Hilary Mantel Wins the 2012 Booker Prize

The Guardian and other sources report that Hilary Mantel has won the 2012 Man Booker Prize for her novel Bring Up The Bodies.

Bring Up the Bodies continues Mantel’s reappraisal of the Tudor saga through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a story she began in Wolf Hall, which won the Booker Prize in 2009.

Biblioklept was a fan of both books; check out our reviews of Wolf Hall, and our reviews of Bring Up The Bodies.

The Man Booker site reports that

Hers is a story unique in Man Booker history. She becomes only the third author, after Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee, to win the prize twice, which puts her in the empyrean. But she is also the first to win with a sequel (Wolf Hall won in 2009) and the first to win with such a brief interlude between books. Her resuscitation of Thomas Crowell – and with him the historical novel – is one of the great achievements of modern literature. There is the last volume of her trilogy still to come so her Man Booker tale may yet have a further chapter.

 

Seven Horror Stories Masquerading In Other Genres

We often identify genre simply by its conventions and tropes, and, when October rolls round and we want scary stories, we look for vampires and haunted houses and psycho killers and such. And while there’s plenty of great stuff that adheres to the standard conventions of horror (Lovecraft and Poe come immediately to mind) let’s not overlook novels that offer horror just as keen as any genre exercise. Hence: Seven horror novels masquerading in other genres:

cormac5.jpg_jpeg_300x1000_q85

Blood Meridian — Cormac McCarthy

In my review (link above), I called Blood Meridian “a blood-soaked, bloodthirsty bastard of a book.” The story of the Glanton gang’s insane rampage across Mexico and the American Southwest in the 1850s is pure horror. Rape, scalping, dead mules, etc. And Judge Holden. . . [shivers].

Rushing to Paradise — J.G. Ballard

On the surface, Ballard’s 1994 novel Rushing to Paradise seems to be a parable about the hubris of ecological extremism that would eliminate humanity from any natural equation. Dr. Barbara and her band of misfit environmentalists try to “save” the island of St. Esprit from France’s nuclear tests. The group eventually begin living in a cult-like society with Dr. Barbara as its psycho-shaman center. As Dr. Barbara’s anti-humanism comes to outweigh any other value, the island devolves into Lord of the Flies insanity. Wait, should Lord of the Flies be on this list? 

2666 — Roberto Bolaño

Okay. I know. This book ends up on every list I write. What can I do?

While there’s humor and pathos and love and redemption in Bolaño’s masterwork, the longest section of the book, “The Part about the Crimes,” is an unrelenting catalog of vile rapes, murders, and mutilations that remain unresolved. The sinister foreboding of 2666‘s narrative heart overlaps into all of its sections (as well as other Bolaño books); part of the tension in the book–and what makes Bolaño such a gifted writer–is the visceral tension we experience when reading even the simplest  incidents. In the world of 2666, a banal episode like checking into a motel or checking the answering machine becomes loaded with Lynchian dread. Great horrific stuff.

King Lear — William Shakespeare

Macbeth gets all the propers as Shakespeare’s great work of terror (and surely it deserves them). But Lear doesn’t need to dip into the stock and store of the supernatural to achieve its horror. Instead, Shakespeare crafts his terror at the familial level. What would you do if your ungrateful kids humiliated you and left you homeless on the heath? Go a little crazy, perhaps? And while Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan are pure mean evil, few characters in Shakespeare’s oeuvre are as crafty and conniving as Edmund, the bastard son of Glouscester. And, lest I forget to mention, Lear features shit-eating, self-mutilation, a grisly tableaux of corpses, and an eye-gouging accompanied by one of the Bard’s most enduring lines: “Out vile jelly!Peter Brook chooses to elide the gore in his staging of that infamous scene:

The Trial — Franz Kafka

Kafka captured the essential alienation of the modern world so well that we not only awarded him his own adjective, we also tend to forget how scary his stories are, perhaps because of their absurd familiarity. None surpasses his unfinished novel The Trial, the story of hapless Josef K., a bank clerk arrested by unknown agents for an unspecified crime. While much of K.’s attempt to figure out just who is charging him for what is hilarious in its absurdity, its also deeply dark and really creepy. K. attempts to find some measure of agency in his life, but is ultimately thwarted by forces he can’t comprehend–or even see for that matter. Nowhere is this best expressed than in the famous “Before the Law” episode. If you’re too lazy to read it, check out his animation with narration by the incomparable Orson Welles:

Sanctuary — William Faulkner

In my original review of Sanctuary (link above), I noted that “if you’re into elliptical and confusing depictions of violence, drunken debauchery, creepy voyeurism, and post-lynching sodomy, Sanctuary just might be the book for you.” There’s also a corn-cob rape scene. The novel is about the kidnapping and debauching of Southern belle Temple Drake by the creepy gangster Popeye–and her (maybe) loving every minute of it. The book is totally gross. I got off to a slow start with Faulkner. If you take the time to read the full review above (in which I make some unkind claims) please check out my retraction. In retrospect, Sanctuary is a proto-Lynchian creepfest, and one of the few books I’ve read that has conveyed a total (and nihilistic) sense of ickiness.

n14559

Great Apes — Will Self

Speaking of ickiness…Self’s 1997 novel Great Apes made me totally sick. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans and Great Apes is the literary equivalent (just look at that cover). After a night of binging on coke and ecstasy, artist Simon Dykes wakes up to find himself in a world where humans and apes have switched roles. Psychoanalysis ensues. While the novel is in part a lovely satire of emerging 21st-century mores, its humor doesn’t outweigh its nightmare grotesquerie. Great Apes so deeply affected us that I haven’t read any of Self’s work since.

[Ed. note: This post is a few years old. We run it again for Halloween and will run a follow up post later today].

Will Self Is Wrong About the Coen Brothers

Will Self‘s recent hatchet job on the Coen brothers for The Guardian is the kind of calculated contrarianism that poses for meaningful criticism far too often on the internet. Let me offer his smarmy lede–

Sometimes it occurs to me that the job of a serious cultural critic mostly consists in telling the generality of people that their opinions – on films, on books, on all manner of widgets, gadgets and even the latest electronic fidgets – simply aren’t up to scratch. It’s a dirty, thankless task, but someone has to do it; someone has to point out that, no, Inception wasn’t the last word in sci-fi meta-sophistication, but rather a stupid person’s idea of what an intelligent film is like. And by the same token, as the Coen brothers’ True Grit comes galloping into our multiplexes surrounded by dust clouds of Stateside approbation, someone has to take a bead on the whole sweep of their careers, squint, and then if not exactly shoot them down, at any rate cold-cock the notion that the Coens are the great American auteurs of their generation, when, sadly, they are only a moderately clever person’s idea of what great American auteurs might be like.

I’ll set aside for a moment puzzling out whether Self sees himself as a serious cultural critic or a critic of serious culture (whatever that means) — there are too many inaccuracies, unsupported judgments, and logical fallacies in his essay to waste time with this detail for the moment. Let’s start with his premise that the Coens “are only a moderately clever person’s idea of what great American auteurs might be like.” Self links this premise to Inception for some reason, perhaps, I imagine, to trot out his zinger that Nolan’s blockbuster is “a stupid person’s idea of what an intelligent film is like.” This is a clever bit of sophistry that ultimately means nothing, an argument rooted in arrogance alone. Imagine a stupid person. Now, ask this imaginary stupid person what his or her idea of “great literature” is. He or she may reply “Stephen King” or he or she may just as easily reply “Shakespeare.” The perceived intelligence of the person has absolutely nothing to do with the aesthetic merit of the literary work he or she ultimately names. I might just as easily suggest that Will Self is a self-satisfied snob’s idea of a clever critic. But what would that actually say about Self’s brand of criticism? Nothing. Self’s claim about the Coens here (and Inception) is simply an ad hominem attack that relies on a perceived (yet never justified) superiority of aesthetic sensibility over the middlebrow masses.

Self tries to take on the Coens’ oeuvre, yet couldn’t even stay awake during Fargo

Fargo, I’ve always fallen asleep in – all that snow, and Frances McDormand’s mien of winsome determination, why, it’s enough to make anyone nod-off. But now I realise that my failure to stay awake during a film many consider to be among the Coens’ finest, was probably telling me something.

So the film fails the critic, who cannot bother to account for it (Self never even mentions Miller’s Crossing, for the record). Must be all that snow. Even worse, the film doesn’t do what Self wishes for it to do–

Fargo is a film that seems to be a genre noir picture, while never quite committing itself. This capacity the Coens have had to flirt with genre rather than ever wholly embracing it is something that – until someone like me comes along to tell you otherwise – people find particularly engaging.

The arrogance of this line is stunning. Who does Self think “someone like me” might be? Does he seriously see himself as some kind of aesthetic revelator? Self ends by writing that,

the Coens’ central problem [is] their reflexivity as directors, making films of films rather than films tout court. Still, in our benighted age, when films about amusement park rides and electronic fidgets scoop the honours, perhaps Hollywood redux is the best we can hope for.

I still don’t really understand Self’s argument. He seems to think that the Coens make decent Hollywood films, but they don’t make art. He’s upset because he thinks people are falling for two guys who are merely ironizing classic Hollywood structures. And yet he utterly fails to engage those structures, to actually analyze the Coens’ films in any meaningful way. Here’s a sample of Self’s facile criticism–

With O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) you even get another overlay: this isn’t just a retro-style depression-era chain-gang jailbreak movie, but a retelling of the Odyssey to boot. It’s James Joyce with a catchy country soundtrack instead of all that brain-ache wordplay.

How fucking glib is that? O Brother is a musical where every single song intrinsically connects to the particular scene in which it appears. It’s not merely a retelling of the Odyssey, but also an allusive reworking of much of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. At its core, it’s a film about the rise of modernism and the changing cultural scope of the South. And, for what it’s worth, it’s full of brainy wordplay.

O Brother also reworks a 1941 Preston Sturges film called Sullivan’s Travels. This film is a film about a film-maker — this is exactly the kind of ironic self-reflexivity that bothers Self for reasons he fails to account for beyond the notion that such self-reflexivity leads to the dangers of people who think that they are smart but who are really not smart believing that they are seeing a smart film — hang on, that was a long clause, sorry; okay, Sullivan’s Travels is a film about a film-maker who wants to make a film of social commentary, a film of meaningful art, a film he will call O Brother, Where Art Thou? As the director makes his way through the mean mean world, he comes to realize that the average person — the middlebrow viewers that Self holds so much contempt for — would really rather have their pains relieved in some way than experience them again through an art film.

But I get the feeling that Self has little capacity for an emotional response to film — he’s likely far too concerned that the film is trying to like, trick him or something. (It is. That’s the job of all storytelling). And yes, I haven’t bothered to say why the Coens’ films are great, are marvelous, are fantastic films, but this rant has already grown too long, and besides, I think that all one has to do is watch them. (And if you don’t like them, that’s fine. Doesn’t make you “stupid” or “middlebrow”). Finally — and this is just pure meanness — Will Self’s novel Great Apes was so singularly gross, gnarly, and devoid of meaningful insight that it ensured I would never read another word of his literature. His essay on the Coens ensures that I’ll ignore his criticism as well.

Seven Horror Novels Masquerading In Other Genres

We often identify genre simply by its conventions and tropes, and, when October rolls round and we want scary stories, we look for vampires and haunted houses and psycho killers and such. And while there’s plenty of great stuff that adheres to the standard conventions of horror (Lovecraft and Poe come immediately to mind) let’s not overlook novels that offer horror just as keen as any genre exercise. We offer seven horror novels masquerading in other genres:

cormac5.jpg_jpeg_300x1000_q85

Blood Meridian — Cormac McCarthy

In our review (link above) we called Blood Meridian “a blood-soaked, bloodthirsty bastard of a book.” The story of the Glanton gang’s insane rampage across Mexico and the American Southwest in the 1850s is pure horror. Rape, scalping, dead mules, etc. And Judge Holden. . . [shivers].

Rushing to Paradise — J.G. Ballard

On the surface, Ballard’s 1994 novel Rushing to Paradise seems to be a parable about the hubris of ecological extremism that would eliminate humanity from any natural equation. Dr. Barbara and her band of misfit environmentalists try to “save” the island of St. Esprit from France’s nuclear tests. The group eventually begin living in a cult-like society with Dr. Barbara as its psycho-shaman center. As Dr. Barbara’s anti-humanism comes to outweigh any other value, the island devolves into Lord of the Flies insanity. Wait, should Lord of the Flies be on this list? 

2666 — Roberto Bolaño

Okay. We know. This book ends up on every list we write. What can we do?

While there’s humor and pathos and love and redemption in Bolaño’s masterwork, the longest section of the book, “The Part about the Crimes,” is an unrelenting catalog of vile rapes, murders, and mutilations that remain unresolved. The sinister foreboding of 2666‘s narrative heart overlaps into all of its sections (as well as other Bolaño books); part of the tension in the book–and what makes Bolaño such a gifted writer–is the visceral tension we experience when reading even the simplest  incidents. In the world of 2666, a banal episode like checking into a motel or checking the answering machine becomes loaded with Lynchian dread. Great horrific stuff.

King Lear — William Shakespeare

Macbeth gets all the propers as Shakespeare’s great work of terror (and surely it deserves them). But Lear doesn’t need to dip into the stock and store of the supernatural to achieve its horror. Instead, Shakespeare crafts his terror at the familial level. What would you do if your ungrateful kids humiliated you and left you homeless on the heath? Go a little crazy, perhaps? And while Lear’s daughters Goneril and Regan are pure mean evil, few characters in Shakespeare’s oeuvre are as crafty and conniving as Edmund, the bastard son of Glouscester. And, lest we forget to mention, Lear features shit-eating, self-mutilation, a grisly tableaux of corpses, and an eye-gouging accompanied by one of the Bard’s most enduring lines: “Out vile jelly!Peter Brook chooses to elide the gore in his staging of that infamous scene:

The Trial — Franz Kafka

Kafka captured the essential alienation of the modern world so well that we not only awarded him his own adjective, we also tend to forget how scary his stories are in light, perhaps, of their absurd familiarity. For our money, none surpasses his unfinished novel The Trial, the story of hapless Josef K., a bank clerk arrested by unknown agents for an unspecified crime. While much of K.’s attempt to figure out just who is charging him for what is hilarious in its absurdity, its also deeply dark and really creepy. K. attempts to find some measure of agency in his life, but is ultimately thwarted by forces he can’t comprehend–or even see for that matter. Nowhere is this best expressed than in the famous “Before the Law” episode. If you’re too lazy to read it, check out his animation with narration by the incomparable Orson Welles:

Sanctuary — William Faulkner

In our original review of Sanctuary (link above), we noted that “if you’re into elliptical and confusing depictions of violence, drunken debauchery, creepy voyeurism, and post-lynching sodomy, Sanctuary just might be the book for you.” There’s also a corn-cob rape scene. The novel is about the kidnapping and debauching of Southern belle Temple Drake by the creepy gangster Popeye–and her (maybe) loving every minute of it. The book is totally gross. We got off to a slow start with Faulkner. If you take the time to read our full review above (in which we make some unkind claims) please check out our retraction. In retrospect, Sanctuary is a proto-Lynchian creepfest, and one of the few books we’ve read that has conveyed a total (and nihilistic) sense of ickyness.

n14559

Great Apes — Will Self

Speaking of ickiness…Self’s 1997 novel Great Apes made me totally sick. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans and Great Apes is the literary equivalent (just look at that cover). After a night of binging on coke and ecstasy, artist Simon Dykes wakes up to find himself in a world where humans and apes have switched roles. Psychoanalysis ensues. While the novel is in part a lovely satire of emerging 21st-century mores, its humor doesn’t outweigh its nightmare grotesquerie. Great Apes so deeply affected us that we haven’t read any of Self’s work since.

Riddley Walker–Russell Hoban

I never gave Riddley Walker back to Patrick Tilford (aka TLFRD). A few years ago I loaned it to a student who never returned it. Said student never returned Dune, or The Left Hand of Darkness, or several Jules Verne novels either. Doesn’t matter, I know that he read them.

This book is a favorite. Russell Hoban’s coming-of-age story takes place in a future that has regressed to the iron age due to a catastrophic war. Hoban writes in his own language, a mutated English, full of fragments of the 20th century.

I couldn’t find an image of the edition I stole/lost. This edtion from 2000 features an introduction by Will Self, whose latest book, The Book of Dave, apparently was directly influenced by Riddley Walker. Will Self’s book Great Apes deeply, deeply disturbed me. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans; Great Apes is the literary equivalent.

Great Apes was an airport bookstore buy; I suppose at some point on this blog I will address the “airport bookstore buy.”