Thursday, 28 November 2013

Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie

Having enchanted readers on two continents with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie now produces a rapturous and uproarious collision of East and West, a novel about the dream of love and the love of dreams. Fresh from 11 years in Paris studying Freud, bookish Mr. Muo returns to China to spread the gospel of psychoanalysis. His secret purpose is to free his college sweetheart from prison. To do so he has to get on the good side of the bloodthirsty Judge Di, and to accomplish that he must provide the judge with a virgin maiden.

This may prove difficult in a China that has embraced western sexual mores along with capitalism–especially since Muo, while indisputably a romantic, is no ladies’ man. Tender, laugh-out-loud funny, and unexpectedly wise, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch introduces a hero as endearingly inept as Inspector Clouseau and as valiant as Don Quixote.

 
 
 

 
 About the Author
 
Born in China in 1954, Dai Sijie is an award-winning author and filmmaker. Caught up in China’s Cultural Revolution, he was "re-educated" between 1971 and 1974, and spent time working in a camp in a rural part of Sichuan province. After his re-education, he completed high school and university in China before departing for France in 1984 on a scholarship. He directed his first film in 1989. His first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was published in France in 2000. The translation became a national bestseller in America.

Sijie currently lives and works in Paris, France. 

 
 
 

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The New York Times
The Guardian

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym


Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women is a novel about a woman named Mildred Lathbury who is living in London in the 1950s. A self-proclaimed spinster, virtuous almost to a fault, intelligent, and entirely without family, Mildred is alone and content to be so. As the story begins, she is leading a quiet life of churchgoing and part-time charity work, with the Malorys—Julian, a pastor and single man, and his frazzled, sweet sister, Winifred—as her dearest friends.

However, as Mildred herself notes, “An unmarried woman, just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business” (p. 5). And so upon her too-comfortable existence enter a host of unsettling and decidedly unvirtuous characters: the Napiers—Helena and Rockingham—a glamorous and unconventional couple who become Mildred’s housemates; Allegra Gray, the calculating widow who destabilizes Mildred’s relationship with the Malorys; and Everard Bone, the aloof anthropologist who befriends Mildred against all of her expectations.

The Napiers’ marriage is  the rocks, due to Helena’s fierce dedication to her anthropological fieldwork and to dashing Rockingham’s effortless romancing of every woman he encounters. As their go-between and confidant, Mildred suddenly finds herself swept into their milieu of romantic drama and self-important science. Two love triangles develop: between the Napiers and Everard Bone, and between Allegra Gray, Julian Malory, and, to her surprise, Mildred herself. Even as she expresses her intent to preserve her independence, a number of potential suitors present themselves. The more Mildred tries to extricate herself, the more involved she becomes, as each of her friends depends on her to sort out the unflattering messes they make for themselves.

Yet behind her plain and patient facade, capable Mildred turns out to be a more ruthless social observer than even the anthropologists whose job it is to “study man.” Excellent Women is a romantic comedy that makes the decidedly unromantic suggestion that its narrator might be happiest alone. Mildred’s wit and independence subvert the stereotype that “excellent women” are dull. Set against the backdrop of postwar London, a city sorting through the disruptions of wartime bombing, the beginnings of feminism, and the end of colonialism, the novel offers effortless social critique that is as entertaining as it is enlightening.


About the Author

Born Barbara Mary Crampton Pym at Oswestry in 1913, the daughter of a solicitor, Frederic Crampton Pym, she was educated at Liverpool College, Huyton, and read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. There she developed her passion for literature and church ritual and also formed her habit of cherishing ‘unrequited attachments to unresponsive men’ (C. A. R. Hills, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ), notably for one Henry Harvey who appears as the archdeacon, Henry Hoccleve, in her first published novel, Some Tame Gazelle. Disappointment in love is the inspiration for her thirteen novels, humorous and gentle satires on English parish and suburban life.

She had a long struggle to get the first novel into print, eventually succeeding in 1950, and up to 1961 six were published, including Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings. Then she received a crushing blow when, in the changed climate of the nineteen sixties and seventies, publishers rejected An Unsuitable Attachment as unfashionable and she remained in the wilderness until 1977. In that year both Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin named her in the TLS as the most underrated writer of the century and reawakened the publishers’ interest. Her books began to be published again, beginning with Quartet in Autumn and she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Four manuscripts which had been gathering dust for years were published posthumously, including Crampton Hodnet, set in North Oxford.
During the war years she served in the WRNS and was posted to Naples. In 1946 she began research and editorial work at the International African Institute and the rest of her professional life was spent there. She lived with her sister Hilary Walton in various parts of London and then in 1972 they settled in Finstock at Barn Cottage. There Barbara remained, writing and participating in village life, until her death from cancer in 1980. Her final days were spent in the Oxford hospice, Michael Sobell House. She is buried in Finstock Churchyard.

 

 
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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Canada by Richard Ford


First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.”

So begins Canada, the unforgettable story of Dell Parsons, a young man forced by catastrophic circumstances to reconcile himself to a world rendered unrecognizable. Spirited across the Montana border into Saskatchewan and taken in by Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic man whose own past exists on the other side of the border, Dell struggles to understand what his future can be even as he comes to understand the violence simmering below the surface in his new life.

In this brilliant novel, set largely in Saskatchewan, Richard Ford has created a masterwork. Haunting and spectacular in vision, Canada is a novel rich with emotional clarity and lyrical precision, and an acute sense of the grandeur of living. It is a classic-in-the-making from one of our time’s greatest writers.




About the Author

                                                                            
Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1944, the only child of a traveling salesman for a starch company, and was raised in Mississippi and in Arkansas. He went to college at Michigan State University, where he met Kristina Hensley, to whom he has been married since 1968. Ford attended law school very briefly before entering the University of California at Irvine, where he received his M.F.A. in writing in 1970.

After publishing two novels, A Piece of My Heart (1976) and The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), Ford took a job writing for Inside Sports Magazine. When the magazine was sold, he decided to write a book about a sportswriter; the resulting novel, published in 1986, received widespread acclaim: it was named one of five best books of 1986 by Time magazine. The Sportswriter was followed by Rock Springs (1987), a highly praised book of short stories, and in 1990 by a novel set in Great Falls, Montana, called Wildlife. His previous novel, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, the first novel ever to win both awards. In 2012 he published Canada, his first stand-alone novel since Wildlife.

In addition to his steady production of fiction, Ford has also taught writing and literature at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, at Princeton University, and at Williams College.
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