Fiction

Don’t Judge Karel Capek’s Book by Its Cover

From the New York Times August 17, 2018

Two things keep Karel Capek’s “War With the Newts” from getting the recognition it deserves: its cover and its title. The best translation’s cover design, black text on teal, has all the panache of a dishwasher manual. And the title evokes spacesuit-clad heroes racing around cheap sets, firing laser guns at unscary animatronic lizards.

Forget all that.

 

Here’s a brief guide to the newt-free portions of Capek’s oeuvre.

‘The Gardener’s Year’

When he wasn’t dreaming up sci-fi dystopias, Capek was in the garden. This cheerful, exasperated journal is fun even for readers who don’t know a daisy from a dahlia.

‘R.U.R.’

Capek’s most popular work while he was alive (it’s where the word “robot” first appears), today it reads mostly like a rough draft of “War With the Newts.”

A trilogy of philosophical novels in which Capek dabbles in detective fiction and unreliable narration. Warning: It makes “War With the Newts” read like a conventional potboiler.

‘The Absolute at Large’

Capek, in 1922, foresees a device that can produce unlimited cheap energy, with the small catch that it might just lead to a world-destroying global war.

‘The Cheat’

When he died in 1938, Capek was working on this bleak polyphonic novel about a half-crazed, compulsively plagiaristic composer.

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Rivers of London (Graphic)

RiversOfLondon-CollectedEditions-Blog-2Rivers of London began as a series of novels by Ben Aaronovitch.

Each volume is a separate story featuring Peter Grant, who is both a junior detective and trainee wizard.  He is joined in the stories by his boss Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a police colleague of Nightingale’s, and Peter’s girlfriend, Beverly Brook, who is the goddess of her namesake waterway.

The setting is the dark side of London, where criminality and evil collide. You can read the graphic series, or the novels or both, and on his own website Aaronovich has a chronology, which, of course, is not the publishing chronology, where you can read both in the sequence that the events unfold (mostly).

London is a background, and clearly the inspiration, but these could take place in any big city, on cusp of night and darkness, where reality meets the fears and real dangers that haunt us all.

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson writes thrillers and his last two, the only two I have read, are set in Boston and New England.

Her Every Fear is set on Beacon Hill, in Boston, where I used to teach, and it has a second strand of the story set in Belsize Park in London, near where I went to secondary school. How could I not read it?

The “Her” of the title is Kate Priddy, and she has arranged a flat swap with her cousin, Corbin Dell, who she has never met.  Kate is all alone in the opulent flat in Boston.  Then a neighbour disappears, who it turns out later has been murdered and Corbin is a suspect. Several creepy neighbours befriend Kate, but she suffers from some form of anxiety that may come from and although she lets them close, she is both nervous, but can’t step away.  The net closes in, and Kate is in real danger that stems from a meeting Corbin had as an exchange student in London many years earlier.

As a writer, Swanson is ruthless.  He draws a string around his characters and his readers until the bag is closed above their heads and there is almost no escape.  For the readers who like tightly written thrillers with an impressive sense of place his books are perfect entertainments.

Bookstrails website 

 

Want Teenage Boys to Read? Easy. Give Them Books About Sex.

Daniel Handler Handles an AccordionThere is a question about how to get more boys to read, and Daniel Handler’s answer is give them what they are interested in. The New York Times, writes:  “I believe in the power of literature to connect, to transform, particularly for young minds beginning to explore the world. I want books to be an unlimited resource for young people and their curiosity, not a sphere restricted by how uncomfortable some curiosities make adults feel.”

 

Read the whole article

Irmina by Barbara Yelin

A full-fledged novel that opens its wings and flies as a young woman sets out from pre-War Germany to London , returns to Berlin and ends in Barbados.  Yelin’s graphic novel opens up so much that happened in Europe in the twentieth century through Irmina’s finally unrequited love for a young Barbadian.

Irmina meets Harold, an Oxford student, at a cocktail party soon after she arrives in London, and she gets to know him as she attends a secretarial school and their romance deepens, through joyous times and the racism of the society, which she being German is outside.

In London, Irmina describes  herself to Harold as “typist, a Fraulein, Suffragette, Bluestocking, Communist and Emigrant.  She loses her accommodation, her parents are no longer able to send her money, and not wanting to become a maid, she returns to Germany, and reenters German society and meets a young architect, Gregor Meinrich.  Hitler’s power is increasing, and:

Gregor: “Progress isn’t being made anymore”
Irmina: “But it MUST! It HAS to go on! We’re sacrificing so much here!
Gregor gives up architecture and joins the German army.

In the final section, Irmina now a school administrator, receives an invitation from Harold to visit him in Barbados, where he has become the Governor General.

The colours of Europe are greys and browns. the Caribbean has a little more green and blue although they are still muted, and the air of melancholy that hangs over Irmina’s life is only brightened slightly in this last chapter.

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