ex-pat, but I wasn't aware that the Irish writer had a particular responsibility to write such a 'pertinent fable'. Is there really this social obligation that you're bound to honour by virtue of Irish citizenship that doesn't apply to Scottish, Welsh, English, American or French writers, or artists in whatever medium from whatever country? Surely not every literary work, by virtue of its being set in a specific geopolitical or cultural zone, has to produce a sociological treatise on the past or current state of that, well, state? Bah, I say. That's such a limitation. I think there might possibly be a dearth of portraits of contemporary Ireland in current fiction - or maybe not a dearth, but a critical and promotional focus on works that deal with the past rather than the present, to the detriment of what's being produced at the moment about the present moment, but that's a different issue. To imply that Barry's fucked it up because he's writing a crazy speculative crime novel rather a grittily realistic portrait of, I don't know, gang life in Limerick in 2009 - well, isn't that the reviewer's hangup, not Barry's?

Okay, and second (and this is most of the final paragraph of the article, so it really leaves a bad taste in the mouth):
Barry has a remarkable talent, as is evident from his short stories, but a novel requires particular qualities -- a satisfying structure, a mastery of the long, developing narrative and complex characters of psychological and emotional depth -- that aren't essential, or sometimes even required, in the shorter form.
So the short story doesn't require a satisfying structure? It might utilize a different sort of structure than the novel, but you can hardly say that it doesn't need a satisfying one. And complex characters aren't essential or sometimes even required in the short story? Oh, shoot me now.

Well, so I have ranted quite a bit. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on either of these issues, whether you've read Barry's book or not.