Not Barthelme’s finest, but hey. An illustrated artifact, very much of its era.
The nice people at Pantheon sent along a bound galley of Michael Cho’s graphic novel Shoplifter when they sent me a copy of Charles Burns’s Sugar Skull. Both titles are out this fall.
I read Shoplifter in one short sitting—it’s a pleasant read, and Cho’s talent shows in the small panels and big splashes alike.
Corinna Park used to have big plans. Studying English literature in college, she imagined writing a successful novel and leading the idealized life of an author. After graduation, she moved to a big city and took a job at an advertising agency—just to pay off her student loans. Now she’s worked in the same office for five years and the only thing she’s written is . . . copy. She longs for companionship (other than her cat),gets no satisfaction from her job, and feels numbed by the monotony of a life experienced through a series of screens. But whenever she shoplifts a magazine from the corner store near her apartment, she feels a little, what? A little more alive. Yet Corinna knows there must be something more to life, and she faces the same question as does everyone of her generation: how to find it?
Is the story a bit familiar? Sure. But Cho updates it to the post-social media world, where advertisers have convinced almost everyone (especially themselves) that what they are doing is Important Art. There’s a smallness to Shoplifter—the book shouldn’t be an epic, of course, but 96 pages feels slim here. I guess I would’ve liked to see Corinna the biblioklept, you know, steal more. Still, her ultimate resistance to a mundane life feels like a victory in the end.
Two historicalish fictions.
First, Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain, which is new in trade paperback; the hardback received good reviews last year. Pub’s blurb:
The wonderful new historical novel set in seventeenth-century England from Rose Tremain, author of Restoration (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), The Road Home (winner of the Orange Prize) and Trespass (a Richard & Judy pick). Merivel has been called ‘wonderfully entertaining’ (Guardian Books of the Year) and ‘an unadulterated delight’ (Independent) and has been shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The gaudy years of the Restoration are long gone and Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to King Charles II, sets off for the French court in search of a fresh start. But royal life at the Palace of Versailles – all glitter in front and squalor behind – leaves him in despair, until a chance encounter with the seductive Madame de Flamanville, allows him to dream of a different future.
But will that future ever be his? Summoned home urgently to attend to the ailing King, Merivel finds his loyalty and skill tested to their limits.
Also: Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh Trumpet:
When a murdered corpse of an unknown young noble is discovered, Fidelma of Cashel is brought in to investigate, in Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh TrumpetIreland, AD 670. When the body of a murdered young noble is discovered not far from Cashel, the King calls upon his sister, Fidelma, and her companion Eadulf to investigate. Fidelma, in addition to being the sister of the king, is a dailaigh—an advocate of the Brehon Law Courts—and has a particular talent for resolving the thorniest of mysteries.
But this time, Fidelma and Eadulf have very little to work with—the only clue to the noble’s identity is an emblem originating from the nearby kingdom of Laign. Could the murder be somehow related to the wave of violence erupting in the western lands of the kingdom? The turmoil there is being stirred up by an unknown fanatical figure who claims to have been summoned by “the seventh angel” to remove the “impure of faith.” Fidelma and Eadulf, once again grappling with a tangled skein of murder and intrigue, must somehow learn what connects the dead noble, a murdered alcoholic priest, and an abbot who has turned his monastery into a military fortress. When it appears that things cannot get more complex, Fidelma herself is abducted, and Eadulf must rescue her before the mystery can be solved.
The Mincing Mockingbird Guide to Troubled Birds is new from Penguin next month. It’s a handsome little book. Amusing.
Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic is new in trade paperback from Picador.
This (longish) blurb is from the author’s website, where you can also download an excerpt of the book and/or listen to audio of McCann reading from TransAtlantic:
In the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.” Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.
Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.
Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.
New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.
These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.
The most mature work yet from an incomparable storyteller, TransAtlantic is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year.
I thought I’d jump in on the Books Acquired feature on the blog, so below is a picture and some words about the books I got this past April. Significantly fewer than average as I’m *trying* to read the books I already have but, you know, it doesn’t really ever stop.
It was in this interview on the blog that I heard about Gabriel Josipovici’s philosophical novel. I’ve been on the hunt for more books like this in the past couple of years, and if it’s anyone’s recommendation about novels that wax philosophical, it’d be a philosopher’s. Goldberg: Variations also promises to slake an obsessive thirst for books about composers and their madness (or illness). I also seem unable to shake an attraction for books that tell stories about other stories, with the latter being the “actual story” of the book. From the back: “At the turn of the eighteenth century, a writer–a Jew–enters an English country manor, where he has been invited to read through the night to his host until the gentleman falls asleep. What unfolds then are seemingly unconnected stories covering a vast array of topics–from incest to madness to a poetic competition in the court of George III. And what emerges by the end is a breathtaking tapestry in which past and present, imagination and truth, are intricately woven together into one remarkable whole.”
I saw Kate Zambreno read from this book back in 2011 when it was originally published by Emergency Press. Since then she’s written a “critical memoir” titled Heroines, which explores the writer’s relationship with the “wives and mistresses” of the 20th-Century modernist greats. It’s my understanding that Zambreno has also reworked through Green Girl for this republish. Which I can’t imagine doing. Seems terrifying and harrowing. Only about 20 pages in so far, but it definitely has, for desperate lack of a better term, a European feel to it that’s rare for American writers. The sentences vibrate along the same manic, anxious and panicky frequencies of favorites like Bernhard, Rhys and Woolf. From the back: “Ruth is a young American in London, trying desperately to navigate a world in which she attracts the unwanted gaze of others while grappling with the uncertainty of her own self-regard. Haunted equally by self-doubt and by a morbid fascination with the beautiful, cruel, and empty people around her, Ruth darts quietly through the rainy sidewalks of her present, trying to escape her future.”
I know Steve Mitchelmore, blogger of This Space, is a big Peter Handke fan. I tweeted him a couple of months ago and he recommended that I start with this one. I’m looking forward to reading an Austrian (or Austro-Hungarian and descendants of) that isn’t cantankerous and odorous a la Bernhard. But, as expected, this book seems like it’s going to be really fucked up. The back: “In the summer of 1960, Filip Kobal leaves his home in search of his missing brother, Gregor. Not quite twenty, he is armed only with two of his brother’s books; a copybook and a dictionary in which Gregor has, revealingly, marked certain words. Filip’s investigations of language–of the laws of naming objects, and of the roots of alienation in the discrepancy between objects’ names and our experience of them–becomes, finally, an investigation of himself and the world around him.”
Got way way behind on this feature of the blog this month. I don’t even know if readers like this feature, this “Books Acquired” thing. It’s mostly been a way to give some kind of press for unsolicited review copies, as well as books I buy compulsively.
Anyway: I’m not too into the cozy mystery thing, but I love this cover for some reason. Just makes me laugh:
From the Kirkus review of Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall:
Kat Stanford quit her job as star of the reality TV show Fakes & Treasures, hoping to find a quiet place to open an antiques store with her mother, Iris. She wasn’t counting on Iris’ impetuous decision to buy a carriage house from the dowager Countess of Grenville, mother of the owner of Honeychurch Hall. Arriving in Little Dipperton, Devon, to help her mother settle into what sounded like a picturesque cottage, Kat finds Iris living instead in a dilapidated building with holes in the floors; antiquated fixtures; Kat’s father’s ashes in a Tupperware container; and aggressively spiteful neighbors, Eric Pugsley and his wife, the leather-clad housekeeper. Iris insists they’re trying to drive her out of the carriage house, and Kat isn’t sure that would be so bad, especially after the Honeychurch nanny, who warned her about the place, disappears. Worse yet, a conversation Kat overhears between Eric and the Earl of Grenville makes Iris’ suspicions sound uncomfortably plausible. The earl’s first wife died from what were supposedly natural causes but possibly weren’t, a 20-year-old robbery has never been solved, and mystery surrounds a pair of toy bears, not to mention the odd ghost. Kat’s even more shocked to discover that Iris has a secret identity and a closer connection to Honeychurch Hall than her daughter imagined. When she stumbles on a body in a hidden grotto, the only element missing from the well-stuffed plot is romance—a deficiency the local detective inspector just might remedy.
Browsing books with my son the other day, Brian Wildsmith’s Professor Noah’s Spaceship caught my eye. Absolutely gorgeous illustrations and a charming story.