Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Food: Eat It

In my spare time when I'm not at work or sleeping or eating, I've been working on a magazine for new writing. Seizure's first issue 'Food' comes out in June 2011. Have a look at our website.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jane vs George

I'm having a George Eliot moment right now. Not just because I received the complete BBC George Eliots on DVD for Christmas or the fact that I finished Middlemarch for the first of what I am sure will be many times. My GE moment is largely inspired the cult of Jane Austen which has become not just tiresome, but a cliche. Sure, GE's books are longer, and perhaps  more difficult to finish as a result, but to my mind, GE is a far better writer and more deserving by far of our undying admiration and love. Please find below just three of the most compelling arguments.
Reason #1:
She is just as quotable, for instance, Sir James in Middlemarch, in thinking of Dorothea and his general ability to handle her, considers; 'A man's mind - what there is of it - has always the advantage of being masculine, - as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm, - and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality.'
Reason #2
GE was also far more of a rule-breaker than our girl Jane, living unmarried with a man for much of her adult life. Her heroines are more complex, and often dislikable but still manage to inspire empathy given their overwhelming humaness.
 Reason #3 
GE translated German philosophy into English, such was the depth and breath of her intelligence.

The contest between Jane and George is, ultimately, in my head, and I would by no means suggest we stop reading Persuasion or P&P or S&S. It's just that I would like to see a little more attention shined on the author who is, to my mind, the greatest English novelist of the 19th century. There, I said it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Easy As

Teen films are well placed for making the most withering social commentary. The Breakfast Club sliced into American class structures. Juno was the mirror in which America could see its own puritanical self-righteousness reflected back. And Easy A, a new film starring the delightfully husky Emma Stone, does some of the best work on the dealing with the modern technological reality I've seen.
From the opening scene where our girl Olive uses Google Earth as a metaphor for her social status to the live webcast which frames the film, this a movie which unshrinkingly explores the text/sext-riddled quotidian mess that is 2010.
In the tradition of Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You, Easy A draws on a classic; Nathaniel Hawthorn's The Scarlet Letter. But in another nod to these post-post-modern times, rather than mimicking the plot of the canonical heavyweight (Emma in the case of Clueless, The Taming of the Shrew for Ten Things I Hate About You), this film engages critically with its precursor. Our sassy heroine self-consciously decides to use the scarlet letter to her advantage.
Sure some of the actors are on the wrong side of 25 and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson make impossibly fantastic and endlessly punny parents, but nevertheless this an eminently enjoyable movie; a movie for teachers, teens and their parents as well as pop-culture fangirls like me. Or in the words of an ersatz Mr Robert Martin, 'Two thumbs up; fine holiday fun'.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Death and Doughnuts

Having recently finished a 600-pager for my book club which I hated (no naming of names here), I was a little timid going into Skippy Dies; a similarly extensive novel, also peopled by adolescents. But Paul Murray’s novel is the kind which you don’t quite want to end. Set in a prestigious Catholic boys’ school just outside Dublin, we follow the lives of an outsider clique featuring Skippy who, as the title notes, dies within the first twenty pages. We then skip back in time to before the tragic doughnut shop incident.
I was thoroughly charmed by the boys who felt like they’d stepped directly out from my fourteen-year-old life. There’s Mario, the sex obsessed, self-proclaimed lothario whose three-year-old ‘lucky’ condom languishes in his wallet unused. Or Ruprecht, the frighteningly intelligent fat-boy who dreams of Stanford and a life proving string theory.
Murray’s meld of the tragic and comic enchanted me. I was completely sucked into this world and was excited to read a contemporary novel which so accurately invokes the pulls the modern world; the teenage boys receive instruction from anachronistic priests only to head back to their centuries old dorms and watch bizarre porn online. In that way, straddling frighteningly banal everday living and the worst realities of modern life, Skippy Dies is reminiscent of The Corrections and like Franzen, I forsee a thoroughly bright future for him.   

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hot shoe shuffle

So in the day-to-day of office life - snowed in by manuscripts and swept away in tsunamis of those little corn packing thingos - how do publishing types stay sane? Why with shoes of course. Here's a sample (with thanks to KB).

Vintage Dancing Shoes, Sydney
Ankle boots from dco, Copenhagen

21st birthday shoes, still going strong

Suede loafers from Office, London

Friday, August 20, 2010


Lorrie Moore has edged her way into my top authors. She is funny, clever and emotionally sophisticated (as icky as that phrase sounds) and Gate at the Stairs was one of my favourite books last year. Consequently I've been working my way through her back catalogue starting with Short Stories, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital and most recently finished Anagrams.
What's fascinating about Anagrams is the way Moore uses the characters the way someone like Nabokov rearranges letters to form new words, in this way she makes new scenarios. A few central characters - Gerard, Benna and Eleanor - appear in different versions of themselves through discrete parts of the book. Expect, as always, Moore's signature slices of truth served cold, her supreme smarts and her mastery of the pun.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What's left

I finished Remainder several months ago and have been wondering how to write about it ever since. I've been thrusting it wild-eyed in the hands of my friends, wanting fellow readers to talk with. It’s the story of man who receives an eight million pound payout for an accident which is never fully explained. With all that money, he decides to try to recreate one of his few memories which survived the accident; of walking down a staircase, looking out a window at cats on a roof, smelling liver frying and hearing a pianist practising. By re-enacting this authentic moment, our protagonist, who is never named, creates a laser-like focus and feels like he is both genuinely living and transcendent. The awkwardness of that last sentence is testament to the subtlety and brilliance of the book – there is not one statement of this fact, McCarthy is the king of what creative writing teachers call ‘showing, not telling’.  The success of this one re-enactment leads to further recreations and leads inexorably to a dizzying climax.

What makes this such a fascinating, stimulating read is the way McCarthy tickles the synapses into wakefulness through what is, in effect, a prolonged thought experiment in narrative form. The narrator’s first person voice is entirely convincing – it’s like reading a transliterated version of method acting –  and the characters all seem to behave not only autonomously but, dare I say it, authentically. And while this might sound like a purely cerebral book, through his pared-back writing, McCarthy generates some of the most evocative and visceral vignettes I’ve read lately.

I’m so excited to see he’s on the Booker Longlist. Apparently it took eight years of searching for a publisher for McCarthy to get Remainder into the mainstream but once published it enjoyed relatively good sales, as well as rights sales to France and Germany among others. This is a book for our age, one which speaks to the experience of the contemporary world.