NAMES FOR THE SEA – STRANGERS IN ICELAND by Sarah Moss (Granta Books, 2012)
Sarah Moss is an Oxford University graduate who now teaches literature.
This book charts her experiences after being appointed visiting lecturer for a year at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
It tells of the upheaval and culture shock after moving from her home in Canterbury with her two young sons and husband.
The year (2009-10) coincided with the drama of the financial crisis (the Kreppa) and the travel chaos caused by the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption.
This is not a travel guide to Iceland but one woman’s relatively modest experiences of trying (and largely failing) to immerse herself in a country whose citizens mostly prefer to keep themselves to themselves. View full article »
PSYCHOLOGY FOR EVERYMAN (and woman) by A.E Mander (The Thinker’s Library, Watts & Co. 1935)
I picked this book up for 50p in a second-hand bookshop many moons ago. I was particularly drawn to the bracketed ‘and woman’ of the title (in a smaller font!) as if the fairer sex was something of an afterthought and tagged on by the publishers to ward off accusations of sexism.
Aussie thinker, Alfred Earnest Mander works on the basis that most people (i.e. men and women) don’t know what they need to make them happy and are psychologically moulded at an early age. This somewhat bleak summation of human existence is tempered by the reckless claim that, after finishing this 100 page book, the reader will be in a position to “judge what want is at the back of any given person’s feelings and conduct”.
Later, he takes a reality check implying that, since “we are bundles of conflicting personalities”. this slim volume can only hope to scratch the surface of a huge and complex topic.
Mander finds solace in platitudes, observing that “much unhappiness is caused by ‘inner conflict” and that cravings for romance, love, wealth, power, excitement and adventure are met in novels and movies but all too rarely in real life.
The only advice he offers is to train ourselves to cultivate what he calls ‘Master habits’ like never putting off a difficult or disagreeable task and “doing everything with a conscious effort to do it as well as possible ……..sparing no pains to make it perfect”.
As a cure-all for our multi-faceted cravings, this common sense advice is seriously limited but I suppose we all have to start somewhere!
A TO Z STORIES OF LIFE AND DEATH by D.Biswas (A Smashwords e-book, 2011)
There can be freedom in constraint and our short life span is the biggest constraint of all.
Embracing these restrictions, can be liberating but is undeniably challenging. It means accepting endings rather than fighting against them.
Writing is, like all forms of creative expression, a discipline. Imagination and inspiration are useful too but these aren’t much good without application.
A quote, generally ascribed to William Faulkner, makes the case for less sexy prerequisites like dedication and perspiration: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired ar 9 o’clock every morning”.
Organization and a well-defined framework is invaluable for writers and is also good for readers.
Several movies by Peter Greenaway use the alphabet as a structural device and Walter Abish’s experimental debut novel Alphabetical Africa was even more rigorous with the first chapter containing only words starting with the letter ‘a’ and the next 25 chapters introducing words starting with each letter in turn before doing the same thing in reverse for the remaining 26 chapters.
Damyanti Biswas’s book is practically disencumbered by comparison. The only rule she is bound by is that each of each 26 short chapters must begin with a different letter of the alphabet, taking us from A for Aquarium to Z for Zone.
The collection of micro-fiction is drawn from her own blog and was in response to challenge posed by Arlee Bird to write 26 posts on 26 days of April with a day of rest allowed only Sundays. View full article »
THE WASP FACTORY by Iain Banks (Abacus, 1984)
This is a story of murder, insanity and insects. The blurb warns: “Enter – if you can bear it – the extraordinary private world of Frank, just sixteen and unconventional to say the least”.
Critics are torn between regarding it as a depraved product of a sick mind or as an exceptional Gothic horror story. It’s probably safe to say it’s a bit of both.
I like the fact that my paperback edition (of 2003) includes negative reviews alongside positive ones. The Irish Times said: “The majority of the literate public will be relieved that only reviewers are obliged to look at any of it” while the Sunday Express dismissed it as “the lurid literary equivalent of a video nasty”. Far from driving away potential readers, reactionary reactions like these are enough pique anyone’s curiosity.
Banks’ death earlier this year at the age of 59 prompted me to pick up this book now. I had always had the intention of reading but never quite got round to. It is the best known and most notorious of the 26 novels, both mainstream and Sci-Fi, he published in his lifetime.
Its enduring appeal lies in the delight the author takes he takes in getting inside the head of a tortured and vile individual with an uncontrollable urge to take life and inflict pain. View full article »
BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate, 2012)
I enjoyed this historic novel but didn’t find it quite as enthralling as Wolf Hall. Possibly this is down to the fact that I knew more what to expect but also could be because Thomas Cromwell seems less Machiavellian this time around. I missed the fact that he had no intellectual equal to play off against. Thomas More fulfilled this role in Wolf Hall but, by the time the sequel starts, More has gone the way of many others by being executed.
More’s fate served as a reminder that no one was free of the threat of public execution simply for disagreeing with the royal policy. An abrupt end hung over anyone who falls out of favour with Henry or the church, which in England, after a rejection of papal rule from Rome, amounted to the same thing.
The novel begins in 1535 with a hunting scene and “riot of dismemberment” and ends a year later in similarly bloody fashion with human victims.
Cromwell is well established as Henry’s trusted advisor but is under no illusions that, for the most part, he is treading on thin ice. One false step could prove fatal. View full article »