Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Monday, 14 December 2009
Saturday, 28 November 2009
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Saturday, 17 October 2009
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Tuesday, 29 September 2009
I have already written about the Malcolm Lowry Centenary Exhibition at Liverpool's Bluecoat Arts Centre but forgot to mention that there is a special ale (appropriate given Lowry's favourite leisure activity) brewed by the local Wapping microbrewery available in the Bluecoat bar . A crowded schedule prevented me from imbibing any of this ale at the opening night but I managed to snaffle an empty bottle whose contents had just been poured into the glass of the Bluecoat Director, Bryan Biggs (who drew the label) and here it is.
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Monday, 14 September 2009
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Bibliophilic Blogger hosts its first ever Virtual Book Tour. Scary!
Pietro Grossi's second book Fists, first published in Italian as Pugni in 2006 and now receiving its first English language publication by Pushkin Press, translated by Howard Curtis, has won great acclaim in Italy, winning many distinguished literary prizes. It consists of three novellas, all of which explore male rites of passage into adult life. The first story, “Boxing”, is about the confrontation between two young boxers who learn the hard way that life is about winners and losers, the second, “Horses, is about two brothers exploring the adult world together through the world of horses, and the third, “Monkey” is about a young man whose friend withdraws from life and starts behaving like a monkey, an unsettling experience that forces him to evaluate his own life and values. These three narratives are spare and swift and compelling and the influence of American masters like Hemingway has been noted by critics.
Pietro very kindly agreed to be interviewed by email in English by the Bibliophilic Blogger.
B.B: It seemed to me that this was a very masculine book in the sense that women hardly feature in the first two stories and when they do assume a larger role in the third story the male characters are not entirely at their ease with them. Nor are they free from some rather old-fashioned macho ideas – assuming a woman's difficult behaviour in one case proceeds from premature menopause, for example. And there's that rather shocking sentence about a woman film agent:"She was one those overweight women with their wombs full of cement who at some point in their lives have decided that a good business deal is better than sleeping with a man." [p121] Was this deliberate,? It is clear that each of the three stories is in some sense an exploration of the male rite of passage but were you also trying to conduct an implicit critique of masculinity?
PG: My grandparents, on my mother's side, gave life to a 65 person family, still increasing. Most of them are females. I just think that in my book I was trying to forget women. Joking apart, I found out along the way that my stories have a deep connection with my dreams, more than with my life. In this sense I am sure that the main characters of Fists are all people that somehow or another I dreamt of being. I would have loved to live their experiences, have their guts or their will or their talent or their madness. And yes, also the opportunity to simply live their changes as young men, with all its power and its loneliness. An older Italian author once, presenting me and my book at a festival, said that he loved “Boxing” so much because he thought it was mainly a duel story and that in duels – when it's a duel between men – women have to be
left aside. I remember smiling when he said this. Anyway, to be honest, I don't know: most of my stories come out in their own way and once they are written I just can sit there and read them like anyone else. Then think about what I read and decide if keep it as it is or not. Women weren't there that much and I guess I simply didn't miss them.
B.B: You have expressed your imagination for Salinger and Hemingway and Italian critics seem to have concentrated on the influence on your writing of various other American authors, but what of European authors? Which do you admire? And which Italian authors?
P.G: When you start talking about literature it is always difficult – if not impossible – to compress in a bunch of seconds or a bunch of words all the books and the authors you loved and who influenced you and your life and your writing. This is why next to my name always popped out American authors: because, at least for the moment, if I have to highlight the literature that mostly influenced me it is definitely 20th century North American literature. Having said that, there are endless European authors that made the man and the author I am: Tolstoy, Dumas, Svevo, Pirandello, Conrad, Austen, Shakespeare, Dante, Hesse... The list is so long that I really wouldn't know where to start from, and to be honest the greatness of these authors is so huge that to me talking about them is very difficult: it would be like a sailor trying to explain the importance of wind.
B.B: You are evidently attracted to the shorter novella form. Is this more congenial to you? Are you tempted by the idea of a longer novel?
P.G.: Yes, apparently for the moment novellas are a lot more congenial to me. Which wouldn't be a big problem if I was one of those people who love to sit on what they are good at. Sadly I am not that kind of person, so I keep on trying to write longer and more complex stories, which intrigue me a lot more but for the moment don't come out as smooth. The book I published after Fists is actually a longer story (not really a novel by my point of view) and among other things I am working now on a book that could probably be the closest thing to a novel I ever wrote.
B.B: Stylistically you prefer a relatively spare, unadorned style. Is this simply a matter of personally feeling more comfortable with that way of writing or are you reacting in any sense against prevailing styles in contemporary Italian fiction?
P.G. I think I am just reacting against what is going on inside my own head. As a kid I was very presumptuous and thought that I had some very good ideas about the world and all its matters. Than I realized that my ideas weren't that bright, they were just complicated. So I tried to write without thinking and things came out much smoother: everything was very simple and the world appeared like a pretty nice place. I thought I could live with that for a while.
B.B: The translation of your book by Howard Curtis reads very well and is very pacy. Do you have any apprehensions about being translated? Do you fear that something can be lost in the process?
P.G: No, not really. I don't want to sound immodest but I don't feel any apprehension about being translated. I have translated some books myself and I know that something is always lost. Something else, on the other side, is found. I just think that translated books are somehow different animals and have to be read in a different way: they will probably find different kinds of readers and give slightly different emotions. This anyway happens to every reader: the story is somehow told to me by the narrator, I put it on paper the best I can, then I start reading it and I discover a lot of surprising things I had no idea about; then somebody publishes it and thousands of other people read it and find thousands of other surprising things. I guess this is just the whole big magic about literature.
B.B: What are you working on now?
P.G: I am as always working on different things. I write my first draft by hand and without thinking about anything, then some time or another I have to bring the story to the computer and start thinking about it. So it ends up I am always working on two or three different things, at different stages. Lately I am mostly working on the book I was previously talking about, my probable next novel. If it will keep the way it is it will be pretty different from the way I have been working till now, so I am very excited and very anxious. Anxiety pills work very well.
B.B: In the UK, notoriously, fewer European authors are translated than in any other European country, and in Italy there is probably more curiosity about foreign writers. Which contemporary British writers interest you?
P.G: At the top of my list I have to put Nick Hornby, especially High Fidelity. I have no idea how he is seen in the UK but I definitely would have never written the way I write if I hadn't read the book four or five times. Its wit and its simple style struck me at the time. Then probably, out of all, the two authors I find most interesting are Zadie Smith and Martin Amis. The latter's The Information is probably one of the most important European books of the past twenty years, at least for an author.
B.B: Thank you Pietro, and thanks to Pushkin Press.
For details of the Virtual Blog Tour see:
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Outside the Library in Euston Road
a girl is running in a shower of rain;
on the taut canopy of her umbrella
the multi-coloured letters spell:
PLEASE RAIN ON ME.
In the long dampness of an English summer,
may her wish be granted.
Monday, 3 August 2009
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
At the Bright Hem of God: Radnorshire Pastoral
by Peter J Conradi
Seren, £9.99. 240pp
The last dragon in Wales sleeps in the Radnor Forest – a seven mile long upland area of East Wales that most Independent readers would understandably be unable to pinpoint on a map. The creature will not wake so long as he remains ringed by the multiple churches of the dragon-slayer, St Michael (Llanfihangel). In the lee of one such church, at the end of a two and a half mile hedged cul de sac, and itself ringed by 1000-year-old yews in a circular churchyard (the devil enters at corners) lives Peter J Conradi, a mild-mannered Prospero summoning up the benign spirits of Radnorshire past: writers, poets, historians, anchorites and mystics.
Conradi is alive to the magical and other-worldly dimension of the hauntingly beautiful Welsh March – the Elizabethan magician, Simon Dee may have been born here – but this is not a flaky or New Age treatise – and he acknowledges the mixed benefits of the incomer invasions which somehow have never swamped the locals, whose characteristic speech patterns, weathered obliquity, and gift for slow living he captures well. He is also keen to refute the idea that this is some sort of anglicised margin rather than, as he contends, a central repository of the true spirit of Welshness since the 12th century. He presents in sequence writers like Gerald of Wales, a suitably mongrel Welsh/Norman border figure, the poets Herbert, Traherne, Vaughan who sought and found “the Paradise within” in this numinous landscape, the attractive figure of the Reverend Francis Kilvert whose humane curiosity and kindness appeal to him and who provokes one of his rare personal lyric flights. There is Chatwin of course, and a contemporary trio of poets, R.S.Thomas, Roland Matthias, and Ruth Bidgood who have celebrated what Conradi calls 'the March', an area he has known for 40 years. Wales “has absorbed many English enthusiasts for its scenery and history: it can in me find room for one more”.
Generally, Conradi doesn't thrust himself on the reader, and writes a thoughtful and non-judgemental prose even when dealing with what have been highly contentious matters of Welsh politics and cultural identity. He judges (in a gentle slight to the more famous Thomas) R.S. Thomas (who supplies the book's title) to be the greatest 20th century Welsh poet writing in English but is unillusioned about what he calls tactfully, Thomas's “human frailties”. He is glad to quote Bidgood's declaration that she did not come to this area to escape the world: “This is the world.”
Conradi has written the perfect primer to this quiet stretch of Wales and Simon Dorrell's exquisite pen and ink miniatures complete what must be the best introduction to this area ever written.
Nicholas Murray's Bruce Chatwin (1993) is to be re-issued later this year.