Books To Be Read Immediately – Francine Prose

Francine Prose’s best-selling book ‘Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them’ is a highly readable and engaging look at literature, highlighting a few tools and tricks, drawn from major literary works, to assist any budding writer. A course that I’ve enrolled in for the duration of 2022 asked that we read this book before classes commence in February, being the enthusiastic student I’ve done my homework.

The book covers subjects such as reading, word choices, sentence structure, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue and more, Francine Prose uses examples of well-known books to highlight her point. It is not only Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte etc. William Gaddis even rates a mention!!!

Preaching “close reading” and the pleasures of spending long times with great books, it comes with an appendix, “Books To Be Read Immediately”. One hundred and nineteen titles!!! “Immediately” would take some time.

As I know you all love a list, here are those 119 books:

Akutagawa, Ryunosuke. M. Kuwata and Tashaki Kojima (translators), Rashomon and Other Stories

Alcott, Louisa May, Little Women

Anonymous, Dorothy L. Sayers (translator), The Song of Roland

Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice

Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility

Babel, Isaac. Walter Morrison (translator), The Collected Stories

Baldwin, James, Vintage Baldwin

Balzac, Honoré de. Kathleen Raine (translator), Cousin Bette

Barthelme, Donald, Sixty Stories

Baxter, Charles, Believers: A Novella and Stories

Beckett, Samuel, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989

Bowen, Elizabeth, The House in Paris

Bowles, Jane, Two Serious Ladies

Bowles, Paul, Paul Bowles: Collected Stories and Later Writings

Brodkey, Harold, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode

Brontë, Emily, Wuthering Heights

Calvino, Italo, Cosmicomics

Carver, Raymond, Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories

Carver, Raymond, Cathedral

Cervantes, Miguel De. Tobias Smollett (translator) Don Quixote

Chandler, Raymond, The Big Sleep

Cheever, John, The Stories of John Cheever

Chekhov, Anton. Constance Garnett (translator), A Life in Letters

Chekhov, Anton. Constance Garnett (translator), Tales of Anton Chekhov: Volumes 1-13

Diaz, Junot, Drown

Dickens, Charles, Bleak House

Dickens, Charles, Dombey and Son

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Constance Garnett (translator), Crime and Punishment

Dybek, Stuart, I Sailed with Magellan

Eisenberg, Deborah, The Stories (So Far) of Deborah Eisenberg

Eliot, George, Middlemarch

Elkin, Stanley, Searches and Seizures

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, Tender Is the Night

Flaubert, Gustave. Geoffrey Wall (translator), Madame Bovary

Flaubert, Gustave. Robert Baldick (translator), A Sentimental Education

Fox, Paula. Jonathan Franzen (introduction), Desperate Characters

Franzen, Jonathan, The Corrections

Gallant, Mavis, Paris Stories

Gaddis, William, The Recognitions

Gates, David, The Wonders of the Invisible World: Stories

Gibbon, Edward, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Gogol, Nikolai. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (translators), Dead Souls: A Novel

Green, Henry, Doting

Green, Henry, Loving

Hartley, L. P., The Go-Between

Hemingway, Ernest, A Moveable Feast

Hemingway, Ernest, The Sun Also Rises

Herbert, Zbigniew. Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott (translators), Selected Poems

James, Henry, The Portrait of a Lady

James, Henry, The Turn of the Screw

Jarrell, Randall, Pictures from an Institution

Johnson, Denis, Angles

Johnson, Denis, Jesus’ Son

Johnson, Diane, Le Divorce

Johnson, Diane, Persian Nights

Johnson, Samuel, The Life of Savage

Joyce, James, Dubliners

Kafka, Franz. Malcolm Pasley (translator), The Judgement and In the Penal Colony and Metamorphosis and Other Stories

Kafka, Franz. Willa and Edmund Muir (translators), The Trial

Le Carré, John, A Perfect Spy

Mandelstam, Nadezdha, Hope Against Hope: A Memoir

Mansfield, Katherine, Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Gregory Rabassa (translator), One Hundred Years of Solitude

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Gregory Rabassa (translator), The Autumn of the Patriarch

Marques, Gabriel Garcia, Love in the Time of Cholera

McInerney, Jay, Bright Lights, Big City

Melville, Herman, Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno

Melville, Herman, Moby Dick

Milton, John, Paradise Lost

Munro, Alice, Selected Stories

Nabokov, Vladimir, Lectures on Russian Literature

Nabokov, Vladimir, Lolita

O’Brien, Tim, The Things They Carried

O’Connor, Flannery, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

O’Connor, Flannery, Collected Stories

O’Connor, Flannery, Wise Blood

Packer, ZZ, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

Paustovsky, Konstantin. Joseph Barnes (translator), Years of Hope: The Story of a Life

Price, Richard, Freedomland

Proust, Marcel. Lydia Davis (translator), Swann’s Way

Pynchon, Thomas, Gravity’s Rainbow

Richardson, Samuel, Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded

Roth, Philip, American Pastoral

Roth, Philip, Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962

Rulfo, Juan. Margaret Sayers Peden (translator), Pedro Paramo

Salinger, J. D., Franny and Zooey

Shakespeare, William, King Lear

Shteyngard, Gary, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook

Sophocles. Sir George Young (translator), Oedipus Rex

Spencer, Scott, A Ship Made of Paper

St. Aubyn, Edward, Mother’s Milk

St. Aubyn, Edward, Some Hope: A Trilogy

Stead, Christina, The Man Who Loved Children

Steegmuller, Francis, Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait

Stein, Gertrude, The Autobiography of Alice B. Tocklas

Stendhal. Roger Gard (translator), The Red and the Black

Stout, Rex, Plot It Yourself

Stunk, William and E. B. White. Maira Kalman (illustrator), The Elements of Style, Illustrated

Taylor, Peter, A Summons to Memphis

Tolstaya, Tatyana, Sleepwalker in a Fog

Tolstoy, Leo. Constance Garnett (translator), Anna Karenina

Tolstoy, Leo. Aylmer Maude (translator), The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories

Tolstoy, Leo. David McDuff (translator), The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories

Tolstoy, Leo. Rosemary Edmonds (translator), Resurrection

Tolstoy, Leo. Constance Garnett (translator), War and Peace

Trevor, William, The Children of Dynmouth

Trevor, William, The Collected Stories

Trevor, William, Fools of Fortune

Turgenev, Ivan Sergeevich. Isaiah Berlin (translator), First Love

Twain, Mark, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Von Kleist, Heinrich. Martin Greenberg (translator) and Thomas Mann (preface), The Marquise of O— and Other Stories

Wagner, Bruce, I’m Losing You

West, Rebecca, The Birds Fall Down

West, Rebecca, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia

Williams, Joy, Escapes

Woods, James, Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief

Woolf, Virginia, On Being Ill

Yates, Richard, Revolutionary Road

I hope this list spurs you onto picking up something that you haven’t read before or reminds you to revisit a wonderful classic that you’ve been meaning to reread. There are quite a few titles on my shelves and I’ve every intention of revisiting them – oh the innocence of planning!!!

The Letters Page Volume 1 – edited by Jon McGregor

A letter is a voice.

An envelope contains its sound.

  • Carol Mavor ‘Thoughts One Can’t Do Without:’ (Series) ‘A Magpie and an Envelope’

I closed my last post with a quote from a Juxta Press pamphlet, a memoir by Carol Mavor. After her parent’s deaths she had found an envelope, a letter written for her, and left by her father.

As professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, Jon McGregor set up “The Letters Page” in 2013. At that stage he had recently won the Dublin Literary Award for ‘Even The Dogs’ and his Costa Book Award winning novel ‘Reservoir 13’ was still a few years away from being finished/published. A literary journal was founded on letters being received in his office by post. As Jon McGregor points out in one of the first letters published:

…a letter always comes from the past. Unlike the many forms of digital correspondence, which arrive immediately and can be responded to immediately, postal correspondence insists on coming from another time and place. You wait for a letter, and your correspondent waits for a reply. The person who sent you the letter is already a little bit older by the time you read it.

McGregor felt there was “some virtue in this” and a literary journal was born.

“The Letters Page” published its first issue in October 2013, sending a selection of letters from Magnus Mills, Colum McCann, Clare Wigfall, and Gerard Donovan, amongst others, to our small-but-heroic band of early subscribers. The issue was launched by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, Sir David Greenaway, who pressed the appropriate button on the laptop and sent the PDF file winging its way into the world.

There has been six subsequent issues featuring letters from Kevin Barry, George Saunders, Claire-Louise Bennett, Naomi Alderman, Andrey Kurkov, Joanna Walsh, and many more. As one of the early subscribers I do have PDF copies of the publications, however it is the handcrafted limited edition boxed set containing loose-leaf reproductions of the contributors’ original handwritten letters, alongside an illustrated booklet of transcriptions that I am looking at today. Volume 1 published by Book Ex Machina.

The long-term aim was for the letters to become “a printed object, something beautiful to hold and keep hold of, something we could send you, fittingly, through the post.” A selection of “our” (read Jon McGregor’s) favourite letters from the first seven issues were collected and published in this boxed set.

The loose-leaf reproductions of the handwritten letters revealing more than their transcriptions. For example, Cassie Gonzales’ letter, submitted under the name of Linda Lopez, is typed, contains corrections in red and various redactions (text struck through with XXX) – in the facsimile you can decipher the redacted text, in the transcription it is presented as footnotes. The heightened tension and the unravelling of the protagonist is more effective in the manic XXX redacted version.

George Sanders’, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, handwriting is indecipherable, I had to go straight to the transcription. For Clare Wigfall’s letter it is suggested that you source and play Vivaldi’s motet “Nulla in mundo pax sincera” whilst reading the instalment of a young frightened child. Or the artistically drawn “Dear x” by Éirann Lorsung, thirteen and a half poems (only half of one piece appears on the page), this letter comes with an exclusive song by Ben Weaver which you can download by using a QR code.

There is also a letter that appeared in the “Protest” issue, “urgent accounts of marches and riots in Hong Kong, Budapest, and Kiev”, it is a from Audrey Kurkov and it addresses the aftermath of winter riots in Ukraine. The hypocracy of kids sending gifts to freedom fighters or the army.

One day examples of this artwork by children on both sides of the front line will hang side by side on display in one museum.

Time being the theme that links a number of these works, as McGregor had mentioned “a letter always comes from the past” and he also says “here we are – or here we will be, in four or five months’ time, when you read this”, a prediction that would have been appropriate upon the release of this collection, however I am re-reading these letters five YEARS later. Their timelessness very much showing through.

A letter to Alan Bennett, from Karen McLeod featuring a recollection of stories about her father and his recent stroke, as well as soaking in the bath. Or Naomi Alderman, writing on a plane from Israel to London:

You know what Orthodox Jews are good at? We’re good at saying “no”. At refusing.

A Bartleby letter.

There are also letters, although not facsimiles, from well know writers such as Kevin Barry, Joanna Walsh and others, a beautifully presented and produced collection, inspiring the resurrection of the letter, in our more recent times of isolation, something that Jon McGregor couldn’t have foreseen, however these connections something we should probably revive.

I do have addresses for a number of my followers, in the coming weeks I may post you a letter, keep an eye on your mailbox!!

The boxed set was limited to 500 copies, a few remain, if you are interested you can purchase it directly from the publisher here.

‘Thoughts One Can’t Do Without:’ – Juxta Press

…in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. I realize it may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.
                           Francine Prose ‘Reading Like a Writer’

It is that time of year, 2021 is drawing to a close and there’s “best of” lists, “look how much I read this year” lists, social media feeds full of chunky book piles, people feeling inadequate because they didn’t accomplish what they’d set out to do, or feel as though others have done better. A date in a calendar where people either boast of their triumphs or meld into the shadows of the high achievers.

Today we are hardly without neighbours; and are engulfed in means of communication: the word on the page, the icon on the screen, the image on the mini-screen, the spoken word on the hand-held device, the visual representation from across the world, the social media frenzy; all so much less challenging than genuine conversation. And yet – here’s the first paradox: the more adept we become at harnessing these technologies, the lonelier we become. Our expectation of and capacity for quantity increases, but our experience of and trust in quality decreases. We know more; we understand less.

This is one of the “Paradoxes of our Age” that “theological thinker” Samuel Wells, raises in his forty-four page essay “With”, the first in a series of pamphlets published Juxta Press under the title “Thoughts One Can’t Do Without:”. Despite what I feel is a very clunkily named theme, (“can’t do without”?) this initial pamphlet in the series raises a number of very interesting philosophical questions.

We are more connected than ever, however lonelier.

“The more we become able to live without each other, the more we squander our chief and priceless gift; which is one another.”

Boldly go where no one has gone before: this is the aspiration of our age. Boldly go into space, sceie3nce, medicine; boldly go beyond athletic thresholds, known longevity, metrics of influence, popularity, fame, power; boldly enter realms of artificial intelligence, human capacity, conceivable endurance.

Samuel Wells presents an argument differentiating “for” and “with” and then uses “working” and “being” as examples for his “methods of engagement”.

How is isolation to be overcome? How are we to transcend the distractions of limitation and truly engage one another? We can identify four methods – four ways to meet another person in the midst of their existence.

The four ways he explores are “working for”, “working with”, ‘being with” and “being for”, each example appearing to be fundamentally true, if adopted would we “truly engage one another?

The fourth kind of encounter, being for, isn’t really a form of encounter at all, because it doesn’t require you to have any actual conversation with another person. You don’t need to know anything about them: instead, you judge things entirely from the perspective of a righteous observer. Like being with,, you don’t yourself actually bring about any tangible change. But unlike being with, neither do you develop a mutually respectful, reciprocally upbuilding relationship with a person; you simply assume you know what they are seeking and advocate their imagined cause on their behalf. Unlike working for or working with, you assume others should be called upon to bring change about. It is not for you to do so: your role is to identify what’s wrong, decry the failures of the world, and describe what should be done. Lest the reader perceive this mode as a caricature, it’s worth recalling that in an information-saturated age of capturing attending by offering vivid instant judgements, it’s probably the most common model of the four.

The theme of careful reading is explored in Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘The Books of Jacob’ (translated by Jennifer Croft) and this theme continues in Samuel Well’s pamphlet:

The most common form of bestowing attention is to read a book. It’s possible to cast one’s eyes over a page, getting a sense of repeated words, length of paragraphs, density of prose; this is like presence without attention. To receive all a book has to give requires sustained and deep attention, such that one becomes unaware of words spoken nearby, or dramas being enacted within arm’s reach. Such attention enables the reader to pause over an especially complicated or rewarding passage, scrutinising it for its layers of meaning or pleasing phraseology. But such attention also leaves the reader both cleansed and energised, more eager to engage the panoply of life for having delved deeply into an aspect of it.

A thought-provoking essay, there is a theological bent to it in the later stages, which is expected from a Vicar (Samuel Wells is the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College London, however this doesn’t detract from the overall theme, nor the philosophical questions it raises.

The third title in the “Thoughts One Can’t Do Without:” series, Carol Mavor’s ‘A Magpie and an Envelope’ is a less an essay and more a memoir, shifting from grief and loss to reflections on childhood. Whilst Carol Mavor travels through her memories she anchors us, the readers, with well known reference points, the paintings of Piero della Francesca, Brueghel, Goya or thewords of Susan Sontag, Anne Carson, Proust.

A Little Patch of Yellow

Dead. But dead forever? In Time Regained, the last volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the character Bergotte famously goes to an art exhibition to see the little patch of yellow in Vermeer’s View of Delft. Upon seeing it, Bergotte collapses and dies. “Marcel” (the author-narrator-character in the long-as-life novel) ponders the loss of Bergotte, commenting Dead? Dead Forever? Perhaps my father, he too, is in that little patch of yellow that Bergotte saw before he shut his eyes, forever? Un petite pan de mur juane shines for us through Proust’s bedside view of Vermeer’s View of Delft.

In the words of Anne Carson:

A wound gives off its own light
surgeons say.
If all the lamps in the house were turned out
You could dress this wound
by what shines from it.
Fair reader I offer merely an analogy.
A delay.

The yellow markings that Californian magpies have around their eyes and color their beaks (like solid yellow candy-corn candies) are little patches of Proustian yellow, which reach me via Proust’s Search. Exit wounds between inside and outside, my father and I, the past and the present, like a healing bruise.
A flash of me as a child, slipping my finger into the mouth of a yellow snapdragon flower in our backyard in California. Daddy, you planted them with your seeds. Watching them sprout, grow and blossom was nothing short of magic. Magi. Magpie.
Many say that that little patch of yellow does not exist in Vermeer’s
View of Delft.
Perhaps you only see it with your eyes closed, when the lamps in the house are “turned out?”
After your death, I wear your cranberry-red sweater as often as I can. I use your caramel-brown leather wallet, soft and warm: Inside it, I am happy to find the gorgeous photograph of my mother on her wedding day. The wallet is well-pressed to the shape of your back pocket. I keep your phone on, just in case a call comes in. I use your wine glasses with the yellow-gold trim. I see your wedding ring on Augustine’s finger. (I pilfered it for him.)

I steal. I steal. I steal.
Sometimes I find the yellow.
Hello Magpie Daddy,
Hello down there in the big black hole that you left behind.
Hello little blue Herman who rose from the dead.
“Hello to you ‘toots’” – says you. A whisper.
I feel your squeeze on my knee. Finally. Again.
I feel. I feel. I feel.

A lyrical memoir, an homage to “Magpie Daddy” and “Ice, Blue, Easter, Lily, Envelope, Mother”, moving but also insightful, this becomes a montage drawn from life, words from a range of well know writers including Javier Marias and Roland Barthes seep into experience. A melancholic look in the mirror.

There are currently four pamphlets in this ‘Thoughts One Can’t Do Without:” series from Juxta Press a small Milan (Italy) based publisher specialising in “unique works on paper” and the publication of “books that aim to offer insightful encounters with the visual arts and philosophy.” Beautifully produced on quality paper the two pamphlets I sampled have led me to another unique publisher whose wares I will continue to sample.

As I have been exploring the themes of reading and writing, and as Samuel Wells laments being more connected than ever, however lonelier, and Carol Mavor looks to reading or recollections of works read, I think it is only appropriate to leave you with a reflection on one of the remaining acts of connection, the letter. Carol Mavor finds a letter, left by her father, after her parent’s deaths:

A letter is a voice.
An envelope contains its sound.

The Books of Jacob – Olga Tokarczuk (tr. Jennifer Croft) – ‘The Book of Fog’ & ‘The Book of Sand’

Released in November 2021 in the UK and Australia Olga Tokarczuk’s latest work to be translated into English, ‘The Books of Jacob’ (translated by Jennifer Croft), is not due for release in the United States until February 2022.

Being fortunate enough to get a head start on a significant reading audience is a gift, it means I have two months to work my way through the 965 pages before writing a review that coincides with the North American release. ‘The Books of Jacob’ consists of seven books, of which I’ve managed to complete two, ‘The Book of Fog’ and ‘The Book of Sand’. Today I am going to share with you my initial thoughts.

On the first page there is an alternate title:

“The Books of Jacob, or: A fantastic journey across seven borders, five languages, and three major religions, not counting the minor sects. Told by the dead, supplemented by the author, drawing from a range of books, and aided by imagination, the which being the greatest natural gift of any person. That the wise might have it for a record, that my compatriots reflect, laypersons gain some understanding, and melancholy souls obtain some slight enjoyment.’

Olga Tokarczuk has given us a hint, before you even approach one of the 965 pages, that this is an epic journey, part fact, part fiction, controversial for Poles, fantastic yet educational and if you are melancholic slightly enjoyable.

The ‘Prologue’ commences on page 965 and the page count goes backwards, have we joined the narrative once it is complete and are working our way backwards towards commencement? Yente sees everything from above herself, “Yente sees all.” (“Told by the dead.”) In the opening paragraph “she” (let’s assume it is Yente) swallows a piece of paper:

Once swallowed, the piece of paper lodges in her esophagus, near her heart. Saliva-soaked. The specially prepared black ink dissolves slowly now, the letters losing their shapes. Within the human body, the word splits in two: substance and essence. When the former goes, the latter, formlessly abiding, may be absorbed into the body’s tissues, since essences always seek carriers in matter – even if this is to be the cause of many misfortunes.

Is this a story where you absorb the essence as the substance will disappear?

‘The Books of Jacob’ is made up of seven books, ‘The Book of Fog’, ‘The Book of Sand’, ‘The Book of the Road’, ‘The Book of the Comet’, ‘The book of Metal and Sulfur’, ‘The Book of the Distant Country’, and ‘The Book of Names’. There are innumerable references to language:

For some time they seek a common language. Jacob starts with what the Jews of Smyrna speak, Ladino,  and Nahman, not understanding, responds in Hebrew. Neither of them feels right chatting in the street in the holy language, so they break off, and Nahman switches to Yiddish. But here again Jacob has a rather strange accent, so instead he responds in Turkish, fluently, joyfully, as though finding himself suddenly on home turf, though Nahman doesn’t feel completely at home here. In the end they speak a mixture, not worrying about the provenance of words; words are not nobility that want their genealogical trees retraced. Words are merchants, swift and useful, now here, now there.

One character, Father Chmielowski, is admonished for his overuse of Latin, he defends his usage in a letter:

You ask: Why Latin? And You, like other Members of the fairer Sex, advocate for Polish to be more widely employed in written Forms. I have Nothing against the Polish Language – but how are we to speak in it, since there aren’t enough Words?….
…The Polish Language is clumsy in so many Ways and sounds like a mere Peasant’s Tongue. It is suitable for the Description of the Landscape, of Agriculture at the most, but it would be difficult to express complex Matters in it, or higher Themes, or spiritual ones. Whatever Language a Person speaks is the Language in which he thinks. And Polish is neither clear nor tangible. It is more suited to a Traveler’s Descriptions of the Weather, but not to Discourses, where one must exert one’s Mind and express oneself clearly. Well, it does lend itself to Poetry, my dear Madam, our Sarmatian Muse, for Poetry is indistinct and intangible.

Books, language and readers:

I took to heart what Isohar had taught us. He said that there are four types of readers. There is the reading sponge, the reading funnel, the reading colander, and the reading sieve. The sponge absorbs everything it comes into contact with: and it is evident he remembers much of it later too. But he is not able to filter out what is the most important. The funnel takes in what he reads at one end while at the other, everything he reads pours out of him. The strainer lets through the wine and keeps the sediment: he ought not read at all – it would be infinitely better if he simply dedicated himself to some manual trade. The sieve, on the other hand, separates out the chaff to give a result of only the finest grains.

This story is told twice, is it Olga Tokarczuk advising us to be sieve readers, or is it a MacGuffin? There is also another reference to the “four paths of reading and understanding”.

There were once four great sages, whose names were Ben Asai, Ben Soma, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Rabbi Akiba. One after the other they went to paradise…Ben Asai, well, he saw it, and he died…he got into the River Pishon, a name that can be translated as: lips that learn in the strictest sense…
Ben Soma, well, he saw it, and he lost his mind….he got into the River Gihon, a name that tells us that the person is only seeing the allegorical meaning….Elisha ben Abuyah…looked and became a heretic. That means he got into the River Hiddekel, and he got lost in the great many possible meanings….Only Rabbi Akiba went into paradise and came back unscathed, which means that having plunged into the River Phrath, he got the deepest meaning, the mystical one.

There are many groups of four, the four readers, the four great sages and back to language, taken from the Holy Book the Torah’s structure, four letters:

“P, pshat, that’s the literal meaning, R, remez, that’s the figurative meaning, D, drash, that’s what the learned say, and S. sod, that’s the mystical meaning.”

A work that reads like parables from a Holy Book, thousands of characters, small anecdotes that may appear irrelevant, however what is the allegorical meaning?  You feel as though you are being taken along a mystical journey, now to use the sieve and keep the finest grains, and take away the deepest meaning, the mystical one. ‘The Book of the Road’ starts at page 701, remember it goes backwards, I’ll slowly read on and possibly report back in once I’ve finished the next two books.

My copy of ‘The Books of Jacob’ is courtesy of Text Publishing.

‘Little Scratch’ by Rebecca Watson, ‘Checkout 19’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and ‘Assembly’ by Natasha Brown

The Booker prize arguably Britain’s preeminent literary prize, well it was until at least 2013 when they changed the rules, removing the eligibility restrictions for writers of the Commonwealth, Ireland and South Africa and allowing any writer in English to win the award. When the Booker changed the rules other awards sprung up, for example the Folio Prize, the idea for the prize came into being when a group of British intellectuals “took umbrage at the direction they saw the Booker Prize taking – they saw it leaning toward popular fiction rather than literary fiction.”  

Whilst the Folio Prize arrived with much fanfare, after two years it was put on hold, a year later it was revived with halved prizemoney and amended rules to include fiction, non-fiction and poetry, prizemoney was increased again (to 75% of the 2014 sum) in 2019.

Also, in 2013 the Goldsmiths Prize was established, to reward fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. Entry is limited to citizens and residents of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and to novels published by presses based in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Whilst prizemoney (£10,000) is only a fraction of the prizes on offer for the Booker (£50,000) and the Rathbones Folio (£30,000) Prizes, it is an award where the riches of challenging or pertinent literature is on show.

The 2021 Goldsmiths Prize winner was ‘Sterling Karat Gold’ by Isabel Waidner, a novel that opens with our protagonist, Sterling, being assailed by bullfighters, the matadors a metaphor for “the logical extension of class war, anti-immigration policies, transphobic media and state-sanctioned racism.” This is a work that looks at people on the fringes, an important novel, in an era of books that look at marginalization and dissent, ‘Sterling Karat Gold’ was rightfully awarded the prize. A work of reclamation, as the black horseman in one of the referenced paintings says, “It’s called reclamation, and yes, this is a threat”.

Reclamation is a theme that, to varying degrees, runs through three other titles that made the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

Compulsive picking or scratching of the skin is known as excoriation disorder and this is generally considered a mental disorder and can be associated with anxiety, depression or uncontrolled urges. Rebecca Watson’s ‘little scratch’ is set over the course of a single day and follows a young woman living with the fallout of being sexually assaulted. Our protagonist is attempting to reclaim their life prior to being raped. When her anxiety is dialled up to TEN she scratches, just a little scratch.

The novel is written as though you are examining all of the thoughts inside of the protagonist’s head, it includes the monotony of simple tasks such as going to the toilet, drinking water, cycling, texting, reading emails, alongside making small talk with work colleagues and her partner, with the lurking monster of rape interrupting every so often. This is a visual as well as a rhythmic and scattered novel, almost akin to blank verse the page is peppered with blank spaces as her mind slows down or sped up and the page becomes cluttered, or split into columns to signify concurrent thoughts or interruptions.

This is an extremely effective approach, the overlapping of thoughts and the sense of being overwhelmed punching though the day to day mundane. In a recent interview Rebecca Watson says “With ‘little scratch’, the rhythm propels you on. You’re encouraged to read it fast, skipping across and down the page. The challenge is to inhabit the head of another person, and in present tense, you don’t have time to stop and start, to pause over a thought that has already been replaced by another.” It is a book that lends itself to reading in a single sitting or over the course of a single day. Innovative, fresh and extremely effective at relaying the trauma of sexual assault, I was captured from the opening page. A revelation.

Claire-Louise Bennett’s novel ‘Checkout 19’ also includes rape trauma:

‘Hello,’ I will say, in my voice more or less, and it will be Dale’s voice I hear back and Dale will say without preamble at all, ‘When you came back from Brighton last year I raped you didn’t I?’ And then there will be a pause and I’ll cagily move some letters around on the floor near the front door with the toes on my left foot and then I will look up at a dark cobweb in the coving and I’ll hear my voice say to Dale, ‘If you’re asking me did you have sex with me when I didn’t want you to then yes the answer’s yes Dale,’ and Dale will curse, Dale will say ‘fuck, fuck,’ and I’ll her him saying things about how I’d already been treated so abysmally and how angry that had made him and how he couldn’t bear it the way I’d been treated so badly by the most disgusting arrogant men and yet it turned out that he was worse, worse than all of them put together, and he’ll sound very emotional and I won’t feel emotional at all, I’ll feel embarrassed, and I’ll say ‘Perhaps I bring out the worst in men’ and I’ll be joking actually but then it will be a notion that occurs to me frequently and persuasively for the next fifteen years or so and Dale will tell me how awful he feels, how awful it’s been, and I’ll say, I’ll say to poor Dale, ‘Look Dale don’t dwell on it, I don’t, I hardly ever think of it – I think it’s OK,’ and he won’t say anything and I’ve wondered since if somewhere in him he hated me for saying that because if he had behaved worse than those men he had castigated and tried to keep me away from, if he had done the worst possible thing yet still hadn’t managed to get under my skin, what did that mean, what on earth did that mean exactly. I hadn’t so much absolved him as obliterated him. I should have cried perhaps. I ought to have cried really.

The content, style, approach opposite to Rebecca Watson’s. Long winding sentences, auto-fiction but possibly simply fiction that switches tenses, that is speculative (the phone call and discussion above could well be imagined as it is a response to a phone ringing that nobody else in the shared house had answered). ‘Checkout 19’ is a detailed examination of a reader and writer’s life, memories of the books read, one at a time, the events that happened whilst reading those books, memories of clothes picked up in Op shops, along with books, the writing of stories, and rewriting (do the original writings exist?), the novel is a blur inside somebody else’s head. If I was to attempt a definition of the main narrative, it is a writer revisiting her memories to make sense of her identity. However she’s an unreliable narrator, the narratives become sub narratives which become the narrative which loops off into a different sub narrative. Similar to ‘little scratch’ in that we are inside an unnamed protagonist’s head, this work is more complex, cluttered. A collection of memories that may be linked, if only because they happened to one person.

Deeply indebted to a raft of classic novels, where Claire-Louise Bennett may deftly refer or deeply imagine, for example our protagonist reads E.M. Forster’s ‘A Room With A View’, travels to Italy and stands on the banks of the River Arno, other references are fleeting:

I had not yet read but have done since the diaries of Witold Gombrowicz and though I had red many novels by Milan Kundera I had not yet read his gallant essays in Testaments Betrayed which I read with a great deal of pleasure some years later and which might have put me on to Gombrowicz, as well as Calvino perhaps, and definitely Fernando Pessoa. I had not read any Hofmannsthal or Handke, or Goethe, or Robert Walser. I had read Death in Venice. One of the first serious works I read was The Tin Drum by Günter Grass and I got that from the library and it was a very big book and I read it during that week or so when my bedroom was being painted and I slept in the spare room on a sofa bed. I really liked sleeping on the sofa bed even though I found it more difficult to get up in the morning when I slept in it, probably because of it being so low down, and I preferred that room to my own, even though ti was much smaller. I’ve always preferred to go to sleep in a small room.

And off goes the sub narrative about room size! A novel where our protagonist is searching for her identity, where there are no conclusions, just statements and linkages, a looping innovative work, one that kept me entranced throughout.

A third work from the shortlist that also explores identity is the short novella ‘Assembly’ by Natasha Brown. Here we have another unnamed narrator, a black female mid tier employee at a large financial services company.

She often sat in the end cubicle of the ladies’ room and stared at the door. She’d sit for an entire lunch break, sometimes, waiting either to shit or to cry or to muster enough resolve to go back to her desk.

He could see her at her desk from his office and regularly dialled her extension to comment on what he saw (and what he made of it): her hair (wild, her skin (exotic), he blouse (barely containing those breasts).

Over the phone, he instructed her to do little things. This humiliated her more than the bigger things that eventually followed, Still, she held her stapler up high as directed. Drank her entire glass of water in one go. Spat out her chewing gum into her hand.

A similar scenario to Rebecca Watson’s ‘little scratch’, here the boss also sexually harasses “He was getting up from his chair, walking towards her, brushing against her though the office was large and he had plenty of space.” And here we are, again, inside the protagonist’s head, this character having the added burden of systemic racism.

New York Sunday night, London Saturday morning. You fly the round trip regularly for work. But the attendant stops you. At Heathrow, Sunday afternoon, the attendant lunges into your path before you can reach the business desk. Places a firm hand against your upper arm. The attendant’s fingers – who knows what else they’ve touched? – now press into the soft, grey wool of your coat. You look down at this hand on your body; at the flecks of dirt beneath its fingernails, the pale hairs sprouting from its clammy skin. And then its owner, the attendant, points and speaks loudly, as though you don’t understand, says: Regular check-in is over there.
The attendant won’t acknowledge your ticket, no, just waves you over to the long queue. It winds back and forth, penned in between ropes, all the way to the regular check-in-desk. The attendant says: Yes, there’s your line, over there.

Our protagonist here has received a promotion, has recently seen a specialist about cancer and is heading to the country estate of her (white colonial) boyfriend’s family for a weekend of celebration for his parent’s wedding anniversary. Although prosperous, an owner of a small property and recently promoted she comes to a realisation that she is complicit in the ongoing capitalist façade. As the preparations for her weekend away move closer, the flashbacks, questioning and urge for understanding becomes more pressing.

But to carry on, now that I have a choice, is to choose complicity.

Containing biting parallels between black and white, privilege and working class this is an urgent work that confronts the racist divide head on;

Per bell hooks; We must engage decolonization as a critical practice if we are to have meaningful chances of survival . . . yes, yes! But I don’t know how. How do we examine the legacy of colonization when the basic facts of its construction are disputed in the minds of its beneficiaries? Even that which wasn’t burnt in the 60’s – by British officials during the government-sanctioned frenzy of mass document destruction. Operation Legacy, to spare the Queen embarrassment. The more insidious act, though less sensational, proved to have the greatest impact: a deliberate exclusion and obfuscation within the country’s national curriculum. Through this, more than records were destroyed. The erasure itself was erased.

Another important novel, amongst at least four from the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

The Booker may be still awarding prizes to stories of “diminished families and troubled lands” the Goldsmiths is reflecting current thinking addressing “the logical extension of class war, anti-immigration policies, transphobic media and state-sanctioned racism.”

Note – I reviewed these in the order I read them, there is no preference for any book, they are each wonderful examples of what fiction can do.

Sterling Karat Gold – Isabel Waidner – 2021 Goldsmiths Prize Shortlist

Warning: This review contains descriptions of bullfighting which may upset some readers.

Traditional bullfighting is understandably on the wane, with the blood sport highlighting animal cruelty as well as its ties to nationalistic behaviours. A bull fight is choreographed into three distinct phases, initially a matador observes the reaction of the bull by the waving of a banderilleros’ “capote” (cloak), two picadors, mounted on heavily padded and blindfolded horses then repeatedly drive a “vara” (lance) into the muscles of the bull’s neck, the second phase sees the matador planting barbed sticks “banderillas” (little flags) into the bull’s shoulders, this weakens the neck and shoulder muscles, finally the matador enters the ring alone, provokes the bull finally manouvering it so it can thrust the “estocada” (sword) between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart, resulting in the bull’s death.

A barbaric, tortuous process. It does not matter if the bull survives the process, it will still be taken out the back and be slaughtered.

As far as bullfighting goes, a draw isn’t a thing apparently. A bullfight isn’t a contest, it’s a ritualized tragedy. The outcome is never in question: the bull always dies. If, rarely, a matador fails to place the killing thrust, the bull is led out and killed in the back. So no, no draw.

Isabel Waidner is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing/Performance at Queen Mary University of London their profile reading in part:

I am a writer based in London, with a specialism in interdisciplinary and innovative forms of creative writing at the intersection with queer and trans theory.

Isabel Waidner has been twice shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for their two novels, ‘Gaudy Bauble’ and ‘We are Made of Diamond Stuff’ (both published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe) and their latest novel, ‘Sterling Karat Gold’ (Peninsula Press) has recently made the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

‘Sterling Karat Gold’ is narrated in the first person by Sterling, who appears in the streets of Camden Town “in a white football shirt wrapped my waist like a skirt. Red velvet bullfighter jacket on, and black montera, traditional bullfighter hat. Yellow football socks, black leather loafers.” As the references at the end of the book advise this is based on Ibrahim Kamara’s bullfighter-footballer fusion outfit, from Central Saint Martins (2016)

Sterling then becomes involved in an attack, a bullfight, where they are assailed by picadors and matadors, having lances pierced into their neck, banderilleros are run into their shoulders (with the colours of the St George Cross), once exhausted the matador has raised the sword above their head when a person in “trackie bottoms and a jumper” distracts the matador by showing Sterling a red card.

Chief bully on horseback, playing at being a picador like everyone else.
Picador is one of a pair of horsemen in a traditional bullfight who jabs the bull with a lance, and it is also a British publishing house.

This is a vivid and wonderful allegorical opening. The plight of humans on the fringes, constantly jabbed, assailed, bullied with no recourse, knowing that “the outcome is never in question”. The matadors a metaphor for “the logical extension of class war, anti-immigration policies, transphobic media and state-sanctioned racism.”

Our novel then follows the life predicaments of Sterling, their friend Chachki, the mysterious saviour in the “trackie bottoms and a jumper” Rodney and a cast of persecutors, through time travel, spaceship rides, performance pieces, and life histories. Using cultural icons (all referenced at the end of the novel) such as the album cover of The Beach Boys’ ‘Surf’s Up’

and the artwork ‘The End of the Trail’ by Robert H. Colescott (1976) this is multi layered work delving deeply into ingrained “class war, anti-immigration policies, transphobic media and state-sanctioned racism.”

Chapter 4, “My father’s lover was never the stepdad I wanted him to be”, looks at the footballer Justin Fashanu, the first football player in England’s topflight to come out, his career then falling apart before he took his own life in 1988, aged 37.

This is an important novel, in an era of books that look at marginalization and dissent, this is one that stands out, head and shoulders above the pack. A work of reclamation, as the black horseman in Colescott’s painting says, “It’s called reclamation, and yes, this is a threat”.

In the character’s time travelling adventures they visit Iraq, where the subject of dissent comes up:

Western regimes topple dissenters much close to home, too, despite cultivating the idea that they don’t.

Throughout you need to be alert to the subtle, and not so subtle, references to the people on the margins who are constantly under attack. Sterling can’t even get a job in a gay sauna as a cleaner, the lowest job possible, the reason? “Man boobs”.

Using images for such extremes as Ibrahim Kamara’s bullfighter outfit and Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, or books such as Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and Ernest Hemmingway’s ‘Death in the Afternoon’ your reading is peppered with historical artefacts, all creating a vivid chaotic picture. There’s even an interesting stream of artworks and frescoes that have the appearance of spacecraft, I look these up on the web and suddenly I’m going down a rabbit hole of extraterrestrial images in early religious art!

Using the idea of a traditional and nationalistic practice, the bullfight, as a central theme, allows for numerous parallels, metaphors and allegories to be made. Late in the novel there’s the sentence, “They use tradition and fanfare to remove the need for accountability and even discretion.” Read that sentence again….

They use tradition and fanfare to remove the need for accountability and even discretion.

Sound like any of those right-wing media pundit’s, or politicians?

As Isabel Waidner says:

this is why they stage executions as bullfights in the first place.

A very important novel, entertaining, bat shit crazy at times, but always with its feet firmly placed on the ground, a novel of dissent, activism and a plea for the slow torture to stop.

My copy of this novel was reveived as part of the monthly books from small independent publishers sent as part of my Republic of Consciousness Prize subscription. If you want to join in the fun and receive independent books visit their “Book of the Month” page.

Ali Whitelock poet interview

A few weeks ago I interviewed Scottish born poet Ali Whitelock about her second book ‘the lactic acid in the calves of your despair’, a collection that was due for launch on the first day of lockdown in Sydney. needless to say the launch was cancelled.

I talked to Ali Whitelock about the impacts of Covid, her poetic practice, her poems and a whole lot more.

Mascara Literary Review has been kind enough to publish the piece. Click the link to read more.

T.S. Eliot Prize Shortlist 2021

The T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry was inaugurated in 1993 by the Poetry Book Society in honour of its founding poet (T.S Eliot) and to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Society. In 2016 the T.S. Eliot Foundation took over running of the Prize after the Society was wound up and taken over by a book sales agency.

Prize money has been raised to £25,000 in 2021, with the winner taking home £11,500 and each of the nine runner’s-up receiving £1,500.

This year’s Chair of judges is writer Glyn Maxwell, with fellow judges being poets Caroline Bird and Zaffar Kunial. They made their way through 177 collections submitted for the prize, coming up with this year’s shortlist of ten books.

The shortlisted titles are:

  • Eat Or We Both Starve by Victoria Kennefick (Carcanet)
  • Ransom by Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape)
  • Stones by Kevin Young (Jonathan Cape)
  • Men Who Feed Pigeons by Selima Hill (Bloodaxe)
  • The Kids by Hannah Lowe (Bloodaxe)
  • All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus (Picador)
  • A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto & Windus)
  • single window by Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press)
  • C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor (Westbourne Press)
  • A Year in the New Life by Jack Underwood (Faber & Faber)

At the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the Chair of judges, Glyn Maxwell, commented:

“We are delighted with our shortlist, while lamenting all the fine work we had to set aside. Poetry styles are as disparate as we’ve ever known them, and the wider world as threatened and bewildered as any of us can remember. Out of this we have chosen 10 books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment. Older and younger, wiser and wilder, well-known and lesser-known, these are the 10 voices we think should enter the stage and be heard in the spotlight, changing the story.”

The winner will be announced on 10th January 2022.

Given my poetry reading has been a little scattered recently I look forward to sampling a few of these titles.

For those who are interested, here ae some links to poems by this year’s judges

Glyn Maxwell ‘Old Smile at the Roast’  

Caroline Bird ‘Sanity’

Zaffar Kunial ‘From Empty Words

Goldsmiths Prize Shortlist 2021

The Goldsmiths Prize was established in 2013 to reward fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. The winning writer receives a £10,000 prize.

Previous winners were:

2013 – Eimear McBride for ‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’
2014 – Ali Smith for ‘How to be Both’
2015 – Kevin Barry for ‘Beathebone’
2016 – Mike McCormack for ‘Solar Bones’
2017 – Nicola Barker for ‘H(A)PPY’
2018 – Robin Robertson for ‘The Long Take’
2019 – Lucy Ellmann for ‘Ducks, Newburyport’
2020 – M. John Harrison for ‘The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again’

The shortlist for the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize has just been announced, drawn from entries of novels published between 1 November 2020 and 31 October 2021. Here are the six books in contention:

‘Checkout 19’ by Claire-Louise Bennett
‘Assembly’ by Natasha Brown
‘A Shock’ by Keith Ridgway
‘This One Sky Day’ by Leone Ross
‘Sterling Karat Gold’ by Isabel Waidner
‘little scratch’ by Rebecca Watson

The judges for this year’s prize are Nell Stevens (Chair), Fred D’Aguiar, Kamila Shamsie & Johanna Thomas-Corr and the winner will be announced on 10 November 2021.

Happy reading.

Jake’s Thing – Kingsley Amis – 1978 Booker Prize Shortlist

People’s behaviour changes, “Society” changes, but not feelings. And while we’re on “society” let me remind you of something you said to me in that terrible pub, something about repressive attitudes making me feel sexually unrelaxed. Repressive? In 1977? I was doing fine when things really were repressive, if they ever were, it’s only since they’ve become, oh, permissive that I’ve had trouble.

From what I’ve read of Kingsley Amis’s work, an underlying theme of things being better in the past emerges. ‘Ending Up’ featuring five aged characters all lamenting earlier days, and now ‘Jake’s Thing’ where we have the main protagonist, Jake, an Oxford professor, searching for the cause of his sexual inactivity, it is not erectile dysfunction, it is a lack of interest in sex.

Besides the plot being oh so tedious, a stuffy old professor can’t sexually function anymore, the character of Jake is utterly deplorable. He may represent a 1970’s attitude, and, yes, the novel is forty-three years old, however I couldn’t help but feel as though this popular literature of the Boomer generation has something to do with their current attitudes. Jake seen as a comic hero, when basically he is a misogynistic, racist, narcissistic, stuck-up arsehole.

Here are a few excerpts from the first chapter:

[At the bus stop] No sooner had one black, brown or yellow person, or group of such, been set down on the pavement than Americans, Germans, Spaniards were taken up and vice versa.

[At the doctor] Rosenberg. Presumably he’s some sort of –

[Leaving the doctor] The receptionist, a girl of twenty or twenty-five, was in attendance. Jake noticed that her breasts were either remarkably large or got up to seem so by a professional.

[Coming home] The near end of the latter consisted of two longish brick terraces put up a hundred years before to house the workers of some vanished local industry and these days much in demand among recently married couples, pairs of homosexuals and older persons whose children had left or never existed.

This is the FIRST CHAPTER, and there are twenty-eight of them, all containing something along the lines of descriptions of women for their physical appearance, some interaction with a homosexual colleague, masturbation over pornographic magazines, “therapy” to help Jake’s problem (his wife attends therapy too, she needs to lose weight – to help Jake’s problem). This is a relentless barrage of old attitudes, passed off as satire.

We have a whole chapter debating the possibility of females being admitted into the Oxford College.

‘And the desirability of admitting them to this college,’ added the Master.
This time the two sighed noisily and flapped their hands, and Jake wondered what stopped them from seeing that, for good or ill, this was the most interesting matter ever likely to come their way, short of death.
‘As you know, it’s on tomorrow’s agenda,’ said the Master when he and Jake had moved off.

Jake is asked to provide the case “for” females being admitted into the College, why not have a misogynistic, narcissist prepare the case “for”? Massively hungover Jake presents a somewhat feeble argument, and then eventually shows his true colours:

No doubt they do think, the youngsters, it’d be more fun to be under the same roof, but who cares what they think? All very well for the women no doubt, it’s the men who are going to be the losers – oh, it’ll, it’ll happen alright, no holding it up now. When the first glow has faded and it’s quite normal to have girls in the same building and on the same staircase and across the landing, they’ll start realizing that that’s exactly what they’ve got, girls everywhere and not a common-room, not a club, not a pub where they can get away from them. And the same thing’s going to happen to us which is much more important. Roger’s absolutely right, all this will go and there will be women everywhere, chattering, gossiping, telling you what they did today and what their daughter did yesterday and what their friend did last week and what somebody they heard about did last month and horrified if a chap brings up a topic or an argument. They don’t mean what they say, they don’t use language for discourse but for extending their personality, they take all disagreement as opposition, yes they do, even the brightest of them, and that’s the end of the search for truth which is what the whole thing’s supposed to be about. So let’s pass a motion suggesting they bugger off back to Somerville, LMH, St Hugh’s and St Hilda’s where they began and stay there. It won’t make any bloody difference but at least we’ll have told ‘em what we think of ‘em.’

To have an unlikeable main protagonist, is not an easy ask, and yes, Kingsley Amis is using satire to drag out the ugly qualities of certain belief’s however it is the small references to “blacks” at the shops or bus stop, the anti-Semite ideals based purely on somebody’s name, the underlying story that women exist for Jake’s sexual pleasure (and by the way, he’s a straight up missionary position, nothing more, in fact even pictures put him off) where my issues with this novel occur. For Amis to write such content there has to be at least a hint of belief in these values in his own personal armory.

Given both ‘Ending Up’ and ‘Jake’s Thing’ (and the first half of ‘The Old Devils’) all deal with characters lamenting a better time, and yes Margaret Thatcher was about to come into power so maybe earlier times were a better place. It is the use of sexism, racism, homophobia etc. where I find his works a difficult read. Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Sea, the Sea’ won the Booker Prize the year this was shortlisted, another work dealing with male egotism and self-absorption – 1978, what a year!!!