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Peter Handke hits out at criticism of Nobel win [16 Oct 2019|01:05pm]

Writer says he will not talk to media again after repeated questions about his politics

The Austrian writer Peter Handke has for the first time addressed the controversy over his award of the Nobel prize for literature, saying he will “never again” talk to journalists after being confronted over his stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Speaking to Austrian media on Tuesday night after an informal meeting with municipal leaders in his home town of Griffen, southern Austria, Handke complained that journalists had bombarded him with questions about his political views without trying to engage with his writing.

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Top 10 lighthouses in fiction [16 Oct 2019|12:42pm]

These lonely outposts provide stormy literary inspiration to writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Virginia Woolf and PD James

They warn of danger and yet lighthouses in fiction rarely seem to keep characters safe. Work in one and suffer loneliness or worse. Set foot in one in any capacity and immediately feel your options narrowing. There may be only one way in but there will be two ways out, one of which you don’t want to think about. They rise out of the land – and the sea – with the undeniable power of a symbol, a prophecy.

In 1998, a friend working in publishing asked me to read a novel that had recently been published in France, Pharricide by Vincent de Swarte, and write a report on it. I fell immediately and deeply in love with it and wrote in my report that not only should the UK publisher obtain the rights, but they should let me translate it. They didn’t obtain the rights and so I spent the next 20 years trying to find a publisher willing to take it on. Finally, I struck lucky with Confingo Publishing, my translation appearing earlier this year – too late for De Swarte, who sadly died in 2006 aged only 42.

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Judging the Booker prize: 'I'm proud of our decision' [16 Oct 2019|11:00am]

Picking a winner is an impossible task, says Booker judge Afua Hirsch. Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo both deserved to win

Was deciding on a winner for the Booker prize, a friend asked at the awards ceremony, a bit like giving birth? She then relayed the story of how, after carefully nurturing her pregnancy for months, the doctors became increasingly desperate to get her baby out before something went wrong. And there was the happiest of endings, when her child was born safely, in good health.

Yes, I said, it was a lot like that. Only at that point, we discovered it was twins.

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Stormzy's #Merky Books to publish Malorie Blackman's memoir [16 Oct 2019|11:23am]

The Noughts and Crosses author’s life story has been signed to the grime star’s imprint and is scheduled for 2022

Stormzy’s publishing imprint #Merky Books has acquired the autobiography of Malorie Blackman, the novelist and former children’s laureate who the rapper has called a formative inspiration.

The memoir, to be published in 2022, will begin with Blackman’s childhood in south London, the daughter of parents who arrived from Barbados as part of the Windrush generation. It will also chart her writing career, from the 83 rejection letters she received when she sent out her first book to her gaining the laureateship in 2013. #Merky Books said the autobiography would be “empowering and inspiring”. It described Blackman’s series Noughts and Crosses, which is set in a world where the dominant population is black, as one that “sparked a new and necessary conversation about race and identity in the UK” when it was published in 2000.

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We Fight Fascists by Daniel Sonabend review – sabotage and street scuffles [16 Oct 2019|11:00am]

Britain’s fascists targeted Jews in the years after the second world war. This is the story of the 43 Group who fought back

The end of the second world war and its immediate aftermath in Britain is today mythologised – on the left and the right – as a time when the country pulled together amid hardship. There is truth in that, but as Daniel Sonabend’s lively account of an overlooked episode in political history reveals, it also had its vicious side. Britain’s home-grown fascists, who had never quite ceased activity during the war, even after scores of them were interned under Defence Regulation 18B in 1940, were quick to rebuild their networks and resume street activity. It wasn’t long before Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists, reappeared with a new party, the Union Movement. It continued the old tactic of trying to stir up resentment against Jews in working-class neighbourhoods, by holding rallies at such places as Ridley Road market in Dalston, east London, then still the centre of a large Jewish community.

The fascists believed their ideas would fall on fertile ground: Britain suffered crippling shortages, with rationing even harsher than it had been during the war years, while antisemitism remained widespread. Distorted press reports reinforced the stereotype of the Jewish black marketeer, while prejudice against Jews – not overwhelming, but more common, and more openly expressed, than many today would care to remember – was further exacerbated by conflict in Palestine between British Mandate forces and Zionist militants fighting to establish a new state. In summer 1947, the killing of two sergeants in Palestine by the Irgun was the trigger for widespread antisemitic riots across Britain, targeting Jewish homes and businesses in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.

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The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen review – confessions of a literary outsider [16 Oct 2019|08:00am]

The Danish writer reflects on success, addiction and divorces in three volumes of compulsive autofiction: Childhood, Youth and Dependency

For the four decades after the outbreak of the second world war, Tove Ditlevsen was one of Denmark’s most famous and extravagantly tortured writers, whose many identities – dreamy working-class misfit, ruthlessly focused artist, ambivalent wife and mother, literary outsider and drug addict – were constantly at war. While always the central protagonist in her dispatches from the frontline of her own life, she never pretended to be the heroine. Which makes it unsurprising that in an era with an appetite for autofiction, her mordant, vibrantly confessional autobiographical work should be experiencing a revival.

Ditlevsen was a famous poet by her early 20s, but she did not consider herself young. Why would she, when a working-class childhood ended at 14? Already she had been sacked as a maid, for scrubbing a piano down with water; been nanny to a boy who announced: “You must do everything I say or else I’ll shoot you”; lived in a boarding house with Hitler’s portrait on the wall; embarked on the first of her four doomed marriages; and taken a lover who sent identical “dear Kitten” letters to all his mistresses.

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Me by Elton John review – hilariously self-lacerating [16 Oct 2019|06:30am]

A memoir that is racy, pacy and crammed with scurrilous anecdotes – what more could you ask from the rocket man?

Choosing one’s favourite Elton John story – like choosing one’s favourite Elton song – can feel like limiting oneself to a mere single grape from the horn of plenty. Leaving aside the music for the moment, Elton’s public and maybe even private persona can be divided into two phases: first there was the raging drugs monster, as extravagantly talented as he was costumed. Now that he’s sober, there’s the more conservatively dressed, happily married elder statesman of British pop, a proper establishment figure, albeit one who’s still unafraid to pick fights with everyone from Keith Richards (“a monkey with arthritis”) to Madonna (“looks like a fairground stripper”). Both eras have yielded a steady crop of outstanding Elton anecdotes, often retold by Elton himself, who, possessing the kind of self-knowledge few of his fame and wealth retain, tells his stories better than anyone else. Probably the most infamous of all is the one about the time he’d been up for several days (this, clearly, was from the pre-sobriety era) when he decided something really needed to be sorted out. No, not his devastating drug addiction or his lack of sleep – the problem was the weather. So he called a chap in his office and told him to sort it out: “It’s far too windy here, can you do something about it?”

Such is the wealth of material he has to choose from, this story gets only a passing mention in his outrageously enjoyable autobiography: “This is obviously the ideal moment to state once and for all that this story is a complete urban myth. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that, because the story is completely true,” he writes, with a self-deprecating shrug. And then he moves on to the next tale, which might be about the night he and John Lennon refused to answer the door to Andy Warhol because, as Lennon hissed to Elton: “Do you want him coming in here taking photos when you’ve got icicles of coke hanging out of your nose?” Or it might be about the time Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone nearly came to blows over Princess Diana at one of his dinner parties. That he has celebrity anecdotes to burn is not a surprise. But the self-mocking tone is more unexpected from a musician so grand that at his 2014 wedding party he had one table dedicated solely to the Beatles and their families. Yet while his extraordinary talent justified his personal excesses, it is his self-awareness that has counterbalanced the narcissism and made him such a likable figure. This is, after all, the man who allowed his husband, David Furnish, to make a documentary about him and call it Tantrums and Tiaras.

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Booker winners Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood on breaking the rules [15 Oct 2019|05:00pm]

The judges staged a ‘joyful mutiny’ to name the pair joint winners of the literary prize. And that’s not all that unites them

It was clear that things were not going to plan when, just half an hour before the guests began to arrive, the judges of this year’s Booker prize had yet to make a decision. Five hours after they had begun their deliberations, they finally emerged in a state of “joyful mutiny” to announce that they had decided to break with convention, throw out the rule book and anoint two winners rather than the usual one.

By happy coincidence, Bernardine Evaristo is the same age that Margaret Atwood was when, in 2000, she first won the Booker prize with The Blind Assassin. “And I’m happy that we’ve both got curly hair,” quipped Atwood as they took to the stage arm in arm. They talk about it again the following morning, comparing notes about hair etiquette and handy products for curls. They agree that it is a political issue. “People used to review my hair back in the day,” says Atwood.

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Backlash after Booker awards prize to two authors [15 Oct 2019|04:25pm]

Decision to make first black female winner, Bernardine Evaristo, share £50,000 prize with Margaret Atwood causes controversy

The Booker prize judges’ decision to break the rules and jointly award the prize to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo has been criticised, with detractors pointing out that the first black woman ever to win Britain’s most prestigious literary award has had to share it – while receiving half the usual money.

Chair of the judges Peter Florence shocked the literary world on Monday night when he revealed that the jury had decided – unanimously, he said – to flout rules, which have been in place since 1992, that the Booker “may not be divided or withheld”. After more than five hours of deliberation, he announced that this year’s £50,000 award would be split between Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, and Evaristo’s polyphonic novel Girl, Woman, Other. Told in the voices of 12 different characters, mostly black women, Evaristo has said that the novel, her eighth, stems from the fact that “we black British women know that if we don’t write ourselves into literature, no one else will”.

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Bid to repatriate James Joyce's remains ahead of Ulysses centenary [15 Oct 2019|03:45pm]

Dublin city councillors are hoping to fulfil wishes of the writer and his wife, which were denied after his death in Switzerland in 1941

A plan to repatriate the remains of James Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle and finally observe their last wishes, has been proposed by Dublin city councillors more than 70 years after the author’s death.

Born in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar in 1882, Joyce spent decades living away from Ireland due to his growing animosity towards Irish society and his need to find work. He died in Zurich in January 1941 at the age of 58, after undergoing surgery on a perforated ulcer. He is buried in Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, alongside his wife Nora, who died 10 years later. In 1966, they were moved from an ordinary grave to a more prominent one, where their son Giorgio was later buried with them in 1976.

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Is The Golden Notebook a feminist novel? [15 Oct 2019|11:04am]

For all the suffering its women endure at the hands of men, it’s not hard to see why Doris Lessing disliked her book’s polemical reputation

The New York Times critic Ernest Buickler once wrote that “a firkinful of scorching aphorisms” could be culled from nearly every page of The Golden Notebook. An exaggeration, of course – but only just. Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel is eminently quotable:

“For with my intuition I knew that this man was repeating a pattern over and over again: courting a woman with his intelligence and sympathy, claiming her emotionally; then, when she began to claim in return, running away. And the better a woman was, the sooner he would begin to run.”

“The real revolution is women against men.”

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Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo: why do we have two Booker winners? - books podcast [15 Oct 2019|07:52am]

On this week’s show, we discuss the shock decision to split the Booker prize between Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo –a direct contravention of the rules introduced almost 30 years ago after the 1992 judges couldn’t decide on a single winner.

Then Claire speaks to Hazel Carby and Amelia Gentleman about their very different books exploring the treatment of the UK’s Caribbean population. Carby, whose father was part of the Windrush generation, is the author of Imperial Intimacies, a history of the British empire as told through the story of her own family.

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A Puff of Smoke by Sarah Lippett review – growing pains [15 Oct 2019|08:00am]

Sarah Lippett’s wonderfully drawn memoir of a serious childhood illness is moving and inspiring

Serious illness is a painfully lonely business, especially when the patient is a child, isolated from friends and made absent from school by experiences that really should belong – if they must belong anywhere – to the adult world. In her graphic memoir, A Puff of Smoke, Sarah Lippett tells the story of the illness that struck her as a little girl and with which she lived until she was 18 when it was finally diagnosed and doctors were able to treat it. For obvious reasons, its pages are filled with baffled medics and kind nurses, noisy wards and futile tests, debilitating pain and scary, befuddling drugs. But they also speak of a great loneliness: here is a child who is not only unreachable, even by her devoted parents, but who knows herself to be so. If this doesn’t make you cry, you may be a robot rather than a human being.

Her first symptoms are terrible headaches; then she begins to drag one leg as she walks. At her local hospital in Stafford, she is put in an isolation ward while the staff try to work out the cause of her problems – the first time in her life she has ever been left alone. Brain scans are performed, and tests conducted on the fluid in her spine, after which she receives her (mis)diagnosis: she has hemiplegia chorea, an involuntary movement disorder. The drugs she is given for this have terrible side effects, among them urinary infections and hair loss, and naturally they do nothing to alleviate her symptoms. Only many years later, when her father insists on a referral to Great Ormond Street hospital in London, will doctors get to the heart of her condition. It turns out that she has moyamoya, a rare disease that constricts arteries to the brain, may cause strokes, and can only be cured by lengthy brain surgery.

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The Triumph of Injustice review – how to wrest control from multinationals [15 Oct 2019|06:00am]

This bracing treatise by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman advocates a radical approach to reducing inequality

The global economy crashed more than a decade ago and the world’s progressives are still grasping for an answer. Thinkers from the political left should have been at the forefront of the debate about reforming the world’s financial system, but instead have spent much of the last 10 years struggling to tame the more vigorous response to the crisis from the right.

There have been imaginative initiatives, particularly with regard to the exchange of financial information between countries, but these have hardly set the public imagination alight. Too much of the answer to this global system failure has come from policy rather than politics.

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Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo share Booker prize 2019 [14 Oct 2019|11:23pm]

Judging panel break rules in choosing The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other as joint winners

The judges of this year’s Booker prize have “explicitly flouted” the rules of the august literary award to choose the first joint winners in almost 30 years: Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo.

Related: Booker judges split between huge event novel and obscure choice

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Harold Bloom, author and literary critic, dies at age 89 [14 Oct 2019|09:53pm]

He prided himself on making scholarly topics accessible to readers and wrote the bestsellers The Western Canon and The Book of J

Harold Bloom, the eminent critic and Yale professor whose seminal The Anxiety of Influence and melancholy regard for literature’s old masters made him a popular author and standard-bearer of western civilization amid modern trends, died on Monday at age 89.

Bloom’s wife, Jeanne, said that he had been failing health, although he continued to write books and was teaching as recently as last week. Yale said Bloom died at a New Haven, Connecticut, hospital.

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Two years on, the literature of #MeToo is coming of age | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett [14 Oct 2019|06:00am]

There has been a flowering of writing on the knotty problems of power and gender relations – but men must read it too

When Mary Gaitskill’s “#MeToo” novella, This Is Pleasure, was published by the New Yorker in July, it didn’t go viral in the same spectacular way as Kristen Roupenian’s Cat Person did, almost two years previously, just as the #MeToo movement was peaking.

Related: Cat Person author Kristen Roupenian: 'Dating is caught up in ego, power and control'

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week? [14 Oct 2019|02:00pm]

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

Let’s start with some searching questions from Larts, who has been enjoying Warlight by Michael Ondaatje:

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Sanditon: why are Austen fans so enraged by Andrew Davies' ending? [14 Oct 2019|12:58pm]

ITV’s dramatisation of the unfinished novel has offended the sensibilities of many Janeites. Alison Flood wonders if this makes sense

In one of the last glimpses Jane Austen gives us of the world of Sanditon, her final, unfinished novel, Charlotte Heywood has just met Sidney Parker, a young man of “about seven or eight and twenty, very good-looking, with a decided air of ease and fashion and a lively countenance”.

Andrew Davies’ TV adaptation of Sanditon, which aired on Sunday, ended with Charlotte and Sidney bidding each other a tearful farewell – in love, but not together. Viewers were teased with the hope of a last-minute reconciliation, as Sidney stopped Charlotte’s carriage. Would he throw honour to the wind and choose Charlotte over Eliza? But the expected happy ever after didn’t materialise. Reader: he didn’t marry her.

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Poem of the week: Sonnets from Idea's Mirror by Michael Drayton [14 Oct 2019|11:39am]

These Jacobean verses pay courtly tribute to the poet’s muse – and let rip on his critics

31: To the Critic
Methinks I see some crooked mimic jeer,
And tax my Muse with this fantastic grace,
Turning my papers asks, What have we here?
Making withal some filthy antic face.
I fear no censure, nor what thou canst say,
Nor shall my spirit one jot of vigour lose;
Think’st thou my wit shall keep the pack-horse way
That every dudgen low invention goes?
Since sonnets thus in bundles are imprest
And every drudge doth dull our satiate ear,
Think’st thou my love shall in those rags be drest,
That every dowdy, every trull, doth wear?
Up to my pitch no common judgement flies;
I scorn all earthly dung-bred scarabies.

39
Some, when in rhyme they of their loves do tell,
With flames and lightnings their exordiums paint,
Some call on Heaven, some invocate on Hell,
And Fates and Furies with their woes acquaint.
Elysium is too high a seat for me;
I will not come in Styx or Phlegethon;
The thrice-three Muses but too wanton be,
Like they that lust, I care not, I will none.
Spiteful Erinnys frights me with her looks,
My manhood dares not with foul Ate mell,
I quake to look on Hecate’s charming books,
I still fear bugbears in Apollo’s cell.
I pass not for Minerva nor Astraea,
Only I call on my divine Idea.

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