So I finished my second full reading of Gravity’s Rainbow today. And then I read the last section three more times. And my brain feels fried. I was thinking about rereading V. after this, but I think a break will do nicely. So I picked up Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo on Pynchon’s recommendation (“check out Ishmael Reed,” the narrator tells us on page 588 of Gravity’s Rainbow). A stroll through the lit crit section led to my spying (okay, looking for and finding) the 20th Century Views collection on Pynchon. So we’ll see how that reads.
Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This at Home is new from And Other Stories. Their blurb:
A girl repeatedly chops her boyfriend in half but, while her ‘other half’ multiplies, she is still not satisfied. Love transforms a mother working down the chippie – into Elvis! An old witch takes in a young one and, despite her best, magical powers, can’t help revealing something of the real world to her apprentice. Beautiful, sharp and fearless, these stories breathe. Do Try This at Home.
In Angela Readman’s debut collection, each story packs its share of explosive material. In every one, quirky new strategies for surviving troubled lives are revealed, often through a transformative touch of contemporary magic.
If Angela Carter were Readman’s fairy godmother, would that make David Lynch her wicked stepbrother? Don’t say you weren’t warned!
Fredric Jameson’s latest from Verso is The Ancients and the Postmoderns. Verso’s blurb:
High modernism is now as far from us as antiquity was for the Renaissance. Such is the premise of Fredric Jameson’s major new work in which modernist works, this time in painting (Rubens) and music (Wagner and Mahler), are pitted against late-modernist ones (in film) as well as a variety of postmodern experiments (from SF to The Wire, from “Eurotrash” in opera to Altman and East German literature): all of which attempt, in their different ways, to invent new forms to grasp a specific social totality. Throughout the historical periods, argues Jameson, the question of narrative persists through its multiple formal changes and metamorphoses.
Gwendolyn Womack’s novel The Memory Painter is new in hardback from Picador. Their blurb:
Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artist whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret to his success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. When Bryan awakes, he possesses extraordinary new skills…like the ability to speak obscure languages and an inexplicable genius for chess. All his life, he has wondered if his dreams are recollections, if he is re-experiencing other people’s lives. Linz Jacobs is a brilliant neurogeneticist, absorbed in decoding the genes that help the brain make memories, until she is confronted with an exact rendering of a recurring nightmare at one of Bryan’s shows. She tracks down the elusive artist, and their meeting triggers Bryan’s most powerful dream yet: visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, died in a lab explosion decades ago.As Bryan becomes obsessed with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the scientists’ deaths, his dreams begin to reveal what happened at the lab, as well as a deeper mystery that may lead all the way to ancient Egypt. Together, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.A taut thriller and a timeless love story spanning six continents and 10,000 years of history, The Memory Painterby Gwendolyn Womack is a riveting debut novel unlike any you’ve ever read.
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.