Thanks everyone for a brilliant Reddit AMA

I did a Reddit AMA over this weekend, and it was a brilliant experience. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is, it’s sort of like getting interviewed by hundreds of people all at once. The positivity and curiosity I received were quite overwhelming.

Some of the more suspect questions included ‘what appendage would you lose?’; ‘are you single?’ and ‘what’s that thing in the corner?’ – but others asked about the research required to write River of Ink, about how they can balance writing with the exigencies of daily life, and the best ways to construct plots and characters.

Continue reading “Thanks everyone for a brilliant Reddit AMA”


Defying translation – a Review of Sudeep Sen’s Aria/Anika

Sudeep Sen’s luminous collection Aria/Anika brings together poets from across the Eastern hemisphere, translated from multifarious languages with craft and imagination.

Sen’s record as a poet and translator is formidable: his poems have achieved international acclaim, he has edited several major anthologies, and his list of honours and scholarships is as long as the praise and endorsements that splash the cover and inner pages of the book.

In his latest work, his award-winning collection of translations Aria is counterpointed by Anika, a compilation of his own poems, which themselves have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

The poems of Aria are usefully divided and subdivided by region and language, then by poet. This approach results in headings such as “South Asian Poetry (Bengali, Bangladesh, India)”, which brings together poets as diverse in age, language and style as titan and Nobel-laureate Rabindranath Tagore, modern bards like Ashok Vajpeyi and the elegant Bangladeshi romantic Fazal Shahabuddin. Continue reading “Defying translation – a Review of Sudeep Sen’s Aria/Anika”

Thrown into Nature by Milen Ruskov – Joyfull News out of Bulgaria

A page from Nicolas Monardes' 1577 treatise "Of the Tobaco and His Great Vertues"
A page from Nicolas Monardes’ 1577 book Of the Tobaco and His Great Vertues

Irony can’t be measured by any kind of machine. If it could, I imagine it would be a device a little like a Geiger-counter, with a dial, and a screen, and a sensor held by a technician in a hazard suit.

That machine, if it existed, would be clicking like hell throughout Milen Ruskov’s recent novel Thrown into Nature.

In the opening scene, the Spanish Doctor Nicolas Monardes uses the miraculous healing power of tobacco to bring a man, Lazarus-like, back from the dead. The good doctor achieves this by repeatedly blowing the tobacco smoke directly into the subject’s lungs, while his assistant ‘pulpates’ his stomach. Eventually the man wrenches himself gaspingly from the floor, miraculously alive.

It’s confirmed: the new wonder substance sweeping Europe can even bring people back from the dead. Continue reading “Thrown into Nature by Milen Ruskov – Joyfull News out of Bulgaria”

The Pen-and-Ink Borges — Stephen Walters’ Anthropocene Exhibition

I recently caught the last weekend of Stephen Walters’ Anthropocene exhibition at the Londonewcastle Project Space in Shoreditch, on a sweltering July day. I’ve been a map nerd for a long time, and I first saw Walters’ work on the BBC4 documentary The Beauty of Maps, which is the best programme ever made about maps ever. When I saw that he had an exhibition running in London, I made sure to get there before it closed, and frankly I was blown away.

Continue reading “The Pen-and-Ink Borges — Stephen Walters’ Anthropocene Exhibition”

Slang and Poetry – Junot Díaz’s This is How You Lose Her

So I just finished Junot Díaz’s second book, This is How You Lose Her. A friend lent it to me, and I’ve been wanting to read something of his since hearing his brilliant interview on KCRW’s Bookworm. He’s got to be the only guy in the world who can use the phrase ‘dope short stories’ and not sound like an idiot. I haven’t read The Brief Life of Oscar Wao, which won him the Pulitzer, but I’ll be getting on that pretty fast.

As for This is How…, I’ve never read a book that combines such mad irreverence for language with moments of such transcendent beauty. It’s full of sex and death and impenetrable, unexplained Dominican slang. You don’t know what a rabo is until someone’s putting it into their mouth, you don’t know what mota is until someone’s smoking it until they can’t see, and all the time you’re asking ‘what’s a sucio? A papi chulo?’; ‘what does “figureando” mean?’

We piece together the clues, and most of the time when meaning emerges, it’s clear why the English isn’t used. My ignorance of Spanish wasn’t helping, of course, but there’s something really tantalising about having these words held above your head, like shiny fruit. Continue reading “Slang and Poetry – Junot Díaz’s This is How You Lose Her”

Sex, Drugs and Semiotics: a review of Jeffrey Eugenides’ ‘The Marriage Plot’

For some time now, we’ve been watching for what Jeffrey Eugenides will do next. He has cultivated a reputation as one of the safest hands in modern fiction, and his new novel, The Marriage Plot, topped international best-sellers lists and won the 2011 Salon Book Award. It is in many ways an impressive book. It follows the lives and loves of three students in their final year of Brown University in 1982, and pursues them through their first year of graduation.

Madeleine, a somewhat naive English major, has been sucked into one of the biggest crazes to sweep Brown University in the early 80’s. Is it toga parties? Ecstasy? No, it’s semiotics, the new, byzantine study of sign and signification. Continue reading “Sex, Drugs and Semiotics: a review of Jeffrey Eugenides’ ‘The Marriage Plot’”

A Notable Exception? Anna Karenina 2012 and what will happen if it dares to betray me

With some notable exceptions, film productions of Victorian-era novels are cul-de-sacs. So why does the 2012 production of Anna Karenina look so tempting? Maybe it’s just a side-effect of movie trailers having become more important pieces of art than the movies themselves. Maybe it’s because Konstantin Levin, Tolstoy’s avatar in the novel, looks satisfyingly like Tolstoy, played by Domhnall Gleeson. Or is it the ‘screenplay by Tom Stoppard’ message that rounds off the trailer? I certainly don’t know. But it looks good. With reservations. Continue reading “A Notable Exception? Anna Karenina 2012 and what will happen if it dares to betray me”