Thursday, April 28, 2005

An Accomplished New Voice in British Fiction

Louise Dean
Scribner (2005)

I’M really excited about Louise Dean’s ambitious new novel, This Human Season (2005), a story set against the backdrop of Thatcher-era Belfast in the bitter autumn of 1979 before the hunger strikes at the notorious Long Kesh prison. With this sophomore effort, she moves to more ambitious ground compared to her critically-acclaimed début, Becoming Strangers (2004), a tragicomic meditation on ordinary lives. In unpretentious and effortlessly delicate prose, she humanises the Northern Irish Troubles by dissecting her characters with eloquent, dispassionate attention to such minutiae as the Northern Irish lilt and the bleakness of poverty-stricken lives. And amidst all the “blood, shit and tears,” she has humour and humanity in all the right places. And the grim, rain-soaked streets of Belfast are finely evoked. By creating a narrative that pulls the historical facts together into a compelling tale, This Human Season is both a challenge and a pleasure to read. She proved herself a writer of distinction with her first novel; with her second, her place in British fiction is confirmed.

DEAN Louise [1970-] Novelist. Born in Hastings, East Sussex, England. Novels This Human Season (2005); Becoming Strangers (2004: winner of the 2004 Betty Trask Prize for Best First Novel; longlisted for the 2004 Guardian First Book Award and the 2004 Booker Prize for Fiction)

Check out Louise Dean’s novels at

Saturday, April 23, 2005


WHAT is the quality that all great short stories share: they make us stop in our tracks and take a breath of fresh air. They make us see the world from another point of view; they make us do a double-take. Joyce Carol Oates defines the short story as “a minor art form that in the hands of a very few practitioners becomes major art,” while William Trevor, in a Paris Review interview in 1989, called the short story “an art of the glimpse,” whose “strength lies in what it leaves out.” A good short story resonates far beyond its size. Despite languishing in the shadow of the novel, the short story is not dying and has never died. It is alive and well.

Raymond Carver
John Cheever
Anton Chekhov
Andre Dubus
Deborah Eisenberg
Mavis Gallant
Ernest Hemingway
Alice Munro
V.S. Pritchett
William Trevor

Richard Bausch / Ann Beattie / David Bezmozgis / Lydia Davis / Stuart Dybek / Nathan Englander / Richard Ford / Shirley Ann Grau / Adam Haslett / Jhumpa Lahiri / David Leavitt / Alistair MacLeod / David Means / Lorrie Moore / Antonya Nelson / Edna O'Brien / Flannery O'Connor / Grace Paley / James Salter / George Saunders / Christine Schutt / Carol Shields / Alan Sillitoe / Helen Simpson / Wallace Stegner / Ivan Turgenev / John Updike / Joy Williams / Tobias Wolff / Richard Yates

Friday, April 15, 2005


Saul Bellow
E.L. Doctorow
Richard Ford
John Irving
Norman Mailer
Toni Morrison
Marilynne Robinson
Phillip Roth
Richard Russo
John Updike

Pat Conroy / Michael Cunningham / Louise Erdrich / Jeffrey Eugenides / Jonathan Franzen / Gail Godwin / Jonathan Lethem / Alison Lurie / Alice McDermott / Sue Miller / Joyce Carol Oates / E. Annie Proulx / Jane Smiley / Anne Tyler / Alice Walker / Tom Wolfe / Tobias Wolff


Kate Atkinson
Alan Hollinghurst
Kazuo Ishiguro
Ian McEwan
Iris Murdoch
V.S. Naipaul
Salman Rushdie
Vikram Seth
Muriel Spark
Rose Tremain

Andrea Levy / Sarah Hall

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Amit Chaudhuri
Anita Desai
Rohinton Mistry
Bharati Mukherjee
V.S. Naipaul
R.K. Narayan
Michael Ondaatje
Arundhati Roy
Salman Rushdie
Vikram Seth

Nadeem Aslam / Amitav Ghosh / Hari Kunzru / Jumpa Lahiri / Akhil Sharma / Shashi Tharoor / M.G. Vassanji

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Margaret Atwood
Austin Clarke
Barbara Gowdy
Alistair Macleod
Anne Michaels
Rohinton Mistry
Alice Munro
Michael Ondaatje
Mordecai Richler
Carol Shields

Robertson Davies / Frances Itani / Yann Martel / Ann-Marie MacDonald / Nino Ricci / David Adams Richards / Miriam Toews / Guy Vanderhaeghe / M.G. Vassanji

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

SAUL BELLOW (1915-2005)
“Fiction is the higher autobiography”

SAUL BELLOW died on April 5, 2005, at the age of 89. I really can't think of a better way to pay tribute to Saul Bellow other than to list his oeuvre of books chronologically. Those in bold are some of his important contributions to post-World War II American, Jewish and World literature. Martin Amis believes that the search for the Great American Novel ends with The Adventures of Augie March (1953).

BELLOW Saul [1915-2005] Novelist; awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec, Canada. NOVELS Ravelstein (2000); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); The Dean's December (1982); Mr Sammler's Planet (1970: 1971 National Book Award for Fiction); Humboldt's Gift (1975: 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction); Herzog (1964: 1965 National Book Award for Fiction and the 1965 International Literary Prize); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Seize the Day (1956); The Adventures of Augie March (1953: 1954 National Book Award for Fiction); The Victim (1947); Dangling Man (1944) NOVELLAS The Actual (1997); Something to Remember Me By (1991); A Theft (1989); The Bellarosa Connection (1989) STORIES Collected Stories (ed. Janis Bellow) (2001); Him With His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories (1984); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968) PLAY The Last Analysis (1965) ESSAYS It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future: A Nonfiction Collection (1994); The Arts & the Public: Essays by Saul Bellow and Others (ed. James E. Miller, Jr. and Paul D. Herring) (1967) MEMOIR To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976)

I HARDLY KNEW [Simon] there, among mirrors, rugs, racks of clothes, eight stories above the Loop. ... Below, I was in a bargain department under the sidewalk, seeing and hearing the shoppers pass over the green circles of glass set in concrete, skirts of heavy coats flying as shadows through these lenses, but the weight of bodies actual enough, the glass creaking and soles going every which way. This vault was for the poorer class of customers or for solitary-hornet shoppers, girls with outfits to match, hats and accessories; women with three or four little daughters to buy shoes for on the same day. The goods were heaped up on tables by sizes, and then there were cardboard-cell walls of boxes and fitting stools in a circle under the honeycomb of the sidewalk. Saul Bellow, in The Adventures of Augie March (1953)

MY MIND was in one of its Chicago states. How should I describe this phenomenon? In a Chicago state I infinitely lack something, my heart swells, I feel a tearing eagerness. The sentient part of the soul wants to express itself. There are some of the symptoms of an overdose of caffeine. At the same time I have a sense of being the instrument of external powers. They are using me either as an example of human error or as the mere shadow of desirable things to come. I drove. The huge pale lake washed forward. To the east was a white Siberian sky and McCormick Place, like an aircraft carrier, moored at the shore. Saul Bellow, in Humboldt's Gift (1975)

PAPA had the night job, and slept days. You had to tiptoe through the house. If you woke him he was furious. His overalls, reeking of linseed oil, were hung behind the bathroom door. At three in the afternoon, half dressed, he came out for his tea, silent, his face filled with stern anger. But by and by he became an entrepreneur again, doing business out of his hat on Cherry Street, opposite the Negro whorehouse, among the freight trains. He had a roll-top desk. He shaved his mustache. And then Mama started to die. ... That was a frightful January, streets coated with steely ice. The moon lay on the glazed snow of the back yards where clumsy lumber porches threw their shadows. Saul Bellow, in Herzog (1964)

HE drove to the South Side on a winter day streaky with snow. You could see the soot mingling with the drizzle. Corde hadn't come to this neighborhood in 30 years. It was then already decaying, now it was fully rotted. Only a few old brick bungalows remained, and a factory here and there. The expressway had cut across the east-west streets. The one remaining landmark was the abandoned Englewood Station -- huge blocks of sandstone set deep, deep in the street, a kind of mortuary isolation, no travelers now, no passenger trains. A dirty snow brocade over the empty lots, and black men keeping warm at oil-drum bonfires. All this -- low sky, wind, weed skeletons, ruin -- went to Corde's nerves, his "Chicago wiring system," with peculiar effect. ... He parked and got out of the car feeling the lack of almost everything you needed, humanly. Christ, the human curve had sunk down to base level, had gone beneath it. If there was another world, this was the time for it to show itself. The visible one didn't bear looking at. Saul Bellow, in The Dean's December (1982)

Sunday, April 10, 2005


READ two novels a month: one classic and one contemporary. Choose a less intimidating classic: a slim volume such as Henry Jamess The Turn of the Screw (1898), F. Scott Fitzgeralds The Great Gasby (1925), Virginia Woolfs A Room of One's Own (1928) or Saul Bellows Seize the Day (1956) would be perfect. Then choose a contemporary novel such as Nadeem Aslams Maps for Lost Lovers (2004), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies Purple Hibiscus (2004) or Ian McEwans The Cement Garden (1978).

ASLAM Nadeem [1966-] Novelist. Born in Gujranwala, Pakistan. NOVELS Maps for Lost Lovers (2004: winner of the 2005 Kiriyama Prize for Fiction); Season of the Rainbirds (1993: winner of a 1994 Betty Trask Award; shortlisted for the 1994 Whitbread Award for First Novel)

ADICHIE Chimamanda Ngozi [1977-] Novelist. Born in Abba, Nigeria, Africa. NOVELS Half of a Yellow Sun (2006); Purple Hibiscus (2003: winner of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, Africa Region, and overall winner of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book; shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction and the 2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; longlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize for Fiction)

McEWAN Ian [1948-] Novelist, short-story writer. Born Ian Russell McEwan in Aldershot, Surrey, England. NOVELS Saturday (2005); Atonement (2001: winner of the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the 2002 W.H. Smith Literary Award and the 2002 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction; shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2001 Whitbread Novel Award); Amsterdam (1998: winner of the 1998 Booker Prize for Fiction); Enduring Love (1997: shortlisted for the 1997 Whitbread Novel Award, the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction and the 1999 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award); Black Dogs (1992: shortlisted for the 1992 Booker Prize for Fiction); The Innocent (1990); The Child in Time (1987: winner of the 1987 Whitbread Novel Award); The Comfort of Strangers (1981: shortlisted for the 1981 Booker Prize for Fiction); The Cement Garden (1978) STORIES In Between the Sheets (1978); First Love, Last Rites (1975: winner of a 1976 Somerset Maugham Award) CHILDREN’S The Daydreamer (illustrated by Anthony Browne) (1994); Rose Blanche (illustrated by Roberto Innocenti) (1985)

Check out Ian McEwan's novels at


GREAT books, in the words of Michael Cunningham, remind us of “the heights we can achieve using only ink and paper.” For Ha Jin, it was V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River (1979); for Anita Diamant, it was Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1928). When John Stuart Mill suffered a bout of depression during his late-adolescence, William Wordsworth’s poetry was the cure for his state of mind. Saul Bellow set his heart on becoming a writer after reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) at the age of eight. For Cynthia Ozick, it was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868), which she read more than a thousand times.

Tell me about the one book that influenced, inspired or enriched your life. Yes, the one book that made you take a deep breath and see the world from new angles of vision, the one that made you see that life is worth embracing.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


1. Murray Bail
2. Peter Carey
3. Kate Grenville
4. Shirley Hazzard
5. Thomas Kenneally
6. David Malouf
7. Colleen McCullough
8. Alex Miller
9. Patrick White
10. Tim Winton

Thea Astley / Carmel Bird / Geraldine Brooks / Brian Castro / Robert Drewe / Richard Flanagan / David Francis / Peter Goldsworthy / Janette Turner Hospital / Clive James / Elizabeth Jolley / Michelle de Kretser / Julia Leigh / Joan London / Andrew McGahan / Frank Moorhouse / John Murray / Elliot Perlman / Brenda Walker

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Saul Bellow
David Grossman
Norman Mailer
Bernard Malamud
Amos Oz
Cynthia Ozick
Grace Paley
Chaim Potok
Philip Roth
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Aharon Appelfeld / Nathan Englander / Jonathan Safran Foer / Mark Helprin / Steve Stern / Edward Lewis Wallant / Elie Wiesel / A.B. Yehoshua

Monday, April 04, 2005


CONGRATULATIONS to Marilynne Robinson for winning the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her long-awaited second novel Gilead (2004), an elegiac and spiritual meditation (in the form of a long letter) between John Ames, an elderly, dying preacher, and the son he will never see grow up, in the dry, dusty prairie town of Gilead, Iowa, “a dogged little outpost in the sand hills, within striking distance of Kansas”. Robinson's début novel, Housekeeping (1981), a haunting, poetic evocation of existential solitude set against the backdrop of rural Idaho in the mid-1900s, is regarded by many as a modern American classic. (Gilead is also the winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and has been shortlisted for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.) With Gilead, “a masterly study of the dying of the light,” Robinson has produced another modern American classic.

Congratulations also to Ted Kooser for winning the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Delights & Shadows (2004), an understated collection of rural and small-town Americana.

Both books were clearly some of the literary highlights of 2004.

ROBINSON Marilynne [1943-] Novelist, essayist. Born Marilynne Summers in Sandpoint, Idaho. NOVELS Gilead (2004: winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; shortlisted for the 2005 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction); Housekeeping (1981: winner of the 1981 PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction; shortlisted for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1982 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction) NONFICTION The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (1998: awarded the PEN/Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay); Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State and Nuclear Pollution (1989: shortlisted for the 1989 National Book Award for Nonfiction)

KOOSER Ted [1939-] Poet. Born in Ames, Iowa. POETRY Delights & Shadows (2004: winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry); Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry (with Jim Harrison) (2003); Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison (2000: winner of the 2001 Nebraska Book Award for Poetry); Weather Central (1994); One World at a Time (1985); Sure Signs (1980); Not Coming to Be Barked At (1976) NONFICTION The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (2005); Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps (2002: winner of the 2003 Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction); Riding with Colonel Carter: An Essay and Two Poems (1999); The Blizzard Voices (1986)