CUTTING-EDGE LITERARY NEWS FROM AROUND THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
by Andrew Gallix & Guillaume Destot
The books mentioned here are usually available from amazon.co.uk. Scroll down the page to order.
Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
You strictly-English-speakers can at last read Michel Houellebecq's Atomised (Les Particules Elementaires) and enjoy the darker than dark 'lucidity' of the French writer's moral autopsy of our society. The plot follows the lives of Michel and Bruno, two half-brothers of catastrophic family background. Michel is a kind of emotionless, cyborg-like genius genetician, while Bruno is a neurotic, sexually obsessed fortyish teacher, whose desperate odyssey for sexual satisfaction leads us down to the most sordid recesses of human animality (or almost), and, paradoxically, to moments of authentic tenderness. If you read this book, make sure that you will under no circumstance let yourself be persuaded away from your legitimate quest for pleasure. Houellebecq's stone-cold analysis of our 'passions' and urges is at times hard to swallow, but you'd be sorry to miss a genuine literary phenomenon.
Atomised (Heinemann, 2000) is available from:
WRITERS ON THE VERGE
In June, The Village Voice published its third annual list of up-and-coming writers. Steven Johnson (32) ranks among them. He is the co-founder and editor in chief of Feed, an online magazine which recently featured an interview with Aleksandar Hemon, another Village Voice nominee. Incestuous or what?
The Village Voice website:
OR THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MINIMALISM
Aleksandar Hemon hails from Sarajevo. He came to the US in 1992 on a cultural exchange for journalists. He was only supposed to stay for a month, but remained there because of the war which had broken out in his homeland. Hemon settled in Chicago and set about learning English. Three years later, he wrote his first short story in English! Since then, his fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Granta. The Observer (London) included him in their list of "21 writers for the 21st century," and his work has already earned him comparisons with Nabokov and Conrad. His first book, The Question of Bruno, a collection of short stories, was published by Picador in Britain (April 2000) and by Doubleday in the US (May). Hemon is currently working on a Ph.D. in English literature and writes a column for Dani, a Sarajevo-based magazine.
A fascinating interview appears in Feed, an excellent online magazine. Hemon explains that he had always wanted to write since childhood and that he became a journalist because there was no publishing industry back in Bosnia. Writing film reviews influenced his fiction: "One way I think of my stories is as little movies - written, produced, shot, directed, and cast by me." His English improved thanks to a job he got canvassing for Greenpeace in Chicago, but "Writing is a whole different story": "You have to choose the words that are somehow perfect, the exact words, and you cannot approximate. I mean, I cannot approximate. And so, even when I spoke at that time, I had a sense that somehow there was always this discrepancy between what I wanted to say and what I was saying. It made me feel as if I were lying, which I wasn't, strictly speaking, but there were always misrepresentations." He gave himself five years to master the lingo and write in English, but was able to write his first piece after only three years. The war in Bosnia changed his way of writing: "I used to think that literature, or writing in general, was really distinct and apart from politics and history. But that's absurd because it catches up with you. . . . And all of this had stylistic implications. Minimalism became impossible." Being an expatriate writer has advantages: "The advantage is that I can be in between [Sarajevo and Chicago], in both places at the same time." Hemon also states that he is flattered by comparisons with Conrad or Nabokov, but that it's also "absurd": "These people had a lifetime of writing books, not to mention masterpieces."
Read the interview in Feed Magazine:
Hemon's The Question of Bruno is available from:
LANDS $66,000 ADVANCE
Sahara Sunny Spain (a name right out of a Barbara Cartland novel) is the new 'literary' sensation, arousing, as you'd expect, both brainless enthusiasm and jealously ironical comments. This 8-year-old girl recently obtained a £ 66,000 advance for her next collection of poems, a record deal for a field of publishing that is not the most profitable on earth. You may of course dismiss the wonder child, who attends a school for gifted brats in San Francisco, as yet another gimmick, and side with poet laureate Andrew Motion, who calls her poetry 'greeting-card verse'. But you could also think that Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker would not support the child without a good reason (who said 'money'?). Time will tell, anyhow, and in the meantime, thanks to the buzz surrounding the story, publisher HarperCollins will no doubt laugh all the way to the bank.
Perhaps, after all, Sahara was one of the first to download 'Cybernetic Poet'? This new software, available for free at www.kurzweilcyberart.com, enables you to find that missing line to your verse masterpiece. Our Robobyron can imitate whatever poet you like, and will not even run dry if you feed him only a couple of words: he'll gladly make up the rest for you, while you watch lewd sites on the web. It seems, of course, that the result is not absolutely convincing, but it may be good fun to just try and check that it's worthwhile keeping on struggling to end your lines with a rhyme. Who knows? You may even meet the ghost in the machine!
EASTERN EUROPE COMES TO LONDON
Emigré Bosnian Aleksandar Hemon and Russian novelist Viktor Pelevin (see June issue of 3 A.M. Magazine) were both in London, recently, to promote their respective books. Pelevin's Babylon (Faber and Faber) is now available in English from: http://www.amazon.co.uk
WILL SELF, THE LIVE LAPTOP
If you had walked past the small Fig 1 art gallery in London's Soho in early June, you may have read the following warning: "Anyone entering the gallery will be subject to fictionalisation." The exhibit was no other than Will Self, one of the most talented contemporary British writers, who was in the process of writing a short story. As he typed away on his laptop, the words were projected on a screen behind him: "He appears absorbed in the narrative, oblivious to his surroundings, but he's not. You tell because, every so often, a pungent comment about people in the room before him appears on the screen" (John Walsh, The Independent 7 June 2000). Read the resulting story:
Will Self's latest novel, How the Dead Live casts an eye on modern London, from the merciless angle of a dead lady. Lily Bloom, the heroin, moves off after her death to an imaginary part of London, Dulston, where the dead meet and resume their aimless urban (non)existence. Lily leaves behind her two daughters, whose pointless lives she continues to observe, unnoticed, and unable to communicate her bitter commentaries. Will Self's brand new novel, How the Dead Live (Bloomsbury, 2000) is available from: http://www.amazon.co.uk
WILL SELF: THE ROCK STAR OF THE LITERATI
On 11 June, a lengthy interview with Will Self (38) appeared in The Observer Magazine ahead of the publication of his new novel on June 22. After two decades of alcohol and drug addiction, the novelist now claims to be completely straight: "I'm off everything now. I couldn't have written another book if I hadn't cleaned up." This is the man whom Tatler once described as "the rock star of the literati with his own groupies" and who was sacked from The Observer in 1997 for shooting up on the Prime Minister's plane!
Self shot to fame in 1991 when he was selected as one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists although he'd never even published a novel at the time. He still writes "to astonish people," but his work has matured: "In my twenties and thirties, I had that kind of fashionable deconstructionist view that it was meaningless to write what characters thought because it was such an artificial construct - and I think in my case that was also a reflection of my own immaturity. But the interesting thing about middle age is that you begin to see how people change over time, and how they change in relation to social change, and you begin to get an inkling of why the 19th-century novelists were so preoccupied by this phenomenon. It requires a big canvas and a lot of space and a lot of oomph to bring it off, and I'm really interested in doing it."
BOOK READERS OF THE WORLD UNITE:
WILL SELF ATTACKS WATERSTONE'S
AS ANGRY READERS DEMONSTRATE
Will Self has a weekly radio column on Radio 4's influential Today programme. On June 25, Self attacked the management of the Waterstone's chain of bookshops. He said that their decision to cut back on stock would lead to "wall-to-wall pulp" and "cultural impoverishment." The novelist also defended Robert Topping, the recently-sacked manager of a Waterstone's branch in Manchester. He was sacked because he refused to cut stocks and increase focus on bestsellers. Four other managers are resisting this new policy. In early July, angry demonstrators picketed Waterstone's in Manchester.
Paul Morley was a legendary rock critic for the New Musical Express who couldn't help quoting Barthes or Kierkegaard when reviewing pop bands. He was associated with Manchester's legendary Factory records (Joy Division's label), co-founded The Art of Noise and went on to promote Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Morley has just published his first book, Nothing (Faber, 2000), which explains his career in the light of his father's suicide in 1977.
Nothing is available from: http://www.amazon.co.uk
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A MILLION POUNDS? :
BURN THE FUCKING LOT!
Bill Drummond was born in South Africa and grew up in Scotland. He played bass in Liverpudlian punk band Big in Japan (along with future Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer Holly Johnson and future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie), then managed The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen. In typical Drummond fashion, he abandoned these two bands as soon as they bacame famous to work in the A&R department of WEA records. With Jimmy Cauty, he formed KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front). Thir first album (What the Fuck is Going On?), released in 1987, pioneered the art of sampling. The following year, Drummond and Cauty decided to have a number one record. They changed their name to The Timelords and released a dance version of the Doctor Who theme tune which duly topped the charts. The subversive pair went on to write a book entitled The Manual:How to Have a Number One the Easy Way! Two guys from Austria read the manual, followed the instructions and sold two million copies of their single. Having reverted to their original name, KLF produced a string of rave anthems (including 3 a.m. Eternal) and the first ambient house album. In 1992, KLF won the best group award at the famous Brit Awards where they declared they were leaving the music business. They left a slaughtered sheep at the post-awards party with a note which read : "I died for ewe. Bon appétit." In 1994, drummond and Cauty travelled to the Isle of Jura where they burned £1m in front of an incredulous audience.
Bill drummond's recently-published 45 (Little, Brown & Company, 2000) is available from: http://www.amazon.com. So is The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way (Ellipsis, 1998).
ALISTAIR GENTRY'S FLESHLY OCCUPATIONS
Alistair Gentry, who was featured in the second issue of 3 A.M. Magazine, tells us about his "main fleshly occupations." He is currently working on a digital animation film with a visual artist called Joe Magee. It will be broadcast next year on Channel 4 (in Britain). For more information visit the following sites:
He is also one of ten artists in residence in Scotland this summer: "I'm making a sound work for installation in Scottish galleries. A somewhat garbled account of this can be found at: http://www.mediascot.org.
Alistair says that "on reflection" he is not "that fully withdrawn from virtual stuff," but at least these activities involve him leaving the house!Alistair Gentry's website: http://www.gentry.btinternet.co.uk
Send correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD
The judging panel of the very first Guardian First Book Award was unveiled on July 1. It includes, among others, novelists Toby Litt, David Baddiel and (not him again!) Julian Barnes. The award aims to recognise an author's first book (fiction, poetry or non-fiction). The winner will receive £10,000. The longlist will be announced in August and the shortlist in October.
NEW EDINBURGH LIT FEST
The British Council and the Scottish Arts Council unite to create 'The Bookcase,' a literary festival that will be held in Edinburgh from the 23d to the 27th of August as part of the world-famous annual Edinburgh Festival. The event will gather some 50 writers and propose debates, round tables and writing workshops. Don't be there, be square.
The Bloomsday festival in Dublin took place from June 12th to the end of that week. The event is a yearly celebration of James Joyce, and especially of his masterpiece Ulysses: the day of the plot (16th of June) is the climax, so to speak, of the week-long party. Entertainment includes historical walks round town, lectures, shows, readings, dressing-up and piles of activities for the fun-and-Guiness loving literati. The festival is a good occasion to signal the existence of the Joyce Centre, a library and bookshop featuring a collection of Joycean odds and ends, with pics, furniture and what-not.It is also, perhaps most of all, an excellent pretext to pay respectful visits to all the pubs mentioned in the book, out of that pious literary devotion I'm sure you're not insensitive to.
JAMES JOYCE: THE ROSENBACH MANUSCRIPT
In 1924, Dr Rosenbach acquired an early manuscript of Ulysses from the New York art patron John Quinn. Joyce reckoned he had been swindled and tried in vain to buy back the manuscript.
Since the 1950s,the Rosenbach manuscript had been kept in the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Now it is exhibited at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle. Joyce scholar Danis Rose describes the priceless manuscript as "a handwritten copy of each of the 18 episodes of Joyce's novel at an intermediate stage of development." Hans Walter Gable believed that the manuscript contained material that Joyce had intended to appear in the final version of Ulysses. In his 1984 edition of the novel, Gable reintroduced, for instance, the library episode where "love" is famously described as the "word known to all men." Whether Gable was right to do so remains a matter of some controversy in Joycean circles.
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