Henry Cage seemed to have it all. A successful business career, considerable wealth, and a reputation for being a just and principled man. But public virtues can conceal private failings, and as Henry faces retirement, his well-ordered life begins to unravel.
On the eve of the new millennium he is the victim of a random act of violence which soon escalates into a prolonged persecution, with tragic consequences. Family secrets are revealed, and when his ex-wife Nessa summons Henry to Palm Beach, he realises that there is little time to redress the mistakes of the past.
The Upright Piano Player explores with a tender, yet unflinching eye the small but devastating flaws in human nature that can shape our destinies.
David Abbott began his career as an advertising copywriter and went on to found one of the U.K.’s outstanding advertising agencies, Abbott Mead Vickers. He is widely recognized as one of the industry’s most deservedly celebrated creative directors. This book, many years in the making, is his first novel.
Eureka! People are finally starting to wake up to the joys of Anuradha Roy’s writing. And so, on this fine post-easter Tuesday afternoon, we dedicate our Easter weekend reviews entirely to an outstanding writer.
At home the praise in The Times for The Folded Earth is short, but sweet: “Tender and comical.”
However, across the seas, our American cousins make far more of this talented writer with a tidal wave of reviews for her first book An Atlas of Impossible Longing – which has just been published in the US to much deserved fanfare.
Like the Times at home, The New Yorker treats An Atlas of Impossible Longing to a distinctly succinct review:
“Set in mid-twentieth-century India, this debut novel spans generations and political upheavals … a house full of secrets – a mad matriarch, a neighbour’s murder, unconsummated passions … a search for belonging … Houses serve as powerful metaphors of refuge and claustrophobia, and the novel chronicles both the strength of domestic bonds and the wounds that parents and children, and husbands and wives inflict on each other.” Unfortunately one has to be a subscriber to get the whole review, but if you are, you are in for a mini treat.
For our next review, I think you’ll agree that, they simply do not get much better than this one for An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Marie Arana in the Washington Post:
“Every once in a great while, a novel comes along to remind you why you rummage through shelves in the first place. Why you peck like a magpie past the bright glitter of publishers’ promises. Why you read. No ‘news hook’ will have brought you to it. No famous name on the spine will suggest what’s in store. But as you slip into the book’s pages, you sense you are entering a singular creation, a richly populated world. Curiosity overcomes you. Before long, you are surrendering to the voice of a confident narrator, the arc of an unfamiliar story. And then, suddenly, you are swept away in a tale that is bristling with incident, steeped in the human condition, buffeted by winds of fate. This, you think, is the feeling you had as you read Great Expectations or Sophie’s Choice or The Kite Runner. This is why you read fiction at all. Anuradha Roy’s An Atlas of Impossible Longing is such a book, a novel to convince us that boldly drawn sagas with larger-than-life characters are still possible in a relentlessly postmodern world.”
Good Reads, a US books website, has drummed up some marvellous reader support for An Atlas of Impossible Longing whilst running a competition give-away for 5 copies:
“In the tradition of Henning Mankell, Per Petterson, and Stieg Larsson, Roy is a major foreign success just waiting to storm the American literary scene. This is the novel that will usher her entrance, portraying several generations of family life in India with the sort of warmth, tension, and lavish detail that bestsellers are made of.”
And this fabulous US music website endearingly entitled Large Hearted Boy has a BOOK NOTES series where Anuradha has been invited to create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to her book. As it is the US Anu, of course, chose An Atlas of Impossible Longing:
“It didn’t happen consciously, but An Atlas of Impossible Longing is filled with different kinds of music. Some of it was in my own head as I was writing it, but a lot of music is referred to in the book as well.
India has its own sophisticated, courtly, classical traditions, both instrumental and vocal; there is devotional music, both Hindu and Sufi; there are varieties of folk music in the different regions of India. There are songs in Indian movies, in which the music is influenced by just about everything. All this music happens in many different languages and uses a huge range of eastern instruments such as the sitar, tabla, sarod, ektara and so on, as well as western ones.”
Click here to read more and listen to Anu’s playlist – which, I think you’ll agree, is a lovely way to end this blog.
The Goldsmith’s Secret, Elia Barceló’s second English language novel to be published by MacLehose Press, was released on 31 March, and Heart of Tango will come out in paperback in July. Barceló made her name in Spain as a science fiction writer, and is a writer whose work is constantly evolving as she experiments with new genres and styles.
Paul Engles: How did you first come to be published in Spain? What was your first novel about?
Elia Barceló: My first book was a science-fiction novella that was published together with a collection of science-fiction short stories. For ages I had been reading science-fiction and fantasy literature (both excellent works and trashy novels) and, when I started to think about writing myself, it was only natural that my ideas would be of a science-fiction nature, so to speak.
When I was twenty-two, I started getting short stories published in all the fanzines and magazines available in Spain and little by little I started being known in the small world of science-fiction fandom. I think that two things helped: my literary style (that was unusual at the time for science-fiction stories) and the fact that I am a woman (actually the only successful science-fiction female science-fiction writer in Spain).
Some years later, one of the people who had been publishing fanzines got a job with a big publisher and asked me if I would like to publish a book with them. Of course I said yes and my first book – Sagrada – was published by Ediciones B in 1989.
Paul Engles: The books you have published in English, Heart of Tango and The Goldsmith’s Secret – are they science fiction novels?
Elia Barceló: No, not at all. Both Heart of Tango and The Goldsmith’s Secret are fantasy novels in the literary tradition of Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares or many of Carlos Fuentes’ short stories and novellas. Heart of Tango and The Goldsmith’s Secret depict a “real” reality (historical or contemporary) in which, all of a sudden and without any explanation, something very strange happens and then everything changes.
El mundo de Yarek (Yarek’s world), on the contrary, is a classical science-fiction literary novel inflenced by Stevenson and Conrad (according to some critics).
Paul Engles: In Britain there seems to be quite a divide between genre fiction – crime or science-fiction – and literary fiction. A crime or science fiction novel will never win the Booker Prize, for example. Does a similar divide exist in Spain?
Elia Barceló: It used to be that way and somehow it still is for science fiction. Nowadays crime fiction novels have almost the same chances of winning a literary award as mainstream novels. science-fiction is moving slowly from “just being a genre” to “sometimes being literature” and most publishers won’t reject a good novel because of its subject. What they usually do is refrain from using the ominous name (science fiction) in the blurb.
But a month ago, the Instituto Cervantes – the central Institute in Madrid – invited eight people to two round tables to speakscience-fiction: in the role of moderators a university professor of literature and a journalist, and then as guests: a poet, four well known writers and myselfscience-fiction. This was a real evolution! Almost a revolution.
Paul Engles: One of my colleagues often describes The Goldsmith’s Secret as “an Escher staircase” – both structurally impossible and compellingly believable at the same time. How do you come up with your ideas for novels?
Elia Barceló: Please give my thanks to your colleague. It is a beautiful idea! When I am at a loss to explain how I get my ideas, I compare the process to the formation of bubbles in a glass of champagne. They originate somehow, somewhere at the bottom and float upwards. Nobody really knows where they come from, but they are there all the time. My mind is like champagne: it bubbles. Some of the bubbles turn into stories, some explode when they come to the surface. I never have enough time to write all the stories I imagine; just the most insistent get written.
Paul Engles: The Goldsmith’s Secret begins with “4.00 a.m. End of December” and is dedicated to Leonard Cohen. Is your writing often influenced or inspired by music?
Elia Barceló: Not really. I like music but I don’t really need it to live, unlike many people I know. I have a very musical family and sometimes what I feel really inspiring is silence; but Leonard Cohen has been my favorite musician and songwriter for ages and his songs have always helped me in times of trouble. When I heard the goldsmith’s voice for the first time he was repeating these words of Cohen’s: “It’s four in the morning; the end of December” and like the protagonist in the song, he was writing to himself, to the woman he had loved and lost. It just happened.
In the novel I am currently writing there are two characters who appear through music. When I am not too sure what they are going to do or what they are thinking, I just have to listen to this special music (Jean Michel Jarre in one case and Eric Satie in the other) and I have them again.
Paul Engles: One reviewer of Heart of Tango described it as “almost Shakespearian”. Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play and, if so, did it inspire the novel in any way?
Elia Barceló: What an honor! Can you give me the link or send me the full quote :-)? I am very pleased to hear that. Of course I love Shakespeare! I’ve directed plays and acted at university (in Spanish) for many years and Shakespeare is always a pleasure: to listen to, to read, to analyse, to watch… My favorite comedies are The Tempest (I’ve seen it a dozen times all over the world) and Midsummer Night’s Dream. My favorite tragedies are Macbeth and Hamlet.
But none of them have directly inspired Heart of Tango. I think if the novel has anything Shakespearian about it, it must be the common Greek source of tragedy: the Fatum, the inevitability of events, the terrible ending.
Paul Engles: We British are very fond of ghost stories and Heart of Tango could be thought of as one. Is there a strong tradition of ghost stories in Spain?
Elia Barceló: Not as strong and beautiful as in Britain. For centuries Spaniards have thought that fantastic characters and figures such as ghosts were not serious, not acceptable for educated adult readers; just for children, old ladies or uneducated people. I suppose we could put part of the blame on the Catholic upbringing of the population (you shouldn’t believe in such devilish junk) and partly on the literary critics at the beginning of the twentieth century (now we are modern, enlightened reasonable people and we just read about reality).
Nevertheless, we have beautiful ghost stories, most of them written at the time of the Romantics, and very powerful writers, such as Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer or the poet José de Espronceda (“El estudiante de Salamanca” is a magnificent narrative poem about a ghost).
Paul Engles: Which Spanish-language writers, or other writers, do you particularly admire?
Elia Barceló: I admire Julio Cortázar deeply and I consider him my master in the realm of fantasy literature. Carlos Fuentes –his stories more than his novels. Federico García Lorca, his metaphors, his images. Leonard Cohen, his metaphors also. In science-fiction I love reading Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Dan Simmons, Connie Willis.
I have also learnt from Stephen King. Antonia Byatt has given me very exciting reading times. Leonardo Padura in crime. There are too many, really.
Paul Engles: You have lived and worked for quite some time in Austria. Do you follow Austrian literature as closely as you do Spanish?
Elia Barceló: Unfortunately I don’t have the time because I also teach at the university and I have to keep up with Spanish novels and Hispanic fantasy literature, which are my main subjects. I try to read some Austrian or German novels every year; I like Daniel Glattauer, for instance, and Wolfram Fleischhauer.
Paul Engles: Are you working at the moment on a new novel? Or have you published one more recently than Heart of Tango?
Elia Barceló: Yes to both questions. The last novel I published in Spain was Las largas sombras, 2009. It is a kind of mainstream cum crime mystery novel. It is set in Spain in 1974 (the last year of Francos’s regime), in a small town where seven eighteen-year-old friends are finishing their secondary education; in July, at the end of the school year, they travel together with their class and four teachers to Mallorca and they have a terrible experience that will brand them for life. Over thirty years later, they meet again and, after a party, one of the old friends dies (is it a suicide or a murder?) and all of them know that this death is related to the secret they share.
Now I am working on a very long novel (or maybe a trilogy?) with a strong fantasy element, lots of mysteries, secrets, characters and action.
I know it is not very practical (from a marketing point of view) this trend of mine of changing genre and subject every time I write a new novel, but I love writing and I want to have fun doing it. I would probably find it boring if I wrote more or less the same story again and again. That’s why I have tried almost every genre.
Paul Engles: Heart of Tango has been published as an Ebook in the UK. Do you know if any of your books have had digital editions in other languages? Do you sense it is an important issue in Spain or Austria?
Elia Barceló: Up to now some of my novels have come out as audiobook in Germany, Holland and Sweden, and just now my agent is working on a possible digital edition of The Goldsmith’s Secret in Spanish.
I think it is important. I love traditional books (paper and ink are a great combination!) but I understand they are more and more expensive, they take up space and they are heavy. I think digital editions for downloading are excellent for people who travel frequently or have to commute everyday.
In Spain digital publishing is now starting to develop; in Austria not quite yet.