White Chappell

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By Iain Sinclair.

There’s a lot in this novel and many of the references I will have missed. I was constantly going to google and researching things that were said. However, while it was not a euphoric enjoyable read, it was simply good. There’s still much I haven’t read by Sinclair – and will need to take time over the years to discover more of his books. I think he should be considered a great writer.

 

 

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Birth of Our Power

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By Victor Serge.

Great writing. And, by association a great translation. A well-formed novel and Serge then has the space to play and tease out philosophies and characters. This novel moves from Revolutionary Barcelona in 1917 to Petersburg and the journey in between. There’s still quite a lot of Serge for me to read. Excellent.

“Will you have some coffee? One should always appreciate coffee in troubled times. Humanity is wailing and suffering: let us sip the delectable mocha slowly; mine will be the egoist’s cup, yours whatever you wish; but it will leave the same bittersweet taste in our mouths.”

 

“The art of living consists in thinking. There are a few good moments: that is when, book in hand, you can lie down in the grass for an hour …”

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A Novel Without Lies and Cynics

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By Anatoly Mariengoff.

Two excellent short novels. The best new writer I have read for a long time. Cynics is absolutely perfect in that the form complements the subject exactly. A Novel Without Lies is great too – a picaresque romp through Mariengoff and Esenin’s years as friends.

“What can I tell you about this most horrible kingdom of philistinism bordering on imbecility? Besides the foxtrot, there’s practically nothing here; they stuff themselves full of food and drink and then they foxtrot again. I’ve yet to meet a human being, and don’t know where to look for one. Mr. Dollar is terribly in vogue, and to hell with art; its highest expression is the ‘music hall.’ I didn’t even want to publish my books here, despite the affordability of paper and translators. Nobody cares about poetry. If the book market is Europe, and the critic is Lvov-Rogachevsky, then it’s senseless, isn’t it, to write verse to please them, to suit their tastes.” [Esenin writing from Europe]

 

Eventually we both come to the conclusion that after the Latin poets it is ridiculous to speak of Pushkin even when you are in your cups.

 

 

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The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

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By Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, a great novel. Perhaps maybe it is too aware of itself. And, I do have a dislike of writers writing about writing for the most part.

 

‘A dark country, a hellish place, gentlemen, and if there is anything of which I am certain in life it is that I shall never exchange the liberty of my exile for the vile parody of home …’

 

All is flesh and all is purity. But one thing is certain: I have been happy with you and now I am miserable with another. And so life will go on. I shall joke with the chaps at the office and enjoy my dinners (until I get dyspepsia), and read novels, and write verse, and keep an eye on the stocks – and generally behave as I have always behaved. But that does not mean that I shall be happy without you … Every small thing which will remind me of you.

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Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin

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By Bruce Chatwin

I initially thought I would dip into this as I was reading other books over a few months but after starting it became my main read and I finished Chatwin’s letters in quick time. It is a cliche but the art that you are exposed to in Chatwins’s books was present in his life: the books and letters and the living seem inseparable. There is much of interest here if you like reading. Chitin liked the same literature I like and had many anecdotes and thoughts on writers, artists and travel. Thoroughly enjoyable either as something to dip into or be immersed in.

 

 

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What Am I Doing Here?

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By Bruce Chatwin.

This was a great collection of articles. I read Utz years back and loved it – so this was a way of getting into Chatwin before starting the ‘novels’. There was much that was illuminating. A passionate traveller who could also write: a very cultured and interested person.

“We shall not lie on our backs at the Red Castle and watch the vultures wheeling over the valley where they killed the grandson of Genghiz. We will not read Babur’s memoirs in his garden at Istalif and see the blind man smelling his way around the rose bushes. Or sit in the Peace of Islam with the beggars of Gazar Gagh. We will not stand on the Buddha’s head at Bamiyan, upright in his niche like a whale in a dry-dock. We will not sleep in the nomad tent, or scale the Minaret of Jam. And we shall lose the tastes – the hot, coarse, bitter bread; the green tea flavoured with cardamoms; the grapes we cooled in the snow-melt; and the nuts and dried mulberries we munched for altitude sickness. Nor shall we get back the smell of the beanfields, the sweet, resinous smell of deodar wood burning, or the whiff of a snow leopard at 14,000 feet.”

 

 

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Kolyma Tales

 

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By Varlam Shalamov.

This a powerful collection of stories. Part of the intensity is given by the seemingly objective and non-involved narration. Shalamov did this on purpose – there is no moralising by the writer – he lays everything out. The message that good can come from hardship is not present. There is just hardship.

“Friendship is not born in conditions of need or trouble. Literary fairy tales tell of ‘difficult’ conditions which are an essential element in forming any friendship, but such conditions are simply not difficult enough. If tragedy and need brought people together and gave birth to their friendship, then the need was not extreme and the tragedy not great. Tragedy is not deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends.”

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