Kyle Minor is well-known in the US underground lit scene, and the stories from Praying Drunk have been popping up in literary magazines and anthologieKyle Minor is well-known in the US underground lit scene, and the stories from Praying Drunk have been popping up in literary magazines and anthologies for several years. At first glance, this is a collection of angry-young-American tropes: pistol suicide, violent men and bitter women, trailer parks.
But as the stories unfold, there's something much more complex and interesting at work, and often the tales are so raw, so deeply unpleasant, that the urge to look away from the book is irresistible. In one piece, a bullied child contemplates the apocalypse while tracing his legacy of violence and guilt; in another, an artist explores the various madnesses of his wife's forest-dwelling family.
At times, the line between fiction and non-fiction is blurred or even thoroughly erased, with 'dear reader' interjections which work beautifully. The UK's small presses are publishing some of the finest and most unusual writing around and Praying Drunk proves that this is happening in America too.
It's understandable that Scottish city-dwellers, in their landscape of concrete and streetlights, can forget that they're living in a breathtakingly bIt's understandable that Scottish city-dwellers, in their landscape of concrete and streetlights, can forget that they're living in a breathtakingly beautiful country. Luckily, David Wilson's photographs are here to remind us.
With images of moody skies in shades of grey and purple, hulking wrecks, dramatic beaches and the occasional patch of green, the focus is certainly on the natural rather than the domestic. When buildings do make an appearance, there's a real sadness to the images of abandoned blackhouses and run-down sheds.
Peter May's text provides an overview of the islands' history and geology. Fans of his Hebrides-set crime novels will appreciate the musings on how the islands inspired his books and scriptwriting on 1980s soap opera High Road. However, the text just isn't interesting enough, and it's hard not to be distracted by the dramatic photos. The publishers seem to recognise this, as the images dominate the pages with the text tucked around the edges. Despite the rather flimsy prose, the glorious photography is more than enough to recommend Hebrides.
s. is one of the most beautifully produced books published this year: presented as a fake library book, complete with marginalia and stuffed full of ps. is one of the most beautifully produced books published this year: presented as a fake library book, complete with marginalia and stuffed full of postcards, notes and photocopied telegrams. It's a difficult book to sum up, as it's a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. The central text, a novel called Ship of Theseus, concerns an amnesiac on a ship where all the sailors have their mouths sewn shut. The footnotes, apparently by the book's translator, tell another story of a collective of revolutionary writers, hounded by the government and headed by mysterious author VM Straka. Then there's the narrative handwritten in the margins by two university students, Jen and Eric, whose relationship grows as they explore the true nature of Ship of Theseus. However, like everything in the book, Jen and Eric are not quite what they seem.
Part of s.'s appeal is that the reader can choose on what level to read it. Stick to Ship of Theseus's amnesiac narrative of mutinies and political upheaval, or explore the footnotes (there's even a code wheel in the back of the book) or go all-out and read the three narratives at once.
All of this is great fun, but it feels more like style over substance. The conspiracy aspect is unconvincing, and Jen and Eric's nudge-wink nods to future happenings frustrate rather than intrigue. In terms of narrative, s. is a little disappointing, but for sheer spectacle it's a thing of beauty.
Gretel and the Dark is an atmospheric and beautifully written historical novel told in two linked narratives. In 1890s Vienna, psychoanalyst Josef BreGretel and the Dark is an atmospheric and beautifully written historical novel told in two linked narratives. In 1890s Vienna, psychoanalyst Josef Breuer is treating a mysterious patient: found by a lunatic asylum, skeletally thin and with her head shaved, she claims to have no name and no past. She claims, in fact, not to be human at all.
In 1940s Germany, a spoiled young girl can’t understand why her father spends so much time bloodying his hands treating the ‘animal people’ who live in the camp beyond the fence. As the novel unfolds, the two narrative strands begin to bleed into one another: characters have the same names and use the same phrases, though they cannot be the same person.
Twined throughout are references to dark and gruesome European fairytales, which set the tone perfectly. Despite the emotive subject matter, this is a subtle and thoughtful novel. It seems soon to call it, but Gretel and the Dark will be one of the best books of 2014.
Through details of famous writers' medical maladies, John Ross explores their lives and literary works. What killed George Orwell: the stress of writiThrough details of famous writers' medical maladies, John Ross explores their lives and literary works. What killed George Orwell: the stress of writing 1984, the damp and dreary weather on the Scottish island of Jura, or bad treatments for a childhood illness? If Milton had not gone blind, would he have written Paradise Lost? Did Jack London's self-medication lead to his physical weakening and eventual death? Also under investigation are Shakespeare's syphilis, Jonathan Swift's dementia, the Brontë sisters' tuberculosis, Nathaniel Hawthorne's stomach cancer, and the many maladies of Herman Melville. As well as plenty of interesting detail about writers' lives, there are tidbits about medicine through the ages, such as the Ancient Roman method of treating venereal disease. The author is the Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, so he certainly knows his science; what's wonderful about this book is that he knows his novels too. The prose reads well, and each chapter has the drama and narrative arc of fiction. The details of the writers' lives are fascinating, and it's enjoyable to trace how their physical ailments may have affected their work. Orwell's Cough manages the perfect balance: enough medicalese to interest the biologically-minded, and enough details about writers' lives for the literary-minded. As soon as I finished the book, I turned right back to the start and read it again. ...more
My favourite thing about this was the setting: both the snowy wilderness of Canada and the grimness of 1980s Scotland were vividly evoked. Halfway thrMy favourite thing about this was the setting: both the snowy wilderness of Canada and the grimness of 1980s Scotland were vividly evoked. Halfway through the plot takes a twist into the predictable, which is a shame, but it's still a hugely enjoyable novel....more
"Every contact leaves a trace" may be the basic principle of forensic science, but don't expect a CSI-style procedural. The phrase is used in a more i"Every contact leaves a trace" may be the basic principle of forensic science, but don't expect a CSI-style procedural. The phrase is used in a more interpersonal sense, to mean that every contact with a person – in this case the narrator's murdered wife – leaves a trail of evidence that can be followed.
Introverted lawyer Alex is devastated when his vivacious academic wife, Rachel, is killed during a visit to their alma mater: Worcester College, Oxford. He can't think of why anyone would want to harm Rachel, and through the chaos of his grief he feels only confusion. But as he begins to discuss Rachel's life with Harry, her university tutor, and Evie, her intelligent and self-centered godmother, he soon discovers that he did not know Rachel at all. Versions of reality constantly shift as Alex learns more about the people in Rachel's past – and questions how he fits into the story.
Full of over-long sentences and extended descriptions of Alex's thought processes, this is not a fast-paced crime thriller. Despite this, the tension builds wonderfully and keeps the reader guessing throughout. The jumps in time and the shifts from present to past tense can be confusing, but this all helps add to the sense of Alex's drifting sense of reality. Fans of Donna Tartt, Ruth Rendell and Susan Hill will find much to enjoy in this snowy, slow-paced psychological mystery....more
Angela Carter is the grande dame of lush, fantastical stories, and published 15 books of fiction and poetry in her lifetime – but in the 20 years sincAngela Carter is the grande dame of lush, fantastical stories, and published 15 books of fiction and poetry in her lifetime – but in the 20 years since her death, there has yet to appear an in-depth study of her life and work. This is not that book, but it's something much more beautiful: a personal tribute to a writer and friend. The book is structured around a series of postcards that Susannah Clapp, a previous editor of the London Review of Books, received throughout her friendship with Angela Carter. Although the actual content of the postcards is sparse, they're used more as a jumping-off point for Clapp to share many anecdotes and insights into Carter's family life, domestic tendencies (or lack of), responses to critics, and stances on feminism and politics.
This is not for those unfamiliar with Carter's work: no timeline or overall view is provided, so it's not useful in providing a sense of her literary work or personal journey as a writer. Readers of Carter's work, though, will love the insights into her personal and professional life, and even the most enthusiastic fan will find something new here. Treading the ground between comfort reading and literature, this book is perfect for those who are short on time but crave brain-food....more
Can you believe I've never read a lesbian mystery story before? This one certainly won't be my last! The prose is painful at times, but the story is fCan you believe I've never read a lesbian mystery story before? This one certainly won't be my last! The prose is painful at times, but the story is fun and I enjoyed the romance....more