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The Mezzanine is the story of one man's lunch hour. Pondering life's littlest questions - why does one shoelace always wear out before the other? Whatever happened to the paper drinking straw - our narrator interrogates the inner-workings of corporate living as he traipses his way down escalators to the first floor and through the mundaneness of office life. Mixing humour with the existentialism that surrounds all our working lives, The Mezzanine is a classic work of modern American literature.
Is it ever possible to know 'the truth' about Sylvia Plath and her marriage to Ted Hughes, which ended with her suicide? In The Silent Woman, renowned writer Janet Malcolm examines the biographies of Sylvia Plath, with particular focus on Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame, to discover how Plath became an enigma in literary history. The Silent Woman is a brilliant, elegantly reasoned inquiry into the nature of biography, dispelling our innocence as readers, as well as shedding a light onto why Plath's legend continues to exert such a hold on our imaginations.
Acclaimed as an editor of unparalleled ingenuity, the late, great Diana Athill was herself a remarkable writer. Her memoirs and this - her only novel - are compelling, candid and affectingly meticulous, with a precise style reminiscent of Jean Rhys, whose work Athill edited and championed. Indeed, Meg, the main character here, with her self-critical wit, lodging house living and misfortune in matters of the heart is somewhat reminiscent of Rhys’s characters. The daughter of a poor pastor and distant mother, Meg found school “hateful and humiliating” and “knew that the adjectives most often used in connection with my name were ‘conceited’, ‘superior’ and ‘affected’”. But it’s here that Meg discovers her talent for drawing and befriends grown-up, glamorous, wealthy Roxane, to whom she remains complicatedly connected for many years. After attending art school in Oxford, Meg defies convention and moves to London where she finds some happiness in the chaos of a shared house. While Meg becomes a sought-after illustrator, her existence always feels precariously unsettled. She falls in love with entirely the wrong man and their passionate affair renders her impotent in many regards. “Two sayings which I detest”, she declares: “You must face facts” and “You can’t have your cake and eat it’”. And herein lies Meg’s fundamental struggle to find ease (her needs and outlook are at odds with the world), which Athill explores to intense affect in this luminous coming-of-age treasure.
A blackly comic epic - a voyage through small-town America, and through the interior life of its most neurotic mailman. Albert Lippincott is a thirty-year veteran of the Nestor, New York, Post Office - a letter carrier extraordinaire, aggressively cheerful, obsessively efficient. But Albert has a few things to hide. His unfortunate habit, for instance, of reading other people's mail; his abortive university career, complete with a crackpot theory, a nervous breakdown and a thwarted attempt to bite out his professor's eye; a disastrous marriage, grotesquely self-absorbed parents and a sexually ambiguous entanglement with his melodramatic sister. And then there's his attempt to reform the postal system of Kazakhstan and his complicated relationship with his cats. And now his supervisors are on to his letter-opening compulsion, there's a throbbing pain under his left arm and he is finding it increasingly difficult to contain his emotions. Things are closing in on Albert, and he is forced to confront, once and for all, his life's failures. Albert Lippincott is a brilliant creation: flawed, damaged, but fiercely perceptive, and desperate to make meaning out of the mess of existence. He, and Lennon, hold us captive with a wild narrative voice fuelled by desperation and touched by madness.
Imperium is a classic of reportage and a literary masterwork by one of the great writers and witnesses of the twentieth century. It is the story of an empire: the constellation of states that was submerged under a single identity for most of the century-the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. From the entrance of Soviet troops into his hometown in Poland in 1939, to just before the Berlin Wall came down, as the USSR convulsed and died, Kapuscinski travelled thousands of miles and talked to hundreds of ordinary Soviet people about their extraordinary lives and the terror from which they were emerging.
Over twenty years ago, Sven Lindqvist, one of the great pioneers of a new kind of experiential history writing, set out across Central Africa. Obsessed with a single line from Conrad's The Heart of Darkness - Kurtz's injunction to 'Exterminate All the Brutes' - he braided an account of his experiences with a profound historical investigation, revealing to the reader with immediacy and cauterizing force precisely what Europe's imperial powers had exacted on Africa's people over the course of the preceding two centuries. Shocking, humane, crackling with imaginative energies and moral purpose, Exterminate All the Brutes stands as an impassioned, timeless classic. It is essential reading for anybody ready to come to terms with the brutal, racist history on which Europe built its wealth.
'One of the major fictional achievements of our century' The Times On the edge of Fort de France, the capital of Martinique, squats a shanty town. It goes by the name of Texaco. One dawn, a stranger arrives - an urban planner, bearing news. Texaco is to be razed to the ground. And so he is lead to Marie-Sophie Laborieux, the ancient keeper of Texaco's history, who invites her guest to take a seat and begins the true story of all that is to be lost. Texaco is a creole masterpiece. Told in a newly forged language, it is a riotous collage of indigenous Caribbean and colonial European influences; a kaleidoscopic epic of slavery and revolution, superstition and imagination; a story of human deceits and desires played out to the backdrop of uncontrollable, all powerful History. First published in 1992, it was awarded France's highest literary award, the Prix Goncourt, and remains an unequivocal classic of Caribbean literature.
Twenty years ago, in a series of mysterious, incandescent writings, David Seabrook told of the places he knew best: the declining resort towns of the Kent coast. The pieces were no advert for the local tourist board. Here, the ghosts of murderers and mad artists crawl the streets. Septuagenarian rent boys recall the good old days and Carry On stars go to seed. Clandestine fascist networks emerge. And all the time, there is Seabrook himself - desperate perhaps, and in danger. Dark, strange and immediate, this is a classic work of sui generis British literature. There are devils here, and the reader will remember them.