Thursday, 28 July 2011

Du Maurier House For Sale Again?

According to London's Evening Standard, the house that inspired some of some of Daphne du Maurier's greatest novels, including Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek, is to go on sale.  If true, this will be the second time in as many years that the house has changed hands (It sold for approx £1.85 million in 2009.)

Situated in a picturesque part of Cornwall, the house was originally built as a coach house for Point Neptune, another stunning abode which is now home to comedienne and author, Dawn French.  Sheltered by scenic Cornish cliffs, it is overlooked by both St Catherine's Castle and the medieval part of the town of Fowey.

Daphne du Maurier
Although she only lived there for two years (1942 - 1944), du Maurier's love affair with the house and with Cornwall in general would last until her death in 1989.

Interestingly, despite the property's unique literary pedigree, the asking price has dropped to  £1.79 million.  It seems not even the great du Maurier is immune to the current economic malaise!

Book Reviews - New Releases!

Click on the link for reviews of the following upcoming titles.

The Year After by Martin Davies (Published by Hodder)
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner (Published by W. Heinemann)
What I Did by Christopher Wakling (Published by John Murray)

With thanks to The Bookseller and We Love This Book.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Strikes Again!

Yesterday, the High Court in London handed down a judgement which will strike terror into the hearts of book reviewers everywhere.

A judge ordered the Telegraph newspaper to pay £65,000 (US$100,000), in addition to court costs, to an author who claimed journalist Lynn Barber had libelled her in a review.

The author in question is Dr Sarah Thornton, whose book Seven Days in the Art World received a less-than-complimentary review from the famously acerbic Ms Barber.

Dr Thornton’s claim is based on the fact that Ms Barber, who is interviewed in the book, stated that no such interview took place. However, Dr Thornton was able to prove that the interview DID occur, and believes that Ms Barber’s denials have undermined her credibility as an author and journalist. (Dr Thornton regularly writes on the subject of contemporary art for The Economist).

The judge agreed that Dr Thornton has suffered as a result of this review, stating that the review contained serious factual errors and was ‘spiteful’.  He awarded damages of £50,000 for libel and £15,000 for malicious falsehood.

However, this is not the first time Barber (whose memoirs were dramatized in the Oscar-nominated film, An Education) has courted controversy – in fact, she seems to revel in it. During her long journalistic career, her rather direct and often merciless style of interviewing earned her the sobriquet ‘The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.’ And if that wasn’t enough to ensure her notoriety, her famously outspoken personality certainly is. Last year, she shocked Radio 4’s rather sedate audience by claiming, on the programme Desert Island Discs, to have slept with fifty men during her first two terms at Oxford. She also ruffled feathers when she publically denounced the intelligence of her mother, who was by this time quite elderly, by declaring that she had a ‘beta brain’.

Dr Sarah Thorton
So, will this latest controversy succeed, where others have failed, in finally chastening the barbed Barber?

One thinks most likely not.

The Telegraph has said they will appeal the decision at the earliest possible opportunity.

On This Day in Art History

On this day (June 27) in 1890, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in a wheat field near the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise.  He died two days later at the age of 37.

Van Gogh's suicide was the tragic culmination of years of mental and physical illness. (It has been said that he suffered from epilesy, schizophrenia, a disorder of the inner ear, among other ailments.  He was also thought to be addicted to absinthe, the mind-bending alcoholic drink, which was also known as the Green Dragon or the Green Fairy).

The artist left behind a priceless legacy of impressionist masterpieces.  His genius, however, went unrecognised in his lifetime.  He died a pauper, having only ever sold one of his paintings, Red Vineyard in Arles.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Musical Reconciliation ... of sorts

The Bayreuth Festival, the celebration of all things Wagnerian which takes place every year in the composer’s hometown, marks its 100th anniversary this year. And yesterday, it kicked off in style, with a controversial interpretation of the composer’s opera, Tannhäuser.

This, however, will not be the festival’s main attraction, nor its most contentious. That honour falls to the Israeli Chamber Orchestra who will perform the Siegfried Idyll in the composer’s home town tonight.

The recital will mark the first time Israeli musicians have played a Wagner piece in Germany. Indeed, Israeli opposition to the German composer runs so deep that the orchestra did not even rehearse the piece in their homeland, preferring to wait until the arrived in Germany to begin preparations.

It is hardly surprising that the subject of Richard Wagner is such a highly-charged and emotional issue for the people of Israel. A favourite of Hitler and the Nazi party, the composer’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) was played every year on the opening night of the Nuremberg Rallies. Indeed, Wagner’s music provided the soundtrack to the rise of Third Reich. Used almost exclusively to advance the personality cult of Adolf Hitler, and to mythologize the notion of a heroic German master-race, Richard Wagner, for good or ill, has become indelibly associated with Nazism.

So, while neither the composer nor the people of Israel will ever be wholly free from the spectre of Hitler and Nazism, perhaps tonight’s performance will go some way towards finally laying a painful past to rest.

The Bayreuth Festival continues until August 28th.

Quote of the Day

To celebrate the announcement of this year's Man Booker longlist, today's quote comes courtesy of the novelist and short story writer, Tibor Fisher, who was on the Man Booker judging panel in 2004.
"I remain bitterly disappointed no one tried to bribe me."
Given the chair of this year's judging panel is Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, it's probably fair to say that there will no bribing going on this year either!

Man Booker Prize 2011 - Longlist announced!

The books longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize have just been announced.

The 'Booker's Dozen' are:

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
Sebastian Barry On Canaan's Side (Faber)
Carol Birch Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail - Profile)
Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger's Child (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)
Alison Pick Far to Go (Headline Review)
Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
D.J. Taylor Derby Day (Chatto & Windus - Random House)

The titles were chosen by a committee of five judges chaired by the author and former Director-General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington.

The shortlist of six titles will be announced on September 6, while the winner will be crowned at London's Guildhall on October 18.

Click here for a LoveLifeFoodArt review of Pigeon English:

Monday, 18 July 2011

In A Strange Room - Damon Galgut

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010, In A Strange Room is the second offering by South African author Damon Galgut to be considered for this prestigious literary award. (The first was The Good Doctor, which was shortlisted for the prize in 2003.) After reading just the first couple of pages of In A Strange Room, it becomes obvious to the reader why Galgut is a perennial favourite of the Man Booker judges, despite losing out to DBC Pierre and Howard Jacobson in 2003 and 2010 respectively.

In A Strange Room is a highly accomplished, if completely unconventional, piece of work. Masquerading as a set of three stories which document the travels of ‘Damon’ (the protagonist) around Lesotho, Central Africa and India, it soon becomes clear that this triptych of prose is more than just a collection of run-of-the-mill travel writings. Exploring themes of love, loss, loneliness, suicide and death, the book takes the reader on a journey which transcends the geographical. As we follow Damon’s aimless meandering around vast swathes of Africa and India, and witness his inability to form lasting human connections, we come to the uncomfortable realisation that his relentless travelling is really just a desperate, but ultimately futile, attempt to escape from himself. Galgut forces the reader to examine Damon’s motivations, and by default, our own ... which can sometimes make for uncomfortable reading.

Damon Galgut
But perhaps the real success of this book lies in the unconventionality of its construction. Although classified as a novel, In A Strange Room is a piece of work that simply refuses to be defined. Throughout, the reader finds himself constantly trying, and failing, to pigeonhole this book into a specific genre. Is it fact or fiction? Memoir or travelogue? Novel or a collection of longish short-stories? The answer, of course, is all of the above. And therein lies the book’s appeal. In his blatant flouting of genre, the author creates a sense of dislocation and other-worldliness which complements the protagonist’s feeling of displacement. This blurring of distinctions is something at which Galgut excels, and it is a talent not confined to the differentiations of genre - the author’s haphazard approach to punctuation (in particular, his apparent disdain for the question mark) is similarly rebellious and equally beneficial to the book as a whole.

In A Strange Room is a profoundly moving and insightful commentary on the inherent loneliness of the human condition and the fragility of all human relationships. Haunting, evocative and completely mesmerizing, it is a must-read for anyone interested in the complex nature of our interactions with ourselves and the world we live in.

4 / 5
In A Strange Room is published by Atlanntic Books, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd.

Friday, 15 July 2011

On This Day (15th July) ... in brief

1099: The city of Jerusalem surrended to the Christian Crusaders.

1606: The Dutch master, Rembrandt, was born in Leiden in the Netherlands.

1799: The Rosetta Stone (which now resides in the British Museum) was found in Egypt by soldiers in Napoleon's army.

1919: Novelist Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin.

1989: Pink Floyd, who were scheduled to play a concert in Venice, were instructed by city officials not to play at any louder than 60 decibels, to prevent any damage to surrounding buildings.

1997: Fashion designer, Gianni Versace, was shot dead on the steps of his Miami home.

2003: Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean-Spanish novelist and poet, died.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

JG Ballard - The End of an Era?

Hot on the heels of the demolition of Land’s End, the house featured in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel, The Great Gatsby, comes the news that yet another landmark of our literary heritage is in danger of destruction.

The book world is abuzz with the news that the modest suburban home of the novelist and futurologist, JG Ballard, has been put up for sale, almost 2 years after his death.  Bought in 1960, Ballard lived in the three-bedroom, semi-detached house in a quiet corner of Surrey, England, for 49 years, until he succumbed to prostate cancer in 2009.

Many of his most famous dystopian novels, including Crash and Cocaine Nights, were written in this house, whose walls also bore witness to Ballard’s personal struggles (after the sudden death of his beloved wife, Helen, in 1964, Ballard was forced to assume the role of single parent, raising his three children alone).

So attached was he to the house, he refused to move away, even as his novels were gaining widespread critical and commercial success. Throughout his life, Ballard resolutely eschewed all temptation to upgrade to a grander abode more fitting to his burgeoning bank balance.

The reason for Ballard’s steadfast refusal to move away from this ramshackle house can be found in his firm anti-consumerist beliefs.  He disliked the rampant consumerist nature of our society, and unlike many famous ‘objectors’, he truly practised what he preached.  Neighbours speak of the old broken-down car that sat in the driveway for fifteen years, or the ancient unicycle which has stood in the crowded hallway for just as long.  The paint in the tiny bathroom upstairs has been on the walls since the 1960s, and the stair carpet, which is barely tacked to the floor, is a danger to all and sundry.  The interior of the house has remained untouched for decades, and as such, it is a place of deep fascination to Ballard fans. This goes a long way to explaining why the proposed sale of this Ballardian relic is causing such widespread consternation.

Fearful that the interior of the house will be altered by new owners, thereby destroying an important literary legacy, Ballard’s fans have organised a campaign to raise funds to buy the property.
  If successful, they propose to preserve the property as a Ballard museum, which will undoubtedly become a must-see destination for the novelist’s innumerable devotees.  But, given that the sale of this house is generating widespread interest, Ballard’s fans may have a battle on their hands.  Ironically, for a man who was so against materialism, potential buyers of ‘Old Jim’s’ former home do not seem at all discouraged by the £320,000 price tag …

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Notable Quotable ... Page or Screen?

Today's Notable Quotable addresses the polarizing issue of film adaptations of literary classics. 

While many people love to see movie versions of their favourite books (Harry Potter fans, anyone?), many more detest the very idea of it.

It seems the novelist John le Carré falls into the latter category.  The following quote, attributed to the master of spy fiction, gives us a unique perspective on what it is like for a novelist to see their work transferred from page to screen ...
"Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bullion cubes."
I'm sure JK Rowling would beg to differ on this one ...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Strange ... But True

A single sheet of blank writing paper, with a rather unique provenance, is about to go under the hammer in the United States, with a rather hefty price tag.

The headed paper originates from the Nazi Party headquarters in Berlin and once belonged to none other than Adolf Hitler himself.

The sale is being organized by an auctioneer who specializes in historic military memorabilia and autographs. Described simply as ‘Lot 231’, the Adolf Hitler stationery is said to be in good condition, despite a slight discolouration and two horizontal folds.

This interesting, if somewhat unusual, relic of the villianous Nazi regime is expected to sell for around $150.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Rebirth of the House of Fabergé

For the first time in almost 100 years, the House of Fabergé has produced a new collection of the custom-made bejewelled eggs, similar to those which were once the cornerstone of the Fabergé brand. Not since the fall of Russia’s Imperial Family during the 1917 Russian Revolution has an egg been created by the master jewellers. This year, however, will see the introduction of 12 new pendant-eggs, which the company hopes to sell for up to £350,000 ($600,000) each.  This is the latest step in the painstaking restoration of a brand which has been in decline for nearly a century.

Peter Carl Fabergé
The House of Fabergé, founded in 1842 by Peter Carl Fabergé, suffered greatly as a result of its association with the ill-fated Romanov family. (The penultimate Tsar, Alexander III, commissioned an egg from the famed jewellery workshop every year as an Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Maria - a tradition continued by his son, Tsar Nicholas II after his father’s death). After the brutal execution of the Romanovs at the hands of the Bolsheviks, it soon became clear that there was no place in post-revolutionary Communist Russia for Fabergé or its brand of decadent luxury.  When his company was subsequently nationalised by Lenin and Co, Peter Carl Fabergé fled to exile in Switzerland where he died, heartbroken, in 1920.

The deterioration of the brand, which began with nationalisation by the Bolsheviks, was further aided by a succession of unsuccessful buyouts by companies such as Elizabeth Arden and Unilever during the 1970s and 1980s, which saw the company expand into the cosmetics industry (including an ill-advised foray into the Brut fragrance market).

The renaissance of Fabergé, has been a long time coming, but the company, now owned by a South African mining mogul, was determined to bide its time until the last lingering whiff of cheap Brut had evaporated. After a long wait, it is now felt that the time is right for the much-anticipated re-launch.

The Diaghilev Egg
One of the more ornate eggs in the new collection is the Diaghilev Egg (named after the impresario who brought us the spectacle that was the Ballet Russes). Crafted from white gold, and inset with 2,012 diamonds and rubies, the exqusite Diaghilev Egg is proof that the House of Fabergé, has finally come full-circle – with the ideologies of Russian communism now fading into the annals of history, the company is once again embracing the luxurious decadence which had for so long tarnished the brand.

So, will this new collection of custom-made pendant eggs restore the company to the glories enjoyed during its heyday in Imperial Russia? Well, if the intense media interest is any indicator, the answer is overwhelmingly yes.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Notable Quotable

Another memorable quote from Mark Twain. This time, he imparts a pearl of wisdom for all aspiring writers ...

"Substitute damn every time you're inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

Hmmm ... sound advice, although it might get a bit annoying for the unfortunate editor!