“The history of the Authors’ Club is studded with famous names: Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy Rider Haggard, Ford Madox Ford, Graham Greene. Yet in the course of writing this history, I have learned that life, the culture, and often the very survival of the club have depended on others who are not so well remembered today. A healthy literary culture is not sustained by a handful of greats alone; it requires a significant number of dedicated, skilful practitioners who may not achieve critical accolade or vast commercial success yet persist in writing worthwhile, interesting books.” C J Schüler
Founded in July 1891, the aim being to “advance the cause of Letters”, the Authors’ Club was originally the social arm of the Society of Authors; admitting journalists, editors, men of science, dramatists and academics, and not only the writers of books. “While many clubs, including the Athenaeum and the Savile, had a number of literary figures among their numbers, none was specifically aimed at them. For an example of what he was trying to achieve, Walter Besant had to look across the Atlantic to New York, where an Authors’ Club had been founded in 1882, and included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie among its members.” The Copyright act had just been passed, allowing British authors to receive royalties on American sales of their work. At the club’s inaugural dinner, Oscar Wilde raged at the Lord Chamberlain’s inspector censoring his new play, Salomé, with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role.
Blood & Gold, and an earlier thriller by Leo Kanaris, Codename Xenophon, are perfect examples of how well-crafted detective fiction from another country opens windows on to a brave new world, and shows that there are more similarities than differences between us all as we get on with the business of living in failing Western societies.
As the post-war liberal bandwagon begins to roll backwards, overtaken by the populist demagogue’s juggernaut of lies, we need more cracking good crime stories like this one, to entertain, illuminate, and inform.
“‘What a strange world this is,’ he said to me suddenly when the bus turned into Pulaski Street. ‘Before I’ve even had time to blink, they’re already calling me old, when inside I’m like an unripe fruit’.” – Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury
Invasion, occupation, partition: Poland’s strategic location between Germany and Russia has made it a target throughout history. In 1990, after the fall of Communism, Lech Walesa became Poland’s first popularly-elected president. In 2004, Poland was one of ten new states to join the EU. Britain’s nationalist-minded tabloids make Poles the enemy, taking away jobs and homes. Post-truth politics thrive on ignorance, breeding fear and hate. We have much to thank Poland for – not least Chopin, Copernicus, Marie Curie, Joseph Conrad, Helena Rubinstein … and Häagen-Dazs ice cream!
“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.”
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.
“When you’re rooted in yourself, you feel settled wherever you go. I guess to feel good we need to find places to adapt to. Except once we’ve adapted we need to move on, to find a new place to adapt to. But once you’ve adapted to several different places, you no longer have one place where you belong. That’s when the place where you belong becomes the space between those two different places. Moving around and seeing new places — that’s my natural habitat. The truth is I’m a nomad.” So speaks Roberto, train steward on the high-speed Talgo.
Modern society is becoming increasingly rootless and uniformist, as the forces of global capitalism, increased migration and social pluralism influence work, lifestyle and beliefs. Economic migration is spurring rapid social change, leading to ambiguity about identity, sense of place in the world and a cultural dissonance. As governments lose touch with their citizens, they ignore to their peril how groups that are ignored, or ostracised, become desperate, rebellious and take direct action. Humans need to belong to a social group, to be heard, make sense of their identity, and develop a sense of belonging — a sense of purpose. In a shifting world, no wonder social networking on the internet is so huge.
‘You doing this for charity?’ ‘No, it’s entirely selfish’, I reply, ‘A wish to live, before life passes by’.
Tony Chan – originally Australian, but now living and working in England – composes a poem a day as he treks between the four extreme cardinal points of the British mainland. His walk begins on 3 January, 2015, at the northernmost point, Dunnet Head, continuing on to Ardnamurchan Point and Lowestoft Ness, before ending at Lizard Point on 21 March.
There were times, at bedtime, when my daddy Told the one lonely tale that he knew best, The sino-story, Journey to the West, With its magi heroes, Monk and Monkey. Here I stand, having chased my father’s voice, Rock under my feet, waves against the rock, And waves all through the line of nine o’clock: At journey’s end, there is only one choice.
“On their first date, in the park, they got down to some serious petting. He gave Tianyi a blow-by-blow account, making her blush with his frankness: ‘She undid her bra so I could feel her breasts,” he stammered. ‘Then she pushed my hand down there . . .’
‘Is she pretty?”
‘No, but she’s curvy, and she’s really hot.’
‘So she fits the bill?’ Tianyi asked with a touch of sarcasm.
‘Yes, she does,’ Jin went pink. ‘So I need your help, I’ve been wanting to do an experiment, to watch a girl’s reaction to having sex . . .’
‘That’s not fair, if she really loves you . . .’
‘But I might fall in love with her during the experiment. So there’s nothing unfair about it . . .’
It’s not every day you come across a novel in which a mainland Chinese author writes openly about women, sex and corruption − affording the reader a voyeuristic glimpse into intimacy and relationships, Chinese style.
“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’ − one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” The spirit of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech made on 28 August, 1963, underpins this captivating and lyrical children’s book, deftly translated from the Italian by Siân Williams. The Oh Freedom! playlist at the end of the book is a natty touch.
Freedom of thought, religious freedom, freedom to live a fulfilled and happy and better life . . . People fleeing from the violations and abuses of tyrannical regimes all around the world dream of it. Oh Freedom! How precious you are! To what lengths will people go, in the hope of starting a better life? Continue reading Book of the Week | Oh, Freedom! by Francesco d’Adamo
“A new literary genre: paranoid fiction. Everyone is a suspect; everyone feels pursued,” Ricardo Piglia (published by Deep Vellum & Duke University Press).
Beef, gauchos and the tango. Eva Perón, military dictatorship and The Disappeared. Maradona, the 1986 World Cup and Thatcher’s last stand for Empire. Such are the answers of friends when asked what images Argentina conjures up in their mind’s eye. To which I would add, bookishly, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Ernesto Sabato.
Crime novelist Claudia Piñeiro is a welcome discovery. All Yours, A Crack in the Wall, Thursday Night Widows published by Bitter Lemon Press, and now Betty Boo, give an alternative, very contemporary view of Argentina. The abuse of public power for private benefit is increasingly a global problem, manifested in myriad nuanced ways at a local level. Corruption is invariably intrinsic to the way power is exercised. Just recently, the name of Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, appeared in the Panama Papers leaked files.Continue reading Book of the Week | Betty Boo by Claudia Piñeiro
“Life has always loomed large over us dwarves. Some take to it like a fish to water despite their diminished state and are even happy, while others tramp along the shores of existence like dogs driven wild by urban detritus, licking the sores of their own resentment, tempered by the terrible lash of indifference, as they tumble and stumble toward their tombs.” Goyito, in A Bad End
Historically, midgets often served as jesters, or entertainers in the courts of kings and aristocratic households. Isabella d’Este designed part of her palace for them and remembered two in her will. The paintings of Velázquez record the appearance of dwarves at the court of Philip IV of Spain. In the 18th and 19th centuries Russian tsars and nobles kept innumerable dwarfs; in 1710 a dwarf couple spent their wedding night in the tsar’s bedchamber. American showman P.T. Barnum publicized Charles Stratton (“General Tom Thumb”) in 1842 and he became an international star. Continue reading Book of the Week | A Bad End by Fernando Royuela