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Posts Tagged ‘Graeme Thomson’

FICTION

Damon Galgut – In a Strange Room (Bloomsbury)

Originally published as three short pieces in The Paris Review, this exceptional work blurs the line between fiction and memoir, novel and short story. It follows its protagonist through three different stories, which are titled as roles that Damon sees himself in – The Follower, The Lover and The Guardian. There is huge restraint in the characters Galgut creates and a sense of repression does battle with emotions. This peripatetic tale is hugely affecting and written with a sparseness that belies the emotional punch it packs. Also recommended: Philip Roth – Nemesis. Sinéad Gleeson

Paul Murray – Skippy Dies (Hamish Hamilton)

I didn’t read much new fiction this year, but I did read a few excellent new novels, including Paul Murray’s fantastic second novel Skippy Dies (Hamish Hamilton). I should add, before anyone who knows me points it out, that the author is an old friend of mine. But if I didn’t honestly think that Skippy Dies was such an outstanding book, I wouldn’t mention it at all. It’s funny and rude and sad and ambitious and imaginative and, to my great relief, I loved it. Anna Carey

Jon McGregor – Even the Dogs (Bloomsbury)

Many reviews of Jon McGregor’s third novel were quick to label it “bleak”, and while the subject matter is dark and relentless, it has a brutal beauty. Following the haphazard lives of group of drug addicts and alcoholics, McGregor’s language, narrative arcs and characters save it from polemic. It’s an unsentimental portrait of damaged lives and cyclical hopelessness. Thought-provoking, tender and an important chronicle of our times. Also recommended: Pat McCabe – The Stray Sod CountrySinéad Gleeson

Lionel Shriver – So Much For That

I’m not quite sure why this book has been so overlooked in the end of year round-ups, but it’s one that stayed with me more than so many novels I read this year. Blue collar Shep Knacker sold his hardware shop to become an employee. With the $1 million spoils, he planned to ask his wife and son to move to an African island. His wife Glynis is suffering from a rare cancer and the couple’s friends Jackson and Carol have a chronically sick daughter. Illness is central to the book, but Shriver uses it to caustically attack the US Healthcare system, to question the morality of illness and to ultimately ask how much a life is worth. Also recommended: Paul Auster – Sunset Park (Faber) Sinéad Gleeson

NON-FICTION

Bust: How the Courts Have Exposed the Rotten Heart of the Irish Economy – Dearbhail McDonald (Penguin Ireland)

I think it’s fair to say that I would have enjoyed this book a whole lot more had it documented the rotten heart of an economy other than the one in which I live. Nevertheless Dearbhail McDonald’s utterly compelling and clear sighted exposé of the manner in which Ireland’s flimsy house of cards finally came tumbling down within the confines of our courtrooms is as enlightening as it is enraging. As legal editor of the Irish Independent, McDonald has unique access to the high stakes and often shadowy realm of property investment and she renders its complex machinations accessible to us all. Eleanor Fitzsimons

David Shields – Reality Hunger: A Manifesto  (Penguin)

One of the strangest books I read all year. I opened Reality Hunger knowing nothing about it, liked what I read, earnestly made a few notes, murmured “Ooh, yes, well said” a few times. Not the sharpest tool in the box that day, it wasn’t until I got to point 126 (of the 617 that make up the book) that I recognized a quote of Hemingway’s and copped on that the whole thing was a collage of other people’s work sprinkled sparsely with a few insights of Shield’s own. It’s reality, and this kind of collage – sampling, remixing, repurposing –  that he sees as the future of writing, the novel being now dead. After its oddly exciting start, the manifesto, ultimately, is one I can’t really get behind, but I still think Reality Hunger is worth reading because it pokes about in your brain. Think about this, in the context of all the media we so greedily consume: do we still want fiction, or do we only want what is real? Come on – even as a non-fiction junkie, I’d never surrender the novel, nor the short story. Antonia Hart

Afterword: Stieg Larsson: Four Essays and an Exchange of E-mails (Maclehose Press, Quercus)

One of the unexpected, non-fiction treats of my 2010 was Afterword, four beautifully written, thoughtful accounts of Stieg Larsson as a friend and colleague. As with the best crime fiction, the essays also offer intriguing insight into Swedish society past and present and the history of crime fiction there. But the centre of the book is the man himself, via a series of emails to and from Gedin in 2004, mulling over possible cuts to the books, front covers, titles, the Frankfurt Book Fair, in what neither knew was the last six months of his life. Paula Shields

Michael Pollan – Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

A small, tiny-chaptered book full of absolute sense about healthy eating. Basically: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ Other pithy bits of advice include that sugar is still sugar even if it is organic and/or found in healthy foods. And don’t eat foods that are advertised on TV. You’ll read this in one sitting and it’s packed with good advice.  Nuala Ní Chonchúir

 

Various Authors – The Big Book of Hope (Poolbeg, In Aid of the Hope Foundation)

If this book consisted of a collection of blank pages I would have bought it anyway, happy in the knowledge that my few euros were heading directly to the street children of Kolkata in India; children living in unimaginable fear and desperate poverty. The fact that it is instead an eclectic, entertaining and thoroughly thought provoking collection of fiction and memoir contributed to by authors of the calibre of  Maeve Binchy, Brian Keenan, Martina Devlin and Joseph O’Connor to name but a very few ensures that this is a book I will dip into frequently and always treasure. A perfect Christmas gift. Eleanor Fitzsimons

Valerie Grove – So Much To Tell (Penguin) I love really good biographies, and they don’t come much better than Valerie Grove’s So Much To Tell, a biography of the legendary Kaye Webb, who was the editor of Puffin Books for several decades. If you have the slightest interest in publishing or children’s literature from the 1950s to the 1980s (which, if you’re over 30, probably includes most of the books you grew up on), you will adore it, and even if you aren’t interested in either topic you’ll find plenty to interest you in this funny, lively, unsentimental and utterly fascinating book. Anna Carey

Greg Baxter – A Preparation for Death (Penguin)

Greg Baxter’s memoir drew mixed reviews, but I loved it, loved its bluntness, its severity and its honesty. It’s a record of experiences around drinking and writing and reading and remembering people, around having to work and choosing to work and telling the story as you see it. As a Dubliner I find portraits of Dublin hard to read – often irritating, sentimentalised or pumped up – but I found Baxter’s readable and recognisable, though hardly attractive. Incidentally, it’s also real enough to attract a lavish puff-quote from the reality hungry David Shields. Antonia Hart

Stephen Fry – The Fry Chronicles (Michael Joseph)

Fry is such an accomplished prose stylist, so readable and funny, that I almost overlooked the fact that the content of this book, a second volume of memoir (preceded by Moab is my Washpot) is a bit of a letdown, with dramatic and personal gems cast around uninspected. Funny stories are piled on lacerations of the self, with Fry rushing to criticise himself before anyone gets there first. I’d have liked more exploration of why and how things happened, of his emotional development, I suppose. In relation to his work, for example, everything seems to just fall into place, slip, slip, slip, but that can hardly be the truth – or if it is, I’d like to touch the hem of his cardigan. Antonia Hart


Trevor White – The Dubliner Diaries (Lilliput Press)
In the summer of 2000, long before the boom rang hollow, Trevor White returned from New York to launch the Dubliner Magazine and kept a diary documenting the triumphs and pitfalls of establishing and running a niche magazine in a small, crowded market. Now his diary entries have been published as a collection. White is an engaging raconteur and delightfully chronicles an extraordinary and transient period in our history. As a cautionary tale describing the sorry trajectory of the tiger, this book, and indeed the often misunderstood but frequently excellent Dubliner Magazine that spawned it, will be difficult to surpass. Eleanor Fitzsimons

Liam Carson – Call Mother a Lonely Field (Hag’s Head Press)

I don’t think it’s going too far to call this short memoir a beautiful book, poetic and emotional. It tells the story of the author’s childhood in his Irish-speaking Belfast home, the contrast between his ties to this place (and the language itself, Irish, is a place) and the lure of the new – the birth of punk, science fiction, life in Dublin, life in London. There’s no trace of sentimentality as he writes of his love for both his parents, particularly his mother, and of how people go from and return to the place that is the Irish language: a form of home, and eventually tearmann, a sanctuary. The book’s studded with poetry, including the gorgeous, bilingual My Father’s Dreams. Antonia Hart

Christopher Hitchens – Hitch 22 (Atlantic Books)

It seems that whenever something truly momentous and world altering was in progress during the last three decades Christopher Hitchens was lurking nearby or, more likely, embroiled in the thick of things. His role as a journalist took him to countless war zones and political nerve centres and his calling as an outspoken activist ensures that he has a forthright opinion to offer in every case. This fascinating memoir illuminates Hitchins’ early life and motivations and chronicles the extraordinary events to which he has borne witness. Hitchins is currently documenting his personal battle with cancer in a series of dazzling Vanity Fair columns. Eleanor Fitzsimons


Natasha Walter – Living Dolls (Virago)

It’s been a pretty good year for feminist non-fiction. I particularly liked Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls (Virago), a welcome challenge to the constant pressure on women and especially girls to conform to a certain hyper-feminine stereotype. I thought some of her writing on sexuality was a bit simplistic, as her interviewees are split between young girls dreaming of a steady, romantic relationship and other teen girls with a rather bleak view of sexual relationships (they barely seem to see the people they have meaningless sex with as human beings); there are plenty of girls somewhere in the middle who might welcome a steady relationship but might also enjoy the odd pointless, fun one-night stand when they happen to be single. Despite these elements, this is still an important book – the first half of it, which examines the pressure on girls to present themselves in a sexualised way, got more press attention, but it’s the second half that really packs a punch, as Walter examines the way the media embraces even the flimsiest stories and studies that seem to confirm innate gender difference while ignoring all those that don’t. For more on that topic, read Cordelia Fine’s excellent – and extremely entertaining –  Delusions of Gender, an impressive and surprisingly funny debunking of the pseudo-science surrounding gender characteristics. Anna Carey

Deborah Devonshire – Wait for Me! Memories of the Youngest Mitford Sister (John Murray)

I’m a bit of a sucker for the Mitford industry, and Wait for Me! does give a few fresh glimpses of Nancy as a young woman and Decca as a child, as well as some new reasons to be intrigued and terrified by their bonkers, brilliant Farve, but most of this ground has been so well crisscrossed (and with such sparkling writing) by Nancy, Jessica and Diana, that this book seems destined to remain, like Debo, always the little sister. I’d hoped for an interesting read about the huge undertaking of opening and running Chatsworth, the Devonshires’ mammoth family seat, but it felt disappointingly like reading a series of to-do and have-done lists. I was intrigued by the part dealing with the Duchess’s coping with her alcoholic husband, but even this was efficiently boxed off without, I felt, a real exploration of the emotions underneath. Those gripes aside, you do  get some sense of a passion and energy which has powered her into her nineties. Good fun for Mitford fans. Antonia  Hart.


Charlie Connelly – Our Man in Hibernia (Little Brown)

Charlie Connelly may have had to dig deeper than he originally anticipated in order to unearth his Irish roots but it is we lucky readers who benefit from this additional delving. Casting a benevolent outsider’s eye over our turbulent history and  the many ticks and quirks that make us what we are, Connelly characteristically wears his considerable knowledge lightly and packs an impressive amount of social history into a very entertaining ramble around our little island. At a time when we are perhaps losing sight of our  national identity, it is reassuring to read such a clear, insightful and humorous celebration of where we come from and who we  are. Eleanor Fitzsimons

SHORT STORIES

Colm Tóibín – The Empty Family (Penguin Viking)

Colm Tóibín’s latest short story collection is filled with stories of emigration and exile. It’s a familiar theme in his work, but one that seems touchingly prescient at the moment. In these stories, set in Ireland, America and even Barcelona, Tóibín manages to convey the push-pull urges of the emigrant, the coin-flip mentality of trying to make logistical choices and the sense of isolation felt whether you go, or you stay. The ‘empty family’ of several of these stories comprises several familial set-ups, the ones that exist outside the mythology of the Irish, nuclear family – the surrogate families, the ones that provide connection and sustenance when blood ties have disappointed. His Irish characters have an umbilical connection to Ireland. There are multiple references to routes and roads, revealing the cartographic obsession of his characters. Despite these journeys, the unifying concern is with defining the concept of home or family, be it the physical act of leaving/returning and the metaphysical definitions of what home and family actually represent. An exceptional collection; intense, emotional and provocative. Also recommended: Amy Bloom – Where the God of Love Hangs Out Sinéad Gleeson

Tom Vowler – The Method and other stories. 

Tom Vowler is a writer for the 21st century; his fiction is packed with modern problems: affairs, odd families, abducted children and seriously disaffected, questionably motivated characters. These stories are unpredictable, bold, funny and very well written. Nuala Ní Chonchúir

 

Hanif Kureishi – Collected Stories (Faber)

Seeing Hanif Kureishi’s work collected in one place reminds you what a gifted, challenging writer he is. Kureishi writes from a very dark, immoral place, filling his narratives with unlikely characters – men motivated solely sex, greed or ego – or passive women who are subjugated tropes. Family and race permeate his work and his famous story ‘My Son the Fundamentalist’ is more relevant now than it was on publication.  Fascinating, provocative writing from an uncompromising writer. Also recommended: Maile Meloy – Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. Sinéad Gleeson

MUSIC

Graeme Thomson – Under the Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bush (Omnibus Press)

Given Kate Bush’s elusiveness, an in-depth biography was always going to be of interest, even for people who aren’t ardent fans. Apart from the sheer wealth of information – from studio recordings, to childhood trivia, music critic Graeme Thompson has vast knowledge of his subject. His enthusiasm and general interest are part of the reason this is such an engaging read. Media perceptions of Kate as fey or eccentric are challenged and the stories he has gleaned from countless sources shape a more accurate picture of a fascinating creative talent. A must-read for fans and recommended for any fans of biography. Also recommended: Alex Ross – Listen to This (Fourth Estate) Sinéad Gleeson
POETRY

Patrick Chapman – The Darwin Vampires

Chapman’s fifth collection is full of the wry, witty, intellectual poems he has become known for. This is sensuous, honest poetry for the reader who is willing to let poems give up their secrets slowly. Fantastic stuff. Nuala Ní Chonchúir

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