The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Things of interest

Posted on: May 22, 2008

You want to listen to Bat Segundo’s interview with Sarah Hall and buy The Carhullan Army aka Daughters of the North. How can you resist? You shouldn’t. Sarah Weinman agrees!

I can’t think of enough good things to say about this except that it should be read, now and years to come.

The novel, for some goddamned reason, has not been getting near any of the attention it deserves nor is Sarah Hall considering that her Electric Michelangelo was a Booker finalist. (I can’t believe all you print people slobbered on Gessen’s shoes and all Carhullan gets is a notice in the New Yorker.)

Newspapers and magazines have been jumping into the blogging pool for some months now but the only one that has managed to impress is Harper’s Online Sentences — yes, the title is uninspired, but what can you do, those print folks — run by Wyatt Mason. (There’s something about those LRB contributors….) He blogs about books I don’t typically seen covered anywhere else and so far has provided some thoughtful coverage on a Q&A (I and II) with James Wood and Jonathan Franzen. I’m kinda tired of reading about both men at the moment so it’s telling that Mason managed to get past my instinctive yawn.

The latest London Review of Books has two of its eye-catching articles available for free online. James Meeks makes a very persuasive case for the high quality of James Kelman’s work in Dead not Died, inclusive rather than in spite of his generous use of Glaswegian dialect and cuss words. I nearly wrote down the review’s conclusion in my notebook.

If I spend so much time on Kelman’s use of language, it’s partly because Kieron’s story is so bound up with it, and partly because I am not sure that all his potential readers can bring themselves to credit the degree of artistry, the weighing of each word and comma, that he puts into his work. There’s a reluctance to accept Kelman for what he is, a perfectionist and a radical Modernist writer of exceptional brilliance, and this reluctance is not just bourgeois superciliousness. There’s a generous but misdirected romanticism, too, which would like to imagine Kelman warbling his native fucknotes wild, simply sluicing a measure of his authentic working-class soul onto the page without the mediation of rational thought: a one-shot exotic. The real reason Kelman, despite his stature and reputation, remains something of a literary outsider is not, I suspect, so much that great, radical Modernist writers aren’t supposed to come from working-class Glasgow, as that great, radical Modernist writers are supposed to be dead. Dead, and wrapped up in a Penguin Classic: that’s when it’s safe to regret that their work was underappreciated or misunderstood (or how little they were paid) in their lifetimes. You can write what you like about Beckett or Kafka and know they’re not going to come round and tell you you’re talking nonsense, or confound your expectations with a new work. Kelman is still alive, still writing great books, climbing.

Terry Eagleton, always an amusing fellow, spends more than half of his “review” giving a rundown on the ever changing theories about literary works in relation to authors through the years, and splits the other half telling us what’s in the reviewed book, something which bore only a superficial link with his previous wind up, and some actual commentary. I giggled a lot while reading it in Starbucks.

Hip hip hurrah! Spring’s premature summer warmth distracted me for a few weeks but now that the weather has returned to a seasonal chilly gloom I remembered to check on the Lady Margaret Lectures at Cambridge which are about Milton this year. Behold! Another podcast is up, this time with Sharon Achinstein‘s effort which focuses on Milton as a prose writer and poet. I haven’t listened to it yet but I was too excited to exclude it from this post. The next lecture won’t be until THE END of October…:(😦😦. If you’re a LRB subscriber Quentin Skinner’s transcript of his lecture is printed as What does it mean to be a free person? in the newest issue (May 22nd).

To finish, I’d like to declare that, contrary to previous suspicions, Gabriel Josipovici has not spoiled me for all other modern literature. I’ve fallen a little bit in love with that characters in Stefan Zweig’s The Post-Office Girl, the way he’s written them in light of how I think the plot may develop, and I’m expecting great things from Edith Wharton’s New York Stories which I picked up in preparation for the next Slaves of Golconda read, The Glimpses of the Moon. Roxana Robinson’s introduction made Wharton’s background sound remarkably as though it was taken straight out of an Austen novel.

3 Responses to "Things of interest"

“The Electric Michelangelo” has never appealed, that despite the fact, that Sarah Hall’s “Haweswater” is an absolute marvel.

“The Carhullan Army” lies patiently in my TBR.

“The Post-Office Girl” is in the next delivery from Amazon and I’ve just discovered Edith Wharton and have decided to work my way through her backcatalogue.

Something tells me, we have more than one thing in common ……

Yes, her second book for me was close to torturous but her Haweswater definitely established her as a writer to reckon with and Carhullan Army raises that to the power of ten.

Ha, nice coincidences with the other book choices. You should consider popping over to Slaves of Golconda at the end of June when the group discusses the Wharton novel. If you don’t mind spoilers.

Loving everything in this post. And yes, Wyatt Mason is good. I met him once, and he’s quite peachy.

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