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Blog entries on '17 January 2007'

Wednesday 17 January 2007

Sayed Kashu's Let It Be Morning

In my last post I said, "Whilst on a continuing lookout for new fiction that is 'intelligent, edgy, and interesting' I mostly find mediocrity or much worse." Sayed Kashua's Let It Be Morning is a particurly good example of just exactly what I mean.

I was asked to review Kashua's second novel (his debut was the well-received Dancing Arabs) for the FT. (My review should be published very soon; indeed, it may well have already seen the light of the day. After the sub-editor and I wrangled over every line, goodness knows how butchered it might be when it appears!) In the inside cover of the book there are several glowing notices from US and German newspapers, as well as one from Ha'aretz, the Israeli newspaper that Kashua works for. One of the US reviewers quoted is Laila Lalami, whose often very fine blog, which used to be called Moorish Girl, you may well know. Laila is quoted as writing, "the text is rendered quite beautifully and the absurdity of the events [Kashua] describes so unflinchingly brings to mind Kafka". On Saturday, reviewing the book in the Guardian, Maya Jaggi wrote: "disturbing and powerfully accomplished ... Let It Be Morning is reminiscent of Orwell and Kafka". Wow! Sounds great, doesn't it? It isn't.

My review of Let It Be Morning was my first for the FT. The initial draft was very elliptical as I didn't want to condemn the book too strongly, but the FT's sub-editor, quite rightly, seemed to want me to be more forthright and direct. I still held myself back even in the finished piece, however, simply stating, "Let It Be Morning reads as a rather prosaic documentary. It dutifully reports on the quotidian miseries that occur because of the barricade [the novel is about what happens to an Arab Isreali village when surrounded by Isreali tanks], but the writing itself never moves beyond the commonplace." One word would best sum up the novel and that is adequate. It is fine. It would be difficult to render a narrative about the difficult, liminal status of Arab Israelis totally boringly, but Kashua, a journalist, brings us nothing but a journalistic recounting of events. The glowing reviews seem to think that the fascinating content and context of Kashua's work is enough to make his book noteworthy, but that simply isn't good enough. The book is mediocre through and through.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 17 January 2007

On Liddle

Rod Liddle's recent Sunday Times article, Has fiction lost its power?, has been widely circulated and commented upon. Indeed, Scott Esposito's always engaging Conversational Reading referred to the article just yesterday. Like Fausto, one of Scott's commenters, I found a number of the book recommendations in Liddle's piece rather unconvincing, and I find the bloke himself (after pro-war absurdities) quite odious. Like Scott, I'm suspicious that Liddle is just a sour elitist but, unlike Scott, I find myself agreeing with the basic, well-worn argument of the piece. Scott says, "When I can read 70 novels a year -- many of them recently published -- and find a majority of them very intelligent, edgy, and interesting, then all arguments for the so-called decline of fiction are going to feel inherently flawed." I'm astonished. I read as omnivorously as most, yet I find nearly all the new novels I read to be very, very meagre fare indeed. Whilst on a continuing lookout for new fiction that is "intelligent, edgy, and interesting" I mostly find mediocrity or much worse.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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