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.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And the longlist is....

This morning the Man Booker Longlist was announced and Australia's own Christos Tsiolkas was nominated for The Slap. Oh, and Peter Carey too. In other news, Tom McCarthy's C made the list and not surprisingly, David Mitchell is there too for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. 
While I'd love for The Slap to win because Christos is fabulous and C to win because I think McCarthy is utterly fascinating, I wouldn't put money on it. Apparently, British bookmakers William Hill rate Andrea Levy's The Lost Song as the favourite.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hold on to your hats!

Farrar Strauss Giroux, quite possibly my favourite publishing company (despite being part of Macmillan now), has recently lauched an online magazine: Work in Progress. If ever there was a reason to get an iPad, this would be it. You can read about book jacket design, the new Eugenides or survey some of the treasures from the Susan Sontag archive. It's a whole lot of great content, and it's free.

I do wonder though, with this sort of material increasingly available, how does a magazine like the New Yorker maintain subscription levels?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Apparently inspired by a trip to Japan, and 10 years in the writing, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a highly atmospheric and enchantingly transporting book. The first third (and the least dynamic) introduces us to 'Dazuto', as he is named by the locals. A clerk for the Dutch East India Company, sent to Deijima to check the accounting in the company's outpost. This is a book concerned with honour, the limits of loyalty and misuses of religious faith. 
     As with Cloud Atlas, I enjoyed reading David Mitchell's latest offering. The reader is able to thoroughly lose themselves in the world Mitchell creates. He does have a lovely way with words but ultimately, this was not a moving book for me, either intellectually or emotionally.  It's not Mitchell's fault he is described on the cover of my proof copy as 'a man who may yet prove to be the greatest British writer of his age' but, for me, he hasn't yet reached up into greatness.
     On a side note, I was lucky enough to score a proof copy which is a dazzling gold mirror foil all over. While the finished version is rather pretty, with blue glitter embellishments highlighting the text and some of the undulations of the waves, I wonder whether booksellers were disappointed after the Midas-gold of the reading copy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I had extremely low expectations for Sex and the City 2. I thought it would be difficult to expect less of anything. But still, I was disappointed. And somehow, those clever movie people, managed to slip an errant apostrophe into the film. At one point Carrie is printing off a story for Vogue entitled (cue shot of the printer) ‘Terrible Two’s’. Did we ever see Carrie printing out stories in the series? Surely she would deliver electronically. So not only was the shot pointless and time-wasting, like most of the film, but committed that most frightful of sins, the misplaced apostrophe.