Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Eve Green
Susan Fletcher
(Fourth Estate, 2004)

FLETCHER Susan [1979-] Novelist. Born in Birmingham, England. NOVEL Eve Green (2004: winner of the 2005 Betty Trask Prize for First Novel and the 2004 Whitbread Award for First Novel; shortlisted for the 2004 Los Angeles Times/Art Seidenbaum Prize for First Fiction)

Monday, January 30, 2006


April Walk
Jane Kenyon

Evening came, and work was done.
We went for a walk to see
what winter had exacted
from our swimming place on the pond.
The moss was immoderately green,
and spongy underfoot; stepping on it seemed
a breach of etiquette.
We found our picnic table
sitting squarely in the bog — only
a minor prank. The slender birches watched us
leaning from the bank.
And where the river launches forth
from the south end of the pond
the water coursed high and clear
under the little bridge.
Huge, suspended in the surge, grand-
father turtle moved sporadically
one flat, prehistoric, clawed arm
at a time, keeping his head downstream.
Years ago he made a vow
not to be agitated by the runnels
of spring, the abundance of light,
warm wind smelling of rain,
or the peepers’ throstling ....
We watched till he was out of sight
and seemed illusory, then turned
toward home — the windows
brazen in the setting sun ....

From Collected Poems
Jane Kenyon
(Graywolf Press, 2005)

Sunday, January 29, 2006


The Irresponsible Self:
On Laughter and the Novel
James Wood
(Pimlico, 2005)

WOOD James [1965-] Literary critic, novelist. Born in Durham, England. NOVEL The Book Against God (2003) ESSAYS/CRITICISM The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (2004: shortlisted for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism); The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief (1999) EDITED Saul Bellow: Novels 1944-1953: Dangling Man, The Victim, and The Adventures of Augie March (2003)

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Some Hearts
Carrie Underwood
(Arista, 2005)

Friday, January 27, 2006


Skinner’s Drift
Lisa Fugard
(Viking, 2005)

LISA FUGARD is the daughter of one of South Africa’s preeminent playwrights, Athol Fugard. Skinner’s Drift was first published in Britain in the spring of 2005 and is redolent of the influences of such South African writers as J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer.

FUGARD Lisa [1961-] Novelist; daughter of South African playwright Athol Fugard. Born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. NOVEL Skinner’s Drift (2005)

Thursday, January 26, 2006


BOUGHT several books this week at the best bookshop in Kuala Lumpur. Couldn’t help it, really. There’s no fighting this addiction, this terrible malady, of mine. After all, there were so many good books jostling for my good graces. It wasn’t too difficult to decide. After all, quality wins hands down ... every time.

Frames (2001) / John Banville
A trilogy comprising The Book of Evidence (1989); Ghosts (1993); and Athena (1995).

Collected Stories (2001) / Saul Bellow
A collector’s item. Most of Bellowss best stories are here.

Queen of Dreams (2004) / Chitra Divakaruni
A pre-September 11, 2001, novel about the lives of a Bengali immigrant family in California.

The Remains of the Day (1989) / Kazuo Ishiguro
I bought it for the beautiful cover. And images of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the shadows of Darlington Hall. A great gift for those who have yet to read this Booker Prize-winning novel.

Runaway (2004) / Alice Munro
Possibly Munro’s best collection of stories. Possibly among the best short-story writers in the world. More people should read her.

Gilead (2004) / Marilynne Robinson
Robinson’s long-awaited second novel, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (Gilead is also the winner of the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction.) An elegiac and spiritual meditation 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.” Her début novel, Housekeeping (1980), 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. With Gilead, which has been called “a masterly study of the dying of the light,” Robinson has produced another modern American classic.

The Accidental (2005) / Ali Smith
Possibly Smith’s best novel. Bought it as a gift. A real bargain at Kinokuniya. Winner of the 2005 Whitbread Award for the Novel, Smith’s new novel offers a penetrating insight into the cruel mechanics of contemporary family life amidst a huge dollop of black humour.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


HEARTIEST CONGRATULATIONS to Patrick O’Keeffe for winning the 2005 Story Prize for Short Fiction for The Hill Road (2005), his first collection of four long stories/novellas set in the fictional Irish dairy-farming village of Kilroan. The prize was won in 2004 by Edwidge Danticat for The Dew Breaker (2004).

O’KEEFFE Patrick [1963-] Short-story writer. Born in County Limerick, Ireland. STORIES The Hill Road (2005: winner of the 2005 Story Prize for Short Fiction)

DANTICAT Edwidge [1969-] Novelist. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. NOVELS The Farming of Bones (1998); Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) STORIES The Dew Breaker (2004: winner of the 2005 Story Prize for Short Fiction; shortlisted for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the 2005 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction); The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Stories (1997); Krik? Krak! (1995) NONFICTION The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States (2001) TRAVEL After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (2002) JUVENILE Behind the Mountains (2002)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


HILARY SPURLING’s monumental biography of Matisse, Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour 1909-1954 (2005), takes home the 2005 Whitbread Book of the Year Award in addition to the 2005 Whitbread Award for Biography. Her second volume of her life of the painter is scholarly yet accessible. A worthy winner indeed. The last time the award went to a biography was in 2002, when Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (2002) won. Spurling is the biographer of Ivy Compton-Burnett and Sonia Orwell.

SPURLING Hilary [1940-] Biographer. Born in Stockport, England. NONFICTION Elinor Fettiplace's Recipe Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking (1986) BIOGRAPHY Matisse the Master: Volume 2: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954 (2005: winner of the 2005 Whitbread Award for Biography and the 2005 Whitbread Book of the Year Award; shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction); The Girl from the Fiction Department (2002); La Grande Thérèse (1999); Paper Spirits (1992); The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse 1869-1908 (1998); Paul Scott: A Life (1990); Secrets of a Woman's Heart: The Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1920-1969 (1984: 1985 Heinemann Award and 1984 Duff Cooper Prize); Ivy When Young: The Early Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett 1884-1919 (1974: 1976 Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for English Literature) CRITICISM A Handbook to Anthony Powell's Music of Time Heinemann (1977) EDITED Mervyn Peake: Drawings

Monday, January 23, 2006


THE shortlists for the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize for four regions were announced on January 23, 2006. The regional winners will be announced on February 6, 2006, while the overall winners will be announced on March 14, 2006.

Canada and Caribbean
Best Book
Carnival / Robert Antoni
A Perfect Pledge / Rabindranath Maharaj
Sylvanus Now / Donna Morrissey
Alligator / Lisa Moore
A Wall of Light / Edeet Ravel
A Map of Glass / Jane Urquhart

Best First Book
The City Man / Howard Akler
George and Rue / George Clarke
Limbo / Jacqueline Honnet
John Crow’s Devil / Marlon James
Suspended Sentences: Fictions of Atonement / Mark McWatt

Southeast Asia and South Pacific
Best Book
March / Geraldine Brooks
Grace / Robert Drewe
The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers / Delia Falconer
Blindsight / Maurice Gee
The Secret River / Kate Grenville
Surrender / Sonya Hartnett
Sandstone / Stephen Lacey
The Ballad of Desmond Kale / Roger McDonald
The Marsh Birds / Eva Sallis
The Book Thief / Markus Zusak

Best First Book
Winter Journey / Diane Armstrong
The Harmony Silk Factory / Tash Aw
The Patron Saint of Eels / Gregory Day
An Accidental Terrorist / Steven Lang
The Grasshopper Shoe / Carolyn Leach-Paholski
Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs / Linda Olsson
A Red Silk Sea / Gillian Ransfead
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living / Carrie Tiffany
Affection / Ian Townsend
Road Story / Julienne van Loon

Best Book
Arthur & George / Julian Barnes
The Morning Rides Behind Us / Tariq Goddard
Desertion / Abdulrazak Gurnah
A Long Way Down / Nick Hornby
Never Let Me Go / Kazuo Ishiguro
Beyond Black / Hilary Mantel
Journey to the End of the Whale / John David Morley
Dancing in the Dark / Caryl Phillips
Rules for Old Men Waiting / Peter Pouncey
On Beauty / Zadie Smith
Shalimar the Clown / Salman Rushdie

Best First Book
The Family Tree / Carole Cadwalladr
Incendiary / Chris Cleave
Lazy Eye / Donna Daley-Clarke
26A / Diana Evans
Piggy Monk Square / Grace Joliffe
Utterly Monkey / Nick Laird
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian / Marina Lewycka
The Icarus Girl / Helen Oyeyemi
Misfortune / Wesley Stace
Q and A / Vikas Swarup

Best Book
Praying Mantis / Andre Brink
Slow Man / J.M. Coetzee
The Typewriter’s Tale / Michiel Heyns
The Sun by Night / Benjamin Kwayke
The Whale Caller / Zakes Mda

Best First Book
Tropical Fish: Stories Out of Entebbe / Doreen Baingana
Repeat Performance / Angie Herrmann
Beasts of No Nation / Uzodinma Iweala


HERE ARE SEVERAL short-story collections that every library cannot do without. And that every good bookshop should stock. Perhaps it is high time bookshops try to be more focused in the selling of short-story collections and give the short-story form the respect it deserves. For the longest time, the short story has been undeservedly playing second fiddle to the novel—the apple of the publishing world’s eye. Bookshops with a shelf or two stocking solely the best short-story writers around will do wonders for the genre and for those who love short stories. For a start, these are some of the must-haves.

The Lemon Table (2004) / Julian Barnes
Collected Stories (2001) / Saul Bellow
When the Nines Roll Over and Other Stories (2004) / David Benioff
Natasha and Other Stories (2004) / David Bezmozgis
The Dew Breaker (2004) / Edwidge Dandicat
Twilight of the Superheroes (2006) / Deborah Eisenberg
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (1999) / Nathan Englander
Nothing that Meets the Eye (2005) / Patricia Highsmith
The Stories of David Leavitt (2005) / David Leavitt
You Are Not the One (2005) / Vestal McIntyre
The Secret Goldfish (2004) / David Means
Runaway (2004) / Alice Munro
The Hill Road (2005) /Patrick O’Keeffe
Music Through the Floor (2005) / Eric Puchner
Collected Stories (2004) / Carol Shields
Constitutional (2005) / Helen Simpson
Good Women (2005) / Jane Stevenson
The Darts of Cupid and Other Stories (2002) / Edith Templeton
The Darkness of Wallis Simpson (2005) / Rose Tremain
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (1962) / Richard Yates

Sunday, January 22, 2006


The People’s Act of Love
James Meek
(Canongate, 2006)

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Friday, January 20, 2006


IN his new memoir, The Sailor in the Wardrobe (2006), Hugo Hamilton continues his account of his half-Irish childhood he began in The Speckled People (2003).

HAMILTON Hugo [1953-] Memoirist, novelist, short-story writer. Born in Dublin, Ireland. NOVELS Sad Bastard (1998); Headbanger (1996); The Love Test (1995); The Last Shot (1991: winner of the 1992 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature); Surrogate City (1990) STORIES Dublin Where the Palm Trees Grow (1996) MEMOIRS The Sailor in the Wardrobe (2006); The Speckled People (2003)

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Back to Bedlam
James Blunt
(Atlantic, 2005)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


THE finalists for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced. The winners of all categories will be announced on March 3, 2006, in New York. The complete list of finalists are as follows:

Fiction: E.L. Doctorow, for The March; Mary Gaitskill, for Veronica; Andrea Levy, for Small Island; Kazuo Ishiguro, for Never Let Me Go; William T. Vollmann, for Europe Central

General Nonfiction: Svetlana Alexievich, for Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster; Robert Fisk, for The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East; Ellen Meloy, for Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild; Caroline Moorehead, for Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees; Anthony Shadid, for Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War

Biography: Doris Kearns Goodwin, for Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln; Ron Powers, for Mark Twain: A Life; Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer; Carolyn Burke, for Lee Miller: A Life; Jonathan Coe, for Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson

Criticism: John Updike, for Still Looking: Essays on American Art; Arthur C. Danto, for Unnatural Wonders; Hal Crowther, for Gather at the River: Notes From the Post-Millennial South; William Logan, for The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin; Eliot Weinberger, for What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles

Autobiography: Joan Didion, for The Year of Magical Thinking; Francine du Plessix Gray, for Them: A Memoir of Parents; Judith Moore, for Fat Girl: A True Story; Orhan Pamuk, for Istanbul: Memories and the City; Vikram Seth, for Two Lives

Poetry: Ron Slate, for The Incentive of the Maggot; Richard Siken, for Crush; Simon Armitage, for The Shout; Manuel Blas de Luna, for Bent to Earth; Jack Gilbert, for Refusing Heaven

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Alice Munro
(Vintage, 2006)

SURELY one of the best short-story writers writing today, Alice Munro, however, is highly underappreciated and deserves a wider readership than what she is enjoying now. This latest collection of stories (or compressed novels) comes with an excellent introduction by Jonathan Franzen, the author of The Corrections (2001). I believe one day she will be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

FRANZEN Jonathan [1959-] Novelist. Born in Western Springs, Illinois, U.S. NOVELS The Corrections (2001: winner of the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction; shortlisted for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction); Strong Motion (1992); The Twenty- Seventh City (1988: winner of the 1988 Whiting Writers Award for Fiction) ESSAYS/CRITICISM How to Be Alone (2002)