Friday, April 01, 2011

Reviews of Alt


Lisa Samuels
[photograph: Tim Page]

Well, it's April Fool's day - and, sure enough, a review of my book of short stories Kingdom of Alt (Titus Books, 2010) has appeared on Landfall's new online site here ...

The review is by Lisa Samuels, who teaches poetry and creative writing at Auckland University, and I think it would have to be described as extremely charitable by any standards.

In fact, as Lisa conducted her forensic enquiry into the inner workings of the various stories in the collection, I did begin to expect some kind of flying boot to appear out of nowhere and crush my impertinence forever. Not so, though. She ends as judiciously as she began - and to anyone who knows Lisa's fierce regard for accuracy and truth in all she says and does, this is quite a tribute.

I also have to register a strong vote in favour of the new Landfall Review Online here, too. it's been very frustrating, for a long time now, to see excellent books appearing here in New Zealand which can't get a decent review for love or money. Quote Unquote, Mark Pirie's mid-period JAAM, the pander - all those journals which aspired to cover the more interesting stuff appearing here have either bitten the dust or changed their formats. Yes, reviews are complicated to organise and expensive to commission. Congratulations to David Eggleton, Landfall's new helmsman, then, for getting this new initiative up and running. Even if my book had been slated (which it wasn't), it'd still great to see some solid discursive critical writing out there, easily accessible on the internet.

That's not to say that I agree with everything Lisa says, mind you ... but how else are you going to find out how your writing means to other people than through a comprehensive discussion of this sort by a careful and honest critic? What you think is perfectly clear may not turn out to be so ...


brief 41 Launch (19/1/11)
[photograph: Michael Arnold]

The other substantive review of Kingdom of Alt which has appeared in the past couple of months was in brief 41 (2010): 103-5, edited by Richard von Sturmer. The reviewer, one Elmar Ludwig, characterised himself in the "notes on Contributors" at the end of the magazine as having:

... sold his second-hand bookshop in Hamburg in December 2007. He then decided to spend the next ten years in ten different countries. In 2008 he lived in Yokohama, Japan; in 2009 in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; and in 2010 in Auckland, New Zealand. Next year he will relocate to Israel. His choice of countries is based on a mathematical equation. [107-8]


briefers
[photograph: Michael Arnold]

As the immortal Rabbie Burns once observed: "Would the good Lord the gift would gie us / To see ourselves as others see us" (or words to that effect). One of the most interesting things about Elmar Ludwig's review - to me, at any rate - was the fact that virtually everyone seemed convinced that I'd somehow fabricated his very existence in order to review the book myself ...

Even my publisher, the redoubtable Brett Cross, seemed to have a few doubts on the score. It's true that my fiction is a bit on the tricksy side, and I wouldn't swear not to have invented the odd alter-ego from time to time, but to review my own book? No, honestly not.

Mr Ludwig does sound a bit unlikely, on the surface, but anyone who knows Richard von Sturmer knows that he'd be about as likely to endorse George W. Bush for a Nobel Peace Prize as to collaborate in a literary hoax of this sort ...

You can check out parts of the Ludwig review at my bibliography site here. Elmar Ludwig begins by expressing doubts about my knowledge of contemporary Korean fiction. In this he is quite correct, I should say.

Lisa Samuels begins similarly by wondering if I'm ignorant of J. G. Ballard. There I would have to say that she's less justified, however. The obituary I wrote for him on this very site should constitute evidence of my reverence for the Master's works (though it's true that I haven't actually reread The Atrocity Exhibition all that recently ...)


[J. G. Ballard: The Terminal Collection
(Selected Cover Art: 1978-1984)

10 comments:

Giovanni Tiso said...

I'd say you would be perfectly capable of hoaxing a review of your own book, but then only in order to pan it.

Jack Ross said...

Well, you might have a point there, Giovanni. Only if it seemed extremely amusing to me at the time, though ...

Richard said...

That's a great review Jack. Lisa Samuels is very alert, she is also "someone" in contrast to another reviewer of yours (forget the name) so hopefully you (Titus) will get orders...

Lisa has inspired me to extricate & preuse my own copy. I read the first story and I was impressed but somehow got sidetracked.

All your work has that "disturbingly interesting" aspect, like someone said of Curnow he "fucks with my head" but the immortal Hamish Dewe responded with "Good!". (I have to say I sometimes find a lot of A. Curnow's work rather dark.

Well the reviewer had a quote from Arnold (just read his 'Empedocles' (better than I thought it might be)), and referenced, inter alia: Lautreamont (I read most of his book), Acker; Ballard (only seen the famous movie set in China), but I recall your Blog post on him; Powys (another Blog post); Sebald (I love what I have read by him); Roland Barthes (competing with Arnold as a critic?); Sade (of course (googled Justine, got that, it's not the Durrell one) ..but Sade harks back to your Appolinaire at the start of 'Nights with Giodorno Bruno'; Dante ; .... which is all to say you are in interesting company!!

Don't be hesitant about telling people of your successes. (My policy in the world of chess is to say when I play a great (or nice) game (if I think it is true), but I also I show quite openly my really bad games...no problem, I try to learn from success and failure)...

But it was a good review. Good one! I must get onto spieling re your other book also and Alt. It (Alt) sounds intriguing. She makes or will surely make some people want to read Alt.

Jack Ross said...

Thanks, Richard.

I don't think you have to be so self-deprecatory about your own status as a reviewer, though -- that review of Bruno you did back in the day, which is still up on the Titus site, is a pretty all-stops-pulled-out piece of writing. Ditto your reviews of EMO and Brunettes ...

Richard said...

Jack. thanks re my reviews. Also my review of Brunton's 'Moonshine'

That and 'Emo' were very hard to review.

How to "judge" them?

I had to work on 'Emo' and 'Moonshine', which is good. Bruno was not so bad. I didn't find it hard to read as such.

I was a bit like Don Smith in my approach and reaction.(Remember how he said he threw away your postmodernistical addendum!). I love "traditional" novels stories etc (and also more "avant garde things and these of a range of modes)...I'm not a big fan of Poe or horror as such. I binged on Sci Fi many years ago for a couple of years. But Ballard I really only know via the film of his childhood in China.

I haven't done much on my own Blog as for a start I want to sort my own photo files. Then I am getting new glasses and I had car trouble and so on and on ad infinitum...

Richard said...

Re Sci Fi - Question: did you ever read a Sci Fi novel in which someone was on a dying world, eventually he made it to the another world? My ex (ca the 80s etc) used to read a lot more than I and much more quickly and it was from a library, so just picked it up at random to read and I cant recall who wrote it, or what it was called; now in it there was a castle, and in that there was a huge kind of statue of Santa Claus...(lol!)?

That image haunted me and is in fact in my Chains series in my book...

It, "like a glandy clock..." (the book wasn't erotic but it had a sense of life, of the sensual, I learnt the word 'sentient' via that book; "counts the Universe to its death..." (but there is another universe to "escape to"...)

You might know the book or the writer. Any ideas?

Richard said...

The writer may have been Heinlein. Or Brain Aldiss. But it was quite some time ago.

Jack Ross said...

It doesn't really ring a bell, I'm afraid ... Maybe Roger Zelazny? Ian Watson?

Richard said...

I'm stumped so far. I did some googling and it's not Aldiss's 'Hothouse' although it is possibly "atmospherically" like that.

I thought that Sci Fi hadn't influenced me but I when read Sci Fi I recall when I was a teenager, and for about a year almost non stop I read hundreds of Sci Fi stories. I don't recall all the writers but many of the stories are still in my memory.
I sued to read those Golancz books from the library.

But that other story I read about 1986 I think. I recall being totally absorbed into the world of it as if I was in it. The way Joyce can bring one into his books (especially in the early chapters of Ulysses) but this world, while fictional, was so believable. Yet it was quite strange! And I don't really feel it had a valid "point": after all if a world ends and another begins, you may as well be at the beginning of the one that just ended! And yet it convinced by its subtle writing. But I cant recall who wrote it or what it was called!! (But I didn't read much a that time). The power of story.

Probably that is o,k. though ...

Richard said...

Anyway..'The Kingdom of Alt' is on my agenda! Regards, RT.