White Chappell


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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A Novel Without Lies and Cynics



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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Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin



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?



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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A Happy Boy

By Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

I decided to follow up the last post with another Norwegian writer. This story was written 150 years earlier though, in 1860. Quite a pleasant tale. There’s nothing great or meaningful here, just good writing, some well constructed scenes and absorbing attention to detail. I read Bjørnson years ago after first encountering Hamsun because I heard he had been quite a formative influence on him. You can see the the love of nature and a recognition of its eternal aspect in both writers. Hamsun obviously took things further and entered a more psychological realm. This book is in the public domain. It’s quite short and well worth reading over a couple of days.



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Memoir of Italo Svevo

svevoBy Livia Veneziani Svevo

A very interesting record of Svevo’s life by his wife Livia. She writes well herself and the collection of papers that she adds to the Svevo canon are illuminating. There’s correspondence between Svevo and Joyce and Larbaud as well as more minor literary figures. The strangest letters are from those who didn’t like his novels. There was an Italian critic who recognised that Svevo had talent but told him to stop writing about those minute details no one cares about – precisely the strength of Svevo’s writing. Livia’s narrative also cements the realisation that much of the central character in all his novels came from Svevo (or Ettore) himself and that his comic genius was so perspicuous as he was laughing at his own foibles. From this biography we can see that Svevo the serious young man became Svevo the old and amusing man. The real twist of the biography, if you can call it that, was that he was in his sixties until he had any success and only because he was championed by Larbaud and Joyce. Svevo had given up on writing or rather ‘publishing’ years earlier when his first two novels as a young man were universally ignored. He still wrote but threw himself into his business affairs as a priority (he made submarine paint). If it wasn’t for Joyce he would have remained unknown and maybe never have written his masterpiece of a novel ‘Zeno’ as an old man. This all begs the question. How many amazing geniuses have we missed? We nearly missed Kafka and Kennedy Toole. What if Kennedy Toole had been picked up by a publisher and imbued with confidence – think what he could have written. I also imagine what other works of brilliance Svevo could have created. There are hints here in his correspondence along with the narrative from Livia.

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