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

Interview | Gerald Jacobs, writer and critic

Gerald Jacobs is based in North London. The Literary Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, he has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. His books include Judi Dench: A Great Deal of Laughter; A Question of Football (with John North and the late Emlyn Hughes of Liverpool and England), The Sacred Games; and Nine Love Letters. His novel Pomeranski is published on 30 April. 

You were born in post-war Brixton? What sorts of books were in your family home?
I was actually born in Cheltenham, where my parents happened to be at the time but never lived there. I was brought up in the family home in Brixton. (I first made a conscious visit to Cheltenham when I was about thirty, and was very taken with it.)

We had a limited but varied amount of books on our two or three bookshelves. We made full, regular use of the local Carnegie Library. My father was not a great reader beyond books about the Second World War. There were a few, infrequently consulted religious prayer books and a Bible. My mother read novels and poetry. I loved reading a comic series called Classics Illustrated — picture-frame versions of Dickens, Dumas, Walter Scott etc. I also borrowed my mother’s Agatha Christie novels and read the wonderful comics consisting of pages of words without pictures: Wizard; Hotspur; Rover; and Adventure.
Continue reading Interview | Gerald Jacobs, writer and critic

Review | Along the Amber Route, St Petersburg to Venice – C. J. Schüler | Book of the Week

I am standing in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In a glass case in front of me are some small, irregular beads of dark, honey-coloured amber. Discovered in a Mycenaean tomb in Crete by Sir Arthur Evans, they date from between 1700 and 1300 BC, the dawn of classical civilization. At around the same time, in north Wales, hundreds of amber beads were placed in a stone-lined tomb along with a body wrapped in the spectacular gold shoulder ornament known as the Mold Cape, now in the British Museum. Amber has been found in the tomb of Tutankhamun and in the ruins of Troy. The Etruscans imported large amounts of it, which they used to adorn jewellery, as doid the Romans after them.” So begins literary critic, cartographer and historian, C. J. Schüler’s illuminating and entertaining travelogue-cum-memoir following the Amber Route, retracing “some of the deepest fault lines in European history,” and his family’s hidden history as he goes.

A dinosaur DNA-carrying mosquito preserved inside a piece of amber was the catalyst for classic film Jurassic Park, based on the novel by Michael Crichton. As Schüler points out, this may have seemed far-fetched back in the 1990s, but not so now. A mosquito dating back to age of dinosaurs was found preserved in amber in 2019.
Continue reading Review | Along the Amber Route, St Petersburg to Venice – C. J. Schüler | Book of the Week

Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week

C. J. Schüler is based in London where he works as a writer and editor. He is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography: Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars (Éditions Place des Victoires/Frechmann), and Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London, 1891–2016. His travelogue Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice, is published by Sandstone Press today. He is an occasional reviewer for The BookBlast Diary. www.cjschüler.com

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Kingsbury, northwest London. Before the arrival of an Indian community transformed its high street into a brilliant array of sari shops, this was a very humdrum lower middle-class English suburb. With a German surname, less than two decades after the Second World War, it was hard to feel anything other than an oddity. After my parents divorced, when I was eleven, we moved to Hendon where, with its large Jewish community, I felt less conspicuous.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both my parents’ education was cut short, my mother’s by economic necessity and my father’s by the Third Reich. But they were keen readers, and our bookshelves held a range of classics by Jane Austen, Dickens and George Eliot, along with early twentieth-century works by writers such as George Bernard Shaw and J. B. Priestley. I still have a hardback copy of Nabokov’s Pnin from those days, though I can’t remember which of my parents chose it. Continue reading Interview | C. J. Schüler | Author of the Week