Friday, October 30, 2009

Wild things at heart

A long time ago, before I knew either one of them, Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak began talking about a film adaptation of his classic picture book Where The Wild Things Are. When Spike got started on it, he called me up and asked me to co-write the screenplay. I had never written a screenplay; hell, I'd never read a screenplay. But I said yes, because these two people were among my favourite artists on earth.

So we got started, with the consent and under the watchful eye of Maurice, trying to make 10 lines of text into a feature-length movie. A couple of years into the process, Maurice called me, saying that there had been talk of someone doing a novelisation of the book-cum-screenplay. He didn't want some new guy doing it, so he asked me if I'd want the job. I readily said yes, partly because he intimidates me and partly because, at that point, Spike and I had discussed so many ideas about childhood generally, and about this mysterious island of giant manic-depressive beasts in particular, and I knew only a few of them would make it in the movie.

So the book, I thought, would be a place where I could explore these and other ideas, and where I could bend the story toward my own interests a bit (the movie is much more Spike's than mine). Along the way the novel diverged significantly from the movie, and from Maurice's book, but all three share a basic outline – boy is confused about a home and world out of control, boy acts out, boy leaves home and becomes king of a herd of sentient beasts. And all three benefit from the pure, uncompromised vision of childhood that Maurice Sendak espoused and put on paper, again and again, in a stunning body of work that becomes more impressive and singular with every passing decade. He is the greatest living writer and illustrator of books for or about children, period, bar none, end of discussion. He also has a dog named Herman.

- Dave Eggers,

Friday, October 23, 2009

Coming soon: the novel Nabokov wanted destroyed

Next month Nabokov's last novel will be published - despite the fact that he never wanted it to see the light of day.

In October 1976, asked to nominate three books he had recently been reading, Nabokov chose a new translation of Dante's Inferno, an illustrated guide to North American butterflies and a book of his own, "the not-quite-finished manuscript of a novel". He had recently been ill, and, in his delirium, kept reading the novel aloud to a small dream audience consisting of "peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible".

On 17 November 2009, that novel, The Original of Laura, will reach a less hallucinatory audience, when it's published for the first time. Nabokov never finished it, and on his deathbed asked his wife Vera to destroy it. She didn't do so; nor after her death did her son, Dmitri. A stern keeper of the paternal flame, Dmitri is no opportunist. But after 30 years and much agonizing, he has retrieved the book from a Swiss vault for worldwide publication, on the grounds that Nabokov thought it one of his three most important works and would not have wanted it "to burn like a latter-day Jeanne d'Arc".

- Blake Morrison,

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The English Marriage: Tales of Love, Money and Adultery by Maureen Waller

This is a collection of marital horror stories from 1465 to the present day, and, like all good horror ­stories, it runs an icy finger down your spine. Maureen Waller’s ­subject is less the English marriage than the absence, until recently, of the English divorce. For centuries, England lagged behind Scotland and the rest of Europe in clinging to the obscure marriage laws of the medieval church that left warring spouses little choice but to wait until death to part. Not until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act was divorce made accessible; no sooner had the new court opened its doors than it was presented with 253 petitions.

“Each unhappy marriage is unhappy after its own fashion,” Waller writes, but the marriages she describes tell the same grim story again and again. The cast of characters includes generations of aspiring parents fighting over their bewildered children, loveless and unconsummated unions, wives either bored or bullied beyond endurance, and the ­harrowing cruelty of ­husbands. These days, a husband who hurls a bread roll across the supper table can be accused of unreasonable behaviour, but time was when he could beat his wife to within an inch of her life and be acquitted: she was, after all, his property. Under the old ecclesiastical laws, on her wedding day the blushing bride stepped into “the same legal category as wards, lunatics, idiots and outlaws”. Should her husband feel like it, he was entitled to tie her up, steal her children and lock her away.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The heart fails without warning

An exclusive short story by Hilary Mantel, winner of the Man Booker prize 2009

'Morna was shrinking, as if her sister had put a spell on her to vanish'. Original photograph: Julia Fullerton-Batten

September: when she began to lose weight at first, her sister had said, I don't mind; the less of her the better, she said. It was only when Morna grew hair – fine down on her face, in the hollow curve of her back – that Lola began to complain. I draw the line at hair, she said. This is a girls' bedroom, not a dog kennel.

Lola's grievance was this: Morna was born before she was, already she had used up three years' worth of air, and taken space in the world that Lola could have occupied. She believed she was birthed into her sister's squalling, her incessant I-want I-want, her give-me give-me.

Now Morna was shrinking, as if her sister had put a spell on her to vanish. She said, if Morna hadn't always been so greedy before, she wouldn't be like this now. She wanted everything.

- Hilary Mantel, for the

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mantel takes the Booker prize 2009

With none of the usual blood on the carpet, this year’s judges agreed that they would be happy to see any of the finalists win.

The vote wasn’t unanimous, but Mantel’s Wolf Hall won out for its bold scope, detail and lyricism, with glittering passages that are said to make you want to read them over and over again.

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Times picks the 50 best paperbacks of 2009

Fifty books — read one a week and they’ll last you nearly a year. Today is the kick-off of The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year, writes Erica Wagner. On this page you’ll find all 50 books from which our winner, announced here on December 12, will be chosen. The judges — for the only prize in the UK given to a paperback — are myself, bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith and WHSmith book buyer Sandra Bradley, who have whittled these books down to a shortlist of 12, and chosen a winner, too. Over the next dozen weeks we’ll be counting down to the winning book. But why do we love paperbacks so much? Nicholas Clee reveals all . . .

- Erica Wagner,

Read the rest of the article here.