‘Fresh Complaint’ is a collection of 10 short stories by Jeffrey Eugenides. The first and last stories in the collection, ‘Complainers’ and ‘Fresh Complaint’, are new and have never been published before while the rest have appeared in the New Yorker and other magazines over the past three decades or so.
Eugenides’ three novels to date have all been completely different from the dreamy tone of ‘The Virgin Suicides’ to a Greek family saga in 20th century Detroit in ‘Middlesex’ to a love triangle between three recent graduates of a liberal arts college in ‘The Marriage Plot’. In contrast, money, debt and nostalgia appear to be loosely recurring themes in ‘Fresh Complaint’ across a similarly diverse set of scenarios which often focus on characters in some sort of personal crisis. In ‘Early Money’ a musician attempts to hide from the debt collectors tracking him down after he borrowed $27,000 to spend on a clavichord while the title story sees an Indian-American teenage girl plan her escape from the prospect of an arranged marriage which has serious consequences for a visiting British professor she encounters. Continue reading
As part of my continuing efforts to read more books from the back catalogues of my favourite authors, I have recently read ‘The Innocent’ by Ian McEwan which tells the story of Leonard Marnham, a twenty-five-year-old British Post Office engineer who has been recruited to work in Berlin in the mid-1950s as part of Operation Gold, a joint Anglo-American top secret project which involved building a tunnel under the Russian sector of Berlin in order to tap communication lines. When Leonard falls in love with an older German divorcee, Maria Eckdorf, their relationship soon becomes entangled with the operation with far-reaching consequences. Continue reading
‘Purity’ by Jonathan Franzen tells the story of Pip, a college graduate in her 20s living in Oakland, California and deeply in debt who is offered the chance to take an internship with the Sunlight Project in Bolivia led by East German peace activist Andreas Wolf. Pip hopes that working for the Sunlight Project – a Wikileaks-style organisation which traffics secrets – will lead her to some answers about her origins including the identity of her father. Her work eventually takes her to Denver where she meets investigative journalist Tom Aberant who has connections with Andreas and knows his darkest secret. Continue reading
The Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist was announced today. The 13 books are:
4321 by Paul Auster
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Autumn by Ali Smith
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I only started blogging about my predictions for literary award longlists relatively recently. Three of my Man Booker Prize predictions last year made it on to the longlist of 13 titles, and two of them also made the final six, which I thought was a pretty good success rate considering the vast number of eligible books.
This year’s longlist is due to be announced on Thursday 27th July and I have once again been thinking about predictions in terms of likely possibilities and my personal preferences. I have read some brilliant books over the past year which I believe very much deserve to be recognised but I think other titles may have a better chance of being longlisted. Some of the possibilities are books I haven’t read yet and as ever, I also have no knowledge of which books have actually been submitted for consideration. Continue reading
I’ve had a copy of ‘On Beauty’ by Zadie Smith on my shelf for ages but as it is based on ‘Howards End’ by E. M. Forster, I decided to read the latter first about six years ago as I usually prefer to have some knowledge of the source material when reading an adaptation or homage to another book. However, I didn’t get on with ‘Howards End’ at all and consequently I have neglected ‘On Beauty’ for a very long time, but after enjoying Smith’s latest novel Swing Time so much last year, I wanted to try what is arguably her finest book.
‘The Valentine House’ by Emma Henderson is set in the French Alps at Arete, a large chalet built by Sir Anthony Valentine in the late nineteenth century and used as a summer house by the family across several generations. In 1914, Mathilde, a local girl from the valley, is selected by Sir Anthony’s wife Lady Charlotte to work as a servant at Arete on account of her being one of the ‘uglies’ and therefore less likely to catch Sir Anthony’s wandering eye. Mathilde gradually becomes acquainted with the quirks of this strange English family until she is betrayed by Sir Anthony’s granddaughter Daisy. Decades later in 1976, Sir Anthony’s great-great-grandson George is visiting Arete with his cousins, continuing many of the Valentine traditions such as the outdoor physical challenges known as ‘paideia’. With Mathilde’s help, they finally uncover the mystery surrounding the fate of Sir Anthony’s daughter Margaret. Continue reading