Between end of term papers and Gravity’s Rainbow, I’ve been a bit too busy to do more than glance at a lot of the review copies that have been coming in this month. But Ronald Fraser’s forthcoming novel Drought looks interesting.
Fraser, a British historian, was the founder of New Left Books, now Verso Books—publisher of Drought. Verso’s blurb:
A brilliant novel about memory, love, and the clash between the old world and the new, set in 1950s Spain
“He turned his back on the old man to mourn in silence this unnecessary death and his part in it; but the sight of the coffin brought anger instead …”
In 1957, burned-out journalist John leaves London to recover in the Andalusian haven of Benalamar. Here he finds a village that has not changed since the Civil War, but when a foreign businessman, Bob, comes with plans to develop the area, the community is sent into turmoil. As a time of drought threatens, Bob promises to build a reservoir but this has unforeseen consequences. When a local farmer, Miguel, commits suicide, John is sent off on an investigation that leads back into recent history, lost love, and civil war.
Jeffrey Rotter’s novel The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering is new in hardback from Henry Holt. Their blurb:
A darkly comic, wildly original novel of a family in flight from the law, set in a near-future America — a Clockwork Orange with a Huck Finn heart.
In a not-so-distant future, astronomy has become a fairy tale, Copernicus is forgotten, and the Earth has resumed its lonely spot in the center of the universe. But when an ancient bunker containing a preserved space vehicle is discovered beneath the ruins of Cape Canaveral, it has the power to turn this retrograde world inside out.Enter the Van Zandt clan, whose run-ins with the law leave them with a no-win choice: test-pilot the rocket together as a family or be sent separately to prison for life. Their decision sets off an antic and heartbreaking search for human solace in a world bent on isolation, as the Van Zandts embark on an unforgettable road trip across the ass-end of an America only slightly more dissolute than our own. Uniquely tying an absurdist future to gut-bucket wit, The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering hauls our dark humanity into the light and shows us the precious places where it gleams.
Another beautiful volume from Twisted Spoon: A Gothic Soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic, translated from the Czech by Kirsten Lodge, featuring prints by Sascha Schneider.
I dipped my toe in this weekend—strange, brooding stuff. More to come.
Twisted Spoon’s blurb:
A Gothic Soul is the most acclaimed work of Czech Decadent prose. Expressing concerns that are unique to the Czech movement while alluding creatively and ironically to Joris-Karl Huysman’s Against Nature, the novella is set in Prague, which is portrayed as a dead city, a city peopled by shades, who, like the protagonist — a nihilist and the “last scion of a noble line” — are only a dim reflection of the city’s medieval splendor. The man lives in a dreamworld, the labyrinth of his soul giving rise to visions. In his quest for meaning, he walks the city, often hallucinating, while pondering questions of religious fervor and loss of faith, the vanity of life, his own sense of social alienation, human identity and its relationship to a “nation,” the miserable situation of the Czechs under Habsburg rule, and Prague’s loss of its soul on the cusp of modernity as old sections, such as much of the squalid Jewish Quarter, are demolished to make way for gaudy new buildings and streets. With a history of madness running in the family and afraid the same fate awaits him, he ultimately retreats into seclusion, preferring the monastic way of life as the epitome of unity and wholeness and a tonic to present-day fragmentation. Yet Karásek eschews the mawkish, opting instead for darker tones that play with the tropes and motifs of Decadence while conflating the same-sex desires of his protagonist, the fatalism and futility of such an existence within the social construct of the day, with concerns for the dual fates of his nation and city.
Given his importance for Czech literature and for European Decadence, very little of Karásek’s work has been translated into English. Kirsten Lodge included translations of his poetry in Solitude, Vanity, Night: An Anthology of Czech Decadent Poetry, and we have made available her translations of some of his shorter prose here and here. This is the first time A Gothic Soul, or any full-length work of Karásek’s prose, has been translated into English.
Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review collects Raymond Williams’s interviews with the New Left Review. It’s new from Verso. Their blurb:
Raymond Williams made a central contribution to the intellectual culture of the Left in the English-speaking world. He was also one of the key figures in the foundation of cultural studies in Britain, which turned critical skills honed on textual analysis to the examination of structures and forms of resistance apparent in everyday life. Politics and Letters is a volume of interviews with Williams, conducted by New Left Review, designed to bring into clear focus the major theoretical and political issues posed by his work. Introduced by writer Geoff Dyer, Politics and Letters ranges across Williams’s biographical development, the evolution of his cultural theory and literary criticism, his work on dramatic forms and his fiction, and an exploration of British and international politics.
Benjamin Johncock’s novel The Last Pilot is forthcoming this summer from Picador. Their blurb:
Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days in a precarious dance with death above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho’s bar, often with his wife, Grace. Both are secretly desperate for a child-and are delighted when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant.
But Sputnik has put the country in a panic, and NASA, newly formed, has been tasked with manning space before the Russians. Harrison turns down the chance to participate in Project Mercury and becomes a father to Florence, his baby girl. Yet his life, as a father and as a pilot, grinds to a halt when she becomes seriously ill and dies at the age of two. Devastated, Harrison loses himself in his work-and, sometimes, in distressing thoughts of Florence-and this time, when he gets a ticket to the moon, he takes it, but without consulting Grace.
As Harrison trains to become an astronaut, the toll that his daughter’s death has taken upon his marriage becomes more palpable, even as his ability to reckon with the reality of it diminishes. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, Benjamin Johncock’s The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing story of loss and finding courage in the face of it, from an extraordinary new talent.
Laura Lebow’s mystery The Figaro Murders is new in hardback from Macmillan’s Minotaur imprint. Their blurb:
In 1786 Vienna, Lorenzo Da Ponte is the court librettist for the Italian Theatre during the height of the enlightened reign of Emperor Joseph II. This exalted position doesn’t mean he’s particularly well paid, or even out of reach of the endless intrigues of the opera world. In fact, far from it.
One morning, Da Ponte stops off at his barber, only to find the man being taken away to debtor’s prison. Da Ponte impetuously agrees to carry a message to his barber’s fiancée and try to help her set him free, even though he’s facing pressures of his own. He’s got one week to finish the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro for Mozart before the opera is premiered for the Emperor himself.
Da Ponte visits the house where the barber’s fiancée works–the home of a nobleman, high in the Vienna’s diplomatic circles–and then returns to his own apartments, only to be dragged from his rooms in the middle of the night. It seems the young protégé of the diplomat was killed right about the time Da Ponte was visiting, and he happens to be their main suspect. Now he’s given a choice–go undercover into the household and uncover the murderer, or be hanged for the crime himself.
Brilliantly recreating the cultural world of late 18th century Vienna, the epicenter of the Enlightenment, Lebow brings to life some of the most famous figures of music, theatre, and politics.
Another Great Day at Sea, Geoff Dyer’s account of life (okay, two weeks of life) on board a U.S. aircraft carrier, is new in trade paperback next week from Random House. Their blurb:
As a child Geoff Dyer spent long hours making and blotchily painting model fighter planes. So as an adult, naturally he jumped at the chance to spend a week onboard the aircraft carrier the USS George H.W. Bush. Part deft travelogue, part unerring social observation, and part finely honed comedy, Another Great Day at Sea is the inimitable Dyer’s account of his time spent wandering the ship’s maze of walkways, hatches, and stairs, and talking with the crew—from the Captain to the ship’s dentists. A lanky Englishman in a deeply American world, Dyer brilliantly records daily life aboard this floating fortress, revealing it to be a prism for understanding a society where discipline and conformity become forms of self-expression. At the same time we are reminded why Dyer is celebrated as one of the most original voices in contemporary literature.
Read an excerpt here.