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Posts Tagged ‘Edward Carey’

I’ve decided to do a top 20 fiction list this year with 6 additional books in other categories (a children’s book, 3 non-fiction, and 2 graphic novels).The fiction list is split into halves:
THE TOP 10 (in no particular order, because frankly they each have their individual charms)

These were my 10 favourite reads of the year. Some of them were published in 2014, some not.

One of my favourite reads of 2014.

One of my favourite reads of 2014.

Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco: A quiet but incredibly powerful book (a pair of linked novellas). The prose is lovely and deceptively simple. It is like looking into a pool of crystal clear water. You can see the bottom, but once you dive in you realize it is much deeper than it appears to be. It is the story of a writer vows to never write another book, and instead becomes a copyist, producing intimate “portraits” of people in writing.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: A book I regret not reading sooner, but that I doubt I would have appreciated had I read it sooner. A near perfect book read at the perfect time.

No One Writes Back by Jang Eun-Jin: One of the Library of Korean Literature titles from Dalkey Archive Press that (full disclosure) I edited while working in Dublin as an unpaid intern there. This was my favourite of the series of 10 Korean novels that I edited. It is an unusual and moving story about the need for communication and connection and the ways we cope with tragedy and grief.

The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant: I loved this book about an indifferent rent collector who is unable to remain indifferent to the suffering of his tenants and embarks upon a comical and desperate scheme to improve their lives.

Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken: Hands down, my favourite short story collection of the year. Each story revolves around grief, loss, and ways in which the ripples from those emotions affect others.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer: My description of this book to friends is mostly expletives followed by, “Just buy it.” Authority is also awesome and I’m sure the entire Southern Reach Trilogy would be on this list, but the flu kept me from getting to Acceptance, so I’ll just put the first book on here and let you discover the rest on your own.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Intense, terrifying, moving, imaginative. Basically, it is Gaiman. Just read it.

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli: Polyphonic and fragmentary. Narrative worlds weave in and out of one another in surreal ways. A woman in Mexico City writing about her past in New York and about an obscure poet from the 1920s, Gilberto Owen, who comes to life through her reflections. Masterful. Excellent translation.

Sweetland by Michael Crummey: A story about landscape, identity, community, and the tragedies and truths that shape our lives set on an island off the Newfoundland coast. Also about the things we can’t leave behind. Funny, haunting.

Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki: The story of a small Angolan beach community threatened with destruction by the Soviets for the sake of the construction of a monument to a dead dictator. Contains a memorable cast of characters: the children with a cunning plan, a mad Cuban called Sea Foam, a ghost, a lovesick Russian, and a gangrenous granny, among others. Excellent translation by Stephen Henighan.
The Next 10 (again, in no particular order)

I read too many really good books this year to limit myself to a top 10, so here’s the next 10 good reads on my list.

The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker: Atmospheric, creepy, and elegantly told tale of Arthor Crandle, a fellow down on his luck who takes a position as an assistant to none other than H.P. Lovecraft., the godfather of weird fiction.

A Fairy Tale by Jonas T. Bengtsson: An intense and moving story of a father-son relationship. The imagery is incredibly vivid and almost magical realist or fabulist in the first half of the book. The narrative shift in the second half changes the tone but manages to maintain the tension in the narrative. Excellent read, excellent translation.

Timoleon Vieta Come Home by Dan Rhodes: Another book that’s been around for ages, but that I’m only getting to now. I’ve worked my way backwards through Rhodes’ catalogue and can say with confidence that no one can write about the macabre and the melancholy with such humour and wit. Ultimately, Rhodes writes about love, and ultimately, his books are uplifting, but prepare to have your heart broken in the process. (You will also laugh, and cry, and probably chuck the book against the wall. This is all normal.)

The Martian by Andy Weir: Think MacGyver and Castaway and Apollo 13. Space is awesome. Stylistically, the prose is not going to blow you away, but somehow that doesn’t even matter. The story is so compelling and so cool, because space is cool, and NASA is cool, and Mars is cool, that you won’t be able to stop reading.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: Post-war Welsh-English border. Country estate. One terrifying ghost. Tiffany Murray is an excellent storyteller. I may never forgive her for the moth thing though.

A by André Alexis: A book reviewer from Toronto obsessed with an elusive poet tracks him down in an attempt to understand the creative act. The meeting of critic and artist/hero changes both lives and provides an interesting read/meditation on inspiration and literary creation.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Structurally very innovative. Incredibly moving. Looking forward to A God in Ruins which continues Teddy’s story.

Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill: Portrait of a marriage in vignettes. Moving and insightful.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher: Hilarious (but also painfully close to the mark) academic satire told entirely in the letters of reference from one faculty member at a small college. I laughed a lot.

The Age of Magic by Ben Okri: While this novel left me colder than some of Okri’s other works, it is full of ideas and Faustian allusions, and some of the passages in the middle of the book are quite marvellous.

The Children’s/YA Book (but awesome for everyone even grown-ups; start with the first in the series)

I usually read a few more children’s or young adult books, but for some reason or other, I just ran out of time this year. I do have a couple of Jonathan Auxier’s books on my nightstand though, and they look great. However, I think everyone should read the Iremonger trilogy because it is the best. THE. BEST. (Which is saying something, because it currently only has two books in it).

Best. Kids' Series. Ever.

Best. Kids’ Series. Ever.

Foulsham (book 2 of the Iremonger trilogy) by Edward Carey (or, if you live in North America, Heap House (book 1 of the Iremonger trilogy), which was published over here in 2014): Continuation of the Iremonger trilogy. One of the most original stories I have read in years. Includes Carey’s marvellous illustrations of the characters and settings.
The Non-Fiction

I’m only recently coming around to reading non-fiction. These ones really grabbed me this year.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund: I loved this book. It is an absolute blast to read. Conversational, debate-provoking, visually stunning.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison: Insightful essays about fascinating topics from an engaging personal perspective.

Youth: Autobiographical Writings by Wolfgang Koeppen: Post-modern memoir. Fascinating stuff.

The Graphic Novels

I’m also new to graphic storytelling (aside from some Dark Knight Returns etc in university), but these two were supercool and I’ll be seeking out more like them at Happy Harbor.

Through The Woods by Emily Carroll: Stunning art, 5 original dark fairy tales. Good luck sleeping.

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins: The title alone should be enough to make you read this.

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Heap House is Edward Carey’s first foray into young adult fiction. The author of two of the most original adult novels in recent years—Observatory Mansions and Alva and Irva—Carey brings his quirky and emotionally resonant style to Book One in the Iremonger trilogy (available from Harper Collins Canada).

For generations, the Iremonger family has been responsible for “the Heaps,” a tremendous sea of trash outside an alternate-universe London with Dickensian echoes. The story has an Upstairs/Downstairs structure that is masterfully managed by Carey’s use of two protagonists: Clod Iremonger, gifted outcast of the Upstairs Iremongers, and Lucy Pennant, feisty orphan of the Downstairs Iremongers. The chapters alternate between protagonists, and the stories slowly intertwine as Clod and Lucy begin to uncover the dark secrets of the Iremonger family.

Each of the protagonists faces significant challenges. Clod has the unusual ability to hear the voices of birth objects (objects assigned to each Iremonger at birth), and each object calls out a different name. This skill leaves him shunned by many family members. Clod is bullied by his wretched cousin Moorcus and has to face a dreaded coming of age ceremony involving an arranged marriage to an unpleasant cousin, Pinnalippy. Lucy is oppressed by the rules imposed on the servants downstairs and struggles to hang on to her identity and her memories in a house where she is stripped of everything but the name “Iremonger”. Accompanying these challenges faced by the two protagonists is the larger problem of the Heaps themselves (which certainly make the reader consider the environmental consequences of our culture of the disposable, as well as the way we accumulate unnecessary stuff in our consumer culture). The Heaps surround the house and provide a menacing backdrop for some intense scenes, while the objects inside the house begin to become threatening in their own, very unexpected, way.

The chapters are accompanied by evocative and gloomy portraits of the occupants of Heap House with their birth objects. The illustrations create the effect for the reader of walking through the grand hall in a Victorian manor house lined with family portraits. As with his adult fiction, Carey creates a marvelous architectural space for this story. The house is a patchwork conglomeration of other buildings or bits of buildings, creating a fantastic, precarious, and near surreal setting for the story.

This is a family saga of such originality that readers will be swept away wondering where the tale will take them, and the story ends on a cliffhanger certain to leave readers anxious for the next installment. This is my number one recommendation for Young Adult reads this Christmas. The second book in the series, Foulsham, is already available in the UK from Hot Key Books. Here in Canada, we have to wait a little longer, but Heap House is available in hardcover now.

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I always anticipate literary award season with a mixture of hope and dread. Each year, I hope to be surprised by what makes it to the short lists, but each year I am almost always disappointed. Canadian literature awards especially, like the Giller Prize (this year’s short list: http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/finalists/2014-shortlist/) and the Governor General Awards (this year’s short list: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/10/governor-generals-literary-awards-2014-the-finalists.html), tend to stick to the “safe” titles: literary and “serious” and appealing to the broadest possible spectrum of readers. Rarely do the titles on literary award short lists strike me as challenging either literary conventions or challenging commonly held beliefs/perspectives. My usual response is a disappointed sigh, as the short lists seem to be more of the same old, same old. I don’t intend this as a disparagement of those who are lucky enough to make these short lists, as their talent is not what I am questioning. I am sure I would enjoy many of the books on these lists. I just tend to be less interested in reading them because they seem to fit conventional narrative patterns or subjects and I like to stretch my boundaries as a reader. I would like literary awards to take some risks in introducing readers to books beyond the conventional and familiar, in order that readers may expand their comfort zones. So, in response to this apathy I feel, I have decided to make a long list of books that I found interesting in terms of form or challenging in terms of subject matter, books that I feel made me a better reader. These books aren’t perfect. They have flaws, but their authors were brave enough to try something different (new or less familiar) in terms of form or genre and to look at subjects deemed uncomfortable or unworthy by others. Some have been recognized by larger prizes, but even in those cases, I feel they didn’t get the consideration they deserved by the reading public. Each book on this list gave me a thrill as I figured out what they were trying to do, and each one was emotionally affecting in its own way. Here is the inaugural long list for the Hamilton Award for Interesting Literature (HAIL – as in, all hail to me, queen of cool book recommendations):

The City of Bohane – Kevin Barry

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Love and the Mess We’re In – Stephen Marche

Faces in the Crowd – Valeria Luiselli

Observatory Mansions – Edward Carey

The Boys in the Trees – Mary Swan

So Many Ways to Begin – Jon McGregor

Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

The Logogryph – Thomas Wharton 

Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre

Spilt Milk – Chico Buarque

The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride (I’m still reading this one)

I am not able to offer a spectacular monetary prize in the tradition of those prizes I discuss here (I am a poor adjunct, after all), but I would like to offer my sincere appreciation to these authors for shaking up expectations and creating marvelous fictional worlds for readers to inhabit. I hope you will consider giving these writers your attention.

I must say that the Booker Prize short list (http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/man-booker-prize-fiction-2014-shortlist-revealed) did come as something of a surprise to me this year, as it seems fresher and more interesting than many of their lists in the recent past. I often find at least one title of interest, but this year I am interested in reading most of the titles here. However, in the world of literary awards, I find that the most reliably interesting long and short lists are for the Dublin IMPAC Award (last year’s nominees http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/ won by Juan Gabriel Vasquez) and the Neustadt Prize (last year’s nominees http://neustadtprize.org/the-23rd-biennial-neustadt-international-prize-for-literature-nominees-announced/#.VDwOmfldVaQ won by Mia Couto). I want unfamiliar literary prize nominees, new writers whose bodies of work I can begin to explore. I want prize lists to challenge my comfort zone.

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