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Posts tagged ‘contemporary fiction’

October treat: Amazon UK promotion for Colin O’Sullivan’s novel “The Dark Manual”

October 1, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

During the whole month of October, readers in the UK & Ireland can buy The Dark Manual here for £0.99!

This is, of course, a Kindle edition. Print edition is also available on Amazon, the Book Depository (free delivery worldwide), etc.

Or maybe you prefer to watch it on TV? It’s coming, but it will take a bit of time, so why not discovering the novel now?

More about The Dark Manual here

Meet the author: Colin O’Sullivan

 

“Novels are all about commitment” – Colin O’Sullivan’s profile in Books Ireland Magazine

September 12, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Colin O’Sullivan, author of Killarney Blues (Winner of the Prix Mystère de la Critique 2018 in France), The Starved Lover Sings and The Dark Manual, features prominently in the latest issue of Books Ireland Magazine.

Nostalgic or futuristic, even visionary, his novels focus on characters “grappling with loss, the past and their lack of purpose”, in a turbulent political environment. But O’Sullivan firmly believes that “we have enough inside us to withstand, to cope, and eventually to surpass. We are still here, after all, or I should say, despite all.”

Meet a writer who “has an understanding of the power of words, their placing, their specific meaning” and “reflects the current malaise and modern preoccupations”*, “sends language out on a gleeful spree, exuberant, defiant”**, and who is “one of the finest storytellers out there, a lyrical master of the written word”***.

Books Ir & Colins books

* From a Book Noir review by Paul Burke

** Endorsement by writer Niall Griffiths

*** From a review by Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

 

 

 

More praise for “The Dark Manual”

September 11, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Review published on Book Nudge / Book Noir, August 31, 2018.

The Dark Manual defies easy categorisation; it’s a literary novel, a very desperate tale of love and loss, a noir thriller, of real and imaginary threats and a sci-fi speculation (which could be read as prescient future gazing). O’Sullivan has carved himself a distinct niche in the blackly comic noir world. The Dark Manual proves that he is as comfortable writing about Japan, the place where he has lived for many years, as he was writing about his native Ireland in his earlier novel Killarney Blues. The Dark Manual is a mature rounded work, assured and confident, at times lyrical and beautiful but also punchy and sharp. Susie Sakamoto’s bleak world is painful and depressing but compelling and honest. Yet this isn’t a hard read, it’s engaging, inventive and thought-provoking.

So The Dark Manual takes us into the world of Susie Sakamoto, an Irish woman trapped in a nightmare since the disappearance of her husband and son, Masa and Zen, in a terrible plane crash at sea. Susie is alone in her grief, except for the homebot, Sonny.

“Her deep despair. Her piteous and addle-egged mind….Gravity pinning her right down. Gravity seems so much heavier these days; her bones, now leaden and so hard to move. She is rooted. Rooted to this spot. So firmly, so horribly stuck.”

The description of Susie’s home life is so stark and brutal, it could be an interior scene from Blade Runner 2049. As Susie sprawls on the couch unable to relieve the torpor she is irritated by the hoover, is it just a symptom of her malaise or something more insidious? Her life is managed by the homebots, particularly Sonny, model SH.XL8. Susie can cook, she can clean, she used to be able to manage her life, but now the machines do all the work. Even though she doesn’t want to acknowledge their presence they become one of her only means of discourse. Sonny is male, he responds to commands, but is there a touch of sarcasm in his answers, an independence, is he manipulating her life? Is Sonny arguing with her? For the reader the exchanges with the homebot are witty, for Susie they are both necessary, invasive and disturbing. Did she ask the health information monitor to tell her, her weight, to suggest a revision in her diet?

Susie is adrift after the death of her family, mired in grief and not coping. She was a confident woman working for an online news outlet compiling a column: “a foreigner’s interpretation of Japan”, which was translated from English to Japanese by machine and checked, but rarely corrected, by a sub-editor. She’s not ready to return to work and fills the void with bars and booze with her friend, Mixxy. Are her problems with the robots in her head, are these computers a benign or malignant force. What is The Dark Manual, and what did her husband have to do with it?

There are so many facets to this novel, subtleties to the story, but I have want to concentrate on three major themes. Grief – this is a study of a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, suffering the profound grief of losing her loved ones (grief the devouring monster). It’s grief in an alien environment, or perhaps more accurately, the realisation that any environment becomes alien when grief strikes. Susie’s grief is all she is left with in the world where she has so little real contact to other humans, where everything is done for her by machines but nothing fills the void. Artificial intelligence – the fear of a future in which we may not be in charge, think of a more intellectual Humans (the Channel 4 series). It’s deja vu, the re-emergence of Frankenstein’s monster, except this time there is a genuine concern that the machines will outstrip us. Will we be consumed, altered, rendered helpless by machines? Truth and memory – was Masa the man she thought he was? We all want to believe we know the people who are close to us but do we really know others? What if the human impetus for the robot programmes is not benign? O’Sullivan has an understanding of the power of words, their placing, their specific meaning, that reminded me a little of Bernard MacLaverty’s use of language to conjure images in Cal. This bleak, but also witty novel is a philosophical musing on what we are and how we respond to life; grief, the future, a world inhabited by AI. The dystopian future has been the staple of sci-fi (1984, Brave New World). This is a modern novel that reflects the current malaise and modern preoccupations. As a thriller this is a page turner, a really intriguing read.

The publisher, Betimes Books, is about to announce a major film deal for the The Dark Manual, which will be one to keep an eye out for. [SOON!!!]

If you like The Dark Manual I would thoroughly recommend O’Sullivan’s earlier novel Killarney Blues, an unconventional crime novel of small town living in Killarney – everyone seems to be in a funk. Bernard Dunphy loves American Blues but he’s troubled by his father’s suicide. The sins of the past always have ramifications in the present. A sudden violent act has an impact on Bernard and the young people of the town. Killarney Blues is engrossing, witty, depressing and uplifting. Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique 2018.

Paul Burke

The Dark Manual by Colin O’Sullivan
Betimes Books 9780993433177, May 2018

Original review here: https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/08/the-dark-manual-by-colin-osullivan/

Les Edgerton about his novel “The Death of Tarpons”

August 14, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

 

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” —Sigmund Freud

 

Les Edgerton in conversation with a Trinity College Dublin graduate Kelly O’Brien:

The Death of Tarpons takes the form of bildungsroman and is written in the first person narrative. Given that you also grew up in Texas in the 1950s, how much did your own coming-of-age play into the writing of the novel?

Les Edgerton: 100%. This is a fairly accurate account of my own experience that summer. It had to be fictionalized to better create the proper drama. Overall, most of the elements in the story are true to life. There are two elements present in every novel—an emotional element and an intellectual element. I would never pay any attention to the intellectual element-that isn’t the job of a novel. An emotional response is all I’m ever after and hopefully never in a surface or superficial manner, but in a deeper, psychological manner.

The Death of Tarpons examines the notion of masculinity in the development of both Corey and his father’s sense of self. Would you say that masculinity pushed to its extreme – machismo – is a damaging force within the novel? What is the role of Corey’s grand-father from this point of view?

LE: Looking back in a deconstruction exercise is the only way I can answer this. This wasn’t a conscious effort on my part during the writing of it. It depends on your definition of masculinity. To my mind, the grandfather is the only true masculine figure in the story. The father subscribes to a cartoonish idea of masculinity, but Toast is honestly masculine. In fact, he’s so comfortable in his own maleness that he never tries to posture or play some kind of role formed by bad novels and bad movies. I would disagree that the father exhibits some form of masculinity pushed to its extreme. The father doesn’t represent any form of masculinity, but the grandfather absolutely does. One of the chief tenants of masculinity is the person being completely comfortable in his own skin and never considering how he might appear to others. That is the very definition of Toast and the very definition of masculinity.

—The women of the text are essential figures in Corey’s life yet it is the male relationships that are most often at the forefront of the narrative. Do you think that the women in the novel are integral or disposable? And why?

LE: All three women are important to the story, even if their characters don’t come across as disposable. The sister is a stock and stereotypical figure and certain disposable in the sense that she contributes little to the story, at least on the surface. However, she does, as she’s the one character that admires her father’s skewed notion of masculinity and mostly because he pays her attention and doesn’t judge her so long as she shows that admiration. The sister is the kind of female guys like the father are trying to influence and are the only kinds of females they value. The grandmother is little seen, but important in that she’s comfortable in her role as Toast’s wife. She’s the opposite of her granddaughter—she’s a real woman and doesn’t tolerate her son-in-law at all, but actually dismisses him as a man. The mother is crucial to the story because she has effectively abandoned her family for her religion. She’s the person Corey wishes would be on his side and in a normal family would be, but she’s missing in action. She’s simply a weak, selfish person. Her drug here is religion, but it could just as easily be alcohol, drugs, a shopping jones, adultery or almost anything else.

—I felt, as a reader, that cyclicality is an important theme in the novel. I’m referring particularly to the spatterdashes symbol. Was it intended as a meditation on the ways in which we carry the past within us?

LE: It was a literal symbol. As Toast explains to Corey, spatterdashes are an article of clothing that prevented spatter from being dashed on the man. It doesn’t get any more literal than that. In Corey’s case, they represented an heirloom passed down by the males of his family to look toward as something concrete that if he accepted the definition and the history, would see that they represented something that would prevent the crap his father tried to throw at him from besmirching his soul. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and that’s kind of what these spatterdashes are, to him.

—Forgive my curiosity, but is the spatterdashes story autobiographical and if it is, do you still have them?

LE: The spatterdashes are the fictional part I mentioned earlier. They never existed in my life but they represent everything that Toast meant to Corey.

—The Death of Tarpons almost seems mythological in the manner in which the story culminates. Is it a metaphor – conscious or subconscious – for the mysterious, contradictory and sometimes frightening adult world?

LE: I suspect it may seem mythological in that Corey’s story is fairly common, albeit with varied circumstances. Most good stories are mythological in that they’re ageless and keep recurring over and over. And of course it’s a metaphor. Metaphor is what all stories are about.

—Is it significant that your first novel is a largely autobiographical coming-of-age novel? Was is the first novel you wanted to write or did it just happen to be published before another novel? What’s its significance in your development as a writer?

LE: It’s significant in that most first novels are coming-of-age novels. Probably close to 75% are even if they’re fictionalized as mine was. It’s what we know and what we’re comfortable with. And, often they’re unpublishable simple because of that. As one of my reviewers—Sydney Lea, former editor of The Georgia Review—said, “Leslie Edgerton takes one of the hoariest of projects, the family chronicle…”. I know it’s the kind of novel I saw from nearly all my freshmen students in university classes—autobiography disguised as fiction. There’s a reason it’s considered “hoary”… because it is. And most are dismissed out of hand. It takes a level of writing that most first writers haven’t yet developed. I had, which is why it got published.

It’s significant in that it gave me confidence that not only was my own life valuable material but that I had the writing chops sufficient for publication. Just about all of my fiction is autobiographical. I can’t think of any that isn’t.

“Edgerton’s later novels have become Noir classics to many, and THE DEATH OF TARPONS hints at a childhood that helps explain the author’s successful literary journeys into darkness.”  —Jack Getze

 

“Exciting Poetic Thriller” – exactly!

August 7, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

We just have to share this reader’s review! It’s wonderful when somebody REALLY gets the book! Thanks to @fatorange23, whoever he/she is, for sharing this with other readers:

5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting Poetic Thriller

4 August 2018Published on Amazon.com

Format: Paperback

In order to be a great writer one’s style must be distinct. However, by daring to have a distinct voice a writer runs the risk of annoying or irritating the reader. O’Sullivan implements an obvious technique that’s often tried but very rarely succeeds. He builds the foundation of the plot with brief passages that are equal parts poetry and prose.

Honestly, if someone told me that I would NOT be inclined to read the book because I’ve seen it fail so many times. But the reason why it almost always fails is the poetry (or maybe more correctly put the poetic prose) doesn’t advance the plot. Usually, it will only serve to re-establish something. O’Sullivan advances the plot, economically even, while showcasing his skill as a poet – all the while, keeping the reader fully engaged and turning the pages.

I read comparisons to Murakami, Aldiss, and even Black Mirror writers. I love all that stuff but I personally think O’Sullivan offers us something we really needed much more deeply: a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe. Horror that dares to be great.

Does it get any better than that?
viewbook.at/TheDarkManual

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about women’s fiction, spycops and divided societies (Interview, Part II)

June 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

KOB: Both of your novels are driven by strong female characters. Would you consider your work to be “Women’s Fiction” and if so, how do you feel your position as a male novelist impacts your female-centric writing?

DFM: I have noticed that women seem to respond well to my work, which I’m happy about because they buy far more books than men. However, I’m not sure about this notion of “Women’s Fiction”. There seems to be this idea in publishing that men write bang-bang-shoot-em-ups, while women pick apart dysfunctional relationships over the kitchen table with a large glass of red wine. Publishers like to categorise books into genres, I guess it makes it easier for them to target the audience they think they’re after, but so far as I’m concerned there’s only good fiction and bad fiction. I don’t really mind whether it’s packaged as crime, romance or a thriller, if it’s well written and captures my imagination I’ll read it, if it doesn’t I won’t. I think one of the most important traits you need as a writer of fiction is the ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view, whether that’s a politically engaged Irish woman, a Timorese teenager or a corrupt ageing Indonesian army officer. It’s the only way, in my view, you can create convincing characters that readers will relate to and care about.

      

Click on the covers for more information about the books

KOB: The recent Lush cosmetics campaign against Spycops has brought the issue tackled in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal to light. Decades after these incidents took place, do you believe justice can eventually come from the public enquiry?

DFM: To me the Spycops scandal offers a perfect example of what can happen when a group of people in a position of power who aren’t publicly accountable to anyone for their actions lose sight of what they are there for in the first place. For those who aren’t familiar with the background, what happened was that in the 1970s a group was set up within the Metropolitan Police to infiltrate political organisations that were deemed a threat to society, and in doing so gain intelligence about their activities, plans and intentions. For obvious reasons no one knew about this group, and it didn’t seem to be answerable to anyone outside the Met. There was never any proper debate about what constituted a threat to society, or how far this group could go in order to counter it. As it turned out, the targets were typically peace campaigners, animal rights or environmental activists and other groups the government of the time didn’t particularly like, but who were engaged in legitimate political protest. Even if they did occasionally cross the line of the law, by comparison to the type of terrorism we see today, their activities were benign, almost charmingly quaint. We’re talking about people breaking into a laboratory and releasing a few rabbits destined for experiments, or tearing down some barbed wire outside a missile base, not some fanatic walking into a crowded concert hall and blowing up a hundred people. What has always staggered me about the Spycops scandal is how much effort, resources and moral compromise went into these deceptions when the stakes were so low and the threats to society so trivial. Over the years undercover officers infiltrated these groups and entered into intimate relationships with female members of them, sometimes going to far as to have children with them. At weekends they might go back to their real families; then there would come a time when they would be recalled and simply disappear from the lives of the women they had betrayed, leaving them to wonder what had happened. The collateral damage to the women and their families was mind-boggling, and no one in a position of power wanted to know or do anything about it.

The campaign to bring justice to these women seems to be pretty well organised and it’s certainly very determined. The Guardian newspaper has done and continues to do an excellent job keeping the story in the public eye, so I think despite all their prevaricating there’s a good chance the British Government will eventually be shamed into owning up and paying compensation where they haven’t already. Whether that constitutes justice or not is another question, as the real damage was done years ago and can’t be undone.  There was no excuse for it in what’s meant to be an accountable democracy, and it was an absolute disgrace it was ever allowed to happen. What I was interested in pressing in The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is whether it is ever possible to justify engaging in that level of deception, when the stakes are much higher, when innocent lives really are at risk, and what happens when you decide they are and go down that road.

KOB: Both Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are focused on divided societies. What draws you to explore stories of such societal division?

DFM: The divisions in society, both in Europe and America, are becoming more extreme each year, and it’s something I find very worrying. It’s one of the biggest issues we are currently facing, and in my view is behind a lot of the political turmoil we have experienced, such as Brexit and the election of Trump. History tells us that whenever societies start to experience severe inequalities on the scale we are currently seeing, when people feel they have lost a stake in their society and have nothing to lose by overturning it, it generally ends badly all round. Just ask the French or the Russian aristocracy. Can we achieve a more just society through peaceful means as opposed to violent ones? I’d like to think so, but right now I’m not overly optimistic.

The other thing about divided societies is that people often end up in situations they could never have imagined in a more stable, peaceful environment. I have always been fascinated in what happens when people are pushed to extremes, how moral lines can become blurred, how they will do things and behave in ways that would have astonished and horrified them but a short time ago. How does a football mad kid who likes collecting stickers become a soldier capable of murdering innocent civilians, and what was the process that paved the way for that to happen? It’s only by exploring these threads and understanding them that we have a chance of preventing the worst aspects of our history repeating itself. You only have to look at some of the appalling things people did to each other during the Northern Ireland troubles to realise we are deluding ourselves if we think we are too civilized or sophisticated to go down that road. Bosnia was the same. These things weren’t done by animals, they were done by people like us. That’s the frightening thing about it. We can go down that road any time we choose. The camps are closer than we think. If fiction can wave a red flag and alert us to some of the dangers, then in my view it’s serving a useful purpose.

KOB: While both novels explore divided societies, they also both examine issues of family and human connection. Would you say that this is a major preoccupation of your writing?

DFM: For most people their families – and that concept can be understood in the loosest sense – constitute the arena where they engage in their most intimate relationships, where they feel free to reveal the innermost parts of themselves. And that is certainly a rewarding seam for a writer to mine, so to speak. I am fascinated by our human connections, which interestingly enough is a theme that Forster grapples with in Howard’s End. As a writer, your topic is the human condition and how that plays itself out. Connections are an inescapable part of that. Fiction is all about conflict and collision, whether it’s between world views and wills of the characters involved, or people and their external circumstances. If there is no conflict there is no drama, if there is no drama there is nothing to keep the reader with you. So, yes, I would say that’s a fairly major preoccupation of mine.

For adepts of serious summer reading:

Francesca is available on Amazon and Book Depository

The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal is available on Amazon and Book Depository

 

Donald Finnaeus Mayo about journalism, modern history and inspiration (Interview, Part I)

June 20, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Kelly O’Brien: Both of your novels, Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal are set in the 1970s and 1980s, is this period of time significant to you? What interests you in the writing of historical fiction?

Donald Finnaeus Mayo: Most decades have something interesting to offer, and if you have lived through them your recollections will obviously be coloured by your own experiences. Though to hear the 1970s and 1980s described as historical fiction makes me feel very old! I tend to be drawn to subjects or events as opposed to specific decades, but I also think you sometimes need a bit of time to elapse before you can gain a proper perspective of an era. If you’re too close to an event you can end up writing reportage rather than fiction. I remember a slew of novels about 9/11 came out a few years after the twin towers came down, and people didn’t seem ready for them. They had already digested all the documentary coverage they could take, and it begged the question as to what fiction could add. It takes me a long time to percolate ideas and work out what I really think. Possibly there’s an element of nostalgia to it as well. In writing about an era I get the chance to immerse myself back in it; what music people were listening to, what was happening in the world, what they were wearing, what they feared and where their hopes lay, recreating that world for people who weren’t there or may have forgotten what it was like. Right now I’m writing a novel about the impact of the 2008 financial crash on a small town in the American South.

KOB: Francesca follows the story of a young woman in East Timor during the Indonesian invasion of 1975, a moment of history that is potentially not very well-known, is this what inspired you to tell Francesca’s story?

DFM: It was more personal than that. My father worked in the oil business, and I spent a number of years as a child living in Indonesian Borneo. This period coincided with the invasion of East Timor, which ended up costing the lives of almost a third of that country’s population. Cocooned in our expat bubble, we were completely oblivious to what was happening. That was deliberate – journalists, human rights activists and anyone else who might cause trouble were kept well away from the place by the Indonesian government. With no social media, mobile phones or internet, it was possible for a military dictatorship to effectively shut a region off from the outside world in a way that seems inconceivable today. Western powers such as the United States and Australia, who did know what was going on despite what they may have said publicly to the contrary, were happy to sit by and let Suharto’s troops embark upon this genocide because he represented a bulwark against communism, which they were terrified of spreading throughout South East Asia. Saigon had only recently fallen, and there were worries revolutions could be sparked off through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and beyond. So poor old East Timor, who had never threatened anyone, was forgotten and left to suffer. It was only many years later, when I was working as a volunteer for Amnesty International in London, that I started coming across all these cases of human rights abuses from the region. When I examined them more closely, I was shocked to discover this mass murder had been taking place just a few hundred miles from our tennis courts and swimming pools. No one talked about it, no one wanted to upset the cosy relationship between the Suharto regime and the western oil companies. The genesis of the novel lay in the idea of what would happen if these parallel worlds jumped off their rails and collided.

KOB: You have worked previously as a radio journalist for the BBC. Do you bring any of your journalistic skills or knowledge to your fiction writing?

DFM: I’ve always been interested in politics, and in newsrooms you’re surrounded by people who live and breathe it, so you get some great conversations going with bright, witty, well-informed people. They are fairly cynical environments, and there’s a lot of cut-and-thrust between the reporters, peppered with a fair amount of black humour. It’s no place for shrinking violets. Journalism taught me discipline when it came to writing. You need to check your facts, and you need to get your point across quickly. A radio news story might be less than 100 words, so you have to make sure each one counts. On the other hand, it can be quite restrictive in what is deemed important and worthy of coverage. What’s not reported is often as significant as what is. You can end up thinking the entire human experience amounts to plane crashes, political clashes, sport and celebrity intrigue. Journalism is also very workaday and practical. There isn’t any of the mystique of the tortured writer struggling to come to grips with the essence of life as there is with fiction. Complain to a news editor you’re suffering from writer’s block and he or she will inform you the deadline’s less than an hour away and politely suggest you just get on with it. You learn very quickly to push through the barriers when the muse has taken the morning off. That helped me a lot when I was trying to juggle novel-writing with looking after young children.

KOB: You begin The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal with a quote by E.M. Forster. Was Forster a particular influence on the narrative of the novel?

DFM: Not especially, other than the quote, which came from one of Forster’s essays rather than his novels but seemed to sum up the essence of The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal. I read a lot of Forster as a teenager, but haven’t really returned to him much since they made all those Merchant Ivory films of his books. I suppose the main thing I have taken from Forster is his emphasis on creating three-dimensional characters, which is something I have always tried to do in my work. I don’t believe in goodies and baddies per se, even one of the most odious characters in Francesca, Benny Surikano, is partially redeemed by the love he has for his son. I suppose one of the most interesting things about Forster as a person is his struggle to live a double life as a gay man in an era when that could not only destroy your reputation and livelihood, but land you up in prison. You just need to think of what happened to Alan Turing to appreciate just how repressed certain aspects of people’s lives had to be for their very survival. Having made one of the most spectacular contributions to Britain’s effort to defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma code, he was subsequently hounded by the police for a gay indiscretion to the point where he committed suicide. How those forces played themselves out in Forster’s fiction is a matter of ongoing debate. I know some literary scholars get very irate when everything he wrote is viewed through this lens – others see it as the only way to understand him properly as an author.

   To be followed on Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Click on the covers for more information about the books

       

A glorious review of Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel “The Dark Manual”

June 15, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Isaac Asimov had Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov’s laws are sourly tested in Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, The Dark Manual. The author, Winner of the Prix Mystère de la critique 2018, just gets better with each book, and with this, his third, he is becoming one of the finest storytellers out there. His prose keeps one glued to the page, with delightful concentration.

Colin O’Sullivan does not write a bad line. His characters become a part of the reader as they turn the pages, and they dwell in the mind between reads. I found myself setting the book down, two or three times, but not able to leave it until I picked it up again, and read some more. Colin O’Sullivan’s writing style reminds me so of jazz, with its one-word, then two-word, then three-word sentences. Bop, bop, bop-bop, until you realize you have read a paragraph, then onto a new riff. Lyrical, powerful, humorous, poetic, emotional. He is a lyrical master of the written word. There are sections of the book that are heartbreaking, in their emotional and physical sense of loss, and moments of humor, surprise, suspense, pure sudden horror, and stark naked joy.

Susie Sakamoto, came from Ireland, to live in Japan with her husband, Masa, who designed and built “homebots,” domestic robots. Their primary role: clean the home, cook, make drinks, tend to the owner, and stand still in the corner when turned off for the night.

With their little boy, Zen, Masa and Susie have a happy life, until the day when Susie bids goodbye to her son and husband at the airport, where they are setting off on a trip to South Korea. A trip that becomes a tragedy when an errant missile launched from North Korea causes the plane they are on to break apart, its pieces and bodies of those on board falling into the sea. Her dear husband and darling son, suddenly gone. Their bodies never recovered.

Susie now spends her days in a deep depression, going over the what-ifs, coming to hate the homebot that lives with her, and staying drunk most of the time. Appearing at work, where she is a reporter, occasionally, but contemplating suicide, and spending nights in a bar getting wasted and mourning the tremendous loss she has suffered. A drunken Irishwoman in Japan, with little reason to get up in the morning, except to order the home robot to bring her another drink, while outside, in the trees, the owls are gathering, as if something was amiss.

At the bar she hangs out at each night, Susie becomes somewhat friendly with the ultra free spirit and flamboyant Mixxy Makanea, a Japanese woman who speaks English, and pretty much does what she wants, when she wants, and with whomever she wants. When Mixxy struts into a bar, all heads turn. Green streaked hair, fishnet stockings, glossy lips, and just a touch of white powder under her nostrils, she is ready to steal the evening. Mixxy is one of the great characters from the author. With her flash flamboyance and pizzazz, she colors the novel with her profane antics, and so-what attitude. Mixxy also feels the presence of the owls. Knows they are in the trees. Watching.

Susie continues to struggle with whether to live or die and blacken it all out once and for all. Her anguish palpable. Her loss profound. Her hatred for the annoying domestic robot growing each day. Then she begins to hear about the Dark Manual, a legendary means to shut off all the machines, that might or might not exist. Susie starts thinking that if she could find it, she could shut the damn thing off. Shut them all off. If she gets Mixxy to help her, could they find it? Did her husband write it? Is it close by, within her reach?

Meanwhile the homebot waits. All the homebots wait. Lights flashing on and off. Eerie sounds emitting from where there mouth would be. Do they come into the bedroom at night to watch the sleeper? Are they capable of harm? If Susie and Mixxy find the Dark Manual, will the machines know, and try to stop them from shutting them down? Can they think? Can they communicate with other homebots? Are they evil?

Worst of all, can they kill?

Meanwhile, outside, more owls gather in the trees, and now also the crows. They too gather and caw in the trees and rooftops. More and more of them. Watching. Waiting.

–Marvin Minkler of Modern First Editions

read an excerpt here

Is your home robot cute?

May 17, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Another short excerpt from Colin O’Sullivan’s new novel, THE DARK MANUAL, for your enjoyment:

“Where’s your ‘bot?”

“It’s shut down for the evening. I’m sick to death of listening to the fucking thing.”

“Oh, bring him in. I want to see him.”

Susie hates the personal pronoun. Calling it a him. Zen was a he. Masa was a he. Her father and grandfather, now they were hes and hims. Cars were forever referred to as she by men, and ships and boats too. Maybe the he could actually be refreshing, and feminists the world over could rejoice together in the knowledge that not all machines in servitude would be referred to as female. There’s a thought. There’s probably even an article in that.

“Command system on!”

There is silence for a moment; Mixxy in particular is holding her breath in anticipation. They don’t have to wait long.

“Coming, Miss Susie!”

Sonny glides into the living room.

“He does call you Miss Susie! That’s so fucking cute.”

Looking down upon its silver frame and stiff comportment, Mixxy gasps with delight. Susie frowns in habitual scorn.

“Hi, I’m Mixxy. Nice to meet you.”

Sonny extends its hand like a well-mannered child; Susie wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly sprouted impeccably combed hair with a cow’s lick to boot.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Mixxy.”

It is able to differentiate between male and female voices, so Mixxy gets her accordant Miss. Susie hopes that it will get overused to the point where Mixxy will look for the nearest available hatchet.

“Wow, you are so handsome, little guy. Much more handsome than mine.”

“Don’t they all look exactly the same?” asks Susie.

Susie had seen the factory, and the scores of them lined up there. She’d seen the catalogues. Her husband had designed the bloody things, for God’s sake, so she should know a wee bit about them. They were all identical. There was nothing handsome about hers.

“When you get to know them they start to show their own personality. Even their faces start to change. Don’t you think? Can you not see it?”

“No. I can’t.”

“This one…already. He seems so full of life. And joy. And a right little charmer too.”

Susie is still thinking about hatchets, pickaxes, or what was that weapon the young boys used to talk about when they were young and playing at war games? What was it called? A bazooka! That was it. Bazooka! Susie wants a bloody bazooka! It may be not the greatest thing ever invented, but surely, it is the greatest-sounding word.

The homebot’s face looks up to directly engage with the house guest.

“Would you like anything to drink, Miss Mixxy.”

“And so well-programmed! Or does he just see into my soul? Your husband did such a good job with this one. Yes, Mr. Sonny. I will have something to drink.”

“Make two cups of coffee, Sonny. We’ve got work to do.”

The Dark Manual is available for readers in the UK and Ireland, as well as on all Amazon sites except USA and Canada
viewbook.at/TheDarkManual

 

 

Interview with Colin O’Sullivan in Your Secret Library

Project

A few days before the release of Colin’s third novel, THE DARK MANUAL, a Trinity College Dublin graduate Polly Young interviews her fellow Trinity College alumnus for Your Secret Library Magazine:

Colin O’Sullivan is a poet and a novelist, author of Killarney Blues (2013), The Starved Lover Sings (2017), and The Dark Manual (May 2018), published by Betimes Books. His first novel, Killarney Blues, has won the prestigious “Prix Mystère de la critique” in France.

Excerpt from “The Dark Manual” by Colin O’Sullivan

May 2, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

From Chapter 3:

Susie suddenly lashes out, sending the cereal bowl flying from the counter out into kitchen space. It smashes to pieces against a side cupboard and lays silent on the floor in thick white shards.

“Turn it off,” she shouts.

“Yes, Miss Susie.”

The grey woman on the grey beach vanishes and there is nothing but the silence of a woman and her mechanical charge in a lonely kitchen, once more.

The homebot moves tentatively towards the broken bowl. It looks up at Susie and waits a second before softly inquiring:

“Shall I clean the floor, Miss Susie?”

Susie stares at him. Even if she wanted to hide her disgust she’s not sure she could manage it.

“You don’t even know, do you?”

“Know what, madam?”

Susie laughs. Madam! That’s a good one – Masa programmed that word in too, no doubt. Was that meant to impress? Who was it meant to impress? It all seemed like such a sick prank now.

“Don’t madam me. Your Miss Susies are annoying enough. If Masa thought that was some kind of joke…to have you all polite and…you don’t even know what happened, do you? Last night, again you said: Mr. Masa recommends you take some herbal tea. Remember that? In your shitty, horrible voice. The present tense. You haven’t figured it out, have you? That the present tense is no longer viable. What you should have said was: Mr. Masa used to recommend you take herbal tea. Used to. When he was alive. When he breathed and laughed and sang bad karaoke in bad bars. Before he was blown to smithereens. But how could you know that? How could you know?”

Susie’s eyes are malevolent now and she feels them flaming red in her sockets. They sting and burn: late nights, scalding tears, the sourness of spirit and no clear target of recrimination.

“You haven’t a clue. Or, if you do…no, you can’t process it at all, can you? I mean, a mere mortal such as I, a stinking bloody human can hardly process it, so how could a thing, without blood…a thing…even…”

The words are choking her and she can no longer spew them out. She has exhausted herself. The confusion of her thoughts. Could it know? But how could it know if Masa was not there to program…or, has it been programmed in such a way that all news feeds become part of its knowing? When a dog’s master doesn’t come home from the hospital, does it know that it is dead? Does a dog know about death? Or simply that its master is absent? Does a homebot know that its master is no more? And if it does, does it care? The breakfast milk feels like it is curdling inside her, her guts clenching, her blood pressure is high and rising.

Sonny bends to the mess on the floor. With an outstretched hand and with dexterous digits it goes to pick up a shard of ceramic but is halted by Susie’s command.

“Leave it. What difference does it make?”

The homebot freezes in its half-bent position. How fast it is to respond to her every utterance. How quick its every perception. She flings her spoon, hitting it on the head and making a pinging sound, but the homebot shows no reaction, not an ounce of emotion.

“Doesn’t even hurt, does it? How the fuck could it?” Susie says, breathlessly.

Sonny rises to its full height.

“Miss Susie, I…”

“I’m going to be late. Bring the car round.”

coming out on May 15

e-book available for pre-order

“Colin O’Sullivan writes gloriously”

April 16, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

In Tom Russell’s song about Lightnin’ Hopkins, ‘Scars on His Ankles,” he writes of Lightnin’s scars on his ankles where the chain from the chain gang cut his skin. In Colin O’Sullivan’s jewel of a first novel, Killarney Blues, winner of the “Prix Mystere de la critique,” in France, the main characters also have scars, but they are the emotional ones, ones that were thought to be buried, ones that lie scratching deep beneath the surface of their skin, never to be forgotten.

Thirty year old Bernard Dunphy is a jarvey by trade, driving a horse-carriage, that carries the many tourists, who flock to the lovely Irish town of Killarney each year. Pulled by his old worn-out, dying, but gallant horse, Ninny, Bernard is considered by most a town weirdo. Gap-toothed, overweight, and grubby in his old tobacco and sweat stained black coat, that he wears on even the warmest of days. Walking alone through the town, large headphones in place, listening and mumbling along with the likes of blues-man Son House, as his raw, passionate, stomping sound tears up out of his body and soul, filling Bernard’s ears. “That rhythm is the beat of Bernard’s heart.”

He knows all the old blues-men, from Muddy Waters to Howling Wolf, Sleepy Ma Rainey, John Estes, and Robert Johnson. They are his heroes, and Bernard cannot get enough of them. In his small room alone at home with his guitar and voice, he records blues songs, then gives them to his childhood crush, and love of his life, the beautiful Marian, though she is less than pleased about it. In fact, her two childhood friends, Cathy and Mags, delight in teasing her relentlessly about poor old goofy Bernard’s ongoing devotion to her.

Bernard’s other childhood friend is the handsome, popular footballer, heavy drinker and ladies man, Jack Moriarty. Jack is supposed to be Mags steady, but he is spending a lot of bed time with her best friend Cathy behind Marian’s back. Bernard and Jack share a dark secret that remains a scar on their souls from a terrible night back when they were little boys, young and innocent. A terrible night that also scared Bernard’s father John Dunfey, who also loved the blues and taught Bernard to play, and his mother, Brigid, who smothers Bernard with love and devotion, since her husband John Dunfey’s questionable death by drowning in the lake. They only have each other, a home that once held lovely memories, but also a never-mentioned shameful secret. A secret that during this green, glorious summer will finally scratch through their skins, and alter all their lives.

The green and blue lake beauty of Killarney, Ireland, runs through this wonderfully written novel, and the blues are the glue that holds it all together. Colin O’Sullivan writes gloriously. Hope, frailty, sadness, joy, resilience and surprise. The novel jumps back and forth in time and character viewpoints, but never once does it alter in any way the grand flow of this lyrical and compelling story as it moves forward. The reader carried along steadily, and then hurriedly, as the pages fly by a bit faster, eyes reading in a hurry to find out what happens next, until finally the last paragraph, and a large smile spreads across the face.

Killarney Blues is what the pleasure of reading a totally enjoyable novel is all about.

–Marvin Minkler, Modern First Editions

Original review: https://www.facebook.com/MarvinMinklerModernFirstEditions/posts/1498995423542236

More praise for Sam Hawken’s LA FRONTERA five years after its release

April 3, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

If, like us, you value long-sellers over best-sellers and content over marketing, this book might be for you:

Book Noir review, published on March 30, 2018

Every time I read one of Hawken’s novels I enjoy it immensely; he is a consummate storyteller with a real knack for getting to the heart of the matter. La Frontera is a powerful novel because is deals with the lives of real people in tough situations. That has been a feature of Hawken’s writing since his first novel, The Dead Women of Juarez, a blistering thriller based on the murders of 1500 women in Ciudad Juarez during the drugs wars on the border. This was an important novel but Hawken has gone on to write much better thrillers (from a stylistic point of view). I don’t think anybody writes about La Frontera with the same depth of knowledge of the borderlands (north and south). Hawken is a Texan, and he brings the many stories of real people to life with compassion and honesty. In this case it is Ana, Luis and Marisol. That depth of characterisation sets his novels apart from a lot of thrillers and it’s totally engrossing. The people we meet on these pages are nuanced and complicated. Hawken seems to be able to make ordinary detail seem fascinating and once he introduces a character you will want to know their story. Most importantly Hawken knows how to tell a story with verve and depth; La Frontera is fast paced, absorbing and exciting – it is one of his best and that is saying something.

Full review here: https://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/03/la-frontera-by-sam-hawken/

Colin O’Sullivan wins the “Prix Mystère de la critique” in France for “Killarney Blues”

March 26, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Congratulations to Colin O’Sullivan, Winner of a prestigious crime fiction award in France: the Prix Mystère de la critique!

Previous winners include:

Don Winslow, Daniel Woodrell, Dennis Lehane, Boris Akunin, Donald E. Westlake, Henning Mankell, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Thomas Harris, and many other fabulous writers from around the world.

Richard Kalich acknowledged as an notable postmodernist author

March 14, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Do you know the difference between Modernism and Postmodernism in literature?

This Pediaa.com article gives a clear definition of each movement and, importantly, mentions Richard Kalich, author of The Nihilesthete, Charlie P., and Penthouse F, published as Central Park West Trilogy by Betimes Books, as one of the notable postmodernist writers, along with “household” names like Nabokov, Eco, Auster, and Vonneghut:

What is Postmodernism

Postmodernism was a reaction against modernism, brought about by the disillusionment followed by the Second world war. Postmodernism is characterized by the deliberate use of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different artistic styles and media, and a general distrust of theories. It can be seen as a radical break from modernism when we look at some unique features of postmodernism. Some of these features include,

Irony and parody: Postmodernism works are often characterized by irony and satire. They demonstrate playful, mischievous vibe and a love of satirical humor.Pastiche: Copying ideas and styles from various authors and combining them to make a new style.

Metafiction: Making the readers aware that of the fictional nature of the text they are reading.

Intertextuality: Acknowledging other texts and referring to them in a text.

Faction: Mixing of actual events and fictional events without mentioning what is real and what is fictional.

Paranoia: The distrust in the system and even the distrust of the self.

Some notable writers in postmodernism include  Vladimir Nabokov,  Umberto Eco, John Hawkes,  RICHARD KALICH, Giannina Braschi, Kurt Vonnegut, William Gaddis,  John Barth, Jean Rhys, Donald Barthelme, E.L. Doctorow,  Don DeLillo, Ana Lydia Vega, Jachym Topol and Paul Auster.

Full article here: http://pediaa.com/difference-between-modernism-and-postmodernism-in-literature/

“A gem for real noir fans” – a new review of BORDERLAND NOIR

February 26, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Original review published on February 25, 2018 here: http://nudge-book.com/blog/2018/02/borderland-noir-edited-by-craig-mcdonald/

I came across this anthology when I was looking into a feature on Mexican crime fiction, also published this month on BookNoir. I’m glad I did because there is some fine writing here; there is a genuine connection between the stories based at La Frontera, the border. Equally there is a decent variety of interests, style and purpose in these tales. Naturally I have some favourites but I found each piece engaging and thought-provoking, for the main part the fiction is edgy, exciting and original. I think this is a gem for real noir fans.

McDonald has collated eleven short stories, a couple of excerpts from longer works and two short essays. Borderland Noir has contributions from Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Sam Hawken, Martín Solares and several other respected crime writers.

“All roads lead to borderlands of one sort or another”, says Craig McDonald in his introduction. La Frontera has a mystical hold on the imagination of the crime reader, it’s not so much the reality as the myth. “That delicious, dark-eyed myth of the border”, Tom Russell (song writer). The border conjures images of The Day of the Dead, Narcotraficantes, refugees, mariachi and the north/south divide (the rich and the poor). McDonald is keen to point out that borders are a state of mind, it’s not just the physical border, it’s not just about a place or a geographical location. You can imagine it even if you’ve never been to the borderlands.

These pieces reflect on people’s experience as refugees, economic migrants, victims and perpetrators as well as on their desire and desperation. Wider themes are memory, history, corruption and crime – the value of life, and it’s infinite variety along the border. What the frontier does to people and the light we see them in. Villains include a rapist, people slavers, right-wing border guards and vigilantes. These stories are influenced by the best noir traditions, by writers like James M. Cain, novels like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and literary writers like Graham Greene.

Coyote’s Ballad by Mike MacLean deals with two mules (people smugglers), Cruz and Miguel, transporting ten pollos (chickens/people), across the border to sell. Humans as commodities. A young girl is raped and murdered. Rough justice is served but not for the sake of the girl, for greed and for expediency.

To Have To Hold by Ken Bruen (an Irish man surely knows about borders!). Charlene is a mad Johnny Cash fan and she is in a pickle for killing a man.

Trailer dear Fuego by Garnett Elliott. Tench beats a prisoner to make a point for the inmates and the other guards, to establish that ‘the jungle’ has enforcement if not law. Actions have unforeseen consequences in a case of poetic justice.

Reading the Footnotes by John Stickney deals with two men in a car, Federal Agents or killers or both. Postulating on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and echoes of Breaking Bad.

The Work of Wolves by Bradley Mason Hamlin. Devin is pondering the nature of evil. Talking about getting away from his family, going to Universidad, all the while torturing and murdering a man who can’t escape and has to listen to his rambling monologue.

Traven by Martin Solares is an homage to Ben Traven, writer of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Sam Hawken deals with a man murdered in his hotel room with a six-inch stiletto and Tom Russell muses on murder and recent history around Ciudad Juárez.

There are two brilliant essays. One on Touch of Evil, the Orson Welles movie, and the other on Pancho Villa, revolutionary and bandit. Zeltserman tells the story of one of the great noir movies, a tale that happens across the border. Vargas, Charlton Heston, a narcotics investigator in Mexico, witnesses a murder. A businessman and his stripper girlfriend are blown up in their car. As the explosion occurred on the American side of the border Hank Quinlan is called in to investigate, Orson Welles. Marlene Dietrich is brothel owner Tanya. Quinlan frames a boy but he turns out to be guilty, Vargas knows he is framed. A battle for the truth develops between the two men. Dietrich delivers the classic noir line at the end of the film:

“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about People?”

Pancho Villa is a potted history of the notorious bandit, raising his own army, his role in the revolution, decline into banditry, raids on the US, falling out with other leaders, tawdry death. Short but not lacking in insight.

Both are excellent encapsulations of important border stories.

The anthology is sectioned into North, South and on the Border. The tales are spare; noir prose, short meaningful stories, pithy dialogue and all direct to the point. This is the heart of noir. Darkly entertaining, a really interesting mix of stories and essays.

Paul Burke

 

Colin O’Sullivan’s “KILLARNEY BLUES” is on RTL!

January 22, 2018

BetimesBooksNow

Colin O’Sullivan‘s novel KILLARNEY BLUES (French translation, Éditions Rivages, Sept. 2017) is on the RTL radio (C’est à lire – To be read)!

“This first Noir novel from Colin O’Sullivan is magnificent, very finely written, and profoundly sad. To be savoured while drinking a Guinness and listening to some old blues, by Muddy Waters or Bessie Smith. And if rain knocks on the window glass, like in Killarney, it’s even better.”

C’est à lire : “Killarney Blues” de Colin O’Sullivan

Bernard Poirette, Journaliste RTL

À Killarney, charmante bourgade irlandaise, Bernard Dunphy passe pour l’idiot du village. Il n’a pas trente ans, s’habille hiver comme été d’un lourd manteau de laine et conduit d’une main sûre sa calèche à touristes tirée par sa vieille jument Ninny.

Bernard a toujours le sourire. Il est légèrement autiste. Ça ne l’empêche pas d’avoir deux passions dans la vie : le blues et… Marian, la sublime Marian, qu’il courtise à sa façon, en lui envoyant des cassettes de ses chanteurs préférés. Bernard, c’est en quelque sorte la face lumineuse de Killarney.

Pour le reste, la petite ville a essentiellement du sombre à offrir. La violence perverse de Jack Moriarty, une brute épaisse, sur les terrains de sport comme dans le lit des filles. Parlons des filles, justement : Mags et Cathy, l’officielle et la maitresse de Jack, qui noient leur temps libre dans des pintes de Guinness en attendant le prince charmant. Qui bien sûr ne viendra pas ; rebuté peut-être par les 250 jours de pluie annuels sur Killarney. Rebuté sans doute aussi par les fantômes qui hantent la petite ville… à commencer par celui de John, volontairement noyé dans le lac et dont les lourds et terribles secrets remontent à la surface, comme des cadavres gonflés. C’est tout cela, l’innocence de Bernard et la laideur du monde alentour qui vont se percuter, l’espace de quelques jours, à Killarney, comté de Kerry.

Ce premier roman noir de Colin O’Sullivan est magnifique, très finement écrit et infiniment triste. A déguster en buvant une Guinness et en écoutant un vieux blues de Muddy Waters ou Bessie Smith. Et si, comme à Killarney, la pluie frappe les vitres au dehors, c’est encore mieux.

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 3)

December 14, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Hadley Colt, author of Permanent Fatal Error and The Red-Handed League

Forget Nancy Drew: Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise was my Christmas-gift light-bulb moment of finding a thriller series with a strong female lead, and inspiring my own heroine-driven novels for Betimes Books.

Colin O’Sullivan, author of Killarney Blues and The Starved Lover Sings

This is a big shout-out to my relatives back in Kerry who spoil me and my family in Japan at every Christmas and on birthdays. One of my favourites was a lovely edition of Possessed of a Past: A John Banville Reader, which my benevolent cousin, Martina, also got signed by the great writer. I’ve been a Banville admirer since first reading The Book of Evidence in 1989, and this anthology is a wonderful volume to occasionally dip into and savour the superb stylings of an Irish prose master.

Sam Hawken, author of La Frontera

Sam HawkenEasily the best book gift I ever received was for Christmas in the mid-‘90s, when my girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of a first edition Ace paperback (1970) of Swords and Deviltry, signed by the late Fritz Leiber himself. What a treasure!

Richard Kalich, author of Central Park West Trilogy

The first US edition of Albert Camus’ The Fall (published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1957) given to me on no particular occasion by my twin brother. He bought it with his gambling winnings…

 

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 2)

December 13, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Patricia Ketola, author of Dirty Pictures

One Christmas, when I was about ten years old, I received a copy of R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The book was an unusual choice for a little girl, but I was so thrilled by the marvellous tale of adventure that I could not put it down.  Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver captured my imagination and I wanted to join them on the high seas and participate in their quest for treasure. Treasure Island is such a vivid and stimulating work that it’s still with me after all these years.

Craig McDonald, author of the Hector Lassiter series

Many years ago, at the height of my book collecting period, my wife handled contact with Scorpion Press in the UK when I was ordering a signed and numbered edition of James Ellroy’s memoir, My Dark Places. That same Christmas, she surprised me with the far rarer lettered edition, of which only 15 were produced.

Kevin Stevens, author of Reach the Shining River

When I was eleven years old, my father gave me a beautifully illustrated leather-bound edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. I read the novel then, have read it many times since, and it remains for me a touchstone of wisdom and great storytelling.

Les Edgerton, author of The Death of Tarpons

The best book gift I’ve ever received, I’ve received perhaps two dozen times. Same book. I have a pile of hardcover copies of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, my favorite book. Most of my friends know it’s my favorite book and so for years I keep receiving various copies of it. And, I love each and every one of them!

Fionnuala Brennan, author of The Painter’s Women

It is not easy to choose the best book present I ever received as what was best then I might not regard as the best now. However, I have chosen a book which I received many years ago because I remember it well and think many of its lessons are relevant today.  The book is Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly (Knopf, 1984).  She writes of what she terms ‘follies’, the paradoxes of history, from the Trojan War to Vietnam.  Tuchman (1917-1989) was not an academic historian and perhaps that is why her books, while they could be faulted for not being sufficiently rigorous, were widely read and won her two Pulitzer prizes.

To be continued…

Christmas nostalgia : Our authors about the best book gift they have ever received (Part 1)

December 12, 2017

BetimesBooksNow

Jackie Mallon, author of Silk for the Feed Dogs

It was a copy of The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. A certain someone knew I’d appreciate the paperback’s many idiosyncrasies: the title, so goofy and slapstick-sounding, in direct contrast to the elegant Hitchcockian blond stretched out nude on the cover in an image by Erwin Blumenfeld, a fashion photographer of the 40s and 50s. Published in 1958, in the tradition of the Henry James/Edith Wharton ‘American abroad’ stories, it describes the Parisian exploits of a 21-year-old Missouri native, unleashed with reckless abandon on the bistros and champagne bars off the Champs-Élysées. And he was right. What’s not to love?

     Sean Moncrieff, author of The Angel of the Streetlamps

I must have been thirteen or fourteen and I was given a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I read it during the quiet days between Christmas and the New Year, and it was revelatory. There was no such thing as YA fiction back then, but here was a character not much older than me and who also seemed to feel that there was something ‘wrong’ with the world around them; or with themselves. Or both. I hadn’t known that fiction could do that: and I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.

Donald Finnaeus Mayo, author of Francesca and The Insider’s Guide to Betrayal

I was given a copy of Bruce Carter’s B Flight as a boy and have since returned to it numerous times and read it to both of my sons. An astonishing story of love and war that resonates with a deceptive simplicity, and a final sentence any author would kill for. A real lost gem well overdue for rediscovery.

David Hogan, author of The Last Island

David HoganMaybe it was because the novels had to do with the decadent and entitled British upper class, which I generally have less interest in than a sloth’s synaptic processes.  Or perhaps it was the author’s name: Could the so-called Edward St. Aubyn be expected to write prose that was any less burdensome?  So I resisted, despite myself, and despite the reviews and awards and the fact that time after time the books were recommended and prominently displayed at my local bookstore.  I was strangely conflicted, however.  I wanted to read them, and talked about reading them, and once or twice perused a page or two, but dared no further until one fine day my wife slapped Never Mind on the kitchen table and said, “Maybe this will finally shut you up.”  It did.  I tore through the other four Patrick Melrose novels in quick succession and wondered what had caused my great resistance in the first place.  I now think it was the ‘St.’ in his name, which seems the height of pretension.

To be continued…