If there is one thing Tibor Fischer can do like no one else, it’s to pen snappy, devastating titles. Once you’ve got past the provocative posturing of this collection’s title page, then you are faced with seven brilliantly dubbed pieces—try “We Ate The Chef”, “Portrait of the Artist as a Foaming Deathmonger” and “I Like Being Killed” for size.
As all that might suggest, Fischer—known for his Booker-shortlisted Under The Frog and more recently The Thought Gangand The Collector Collector—is a clever writer, a wordsmith of tremendous dexterity, whose fluent prose surges forward with an irrepressible energy, usually pushing him to the furthest edges of a very dark humour and occasionally to a jarring callousness.
The opening novella “We Ate The Chef”, for example, starts innocuously enough in Cambridge Circus, but somehow spirals into a Côte d’Azur thriller, climaxing in a particularly ungracious (but utterly appropriate) orgasm. In “Then They Say You’re Drunk”, Fischer, an adopted South Londoner, explores the quite plausible proposition that Brixton “must have more headcases per square inch than any other place in the world”. His trademark stream-of-self-consciousness shares much with the rhythms of stand-up, so it comes as no surprise to find the closing “I Like Being Killed” delving into London’s comedy circuit.
But there’s a hint of seriousness among the casual cruelty. In the short “Ice Tonight in the Hearts of Young Visitors”, Fischer stands on the Hungarian border and concludes bitterly: “I assure you if there is a hell, it will be the most solitary of confinements and cold”. —Alan Stewart
Tibor Fischer - Good to be God
Using the credit card and identity of a handcuffs salesman, professional failure Tyndale Corbett arrives in Miami for a law-enforcement conference to discover the joys of luxury hotels and above all the delight of being someone else, someone successful. Feeling his previous lack of success might be due to insufficient ambition, Tyndale decides on a new moneymaking scheme. He will up the ante substantially, exponentially, and pretend to be someone really important and successful: God. His mission to convince the citizenry of Miami that he is, despite appearances, the Supreme Being results in him taking over the Church of the Heavily Armed Christ. His duties there involve him in forming a private army, hiring call girls, trafficking coke, issuing death threats, beating off church-jackers and sorting out (as almightily as possible) various problems his parishioners are having with pets. All the while he is working on his grand project, the clincher miracle: dying and coming back to life…
Tina Fey - Bossypants
Tina Fey’s new book Bossypants is short, messy, and impossibly funny (an apt description of the comedian herself). From her humble roots growing up in Pennsylvania to her days doing amateur improv in Chicago to her early sketches on Saturday Night Live, Fey gives us a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain of modern comedy with equal doses of wit, candor, and self-deprecation. Some of the funniest chapters feature the differences between male and female comedy writers ("men urinate in cups"), her cruise ship honeymoon ("it’s very Poseidon Adventure"), and advice about breastfeeding ("I had an obligation to my child to pretend to try"). But the chaos of Fey’s life is best detailed when she’s dividing her efforts equally between rehearsing her Sarah Palin impression, trying to get Oprah to appear on 30 Rock, and planning her daughter’s Peter Pan-themed birthday. Bossypants gets to the heart of why Tina Fey remains universally adored: she embodies the hectic, too-many-things-to-juggle lifestyle we all have, but instead of complaining about it, she can just laugh it off.
Kurt Vonnegut - The Sirens of Titan
When Winston Niles Rumfoord flies his spaceship into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum he is converted into pure energy and only materializes when his waveforms intercept Earth or some other planet. As a result, he only gets home to Newport, Rhode Island, once every fifty-nine days and then only for an hour. But at least, as a consolation, he now knows everything that has ever happened and everything that ever will be. He knows, for instance, that his wife is going to Mars to mate with Malachi Constant, the richest man in the world. He also knows that on Titan - one of Saturn's moons - is an alien from the planet Tralfamadore, who has been waiting 200,000 years for a spare part for his grounded spacecraft...
Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle
Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding 'fathers' of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to humanity. For he is the inventor of ice-nine, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. Writer Jonah's search for its whereabouts leads him to Hoenikker's three eccentric children, to an island republic in the Caribbean where the religion of Bokonism is practised, to love and to insanity. Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut's cult tale of global destruction is a funny and frightening satire on the end of the world and the madness of mankind.
Haruki Murakami - After the Quake
The economy was booming. People had more money than they knew what to do with. And then the earthquake struck. For the characters in After the Quake, the Kobe earthquake is an echo from a past they buried long ago. Satsuki has spent thirty years hating one man: a lover who destroyed her chances of having children. Did her desire for revenge cause the earthquake? Junpei's estranged parents live in Kobe. Should he contact them? Miyake left his family in Kobe to make midnight bonfires on a beach hundreds of miles away. Fourteen-year-old Sala has nightmares that the Earthquake Man is trying to stuff her inside a little box. Katagiri returns home to find a giant frog in his apartment on a mission to save Tokyo from a massive burrowing worm. 'When he gets angry, he causes earthquakes, says Frog. And right now he is very, very angry. This new collection of stories, from one of the world's greatest living writers, dissects the violence beneath the surface of modern Japan.
Edgar Allan Poe - The Complete Tales and Poems
All of the tales by the master of the detective and the macabre story. 53 of his best-known poems plus essays and criticisms. Edgar Allan Poe self-published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, in 1827. In 1830, Poe embarked on a career as a writer and began contributing reviews and essays to popular periodicals. He also wrote sketches and short fiction and in 1833 published his only completed novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Over the next five years he established himself as a master of the short story form through the publication of "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Tell-tale Heart" and other well-known works. In 1841, he wrote "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," generally considered the first modern detective story. The publication of The Raven and Other Poems in 1845 brought him additional fame as a poet.
Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner
Thomas Pynchon's literary career was launched not with the release of his widely acclaimed first novel, V., but with the publication in literary magazines of the five stories collected here. In his introduction to Slow Learner the author reviews his early work with disarming candor and recalls the American cultural landscape of the early post-Beat era in which the stories were written. Time magazine described this introductory essay as "Pynchon's first public gesture toward autobiography. /Synopsis from barnesandnoble.com/
William Trevor - Beyond the Pale & Other Stories
A young man gives a pair of pilgrims a lift to a wayside statue; two strangers meet at a hotel for a mysterious assignation; holidaymakers in Northern Ireland are haunted by the past. This is the world of William Trevor, widely hailed as the modern master of short fiction. His subtle and profound stories have kept critics and readers alike spellbound for over four decades. Now the author himself has chosen 17 of his finest stories for this new Folio Society edition, giving us a very personal perspective on the highlights of his career. The novelist Allan Massie has said, ‘The short story as Trevor writes it, as Chekhov and Hemingway wrote it, is a novel in miniature, with everything omitted except the significant moment.’ The miniature masterpieces gathered here span decades and places, from 1960s Ireland in ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, where an unmarried woman spends wistful Saturday nights at her local dance hall, to present-day Paris in ‘Folie à Deux’, in which two childhood friends, their bond poisoned by a youthful prank, run into each other in a backstreet café. These are tales of life-changing mistakes, missed chances and unspoken desires, their protagonists often lost and lonely. Yet the pathos is lightened by the author’s compassionate understanding of the human heart, and his ability to say the most complicated things in a language that is, in the words of the writer Joseph O’Connor, ‘as clear as a glass of water’.
Mark Twain - The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain
For deft plotting, riotous inventiveness, unforgettable characters, and language that brilliantly captures the lively rhythms of American speech, no American writer comes close to Mark Twain. This sparkling anthology covers the entire span of Twain’s inimitable yarn-spinning, from his early broad comedy to the biting satire of his later years. Every one of his sixty stories is here: ranging from the frontier humor of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” to the bitter vision of humankind in “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” to the delightful hilarity of “Is He Living or Is He Dead?” Surging with Twain’s ebullient wit and penetrating insight into the follies of human nature, this volume is a vibrant summation of the career of–in the words of H. L. Mencken–“the father of our national literature.”
Toni Morrison - Home
An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home - and himself in it - may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again.
José Saramago - The Cave
Cipriano Algor, an elderly potter, lives with his daughter Marta and her husband Marçal in a small village on the outskirts of The Center, an imposing complex of shops, apartments, and offices to which Cipriano delivers his pots and jugs every month. On one such trip, he is told not to make any more deliveries. Unwilling to give up his craft, Cipriano tries his hand at making ceramic dolls. Astonishingly, The Center places an order for hundreds, and Cipriano and Marta set to work-until the order is cancelled and the three have to move from the village into The Center. When mysterious sounds of digging emerge from beneath their apartment, Cipriano and Marçal investigate, and what they find transforms the family's life. Filled with the depth, humor, and the extraordinary philosophical richness that marks each of Saramago's novels, The Cave is one of the essential books of our time.
Kurt Vonnegut - Bluebeard
Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, who, at age seventy-one, wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn. But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story—and Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain, heart-hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves.
Julie Orringer - How to Breathe Underwater
Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater is a stunning collection of nine heartbreakingly delicate and honest tales of the confusion, mortification, and loneliness only experienced in the tender years of youth. Each story features a girl or young woman dealing with the lonesomeness of isolation, the loss of childhood innocence, and the struggle to thrive in spite of neglect, overwhelming grief, or cruel treatment from others. Orringer offers adult narrative on uniquely adolescent experiences, which seem to be lifted out of our collective recollection of youth - or at least magnified or intensified versions of our youth. Told with the grace and focus of a "grown-up" perspective, How to Breathe Underwater remains strikingly sincere to the nuances of the genuine feelings of youth.
J. M. Coetzee - Summertime
South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee's forays into postmodernism haven't always been entirely convincing but Summertime, the third instalment of his 'fictionalised memoir' trilogy, is an impressively audacious piece of writing in which he imagines he is dead. An English biographer who never met Coetzee visits five people who were significant in his subject's life between 1972 and 1977, when Coetzee was establishing himself as a writer. The transcripts of those interviews make up the bulk of the book - and few of the reminescences are positive, about Coetzee's dispassionate exercise in taking himself apart is certainly a thought-provoking approach to a memoir, thogh how much is true (and whether he really thinks people would describe him so disparagingly) is impossible to ascertain. Having Coetzee, in the guise of an interviewee, analyse his own early work also seems indulgent. But there is a relentlessly inwuisitive aspect to this experiment that is quite gripping. (Siobhan Murphy)
J. M. Coetzee - Disgrace
Booker prize winning novels do not get much better than this effort by the modern master of the understatement, J M Coetzee. Whilst seemingly a story about the disgraceful behaviour of an ageing academic, Disgrace is also a novel that is not reluctant to delve into the politics of post-apartheid South Africa. As with all other Coetzee novels, the stylish prose is sumptuous and glistening with meaning. It is undoubtedly one of Coetzee's finest novels and a must read for anyone interested in great literature.
J. M. Coetzee - Diary of a Bad Year
A new work of fiction by the Nobel Prize–winning author of Disgrace In this brilliant new work of fiction, J. M. Coetzee once again breaks new literary ground with a book that is, in the words of its main character, “a response to the present in which I find myself.” Diary of a Bad Year takes on the world of politics—a new topic for Coetzee—and explores the role of the writer in our times with an extraordinary moral compass. At the center of the book is “Señor C,” an aging author who has been asked to write his thoughts on the state of the world by his German publisher. These thoughts, called “Strong Opinions,” address a wide range of subjects and include a scathing indictment of Bush, Cheney, and Blair, as well as a witheringly honest examination of everything from Machiavelli and the current state of the university to music, literature, and intelligent design, offering unexpected perceptions and insightful arguments along the way. Meanwhile, someone new enters the writer’s life: Anya, the beautiful young woman whom he hires to type his manuscript. The relationship that develops between Señor C and Anya has a profound effect on both of them. It also changes the course of Anya’s relationship with Alan, the successful, swaggering man whom she lives with—and who has designs on Señor C’s bank account. Through these characters, Coetzee creates an ingenious literary game that will enthrall readers and surprise them with its emotional power. Bold, funny, and sad, as well as intellectually clever and satisfying, Diary of a Bad Year is a journey into the mind and heart of one of the world’s most acclaimed and accomplished writers.
J. M. Coetzee - The Master of Petersburg
In The Master of Petersburg J. M. Coetzee dares to imagine the life of Dostoevsky. Set in 1869, when Dostoevsky was summoned from Germany to St Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, this novel is at once a compelling mystery steeped in the atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Russia and a brilliant and courageous meditation on authority and rebellion, art and imagination. Dostoevsky is seen obsessively following his stepson's ghost, trying to ascertain whether he was a suicide or a murder victim and whether he loved or despised his stepfather.
J. M. Coetzee - Dusklands
A novel which combines the stories of an 18th-century Boer frontiersman and a 20th-century specialist in psychological warfare. Both are in the business of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and are dealers in death. From the author of IN THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY and MASTER OF PETERSBURG. First published in 1982.
J. M. Coetzee - Slow Man
. M. Coetzee , one of the greatest living writers in the English language, has crafted a deeply moving tale of love and mortality in his new book, Slow Man. When photographer Paul Rayment loses his leg in a bicycle accident, he is forced to reexamine how he has lived his life. Through Paul’s story, Coetzee addresses questions that define us all: What does it mean to do good? What in our lives is ultimately meaningful? How do we define the place we call "home"? In his clear and uncompromising voice, Coetzee struggles with these issues and offers a story that will dazzle the reader on every page.