5 Books from Great Indie Publishers

If you’ve been following my blog for a long time, you’ll know that the majority of my reviews come from indie presses. This is because I believe that they are willing to take risks with the books an authors they publish. Also it’s the independent presses who generally unearth and translate treasures from other countries in order for the public to experience what type of literary styles one finds abroad. Generally the more exciting titles do hail from independent publishers.

Thankfully they are getting more attention and are featuring in the ‘big’ book prizes, such as The Booker, Booker International, The Women’s Prize for Fiction and Goldsmiths. There’s even a prize for small presses; The Republic of Consciousness, which is doing an excellent job of bringing the more obscure publishers to public attention.

Being a small press means that funding is a bit difficult so I urge those out there to support them by subscribing or buying directly from their websites. If small presses continue to get support then they can continue changing the way people think about literature.

I am mentioning just five, and in no particular order but really I can fill up another blog post gushing over indie presses (click on the pic to go to my review).

Lucy Ellmann – Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar)

Yes, I constantly mention this novel and I will continue to do so. Galley Beggar was founded in 2012 and have published a variety of titles. GB have pushed the boundaries on many occasions and it has paid off. Be it Preti Taneja’s King Lear reinterpretation, We That Are Young or Eimear McBride’s Prize winning A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. However Ducks, Newburyport is the one in which my admiration for this publisher increased.

Lucie McKnight Hardy – Water Shall Refuse Them (Dead Ink)

I’m a relative newcomer to Dead Ink but so far I have been impressed by their output. Their manifesto involves publishing new and emerging authors. Since I have been going on about Daniel James’ The Autobiography of Ezra Maas, I decided to choose Lucie McKnight Hardy’s Water Shall Refuse Them. All I can say do not read this in the dark!

Camilla Grudova – The Doll’s Alphabet (Fitzcarraldo)

One cannot talk about indie publishers without mentioning Fitzcarraldo , with those distinctive blue covers (or the equally arresting white ones for the non-fiction publications). Set up in 2014 Fitzcarraldo’s output has been massive. Whether it is cutting edge translated fiction or groundbreaking essays (I haven’t gotten round to those yet) you will be guaranteed to find something of interest within their back catalogue. I could have easily chosen the two Tokarczuk books or the Mathias Enard ones but I decided to go for a twisted selection of short stories. The reason being that this was my first introduction to Fitzcarraldo, and definitely not my last as quite a few blue and white spines are in my TBR stack.

Birgit Vanderbeke, Jamie Bulloch (trans) – You Would Have Missed Me (Peirene)

Peireine Press specialise in translated fiction from Europe, however they only publish 3 titles a year based around a theme. All their publication can be read in 90 minutes or less. Incidentally my first book from this publisher was The Mussel Feast by the same author as You Would Have Missed Me so I’ve come to a full circle. You Would Have Missed Me struck a chord though as it is a touching monologue/semi-autobiographical account of the differences between East and West Germany. As an aside, every subscription to Peirene will help fund their social activist projects – more here

Ahmed Saadawi, Jonathan Wright (trans) – Frankenstein in Baghdad

Oneworld are a prolific publisher who have a strong and varied output from translated fiction to YA. Also the quality is high. They have a ton of prize winners and nominations under their belt and rightly so. Oneworld : a sign of quality.

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Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

To be honest my gut reaction was to initially write OMG THIS BOOK IS AMAZING I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN OMG OMG EVERYONE HAS TO READ THIS YOUR EYES WILL BE OPENED.

The reason being is; how can I as a straight white male write about a book which is about Anglo-African (and in one case Afro-American) women sexism AND gender politics?

I can try though.

Girl, Woman, Other gives the reader 12 stories about 12 different women. At times their lives intersect some chapters, some in a casual way, some go a bit deeper. The other more common thread is all these women are survivors: be it racism, sexism or other factors such as abuse. All these characters have broken free in totally different ways.

Evaristo also spans genres and times. Some of the stories take place in the 1800’s up to present day. The main message being that despite advances in technology, women still have to fight for their rights and face the same problems they did so many decades ago.

Saying that Evaristo does present a variety of situations; the militant feminist, the abusive lesbian and an overly preachy transgender protagonist. I did appreciate that problems that are in Girl, Woman, Other are not only male-centric and centre on domestic violence. Neither is it preachy. There’s was one scene where a transgender character talks about their life at a university and an enraptured student decides that it is cool and decides to follow them only to be cautioned that such processes are gradual and not fashionable.

The structure of the book is unique, there is a lack of full stops and punctuation but the reader is not presented with a whole chunk of text, rather the text is broken up and written in a list-like style. Trust me, the prose flows and reads like poetry most of the time.

One sign of a great book is that it opens the readers minds and eyes. Girl, Woman, Other did. A lot. It made me aware of what is happening to women. The diversity that is among us and how to avoid falling in certain traps. My paltry review can do no justice. This book will change your life.

Other Booker Longlist reviews

John Lanchester – The Wall

The Wall is a bit of a strange one to review. On one hand, I can definitely say that I liked reading it. In fact I couldn’t put it down. Yet I do have some doubts about it.

The Wall takes place in a sort of future England; there are slaves, the younger generation and the older ones have totally different ways of thinking and it looks like anything old has been destroyed. More importantly there is a wall which is placed along the coastline in order to keep ‘intruders’ out.

Joseph Kavanagh (Josef K – geddit) is part of this new generation and is assigned to stay on top of the wall and defend his side from intruders or others as they are called in the book. At first this leads to boredom but eventually things start to change and the attacks are frequent.

After a foul up Kavangh is sent to live at sea and another set of adventures occur.

Will Kavanagh find freedom? will he escape the confines of the wall?

John Lanchester has created a subtle allegorical novel; he teases by leaving little clues and then drops a big reveal, which should have been obvious (or maybe I’m not that bright to discover them straight away) I’m not exactly sure what the overall moral of the book is. I do know it satirises generation gaps, destruction of the environment and definitely is addressing the hypocrisy of politics. The novel also can work as a cautionary tale on how one should not create divisions between countries (apparently the wall mentioned in the book actually does exist). Or it can be seen as a metaphor for Brexit and current policies on illegal immigration. As I said this is a subtle book so I think on further readings more details could be discovered.

Another small fault with The Wall is that it is a bit inconsistent. The first section is strong and the best part of the book. As we move on some bits are excellent while some bits ( the part at sea) do not live up to the quality set in the first part. As I said earlier, these did not bother me as such because I was eager to see how Lanchester would conclude this story, plus I did start to like Kavanagh, who is an oddly endearing character.

While The Wall does have it’s blips, it still has this ability to draw the reader in. I wouldn’t say it’s the best dystopian novel I have read but it is not the worst.

Other Booker Longlist reviews:

Kevin Barry – Night Boat to Tangier

There is something distinctively Beckettian about Night Boat to Tangier; there’s two men waiting for someone, there’s a lot of meditations on aging, not to mention that death also features.

Yet there’s another element, the dialogue feel like it’s lifted from a Guy Ritchie gangster film. It’s snappy, sharp and filled with Irish slang. A peculiar combination but works.

It’s 2018 and two gangsters, Maurice and Charlie are in Spain waiting for a boat to go to Tangier. The reason being that Maurice wants to find his daughter, who ran away three years earlier. The odd numbered chapters deal with Maurice and Charlie’s search for their daughter. Like Waiting for Godot these two men speak about their ailments and the past.

The even numbered chapters focus on Maurice’s past. His relationship with his ex wife, his dealings with shady characters, his addictions. We readers then discover some secrets which lead to Maurice’s predicament. There are a couple of homages to Beckett, which are slightly comedic. Really, though I found the flashback sequences a way of giving a seemingly one dimensional character more depth, which it does.

As with Kevin Barry’s previous book, Beatlebone , the language is the real focus. Night Boat to Tangier takes the form of a script. As Charlie and Maurice are gangsters, their conversations echo the type of dialogue in that films. Whether the reader is a fan of those types of films, it doesn’t matter. After a couple of pages one gets used to the way Maurice and Charlie talk.

Night Boat’s main message seems to be about the perils of aging; how it stops one from doing youthful actions. As seen Maurice and Charlie still have the gangster spirit in them but due to the fact that they are old, they cannot keep up. A lot of their time is spent reminiscing about the past, which also means that memory can be a tricky thing.Last message seems to be that we are shaped by our past actions and decisions.

Despite the rather gloomy plot Night Boat to Tangier can be entertaining at times. I did laugh, especially in the beginning and the writing feels fresh. I enjoyed the cadences of Maurice and Charlie’s speech patterns. No one ever knew one can combine Beckett with Snatch but Barry manages.

Other Booker Longlist reviews:

If you like this, try this

I haven’t written a Saturday list in a long time, mainly because I want to catch up with Booker longlist reading but I am back.

I am constantly fascinated by the recommendation section of book websites so I decided to attempt it. I have chosen 5 novels and a similar companion. Hopefully I’ll increase your TBR stack:

If you like this:

Then try this:

Jeanette Winterson really knows how to retell a story. She’s retold the myth of Atlas and modernised Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. Now she’s giving Shelley’s Frankenstein a feminist/gender bending/politico update. It’s just as clever and thought provoking as the original.

If you like this:

Then try this:

A normal family have their lives interrupted by a quirky girl. The Accidental is a bit more experimental but the same elements are there.

If you like this:

Then try this:

The plots of these books are totally different, and yet both will ensnare you in a complex labyrinthine way. I will guarantee you will not know the difference between truth and fiction. Plus both books go beyond pleasure reading and become an experience.

If you like this:

Then try this:

The Seven Deaths.. takes a lot of cues from Agatha Christie (then again most crime writers do) : trapped in a house, red herrings, twisty plot. Turton is a bit complex but you can see Agatha Christie’s all over.

If you like this:

Then try this:

Personally I think that Houllebecq embodies the spirit of Camus. The nihilistic characters, controversy, the existential worldview, the overall pessimism. It’s all there. If Camus still lived and wrote then he would be Houellebecq’s greatest rival.

If you have any more ‘if you like this, try this’ suggestions please do mention them. I always am looking out for recommendations.

Elif Shafak – 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

I remember attending a lecture on taboos in literature and the lecturer said that there’s only one outright offensive thing an author can do in a book and that is have the dead narrating their life.

Judging by this lecture then 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World must be number one on the literary taboo list.

Tequila Leila is dead in a rubbish bin. As the brain takes 10 minutes and 38 seconds to fully shut down, Leila remembers 12 memories that shaped her. Since this is an Elif Shafak novel, these memories expose the beauty and ugliness of Turkey: the corrupt politics, superstitions, hypocrisy and warped moral codes. Along all these life trials Leila manages to develop five deep friendships with outsiders like her.

The second part of the book, switches perspective and this time her five misfit friends try find a graveyard to bury Leila. This time the focus is on Istanbul and the religious hypocrisy. If one is positive it can be seen as the power of friendship.

The last part closes the book with Leila’s soul breaking free from the body. Personally I saw this as a neat way of providing closure.

I am a fan of Shafak so I did like reading 10 Minutes. I found the first part stronger than the first, mainly due to the fact that the second reminded me of a slightly more dark Famous Five adventure. However, I can’t complain. An Elif Shafak book is like a nourishing meal: wholesome and complete. Although out of the three Shafaks I have read, I found 10 Minutes her most political and I liked that, plus since there were sections about the gentrification of Turkey, I was able to relate as Malta is going through the same thing at the moment . As always, the writing is fantastic and flows. A great read.

Other Booker Longlisted reviews:

Johanne Bille, Sherilyn Hellberg (trans) – Elastic

Elastic: stretchy , snaps back, can go slack over time, semi durable.

Never has a book title been so apt. In Johanne Bille’s novel, the main protagonist’s love life does match the metaphor.

Alice has a good life. She’s with Simon, they live together with two other friends, and they love each other. That is until Mathilde enters her life. Then things start to take a different path.

To complicate matters Alice finds out that Mathilde and her husband Alex have an open relationship, thus Mathilde begins sleeping with Alex, something her husband does know about. However Alice is also infatuated with Mathilde. Simon does not have any idea about this and Alice’s life is stretched to it’s limits. More complications? the affair starts when Simon is on Hanoi for six months due to business AND are moving to new premises when he returns.

As Alice continues her relationships with Alex and Mathilde, she becomes distant with Simon. Will Alice snap? will her elastic love life give way? or will it continue stretching?

Writing about complex relationships is always difficult as it is easy to descend into melodrama. Luckily Johanne Bille does not do this with her characters. There’s a cool levelheadedness all throughout. Weirdly, despite, the flash fiction style of the book, Bille manages to convey Alice’s feelings of confusion, her fears and greed for all the love she can have.

By the end of the book the elastic metaphor occurs and it’s equally perverse , slightly funny and sad. In a way it’s a suitable description for the book as well. Elastic is a thought provoking read which gives a fresh take on a love triangle (or square since for people are involved)

Many thanks to Lolli’s publicist for sending a copy of Elastic and asking me to participate in this blog tour