Articles, Events

The Desmond Elliott Prize for Debut Fiction 2013

This is the first year that I’ve followed the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction, and I’m excited about it already. The longlist of ten debut novels (all have to be written in English and published in the UK) was announced on 25th April, and the shortlist will be announced on 23rd May. The winner will be awarded the £10,000 prize at Fortnum & Mason on 27th June.

The Prize was launched in 2007 in memory of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, who died in 2003. The judges look for “a novel which has a compelling narrative, arresting character, and which is both vividly written and confidently realised.” (Quote from desmondelliottprize.org)

I really like this idea, or aim, and though there are a lot of literary prizes out there, I like that this one has quite a ‘pure’ aim behind it, in that it celebrates the qualities that make a novel officially ‘good’, and that it can help to launch the careers of first-time novelists that really deserve recognition. Reading through the longlist it also seems that the titles chosen are a good mix of ‘buzzy’ popular titles and slightly under-the-radar books that need a little more exposure. To me it looks like a healthy mix of genres too, with no one type of novel being particularly favoured.

Of course this year everyone has picked up on the fact that the majority of the longlist is made up of books written by women. The Prize’s website identifies this as a trend, with three of the five previous winners having been women. Personally I think this is totally irrelevant – there is more then enough comment in the media about the proportions of men and women achieving or doing this or that, and for a literary prize that celebrates pure talent and merit, I think gender should be ignored. The novels are what matters, and they should to an extent speak for themselves. To me the background, experiences, talents and techniques of the authors is much more interesting than whether they are a man or a woman.

Let’s have a look at the lovely covers of the long list: (all images from desmondelliottprize.org)

MarlowePapers_hb.indd the_universe_versus_alex_woods the_panopticon the_palace_of_curiosities petite_mort the_fields signs_of_life seldom_seen jammy_dodger the_painted_bridge

While I cannot critique each book on the list individually I feel this is a strong selection of titles. I love the variety and feel I could get along well with most of the novels, though some more than other obviously! I will hopefully be attending the Desmond Elliott event at Foyles on 30th May, at which authors from the Prize’s history will be reading from their work and discussing the 2013 Prize, as well as what inspires them to write. The event will be chaired by Robert Collins, deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times, and tickets as well as more information about the event are available here.

What do you think of the longlist? Have you read any of the titles? Comments welcome!

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Articles, Events

2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Announced!

So here it is! The shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013. I had no idea how many would be chosen when I made my predictions, and luckily all those on the shortlist are ones I predicted would be! But like I said, I chose a very wide range of possible titles. Still quite pleased.

The titles on the shortlist are (all images from womenspriceforfiction.co.uk):

245533_Book_Scans_S12-378x584 Flight-Behaviour-378x568 life-after-life May-We-Be-Forgiven-378x578 245533_Book_Scans_S18-378x590 Whered-You-Go-Bernadette-378x576

Huge congratulations to all the authors, as well as their publishers! All the titles chosen have really impressed everyone who has read and reviewed them (I’ve got my eye on Where’d You Go Bernadette) and I reckon they are all worthy choices.

Personally I think Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith have a very good chance, but they are a bit ‘safe’ as they are already very successful. Everyone has been going nuts over Life After Life, so realistically I think that has a very high chance of winning.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday 5th June at a special awards party in London – I’m very excited to hear the winner’s name. Who do you think it will be?

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Articles, Events

Maggie O’Farrell Fever: The Heatwave Is Here!

This week sees the publication of the first book from Tinder Press, which is very exciting in itself; what’s even more exciting (I know) is the fact that it is the new novel by the much-loved Maggie O’Farrell. Instructions for a Heatwave is her sixth novel and the first of hers that I have read, although the interest and enthusiasm exhibited by dedicated fans for her novel The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox has got me reading that one now too. Personally I loved HeatwaveI reviewed it before Christmas and had to fight to stop myself gushing about how much I loved it.

In 1976 a heatwave struck Britain, halting life in its tracks and making people behave strangely. Robert Riordan goes out to buy the paper one morning and does not come back. His disappearance prompts his three estranged, grown up children to come home to their mother Gretta (a wonderfully drawn character that Maggie describes as ‘tragi-comic’), and their complicated and emotional relationships are reexamined in the light of their father’s mysterious disappearance. The three children, Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife are each given their own chapters and are depicted with enough depth of feeling as to almost make the reader feel as if they are real people.

To celebrate the publication of Instructions for a Heatwave, the amazing team at Tinder Press organised a host of events. On Tuesday 26th, excited fans (including me of course!) gathered at Waterstones Piccadilly to hear Maggie in conversation with The Observer’s Elizabeth Day, herself an admittedly huge fan of Maggie’s work. I already had a proof of the novel but I bought myself a lovely big hardback for Maggie to sign; it is a beautiful book, inside and out.

Gorgeous hardback!

Gorgeous hardback!

Maggie read beautifully from the book, and then sat down to a Q&A session with Elizabeth Day, taking questions from the audience as well. I’m always saying how interesting it is to hear an author talk about a book that you loved, and this occasion was no exception. To hear an author read their own work aloud is also fantastic, as you hear how it is ‘meant’ to sound, how it was first conceived of. Maggie has a lovely speaking voice and she read clearly and with great character, entertaining the audience and bringing this fantastic book and its characters to life.

Maggie couldn't help but laugh with the audience at the subtle humour in her novel

Maggie couldn’t help but laugh with the audience at the subtle humour in her novel

Elizabeth Day was a wonderful host and, having met Maggie before, created a lovely relaxed atmosphere in which discussion came easily. The audience was enraptured. When asked about feminism and gender issues, both in the novel and in real life, Maggie spoke of how feminism is ‘common sense’ to her and that she kept the radical feminist movement of the 1970s in mind when she wrote the character of Claire, Michael Francis’ wife, in the sense that Claire may have heard about these issues and was probably thinking about them when dealing with her troubled marriage and trying to create a place for herself in the world.

I was rather pleased by Maggie’s answer when Elizabeth Day asked her what she thought about being pigeonholed as a writer of ‘women’s fiction’ that was only about domestic life; Maggie argued that all life is really about family, as they are a crucial influence on us throughout our lives. In her research for Heatwave she read many books about families, and even found herself reading Hamlet – as she pointed out, that too is a story about a family.

Then came the inevitable discussion about the character of Aoife, the youngest sibling. She lives far away from the rest of her family in New York, and her life is something of a mystery to them. Her biggest secret is that she is not able to read, something she keeps from every single person in her life. To the reader it soon becomes clear that Aoife has dyslexia, as she describes how letters seem to move and change in front of her eyes. But of course Aoife lives in a world that does not yet recognise her condition, and she feels there must be something wrong with her. Her predicament creates, Maggie said, an interesting relationship between Aoife and the reader, as we know she is dyslexic but she does not. The reader is also the only one to share Aoife’s secret and this creates a deep sense of sympathy with her. To me she was the most real,  the most engaging, the most likeable. When asked why she chose to give Aoife dyslexia, Maggie’s answer was twofold: her son was diagnosed with dyslexia while she was writing the novel; and also that because Aoife is the youngest she felt that she needed some kind of curse or burden, like the youngest children often do in fairytales. This added, for me, an extra spark to Aoife’s character, and further marked her out as special in some way.

Maggie O'Farrell in conversation with Elizabeth Day

Maggie O’Farrell in conversation with Elizabeth Day

The next night it was the official launch party for Instructions for a Heatwave. After a long day at work I was ready to collapse on the sofa, but made my way over to a townhouse on Fitzroy Square for what turned out to be a really great evening. In two high-ceilinged green rooms, publishing bods, as well as authors, journalists, bloggers, and members of Maggie’s family (including her three adorable children) milled around and chatted, drinking champagne and white wine and eating yummy little canapes that were presented on a variety of impractically shaped platters (one was like a giant ruler, another was like a flight of stairs…). Having met Headline publicist extraordinaire Georgina Moore at the Waterstones event, I went over and said hello, and was introduced to two fellow bloggers, both called Amanda, from book blog One More Page and fashion and lifestyle blog The Women’s Room. It is always great to meet fellow bloggers and hear their perspectives on the book in question. The Women’s Room is more of a fashion blog but Amanda was really enthusiastic about Heatwave and very eager to hear more about book blogging, and I was happy to pass on my knowledge.

Mary-Anne Harrington, Tinder Press editor, congratulates Maggie

Mary-Anne Harrington, Tinder Press editor, congratulates Maggie

Mary-Anne Harrington from Tinder Press made a great little speech about Maggie and her work, and congratulated both the author and the publishing team for all their hard work. Maggie was then persuaded to come up and say a few words, and she was very gracious in accepting praise and very grateful that we had all turned out for the event. Then it was time for a splash more wine, and lots more mingling. I was lucky enough to chat to the lady of the hour, as well as Georgina and Sam Eades from Tinder Press, and Emily from editorial at Headline. Everyone was so welcoming and happy to be there, and the party had a great feel to it and plenty of chatter that I’m sure could be heard outside. Well done Tinder for organising such a great event!

Maggie O'Farrell thanks everyone for their support and for coming to the event

Maggie O’Farrell thanks everyone for their support and for coming to the event

I loved reading Instructions for a Heatwave, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the press events this week. Meeting Maggie and the amazing team at Tinder Press has been a joy, and has added an extra layer of appreciation for the work they do. I cannot wait for the Tinder Press launch party, to which most of the authors will be coming (amazing!!), and for the individual events to promote each title. Congratulations to Tinder and Maggie O’Farrell for a job well done.

Thanks Maggie!

Thanks Maggie!

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Articles, Events

Susannah Cahalan at Foyles

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness has been one of my favourite recents reads. It is enthralling, fascinating, and moving, as well as brilliantly written; so, of course, I jumped at the chance to see author and New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan speak about her work and the life-changing experiences which the book details. I reviewed it in January and am still thinking about it.

Susannah reading from Brain on Fire

Susannah reading from Brain on Fire

Susannah appeared to have some sort of breakdown at the age of 24, unable to work and behaving strangely. She also had terrifying seizures that resulted in her admission to an epilepsy ward; but it wasn’t epilepsy. Susannah’s bizarre behaviour, delusions, paranoia, lack of motor skills, affected speech and lack of emotions clearly signalled that something else was wrong. After undergoing every test in the book and seeing a number of doctors, she was diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Essentially part of her brain was inflamed because her immune system was attacking it, affecting her ability to function, to think and to feel.

Susannah’s extreme symptoms made it seem as if she had ‘gone mad’. In fact, at one point doctors thought she had schizoaffective disorder. The research that lead to her diagnosis and treatment, by two amazing doctors, Dr Dalmau and Dr Najjar, could be used to change the way that mental illnesses are diagnosed and treated forever. This is astounding, wonderful, potentially life-changing for so many people.

Brain on Fire on the shelves at Foyles, in the Psychology section

Brain on Fire on the shelves at Foyles, in the Psychology section

In the Cafe at Foyles, Susannah Cahalan was in conversation with Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, who suffered from encephalitis as a child. She read from Brain on Fire and gave candid answers to questions and words of thanks from the audience, many of whom had been affected by encephalitis is some way. It is always wonderful to hear a writer talk about their work in person, and Susannah was charming and funny, as well as honest and sincere. It was quite moving to hear fellow encephalitis sufferers share their stories, and many of them talked and exchanged details after the event. The possibilities for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness added an extra poignancy to the subject matter, and I couldn’t help feel moved. Susannah has been the only writer that I have actually been quite nervous to meet, as well as excited, because I admire her so much. I wished I could have talked to her more about her fantastic book.

So glad I got to meet this brilliant woman

So glad I got to meet the author of this wonderful book!

Huge thanks to Karen Browning at Penguin for telling me about Brain on Fire in the first place, and for inviting me to this event. Click here to hear Susannah discussing her experience and her book on BBC Woman’s Hour from Monday 4th February 2013.

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How To Be A Good Wife at St John’s Wood Library

Tonight was author Emma Chapman’s first official event for her brilliant debut novel, How To Be A Good Wife. I reviewed the novel back in October and it was great to finally meet Emma after corresponding on Twitter and via email, as well as to hear her speak about her work.

photo

Sitting in the children’s section of St John’s Wood library (an interesting juxtaposition given the dark psychological subject matter of the novel), Emma read beautifully to an enraptured audience, choosing a passage in the book that illustrates narrator Marta’s burgeoning suspicions that her husband is not all that he appears to be. Then it was time for Q&A. It is always interesting to hear other people’s questions and interpretations, as they are often completely different from what you have been thinking about the book. A lot was said about the intentional ambiguity in the book, and the question of whether Marta’s memories are real, or if she really is losing her mind.

It was also fascinating to hear Emma talk about the various drafts of the book, and earlier versions of the story in which Hector was an entirely benevolent character, or in which Marta remembered everything perfectly, but it was nothing to do with Hector and so she kept it a secret from him. The progression and evolution of a story in this sense helps the reader to understand the layers and potential truths within the book, and the possibilities that exist around it.

photo

photo

Emma also stated she wrote several different endings before choosing the one in the finished story. I agreed when she said that none of these would have seemed quite right for Marta, and they would not have fitted in with the arc of her story, nor her character. Emma said that for Marta and for her as a writer, the ending was the most positive thing she could do, and an appropriate conclusion.

It was a fantastic evening and I’m so glad I went. I’ve quite a lot of literary events on my calendar in the next couple of months, and this has really whet my appetite for them!

2013 hardback cover. Image: picador.com

2013 hardback cover. Image: picador.com

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How To Be A Good Wife was published in hardback by Picador on 3rd January 2013

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Impromptu visit to see Neil Gaiman at The Cambridge Theatre

While I finish off my review of Freshta I thought I’d share with you the pictures I managed to take on Monday night. Now, I’m currently an intern at Duckworth Publishers, and my boss Jamie had a ticket for Monday night, but was too ill to go, so very kindly gave it to me. This ticket just happened to be for an evening at The Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden (where they do Matilda, hence the set) to see Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman talking about Pullman’s new versions of the Grimms’ fairy tales. I thought, why not. The evening was hosted/moderated by Rosie Boycott, and authors Meg Rosoff and Audrey Niffenegger stood in for Philip Pullman, with Rosoff chatting with Gaiman and Niffenegger reading one of his new fairy tales at the start. This was called ‘The Three Snake Leaves’ and was excellent. Gaiman wrote about the event here.

Gaiman reading a new short story ‘The Click Clack The Rattle Bag’

The evening closed with Neil Gaiman reading a new short story of his called ‘The Click Clack The Rattle Bag’. It was terrifying and excellent, and is available to download from Audible. For every download, Audible will donate money to educational charities through BookTrust.org. Find out more and download the story here.

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Grimm Tales for Young and Old by Philip Pullman was published on 27th September 2012 by Penguin. The tenth anniversary edition of Coraline by Neil Gaiman was published on 2nd August 2012 by Bloomsbury.

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Grazyna Plebanek and Maggie Gee In Conversation at Belgravia Books

I was lucky enough to receive an advance proof of Grazyna Plebanek’s first novel to be translated into English, Illegal Liaisons, from publisher Stork Press. Stork Press are based in London and publish English editions of work by writers from Central and Eastern Europe: Plebanek is from Poland, and lives in Brussels, and has been very successful in Europe. Now, Stork Press have brought her latest work to the UK. Hopefully more of her work, including her back catalogue, will be translated into English.

2012 paperback cover

I reviewed Illegal Liaisons a couple of weeks ago to a great response from the publisher and author, as well as my readers. Stork Press liked it so much they sent me a gorgeous final copy as soon as they came in, and another of their novels, Freshta by Czech author Petra Prochazkova, which I have just finished reading and will review very soon. Extremely flattered and having really loved Illegal Liaisons, and with lots more I wanted to ask and to know, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to this great little event at independent bookshop Belgravia Books.

Belgravia Books

It is always interesting, whether good or bad, to meet the author of a book you like and to hear them talk about their work. I was fascinated not only by Plebanek’s work but also by the interview she did for the Stork Press blog, in which she talked about her motivations and process for writing Illegal Liaisons, and her thoughts on sexuality, passion, love, and gender. Luckily Maggie Gee asked wonderfully simple but insightful questions, prompting Plebanek to speak frankly about her inspiration and process. She cited Anais Nin as an influence and inspiration when writing about sexuality and relationships between men and women; and sitting with a male friend watching women walk past and asking him to comment on them in order for her to gain some insight into how men see women sexually. There is a lot of sex in this novel, and Plebanek’s narrator is male, so it is not surprising she had to do a little research to form his viewpoint.

No one in this novel is faithful. All relationships seem to be duplicitous and no one seems satisfied with what they have, no matter how great it is. I wondered if there is any belief in love and togetherness in this novel, any hope for a faithful relationship. When asked about the possibility of faithful love, both Plebanek and Gee agreed that the only faithful love in Illegal Liaisons is between parents and children – that is the only relationship that brings any of the characters any real happiness or sense of satisfaction.

Grazyna Plebanek

With everyone being so unfaithful, there is the question of morality. Gee asked Plebanek if she was a moralist, and this lead me to be brave enough to raise my hand and ask if it was intentional that there is no real judgment from the narrator about the behaviour of the characters. Plebanek answered that yes, this was intentional – none of the characters are better or worse than each other, no gender is better or worse. We are all flawed and dishonest sometimes, and we all have the capacity to lie and betray. That said, there is hope for love in this novel, in whatever form it may take.

I was glad that although there was plenty of discussion about sex and relationships, Gee and Plebanek also discussed the politics of the novel. The central group are foreigners living in Brussels, and most of them, like Jonathan’s wife Megi, work for the European Commission, which Gee stated hangs over the group and indeed Brussels like an oppressive force and the only way to progress is to work for it. Jonathan does not. He writes, and looks after the children, and conducts his affair with Andrea, who also does not work for the Commission. They are rebelling, breaking the accepted rules of lifestyle – what they are doing is ‘illegal’ not in the literal sense but in the sense that it is taboo (even though everyone else is screwing around) and not the same as everyone else (they all work for the Commission). Gee stated it was an interesting choice of title for a novel set in the political and strictly law-abiding city of Brussels. It is practically satirical.

Maggie Gee

Some literary events are better than others. The bad ones are a bit quiet and awkward, and only people who already know each other talk. On this occasion, this was not the case. In the small but pleasant space of Belgravia Books, everyone sipped their free wine (thank you Polish Cultural Institute!) and talked freely. I was lucky enough to talk to Maggie Gee (I even bought her memoir, My Animal Life), and Grazyna Plebanek, and they both remembered my review and signed my books for me. A very interesting and successful evening in a lovely venue. Read this book!

My signed copy of Illegal Liaisons!

And Maggie Gee signed my copy of My Animal Life!

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Illegal Liaisons was published on 15th October 2012 by Stork Press. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review.

My Animal Life was published in July 2011 by Telegram Books.

You can see pictures from this event on Stork Press’s Facebook page here.

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Events, Fiction, Reviews

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe and a Peirene Press Experience at Senate House

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard of Peirene Press – they are a small publisher bringing European literature to a British audience in translation. They publish their beautiful little books (all are intentionally short) in series of threes, each with a theme. Sea of Ink by Swiss author Richard Weihe is the third book in the ‘Small Epic’ series, which also includes The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul, which I reviewed here.

Peirene Press 2012 edition

Sea of Ink tells the imagined life story of a real figure – the painter Bada Shanren, one of the most influential and highly revered Chinese painters of all time. The book comprises 51 short chapters that are intended as snapshots of the man’s life – from before his birth to his death. Bada Shanren was born as the Prince Zhu Da of the Ming dynasty. When it fell, he went into hiding and became an artist. He changed his name regularly to coordinate with the changes and shifts he went through as an artist.

This snapshot method of telling the story meant that, for me, the book almost read more like a poem than a novel. Lots of short sentences and very little dialogue, but with beautiful imagery and plenty of Chinese wisdom and philosophy. In this sense it is not a conventional novel. To me it felt more like an essay or one of a series of life snapshots.

One of Bada Shanren’s many images of fish

The only problem I had with Sea of Ink was the lack of emotional engagement with the central character. Again like a poem, the writing holds you at a certain distance from the subject, as well as the passage of time. This means that the reader feels a certain amount of detachment and never really connects with Bada Shanren as a person. Photographs of his paintings are included in the book, and these help to bring to life the stages of his journey – many of them serve to express his feelings where words cannot.

This issue of emotional depth and sympathy for the main character was raised in the Q&A section of the Peirene Press Experience with Richard Weihe at Senate House library on Wednesday night. The evening was a mixture of readings from the book (by actor Adam Venus), music from composer Fabian Kuenzli, and a talk from author Weihe. The readings were vivid and lyrical, and the music, played on the clarinet, was composed in response to the novel. There was also an early 20th century jazz composition that suited the text well. Weihe spoke with passion about seeing one of Bada Shanren’s paintings in a museum in Zurich and being fascinated by the process and intentions of it, and of course the man who painted it. This lead him to research what little information there is on the 17th century artist, and to write Sea of Ink. Peirene have uploaded footage of the evening’s performances to their YouTube channel, which can be seen here.

Richard Weihe

As Marketing Manager Maddy Pickard said to me on the night, it is lovely to have literary events that are a little different – that contain something beyond a reading. The music added another dimension to the text and it was amazing to hear Weihe talk about his book with such passion, almost as if he were delivering a lecture to students rather than an informal talk to a room full of readers.

Peirene Press consistently produce excellent literature and I highly recommend reading any of their books. Sea of Ink is beautiful and sad, and I think it will really appeal to anyone with an interest in art, history, philosophy, and poetry. So, most of you then!

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Sea of Ink was published in English in September 2012 by Peirene Press, and is available at peirenepress.com/shop. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review.

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Liza Klaussmann at The British Library

I loved Tigers in Red Weather so much, I jumped at the opportunity to see author Liza Klaussmann doing a reading and be interviewed at The British Library. The interview was conducted by Naomi Wood, the Writer in Residence at the Eccles Centre for American Studies at The BL. Wood is a writer in her own right, and has an obvious love for Tigers in Red Weather and an admiration for Klaussmann. So, at 6.45pm on Monday 3rd September I bought myself a glass of wine and assembled with other “literary types” in the Bronte Room of the BL Conference Centre to hear Klaussmann read from the novel, and hear Wood ask her what we all wanted to know.

The main piazza of The British Library

Klaussmann read beautifully. Choosing a couple of scenes at the tennis club in Daisy’s section of the novel, Klaussmann centred in on the key scene just before the younger members of the family discover a body hidden behind the country club. Hearing the text in the original American accent helped to bring it to life – it is always great to hear an author read their own work. One feels that is how it is supposed to sound.

Wood asked insightful questions that prompted Klaussmann to chat quite informally about her work and  making us all laugh. She said that the murder (don’t worry, not giving anything away) creates a ‘seismic shift’ that exposes the flaws within the family – but that it is not the focus of the novel. Rather it acts as a catalyst that sets the main story in motion.

Klaussmann also spoke about her writing process. The novel is set on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, just off the coast of Massachusetts. It is a place Klaussmann knows well, having spent summers there as a child and currently having a house there; but she also lives in London, and this is where she wrote Tigers in Red Weather. While there are a few scenes in London, Florida and LA, the majority of the action occurs on Martha’s Vineyard – but Klaussmann actively chose not to write there. She and Wood agreed that being in the place you’re writing about gets you too caught up in the ‘exactness’ of it – the layout of the town, the length of the street. Being across the sea in London allowed Klaussmann to focus on her characters and create a fictional Martha’s Vineyard for them to live in.

A huge consideration for Klaussmann when plotting the novel and developing the relationships between the characters was the post-war feeling in America that you had to be grateful and happy now that the war was over – you weren’t allowed to be unhappy. Klaussmann stated that it is this search for happiness that ultimately makes the characters unhappy. Their unhappiness leads to the circumstantial destruction of each other, as they all try to be happy individually.

Tigers has been out since August, and so Wood naturally asked about the reception in the UK and the US. Klaussmann said, interestingly, that readers and critics in the US were more concerned with the likeability of the characters that those over here in the UK. To me this spoke of a cultural need to like everyone and have everyone like you in return; in the UK we’re more comfortable with accepting it if we don’t like someone or they don’t like us. That’s just my opinion.

Lastly, I smiled quite a lot at Klaussmann’s sincere recommendation of Royal Holloway as a place to study – I studied there and loved it. Well done RHUL.

After the talk we all mingled and had some more wine and I was lucky enough to meet Emma from Picador, with whom I have corresponded about Tigers, as well as Klaussmann herself, who very kindly signed my copy for me. It is lovely to meet a writer who is as likeable and charming as you hoped they would be, and Klaussmann did not disappoint. Her sense of humour and ability to relax her audience is part of why she is so great a writer, and so charming a person to meet. Her laugh is also brilliant.

My signed copy

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Tigers in Red Weather was published in August 2012 by Picador and is available everywhere.

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Events, Reviews

Delicacy by David Foenkinos – The Real Readers Experience!

Real Readers is a scheme set up by AMS Digital Publishing, who also run the popular review sites Book Dagger, Book Geeks, Book Hugger and the newsletter Book Breeze. Real Readers was set up in order to allow bloggers and people who just really like reading to review books before their release and review them across the web, on Amazon, GoodReads, Shelfari and their own blogs. Well-written and prompt reviews get ‘Karma’ points, and the reviewer gets more books sent to them. Win-win! In the case of French novel Delicacy by David Foenkinos, this also meant reviewing the new film adaptation of the book, as well as the book itself.

So, I received a very pretty copy of Delicacy in the post last week, and on Friday 10th attended a private screening of the film at the Soho Screening Rooms. Having spent four hours lounging about in the 5th floor cafe of Waterstones Piccadilly (highly recommended), drinking hot chocolate and finishing reading Delicacy, I was eager to see how it had been adapted to film. One of Real Readers’ organisers, Simon Appleby, was there to greet us, and once everyone had arrived we filed in to the teeny screening room. Having finished the book an hour or two before, I was immersed in Foenkinos’ imaginary Paris, and had much of the book fresh in my mind as I watched the film.

2011 English language paperback edition

The premise of Delicacy is deceptively simple. Natalie is having coffee one day when a handsome young man comes up to talk to her. This is Francois. One thing leads to another, and, soon, they are married. One Sunday, Natalie is reading and on the sofa and Francois goes out for a run and gets hit by a car. He dies. For three years Natalie throws herself into work, fending off her boss’ flirtations and waiting to become an old maid. Then, on a particularly daydream-y afternoon, she impulsively kisses her average-looking colleague Markus. He is head-over-heels; she forgets it even happened. The rest of the book is the story of what happened next – the story of Natalie and Markus. Not always easy or fun, but always unexpected.

At only 250 pages this is a short and sweet book. There are 115 chapters, all of which are pleasingly short and sweet too. Every now and then an entire chapter is taken up with lists and facts, which serve as a charming diversion from the main story that suggest the wealth of life behind the fraction of it we are seeing in these pages.

The underlying sadness of the story adds a depth not usually present in novels with such pretty covers – a depth that Foenkinos demonstrates through deliberate prose and the short chapters that often end on a poignant or thought-provoking moment.

At times the story lapses into ‘standard’ relationship drama, but Foenkinos always brings us back with moments of literary excellence: ‘Every day near her had been the huge but surreptitious conquest of a veritable empire of the heart.’ No words are wasted in this novel and there are several small and beautiful moments that really make you stop, put down the book for a moment, and think about what you have just read.

2011 English language film poster

The film is beautiful too. I was eager to see what changes had been made to the original story and how these would affect the overall work. Happily the changes made did not ruin the tone of the story nor the personalities or relationships of the characters. My only complaint about the changes was that they did not include Markus’ fantastic line from page 95: ‘But that moment was the realest of my life.’ After reading it, I stopped and had a ‘moment’. It was wonderful.

The use of music is subtle and effective, really evoking an atmosphere and helping to create mood. Along with the music, the gentle humour (often visual) worked very well with the sadder elements of the story, as it does in the novel. Audrey Tautou was as charming and subtle in her performance as ever, and managed to have good chemistry with every other character. The addition of her best friend (not present in the novel) worked surprisingly well – it added another dimension to her character and allowed her to speak the feelings that Foenkinos only describes in the book.

Look out for office secretary Ingrid. She is not in the novel but here is an obvious visual reference to the character of Joan Holloway from ‘Mad Men’ – red hair, large bust, gold pen on a gold chain around her neck, a red v-neck sweater paired with a purple pencil skirt. She is the French Joan!

Author David Foenkinos

Delicacy has won every literary award in France, apparently the first novel ever to do this, and the film adaptation has been highly successful too. Audrey Tautou is a major attraction for many cinema-goers, and she is brilliant, but there are many more reasons to see the film, and read the book too.

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Delicacy was originally published as La Delicatesse in France in 2009 by Gallimard. It was published in the UK in English in 2011 by Bloomsbury. My copy was kindly provided by Real Readers and Bloomsbury for review.

‘La Delicatesse’ was released in France in 2011, and as ‘Delicacy’ in the UK, also in 2011.

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