|16 September 2013 ~ We Need New Names ~ Noviolet Bullawayo|
I am about half way through this novel and already full of admiration for it. Books that open a window on a society I know little about have long attracted me. This story (so far) deals with the experience of a group of African childen in Zimbabwe during the new millennium. Their families were among the victims of Mugabe's bulldozing of homes, part of his retribution against the urban masses who did not vote for ZANU PF.
The world is largely seen through the eyes of Darling at the age of ten. She and her friends find a woman who has committed suicide, see her father dying of AIDS, the eviction by a mob of a white couple from a suburban house, the funeral of a political activist hacked down for backing the wrong party, and the ravings of a prophet who finds devils in everyone and is prepared to expel them for a large fee.
What is remarkable is the way the children's understanding and response to such events are maintained. And they have a degree of acceptance of their traumatic and deprived world that reminded me of the the description of a perfect day penned by Billy Caspar in A Kestrel for a Knave.
15 September 2013 ~ Peeling the Onion vs. Coating the Grit: English Weather by Neil Ferguson
The reading group I belong to met yesterday to discuss English Weather. This novel unlike many of the books we have chosen, such as last month’s Austerlitz, was generally well received by the diverse membership. "Readable" was a word several used to describe it. Like many good books, its deceptively simple language contains a richness that might need more than one reading to fully appreciate.
I first read English Weather while learning about Novel Writing on a course taught by the author at the City Lit. And taught is the correct word because along with a lot of discussion and feedback on the students’ writing he introduced an aspect of fiction each week with examples from a range of published novels. English Weather was not part of the course. You might say I wanted to check that Neil practiced what he preached. He does.
English Weather was first published in 1996. The work is unusual in that the story is told in reverse chronological order. Where many novels begin in childhood, often with one or more unfortunate experiences that resemble the grit around which secretions / events accumulate to produce a pearl / story, this is more like an onion in that the reader peels away the more recent additions to reveal formative events.
Another distinguishing feature is the way readers understand the central character, Gregory Harris, through the accounts of other people starting with a man who witnessed Greg’s death in prison. These memoirs - one of which is told as a taped oral history, another as piece written as part of therapy, and a third as a series of letters - conclude with an account by Greg’s mother of what preceded his birth in Holloway Prison. These examples might suggest the novel is rather bleak, but we also learn of Greg’s accomplishments in his life of some thirty years. The book also celebrates the golden age of English comprehensive schools.
A major achievement is the use of eight characters to tell us about their lives and that of Greg; each narrator has a distinctive voice that reflects birthplace, class and outlook on life. Any of these tales would make an interesting read. The thread of Greg running through them and a few other names reappearing knits what might otherwise be interesting short stories into a novel that reflects on a society that is as variable as English weather.
One member of the reading group felt the book was anti-establishment. Using literature to depict the abuse of state power is not a bad thing in itself. Polemics can give art intensity; for example Picasso’s Guernica or Orwell’s 1984. Neil has more than enough talent and the judgement to avoid his art bleeding until only anaemic propaganda is left. In any case, much was and is wrong in post-war Britain and the book deals with some of the issues such as evidence planted by the police, racist judges, brutish prison officers and the brusque care of children in institutions. At the same time, the narratives question the morality and aspirations of the post-war generations including some of its counter-culture elements.
I also recommend Neil’s collection of short stories, Bars of America and his recently released biography, Taller Today.
4 September 2013 ~ Tyrants Cannot Tolerate Mockery
The Russian leaders are humourless Stalinists
Unwilling to let an artist take the piss
By depicting homophobes Vlad and Dimitry
Consorting as queens in lingerie
But the bigger joke is the pair getting their knickers in a twist.
3 September 2013 ~ The Bush Baptist available via Amazon
The printed novel is now available via Amazon UK for £9.26 plus £2.80 p&p, as well as from Feedaread for £9.99 plus £4.34 p&p.
And Payhip who sell e-book versions are now accepting credit cards in addition ot PayPal.
Payhip for The Bush Baptist Payhip for Mr Vitriol