What started as a blog looking at Booker Prize Shortlisted novels since 1969, has morphed into a search for the best writing from the whole planet. Books listed for Awards of various descriptions a forte but not a prerequisite.
All the links to affiliates, ads etc on my blog generate income. I donate 100% of ALL income to various charities. So buy books using links on my blog - they cost you no more - but the affiliate fee I receive is donated to various charities (to see which charities visit http://messcharityrun.blogspot.com.au/)
In the Southern Hemisphere it is springtime, and tradition
(or my wife) dictates that spring is a time to clean. I could come up with a
handful of corny quotes like “When you let go you create space for better
things in your life”, or “it is flooded water that makes mud; it is clean water
that washes away the mud” but really I’m not a Pinterest board, nor a place to
misquote or misattribute motivational statements, so why bother?
But it is a time to clean.
People have been on my case for a few years now about moving
my blog from Blogger to WordPress, their promptings being purely for personal
reasons, for example it is easier to comment at WordPress. Given I’m not
personally fussed either way, so long as people can still access my thoughts if
they are that way inclined, a change is in order.
Messenger’s Booker is moving to WordPress.
After five years (plus) of being here at Blogger I will no
longer be posting new material here, the site will remain, as an archive of the
prior five years, but all new content will now be published at https://messybooker.wordpress.com/
I’ve imported all of my blog posts from here (excluding this
post) and from today onwards the latest reviews, award news and my humble
opinions will now be found at https://messybooker.wordpress.com/
Noting that any embedded links on the new site will actually bring up the
article on the old site – a small price to pay for being in a more user
I would like to thank the dedicated followers I have here,
those anonymous visitors who have made this site a success, those returning
readers who have encouraged me to continue to publish random opinions, at times
conflicting opinions, ridiculous muddles through incomprehensible novels or
those who just stopped by to plagiarise something I’ve written for your own
homework. As the site owner the statistics on individual posts are very useful
in understanding what is popular, what is currently being studied (the
spikes!!!) and what is pretty much ignored (Australian poetry). None of those
data driven inputs will force me to change my approach nor my reading habits. I
will continue to read Australian poetry and occasionally write about it here,
whether people read what I think or not, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.
Anyways, thanks for stopping by over the last five years, where I’ve moved from
a couple of hundred visits per month to many many thousands, it has been a
wonderful journey here, a journey that will continue at WordPress.
I’ll see you at the new venue, I’m hoping to put up a review
of a few recently completed poetry collections, a look at some of my highlights
from Robert Bolaño’s last work, the 900 page “2666” and a post about my
thoughts on the first 50 pages of the behemoth that is Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s
Since Women In Translation month, August, I have read primarily English
language books. Four Jean Rhys novels, “Quartet”, “After Leaving Mr Mackenzie”,
“Voyage in the Dark” and “Good Morning, Midnight”, these with the full
intention of participating in Reading Rhys Week, hosted by Jacqui of Jacqui Wine’s blog and
Eric at the Lonesome Reader.
I’ve also read Tracy
K. Smith’s debut poetry collection, “The Body’s Question”, J.D. Wright’s
harrowing last poetry collection “Shallcross” published soon after her sudden death, and to finish off the USA
connection I read “Omensetter’s Luck” by William H. Gass a work from 1966 but
identified by David Foster Wallace in the late 90's as one of his “five direly underappreciated U.S
So why no reviews? No
I could list numerous
reasons, I have started a new job, that has kept me very busy, but I’ve always
been busy. I don’t have a lot to add to the debate on these books not anything you can't find in other
places. The personal nature of the poetry collections sometimes makes sharing
thoughts a little trite. I may even get to writing about these collections some other time as I will revisit them. I’ve been watching discussions on other forums about
the 2016 Man Booker longlist descend into name calling and personal attacks when
others disagree with a point of view. In the past not one of these reasons
would have stopped me putting forward my point of view, although a lot of the
notes I have taken on these books look more like a lesson plan (for example the common themes)
than an interesting contribution.
Add to these factors the niggling thought that for some time, I have
wanted to tackle a number of larger books, have the freedom to not write a blog
post as I immerse myself in a 900-page work like Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” or
slowly working my way through the massive 2.2-million-word tome that is Arno
Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”. Doing that would mean a break from blog posting, or
at least intermittent posts either about my progress or about the shorter works
I read along the way (for example I’ve been reading a number of Edgar Allan Poe’s
stories as they are referenced in Schmidt’s work), or dabbling in a few poetry
collections on the train trip to work.
All up it is not
However, as I finally put a
halt to the English language reading of the last three weeks and opened Roberto
Bolaño’s “2666” on the weekend, starting my journey to find Benno von
Archimboldi, this is what I read on page 17, I think it perfectly sums up my
dilemma, I’m sure it’s not the first time somebody has said this, “last word goes
In 1995 they met at a panel discussion on
contemporary German literature held in Amsterdam, adiscussion
within the framework of a larger discussion that was taking place in the same
building (although in separate lecture halls), encompassing French, English,
and Italian literature.
It goes without saying that most of the
attendees of these curious discussions gravitated towards the hall where
contemporary English literature was being discussed, next door to the German
literature hall and separated from it by a wall that was clearly not made of
stone, as walls used to be, but of fragile bricks covered with a thin layer of
plaster, so that the shouts, howls, and especially the applause sparked by
English literature could be heard in the German literature room as if the two
talks or dialogues were one, or as if the Germans were being mocked, when not
drowned out, by the English, not to mention by the massive audience attending
the English (or Anglo-Indian) discussion, notably larger than the sparse and
earnest audience attending the German discussion. Which in the final analysis
was a good thing, because it's common knowledge that a conversation involving
only a few people, with everyone listening to everyone else and taking time to
think and not shouting, tends to be more productive or at least more relaxed
than a mass conversation, which runs the permanent risk of becoming a rally,
or, because of the necessary brevity of the speeches, a series of slogans that
fade as soon as they're put into words.
New York based
magazine and art book publisher Capricious was initially founded as a fine art
photography magazine in 2004 by Swedish photographer Sophie Mörner. Now renowned
for their feminist and queer art books, with titles like Girls Like Us and Randy,
the collection of photographs of Los Angeles sex workers from the 1990’s by Eve
Fowler titled Hustler and Matt Keegan’s
box of art objects , ==. Capricious approached author Andrew Durbin (Mature Themes in 2014 and next year Blonde Summer both published by
Nightboat Books) and asked him to edit a book of his choice with the
stipulation that it be “literary”. Andrew Durbin invited five female writers,
Dodie Bellamy, Cecilia Corrigan, Amy De’Ath, Lynne Tillman and Jackie Want to
each contribute a short book of new or previously uncollected material.
fellowship recipient, artist Nayland Blake was approached to provide the cover
and packaging artwork. When Andrew Durbin was perusing archived drawings by
Nayland Blake he came across the furiously quacking ducks with the text Say bye
to reason and hi to everything – this artwork became the box cover artwork and
the overall project title.
Five short chapbooks,
five different genres, poetry, memoir, criticism, dramatic monologue and personal
journal are the resultant collection.
First up Jackie Wang’s
“Tiny Spelunker of the Oneiro-Womb” a personal journal/poetry collection
recalling her dreams The medium Wang used was Twitter, placing the restriction of
the number of characters in play as well as the immediacy of her output and an
unknown audience adds a layer of complexity to the poems. Her simply revealing
to the world her inner demons, and the immediacy of her posting the poetic
tweets as soon as she wakes up, starting the tweet “stanzas” (loose definition
here) with the phrase “In the/my dream”. This demarking of her poems, where as
a twitter follower you will know where one poem starts and ends, is also a demarcation
of her dream life and reality.
On the box of cardboard letters there is a list of suggested phrases.
None of them have to do with Halloween.
The letters have melted together, making my task infinitely more
The cardboard letters were also supposed to be perforated but weren’t.
It’s hard to assemble even a simple work, materially.
I have accidentally torn the letters of the word I wanted to make and
feel defeated about language.
An extremely personal
revelation covering a raft of subjects, sexual, artistic, desire, detachable
slug like penises, female lesbian desire, lust, book creation, brothers who are
under arrest, no subject is taboo here, and in a format that is very readable
and enjoyable this is a great introduction to Jackie Wang’s work. Check out
more via her twitter handle @LoneberryWang or her blog at http://loneberry.tumblr.com/ How can I not like a collection that includes
the following quote?
I revolt: I no longer want to be a person. Clarice Lispector
collection, “More Important Than The Object”, covers a raft of personal art
viewing, and working history through eleven reflections presented as “memoir”.
With titles such as “Permanent Collection”, which explores the nuances,
feelings, emotions when entering an art space;
When I visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art I am both an
outsider without status and an artist in my own right, with a peculiar variety
of privilege. Being a writer, I’m not central to the Bay Area art scene, but I
bisect with it in overlapping circles. If you know any curators, the first
thing that you’ll realize is that in private they love to act out, to throw off
the formal constraints of writing copy for catalogues and signage, or whatever
they call those informative blocks of text that hand on the gallery walls, from
which the first person is forbidden. In private they take enormous pleasure in
disclosing, in writing the forbidden, getting all personal and critical and
gossipy, throwing around the first person with abandon. Get them alone and they’re
eager to extricate themselves from the official discourse of the museum, to
show the human side of the process, all the insecurities and resentments and near
catastrophes. They expose their feelings about their jobs, and how at times
when rushing around the museum they’re stopped in their tracks by the wonder of
a piece of art.
And Bellamy’s past as
a 16-year-old art student and her copy of /Vision In Motion” is explored, along
with photography, imagery, capitalist consumerism, in the memoir “Moholy-Nagy”;
In our culture of ahistorical surfaces and angles of gaze, we all know
better than to go around searching for transcendence, yet I suspect that most
of us still long for it, that being human, we’re hardwired for such longings.
“Cream” by Cecilia
Corrigan is a stream of consciousness style teenage anecdote/monologue about
the beauty industry;
Sometimes I have to look at the internet and see what kind of horrible
thing has happened now.
Things don’t seem to be working out very well for most people in the
world and there’s so much disaster and tragedy and so many products you’re
supposed to put on your skin or not, depending, and lists, and no one knows the
answers to any of it.
A monologue that flows
from Stanley Kubrick to Shelly Winters to Jean Genet to Abdallah the tight rope
walker, the common link their make up.
It’s sad how most men don’t get to use lotions, except for the
It’s like they don’t have any secrets.
Eight short poems make
up the chapbook “ON MY LOVE FOR Gender Abolition” by Amy De’Ath
Every feminist man thinks he is a good friend.
He wouldn’t hit a woman, nor rape her. Nor kill her,
but maybe he would writer something to pause the brain, a
Heraclitean litany or regular love song. Save her a song in the spirit
of universalism that she would comprehend –
All my abstract labour is on the mountain top. So fuck unto yourself.
charged poetry, covering Maxism, feminism, sexuality, this is another personal
Lynne Tillman’s “In
These Intemperate Times: 9 Frieze
Columns” we have the critical essay. Seven short pieces that explore the
ordinary, where the writer actually explains is a mischaracterisation, maybe
the mediocre “Being mediocre requires an effort not to be ordinary, then
failing.” She explains the bulk of “ordinary people”, getting sucked into
watching reality television, where she generally reaches for the remote, this
time the thoughts, whilst watching The
Voice, she stays tuned, “If she can do it, I can”
On The Voice she sang for an
audience of millions. How at ease, I thought, she looks onstage, which
achievement – ease – is meant itself to be a modern-day miracle. The girl
started to sing and imitated what hundreds of pop singers have modelled on tv
since before her birth. There was no sense, to my eye, of her wanting to make
something her own, just to do what everyone else did as well as she could. She
had the moves down, handling the mic, doing the familiar gestures, and could
add the usual trill and vibrato here and there. The voice was a sweet,
unmemorable voice, a voice like so many voices. I didn’t watch to the end, the
outcome seemed clear, and she won a day or so later.
Factual in feeling, at
times disjointed, the flow or connection at times felt a little tenuous.
Containing a large number of great themes that could be explored in more
detail. The political, the entity known as a nation is explored in “Fighting
Talk” or language in “Seriously?”;
I’m not a cynic. I prefer irony, which depends on the ability to hold
contradictory ideas, which probably springs from ambivalence. People confuse
and conflate irony with insincerity and dishonesty; they believe an ironist isn’t
serious. But saying the opposite of what is meant allows for at least two
meanings to fly. Irony couples and uncouples statements, while revealing the
hidden agendas of language and its conventions. Still, defending irony is
self-defeating and oxymoronic. To mount an attack on anti-ironists would deny
me the pleasure of pointing without being pointed. Earnestness does have its
place. (President Obama’s new press secretary is names Earnest.) But to be
earnest treads the line of righteousness and, worse, self-righteousness. It is
often said of an earnest speaker that he or she means well. ‘Meaning well’
implies the speaker has used platitudes. Irony refuses platitudes, and hopes to
Overall this is a very
tight collection of varied works that all address the common theme of identity,
a nicely presented collection that gives you a taste of all the writer’s works
without having to invest in a full length work. An enjoyable visit into the
minds of the margins in the USA.
First up from the American Literary Translators Association,
2016 National Translation Awards longlist for Poetry (geez that’s a mouthful),
is Minute-Operas by Frédéric Forte (Translated
from the French by Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk, Michelle Noteboom &
Stepping into Frédéric Forte's work is like stepping into a vast sparse
gallery space, open space around you, take time to ponder what your eye has
been drawn towards. Broken into two sections, “Phase one – January – October 2001”
and “Phase two – February – December 2002”. Each section containing 55 “poems”
Each poem is “Staged” on the page, where a “simple vertical
line of 3 inches (I measured the line thinking it would more likely to be in centimetres, but inches it was, I wonder if this is part of the translation or a US audience too?) separates, what
Forte calls the stage and the wings”. Typographically the word creations then
perform on this stage created on each page. It is probably best to cite an
This example showing the passing of time, the polar
opposites of marking off weeks but stating that during a “poem’s construction
you never count your days”, ageing and creation (in the wings) whilst the
seconds pass on the stage. Complexity all on a single page. To quote the ‘Preface”
from “The End of Oulipo? An attempt to exhaust a movement” by Lauren Elkin and
The concept of potential literature is founded on a
paradoxical principle: that through the use of a formal constraint the writer’s
creative energy is liberated. The work which results may be “complete” in
itself, but it will gesture at all the other work that could potentially be
generated using that constraint.
The poem I have used as an example doesn’t actually fall
into the Oulipian section of Frédéric Forte’s work, which in fact comes in phase
two, but the concept of the paradox and liberation are stunningly obvious.
This is a collection that forces you to pause, as if in an
art gallery, to observe, linger, absorb, reflect before moving on, each poem an
artwork in its own right, a creation that can work on numerous levels, artistically,
literary, poetically, theatrically or even structurally.
Phase two’s poems come with a “Detailed index of fixed forms”
where the poem uses existing poetic forms, either traditional or invented by
the Oulipo. Another example for you;
Here the detailed index explains that the poem is a “Quintina.
Level-5 quenina. In (central pillar of a
house [the title of the poem]) the permutation operates on punctuation marks.”
Permutations boundless in this example, I‘ll leave it for you to ponder.
This book is not only a feat of typographical wonder, to
even contemplate the translation that would have been required, is a feat in
itself. For example, the oulipo ‘heterogram’ “invented by Georges Perec. The
letters chosen by the poet (the ten most frequently used in the French
alphabet, plus one) cannot be used again before the whole series is completed.
In the poem ‘(whistle statue II)’ the
letters “SILENTBAROU” go through various iterations as words (eg. Silent Bar:
our tale is….) eleven times until they end with the words “burial stone”. How on
earth did this originally appear in French and how did the translator make it coherent
in English? I’m still astounded, initially upon reading the poem, again when
taking my notes, and now when attempting to explain it.
The cover of the book tells us that the content of the poems
“also constitute, in their cryptic way, a journal of the poet’s life during the
period of composition (2001-2002): his love life, the loss of his father…”
unfortunately this depth was something that was personally lost in the translation.
Whilst the word games, and cryptic style was extremely impressive, the content,
as a cohesive whole, seemed to fall by the wayside.
Phase two of the book containing fifty-five word games for
you to explore slowly, wonder upon, stretch your limits, refer to the index and
back to the poem, research, ponder. An absolute marvel of potential literature.
The first fifty-five poems more structured within the space confines, created
by the poet, or simply the limits of the page, but still wonderfully rich and
detailed in their construction.
A collection that I think would not be out of place in an
art gallery. Illuminating and one I will revisit often, if simply just to be
stunned at the creation involved.
In a nut shell this is a book I can't adequately review, here’s
what others have said….if that helps…
“A book as intriguing (by its staging of typographic
variations) as it is invigorating (in its micro-narratives).” —Emmanuel
Laugier, Le Matricule des Anges n°67 (octobre 2005)
“Extraordinary inventiveness…funny, original, brilliant” —Jean-Michel
Espitallier, Caisse à Outils: Un panorama de la poésie française aujourd’hui
“positively acrobatic, even balletic” – ALTA Blog
How about you buy a copy and see for yourself? I can
guarantee literary lovers, Oulipo readers and poetry aficionados will not be disappointed.
In early August the American Literary Translators
Association (ALTA) announced the longlists for the 2016 National Translation
Awards in Poetry and Prose. Winning translators will receive a $2,500 cash
prize, with the winners being announced at the ALTA’s annual conference in
October 2016. The five-title shortlists for each category will be “announced in
September”. I do intend to read and review a number of the titles that have
made the longlists, unfortunately some titles are no longer available or given
they come from small independent presses the distribution is limited and the
postage costs to Australia are prohibitive, whilst I love to read some of the
titles, I really cannot justify spending $50+ on a single book!!!
Here are the Longlists (in alphabetical order by title)
2016 NTA Longlist in
September: Selected Shorter Poems
By Jürgen Becker (Germany)
Translated from the German by Okla Elliott
(Black Lawrence Press)
I Burned at the Feast:
Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky
By Arseny Tarkovsky
Translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri
(The Cleveland State University Poetry Center)
By Frédéric Forte (France)
Translated from the French by Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk,
Michelle Noteboom, Jean-Jacques Poucel
By Angélica Freitas (Brazil)
Translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan
Selected Poems from
Les Fleurs du Mal
By Charles Baudelaire (France)
Translated from the French by Jan Owen
The Black Flower and
Other Zapotec Poems
By Natalia Toledo (Mexico)
Translated from the Isthmus Zapotec and Spanish by Clare
The Collected Poems of
By Chika Sagawa (Japan)
Translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu
The Country of Planks
By Raúl Zurita (Chile)
Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky
This Blue Novel
By Valerie Mejer Caso (Mexico)
Translated from the Spanish by Michelle Gil-Montero
By Athena Farrokhzad (Sweden)
Translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida
2016 NTA Longlist in Prose:
By Max Blecher
Translated from the Romanian by Michael Henry Heim
Truth rises up from
the depths and alters the orderly surface of things.
Last year I planned a full six week holiday/visit to Central
America, taking in places such as Mexico and Guatemala and once my work
situation changed and the bill came in, the passports were put back on
mothballs and a local holiday to Kangaroo Island replaced my ambitious plans.
Somehow that planning must have left a seed in my subconscious as I have been
reading books from the region all year, twenty-one of the seventy-five posts I
have made this year have been from
Central or south America, 28% shows a distinct leaning!!! I still have fifteen
or twenty unread books on my “to be read” piles from the region so more will be
forthcoming before the end of the year I am sure, there’s even a chance I’ll
manage to fit one or two more in before the end of “Women In Translation Month”
Back to Chile for my latest read, a work nowhere near as
experimental or as challenging as Diamela Eltit’s “Custody of the Eyes” (translated by Helen Lane & Ronald
Christ), more your very readable, approachable style like the last couple of
works I have read from Mexico. As with “Ten Women” by Marcela Serrano
(translated by Beth Fowler) which was told in ten different voices, or “Umami”
by Laia Jufresa (translated by Sophie Hughes) with five narrators, “The Rest Is
Silence” is narrated in three difference voices.
The novel opens with the innocent child voice of Tommy, who
has been excluded from the other children’s games and is hiding under a table
at a Wedding, listening, and in fact recording, adult conversations. By doing
so Tommy accidentally learns that his mother did not die from an aneurysm, but
rather committed suicide:
If Mama killed herself, it’s
because she didn’t love me. I hold my breath and count: Ten, nine, eight, seven…I’m
sure I can go back, back to before I hid under this table…six, five…the
elephant would say anything to impress her friends…four, three, two…My head is
spinning and I feel a thousand stabs in my belly, as if a propeller were
turning round and round inside my guts. I can’t stand it anymore. I make a dash
for it. I slip and fall. I bang my knees and my hands.
I’ve come to the very end of the
garden, where it plunges down into the sea. The light in the sky is white. My
cousins are playing ball at the top of the hill, the highest point in the
garden. I sit down on the grass. I hug my knees and bury my head in my lap. I
stink. I don’t know exactly when my guts exploded. Now I’m really in trouble.
Sometimes I know what it feels
like to be unhappy, to wait for night-time so I can hide under the sheets,
close my eyes, and escape forever to Kájef’s barge. Is that how Mama felt?
We then immediately move to the female voice of Alma,
Tommy’s step mother, slowly the history of this family comes into focus.
Finally the voice of Juan, Tommy’s father and Alma’s husband, takes the stage,
and the grief over his first wife’s, Solidad’s, death, his young child’s heart
condition and his relationship with his current wife become the dominant
This is a story of a fractured family, with one character
obsessed by his child’s failing heart, another about “love” and her
relationship with her mother, her husband and her own child and step child and
the other character wondering why everybody is so uneasy and where is his mum?
The innocent, but honest, voice of the child Tommy not only
acts as a nice counterbalance to the two adult voices, who do not communicate
directly with each other, but it also raises the tension in the novel. With
Tommy talking to his imaginary friend or the maid Yerfa, or reviewing his
illicit tape recordings, you know that the crescendo is slowly building, an
explosive conclusion is a foregone conclusion.
The day’s first light is blue.
The gate is open, and the outside light is on. IT wasn’t a dream. Alma came
home with another man. I want to edit out that whole scene, like she does with her
movies. Erase it from my memory. But when something new and important gets into
my head, there’s no way to get it out of there. No matter how hard I try to
forget, there are little monsters who keep reminding me it’s still there. Not
long ago, I explained it to Alma and she told me that the little monsters are
called your conscience. I asked her if they ever go away and she said they don’t,
but we learn to live and just pretend we don’t see them. I wanted to know why I
can’t do that and Alma told me that maybe I was one of those very few people
who, instead of closing their eyes, confront the monsters and fight against
them until they defeat them. That’s why I’ve been thinking that if I can
discover ten things about Mama, everything will become clear. Why ten? Because
God gave us ten commandments to live by, because we have ten fingers, because
ten billion kilometres are one light year, because Yerfa says I should count to
ten before I say or do anything that I might later regret.
As each voice reveals a little more of their history, and their
experiences, the layers are slowly peeled back and your pre-conceived ideas are
put to the test, they are simply illusions, the truth of this family is more
complex than you initially thought. As the unsaid, the “silences” referred to
in the title, accumulate, you can see the rift that is slowly breaking this
There are a few events that happen, especially how Tommy
discovers his roots, which, to me, are too coincidental, or contrived, however
these don’t detract from the overall theme, tension, or plot of the work.
As the opening quote, I chose here, says…”truth rises up
from the depths and alters the orderly surface of things”…here we have three
truths conveyed by three different voices, their individual truths different to
the truths of the others. Confusing? It is not so when you read the book.
A pleasant read, not a challenging work by any means, and
one that addresses the themes of family bonds, love, generational influence,
addressing the truth and grief. Another fine addition to Women In Translation
Month, one for people who are yet to dabble in such books to possibly try as a
By the way Kangaroo Island is stunning, if you want remote,
pristine, forests, walks along beaches, then this is a place to visit. It
wasn’t my dream Central American trip, that can wait, I’ve been there through
my reading choices for months now.