Written in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum when the UK voted to leave the EU, Robinson is essential and entertaining reading. By the end of the 19th century there were over 700 spin-off versions of Robinson Crusoe: the novel is brilliantly and succinctly revisited by Charles Boyle a.k.a. Jack Robinson in a modern-day setting.
Random thoughts from an offshore island
“James Joyce considered Robinson’s grandfather to be ‘the true prototype of the English colonist . . . The whole Anglo Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence; the unconscious cruelty; the persistence; the slow yet efficient intelligence; the sexual apathy; the practical, well-balanced religiousness; the calculating taciturnity.’ Crusoe – the eponymous hero of the book by Daniel Defoe that is often considered to be the first English novel.”Continue reading Review | Robinson and An Overcoat, both by Jack Robinson a.k.a. Charles Boyle
“Since the ages of Enlightenment and Romanticism, the champions of translation – such as Goethe and Madame de Staël – have urged its necessity, if only as an inferior substitute for the true polyglot’s command of several tongues. That case still needs to be made, especially in English, whose position as a planet-spanning lingua franca may trick native speakers into the delusion that their language, or any language, may encompass the whole world of thought and art.” – from the Introduction
Great novels help us to understand what makes people tick and offer glimpses into the human psyche; they are as illuminating as psychology books. Translated fiction gives a whole added dimension, opening windows on to other worlds and ways of being and perceiving, which is ever more important now that Britain is being forced to re-evaluate its place in the world.
In 2001 when he was literary editor of The Independent, Boyd Tonkin revived the Independent Foreign Fiction Award – first won in 1990 by Orhan Pamuk for The White Castle (trs. Victoria Holbrook). He was one of the five co-judges until 2015 when it merged with the Man Booker International Prize. The prize has not only been a huge boost for quality translations and translators, but has also paved the way for other prizes – the TA’s translation prizes which recognize outstanding translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish; the TA’s first translation prize; and the Warwick prize for women in translation. Continue reading Review | The 100 Best Novels in Translation, Boyd Tonkin | Book of the Week
Our April top 10 indie reads take in Albania, Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Balkans, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with the Best of British crime, poetry, and experimentalism.
Negative Space by Lulketa Lleshanaku trs. Ani Gjika (Bloodaxe Books) buy here Winner of an English PEN Award
“At night the voice of the river is totalitarian
like his alcoholic father’s breath
that blows against his neck after a haircut.
And he doesn’t dare look back at what he did.
His vision doubles, two pasts,
two version of the truth,
two women to fall in love with,
two lives to escape.
But which of them is real? Which an illusion?”
“God, like fireflies, only shines in the darkness, wrote Schopenhauer.” – Fireflies (p. 71)
Fireflies by Luis Sagasti is a brief, existential history of the world in the form of eight essays knitted together by subtle connection points. An eclectic array of highbrow and pop cultural personalities are presented in a seemingly random manner but have common threads that carry an underlying message. Philosophy helps us live our lives, is a consolation: Wittgenstein and Habermas make an appearance; as does the celebrated author of haikus, Matsuo Basho.
An original and stimulating work of experimentalism, Fireflies is in the tradition of fellow Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (who asserted that “the brain begins in the eye”), Roland Barthes and Michel Tournier. What is true and what is false? Are conspiracy theories grounded in any kind of reality? Is there a relationship between death and black holes? Can words express truth, and is perception reality?
Good writing and good ideas of all kinds make the world go round! Since we first began our celebration of independent publishing in February 2015, seasonal newsletters rounding up our exclusive interviews and curated eclectic reads have been emailed to friends in the publishing and media industries in the UK, US and France. All the wonderful feedback received over the years has been sustaining and heartening. For readers who have missed out on our latest activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . .
“To define is to limit” ― Oscar Wilde
Dandy at Duskpublished by Head of Zeus on 5 October, is hailed as a “future classic” by Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and founder of the London-based interior design firm, NH Studio Ltd. Meet the author, Philip Mann, to whom we asked, “Why do you write?” . . . “Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.” He writes about Soho Bohemia, in his exclusive guest feature: “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns“. Our other guest writer this month, freelance writer, journalist and cultural historian C.J. Schüler, writes about all things dandy. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds
What makes a dandy? In the popular imagination, the dandy is a peacock, eccentrically and eye-catchingly dressed. Nothing, however, could be further from the precepts of that original dandy Beau Brummell, who rejected the pink and blue silks of the eighteenth century in favour of a sober, well-tailored suit. “If John Bull turns round to look at you,” he declared, “you are not well dressed.”
In this erudite, wide-ranging and appropriately elegant book, the German-born writer Philip Mann examines six personalities who embody different aspects of dandyism in the 20th century: the Austrian architect Adolf Loos; Edward, Duke of Windsor; the courtier and couturier Bunny Roger; the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp; the French film director Jean-Pierre Melville; and, somewhat surprisingly, his leather-jacketed German counterpart Rainer Werner Fassbinder.Continue reading Guest Review | C. J. Schüler | The Dandy at Dusk, Philip Mann
As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. What defines a Picador book is the author’s voice since the way the story is told is just as important as the story itself. Picador publishes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from all over the world.
“None of us have dads – not Johann or Steve or Ashley or me. None of us have dads and all of us are looking for something. Was there a connection? There had to be. It was Steve who gave me On the Road, and what are Sal and Dean searching for after all if not for their fathers – absent in death and life? If you didn’t have a dad who loved you, or who beat you when he came home drunk, I’m not stupid, then you were always looking for him, or something else . . .” writes Howard Cunnell in Fathers & Sons.
“Here at the window of the turret room, Lavren, at the sill of the Demerara window, Marie Elena behind him on her deathbed telling the last tales before the end of the world as bachac ants attack the rose bushes in Immaculata’s sunken garden, and woodlice eat their way through the pitchpine floorboards, and Josephine sits by the kitchen door shelling pigeon-peas: from this vantage point, Lavren can listen and write and tell the history of the New World.” So begins a hallucinatory Caribbean tale involving the imperialist land-grab, sexual anarchy, abandoned women, religious mania, “the destruction of the Amerindians, the enslavement of Africans and the indentureship of the Indians,” and culminating in self-rule and independence. “People were dreaming in the twilight barrack-rooms, in the kerosene-lit villages for the setting of the imperial sun.”
Caribbean-style magical realism
Lawrence Scott weaves a magical, lush tapestry of words and images, bringing alive local legends and family narratives; and redressing written histories. The impact of the events recounted still resonate in Caribbean society today. A quasi-historical novel, Witchbroom recounts the story of a colonial white enclave on an offshore island through muddled memories. The central narrator repeats what he remembers “from the distracted mind of his muse Marie Elena, and her art of telling stories while they eat Crix biscuits, rat cheese and guava jelly together in the turret room overlooking the Gulf of Sadness.” The stories are bewitching and highly disturbing. The reader surfs a tidal wave of addictive fascination like a Dickensian tricoteuse sitting beside the guillotine in Paris watching heads roll during the public executions of 1793-4.
An early article, Beauty Victims at Le Palace by Georgia de Chamberet for 3:am magazine (2005) from the BookBlast® Archive.
During a recent trip to Paris, I mentioned to various French publishers that in the UK, nostalgia for the underground movements of the last thirty years is flourishing. Yet despite the outpouring of books, films, documentaries, compilation CDs and exhibitions like the Vivienne Westwood, it is obvious to me that one side of the London-New York-Paris “golden triangle” has been overlooked. Between artists there is always a cross-fertilisation of ideas, and the effect of the Parisian underground remains influential. Grace Jones learned devices for subversive performance during her time at Fabrice Emaer’s legendary club, Le Palace — the Studio 54 of its day — and Madonna was backup singer and dancer for disco star Patrick Hernandez when his hit “Born To Be Alive” went global.
I argued that people who enjoy reading, and relish the likes of Michael Bracewell, Ben Myers, Jeff Noon and Robert Elms should be given a chance to check out their French counterparts. But I was told by the French publishers that English publishers are not interested in a certain type of French culture, and translation is seen as a risky venture, so to pitch offbeat or outrageous books considered to have limited sales potential would be a waste of time. Bonjour tristesse. From idea to bookstore the reader comes last in a long line of corporate decision-makers, in a game of blind man’s bluff.Continue reading Spotlight | Beauty Victims at Le Palace | 3:AM Magazine 2005