Five Scottish artist for Muriel Spark week

As it is Muriel spark week ,I decide as she was Scottish I decide to do an expanded song for sunday .To include five of my favourite Scottish bands and singers –

First up is Scottish singer songwriter Ivor Cutler  ,I can’t remember the exact day I heard Ivor first but I know where I heard it and that was on John Peel ,I ‘d been twelve or thirteen under bed covers listening to his radio show .I remember thinking  this guy is surreal and still think that his deadpan delivery and odd humour make him a true one-off .

Second up are the  Jesus and Mary chain these were a band I discovered via friends at school or the NME  I can’t remember ,but there fuzzy hazy guitar and dark lyric matter soon made me a fan of them like a bastard child of the velvet underground and sex pistols with a bit of lee Hazelwood thrown in these guys looked like no one else in a time of flowers and fey pop .

In the early nineties Irvine Welsh appeared on the lit scene and just  before him the Scottish writer James Kelman won the booker so sottish dialect and tales of the dark side of growing up in Scotland were the order of the day so then step up Arab strap another band lead by a singer with deadpan singing style but much darker and up to date than Ivor Cutler .

Fourth up is King creosote a member of  the fence collective ,whose members all hail from the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland Crail King Creosote is only eight miles from my Late Gran’s home and near where my Aunt still lives ,also Fife is home to the mighty Rob of Rob around books .


Last I give you the Phantom band a band I ve like for the last few years the debut was in my top ten albums the year it came out ,they seem to embody all the Scottish artists  and bands I grew up with in one package .

Who are your favorite Scottish band ?

The life of Rebecca Jones By Angharad Price

The life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price

Welsh fiction

Translator -Lloyd Jones

Angarad Price is a Welsh writer she grew up in the Wales and is a fluent Welsh speaker and professor of Welsh at Bangor university .The life of Rebecca Jones is her second novel it won the Wales book of the year .

When this drop through the door I read it was about a family in a Welsh valley ,my mind was drawn to Bruce Chatwin’s on the black hill ,that book set in the Welsh borders dealt with family and isolation from the outside world and a way of living like Rebecca’s that is very traditional  .But As I read the book ,another book a favourite of recent times for me sprung to mind that was stones in a landslide although set in spain a lot of the context ,subjects and ways of life seemed similar in both books  .This book is the story of a women’s life she is a Welsh women born to a family in the Maesglasau valley in the heart of Welsh speaking Wales where this family has lived for a 1000 years .As I read i  found it hard to believe this book was a translation,as  it read like it was written in english .So back to Rebecca and her family, and isn’t it an odd family because out of her four siblings three of them are blind from a genetic condition .The book follows Rebecca growing up in the valley and her  adult life ,but we also the brothers dealing with their blindness and when you think this was in the early parts of the twentieth century and the family lived in a remote valley but the parents made sure they got to the blind school and they all lived a full  life and work which was a real achievement at the time ,but this family was cultured there were books and talking about books in this families kitchen which I loved it seemed like a world I love to be in .The book is inter sped with photos .I m sure these are prices own family as the family is here Rebecca was here great-aunt ,the lads feature on a BBC  documentary in the 1960’s  I tried to find if this was on you tube but didn’t have any luck .

As a matter of fact , Tynybaich went to television rather than vice versa .In 1964 the journalist John Robert Williams came to interview us for the BBC Heddiw news programme .He’d heard an amazing story about the “three blind brothers ” from Tynybraich and wanted to make a short film

the BBC visited the valley .

Price has remind me how wonderful Welsh writing is at it’s best. but also very different at times from what you may say is the English novels from the capital . This book is short but after I finished it felt like I been through a 900 page novel such is the way she draws you into this families life . If wasn’t for the fact some things from 20th century are mention this story could be from anytime in the last few hundred years .What great shame it is with all the talk in the booker last year of readable books and literary books, well I d say you got one here that combines both and because it wasn’t in english originally it isn’t eligible that is a joke .This is a book that should be next to the like of Chatwin’s on the black hills  and Dylan Thomas under milkwood ,more important than them both it catches the Welsh speaking community of wales ,and reminds us of how we need to save the welsh language for future generations to enjoy and experience .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like welsh fiction ?

The Coming by Andrej Nikolaidis

The coming by Andrej Nikolaidis

Montenegrin fiction

Translator Will Firth

The first chapter of this book was featured in this years best european fiction Andrej Nikolaidis is a rising star of central european fiction born to a half greek family he spent his youth in between his current homeland and Bosnia and you can see the effect on his book ,he won the Montenegrin section of the european literature prize last year and has so far publish three novels .He is well-known for speaking his mind in his Native country on a number of subjects mostly to do with Serbia thou  and has work closely at times with the new government in Montenegro .He is also married to a famous poet from the region .

As soon as I opened my agency ,though it seems all of Ulcnj decided to start killing ,robbing ,abducting and raping .And there was plenty of adultery too it seems to be close to a dozen marriages torn apart .

Is the detective just describe the town or what happened in the areas in  a wider sense .

SO the coming is An.drej first book to reach us in english what is about well like all good central european fiction it is about a lot more than it seems on the surface .For on  the surface it could be view as a crime novel  but also cynical and comic with a touch of the historic novel and some epistolary touches as he likes to use emails . The story starts when someone dies and the local library burns and   a father the town’s sheriff of Ulnjc  starts to investigate as he does so his son appears he has been in Austria .Then we have a second story line of Fra Dolcino a heretic born in the late 1200’s that announces the return of the messiah hence the title of this book and the manuscript by Fra Dolcino call the” the book of the coming” .Add in a third strand of strange things happening in the local environment and you have just scratched the surface of this book .This book even has it own soundtrack at the back of the book to listen to as you read I knew most of the tracks but enjoyed listening to the non english artists on the list that I didn’t know but I liked Andrej taste in music as a huge fan of Nick Cave ,the smiths and stone  roses .He says music helps his writing process and he falls asleep to music every night .

The other theme of the book is the end of the world coming but also about what happened in the region Andrej comes from he grew up between Bosnia and Montenegro ,he was caught up in Bosnia civil war 1992  .I heard an interview via Andrej publishers Istros books with Andrej and Will firth  the translator .I worked alongside a Bosnia Croat in the mid nineties as he and I lived in Germany so the sense of how the war could happen and the end of something is some I felt from book also the first chapter when the detective describes what he has seen in the village can be expand to the canvas of the Bosnian war .I found this book a real hidden gem I must admit Will Firth looking for a new voice from this region and the new country of Montenegro has turn up a real gem and a strong new voice .That reminds you of why you read books in translation it is to see worlds through different eyes and concepts .   There  is a lot of imagery in this book the Fra Dolcino section could be seen as what happens when people’s views get out of hand .I say if you like a book that makes you think for weeks after but isn’t as long as a Umberto  Eco  this is the one for you .

A Far cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

A far cry from Kensington by Muriel spark

Scottish fiction

Muriel Spark was a Scottish born writer ,she wrote over twenty novels in her life .She studied in Scotland  at Herriot watts a course on precise writing,she then taught english before world war two and in the war worked in intelligence ,after the war she moved to London .She is probably best known for the book the prime of Miss  Jean  Brody .I Haven’t until now tried her works she is one of the writers I class as scary female ,but thankfully for Simon of stuck in a book and Harriet of Harriet Devine who are hosting Muriel spark week as they both took part in my Henry Green reading week I thought this would be an ideal chance to try her so I head to the main library in Chesterfield and found a few of her book on their shelves ,the one that grabbed my eye was the Virago modern Classic of A far cry from Kensington .

So I cracked it open last weekend the book was  A far cry from Kensington I was drawn to the fact this story was partly set in the publishing world  .The book is about Mrs Hawkins a catholic ,war widow , it is told in retrospective ,as she starts on  the low rungs of  the publishing world at a rather poorly run publisher Ullswater press ,I love an early description of her working at the office at how the partners in the business work .I laughed at how she describe the daily life of publishing in the fifties  .Later this company folds and she is left looking for a job ,luckily she did at a more well-known and prestigious publishing house ,but when there she finds things are still run badly .

Then as now ,all jobs in publishing were greatly sought after ,and perhaps consequently ,poorly  paid

think even sixty years after this book this is still true .

The other tract of the story is her home life she lives in a house divide into flats .In one of these flats lives Wanda a polish women and a dress-maker  ,this also leads to a few comic lines about her out look on life .That is a enough of the comic parts as the book is dark as well things turn strange when Mrs Hawkins called a writer   a pisseur de copie (urinates frightful prose ) as he wants the Ullswater press to put his work out this desire takes a dark turn and at a later point the man Hector Bartlett is possibly  involved with Wanda but later in the book things start going bad for Wanda and is it this man ?and her work and home life collide with a shocking results .

“How is Wanda getting on ,Mrs Hawkins ?”

Wanda ,the Polish dressmaker ,had enough problems to fill up the rest of the afternoon.Mr York filled his glass,and I him in about Wanda

“Wanda ” I said “suffers greatly ”

“I never met a pole who doesn’t ”

this little passage made me laugh .

I really didn’t know what to expect from Spark but didn’t expect to fall in love with her clear prose style the way she drew you into the story with twist and turns of the plot ,the main characters all seemed so well drawn out to me , very real Hawkins a war widow and Catholic struck me in some part as a thinly veiled Spark  .I would imagine post war the was a number of Polish or other eastern european women like Wanda  after the second world war I was drawn to a character in Christie’s  book a murder is announced called Mitzi she had the same paranoid and suffered personality as Wanda .Muriel spark  did live in London after the war but not in Kensington but Camberwell .and worked as an editor  for a poetry magazine so would have had interaction with the Publishing world of the time .I m going to try to pick another spark on my visit to sheffield later this week hoping the second hand shop has some of the great early penguin covers .Thanks to Simon for host the week

Have you read spark ?

What would you suggest to try next ?

1q84 vol 1 and 2 by Haruki MurakamI

1q84 by Haruti Murakami

Japanese fiction

Translator Jay Rubin

Well I ve said a lot about Murakami in previous posts about him ,so I ll talk about his running .I link to a interview here in running world where he says he has been running for over twenty years .He wrote a non fiction book a few years ago called” what I talk about when I talk about running ” A book I d recomme3nd short but full of insights into the japanese mind ,which in a rather clunky way brings me to 1q84  Whch I feel is his most Japanese .

How many people could recognize Janaecks sinfornetta after hearing just  the first few bars ? probably somewhere between “very few ” and “almost none” .but for some reason .Aomame was one of the few in the world

Janacek sinfonetta to express the contempoary free man ? is start of one line of surrealism in this novel .

I have been putting off reading 1q84 for a number of reasons partly the uneven reviews it got in the newspapers ,also some bloggers who views I  trust were not overly keen on it .So I finally decide to read it when it was named on the IFFP longlist having dodged it some what already  for man Asian shadow  reading  I couldn’t for the second time .I  then decide to entered open  minded ,to forget all the bits I ve read about it before  and was surprised how much I enjoyed it for a Murakami fan there is the usual Murakami traits people on the edge or just coming into adulthood ,a lonely girl ,a writer,a whole host of surreal parts  and set in the 80’s .T he novel is told in the form of two story lines from April to September  Aomame ,she is a thirty year old women ,she works for a strange organisation as a sort of assassin ,we meet her as she is of to kill some one  but has to rush and escapes a txi as she is running late and hear the Janacek piece and sometimes wonder if she is in a different 1984 maybe 1q84 .The other main character is Tengo he is a teacher at a prep school but dreams of being a novelist and when he helps a young girl that has written a manuscript called air chrysalis .But he  is surprised when this book takes off  and its young writer forgets his work on it .Well that is the bones of the book we see these two characters lives but then like a pair of skylarks mating the end up flying closer and closer together ,we see this as the story draws them together and to complete the analogy there is a third minor character but he is the third narrator Ushikawa he is a grotesque hired to follow first Tengo then Aomame so he is like a hawk watching the two skylarks falling and rising as they get drawn together .Also add in a cult and a some of his best surreal touches and do you have his magnum opus well when it first came out in Japan it seemed that way .I m not sure I enjoyed the book much more than I initially thought I would ,I do sometimes wonder if the surreal bits of this book pass me by at times .I also wondered if this book has a great meaning to the Japanese reader I feel the issues and subjects dealt with in the book are the most Japanese of his books I ve read .  I Think it is now in my three favourite books by him ,I will finish the story later this year when I read third part of the book .

What did you think of this ?

Are you planning to read it ?

My world book night

Well as many of you know I work as a support worker with people with learning disabilities and last night was my night shift  ,so my world book night start last night when I gave two colleagues books, which they have both started today ,which I love so we’ll all be talking books this week at work . Then  this morning I gave another colleague a book and some one I support that loves books .My choice is the wonderful Swedish vampire novel Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist translated by Ebba Segerberg ,this book has twice been made into films already one in Swedish with same title and the an american version called let me in I ve seen both and brought Amanda the swedish version for her birthday so we can talk about the book which she is going to read .this book worked for me as a translation but also from one of my favourite publishers Quercus ,I read it before I blog which is a shame and just have had chance to reread it before tonight due to IFFP reading  .So after that I nipped home and got a few hours sleep but excitement about handing the book meant it was only a few hours and I awoke to see twitter a blaze  with  world book night tweets and to see it trending which is great news as books rarely trend on twitter .I had a coffee, woke fully dressed walked mr Winston , then caught a bus to the main office for the company I work I decided to choose and  leave a number of books on the side for people as they pop in and out. As  our bases where we work are spread all over Chesterfield .I  had despatched a couple with my darling wife Amanda on Saturday when she went to visit her family for the week as my father in law was having a major operation so I sent him so he can read as he recovers  and my sister-in-law  one she like to read to my nephew  but not many books her self  .Then I ve left a couple in the village I live with people I meet today .I came home for a few hours and read , then went to the event in Chesterfield for world book night at our Waterstones it was a books swap I took four books I had read and returned with three more from the swap I had a nice chin wag with the Waterstones staff and my fellow book swappers ,much recommending of books brought and books read recently ,there is a quiz to try to answer before friday if I have time .So I return home with a couple of books left for a couple of friends and the younger non book reading brother of myself .

So how has your world book night been ?

Treblinka A Survivor’s memory by Chil Rajchman

Just read this book !!!! 

Treblinka A survivor’s memory by Chil Rajchman

The hell of Treblinka by Vasily Grossman

Holocaust memoir

Translators (Rajchman ) Solon Beinfeld ,(Grossman) Robert Chandler

Chil Rajchman Was a twenty eight year old Pole when he enter the Death camp of Treblinka .He was on of the few survivors as Treblinka had a reputation as the most evil of the death camps .The camp killed an estimate 850,000 people during the war .Chil was among a group who manage to cause an uprising in the camp and escape in august 1943 he wrote his memories of the camp at that time   on scraps of paper .He later settled in Uruguay worked this into the book Treblinka which he want published after he died to remind people of what had happened to him during the war

There was a difference in appearance of the dead from the small and from the large gas chamber .In the small chambers death was easier and quicker .The faces looked as if the people had fallen asleep , their eyes closed .Only mouths of some of the gassed victims were distorted ,with bloody foam visible on their lips .The bodies were covered in sweat .before dying people had urinated and defecated .

to find out the horrors of the large gas chamber read the book .

When this book arrived I was excited as I had want to get the hard back when it came out ,Rajchman’s account as one of the few survivors of the horrific Treblinka is an important document of Jewish history and Holocaust literature .Even 70 years after the events in this book took place we could all do with a remind of the horrors of mankind .I read the book in a day as I was gripped but the sheer bluntness of Rajchman memories ,he didn’t sugar coat a word this is like uncut diamond full of wonder and natrual beauty and you the reader have to cut the diamond to carry round and pass on to other readers and any one that mentions the war or says it wasn’t so bad it was that and more .I did just want put a short review up here and that would be

Just read it please

I m still not sure that is the best thing to have said as I as a blogger have to try to get you to pick this book .All I can say is the statement just read it some stories need to be read .This will make you feel like crying it did me .I choose today to put up my review as we see the horror of right-wing extremism raises it ugly head in the trail of the mass murderer in Norway Anders Brevik ,when today I heard him try to justify his actions it made me angry and I decide to do this review today .Chil entered Treblinka with his family the last time he saw them and because he was lucky or able to do jobs that no one else could do was able to survive and pass on this testament to future generations.Many hundreds of thousands couldn’t .

The second part of the book is Vasily Grossman’s account for the russian papers when he was the first journalist to reach Treblinka after the camp was liberated .He wrote the history of the camp an exact description of what he saw when he enter the lay out .These lines struck me

The ashes and crushed cinders swish softly .We enter the camp .We tread the earth of Treblinka .The Lupin pods spilt open at the least touch they split with a faint ping and millions of tiny peas scatter over the earth .The sounds of the falling peas and the bursting pods come together to form a single soft sad melody it is as a funeral knell

This sums up how fragile human life is just like those lupin seeds

I can’t say any more I d love to se reviews of this every where as it is such a touching memoir and one to pass on  to all .I wait to review this to a day when it would mean something and today seems like that day to me .

The shadow Independent foreign fictionprize shortlist 2012

Well the four weeks since the longlist was announced and us of the shadow jury have read and digest all the books on the longlist between us .I read the remaining nine books from the longlist I d not read before and have reviewed eight of them .So after we all scored the books partly for story and partly for translation for this first round we came up with the shadow shortlist which was chosen from seven books one missing out by a fraction of a point .Next round we will be discussing and not scoring the boos so here is our shortlist –

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist this year has once again shown us just how powerful and emotive translated fiction can be. The overall tone of this year’s Prize has been a dark and sombre one, with many of titles taking us back to reflect on the horrors of the past. As such the reading experience has been wholly affecting, and it has proven to be no easy task in reducing the longlist down to a final selection of six.
Encapsulated in our final ‘shadow’ shortlist selection is what we feel to be the cream of the crop of this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. These are the six titles which not only fully demonstrate the range and scope of this year’s Prize, but they also stand as a glowing example of what can be achieved when writer and translator form the perfect bond.

Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas translator Imre Goldstein .

Sex and violence behind in cold war era central Europe

Scenes From Village life by Amos Oz translator Nicholas De Lange

A Israeli village from the point of view of an old man

The Prague cemetery by Umberto Eco translator Richard Dixon

A master of evil pulls the stings in 19th century europe

From the mouth of the whale by Sjon translator Victoria Cribb

Birds whales and one chap in 17th century Iceland

Next world Novella by Mattihas Politycki translator Anthea Bell

Married is it what we think ,she dies he finds out

Seven Houses in france by Bernardo Atxaga translator Magaret Jull Costa

Heart of the Congo it is really dark .

So that is our fab six we will be choice our winner from this and also choosing a winner from the proper booktrust IFFP shortlist out tomorrow .Lets compare our lists then .

thanks to my fellow judges so far –







From the mouth of the Whale by Sjon

From the mouth of the whale by Sjon

Icelandic fiction

Translator Victoria Cribb

Sjon is an icelandic writer his full name is Sigurjon Birgir Sigurosson ,he started as a poet in the late 1970’s ,during 80’s he work closely with the icelandic band Sugarcubes in their early days and is himself involved in the local music scene  and has worked with Bjork since she left the sugarcubes on a number of projects .He has written seven novels this was his latest novel ,I first notice him a couple of years ago when some fellow bloggers reviewed his novel The blue fox .At moment these are his only two books to be translated in to english lets hope more get done .

Jonas drew diagrams from worm showing how the fish lay in the sea ,wielding its tusk like a lance ,and a comparison of these with the royal specimen convinced worm that it was a Narwhal skull with a tusk and nothing more .And so that day in the museum wormianum the Unicorn’s fate was sealed :a year after his meeting with Jonas Palmason .Ole Worm published a epoch-making article on the similarity between Narwhal tusks and Unicorn horns .

Jonas helps Ole Worm

So His latest book to be translated into english is From the mouth of the whale it is set in 1635 ,maybe just before the age of enlightenment but this is part of this books story the change from myths and legends to real science is facing the world and maybe via this simple guy .At the centre of the novel is the life of Jonas Palmason ,Jonas is a daydreams ,a bit of vagrant and has had really bad luck.He seen at the start  eating weird  things like ravens head .Nature is a recurring theme in this book from the title to Jonas only friend a purple sandpiper .He spends time with Ole worm a scientist of sorts He does this while in exile .I feel what we see is the progression of Jonas He starts of as a man stuck in tradition of magic and myths of Iceland ,he learnt via dead creatures how bodies worked and became a sort of healer using nature  ,then in the middle section we see him connecting with science ,like a description of a unicorn horn that isn’t but a narwhal horn having seen one years ago in a museum  I remember reading there was a roaring trade in deceiving people it  was a real unicorn horn,he shows how Ole worm worked out it would need to be a surreal horse of gigantic size that could wear such a horn on its head . Then  in the end examing the world anew seeing  all the wonderful creatures .We also see the woes of some Basque whalers that have arrived to whale the icelandic waters .


This book is strange gem wonderfully dynamic poetic prose ,a wonderfully  quirky lead character and a cast of odd people and creatures ,a feel like it could have been written 300 years ago but also with a lightness of humour at times .I could picture this tale being told by a beard chap by fire light as we all gather round there are certain passages in this book you just want speak out loud to feel the word on your lips .As I read I was reminded one programmes I loved as a kid was Noggin the nog the peter Firmin animated series ,in that we saw account dragons , talking birds and ships .as it was based on Nordic sagas this book had the same feel  as from the mouth did .Victoria Cribb has worked wonder on the translation which has kept a certain poetic tone and also not lost what is the sagaic feel of the book (in my opinion not reading icelandic but one feels it must have )

Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz

Scenes from Village life by Amos Oz

Hebrew Literature

Translator Nicholas De Lange

So I move on to the other novel by a hebrew writer ,Unlike Aharon Applefeld I have read a couple of Amos Oz’s books and had one on the tbr pile so was pleased when this was on the list to read .Amos Oz is probably the best known modern hebrew writer his best known book being his 2003 work a tale of love and Darkness ,a novel from his own experiences that has been translated in 23 plus languages including Arabic  .He is a professor of literature and he has also been a journalist and a vocal speaker in political matters and a supporter of the two state solution to Israelis current problems .He has won numerous awards over the last thirty years most notable the Goethe prize  in Germany .

So scenes from village life ,when I read the blurb about this book I wished I d followed through my half heart village challenge as it turns out this book would have been perfect for that challenge as it is set in a village (fictional it seems ,but I feel Oz knows places like this )  but has the feel of any village even thou like a lot of books set in village like this is about so much more .We meet an Old man who has lived in the village since it was formed after Israeli state was formed  and is our guide to the village he has lived in and seen change .We find out about this village in a series of eight chapters ,which you could say are almost little stories, but all narrated by the old man so from his daughter Rachel  who is the local school teacher ,this is the longest story in the collection they argue and when the old man say ,there is digging but this isn’t happening and is just in the old mans head and almost become a metaphor for the old mans past he was a politician and the Rachel’s student a  young arab man hears it as well as  the old man hears the sound . Maybe this is a sign of the shift thoughts in some in Israeli society like Oz’s himself .Other stories involve visiting singing neighbours ,the after math of the Holocaust ,a lonely boy falls for the librarian an older women ,then a rather quirky final chapter /story that I ll leave you too find .

They are digging ,I tell you !It starts an hour or two after midnight ,all sorts of tapping and scraping sounds .You must be sleeping the sleep of the just if you don’t hear it .You always were a heavy sleeper .What are they digging for ,in cellar or under the foundations ? Oil ? Gold? buried treasure ?

the old man wonder who’s digging as his daughter denies it is happening .

I said midway through this book on twitter I was loving it and I did right to the end it was one of those book I could happily read as much again. Oz’ village was so real it drew you in ,but also on another level was surreal  as there is no animals and a lot of the young people had moved away, so it is a dying village .I do wonder how much of this is Oz’s comment on the current state of affairs in the country as a whole maybe like the village they need some new life or the may die off .I felt the old man could have almost been one of the character from S Yizhars books about  the forming of israeli as a nation one of the men that fought then governed the country and now seeing what went wrong .I did have a feeling I read something similar to this but not set in Israeli but there been lot of interlocking story books recently and this is among the best ones I’ve read ,Nicholas De lang the well-known Hebrew translator and Professor of hebrew and Jewish studies at Cambridge has translated Oz and also S Yizhar (who’s book I suggest you read before or along side this one as they seem to connect on some level )

Have you read Amos Oz ?


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April 2012


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