Friday 9 May 2014

Compass Points 84

This week the Guardian discussed overlooked novels – those that have faded into obscurity.  As journalist John Sutherland remarked, most novels come, have their day, and are gone. Most deserve their "do not resuscitate" label. Every so often, though, a novel rises from the grave to claim its belated fame. Last year in July, addressing the nation on the Today programme, Ian McEwan did a revival job on Stoner – a novel published to modest praise in 1965 and long out of print.  And we all know what has happened since to John Williams’ bleak, but exquisitely written, chronicle of a second-rate professor in a third-rate American university; it went on to become the 2013 novel of the year and a massive bestseller. So what other dead and forgotten works would one dig up from the dusty vaults of the British Library? You can see the top ten overlooked novels chosen by the Guardian here. How many have you read I wonder? Well one of them I’m pleased to tell you is The Book of Disquietude by Fernando Pessoa (978 1 857543 01 8 £17.95 paperback) which is published by Carcanet. This is the first, and only complete English edition: all other versions are abridgements. Will The Book of Disquietude go on to become as big as Stoner? Why not order some and let’s find out!

The Last Tiger by Tony Black is a literary thriller from one of the UK’s finest authors (978 1908885555 B format paperback, £8.99) coming from Cargo in June. Subject to a bidding war among several publishers in 2013, The Last Tiger is a remarkable book. Tony Black has incorporated his page-turning crime style into a literary story that has much to tell us about alienation, persecution, loss, and the bonds of family; all set in the stark, sweeping landscape of Tasmania. Twelve year-old Myko and his family have fled the Czarist occupation of their native Lithuania for the freedom of America – only to discover their ship has arrived in Tasmania, the once notorious prison island of the British Empire. All are anxious about how they will survive in this wild new land where tigers roam. Myko has never seen a tiger before – except in his picture books – and is filled with fear as stories of the tigers’ vicious attacks on the settlers are retold to him. But when he discovers the den of the last tigers, the family are thrust into a fight over the last of these beautiful, wild beasts that will force dark secrets to the surface – and pit son against father.  The Sun has called this “a beautiful powerful tale to move the hardest heart” and there is some great publicity coming up for it. Tony Black will be on The One Show (which has a weekly audience of 6 million viewers!) on 3 June, and he will also be on BBC Radio’s The Culture Show. There will be interviews with Tony and/or reviews in the Guardian, the Times, the Independent on Sunday, the Sunday Times, Daily Record and the Times. Tony Black is touring the UK, and will be appearing at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh on 5 June, Waterstones Glasgow on 10 June, Waterstones Ayr on 12 June, Bad Language Manchester on 22 June and Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester on 22 June.

Right then it’s not just those clever dicks on the Guardian who can give you fun Top Ten lists to while away your Fridays with! Here’s our very own Compass Points list of the Top Ten Tigers!

  • In at number ten of course is the book I’ve just mentioned; The Last Tiger by Tony Black – let’s get it to number 1!
  • Next I’m nominating Tiger Lily in Peter Pan – one of the less well known Disney Princesses- but as you will see – quite a heroine!

  • OK then, I admit Yann Martel might have just have come up with the idea making a tiger the star of a book before Tony Black did; we cannot possibly ignore  Richard Parker in Life of Pi

  • We’re into the top 5 tigers now – and even if you don’t like golf you must appreciate this utterly extraordinary shot from Tiger Woods

  • Number three – who doesn’t love Eye of the Tiger by Survivor as used in Rocky of course.

  • And that means that the number one tiger must be … well, as he says himself; “can it be possible that you don’t know who I am?” Yep, it’s the silken voice of George Sanders giving us the deeply cool but also burning hot (by the end of this clip anyway) Shere Khan !

Right that’s enough silliness, let’s move on to something literary – and they don’t get much more literary than Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Gee is the new novel by this critically acclaimed writer who has been previously shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award. This is a witty, vivacious, yet profound novel about female friendships and rivalry, which takes as its premise the question what if Virginia Woolf came back to life in the twenty-first century? Bestselling author Angela Lamb is going through a mid life crisis. She dumps her irrepressible daughter Gerda at boarding school and flies to New York to pursue her passion for Woolf, whose manuscripts are held in a private collection. When a bedraggled Virginia Woolf herself materialises among the bookshelves and is promptly evicted, Angela, stunned, rushes after her on to the streets of Manhattan. This is a novel sure to attract attention as Virginia Woolf continues to inspire colossal adoration from her fans, all of whom will be keen to discover what Maggie Gee has done with their heroine. Virginia Woolf in Manhattan (hb, 978 1846591884 £14.99) is published by Telegram in June and Maggie Gee will be appearing at various literary festivals, including the Charleston Literature Festival, 26 May 2014 and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 17 August.  Coverage will include the feature What Book Am I Reading in the Daily Mail on 13 June; a piece in the Sunday Telegraph; A Page in the Life in the Daily Telegraph; an interview in Guardian Review; a  Point of View column on Virginia Woolf; the Independent on Sunday, How We Met, with Fay Weldon; Meet the Author in the Observer; an interview in Metro; an interview in  the Independent; a piece in the Financial Times; What Book Am I Reading in the Daily Mail as well as reviews everywhere! I feel the cover is just right for this novel – and it should be a really popular summer read.

The great American poet John Ashbery is known as America’s foremost poet, and  his prose writing and his engagement with prose writers – through translations, essays and criticism – has also had a profound impact on the cultural landscape of the past half-century.  John Ashbery will be giving a rare interview from New York on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb on Friday 23rd May from 10pm. He’ll be discussing his Collected French Translations: Poetry (978 1 847772 34 3) and Collected French Translations: Prose (978 1 847772 35 0) both published by Carcanet, which is great publicity for these two paperbacks.

Deadly women next, and of course Mothers Day has been and gone here in the UK, but this weekend it is Mom’s Day in the US – have a look here for the ten worst mothers in literature!

The Poisoning Angel by Jean Teulé (pb, 9781908313683 £8.99) is published by Gallic Books in June. This novel is based on the true story of Hélène Jégado; one of the most notorious female poisoners of all time. The Poisoning Angel spent 100 weeks on the French bestseller list and is both an upbeat portrait of nineteenth century provincial French life and a startling chronicle of a decades long killing spree carried out by the most notorious female poisoner in history. Beginning with the demise of her very own mama, Hélène Jégado leaves a trail of devastation with the special soups and cakes she makes – those who taste them never recover. Jean Teulé brings his unique blend of imagination and historical insight to a novel that is unusual and extraordinary.

How many famous poisoners can you name – and how many victims of poison? Click here for a list of poisoners and poisonings – everyone from Socrates to Hitler to Alan Turing to Livinenko.

And while we’re in a macabre mood, if you fancy some more gothic grimness, then look out for Tim Burton: A Child’s Garden of Nightmares edited by Paul A. Woods and published by Plexus in July (978 0859654012 £14.99) This is a fully updated edition of an extremely popular cult title, which now includes Burton’s most recent films such as Sweeny Todd, Alice in Wonderland and Frankenweenie. Tim Burton’s fans are many and are enthusiastically in thrall to his penchant for intelligently stylised films such as Batman, The Night Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and many more. His new film Big Eyes is released in August. Tim Burton: A Child’s Garden Of Nightmares charts the filmmaker’s path from malcontent animator at Walt Disney to directing feature films with a fantasy aesthetic and a natural sympathy for the alienated outsider. Tim Burton: A Child’s Garden of Nightmares is the definitive guide to a cinematic career based on a love of pop-gothic imagery and shows how he revises the imagery of horror movies, TV sci-fi and cartoons, and imbues juvenile fantasy with emotional depth.
Here’s one of my favourites – the fab Jonny Depp in Edward Scissorhands

The Trials of Lady Jane Douglas The Scandal that Divided 18th Century Britain by Karl Sabbagh is published by Skyscraper Publications in June (hb, 978 0992627010 16.99) This is a mystery that has never been solved, until now – did the beautiful Lady Jane Douglas, sister of the richest man in Scotland, give birth to twins in Paris in 1748, or did she buy the babies from French peasants? The truth about what really has never been established. And the original exploration of this 18th century mystery took place in public over twenty years, culminating in a dramatic session in the House of Lords. Combining, as it did, issues of sex, power, money, politics, and aristocracy, ‘the Douglas Cause’ was a fertile source of gossip and tittle-tattle. Karl Sabbagh gets as near as anyone ever will to the truth, in a definitive account of a case which divided the chattering classes at every level A former documentary-maker, Karl Sabbagh is a British author whose books include The Hair of the Dog (a Radio 4 Book of the Week) and Palestine: A Personal History.

Sidney Reilly: Adventures of a British Master Spy is a classic espionage title available for the first time in many decades and is published by Biteback in July. This is the latest in Biteback’s series of republished Dialogue Espionage Classics. It is the autobiography of the so-called ‘Ace of Spies’, the master of deception Ian Fleming would later use as a model for James Bond. The first part of the book is Reilly’s life as told from his personal notes and more specifically his attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik regime in Russia and restore the Czar. The second part is written by his wife, Pepita, who, is determined to find out what really happened after his disappearance, searches Finland and Northern Russia for her missing husband. Sidney Reilly: Adventures of a British Master Spy (971849547185 £9.99) is a cracking read and you can find out more and order Adventures of a British Master Spy here

Who doesn’t love a spy – and especially a real one who was the model for James Bond! Talking of James Bond – I think you will all enjoy this rather rude spoof...

That’s all for now folks, more next week!

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