Tag Archives: Jacques Strauss

The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2015

The twelve strong longlist of titles celebrating LGBT writing have been announced after hours of debates between the judges over an exceptional list of submissions, the most the prize has seen in its history to date. Once again with a list including fiction; from debut novelists to well established literary faces, non-fiction; from poetry to investigations into the drugs world, the Green Carnation proves itself as one of the most diverse prizes. I would say all this (and I did as I wrote the press release) because as regular readers of the blog will know, I am one of the founders and now Honorary Directors of the Prize. What some of you might not know is I find out the longlist very last minute and this year (what with never being anywhere long in the last few weeks) I found out a while after the meeting. The list is a very strong one I think…

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  • Blood Relatives – Stevan Alcock (4th Estate)
  • Deep Lane – Mark Doty (Jonathan Cape)
  • Sophie and the Sibyl – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts – Mel Evans (Pluto Press)
  • A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Chasing the Scream – Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (Oneworld)
  • The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker)
  • Mrs Engels – Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)
  • Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy (Bloomsbury)
  • The Curator – Jacques Strauss (Jonathan Cape)

To prove how out of the loop I am with the books, apart from the fact that I chase the submissions, I have only read five of the books and so have rather a lot of wonderful reads in the next month before the shortlist is announced on Thursday the 5th of November. I have shockingly only reviewed two of the five I have read, which I need to sort out sharpish. Yet at the moment book reviews seem like some elusive thing that I dream of doing, or sometimes have nightmares of people screaming down the phone at me for not doing, as I don’t seem to be able to find the time at the moment. But I will, I really will. anyway, you can find out more about the Green Carnation Prize and the longlist on the website.

Do I have any favourites? Were there any I was sad not to see make the list? Well, that would be telling. What I would love to know are your thoughts on the list and which of the books you have read and what you thought of those?

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The Curator – Jacques Strauss

I like a dark book, I have said this before. I think fiction is a really interesting, as well as safe, way for us to explore the darker sides of society and people. It is rare though that a book really bothers me to the point where I can’t shake it and start to react against it – in a good if initially quite angry or outraged way. Jacques Strauss’ second novel The Curator is one such book…

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2015, fiction, 342 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Sometimes we feel we are stuck in a rut in our lives. This is very much the case with Werner Deyer who, now in his mid to late thirties, is still living with his deeply unhappy parents (his father Hendrik slowly dying in a rage, his mother Petronella having a breakdown) in a job that bores him, while his younger brother is off having a seemingly amazing life. Werner is bitter, he is also really lazy and not doing anything to help the situation other than drunkenly daydreaming of one day curating a great gallery, a childhood dream. However when the job in Pretoria he thought he’d get goes to someone else that dream seems ever more distant and so Werner starts to plot how he can get what he wants through other means. The answer is simple, he hates his father who is dying anyway, so why not kill him and reap the inherited rewards?

Now this all sounds rather straightforward, gruesomely brilliant, and simple enough but what is also lying behind the covers of The Curator is another story from Werner’s past and his childhood in 1976. Back then, on the neighbouring farm to the Deyer’s, there was a family massacre only witnessed by the black maid they had hired. She is soon hired by Hendrik because he is thinking of killing all of his family (it’s just slipped into the story like that early on, calm as you like,) and believes she can spot this and therefore save him from himself in effect saving them all. Funnily enough, it was at this time that Werner and his father fell out irrevocably yet as we read on and learn all the families’ intricate secrets, jealousies and resentments, we learn there could be many a reason for this epic family breakdown.

‘Have you been drinking?’ Petronella asks as she gets into the car.
‘Just a glass of wine,’ he says.
‘You smell like a brewery. Why do you drink so much?’
‘I was worried about Pa.’
‘You mustn’t drink so much. Do you want to get diabetes?’
‘Let it go.’
‘Maybe I should drive.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. How’s Pa?’
‘Not good,’ she says. ‘I’m worried.’
Werner puts his thoughts of murder on hold. Please, God, he thinks, don’t force my hand. I’ll be really pissed off.

I am aware that this might sound like a farce and it has some incredibly brilliant grimly comic moments at the start. Yet do not let yourself be fooled by Strauss as The Curator becomes incredibly bleak and takes some of the darkest turns you might imagine, and some you might not see coming. This is part of the power of the book and the more you read on the more you realise that things, and people, might be even worse than they first appear on the outside. This is not a book for people who like their characters likeable and redemption around every corner, but I am not one of those people and so overall it excelled for me.

Yes, there is an ‘overall’ in there. This might be personal taste or just me getting on my high horse, but one strand of the story kind of hit the cliché alert button for me. Without giving too many spoilers away there is a strand that looks at child abuse, or more what constitutes it. This also looks at sexuality in a really interesting way. BUT. I have to say, and you won’t know who the characters are till you read it, I am slightly bored of gay men being seen as predatory paedophiles. At the same time, in bringing this up as a subject it purposefully addressed the issue (along with other strands on race, adultery, drugs, murder) and makes the reader look at uncomfortable topics from all angles – some interesting discussion for your book group right there then? It is the first book though that has made me squirm so awkwardly in quite some time so that makes me think it must be good thought provoking and truly unsettling stuff. This is what I mean about reacting against it, though it was more the subject matter and the assumptions around it than Strauss’ words or the way he delivers it in the context of the story. Am I making sense? I hope so.

Jacques Strauss’ prose takes you through all this and that is because it is quite fantastic. As I have mentioned he has an uncanny way of making you laugh at some of the darker sides of humanity before suddenly showing you that you are laughing at some pretty horrendous stuff (without making you feel a fool or a weirdo) and then leading you somewhere darker and making you think on. He writes beautifully. He can break you in a couple of sentences. He looks at his mother, small and grey, hunched over her plate. She drains all the venom from him and he feels like a brute. Or the one that has stayed with me for weeks and weeks. His chest hurts. Is it love or a heart attack. Brilliant.

The other things that I thought were fantastic about The Curator were how it looks at family and also how it looks at South Africa. In the case of family Strauss takes the familiar tale of a disintegrating family and takes it down to it’s barest of bones and its most extreme, without it ever seeming unbelievable. He unflinchingly looks at how families work, how they don’t and how and why family can bind us both for good and for bad. With his take on South Africa Strauss again does something really interesting. He produces a warts and all (good and bad again, in fact good vs. bad is a huge theme in this book) both in the 1970s and in the modern day, contrasting and comparing the two and seeing if the country has changed as much as it claims to have.

There are twenty thousand murders in South Africa every year and, he thinks, there may well be more, for his own contribution will go unrecognised, unaccounted. Surely he must pass murderers on the street from time to time, or in the shopping mall or even in church. He glances around. Having snuffed a life, is there a change – psychological, psychic, physiological – that allow murderers to recognise one another in the streets? Will they hold your gaze a moment too long?

The Curator is a very interesting and compelling read. I think I read it in about three giant gulps in a mixture of hilarity and then abject horror as the books twists and turns keep coming. There are the occasional issues along the way but the power of the prose, its questions and its messages about society, South Africa, family and the darker sides of humanity completely won me over.  I like dark books and this one made me very uncomfortable at times and challenged me, which is no bad thing and actually a credit to it in hindsight. It is certainly a book I won’t forget and will linger in my memory, glistening darkly.

Who else has read The Curator and what did you make of it? I have recently realised that I read Strauss’ debut The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. for a book group years ago and never wrote about it, as it was a short number I will have to go back and revisit it as I remember it had some similar strands and effects on me.

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May’s Incomings…

If you don’t like blog posts about lots of books arriving look away now… However if like me you love them you are in luck. So without further ado here are the books that have arrived throughout the month of May at Savidge Reads HQ. First up are the paperbacks which have come from the lovely people at Oxford University Press, Quercus, Vintage, Atlantic, Pan MacMillan, Serpents Tail, Peirene Press, Capuchin Classics, Beautiful Books, Faber, Gallic, Penguin and Myriad Editions…

  • Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell (unsolicited proof, this one came at a very fortuitous time as they are discussing this on The Archers for their village book group, love the new cover OUP have done)
  • The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths (the first of a crime series which has been getting lots of buzz, I like to start at the beginning)
  • The Upright Piano Player – David Abbot (I have been wanting to read this since I saw it on the World Book Night debut novelists Culture Show special)
  • Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas (unsolicited proof, another book I whooped at, have wanted to read this for year since I saw the film, pre-The Slap fame – a book I realised I read twice last year for The Green Carnation Prize and never blogged bout, and it’s been reissued)
  • Tell-All – Chuck Palahnuick (unsolicited proof, another book I read last year as a Green Carnation submission, maybe I should dig out all my thoughts on those, what do you think?)
  • Mr Peanut – Adam Ross (unsolicited proof, another book I was sent in Hardback, this a reminder I still haven’t read it and heard lots of good things about it)
  • On Black Sisters Street – Chika Unigwe (I begged for this one after seeing a wonderful review of it here)
  • The Wolf/Taurus – Joseph Smith (unsolicited proof)
  • Silence – Jan Costin Wagner (unsolicited proof, and another scandi-crime)
  • Kamchatka – Marcelo Figueras (unsolicited proof)
  • Kraken – China Mieville (I saw him talk at the beginning of May in Manchester thanks to his publishers who then sent me this after my loving ‘Embassytown’)
  • Union Atlantic – Adam Haslett (unsolicited proof, another book read for The Green Carnation last year and never discussed)
  • Wish You Were Here – Travis Elborough (unsolicited proof)
  • Tomorrow Pamplona – Jan van Mersbergen (I love the Peirene Books, so am sure their fifth will be brilliant)
  • The Undiscovered Country – Julian Mitchell (TGCP2011 submission)
  • Role Models – John Waters (TGCP2011 submission)
  • The Observations – Jane Harris (will be discussing Gillespie and I tomorrow, this is one of my favourite books ever and am really excited as I have been asked to write the reading guides for book groups and libraries for both Jane’s books, eek – a re-read is coming)
  • Hector and the Secrets of Love – Francois Lelord (I was one of the very few people who loathed the first Hector book, lets see how this one does it came with the below book which I am desperate to read)
  • Monsieur Montespan – Jean Teule (really excited about this as I loved ‘The Suicide Shop’ and this is Teule’s 17th Century French romp)
  • In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar (loved ‘Anatomy of a Disappearance’ so have high hopes for this one)
  • Hurry Up and Wait – Isabel Ashdown (unsolicited proof, I have her debut ‘Glasshopper’ very high on the TBR so am hoping this is a new author to love)

Next up are the trade paperbacks and hardbacks from the publishers Persephone, Quercus, Pam MacMillan, Vintage, Picador, Bloomsbury, Doubleday, Penguin and Atlantic…

  • Mrs Buncles Book – D.E. Stevenson (this was actually the present Claire had sent me for my birthday but the sequel arrived and Persephone kindly sent this one and let me keep the other, a present that kept on giving)
  • Monsieur Linh and his Child – Philippe Claudel (we read ‘Brodeck’s Report’ for the first Not The TV Book Club and so I am very excited about this)
  • Phantoms on the Bookshelves – Jaques Bonnet (a book about books and bookshelves, too exciting)
  • The Ritual – Adam Nevill (unsolicited proof, I just recently read ‘Apartment 16’ which I will be discussing in the far distant future as its my next book group choice in like five turns, I changed my mind but everyone had bought it, oops)
  • The Winter of the Lions – Jan Costin Wagner (unsolicited proof)
  • Mr Fox – Helen Oyeyemi (unsolicited proof, but a very exciting one as I am really keen to read Oyeyemi’s work)
  • The Sickness  – Alberto Barrera Tyszka (a book I have heard a lot about, was drawn in by the cover, and want to read)
  • The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. – Jacques Strauss (I begged for this one after reading this review)
  • State of Wonder – Ann Patchett (unsolicited proof, though I have a feeling Patchett could become a new favourite author)
  • Before I Go To Sleep – S.J. Watson (any book that has Sophie Hannah, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen singing its praises has to be a book for me, this is also a submission for TGCP2011)
  • Do No Harm – Carol Topolski (another beg after seeing this review by Kim who loved it, I got ‘Monster Love’ from the library too)
  • Last Man in Tower – Aravind Adiga (unsolicited proof, very excited about this as I liked ‘The White Tiger’ a lot, must read his short story collection too)   

Finally are four books that I have bought/swapped in the last month…

  • The Memories of Six Reigns – Princess Marie Louise (this book is really hard to get hold of but I found it early in the month in a pub that sold books for charity for 50p, it’s a book Neil Bartlett recommended to me,and you, last summer, I might have whooped when I saw this, ok I did)
  • The Ice Princess/The Preacher – Camilla Lackberg (I managed to swap these at the Book Exchange early in the month, I have heard a lot of praise for this author and the fact she is one of the female scandi-crime writers intrigues me)
  • The Hypnotist – Lars Kelper (I bought this with some birthday vouchers from Gran, its yet more scandi-crime but with a difference having been written by a couple and being a thriller meets horror, interesting, and a book I have been more and more desperate to read)

That’s the lot, and it is a lot I have noted, that have come in this month. I think its time for a clear out of the book boxes and mount TBR again isn’t it? Eek! That always fills me with dread. Anyways because I love getting books, and I know you do too I have teamed up with Headline to give away some books to all of you, you’ll have to pop here to find out how. It’s a good book though, one of my favourites of the month just passed.

So which of these would you like to hear more about and see me reading, on a whim of course, and which books or authors have you read and what did you think?

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