Friday, 29 May 2009

Bookarmy goes to Hay Festival '09

This morning we sent our trusty editor, Hannah, off to see what she could see at the carnival of literary delights that is Hay Festival 2009. Hannah has been acting as Bookarmy's eyes and ears at the festival, and we've already got a sneak preview of some of what she's been up to from the photos and other updates she's been sending us throughout the day.

Hay Festival was founded in 1988 by Peter Florence, who recognised Hay-on-Wye, with its disproportionately high number of bookshops, as the bibliophile’s paradise that it is. Every year, the population of this tiny town swells as people travel from far and wide to enjoy literary events, comedy and music in an idyllic Welsh setting. Bookarmy consider ourselves very fortunate to be amongst these literary pilgrims this year, but we office-bound staff members are more than just a touch envious of our editor - just look how perfect it is there! It’s no wonder the festival has grown and grown ever since it began.

Hannah will have crossed back over the Welsh border again by Monday, so you can expect lots of info from her next week about all her literary adventures and exactly which authors she managed to spot!

Posted by Eilidh

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, Review

Over the past few days, my dreary tube journeys have been made just a little more tolerable thanks to Tiffany Baker’s debut novel ‘The Little Giant of Aberdeen County’ , a modern-day fairytale about the trials of being different. Baker’s heroine and narrator, Truly Plaice, is a girl who literally doesn’t fit in; born so oversized that her mother dies pushing her out, she keeps on growing upwards and outwards long into adulthood, leaving her towering over the menfolk of her small-minded hometown, Aberdeen. Her future appears bleak from the outset; so vast that she can’t find girl’s clothes to fit and is forced to cross-dress, Truly’s appearance provokes nothing but amusement and revulsion in her pitiless neighbours. Her beautiful sister Serena Jane, by contrast, is admired by all and seems destined for great things...

It’s hard to continue without giving away the entire plot, so I won’t. In any case, ‘plot’ seems like the wrong word to use in relation to this book; it’s best described as a story, and a very lovely one at that. Subtle it’s not, of course, but since when have fairytales been subtle? Aberdeen is peopled by a range of larger-than-life characters who possess attributes rather than personalities, each individual being representative rather than realistic, and no-one’s actions are really sufficiently motivated. This isn’t necessarily a failing; after all, it’s nice to be able to root for the goodie and boo the baddie once in a while, without any of that bothersome ambiguity as to whose side we’re meant to be on.

In case there should ever be any doubt about exactly what message we are intended to take from the lives of our cast of caricatures (there isn’t), we are helped along by useful explanatory paragraphs. Truly, for example, reflects at one point on the misfortune of her nephew Bobbie having been born male, because ‘he’s such a beautiful child’ and ‘Boys weren’t meant to be pretty. They were meant to be sturdy, and rough, and rugged as mountains . . . they were meant to be just like me.’ This - along with numerous other similar passages - helpfully ensures we understand that sometimes people just don’t conform to society’s expectations and that’s OK.
Strangely, the sledgehammer approach works far better than it logically should for Baker. This is largely because her fairytale style actually demands thematic simplicity and clarity; this is a story with a moral after all, so it has to be apparent what that moral is. The lesson offered by Truly’s narrative is far from ground-breaking: beauty is on the inside, different does not mean bad, even ugly ducklings can find love, flouting conventional gender roles is ok, and so on and so forth. In other words, ‘accept yourself and accept others.’ Hackneyed, yes, but also heart-warming in a way that just can’t be denied.

What the book really owes its success to, however, is Baker’s extraordinarily visual imagination. Each page of the book is peppered with beautifully rich and seemingly effortless metaphors which showcase the author’s eye for a unique image. These act as the perfect complement to a tale which is propelled along by characters’ reactions to external appearances, and it’s obvious that this is the area in which Baker’s strength as a writer truly lies.

Like all fairytales, this one ends with a happily-ever-after for the protagonist, and you’ll find yourself turning the pages so quickly you’ll have reached it before you know it. This book is definitely one for the ladies, but anyone who has seen the pretty floral cover and read the enthusiastic praise from ‘Marie Claire’ and ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazines adorning the jacket is at no risk of being misled as to the novel’s intended market.

‘The Little Giant of Aberdeen County’ is released in the UK on March 28th, 2009.
Posted by Eilidh

Monday, 18 May 2009

J.D. Salinger

Any bookarmy member who has been with us since our first public outing last November may have noticed that the bookarmy team have a bit of a soft spot for J.D. Salinger. And why not? The Catcher in the Rye is a must read not only because it’s a brilliant novel, but also because it continues to have great cultural significance:
It is reported that over 250,000 copies or sold every year, it is studied by almost every other American high school student, and it has been present at several high profile assassinations including John Lennon’s, where his murderer Mark David Chapman carried a copy in his pocket, saying later that the novel explained his actions.

The Catcher in the Rye is still hugely significant and helped to make Salinger a literary giant. The author withdrew from public life in the 1950s, but now we have a sequel to The Catcher in The Rye, not by J.D. Salinger but by John David California, called Beyond the Rye.

My first reaction on hearing the news was, “Oh no! It won't be the same”, while simultaneously wondering if it was actually true (as did Wikipedia, as it turned out), but this initial outcry was swiftly followed by: “brave man”, after I discovered that it was in fact true and more than this, it is California’s debut novel. Although California has dedicated Beyond the Rye to Salinger, J.D. hasn't authorised it, and without his input, can this really be considered a sequel to Catcher, let alone one that will satisfy the millions of fans?

As yet, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy, so I can't give you any insight into whether it is any good, but this is the synopsis:

A 76-year-old man wakes up in a nursing home in upstate New York. This seemingly normal day brings with it an unnerving compulsion to flee his present situation and embark on a curious journey through the streets of New York City. Powerless to resist these strange new urges, Holden Caulfield, like a decrepit marionette, finds himself in the midst of bizarre and occasionally depraved escapades. Is senility finally closing in or is some higher power controlling the chaos? 60 years after his debut as the great American anti-hero, Holden Caulfield is yanked back onto the page without a goddamn clue why.

Hmmm, not sure and neither are the readers of The Bookseller's blog, one commenter declaring:

'This really should never be published. As people have said before, it is absolutely wrong for someone random to cash in on a literary classic. If Salinger wants to write a sequel, fine; but this should never be classed as anything other than what it is: a 'fanfic'.'

If anyone has read Beyond the Rye, or knows any more about it, please let me know.
Posted by Hannah