Friday, 2 January 2009

RTK review of The Glass Room (Mawer) in today's Financial Times

To be found here. Looking through it as it appears online, I realise that one extra sentence was excised for length from the proofed version that I checked a couple of weeks ago. For my own completist's sake, the sentence in question ran: "Somewhat akin to Swann’s lament over Odette, Viktor rues that the sum of his passion should be expended on ‘a half-educated, part-time tart.’" But then we all feel that at times, don't we?

The Observer's literary map of Britain: Includes me! Part 2

These were the handful of things that struck me on reading Kate Kellaway's very interesting piece:
1. KK describes the general perception of the "Hampstead novel" as “a middle-class morality novel - probably involving adultery and shallow-masquerading-as-deep.” Yes, that was my prejudice too. The thing is, a fair bit of my forthcoming second novel is set in Hampstead. Will I get away with saying it's an in-joke?
2. KK writes, “(A)lthough British novelists now spread their nets more widely, there is still a paucity of state-of-the-nation novelists, writers able to move freely across the map and get an aerial view. Hanif Kureishi puts it like this: "Dickens had a sense of the whole society, from prisoner to home secretary. No writer has that now." I recognise the condition Hanif K is lamenting but I don't agree with the general prognosis. It may be that fewer writers have Dickens' ambitions and/or interests, and that fewer readers want to be bothered with big Dickensian novels, so affecting the supply of same. But any good writer has what Norman Mailer called 'the power to inhabit men's minds', and women's minds too. I don't for one minute rate myself up in the big league writing-wise, but I know that, were I so inclined, I would have the power to get into Jacqui Smith's head, or Karen Matthews', say, without too much fuss.
3. KK asserts that P.D. James has the best policy on the liberties a novelist must take with place, per this prefacing quote from Devices and Desires: "This story is set on an imaginary headland on the north-east coast of Norfolk. Lovers of this remote and fascinating part of East Anglia will place it between Cromer and Great Yarmouth but they must not expect to recognise its topography nor to find Larksoken nuclear power station, Lydsett village or Larksoken Mill. Other names are genuine, but this is merely the novelist's cunning device to add authenticity to fictitious characters and events." Yes, I agree entirely, as KK knows. I remember her enthusiasm when I quoted this very same passage to her on the telephone. And the 'Author's Note' at the front of Crusaders is a homage to the wisdom in these matters of Baroness James of Holland Park.
4. KK writes, “(T)here are hardly any novelists living in NW3 any more - the place is indecently expensive. In that sense, Crouch End – where mum’s lit flourishes and where many novelists now live - might be the place to watch." This, like #1 above, makes me feel uneasy, albeit for a slightly different reason...

Shay Given: too much for the keeper to handle

Given's agent has presented Seamus's feelings to the media in unusually and sharply eloquent fashion: "Shay is very despondent following the very poor performance of the team against Liverpool last weekend. It was the lowest point of his football career and a performance that he would not wish to be repeated. When he signed a new five-year contract in 2006 it was on the basis that the club would challenge for major honours, but on the present evidence all that he can see ahead, with the turmoil on and off the pitch, is a battle for survival."
Given is one of those great players who came to Tyneside and picked up the Geordie disease, God bless him, which is why he's stuck through bad times to put himself in spitting distance of an appearance record without a medal to his name. As Michael Walker of the Independent comments, Given "regards himself as a naturalised Geordie and his children have been born in Newcastle." Well, in this matter I endorse and second the comments of "Like the departure of Peter Beardsley to Liverpool in 1987, we would struggle to blame Given if he left. It certainly wouldn't be for the money and any anger felt would be aimed at the club, rather than the individual."

"Good evening Mr Waldheim / And Pontiff, how are you?"

"... You have so much in common / in the things you do." Apologies to Lou Reed, but this interesting number from the New York album has been running through my head ever since that old Hitler Youth alumnus Joseph Ratzinger, who now gets to call himself Pope Benedict XVI, made his touching pre-Christmas pronouncement about the human race dying out because of homosexuality and 'gender theory', and the need to preserve 'God's creation' just as zealously as we protect (or talk about protecting) the rainforests.
Clearly, obviously, there are no homosexual people whatsoever in the Roman Catholic Church, closeted or repressed or otherwise. But other gay Christians have gamely engaged with Ratzinger on his own toxic terms, arguing (from the Bible? You tell me...) that people in this world with homosexual inclinations are also part of 'God's creation'. That all seems a bit too polite to me, but whatever: I do believe you should let people go to Hell in their own sweet way, even if they condemn themselves so out of their very own mouths.
To speak of one such, after Ratzinger's verbal excretion BBC News 24 gave airtime to one of his UK apologists, Joanna Bogle - I say 'apologist', but she appeared very proud of herself and her faith and of God's vicar in the Vatican, while also clearly feeling herself the member of a brave and persecuted minority of staunch moralists out there. So the BBC's blonde female newsreader got quite an earful from Bogle, as well as being patronised royally (and inexplicably) over her grasp on the provenance of birds and bees. Hey, let all voices be heard and debated in this world, but people who believe the stars are God's daisy chain should be very careful about patronising anybody. That such belief should also lead one into the conviction that the sole purpose (and attendant worth) of human sexuality is vested entirely in the making of babies is a shocking ignorance too; and an equally great big shame.

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Observer's literary map of Britain: Includes me!

Kate Kellaway filed this very interesting piece on the contemporary English novel and its vexed relation to place and 'region' in the Observer last Sunday. As I recall, I talked to Kate on the phone for this very purpose about six months ago, so it's nice to see the finished piece finally appear, especially since it's so packed with good discursive meat. More generally I'm also glad of the consideration, of course, and that my efforts should be considered in such distinguished literary company; and, just as last week, I appreciate the Observer's continued support of Crusaders (and it brings particular amusement since their main book critic had one of his deeply characteristic hissy fits about the novel when it first appeared back in January 2008.)
It's looking like bedtime now, but I hope to write a bit more in respect of the various issues raised in the Kellaway piece tomorrow. But these are the quotes concerning me and my stuff:
"At a south London all-blokes bookclub, [Blake Morrison's] South of the River was read with territorial interest. "Would they have read a book called 'North of the River'?" Morrison wonders. It is his belief that people feel a "strange gratitude", that they are "validated" when they are put on the map through fiction. Richard T Kelly, author of Crusaders, an epic first novel set in Newcastle, has had a similar reaction from readers who have felt energised by "a long and detailed book about their locality and recent history".
Crusaders is set in the 1990s and describes the changing face of north-east England - a time of urban regeneration. Newcastle was natural terrain for Kelly because he grew up in the region but also because he feels there is "something epic, magisterial about the North-East in general and Newcastle in particular". It is "a love letter to the North-East", he says, reflecting that he is glad to have had a positive response because "love letters are often returned to sender". Kelly is also quick to say that he would be "hanged from a tree" if he tried to pose as the sole Newcastle novelist - mentioning Julia Darling, Andrea Badenoch, Jonathan Tulloch, David Almond.
Kelly makes the point that "regional literature" is often treated with "condescension" and the literary map is far too London-centric. It is hardly a new complaint. But I am not sure that he is right. Irish and Scottish voices often seem to have more clout than their southern counterparts. Think of James Kelman writing about Glasgow. Think of Roddy Doyle, or of Anne Enright's Dublin-based novel,
The Gathering, which won last year's Man Booker Prize.
Yet Scottish novelist AL Kennedy, who was born in Dundee, agrees with Kelly. She implies writers outside London need to try and resist feeling marginalised..."

BTW I'm very pleased to find that Alison Kennedy agrees with me. She's the sort of person whose side you want to be on.

Crusaders blogged in style on Kauderstuff

This blog commentary on Crusaders, by an "English/cultural studies professor", has come to my attention belatedly, and is one of the most interesting and considered that I've seen. Obviously that means he hasn't said anything I'm mortally offended by...
The author is very attentive to the novel's intended marriage of 'classic realism' and 'the modern thriller', and seems not unsympathetic to it, though he echoes Sean O'Brien's TLS review in proposing that Crusaders resorts "increasingly as it goes on, to genre-fiction conventions, and excitements provide it with formal constraint (and perhaps a readership) in lieu of more experimental or literary devices."
That said, he's also very alert to a problem I've encountered in the novel's reception and the general lit-crit debate around it, namely that of "how to represent characters and a social sector with little or no connection to the literary and intellectual world that the novel and its readers belong to." In other words, to those people who thought it risible that a yob like Stevie Coulson could experience a feeling of tristesse.
The author has certainly got a handle on the novel's view of the governmental War on Poverty, a topic that just gets sadder even as the Tories make an undertaking to continue the waging of that war if returned to office. As he puts it: "The novel is especially insightful about black-market/crim capitalism and its deep connections into the economic life of poor communities. At the end, it becomes clear that neither New Labour nor the Church have the capacity to reach into communities such as this."
And I certainly wouldn't take issue with the measured but generous final analysis: "Perhaps this is not one of the great literary novels, although its dialogue is stunning and its characterization wonderfully unsentimental and finely tuned to its major argument (it's a novel which does have an argument). But then to write a great literary novel about the lives of the poor has not so far been possible in the capitalist epoch."
Fair dinkum. One point I can correct the author on, happily: he reckons it's "not available in Australian bookshops", but even as of May it ought to have been. Indeed I think it was reviewed in one Australian paper of note. But then I suppose it depends on the individual bookshop...

Michael Owen's gaff in Portugal: I suppose he's earned it...

He plays off 8, I understand, if you're interested. Golf handicap, that is. And this is his place in the Algarve, overlooking one of Portugal's prime courses. Still needs a lick and a promise to the exterior as far as I can see. Can't speak for the insides, as I refrained from shinning over the perimeter fence. But I decided to inspect the place from a distance on the day it transpired that Mr Owen wouldn't be signing his newly offered Newcastle contract. He's been at pains to say he's not a disloyal sort, and frankly I believe him: the whole issue of his loyalty to NUFC was threadbare from Day 1 when he admitted (and it was generally accepted) that he ought to have been at a different club. So we can't say we weren't warned. Any road, I hope he finishes his house one day and stays fit enough to play the occasional 18 holes, because history will certainly record that he was fettled for the greater part of his NUFC career.

Wigan 2 Newcastle 1; Newcastle 1 Liverpool 5: Happy Bloody Xmas

Sunday was the wrong day for several papers to run their 'Black and Whites United Under JFK' interview pieces; and a pretty poor one for Mike Ashley to make another of his man-of-the-people bids in taking the For Sale sign off the club. God, but when Newcastle are bad they're the worst in the league. They simply can't take the loss of Bassong and Beye as was inflicted by the Wigan game, with a measure of blame falling on the referee. Coloccini had one of his stinkers against Liverpool, and Taylor nearly succeeded in getting himself sent off for nowt - this a lad who once seemed to think the club captaincy was his by birthright. And they can't do without Martins in the forward line either - Ameobi and Carroll aren't going to do it, and Viduka seems to be wanting his bed again. A suitably rotten note on which to end an amazingly rotten NUFC yearbook.