Red’s December issue features a celebration of the art of letter-writing, including Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note, which I love, and Simon Garfield’s addictive study, To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World.
There was also a chance to mention my favourite Marilyn Monroe letter, which comes from the Letters of Note website:
Here’s a few of my favourite children’s books in Red. Very pleased to see this week’s Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize has gone to Rebecca Stead for Liar & Spy — great book.
I can’t say enough good things about Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful new novel The Signature of All Things. I really did not think I wanted to read a novel about a 19th century botanist, and I resisted my proof copy for a couple of months because of that. But I was wrong. I really did want to read about a 19th century botanist, Alma Whittaker, and she’s one of the greatest heroines I’ve come across in a long time.
Fron Red November issue: review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. “If you are a very good writer, it’s an excellent trick to spend many years finishing a book. Because when your book comes out it automatically becomes the publishing event of the year, if not the decade. Of course, it helps if you are Donna Tartt, who ticks all the boxes. She’s an eccentric, solitary genius who makes us wait and wait and wait for her work. And when it comes it’s brilliant.” That’s about the size of it.
Talking all day on radio and TV about Helen Fielding and Mad About the Boy, with my “Bridget-Jones-fan-meets-literary-editor” hat on. (It is a large pink beret.) Let’s just leave aside my discomfort about the fact that it is not actually possible to read the whole book yet. It’s heavily embargoed until next week.
It has been serialised in the Sunday Times (for the first time yesterday, revealing the death of Darcy — horrors!) and in the Times. But apparently not even they have access to the whole book, to avoid spoilers. It’s out on October 10th and all will become clear then…
Meanwhile, I’ve speculated a bit for Red Online here about whether it’s a good idea to have made Bridget 51 years old. It’s a gamble. But I guess with 30 million copies sold, Helen Fielding must know what she’s doing, right? Right?
Writing in today’s Independent on Sunday Magazine about the return of Bridget Jones.”Bridget Jones was born in 1995, aged 32. The first column – “9st. The irreversible slide into obesity” – appeared in The Independent on 28 February, the week that Barings Bank collapsed. John Major had been prime minister for half a decade and would be there for another two years to come. The expression “New Labour” was yet to be used on a Labour Party draft manifesto. Later that year Pierce Brosnan played Bond in GoldenEye and the Princess of Wales played herself in the Martin Bashir documentary watched by 22.78 million people. The novel of the year? Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.”
The pictures (above) were a hardship. We got through a whole pack of Marlboro Red (not very Bridget, I’m sure she smoked Silk Cut) trying to get the shot. And no-one on the shoot smoked so we were all nearly sick. Good times!
I Laughed, I Cried reviewed in the Independent on Sunday here: “Insightful nuggets on the peculiar existence of comics, presented here in all their neurotic, competitive glory […]. There are some engaging snapshots from her childhood […]. I Laughed, I Cried is essentially a mid-life crisis played out over 22 chapters. It is also about finding out what you’re capable of at a time when your days revolve around school runs, daily deadlines, and uneventful evenings in front of the telly.”
From the Times here: “Jack Whitehall among others, gave her the good advice to learn from long-term experience, not in a frantic rush. But the rush was what Viv wanted. Smell not only the greasepaint but the sweat… Heroic.” Unabridged review here.
From the Mail on Sunday [not online yet]: “Sometimes comedians can be the worst of companions: boorish, self-obsessed and oddly humourless. However, Groskop keeps her sense of the ridiculous firmly intact throughout. A gruelling and frankly psychotic experiment. […]. She documents each gig with great honesty. We follow open-mouthed as Groskop chases the comedy dragon at the expense of all else.”
From Bruce Dessau of comedy website Beyond the Joke here: “Groskop is clearly some kind of superwoman. Her devotion to the quest and energy levels are astonishing. It could make a great movie. Kristen Wiig in the lead role, naturally. A kind of Fever Pitch for the world of funny.”
And in a bid for the most back-handed compliment ever, Dessau also says this: “Groskop clear has balls of steel to do what she did and it makes a great read. I’ve only ever caught her doing a short set onstage once and if I was completely honest she is possibly a better writer than a stand-up (though Viv did tell me that I saw her on a bad night, so I should really see her again!). Which is not to say that she is a bad stand-up at all, just that she is a brilliant writer. Forget the glamour of Live at the Apollo. This book tells you what stand-up comedy is really like in the trenches when the dressing room is a toilet – if you are lucky.”
From yesterday’s Times. A fantastic lyrical new novel from a bold new voice: Evie Wyld. “There’s such a buzz around Granta Best Young Novelist Evie Wyld that the words on the first page were familiar before I’d even started the book. The half-Australian, British-based Wyld has been praised for the visceral, in-your-face quality of her writing and the first sentence of All the Birds, Singing is already widely quoted as a prime example: “Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.” The story of an Australian woman voluntarily marooned as a sheep farmer on an unidentified northerly British isle, it’s not an easy read. But it’s brilliant.
I Laughed, I Cried reviewed in the Observer here. “Stand-up may be enjoying a boom in the UK at present, but still only a small proportion of comics are female. Of that number, few are mothers, and of those, pretty much none started off doing stand-up when they already had three small children at home. Except for Viv Groskop. [Her] attempt to combine stand-up with a stable home life makes for a breathless read.”
Online reviews — from funnyfecker.co.uk: “Impossible to put down… I am reading it for the second time and am recommending it to everyone I know… The book is a collection of heartbreakingly bad gigs and those comics dream of, where the audience are with you from the start and hang from your every word. It’s also got some honest accounts of life with a family and being on the road. The three months gigging leave Viv crying, gagging, laughing, sleeping and every other imaginable experience possible.”
From GQ.com: “Rarely has the struggle of the newbie comedian been so perfectly captured. Heart-warming, hilarious, uplifting and a joy to read: you will laugh and – like me – you will possibly weep. What more can you ask from a book about stand-up comedy?”
From What the Frock: “Her honest and funny writing, and shameless style, meant that I sped through I Laughed, I Cried in only two sittings – absorbed in the ups and down of Viv’s mission, and drawn in by the journalistic inclusion of various quotes and facts from established comedians on the circuit. This book makes you want to be Viv’s friend – even if that means being dragged along as her ‘bring a mate’ to a dingy club that smells of sewage (I refer you to gig four).”
I do not feel like I went a bit over-the-top with this review of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland in the Observer. Although when I met her to interview her for Notting Hill book shop Lutyens and Rubinstein, she said the review had been so positive it had made her cry. (She does not normally read her reviews, but her dad has a Google alert on her name and he sent her this one because he thought she would like it.)
There’s no way you could give Sisterland a bad review, though: it’s a brilliant, bold, laugh-out-loud, warm, daring novel about the fallout in one woman’s life when her twin sister predicts an earthquake. I went even further over-the-top at the interview (which was expanded from the book shop to the church opposite because of Sittenfeld’s clamouring fans) and said it would win next year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize. Drink had not been taken (at that point) and I’m not taking it back.