Deadly Women (with Matt Fullerty)


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spats, symbols and posthumous publications: 2009, a year in books

Copies of Dan Brown's Lost Symbol

Copies of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol on sale in London. Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images.

It was the year when poetry made the front pages - for good and bad reasons - when Dan Brown broke publishing records and when everyone from Mark Twain to Vladimir Nabokov brought out books from beyond the grave. We take a look back at the literary events that hit the headlines in 2009.


2009 was the year of Dan Brown, e-readers and poetic spats. Thankfully, Dan Brown is still a few months away, but the other two hit the ground running right at the start of the year. The first sales figures for the Sony e-reader are released and show that Waterstone's sold almost 30,000 of the readers since the launch in September, while downloads of electronic books from the chain's site passed the 75,000 mark. And the Oxford professor of poetry contest kicks off. Names under discussion at this stage include British poets Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion, Simon Armitage, Jon Stallworthy, JH Prynne and John Wilkinson, along with Australian poet Les Murray, US poet Jorie Graham and New Zealand native Fleur Adcock. There is nary a mention of Ruth Padel and Derek Walcott. If only it was to stay that way ...

Meanwhile, Wendy Cope rules herself out of the running for the poet laureateship, calling it a poisoned chalice that should be abolished. In other, less fraught, poetry news, Jen Hadfield wins TS Eliot prize for poetry with her second collection, Nigh-No-Place. Sadly, the poet Mick Imlah, who was also shortlisted for the prize, dies this month, aged 52. We also say goodbye to Pulitzer prize-winning poet WD Snodgrass, Rumpole of the Bailey creator Sir John Mortimer and Rabbit writer John Updike. Neil Gaiman makes a start on what will be a vintage year by winning the Newbery for The Graveyard Book while Sebastian Barry wins the £25,000 Costa book of the year award. Joseph O'Neill only won plaudits for his novel about cricket and post-9/11 New York, Netherland, but it does turn out to have been the literary critics' read of choice last year.

2009 is also set to be the year of intriguing library news and it gets underway this month with the jailing, for two years, of an Iranian academic who stripped pages out of ancient books from the British Library.

Overseas, there's strife in Asterix world as Albert Uderzo's daughter, Sylvie, accuses the Asterix co-creator of betraying his hero, selling out to the businessmen and denying "all the values" she was brought up with - "independence, fraternity, conviviality and resistance" - after he authorised the series to continue after his death. He responds by calling her accusations "undignified" and an insult to Asterix readers. Turkey restores the citizenship of its most famous 20th-century poet, Nazim Hikmet, over 50 years after it branded him a traitor. And finally, Mills & Boon and the Rugby Football League team up to publish a series of books featuring tall, dark and handsome rugby heroes - minus cauliflower ears - and their glamorous love interests. They promise "jet-set locations, hunky alpha male heroes and hot sex, but in a rugby context."


James Patterson remains Britain's most borrowed author, with the top three positions unchanged from last year - Patterson is closely followed by children's author Jacqueline Wilson and the author of the Rainbow Magic series, Daisy Meadows. She may not get much in the way of public lending rights dosh, but JK Rowling can bask in with the adoration of the French – this month the country honours her with the title of knight of France's prestigious Legion of Honour. She also wins Stephen King's approval, albeit in comparison with Twilight's Stephenie Meyer. "The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a darn. She's not very good," opined the horror writer, for whom it's a busy month: King also writes a novella, Ur, exclusively for the new version of Amazon's Kindle.

It's a good month for protests, too: Margaret Drabble lets rip about about WH Smith's new deal with BAA, which will see it running all the bookshops in BAA's seven UK airports and Margaret Atwood pulls out of the Dubai literary festival over the 'blacklisting' of Geraldine Bedell's The Gulf Between Us, before declaring that she had been misled, and agreeing to take part in a debate on censorship by video link. It is, as she herself puts it, a "dog's breakfast".

In poetry, Ruth Padel emerges as frontrunner for the prestigious post of Oxford University professor of poetry and Carol Ann Duffy is now odds-on favourite to get the laureateship.

In library news, the British Library spends £83,000 on The Tin Book, the futurist manifesto co-authored by a fascist-sympathising Italian artist who, 100 years ago, said all libraries should be destroyed.

There are wins for Julia Gregson with the romantic novel of the year award for East of the Sun and Naomi Klein with the inaugural Warwick prize for The Shock Doctrine.

We say a sad farewell to one of the best-known Arabic novelists of the 20th century, Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, and Whitbread-winning author Christopher Nolan.


This month's controversy comes courtesy of Julie Myerson and her book, The Lost Child, which deals with the author's decision to lock her 17-year-old son, Jake, out of the family home over his use of cannabis. In a battle played out in the national newspapers, Jake describes his mother as "insane" and "obscene" and the book is published two months early due to the uproar. And uh-oh - Derek Walcott joins the Oxford professor of poetry race.

There is plenty of unexpected publishing news: lost Mark Twain stories are to be released, two new Roberto Bolaño manuscripts are found among his papers in Spain, and an unfinished David Foster Wallace novel, The Pale King, will be published. However, distinguished Russian scholar Orlando Figes's latest book on life under Stalin won't be published in Russia due to "political pressure".

This month's British Library story reveals that the library has "mislaid" 9,000 books with some not having been seen in well over half a century; the Bodleian, meanwhile, moves millions of books from dreamy Oxford to Swindon.

Matt Haig wins the Blue Peter award for Shadow Forest, controversial Egyptian novel Youssef Ziedan's Beelzebub wins the International Prize for Arabic fiction and Seamus Heaney wins the £40,000 David Cohen prize. The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais wins the Diagram prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.

Ben Okri releases a new poem on Twitter and 65% of those polled in a survey admit lying about reading classic novels with Nineteen Eighty-Four coming top in a poll of the UK's guilty reading secrets. Finally, novelist Colm Toíbín tells it like it is when he says that the only aspect of the writing life that gives him any pleasure is getting paid.


Fancy living in Peach Pie Street? Wincanton in Somerset, twinned with Ankh-Morpork, names streets on a new housing estate after Terry Pratchett's fantasy series Discworld.

Birmingham plans the UK's largest ever lending library, and the earliest-known book jacket is discovered at the Bodleian.

Amazon finds itself at the centre of a censorship row after a number of gay and lesbian titles, by authors including Annie Proulx, EM Forster and Jeanette Winterson, were taken off the online sales charts. It was "embarrassing and hamfisted" said a shamefaced Amazon in a suitably grovelling apology. A Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 'mash-up' becomes an unexpected bestseller, and the Espresso Book Machine, which can print any of 500,000 titles while you wait, is launched in Blackwell's in London. Margaret Drabble announces that she will not write another novel because she is worried about repeating herself.

There are SF wins for Ursula K Le Guin, who gets her sixth Nebula, while the Arthur C Clarke award goes to Ian R MacLeod's Song of Time. The SF world has a big loss with the death of JG Ballard and we also say goodbye to poet UA Fanthorpe. There are no poetic barneys this month but don't worry – May is a biggie.


It all starts decorously enough in the poetry world, with near-universal support for the appointment of Carol Ann Duffy as the first female poet laureate. And then that pesky poetry professorship contest has to go and ruin everything. As the fiasco reaches its climax, Derek Walcott resigns from the race after earlier sexual harassment claims made against him were brought up via an anonymous letter campaign. Oxford refuses calls to postpone the election and Ruth Padel is elected the first female Oxford professor of poetry. She spends the next week fighting to keep her post after it emerges that she tipped off newspapers about claims of sexual impropriety against Walcott, but finally resigns, at the Hay festival, less than 10 days after her election. Oxford university calls for "a period of reflection" and accepts that it is unlikely that it will have anybody in the post by October when the current incumbent steps down.

The tawdry affair rather overshadowed Alice Munro's well-deserved win of the £60,000 Man Booker international prize, and a Hay festival which saw Rowan Williams and Desmond Tutu call for quiet and tolerance, Sarah Waters apologise for not putting any lesbians in her new novel, The Little Stranger, Kamila Shamsie make connections across the whole of the 20th century and Joan Bakewell return with her first novel.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Ross launches a Twitter book club and sends his first choice soaring up the bestseller charts (but it all seemed to have petered out by the summer), Geoff Dyer wins the Wodehouse prize for comic fiction with Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, and we bid farewell to novelist Marilyn French.


Poetry continues to generate controversy, as Carol Ann Duffy chooses as her first subject for a poem as laureate - the MPs' expenses scandal and the corrosiveness of politics on politicians. However, there is also the discovery of Timmy the Tug, a 40-page children's poem written by Ted Hughes in the 1950s. Two unpublished Poirot short stories are also found in Agatha Christie's holiday home.

JD Salinger launches legal action against an author who has purportedly written a spinoff "sequel" to Catcher in the Rye, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye.

This month's library news is fun - the British Library's head of modern manuscripts agrees to help with haymaking on John Berger's French farm in return for the donation of the author's literary archive.

Anthony Browne becomes the children's laureate, the Carnegie Medal is posthumously awarded to Siobhan Dowd for Bog Child, Marilynne Robinson wins Orange prize and Philip Hoare's study of whales, Leviathan, wins the Samuel Johnson prize. Debut novelist Michael Thomas beat authors including Philip Roth, Doris Lessing and Joyce Carol Oates to take the €100,000 (£85,000) Impac Dublin prize.

We said goodbye to fantasy author David Eddings.


A quiet month in the books world, but a "sad day for the world of smut" as the women's erotica imprint Black Lace stops commissioning new titles. All is not lost, however: Playboy acquires the first serial rights to The Original of Laura, the unfinished novel Nabokov wanted to be destroyed.

Ernest Hemingway is unveiled as a failed KGB spy.

There were goodbyes to Frank McCourt, father of the misery memoir, novelist Gordon Burn and Booker-winner Stanley Middleton.


Much summer silliness on offer as the literati try to guess who inspired Sebastian Faulks to create an embittered literary reviewer whose only joy in life is to destroy the careers of authors by writing excoriating reviews of their books in national newspapers, in his novel A Week in December. But the novelist also has to defuse a row after he is quoted in an interview dismissing the Qu'ran as "just the rantings of a schizophrenic" with "no ethical dimension". Bloomsbury also lands in hot water after Australian author Justine Larbalestie's new novel, Liar, about a short-haired black girl called Micah, is published with a photograph of a long-haired white girl on its jacket. The news that William Golding's private papers, which he gave to his biographer John Sunderland, reveal that he tried to rape a 15-year-old girl as a teenager, is met with shock. Travel writers are furious as the Office of Fair Trading decides against investigating WH Smith's deal to stock only Penguin's overseas guides at its travel stores.

Dan Brown may have topped Oxfam's list of most donated books but there are no Robert Langdon adventures on Obama's holiday reading list which, we learn, contains the rather more high-powered Thomas L Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded – subtitled Why We Need a Green Revolution, and How It Can Renew America – and Pulitzer prize-winner David McCullough's biography of the second US president, John Adams. Wuthering Heights tops the classics bestseller lists after it is repackaged as the 'favourite book' of Stephenie Meyer's Bella and Edward with a cover styled on her Twilight series.

Neil Gaiman's run of success with the Graveyard Book continues with a Hugo award, and Michael Holroyd wins the James Tait Black prize for his book about 19th-century Shakespearean actors, A Strange Eventful History, 42 years after his wife Margaret Drabble won it.


September sees the announcement of the Man Booker shortlist, which pits Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt and Sarah Waters against JM Coetzee, Simon Mawer and Adam Foulds, but it's fair to say that the month belongs Dan Brown. The Lost Symbol is published and becomes the best-read adult novel in publishing history, setting adult fiction sales records despite being a steaming pile of clunk. Thankfully, one poll Brown doesn't top is "the piece of writing that has most shaped world literature over the past 25 years": Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude gets that one.

A Google doodle honours HG Wells in a mysterious way but the search engine's $125m deal agreement with US publishers to digitise millions of books is postponed by a judge after widespread criticism. Some upbeat library news: readers can now borrow books from more than 4,000 public libraries regardless of where they live.

Simon Van Booy wins the €35,000 Frank O'Connor award for Love Begins in Winter, Graham Joyce wins the British Fantasy award with Memoirs of a Master Forger and poet Tony Harrison is awarded the first ever PEN/Pinter prize for a writer following in Harold Pinter's footsteps. We bid farewell to Keith Waterhouse.


The Booker goes to Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall and she briefly pushes Dan Brown into second place on Amazon's sales charts.

The Google digital library row rumbles on with the German chancellor Angela Merkel coming out against it, while Amazon launches the Kindle.

A Winnie the Pooh sequel sees Christopher Robin back in Hundred Acre Wood, and a film adaption of Where the Wild Things Are that leads the book's author Maurice Sendak to tell parents worried that is too frightening for children to "go to hell". Also going to hell, as far as the US religious right are concerned, are readers of And Tango Makes Three. The story of two male penguins raising an orphaned chick tops the US banned books list but also races up the Amazon charts.

The familial upsets of earlier in the year are put to one side as Asterix turns 50 and France celebrates in style.

Don Paterson wins the Forward prize for poetry with his collection Rain, TS Eliot is named the nation's favourite poet, Herta Müller wins the Nobel prize for literature and Mal Peet wins the Guardian children's fiction prize.


More poetry shenanigans as Andrew Motion defends his use of 'found' material in a poem against a charge of plagiarism and Nicolas Sarkozy provokes the French left by mischievously suggesting he bestow the country's greatest posthumous honour upon Albert Camus - transferring the Algerian-born author's remains to the Panthéon, the resting place for heroes of France, on the 50th anniversary of his death in January.

The new Nobel laureate comes under fire from a former member of the Romanian secret police who admits spying on her but claims that the writer "has a psychosis and has no contact with external reality." There's much excitement as upmarket callgirl blogger Belle Du Jour unmasks herself as a research scientist, and some potentially cheering news as Stephenie Meyer admits to Oprah that she is "a little burned out on vampires" and may not write another Twilight novel. The latest move in the Google books battle sees the search giant offering some concessions.

This month we learn that Roberto Bolaño would rather have been a cop than an author, that Sarah Palin's Going Rogue has actually managed to sell quite a few copies and Stephen King is plotting a sequel to The Shining.

More library loveliness as a former telephone box is transformed into a mini village library. It's happy 30th birthday to the London Review of Books and more celebrations for Neil Gaiman as The Graveyard Book picks up yet another gong, this time the Booktrust teenage prize. Su Tong's political fable The Boat to Redemption takes the Man Asia literary prize, Evie Wyld's debut After the Fire, a Still Small Voice beats Aravind Adiga and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to the John Llewellyn Rhys prize and Philip Ardargh's Grubtown Tales wins the Roald Dahl funny prize. The American winner of the Prix Goncourt, Jonathan Littell, wins the Bad Sex award for such inspired lines as "I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg" in his novel The Kindly Ones.

And it's goodbye Borders, as the bookstore goes into administration.


Petina Gappah wins the Guardian first book award with her collection of short stories about Zimbabwe, An Elegy for Easterly, and poet Kate Clanchy wins the BBC National Short Story award.

Otherwise, the year ends as it starts – with poets, Dan Brown, Google and e-books. Oxford university announces that it will reform voting rules for the poetry professor post, but it's too late for Derek Walcott: he's already accepted the post of professor of poetry – at Essex. Dan Brown is Christmas number one, Ursula K Le Guin accuses the Authors Guild of 'deal with the devil' over its Google settlement, and Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books for the first time on Christmas Day.

New words this year included jeggings, tweetups, staycation and the absolutely splendid snollygosters.

All in all, 2009 was quite a year. Fasten your seatbelts for the sequel ...


Michelle Pauli, The Guardian, Wednesday 30 December 2009

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 was the year of the short story

Alice Munro

Alice Munro's Man Booker International win boosted the profile of the short story form.


Alice Munro won the Man Booker International, Raymond Carver's widow published a revised edition of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and fine collections appeared from old hands and debutantes. This year proved that reports of the short story's death have been greatly exaggerated.

2009 has proved that rumours of the death of the short story – so often forecast that almost every review of almost every collection seems duty-bound to repeat and thus propagate it – are greatly exaggerated. The consensus running through the end-of-year reviews is that it's been a vintage year for short fiction, and I agree. I come here to praise the short story, not to bury it.

Starting at the top, one of the world's greatest living short story specialists, and one of its greatest writers full-stop, took the 2009 Man Booker International prize. Canadian Alice Munro published her 14th collection, Too Much Happiness, earlier this year. A powerful grouping of stories more violent than her normal work, it shows her enormous talent remains undiminished as she nears her ninth decade.

Mavis Gallant is already well into hers, and while no new work is forthcoming an edition of her previously uncollected stories, The Cost of Living, has just been published. As for the brand new, this year saw collections from big names such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Ha Jin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, James Lasdun, and this parish's own AL Kennedy.

Good work from the living, then, but notable new collections issued even from beyond the grave. Raymond Carver's Beginners reinstates the writer's original drafts of the stories that made up his definitive 1981 collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love; stories that his editor Gordon Lish famously and controversially reduced in length, in some cases cutting up to 78% of Carver's prose. I had misgivings before reading it, but Beginners is a fascinating document. The decision to publish these versions is controversial, but the logic behind his widow Tess Gallagher's desire to show the "connective tissue" between his pre- and post-Lish work seems sound. Additionally the endnotes, wherein the editors detail what revisions were made where and when, are like morsels of crack for Carver geeks.

This has also been an excellent year for debuts. I read David Vann's Legend of a Suicide and Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned back to back, and while their shared interests – hunting, ichthyology, destructive rages, divorce, abuse and guns – might lie heavily on their readers' psyches, the quality of the writing precludes any chance of leaving them depressed. Both superb, Vann's book in particular suggests the arrival of a significant talent; one who can marry tremendous plot twists to an appealingly downbeat style that fans of Carver and Cormac McCarthy alike will thrill to.

In case you're wondering what Legend of a Suicide, supposedly a novel, is doing in a blog about short stories, it was originally published as a story collection in America. Vann told the Guardian he prefers the way the book is being sold in the UK, but really it sits somewhere between the two forms: the stories are discrete, but at the same time are all reactions to or descriptions of a single central event. Another book that hovers in this enjoyable and I think fertile space between the story collection and the novel is this year's Pulitzer winner, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, a story cycle set in Crosby, Maine, and presided over by the retired schoolteacher of the title. It's sold upwards of 400,000 copies so far: impressive for a literary novel, extraordinary for short fiction.

Of course, all this jubilation would be Panglossian without some acknowledgement of the short story market's real and present downsides. In the US it's commonplace for short story writers to get a deal for their first collection only on the proviso that a novel follows, a business practice that casts short story-writing as apprentice work. In the UK it's worse still, with story collections treated like dirty secrets to be snuck out in disguise (pace Penguin's strategy with Vann), with only a determined study of the back cover revealing the truth. And I don't know if it's a case of reading practices following publishing's lead or vice versa, but I'm constantly surprised and disheartened by the number of readers who tell me they don't read short stories, as if they were a homogenous type that could be not to your taste like, say, policiers.

I do see more reason to celebrate than to mourn, however. Radio 4 broadcasts nearly 150 stories a year; the Atlantic's recent decision to sell short stories via its Kindle store inspires hope for a vibrant market for individually sold shorter works, while flash fiction and sites dedicated to the short story continue to proliferate online.

This year saw the US publication of the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, a particular favourite of mine, whose sharp, hilarious, often minuscule fictions have long had a small but dedicated following. She's the next subject in the short story series I've been writing for the last couple of years, and in the words of the New Yorker her body of work "will in time be seen as one of the great, strange American literary contributions, distinct and crookedly personal." Hamish Hamilton have just picked up the UK rights, so British readers as yet unfamiliar with her will soon have an even better chance to find out how good she is. It looks like 2010's already shaping up to be another good year.


Chris Power, The Guardian, Tuesday 29 December 2009

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hollywood writer Tweeting from jail

Roger Avary, the Pulp Fiction story writer, is tweeting observations from behind bars.

Sentenced last month and currently serving a year’s prison sentence for driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, Avary’s musings could be seen as inspirational to most fledgling writers. In fact, The Scribbler would like to think Avary has already bagged half a dozen ideas for new writing projects.

There are many theories about how Avary is managing to Tweet from Ventura County Jail. One suggests that while serving a year’s custodial sentence and five probation, the Californian justice system saw fit to grant Avary a work furlough allowing him to work on Return to Castle Wolfenstein, his current film project based on the hit computer game, before returning to prison at night. If this was the case we’re sure it would be more widely publicised.

Other reports suggest he’s using his telephone call to phone his 140 character Twitter update to a friend who then updates his profile for him. Or a third idea is that he is microblogging using a mobile phone application. Regardless of how he is doing it, one thing’s for sure, Avary’s Tweets are gradually building a very vivid picture of what life is like inside a correctional institution.

Roger Avary’s other writing credits include; Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Killing Zoe, Rules of Attraction, Glitterati and Beowulf.

Follow Roger Avary’s Twitter account here: @AVARY Let us know if you find it good reading in the comment box below. His website can be found here:

Also follow The Scribbler on Twitter here: @ScribblerBlog

Feast your eyes on a famous example of Roger Avary’s talent below. A drug induced scene from his film Killing Zoe:

What do you think of Roger Avary’s Twitter? Has it inspired you in any way? Is it a good resource for research in life from behind bars? Are you now bitten by the Twitter bug? How can social networking benefit the writing process? Please do discuss below.


Words: Dean Samways

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lebanon Valley College interview!

Dear England, I'm pleased to report I've been invited for a job interview for Lebanon Valley College. LVC is located in Annville, a small town in Pennsylvania about 35 miles east of the state capital, Harrisburg. It's a really picturesque part of the country, with rolling hills, classic American red barns, and a cosy charm...Plus you can visit the nearby Hershey's chocolate factory in, yes, Hershey, Pennsylvania. Makes you think we should have a town called Cadbury's in England!

The interview takes places at the Modern Languages Association (MLA) Conference in Philadelphia in December. (The MLA is the biggest conference in the US for English departments, and a mighty big job fair to boot.) I am excited to speak with Dr. Gary Grieve-Carlson and Dr. Laura Eldred, my interviewing faculty from the LVC English department.

Wish me luck!
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quote of the Week, #4

Churchill to Truman: "The very first thing the President did was to show me the new Presidential Seal, which he had just redesigned. He explained, 'The seal has to go everywhere the President goes. It must be displayed upon the lectern when he speaks. The eagle used to face the arrows but I have re-designed it so that it now faces the olive branches… what do you think?' I said, 'Mr. President, with the greatest respect, I would prefer the American eagle's neck to be on a swivel so that it could face the olive branches or the arrows, as the occasion might demand.'"

Winston Churchill to Harry S. Truman, 1946
Bookmark and Share

The problem with Nabokov...

Vladimir Nabokov's unfinished novella, The Original of Laura, is being published despite the author's instructions that it be destroyed after his death.
"Language leads a double life – and so does the novelist. You chat with family and friends, you attend to your correspondence, you consult menus and shopping lists, you observe road signs (LOOK LEFT), and so on. Then you enter your study, where language exists in quite another form – as the stuff of patterned artifice. Most writers, I think, would want to go along with Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), when he reminisced in 1974:
  1. The Original of Laura: (Dying is Fun) a Novel in Fragments
  2. by Vladimir Nabokov
  3. 304pp,
  4. Penguin Classics,
  5. £25

". . . I regarded Paris, with its gray-toned days and charcoal nights, merely as the chance setting for the most authentic and faithful joys of my life: the coloured phrase in my mind under the drizzle, the white page under the desk lamp awaiting me in my humble home."

Well, the creative joy is authentic; and yet it isn't faithful (in common with pretty well the entire cast of Nabokov's fictional women, creative joy, in the end, is sadistically fickle). Writing remains a very interesting job, but destiny, or "fat Fate", as Humbert Humbert calls it, has arranged a very interesting retribution. Writers lead a double life. And they die doubly, too. This is modern literature's dirty little secret. Writers die twice: once when the body dies, and once when the talent dies.

Nabokov composed The Original of Laura, or what we have of it, against the clock of doom (a series of sickening falls, then hospital infections, then bronchial collapse). It is not "A novel in fragments", as the cover states; it is immediately recognisable as a longish short story struggling to become a novella. In this palatial edition, every left-hand page is blank, and every right-hand page reproduces Nabokov's manuscript (with its robust handwriting and fragile spelling – "bycycle", "stomack", "suprize"), plus the text in typed print (and infested with square brackets). It is nice, I dare say, to see those world-famous index cards up close; but in truth there is little in Laura that reverberates in the mind. "Auroral rumbles and bangs had begun jolting the cold misty city": in this we hear an echo of the Nabokovian music. And in the following we glimpse the funny and fearless Nabokovian disdain for our "abject physicality":

"I loathe my belly, that trunkful of bowels, which I have to carry around, and everything connected with it – the wrong food, heartburn, constipation's leaden load, or else indigestion with a first installment of hot filth pouring out of me in a public toilet . . ."

Otherwise and in general Laura is somewhere between larva and pupa (to use a lepidopteral metaphor), and very far from the finished imago.

Apart from a welcome flurry of interest in the work, the only thing this relic will effect, I fear, is the slight exacerbation of what is already a problem from hell. It is infernal, for me, because I bow to no one in my love for this great and greatly inspiring genius. And yet Nabokov, in his decline, imposes on even the keenest reader a horrible brew of piety, literal-mindedness, vulgarity and philistinism. Nothing much, in Laura, qualifies as a theme (ie, as a structural or at least a recurring motif). But we do notice the appearance of a certain Hubert H Hubert (a reeking Englishman who slobbers over a pre-teen's bed), we do notice the 24-year-old vamp with 12-year-old breasts ("pale squinty nipples and firm form"), and we do notice the fevered dream about a juvenile love ("her little bottom, so smooth, so moonlit"). In other words, Laura joins The Enchanter (1939), Lolita (1955), Ada (1970), Transparent Things (1972), and Look at the Harlequins! (1974) in unignorably concerning itself with the sexual despoiliation of very young girls.

Six fictions: six fictions, two or perhaps three of which are spectacular masterpieces. You will, I hope, admit that the hellish problem is at least Nabokovian in its complexity and ticklishness. For no human being in the history of the world has done more to vivify the cruelty, the violence, and the dismal squalor of this particular crime. The problem, which turns out to be an aesthetic problem, and not quite a moral one, has to do with the intimate malice of age.

The word we want is not the legalistic "paedophilia", which in any case deceitfully translates as "fondness for children". The word we want is "nympholepsy", which doesn't quite mean what you think it means. It means "frenzy caused by desire for the unattainable", and is rightly characterised by my COD as literary. As such, nympholepsy is a legitimate, indeed an almost inevitable subject for this very singular talent. "Nabokov's is really an amorous style," John Updike lucidly observed: "It yearns to clasp diaphonous exactitude into its hairy arms." With the later Nabokov, though, nympholepsy crumbles into its etymology – "from Gk numpholeptos 'caught by nymphs', on the pattern of EPILEPSY"; "from Gk epilepsia, from epilambanein 'seize, attack'".

Dreamed up in 1930s Berlin (with Hitler's voice spluttering out from the rooftop loudspeakers), and written in Paris (post-Kristallnacht, at the start of the Nabokovs' frenetic flight from Europe), The Enchanter is a vicious triumph, brilliantly and almost osmotically translated from the Russian by Dmitri Nabokov in 1987, 10 years after his father's death.As a narrative it is logistically identical to the first half of Lolita: the rapist will marry – and perhaps murder – the mother, and then negotiate the child. Unlike the redoubtable Charlotte Haze ("she of the noble nipple and massive thigh"), the nameless widow in The Enchanter is already promisingly frail, her large body warped out of symmetry by hospitalisations and surgeons' knives. And this is why her suitor reluctantly rejects the idea of poison: "Besides, they'll inevitably open her up, out of sheer habit."

The wedding takes place, and so does the wedding night: ". . . and it was perfectly clear that he (little Gulliver)" would be physically unable to tackle "those multiple caverns" and "the repulsively listing conformation of her ponderous pelvis". But "in the middle of his farewell speeches about his migraine", things take an unexpected turn,

"so that, after the fact, it was with astonishment that he discovered the corpse of the miraculously vanquished giantess and gazed at the moiré girdle that almost totally concealed her scar."

Soon the mother is dead for real, and the enchanter is alone with his 12-year-old. "The lone wolf was getting ready to don Granny's nightcap."

In Lolita, Humbert has "strenuous sexual intercourse" with his nymphet at least twice a day for two years. In The Enchanter there is a single delectation – non-invasive, voyeuristic, masturbatory. In the hotel room the girl is asleep, and naked; "he began passing his magic wand above her body", measuring her "with an enchanted yardstick". She awakes, she looks at "his rearing nudity", and she screams. With his obsession now reduced to a cooling smear on the raincoat he throws on, our enchanter runs out into the street, seeking to rid himself, by any means, of a world "already-looked-at" and "no-longer-needed". A tramcar grinds into sight, and under

"this growing, grinning, megathundering mass, this instantaneous cinema of dismemberment – that's it, drag me under, tear at my frailty – I'm travelling flattened, on my smacked-down face . . . don't rip me to pieces – you're shredding me, I've had enough . . . Zigzag gymnastics of lightning, spectogram of a thunderbolt's split seconds – and the film of life had burst."

In moral terms The Enchanter is sulphurously direct. Lolita, by contrast, is delicately cumulative; but in its judgment of Humbert's abomination it is, if anything, the more severe. To establish this it is necessary to adduce only two key points. First, the fate of its tragic heroine. No unprepared reader could be expected to notice that Lolita meets a terrible end on page two of the novel that bears her name: "Mrs 'Richard F Schiller' died in childbed", says the "editor" in his Foreword, "giving birth to a still-born girl . . . in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest"; and the novel is almost over by the time Mrs Richard F Schiller (ie, Lo) briefly appears. Thus we note, with a parenthetical gasp, the size of Nabokov's gamble on greatness. "Curiously enough, one cannot read a book," he once announced (at the lectern), "one can only reread it." Nabokov knew that Lolita would be reread, and re-reread. He knew that we would eventually absorb Lolita's fate – her stolen childhood, her stolen womanhood. Gray Star, he wrote, is "the capital town of the book". The shifting half-tone – gray star, pale fire, torpid smoke: this is the Nabokovian crux.

The second fundamental point is the description of a recurring dream that shadows Humbert after Lolita has flown (she absconds with the cynically carnal Quilty). It is also proof of the fact that style, that prose itself, can control morality. Who would want to do something that gave them dreams like these?

". . . she did haunt my sleep but she appeared there in strange and ludicrous disguises as Valeria or Charlotte [his ex-wives], or a cross between them. That complex ghost would come to me, shedding shift after shift, in an atmosphere of great melancholy and disgust, and would recline in dull invitation on some narrow board or hard settee, with flesh ajar like therubber valve of a soccer ball's bladder. I would find myself, dentures fractured or hopelessly misplaced, in horrible chambres garnies, where I would be entertained at tedious vivisecting parties that generally ended with Charlotte or Valeria weeping in my bleeding arms and being tenderly kissed by my brotherly lips in a dream disorder of auctioneered Viennese bric-a-brac, pity, impotence and the brown wigs of tragic old women who had just been gassed."

That final phrase, with its clear allusion, reminds us of the painful and tender diffidence with which Nabokov wrote about the century's terminal crime. His father, the distinguished liberal statesman (whom Trotsky loathed), was shot dead by a fascist thug in Berlin; and Nabokov's homosexual brother, Sergey, was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp ("What a joy you are well, alive, in good spirits," Nabokov wrote to his sister Elena, from the US to the USSR, in November 1945. "Poor, poor Seryozha . . . !"). Nabokov's wife, Véra, was Jewish, and so, therefore, was their son (born in 1934); and there is a strong likelihood that if the Nabokovs had failed to escape from France when they did (in May 1940, with the Wehrmacht 70 miles from Paris), they would have joined the scores of thousands of undesirables delivered by Vichy to the Reich.

In his fiction, to my knowledge, Nabokov wrote about the Holocaust at paragraph length only once – in the incomparable Pnin (1957). Other references, as in Lolita, are glancing. Take, for example, this one-sentence demonstration of genius from the insanely inspired six-page short story "Signs and Symbols" (it is a description of a Jewish matriarch):

"Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths – until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried about."

Pnin goes further. At an émigré houseparty in rural America a Madam Shpolyanski mentions her cousin, Mira, and asks Timofey Pnin if he has heard of her "terrible end". "Indeed, I have," Pnin answers. Gentle Timofey sits on alone in the twilight. Then Nabokov gives us this:

"What chatty Madam Shpolyanski mentioned had conjured up Mira's image with unusual force. This was disturbing. Only in the detachment of an incurable complaint, in the sanity of near death, could one cope with this for a moment. In order to exist rationally, Pnin had taught himself . . . never to remember Mira Belochkin – not because . . . the evocation of a youthful love affair, banal and brief, threatened his peace of mind . . . but because, if one were quite sincere with oneself, no conscience, and hence no consciousness, could be expected to subsist in a world where such things as Mira's death were possible. One had to forget – because one could not live with the thought that this graceful, fragile, tender young woman with those eyes, that smile, those gardens and snows in the background, had been brought in a cattle car and killed by an injection of phenol into the heart, into the gentle heart one had heard beating under one's lips in the dusk of the past."

How resonantly this passage chimes with Primo Levi's crucial observation that we cannot, we must not, "understand what happened". Because to "understand" it would be to "contain" it. "What happened" was "non-human", or "counter-human", and remains incomprehensible to human beings.

By linking Humbert Humbert's crime to the Shoah, and to "those whom the wind of death has scattered" (Paul Celan), Nabokov pushes out to the very limits of the moral universe. Like The Enchanter, Lolita is airtight, intact and entire. The frenzy of the unattainable desire is confronted, and framed, with stupendous courage and cunning. And so matters might have rested. But then came the meltdown of artistic self-possession – tumultuously announced, in 1970, by the arrival of Ada. When a writer starts to come off the rails, you expect skidmarks and broken glass; with Nabokov, naturally, the eruption is on the scale of a nuclear accident.

I have read at least half a dozen Nabokov novels at least half a dozen times. And at least half a dozen times I have tried, and promptly failed, to read Ada ("Or Ardor: A Family Chronicle"). My first attempt took place about three decades ago. I put it down after the first chapter, with a curious sensation, a kind of negative tingle. Every five years or so (this became the pattern), I picked it up again; and after a while I began to articulate the difficulty: "But this is dead," I said to myself. The curious sensation, the negative tingle, is of course miserably familiar to me now: it is the reader's response to what seems to happen to all writers as they overstep the biblical span. The radiance, the life-giving power, begins to fade. Last summer I went away with Ada and locked myself up with it. And I was right. At 600 pages, two or three times Nabokov's usual fighting-weight, the novel is what homicide detectives call "a burster". It is a waterlogged corpse at the stage of maximal bloat.

When Finnegans Wake appeared, in 1939, it was greeted with wary respect – or with "terror-stricken praise", in the words of Jorge Luis Borges. Ada garnered plenty of terror-stricken praise; and the similarities between the two magna opera are in fact profound. Nabokov nominated Ulysses as his novel of the century, but he described Finnegans Wake as, variously, "formless and dull", "a cold pudding of a book", "a tragic failure" and "a frightful bore". Both novels seek to make a virtue of unbounded self-indulgence; they turn away, so to speak, and fold in on themselves. Literary talent has several ways of dying. With Joyce and Nabokov, we see a decisive loss of love for the reader – a loss of comity, of courtesy. The pleasures of writing, Nabokov said, "correspond exactly to the pleasures of reading"; and the two activities are in some sense indivisible. In Ada, that bond loosens and frays.

There is a weakness in Nabokov for "partricianism", as Saul Bellow called it (Nabokov the classic émigré, Bellow the classic immigrant). In the former's purely "Russian" novels (I mean the novels written in Russian that Nabokov did not himself translate), the male characters, in particular, have a self-magnifying quality: they are larger and louder than life. They don't walk – they "march" or "stride"; they don't eat and drink – they "munch" and "gulp"; they don't laugh – they "roar". They are very far from being the furtive, hesitant neurasthenics of mainstream anglophone fiction: they are brawny (and gifted) heart-throbs, who win all the fights and win all the girls. Pride, for them, is not a deadly sin but a cardinal virtue. Of course, we cannot do without this vein in Nabokov: it gives us, elsewhere, his magnificently comic hauteur. In Lolita, the superbity is meant to be funny; elsewhere, it is a trait that irony does not protect.

In Ada nabobism disastrously combines with a nympholepsy that is lavishly, monotonously, and frictionlessly gratified. Ada herself, at the outset, is 12; and Van Veen, her cousin (and half-sibling) is 14. As Ada starts to age, in adolescence, her tiny sister Lucette is also on hand to enliven their "strenuous trysts". On top of this, there is a running quasi-fantasy about an international chain of elite bordellos where girls as young as 11 can be "fondled and fouled". And Van's 60-year-old father (incidentally but typically) has a mistress who is barely out of single figures: she is 10. This interminable book is written in dense, erudite, alliterative, punsome, pore-clogging prose; and every character, without exception, sounds like late Henry James.

In common with Finnegans Wake, Ada probably does "work out" and "measure up" – the multilingual decoder, given enough time and nothing better to do, might eventually disentangle its toiling systems and symmetries, its lonely and comfortless labyrinths, and its glutinous nostalgies. What both novels signally lack, however, is any hint of narrative traction: they slip and they slide; they just can't hold the road. And then, too, with Ada, there is something altogether alien – a sense of monstrous entitlement, of unbridled, head-in-air seigneurism. Morally, this is the world for which the twisted Humbert thirsts: a world where "nothing matters", and "everything is allowed".

This leaves us with Transparent Things (to which we will uneasily return) and Look at the Harlequins! – as well as the more or less negligible volume under review. "LATH!", as the author called it, just as he called The Original of Laura "TOOL", is the Nabokov swansong. It has some wonderful rumbles, and glimmers of unearthly colour, but it is hard-of-hearing and rheumy-eyed; and the little-girl theme is by now hardly more than a logo – part of the Nabokovian furniture, like mirrors, doubles, chess, butterflies. There is a visit to a motel called Lolita Lodge; there is a brief impersonation of Dumbert Dumbert. More centrally, the narrator, Vadim Vadimovich, suddenly finds himself in sole charge of his seldom-seen daughter, Bel, who, inexorably, is 12 years old.

Now, where does this thread lead?

". . . I was still deliriously happy, still seeing nothing wrong or dangerous, or absurd or downright cretinous, in the relationship between my daughter and me. Save for a few insignificant lapses – a few hot drops of overflowing tenderness, a gasp masked by a cough and that sort of stuff – my relations with her remained essentially innocent."

Well, the dismaying answer is that this thread leads nowhere. The only repurcussion, thematic or otherwise, is that Vadim ends up marrying one of Bel's classmates, who is 43 years his junior. And that is all.

Between the hysterical Ada and the doddery Look at the Harlequins! comes the mysterious, sinister and beautifully melancholic novella, Transparent Things: Nabokov's remission. Our hero, Hugh Person, a middle-grade American publisher, is an endearing misfit and sexual loser, like Timofey Pnin (Pnin regularly dines at a shabby little restaurant called The Egg and We, which he frequents out of "sheer sympathy with failure"). Four visits to Switzerland provide the cornerstones of this expert little piece, as Hugh shyly courts the exasperating flirt, Armande, and also monitors an aged, portly, decadent, and forbiddingly highbrow novelist called "Mr R".

Mr R is said to have debauched his stepdaughter (a friend of Armande's) when she was a child or at any rate a minor. The nympholeptic theme thus hovers over the story, and is reinforced, in one extraordinary scene, by the disclosure of Hugh's latent yearnings. A pitiful bumbler, with a treacherous libido (wiltings and premature ejaculations mark his "mediocre potency"), Hugh calls on Armande's villa, and her mother diverts him, while he waits, with some family snapshots. He comes across a photo of a naked Armande, aged 10:

"The visitor constucted a pile of albums to screen the flame of his interest . . . and returned several times to the pictures of little Armande in her bath, pressing a proboscidate rubber toy to her shiny stomach or standing up, dimple-bottomed, to be lathered. Another revelation of impuberal softness (its middle line just distinguishable from the less vertical grass-blade next to it) was afforded by a photo of her in which she sat in the buff on the grass, combing her sun-shot hair and spreading wide, in false perspective, the lovely legs of a giantess.

"He heard a toilet flush upstairs and with a guilty wince slapped the thick book shut. His retractile heart moodily withdrew, its throbs quietened . . ."

At first this passage seems shockingly anomalous. But then we reflect that Hugh's unconscious thoughts, his dreams, his insomnias ("night is always a giant"), are saturated with inarticulate dreads:

"He could not believe that decent people had the sort of obscene and absurd nightmares which shattered his night and continued to tingle throughout the day. Neither the incidental accounts of bad dreams reported by friends nor the case histories in Freudian dream books, with their hilarious elucidations, presented anything like the complicated vileness of his almost nightly experience."

Hugh marries Armande and then, years later, strangles her in his sleep. So it may be that Nabokov identifies the paedophiliac prompting as an urge towards violence and self-obliteration. Hugh Person's subliminal churning extracts a terrible revenge, in pathos and isolation (prison, madhouse), and demands the ultimate purgation: he is burnt to death in one of the most ravishing conflagrations in all literature. The torched hotel:

"Now flames were mounting the stairs, in pairs, in trios, in redskin file, hand in hand, tongue after tongue, conversing and humming happily. It was not, though, the heat of their flicker, but the acrid dark smoke that caused Person to retreat back into the room; excuse me, said a polite flamelet holding open the door he was vainly trying to close. The window banged with such force that its panes broke into a torrent of rubies . . . At last suffocation made him try to get out by climbing out and down, but there were no ledges or balconies on that side of the roaring house. As he reached the window a long lavender-tipped flame danced up to stop him with a graceful gesture of its gloved hand. Crumbling partitions of plaster and wood allowed human cries to reach him, and one of his last wrong ideas was that those were the shouts of people anxious to help him, and not the howls of fellow men."

Left to themselves, The Enchanter, Lolita, and Transparent Things might have formed a lustrous and utterly unnerving trilogy. But they are not left to themselves; by sheer weight of numbers, by sheer iteration, the nympholepsy novels begin to infect one another – they cross-contaminate. We gratefully take all we can from them; and yet . . . Where else in the canon do we find such wayward fixity? In the awful itch of Lawrence, maybe, or in the murky sexual transpositions of Proust? No: you would need to venture to the very fringes of literature – Lewis Carroll, William Burroughs, the Marquis de Sade – to find an equivalent emphasis: an emphasis on activities we rightly and eternally hold to be unforgivable.

In fiction, of course, nobody ever gets hurt; the flaw, as I said, is not moral but aesthetic. And I intend no innnuendo by pointing out that Nabokov's obsession with nymphets has a parallel: the ponderous intrusiveness of his obsession with Freud – "the vulgar, shabby, fundamentally medieval world" of "the Viennese quack", with "its bitter little embryos, spying, from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents". Nabokov cherished the anarchy of the inner life, and Freud is excoriated because he sought to systematise it. Is there something rivalrous in this hatred? Well, in the end it is Nabokov, and not Freud, who emerges as our supreme poet of dreams (with Kafka), and our supreme poet of madness.

One commonsensical caveat persists, for all our literary-critical impartiality: writers like to write about the things they like to think about. And, to put it at its sternest, Nabokov's mind, during his last period, insufficiently honoured the innocence – insufficiently honoured the honour – of 12-year-old girls. In the three novels mentioned above he prepotently defends the emphasis; in Ada (that incontinent splurge), in Look at the Harlequins!, and now in The Original of Laura, he does not defend it. This leaves a faint but visible scar on the leviathan of his corpus.

"Now, soyons raisonnable," says Quilty, staring down the barrel of Humbert's revolver. "You will only wound me hideously and then rot in jail while I recuperate in a tropical setting." All right, let us be reasonable. In his book about Updike, Nicholson Baker refers to an order of literary achievement that he calls "Prousto-Nabokovian". Yes, Prousto-Nabokovian, or Joyceo-Borgesian, or, for the Americans, Jameso-Bellovian. And it is at the highest table that Vladimir Nabokov coolly takes his place.

Lolita, Pnin, Despair (1936; translated by the author in 1966), and four or five short stories are immortal. King, Queen, Knave (1928, 1968), Laughter in the Dark (1932, 1936), The Enchanter, The Eye (1930), Bend Sinister (1947), Pale Fire (1962), and Transparent Things are ferociously accomplished; and little Mary (1925), his first novel, is a little beauty. Lectures on Literature (1980), Lectures on Russian Literature (1981), and Lectures on Don Quixote (1983), together with Strong Opinions (1973), constitute the shining record of a pre-eminent artist-critic. And the Selected Letters (1989), the Nabokov-Wilson Letters (1979), and that marshlight of an autobiography, Speak, Memory (1967), give us a four-dimensional portrait of a delightful and honourable man. The vice Nabokov most frequently reviled was "cruelty". And his gentleness of nature is most clearly seen in the loving attentiveness with which, in his fiction, he writes about animals. A minute's thought gives me the cat in King, Queen, Knave (washing itself with one hindleg raised "like a shouldered club"), the charming dogs and monkeys in Lolita, the shadow-tailed squirrel and the unforgettable ant in Pnin, and the sick bat in Pale Fire – creeping past "like a cripple with a broken umbrella".

They call it a "shimmer" – a glint, a glitter, a glisten. The Nabokovian essence is a miraculously fertile instability, where without warning the words detach themselves from the everyday and streak off like flares in a night sky, illuminating hidden versts of longing and terror. From Lolita, as the fateful cohabitation begins (nous connûmes, a Flaubertian intonation, means "we came to know"):

"Nous connûmes the various types of motor court operators, the reformed criminal, the retired teacher, and the business flop, among the males; and the motherly, pseudo-ladylike and madamic variants among the females. And sometimes trains would cry in the monstrously hot and humid night with heartrending and ominous plangency, mingling power and hysteria in one desperate scream."


Martin Amis, The Guardian, Saturday 14 November 2009

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pullman rewrites the story of Christ

The greatest story ever told (as debated here) has been given a new leash of life by His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman.

In a new project, Pullman has written an alternative Bible passage re-imagining the fate of Jesus Christ, who, it is written, was killed by the Romans (or not).

Talking to The Daily Telegraph, a friend of the author said: “He has written what would have happened if Jesus had had a fair trial. He knows it will be controversial, but he has some serious points to make.”

Pullman will read his reworking or Christ’s fate at the Globe Theatre on Thursday 19 November as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of Reprieve, an organisation which campaigns for prisoner rights.

The author is not new to controversy with the church. An honorary associate of the National Secular Society, several of Pullman’s books have been criticised by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His Dark Materials, Pullman’s collection of fantasy novels which contain much discussed religious allegories, have been seen as a direct negation of Christian author, C S Lewis’, The Chronicles of Narnia, which have been criticised by Pullman.

He is also often lambasted for an interview in which he reportedly said: “I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”

Despite all this confrontation the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has suggested His Dark Materials be taught as part of the religious education curriculum in schools.

The Reprieve event will be hosted by Jon Snow and will also feature John le Carré and Martha Lane Fox.

Do you think Pullman has gone too far in his atheist quest with this latest project? Do you feel we should question religion more in literature? What was the last faith themed piece of writing you read?

Words: Dean Samways

Watch a documentary on Philip Pullman below:

Dear Samways, The Scribbler, 19 November 2009
Bookmark and Share

Quote of the Week, #3

"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." James Branch Cabell
Bookmark and Share

G & B hit the big time!

My little nieces Grace and Beatrice recently turned 5 and 3. That may not seem like momentous news to some, but to me, it's momentous news. Yes, the pictures are from when they were babies, just to mix things up a bit.

Smile ladies!


PS The less said about their mother turning 35 the better.
Bookmark and Share

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Trailer for "Crazy Heart"

For some sentimental reason, I'm really looking forward to this movie! I think it's the American West that does it, or maybe the music, or maybe the "last chance saloon" feel to this movie. Either way, it looks like a decent Christmas sit-down-and-cry and wake-up-felling-better winner. As they say in the movie, "one more try..."
Bookmark and Share

Friday, November 20, 2009

Is it easier to become American than to become British?

This post was recently posted by Michelloui on the Mid-Atlantic English blog. A vision of where I'll be in 3 years?

I'll have lived in the States for 10 years then too!

"In a recent post on She's Not From Yorkshire American yankeebean writes that her grandma is a British war bride who moved to the States after WWII and has lived there ever since. When yankeebean was planning a move to the UK, she asked her grandma how long it took her to feel American and her grandma replied, 'Ten years.' Yankeebean goes on to say she feels she is now at a place where she can accept that she is more comfortable doing the British thing when in Britain and more comfortable doing the American thing when in the States (I paraphrase).

I have reached the half and half mark--half of my life in the States and half of my life in the UK. I can completely relate to what yankeebean says about not fancying a cup of tea in the States but not craving the Starbucks coffee when in the UK. It's as if you have to be in a culture to enjoy that culture's artifacts, you can't replicate it elsewhere as it doesn't quite provide the same sense of satisfaction.

But back to yankeebean's grandma. I was surprised when I read what she said. I have long passed the 10 year mark and I still feel American. I have called this blog Mid-Atlantic English because I have adopted some of the accent and colloquialisms of Britain, as well as the world view, but I have not lost all of my American accent or certain habits that define me as American (stockings by the chimney not the end of the bed, fanatical pumpkin carving, a longing for a Williams-Sonoma shop to open near my house, an appreciation of Eudora Welty). In other words, I am somewhere in the middle, or Mid-Atlantic (original credit goes to my dad for first describing me as such). I don't feel I have become British, but I do feel I have made Britain my home.

Is it me, or is it just easier to 'become American'? Or was it easier at the time yankeebean's grandma moved? Or is this simply individual differences? I'm interested in what the rest of you lovely expats think about this!"
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Follow your own risk!

Yes, click here to follow me at your own risk. The cartoon says it all! :-)
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Boat That Rocked, or is it Pirate Radio?

The Trailer for the new film by the gang that brought you Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love, Actually. The film is called The Boat that Rocked in the UK and Pirate Radio in the US. Why exactly? Can the Brits not handle the idea of pirates? Do boats rock in the US at all? "Search me," as the Brits would say, and if you're reading this in the States, "Go Figure"!
Bookmark and Share

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Make Your Own Academic Sentence!

Matt Fullerty
11:03am Nov 6th
Make Your Own Academic Sentence

To play the 'make your own academic sentence game', follow this link:

Choose any 4 words, and it will make your academic sentence. Funny...for academics!

Bookmark and Share