Monthly Archives: August 2007


Good Things I Have Read This Week

Two books—one fiction, one poetry collection.

The first is David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy Four, the first book in the Red Riding Quartet. Set in 1974, young crime correspondent, Edward Dunford, The Yorkshire Post, is on the story of the murder of a young girl. The murder is particularly brutal, with, amongst other things being done to her, swan’s wings were stitched onto the body. Edward gets caught up in a hideously dark plot, covering police brutality, corruption, blackmail—and those are the easy going subjects. He gets the kicking of a lifetime more than once. It’s a fast moving novel, with Peace’s staccato sentences, and an evocative and ultra-minimal style. It is truly violent, claustrophobic, with dazzling images and sharp northern dialogue. The atmosphere of a bleak Seventies winter is captured perfectly. Not often I say not for those of a weak disposition, but Richard and Judy Book Club this ain’t. And that’s a great thing. Read more about David Peace on this Guardian blog.

The second book is The Rush To Here by George Murray.

This is a fantastic collection from a cutting-edge Canadian poet. Based on the traditional sonnet structure, Murray uses a “thought rhyme” instead of the usual form. It immediately transforms the sonnet into a more three-dimensional piece, so you’re looking at it from several angles. There’s an urgent feel to his words; a directness, a covering of a vast array of themes but with a sharp contemporary edge. More than worth taking a look at.




A strange mixture of old and new. Chrome, brass and leather-trimmed bistro bars stand alongside shabby collectible shops. Old ladies prefer the company of old ladies in tea rooms with steamed up windows, and that haven’t been decorated in years. Walkers stride through traffic with a nonchalance and purpose of street kids in Delhi or Mumbai. There are middle-aged women here uncertain how to be fashionable, too far away from the guidance of city girls. People crane their necks to read the menus in shop windows. There is plenty of selection these days. New furniture shops with shapes and textures that seem unlikely in a dale. Consumerim has arrived here, finally, and the town seems unsure how it should react.


Book review – THE GIRL IN THE GLASS, by Jeffrey Ford

Another one taken from the Solaris blog, but I loved this book so much I had to put it up here too.

The Girl In The Glass, by Jeffrey Ford.

Being in publishing, you read all day, and so reading for pleasure becomes a little difficult—you always feel you’re reading to learn more about the industry, or sometimes just can’t read any more. I can’t say how wonderful it was to relax with a book written by an author in full control—so I just kicked back, in safe hands.

The Girl In The Glass is set in the Long Island area of America during the Depression. It is a time where spiritualism is seducing what wealthy people remain. You get an idea of some people refusing to look inwardly in times of desparation—people with more money than sense. Wealth is a powerful thing, and this becomes more apparent later on in the book.

The tale concerns a band of spiritual mediums (in reality, con artists), led by the gentleman’s gentleman, Thomas Schell. He’s the best there is. We follow the narrative of his assistant, a seventeen year-old Mexican immigrant, Diego—who poses as Ondoo, an Indian mystic. I won’t bog you down with plot detail—there are many good reviews via the medium of Google—but essentially we follow a truly unusual cast, and see their involvement in a murder mystery. It’s all because of a seemingly real ghostly vision: the girl in the glass. It becomes the most surprisingly gripping narrative I’ve read all year.

Seemingly simple, filled with historical information (but not, as some authors may do, vomited forth to bury the reader in useless detail just because they researched it), it is a delight to read. It is rich in symbolism, full of charming characters, and took off in a direction I couldn’t see coming at all.

The prose is elegant, clipped, fast; the narrative pace is as perfect as you’ll get. The Girl In the Glass touches on the fringe of fantasy; but I’m not sure where, as a bookseller, you’d put this on the shelf. Is it crime or fantasy? Sometimes I’m not sure if the fantasy elements are more subtle than you think.

So just take it off the shelf and read it instead. And you may as well find out where the rest of Jeffrey Ford’s books are. You’ll want them, too.


Novel Sale to Pendragon Press

First press release:

Debut Novel Sale to Pendragon

John Jarrold has sold limited-edition rights in THE REEF, the debut novel by Mark Charan Newton, to Chris Teague at Welsh publisher Pendragon Press.

The novel, a fantastical story set mostly among the islands of an imagined world, has echoes of both Joseph Conrad and China Miéville, but is very much Mark’s own invention. Mark’s writing has already received this accolade from critically-acclaimed author Jeff VanderMeer: ‘Mark Newton is a promising new writer whose prose is dynamic and whose imagination is often startling.’

‘Mark was one of the first authors I took on after setting up the agency in 2004,’ said John Jarrold. ‘I’m really delighted to have done this deal, and I have no doubt his reputation will grow very quickly, within and without the genre.’

Contact John Jarrold for further information by e-mail at j.jarrold[at]btinternet[dot]com or by phone at 01424 440652.


Book review – BLOOD RIVER by Tim Butcher

Taken from my work blog. I thought I’d fill the page with some book reviews until I think of how to use it properly.

The real world can be filled with as much wonder as any fantasy creation—you just have to know where to look. In Tim Butcher’s Blood River, we are taken to somewhere you think can’t exist, shouldn’t exist. But it does, and it is shocking.

Journalist Tim Butcher trails the great explorer Henry Morton Stanley (“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”) on one of his legendary trails that stretched across the mighty Congo river on a 2,500 mile journey into the heart of darkness. Butcher relates his journey to Stanley’s, providing us with a fascinating history to the region from 1870 to the present day. You normally think that civilization progresses forward over time, but Butcher reveals a very sad state of affairs in the current Democratic Republic of Congo. The region has gone backwards, to a standard of living pre-1950s for Central Africa. Having been plundered by the Belgians in colonial days, suffering from the worst of effects the slave trade, the region has never really known much stability and peace. There were ‘glory days’, of thriving jungle cities, supported by an active mineral industry. Today, the region is practically impenetrable to outsiders (Butcher is the first foreigner for decades to travel some of these regions). War is daily life. The shocks we see in our newspapers happen so often that locals appear indifferent. There is no stability. Thousands die every week—every week!—from war and disease. Rebels from neighbouring countries and tribes raid helpless villages, burning them to the ground, raping and plundering where they go. Law does not exist. You can see the decay of history, abandoned ferryboats that once carried film stars in the 1950s, fallen buildings and hotels. This heartbreaking travel book tells of a country that has known only war and corruption, death and decay. Why so? Diamonds. Gold. An era of a corrupt dictatorship.

In this type of non-fiction you normally see the author’s relation to the landscape come to front of stage, and Butcher has an understanding and compassion, and also a wonderful self-consciousness. From his meetings with a campaigning pygmy to UN aid workers (in the regions they dare to travel) it is a brave story.
A humbling story, and from one of the most dangerous countries on Earth. A rare report indeed.

The story of the Congo is frustrating and deeply saddening, and this book is highly recommended.