Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

Henrietta Foster is an established journalist, TV producer and film-maker. Her latest film Beyond the Grace Note (Sky Arts) looks at some of the most remarkable and resilient female conductors, and the joys and challenges of the profession in the male-dominated world of orchestral conducting. Her previous work includes Art & Islam with Hari Kunzru for the BBC (2004), and Millennium Minds with philosopher, Alain de Botton, for Channel 4 (1999).

In January of this year when the world was quite normal with open functioning cinemas there was one film I really wanted to see: Le Mystère Henri Pick. I’d liked the other films based on David Foenkinos’ novels and even better this one starred the marvellous Fabrice Luchini. Sadly I missed both screenings at the Ciné Lumière in London because in those far off days there was more than one thing to do in the evenings. I went to the Institut Français library and checked the novel out but just before lockdown someone else requested the book and I had to return it unread. Henri and Henrietta seemed fated not to meet.

Then to my great joy I saw that Pushkin Press was publishing a translation of the novel and in conjunction with Walter Presents no less. Walter Iuzzolino and his collection of continental European television dramas are the only real reasons to watch Channel Four now that Homeland is over. Putting aside my guilt about not reading the novel in French, I asked Pushkin Press for a copy to review.
Continue reading Guest Review | Henrietta Foster | The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020

The prolific outpouring of support in the press, book trade newsletters and across social media in the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd in eight minutes and forty-six seconds in Minneapolis gives a glimmer of hope at a time of pandemic bleakness and flawed leadership.

The murder of a black citizen at the hands of a white policeman, and protests against it, is nothing new, and is not only an American problem, but “shooter bias” is prevalent in Britain and Europe too. The 1967 film In the Heat of the Night starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger is a must-see film classic. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Black Classics for independent minds | June 2020

Review | Negative Capability: A Diary of Survival, Michèle Roberts | Book of the Week

Who am I addressing in this diary? Diaries are private documents, written for the author alone. The diarist writes to herself. Perhaps keeping this diary will compose a self for me, a future self, a possible self, a strong self I’ve touch with. In any case I need to keep on writing it. If I don’t, I may lose myself in that strange, timeless, scattered state again.”

An intimate confessional, a personal dialogue between the diarist and their persona, a record of private thoughts and feelings, an internal investigation juxtaposed with external observations of people set against a certain social and literary milieu – everyone is fascinated by diaries. A writer’s diary is of particular interest and very readable since storytelling is second nature. The text becomes a work of literature in itself, and is not just a record of daily doings. Continue reading Review | Negative Capability: A Diary of Survival, Michèle Roberts | Book of the Week

Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton

T. J. Gorton’s debut novel Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy (Quartet Books) has been shortlisted for the Author’s Club First Novel Award. The winner will be announced tomorrow, Sunday 17th May, at the Authors’ Club LitFest Online 2020

The narrative moves back and forth between civil war in Beirut and the Levant of 1915-18, as Vartan Nakashian, an Armenian from Aleppo, looks back over his tumultuous life, involving espionage, betrayal and revenge at a time of war and genocide. Here is an extract to give you a taste of the author’s style and voice. You can buy a copy of the novel HERE

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“Dust motes danced in the sunbeams. Leaning back, he watched their senseless, ceaseless movement and for some reason thought again of old Bustros, the patriarch of a great Greek Orthodox tribe. He would be amazed to see his house today, nearly two hundred years after he built it; surrounded by roads and overlooked by an office block, its gar- dens bulldozed for another road that never happened, was never intended to happen. Turned into a no-man’s land where the militias dump bodies, sometimes burning them. Another reason to keep the windows shut, the oily smoke reeking of gasoline and barbecue. As though anyone cared to identify yesterday’s victims. It’s tomorrow’s they’re worried about.     Continue reading Extract | Only the Dead: A Levantine Tragedy, T. J. Gorton

Review | Pomeranski by Gerald Jacobs | Book of the Week

Loosely based on the author’s memories of Brixton in the 1950s and 1960s, Pomeranski reimagines a particular time and place very different to the gentrified South London neighbourhood of today. Now black-and grey-corporate outfits fill the streets, new hipster stores have purposely paint-chipped rustic interiors, and the over-priced street-food is largely for tourist consumption.

A motley crew is reunited at Benny Pomeranski’s funeral which “took place at a burial ground in Essex on a cold November morning in the year 2000, a week after his eighty-first birthday.” His son Simon recites the mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish, and then with his mother, Bertha, leads the way to the open grave where relatives and close friends shovel a handful of soil on to the coffin. Continue reading Review | Pomeranski by Gerald Jacobs | Book of the Week