Review | The Past, Alan Pauls | booktrust.org.uk 2008

Roberto Bolaño called novelist Alan Pauls from Argentina “one of the best living Latin American writers.” The Past, first published in the UK in Nick Caistor’s English translation, is about obsessive love, addiction and self-destruction, played out against a bewitching backdrop: Buenos Aires. It is a strange, unsettling read.

Protagonist Rimini is good looking and easy going; his partner Sofia is eccentric and strong. Their relationship seems inviolable and eternal to their friends, but “occasionally Rimini faltered. He wavered, ran away from Sofia, and then was enraged at his own weakness.” They split up after twelve years, but Sofia refuses to accept that they are no longer a couple, “two people like us cannot separate”. She writes letters and leaves messages on Rimini’s answering machine, obsessing about the importance of sorting through the hundreds of photos of their time together, but he is scared to look at them, “for fear of being sucked into an emotional whirlpool and drowning in it.” Sofia’s presence becomes ominous like that of a stalker. She clings on as he struggles to let go and make a new life.

Continue reading Review | The Past, Alan Pauls | booktrust.org.uk 2008

Review | Magritte for our time | Selected Writings | Alma Books

Style is not an end in itself: it is a result,” René Magritte.

 A thinker, Magritte was in permanent revolution against banality and crass assumptions. He communicated his ideas through paintings, which he called “visible thoughts,” upending society’s conventions. He united the familiar in unexpected ways to create what is unfamiliar and often disturbing. Famous for playing with words and image, millions of people know his iconic painting of a pipe with the words beneath it, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (“this is not a pipe“) — point being the image may be of a pipe, but the pipe is not representative of the image.

 In this brave new world of twenty-first century “post-truth politics” in which image matters to an alarming degree, and words no longer need bear any relation to reality, how everyday language disguises thought; the vagueness and ambiguity of words; and the gap between words and seeing, are hot topics. Déjà vu? Magritte captured the essence of the relationship between words and image over half a century ago. The first-ever publication of his Selected Writings in English by Alma Books is long overdue, and timely.

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Review | Ricarda Huch, The Last Summer | Book of the Week

We aged a hundred years, and this
Happened in a single hour:
The short summer had already died
The body of the ploughed plains smoked.

Anna Akhmatova

Letter-writing may be a lost art today, since we tend to email rather than sit down and write longhand to a loved one or a friend, however epistolary novels have been with us for centuries  — from Montesquiou’s Persian Letters, Choderlos de Laclos Dangerous Liaisons and Bram Stoker’s Dracula; to Stephen King’s Carrie and Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple — and are still popular. To read personal, private correspondence smacks of voyeurism, (etiquette dictates that to do so is unacceptable), hence the frisson of pleasure it affords. Suspense is created by what is revealed and concealed. The letters are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and dramatic irony keeps the reader hooked until the very end: Will ‘it’ or won’t ‘it’ happen? The Last Summer, superbly translated by Jamie Bulloch, is a welcome discovery thanks to Peirene Press.

Continue reading Review | Ricarda Huch, The Last Summer | Book of the Week

Interview | Jamie Bulloch | Translator of the Week

Jamie Bulloch is an historian, and has worked as a professional translator from German since 2001. His translations include books by Paulus Hochgatterer, Alissa Walser, Timur Vermes, Friedrich Christian Delius and Linda Stift. Jamie won the 2014 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for Best German Translation for Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m forty-seven, married with three daughters and live in London, where I was born. Outside of books I love cooking, gardening and cricket.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
Like many children, I adored Roald Dahl’s work, and then came my first taste of translated fiction when I devoured the Asterix series. I read them over and over again. Later, when I went on a school exchange, I got the chance to read them in the original French. In my teens I was a big Stephen King fan.

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Interview | Andrew Lycett, author

Andrew Lycett is the biographer of Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was then spirited out to live in East Africa – what was then called Tanganyika where my father started and ran an English style prep school.

What sorts of books were in your house when you were growing up?
A wide range belonging to two well-read parents – the complete Dickens, some traditional poetry (many relics of my father’s time studying English at Oxford in the 1930s), a surprising number of thrillers, and several fascinating works of reference – all a bit out of date, as we lived in the colonies.

How did Oxford help shape your tastes in literature?  
I’m not sure that Oxford particularly shaped my tastes in literature as I was studying history. However I certainly read a lot while I was at university. The centre of the world appeared to be the United States so I read American authors widely: Updike, Mailer, Barth, Irving, Wolfe (Thomas and Tom) and someone who I’m not sure is much regarded today but I enjoyed at the time – Ken Kesey.

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The Three Faces of Elton Mayo | J H Smith | New Society, December 1980

Elton Mayo was born in Australia one hundred years ago this month (on December 26, 1880) and died in a nursing home in Guildford almost sixty-nine years later. Towards the end of his life, through his association with the Harvard Business School and the Hawthorne Studies, he enjoyed a public acclaim granted to few social scientists of his day. None however would have envied him the fall from grace which was to follow his death. By the mid-1950s, the terms ‘Mayoism’ and ‘Mayoite’ were recognised additions to the perjorative vocabulary of social science. In 1946 an overblown account of his work in Fortune compared him to Thorsten Veblen and John Dewey, praising his erudition, rare authority and beneficent influence on labour-management relations. Yet a decade later, in his influential monograph Hawthorne Revisited, Landsberger was obliged to devote a whole chapter to the deficiencies of Mayo, as listed by such critics as Daniel Bell, Reinhard Bendix, John Dunlop, Clark Kerr, C. Wright Mills and Wilbert Moore. Charges of conceptual ineptitude and of theoretical and methodological narrowness formed only part of the indictment: Mayo’s emphasis on industrial collaboration was said to ignore central economic and political issues (notably the functions of trade unions) and to relegate industrial social science to the role of a managerial or ‘cow’-sociology.

Continue reading The Three Faces of Elton Mayo | J H Smith | New Society, December 1980