Did this novel really change the literary landscape?

You know I prefer to steer clear of novels which get the hype treatment. These days, it’s highly likely a book needing to be advertised as “the best ever”, means a publishing house is in need of your cash. Nowadays, “best ever” has no relation whatsoever with quality.

This was proven yet again this morning, by the Independent website. An article on the Bath Literature Festival bleated that a panel of judges had pinpointed THE novel which “… transformed the literary landscape.” Someone cackled he had been bowled over by “… the boldness of its narrative, its scene-setting …”. You get the bla-bla gist.

The best ever novel written in English according to this panel?
Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”.

A moment ago, I was nearly kicked out of a university library for laughing out loud and long. For the panel is of course not independent! Nor is this literature festival! The Bath Literature Festival is now called The Independent Bath Literature Festival.

Uhm – yes, there seems to be a link between this festival and the website the article was published on. Uhm – yes, it’s of course a sheer coincidence that a television adaptation of “Wolf Hall” is currently being broadcasted on BBC 2 television channel.

It is of course sheer coincidence, that one of the judges of the panel happens to blog and produce for the BBC. Another one just happens to be a literary agent. All the panel members write articles for newspapers. Even the artistic director of this festival does and she’s a comedian too. Are festival, paper, panel pulling our legs?

Might be: last week, I returned “Wolf Hall” unread for the third time to one of the libraries I’m a member of. I agree with reviewer Susan Bassnet: “… dreadfully badly written …” Each time I start on it, I develop this urge to start howling like a pack of wolfs. It’s not only badly written – it’s just too awful to waste time upon. There are far more readable and well-written books waiting for you and me to discover.

But with a newspaper sponsoring this festival, promoting it, as well as publishing about it, plus those not-that-independent judges taking just three hours to select the best ever novel written in English, I guess “Wolf Hall” must be a major something. Even if it’s far removed from great literature.

Here’s the list of the previous twenty winners. If you really depend on other people to decide what you like to read: I can recommend “Alias Grace” as an interesting read based on historical facts. If you’re looking for a novel which really made an impact upon the literary scene, take “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. Both books are also not hefty. Put them on top of each other and they easily fit into “Wolf Hall”. As most books on the list below show: many authors don’t need to write hundreds of pages to create a good, original read.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernières)
Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood)
American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
England, England (Julian Barnes)
Disgrace (J M Coetzee)
White Teeth (Zadie Smith)
Atonement (Ian McEwan)
Any Human Heart (William Boyd)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
Small Island (Andrea Levy)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
– The Outcast (Sadie Jones)
The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters)
Wolf Hall  (Hilary Mantel)
A Visit From the Goon Squad  (Jennifer Egan)
State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)
Life After Life (Kate Atkinson)
The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)


How to create community tension and blow up community cohesion

There you are: living in a quiet backwater of England. It’s a few weeks before England’s secret services get rapped across their claws by their own watchdog, because a few of their activities are in breach of Human Rights.

It may be a backwater, but of course, you know what happens in the rest of the world. You’re shocked by recent events in Paris. You hear the stricken magazine will print a special issue.

Extra copies will be dispatched throughout the EU, including your country. Charlie Hebdo’s commemorative issue will be available at the local post office and newsagent in your peaceful Sleepy Hollow.

And then it turns into a nightmare. For your friendly Bobbies lean on the local newsagent and post office. The Boys in Blue order them to jot down personal info of every person who dares buy the commemorative Charlie Hebdo issue.

The shop owners are blackmailed into complying with this Stasi-like order. They’re told it’s all “in the name of community cohesion”. They’re told it’s an act of “vigilance”. These law-abiding citizens help “assess community tensions”.

You think I’m fibbing? You think I’m pulling your leg?
The victims thought it was a hoax as well.

There are at least four people in Wiltshire, who recently received an apology from their police force. Police confirmed they had deleted names and addresses of all buyers of the commemorative Charlie Hebdo issue from police databases.

So in theory, these buyers of Charlie Hebdo are no longer registered as criminals or terrorists. For after the post office and newsagent closed, police collected their lists and entered the collected personal info with an accompanying note in police crime and intelligence databases.

At first, the victims were totally unaware of what had happened. But then, one of the victims – well into her seventies – , wrote a letter to the Guardian. What had occurred in Wiltshire became public and only then did police delete “the accompanying intelligence note”.

And only after journalists of the Guardian and Independent started asking questions, did Wiltshire police dispatch an apology and stated the gathered information had been deleted. As if dispatching an apology after such acts, takes the sting out of created community tensions. As if such police behaviour improved community cohesion.

I’m highly sceptical. As my former IT colleagues used to crow gleefully in such cases: “Yeah, sure: deleted from their police system and databases. Oh – oopsie, forgot: not from the database exports accidentally filed on USB sticks or illegally burned on DVDS; or spinning on a family member server ; nor from the daily and weekly and monthly backups. Cheers!”

For the complete story:
Guardian UK Police forces and Charlie Hebdo buyers
Guardian UK Police Force apologises
Independent Police officer asks details Charlie Hebdo buyers


Nous sommes Charlie, but gone are all the men

Yesterday, several newspapers showed a picture of the Paris march on their websites. You remember: the march for unity many world leaders joined – for about fifteen minutes?

The picture had been photoshopped. (See “cracks and coverage“.) A certain Jewish paper had decided the pic was only fit to be printed, if all female world leaders had been photoshopped out of it. So much for rallying cries like “Nous sommes Charlie”! For a link to this article: Independent.

Of course, it took a feminist to poke fun at this attitude; to poke fun at people bending reality to fit their world view. She took the same picture and photoshopped all male world leaders out of it. For a link to the feminist take: Independent.

I accidentally found a link to her photo and an article about it on the Independent website. The Jewish paper’s photoshopping made a headline; the feminist one not. Yeah: it’s just good for a laugh. There are just German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo left in front of a very, very empty looking street.

On the other hand: no better way to illustrate, there just aren’t enough female (world) leaders!

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to cast your vote:


Nous sommes Charlie: cracks and coverage

Barely two days after the French unity marches, it is upsetting to read on various news websites that cracks are already surfacing. While victims have either just been buried, or their funerals still have to take place!

First, I came across a picture of Sunday’s Paris march on the UK Daily Telegraph website. It showed the world leaders at the front of this march. But not as I remembered them walking. Where had Angela Merkel gone? Well, at least one paper seems to have found it necessary to photoshop the pictures. All female world leaders have been photoshopped out of their version. Ah yes: this is of course a men’s world … For the article:Telegraph.

Then there was the article on the Independent website. The partner of Charlie Hebdo’s editor may not be at his funeral. Not because she doesn’t want to be there. No! It seems his family do not want her there: see Charlie Hebdo editor’s girlfriend, The Independent website.

Thirdly, The Independent had finally clogged on to what I mentioned in one of my first blog posts about the events (see my Nous sommes Charlie). Five days after me writing about it, The Independent “breaks” the news that the Dutch Rotterdam Mayor, mr Aboutaleb, had reacted strongly against the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

As I remarked in my post: mr Aboutaleb was livid and very outspoken in this television interview. Interested in the Independent article: Muslim Mayor of Rotterdam Aboutaleb, Independent. I certainly hope, him being so outspoken does not earn him a place on extremists’ death lists.

At least the UK Guardian kept things kind of subdued. Like many of the French papers, Le Monde for instance, the Guardian concentrates on the funerals. It is also one of the few English papers which website contains an article about what the gunmen’s actions meant for their unsuspecting family members. (Guardian)

So if the coverage of Sunday’s march already left me with mixed feelings, the apparent photoshopping of pictures and other headlines increased these.

As for tomorrow’s Charlie Hebdo issue: though it will be available in various countries, I doubt I will be able to buy it. But as stated on the Guardian website, there will be web editions available: Charlie Hebdo to produce three million copies in many languages.


Fresh and tasty – and worse

With all the gloomy news each day, I am sorry to have to admit that I not only spend time reading up on for instance recent events in Canada, what dreadful acts ISIS is capable of, that the Tesco black hole is even bigger than presumed (did their external accountant really not notice a thing), or that Ian Duncan Smith deems the majority of sufferers of MS or Parkinson and similar wasting diseases fit for work (so their benefits are cut, saving the UK government a lot of money).

No, I do read such stuff but somehow, my eyes also zoom in on less depressing news items. I’m not sure if this is a kind of automatic reflex to counterbalance the daily load of bad, worse, worst things reported, or something else I have to worry about. If you have a theory, feel free to leave a reaction.

Today, there were several items which caused my eyes to swerve from the serious to the ridiculous. First there was the report that a bear cub had gone shopping in an US supermarket.
Interestingly, it did not behave like human kids on the rampage, trying to cram as many cookies, sweets, chocolates, crisps into a mouth as it can possibly hold. Preferably all at the same time, with ice cream added as an afterthought.
No, it was interested in the greeting cards department. Had it been trying to select a card to send to its absent mum? Where had mum bear gone to anyway? (Guardian: bear cub)

Second came a look at the Telegraph’s “lost in translation sign language” column. It is a monthly regular and highly fascinating. As usual, there were several pics which really impressed me.
Number 7 made tears stream down my face (I laughed so much), it took a while to recover from nr 7, nr 13 I suppose to be an Asian version of Road Pizza, guess not even aliens dare park next to number 14, and after trying several angles – I gave up on nr 16. (Telegraph: Sign Language)
If you come across similar or better ones, please contact the Telegraph.

But what really had me sniggering today, was an Independent article on food. Junk food, to be precise. However, this item did not surprise me, as this specific country recently had its umpteenth food scandal. For quite a long time, meat supposedly from cattle had actually come from horses and been sold as beef all over the place.
Guess that nation no longer has any taste buds left. (Independent: fresh and tasty)



Book review: “A most wanted man” by John Le Carré

As stated in the previous book review (see ‘Gone Girl”), another film based on a book can currently be seen in various cinemas. The spy-novel written by John le Carré has been available since 2008. The film with the same title, “A most wanted man”, has been in the cinemas here since early September.

Contrary to “Gone Girl”, this spy-novel is of course no flimsy. Though it is not John le Carré’s best one. The suspense is there from the very first chapter. A far too kind son and mother take in an odd, very sick refugee who has been tortured. He claims to be the son of a deceased Russian soldier with a none-too-clean slate. The Russian stashed away a pile of money into various shady accounts at a now floundering private bank in Berlin.

As with all spy-novels, it takes only a couple of pages for various parties to get involved. Some are after the man. Others are after the money. The majority use people who become accidentally caught up in the case. Betrayal of trust, blackmail, treason, dirty deeds, decent people being forced to do ugly things, twists and turns: it is all there. What is even better: the author still manages to surprise the weary reader and the concluding chapters are dreadful – but probably very realistic. For the story, plot, scenes, scenery, characters are all quite believable.

The book will not cheer you up, or restore your believe in mankind. But if you like this genre, John le Carré’s 21st one certainly deserves a read.

As for the film: it is hard to make a good thriller into a flop. It sticks close to the novel. So though it may later perhaps be remembered more because of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performance, it is well worth watching. But as it sticks so close to the book, it may perhaps be a case of either reading the book, or watching the film.

Guardian 2014 review of the film: “A most wanted man
Independent 2008 review of the book: “A most wanted man

“A Most Wanted Man » by John Le Carré, published in 2008 is available as hardback, pocket, Ebook through f.i. Amazon and has been translated in various languages.