Readersforum's Blog

April 29, 2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – review

AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel is a superb dissection of race in the UK and the USA

By Elizabeth Day

There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a book that manages to do both.

 It is ostensibly a love story – the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England – but it is also a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.

This is Adichie’s third and most ambitious novel – her first, Purple Hibiscus, was longlisted for the Booker prize and her second, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. A highly acclaimed 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, cemented her position as one of the most promising African writers of her generation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant and in 2010, the New Yorker featured her in its list of the 20 best authors under the age of 40.

So a lot is expected of her. Gratifyingly, Americanah does not disappoint.

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September 11, 2012

Howard Jacobson: ‘I write fiction. The others write crap’

The Booker winner on his new, ‘funniest-ever’ book, his scorn for genre fiction and why he’ll never wear a T-shirt.

By Elizabeth Day

Your new novel, Zoo Time, features a publisher who has committed suicide, an agent in hiding and a novelist harangued by book groups. Is publishing doomed?

It’s not my experience that my publisher shot himself or my agent is always hiding from me but I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t think there was something worrying about, not so much publishing, but the state of the book… some of the things that I play with, some of the jokes I make, attack things that need to be attacked.

You write acerbically about genre fiction…

I’m contemptuous of genre things… You go into a good bookshop like Foyles and see a kind of “vampire room”. I was sitting in the American Embassy a while back, trying to get a visa, and every woman in the room was reading the vampire series – you know, the one with the black cover and the bit of blood. Now people are reading soft porn! What happened to the fun of reading a good book? There are people who, when they say they prefer Henry James to Fifty Shades of Grey, they do actually mean that.

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March 12, 2012

Roddy Doyle: the joy of teaching children to write

Roddy Doyle with children at a Fighting Words workshop in Dublin. Photograph: Patrick Bolger for the Observer

Inspired by his friend Dave Eggers, Irish novelist Roddy Doyle set up Fighting Words to nurture the creative skills of deprived children – with a little help from some big names

By Elizabeth Day

It is a Monday morning in the heart of Dublin. In a light, airy room situated in the shadow of the city’s looming Croke Park stadium, two dozen schoolgirls in matching navy blue jumpers sit attentively on coloured beanbags. The room is lined with bookshelves. High up on one wall there are a series of framed posters entitled “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction”, compiled by different well-known authors. In Anne Enright’s rules, there is the warning: “Only bad writers think that their work is really good.” Number One in Richard Ford’s list is: “Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.”

The girls, aged eight, nine and 10, are not at that stage quite yet. They gaze around the room wide-eyed, cowed into silence by the excitement of unfamiliar surroundings and a morning off school.

“Does anybody know why you are here this morning?” asks a woman standing at the front.

A tentative hand goes up. “To write a story,” comes the reply from a pupil called Sophie.

“That’s right – and we’re here to help you.”

The girls’ legs jiggle in anticipation. This is Fighting Words, a workshop set up by the author Roddy Doyle in 2009 to encourage creative writing in students of all ages across Ireland. Since its inception, the centre has seen several thousand come through its doors. The majority are from local primary schools in Ballybough, an economically deprived area of Dublin, but other students have travelled hundreds of miles. Fighting Words, which relies largely on volunteer staff and offers all its lessons free of charge, has proved so popular that sessions are booked up a year in advance. “The interest is huge,” says Sean Love, the executive director and co-founder. “We’re obviously filling a gap that is not filled in formal education.”

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July 23, 2011

Michael Frayn’s memoir of his father wins autobiography prize

A supporting role in the story of his parents’ lives, My Father’s Fortune, wins Michael Frayn the UK’s only dedicated award for autobiography.

By Lindesay Irvine

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Celebrated for his plays, novels and journalism, Michael Frayn’s first work of memoir, My Father’s Fortune, has been rewarded with the PEN/Ackerley prize, the UK’s only dedicated award for autobiography.

My Father’s Fortune saw off competition from a shortlist that included widely admired works by John Burnside, Jackie Kay and the winner of the 2010 Costa biography award, Edmund de Waal.

Frayn, whose book lost out to De Waal at the Costas, was quick to praise his rival on this occasion.

“I was extremely honoured to be on the same shortlist for the Costa prize as Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, because it’s truly wonderful book,” he said. “I think he probably should have won this one, but I can’t help being pleased that this time I had a go.”

My Father’s Fortune reconstructs Frayn’s parents’ lives before his birth, charting a courtship which lasted for more than a decade before they could afford to marry, and continuing to their eventual deaths, with his own childhood during the second world war as something of a subplot. Reviewing it in the Observer, Elizabeth Day praised the way Frayn “evokes emotion without ever lapsing into bathos, threading sentences through with a gentle, touching humour”.

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