This month I’ve had an essay entitled Losing the Space Race published in Gastronomica. It features my mother, purple mini-skirts and the Smash robots and has made me very happy. Just call me Nigel Slater …

And yes, I am also very happy to have been longlisted for the Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Award.Of course I am! If I’ve failed to thank anybody for their good wishes, please accept a public apology – I did get an awful lot of emails and calls and I might have slipped on responding – it’s not intentional, and I’m really grateful to everybody who congratulated me. but ask me again how I feel on 7 March when the shortlist is made public, then I might be a bit less chipper, or maybe, even more so!

Mini book reviews:

Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen published by Canongate – yet another book that’s feeding my current addiction to Nordic writers. Sadly, it’s not been a vintage 2010 for me and the Nordic crime scene. I struggled more than a little with The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg and I’m going to re-read it because I’m pretty sure that being migraine-walloped in the middle of the reading process might have cocked up my ability to master the narrative chronology. On the back of this novel the blurb compares Alvtegen with Highsmith, a view with which I would concur although regular readers will remember that Ms Highsmith is not one of my favourites. So … this novel is interesting, cold, analytic and well-paced, but either a translation error or an editorial hole in the final quarter destroyed my suspension of disbelief. It relates to one of the three protagonists thinking about something that neither she, nor we, have been told about. I had to re-read the previous two chapters to be sure it hadn’t been mentioned and that I’d missed it. It hadn’t, I hadn’t, and the narrative fell away from me then as I spent the rest of the novel wondering what else might have slipped out of the story that would have helped it make more sense. Also, there’s a pov jump at the very end which is somewhat disconcerting. Allowable but not smooth, is how I’d characterise it.

All in all, I can’t recommend the book, at least in this edition, because of this small but irritating plot lacuna, but I enjoyed it enough to think that I’ll seek out another of her novels.

Fury by Salman Rushdie, published by Jonathan Cape – Rushdie at his best is superb, but this book, rather like some Philip Roth, is more evidence of how a great writer can conceal the blankness at the heart of a novel than a novel in itself. There are quite heart-stoppingly lovely and clever riffs in this narrative – especially on the nature of duality, but Solly Solanka, the protagonist, is a rather hollow construction that (in Rushdie’s world) appeals to a series of beautiful and talented women but manages to lose them all. The central conceit is that of the furies, but I have to say that Rushdie makes them a bit more like furries!

Cadillac Jukebox by James Lee Burke, published by Phoenix Editions – if there’s a special pleasure to be found in the episodic adventures of crime novels, with the slow unfolding of the personal lives of the ‘hero’ or ‘anti-hero’ then there’s a truly perverse pleasure to reading such a series out of sequence. And I am confused to find that one reviewer says this is the sixth in the series, another the ninth. No matter, James Lee Burke has an almost hallucinogenic beauty to his prose when he describes Louisiana, which sits perfectly beside his terse but complete descriptions of the appearance and life histories of the various criminals who cross the sight line of Dave Robicheaux: policeman, AA member, Vietnam veteran and general good(ish) guy. While the body count piles up and the deaths get more and more gory, the moral underpinning of this story holds true and, as far as I can tell, the procedural elements are flawlessly described. Burke exposes both the nitty and the gritty of life as a criminal or crime-stopper in a small town in a rural area where Klu Klux KIansmen used to ride. And his scenery, whether pastoral, human or inhuman, is elegantly exposed to our view.

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