Viewing all posts by Bella Whittington


The Author as Translator: Juan Pablo Villalobos and Stefan Tobler at the LRB Bookshop

How much scope does the translator have for inventiveness? What are the pitfalls of the profession? Bella Whittington went to the London Review Bookshop to hear Brazilian translator Stefan Tobler discuss these matters with Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos. Read more →

Novel: Filght Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Global warming. Now, there’s a phrase that can divide opinion, stir up controversy and shine a spotlight on apathy It’s nearly impossible to discuss without resorting to well-trodden rhetorical ground and, no matter how virtuous your audience, there’s usually something more exciting, shiny and new to think about instead. It is a brave novelist who decides to write about global warming. Read more →

Feature Film: Cloud Atlas

It was never going to be easy. A critically acclaimed novel with a complex Russian doll structure that links characters as far ranging as a nineteenth-century abolitionist and a futuristic clone worker, while playing with concepts as lofty as Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, Cloud Atlas has long been confined to a dusty box marked "unfilmable: don’t go there". Read more →

New Voices: Gavin Extence on his debut novel The Universe Versus Alex Woods

I’m a big fan of teenage narrators – I like what you can do in terms of exploring the large, adult ideas that most of us start to think about in adolescence. I think you can deal with very weighty things without them ever becoming overblown or pretentious, and that was really what attracted me to Alex. Read more →

The Universe vs. Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Meet Alex Woods. He’s seventeen years old and sitting at the wheel of Mr Peterson’s car at Dover after a hasty round trip to Zurich. A customs controller has just shone a torch on the passenger seat, only to find an urn containing the remains of said car’s owner. Alex has a minor epileptic fit, declares himself unfit to drive, and then sits silently conjugating irregular Spanish verbs while he waits to be interrogated by the police. When he is called in for questioning, he calmly admits to cultivating the one hundred and thirteen grams of marijuana that have been found in the car’s glove pocket. Read more →

‘The Sex Lives of African Girls’ by Taiye Selasi

The title of Taiye Selasi’s debut short story is as blunt as it is ironic, proclaiming bold content while quietly mocking Western anthropological theses of old. I first came upon ‘The Sex Lives of African Girls’ in Granta’s The F Word edition, and cynically wondered whether the story would fulfil its titular promise. Too often, I have been deceived by intriguingly offbeat titles that conceal an average story. As is usually the case with such casual literary assumptions, I was wrong. The sustained tension and desperate sadness of this short story, the closed, heavy atmosphere, and the eerily prescient “you” narrator are even more keenly felt in the context of the stark, detached tone of the title. Read more →

The Architecture of Stories

It’s hard to escape the fact that by opening a book, we are accepting a beginning; and by reading its final words, we are acknowledging an end. Is it ever possible, then, to write and read outside these traditional narrative structures? And do authors even bear them in mind when they write? Read more →

Novel: Spilt Milk by Chico Buarque

It’s not often I get to the end of a novel and realise I need to reread it straight away. Not just because I liked it—I did—but because I realised this isn't the novel I had thought it was at the beginning, halfway through, or even near the end. At first glance, Spilt Milk by Brazilian author Chico Buarque doesn’t sound like it should be particularly complicated, intriguing, or moving, but it is. Read more →

Short Stories: Reality, Reality  by Jackie Kay

Sometimes, it is the echo of something larger that is at the heart of a Jackie Kay short story: a distillation of sorts, whereby a brief, intense image or feeling is captured that hints at more but needs not say more. As she has said, "It’s like having a malt whisky really, a short story. You can have a wee malt but if you tried to drink a whole pint of whisky you’d be dead." Read more →

Carlos Gamerro on his novel, The Islands, and writing alternative pasts.

A large metropolis like London or Buenos Aires cannot really be known by any of its inhabitants, unless he is forced to visit slum and palace alike in search of something. Now, because the idea of a private eye is impossible in Argentine fiction (all private eyes are ex-cops, all cops corrupt), a cop or ex-cop in search of the truth is for us a bad joke, a fictional implausibility. Because of this, I chose a hacker, a hacker who must turn detective against his will and better judgement. Read more →

Who is the Modern Writer?

So you want to be a writer? Picturing long, quiet days tapping away at a keyboard and sipping endless cups of tea? The odd walk in the park to clear your head? Weeks, months and years dedicated to writing and writing alone? Well, you might have to adjust your expectations. After all, how much writing can you actually do? Read more →

Novel: The Islands by Carlos Gamerro

It is 1992 in Buenos Aires and Felipe Félix, a hacker and coke addict, is invited into the topmost room of a business tycoon’s twin tower. It is a room made entirely of mirrors, and there, he finds a sinister psychologist, an acrylic prism containing the business tycoon’s faeces, and the magnate himself—who proceeds to rape his son in front of Felipe before informing him that his task (which he cannot refuse) is to track down the twenty-six witnesses to a crime committed by his son in this very room. Read more →

Novel: Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

This novel is a stylish, audacious and self-assured debut that mercilessly exposes the artistic ego and, in doing so, both ridicules and humanises it. Its wandering and plotless prose might put off some, but it captures something very real about the foibles and struggles of a young artist. For a novel about nothing in particular, it says an awful lot. Read more →