Last night I had the opportunity to attend part of a reading by the new Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre (he won for Vernon God Little), and Dan Rhodes, whose book Timoleon Vieta Come Home was shortlisted. Rhodes went first, mentioning that were he to purchase a star map, he would be interested only in finding Morissey’s house. He then read some super short stories from his “cult favorite,” Anthropology: and a Hundred Other Stories, which were charming and amusing in a Richard Brautigan sort of way. Here are four of them. Perhaps the high point was when he read some unpublished work, which turned out to be a story he wrote when he was seven. It was about a pop star/football star who “goes wee on everyone.” DBC Pierre, when it was his turn to read, offered this interesting nugget: he said that since he is a new writer he does not read very much for fear of corrupting his fragile writing voice — an odd sentiment, but one that I’m sure some writers can relate to.
The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the 56-year-old German writer Herta Müller. Müller is the author of 19 books. Not all of them have been translated into English and only a handful are anywhere close to being in print. The Prize committee said Müller, "with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed." Müller was born in Romanian and emigrated to Germany in 1987. Her first books were published only in censored versions in Romania. The Nobel's "bio-bibliography" has more. It's not easy at present to get a hold of a book by Müller in the U.S., but doubtless her works that have been translated into English will come back into print quickly. The Appointment was published by Metropolitan books and The Passport by Serpents Tail. Nadirs was brought out by the University of Nebraska Press, and Northwestern University Press put out The Land of Green Plums and Traveling on One Leg. The latter two are technically in print right now though I wouldn't expect hardly any bookstore to actually have them on the shelves. Kudos to The Complete Review for calling the Prize for Müller in advance. The Complete Review also has a good deal more information available about Müller.
In the type of surprise move many Nobel watchers have become accustomed to, the committee has awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature to French novelist Patrick Modiano, a writer with a deep body of work, but one who was not among the "favorites" discussed in the flurry of pre-announcement speculation. Modiano, 69, is best known for his Prix Goncourt-winning 1978 novel Missing Person. Publisher David R Godine calls it "a detective thriller, a 1950s film noir mix of smoky cafes, illegal passports, and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. On another level, it is also a haunting meditation on the nature of the self." While Modiano's novels have been published in English translations over the years, including by major publishers like Knopf, only a handful of his 25 or so books are currently in print in the U.S. These include Honeymoon and Catherine Certitude, a children's book, illustrated by Sempe. Yale will be releasing a new edition next year that collects three Modiano novellas under the title Suspended Sentences. Update: Yale has announced that it will now publish the book in November 2014. Here at The Millions, novelist J.P. Smith discussed reading Modiano in French: All I knew of Modiano was that he wrote about his past and that of his parents, which was intricately bound up with the years of the German Occupation of France, a topic I was about to introduce into my own fiction. Modiano’s true subject, I discovered, is the nature of identity and memory as it’s distilled through the past—in itself a Proustian conceit—and what I find fascinating about him is that his many novels, which take up a good portion of a bookshelf, in a way are like individual chapters of one book. His theme is unchanging; his style, “la petite musique,” as the French say, is virtually the same from book to book. There is nothing “big” about his work, and readers have grown accustomed to considering each succeeding volume as an added chapter to an ongoing literary project. His twenty-five published novels rarely are longer than 200 pages, and in them his characters, who seem to drift, under different names, into first this novel, then another, wander the streets of Paris looking for a familiar place, a remembered face, some link to their elusive past, some ghost from a half-remembered encounter that might shed some light on one’s history. Phone numbers and addresses are dredged up from the past, only to bring more cryptic clues and, if not dead ends, then the kind of silence that hides a deeper and more painful truth. You open the latest Modiano and you know exactly where you are. The writer is artistically all of a piece. It’s his obsession with memory and the haunted lives of his protagonists which truly caught my attention, and especially how he returns time and again to mine this subject. As someone with a very broken chronology, with a memory of childhood that is in many ways unreliable (how much has been planted there? How much of it is real? What’s been removed by doubt or by someone else’s will?), I saw in Modiano how the capriciousness of memory can in itself become the subject of a novel. And because back then I found plot a troublesome thing to handle in my fiction, the idea of creating a narrator in search of a story became the basis for my first novel. I sent Modiano a copy of it when it was published and, not surprisingly, heard nothing back.
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Now that the 2006 Booker Prize longlist has been out for 24 hours, we're seeing the commentary roll in. So far, the big story shaping up appears to be Peter Carey, who could win for a record third time with Theft, versus Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, who many believe was robbed when his novel Cloud Atlas failed to win a couple years back. Also getting talked up as potential favorites in the early going are Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagan and Sarah Waters for The Night Watch.Looking at the media coverage, The Guardian highlights the difficulty that the judges reportedly encountered in assembling the longlist, taking "more than six hours to pick 19 authors, a length of debate far longer than that taken by previous judges to choose most eventual winners." The Times leads with Andrew O'Hagan, who lost out to J.M. Coetzee five years ago. Metro notes that Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men is the only debut novel on the list. At the Literary Saloon, Michael looks at the total number of books considered for the prize this year and in years past, while lamenting that this even longer list isn't made public.Of course, the most amusing part of the annual Booker frenzy is the role of the oddsmakers, who take bets on the prize. Nearly all of the Booker commentary mentions these odds in gauging who might be favored, and the BBC rounds up the details on that front. Serious gamblers, meanwhile, should head straight to William Hill, where the latest odds are posted. As of this writing, Black Swan Green is the favorite at 6 to 1, while Nadine Gordimer's Get a Life brings up the rear at 26 to 1.
The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It's also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 12th) were mostly published in 2013, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There's a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S. The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers, and the 2014 shortlist is no exception, with each author hailing from a different country and four books in translation among the ten finalists. It is disappointing to see, however, that only two of the ten shortlisters are by women. The Detour (published in the US as Ten White Geese) by Gerbrand Bakker (After The Dinner: A Round Up of Newly Translated Dutch Fiction) Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser Absolution by Patrick Flanery (The Mutability of Truth: An Interview with Patrick Flanery) A Death in the Family (published in the US as My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Devoutly to Be Wished: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Consummation") Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman The Light of Amsterdam by David Park The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Nick Harkaway's Year in Reading) The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez