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Proof of Pudding


What discerning judges have said about The Coffee Story

'It's been a while since I read a first novel that felt as universally accomplished as Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story' - Toby Litt

'I was constantly intoxicated by a sense of desire & loss' - Jake Arnott

'Wild and raucous... an extraordinarily accomplished debut' - Niall Griffiths

'Reminiscent of Phillip Roth's Everyman. But it's much, much funnier' - Sydney Morning Herald

'An exceptional debut' - Martyn Bedford

Hard Sell

My Top Ten Books of 2015, Numbers 1-5

Yup, here they are. Reverse order again. No peeking.

flaubert letters5. Flaubert’s Letters

One of my guiltiest secrets as a reader, and as writer and as a man, is that I have never enjoyed or admired Madame Bovary. Again and again I have picked it up, marvelled at the hat that Charles Bovary wears to school on page two, and then felt the book get heavier and heavier in my hands until I am able to drop it a couple of hundred stultifying pages later. So it was quite a revelation to fall in love with his letters. From the frankly obscene letters of his early twenties; to those concerning his (mutually) crap love affair with Louise Colet, through the letters of his maturity in which he sets out his artistic ideals; to the grumpy letters of his dotage, railing against the idiocy of the individual and society, these letters read like an eloquent version of what goes on in the head of any intelligent person, by which I guess I mean me (I do tend to rail against idiocy). Means I will have to read Bovary again. Dear God.

 

 

iliad4. The Iliad by Peter Green and Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil

I had the good fortune to come across the writings of Weil for the first time while writing a review of this new translation of the Iliad… and if that sounds like a plug, it is: here’s the review… http://www.sydneyreviewofbooks.com/the-iliad-homer-peter-green/ But self-promotion aside, Weil’s ideas continue to haunt me – I find myself agreeing with her passionately, and then disagreeing with her just as passionately. At her best she is inspiring, at her worst – has there ever been a more annoying writer? I think in the end she is completely wrong, but wrong in the most interesting way I have ever encountered.

 

 

flanders3. The Flanders Road by Claude Simon

This brilliant novel is not so much a book to me these days as a totem. I keep it beside me while I write as a sort of incentive. Whenever I am writing and I think I can’t do something, this novel laughs in my face. It is a book of absolute conviction and absolute audacity. Simon uses language pushed to its limits – this is no affectation, but a revelation of the torsion between language and thought. It is exhilarating.

 

 

 

 

migration2. Migration by W S Merwin

There are some books it is best not to read just before bed. This is one – a collection from W S Merwin which, like the Claude Simon novel, eschews punctuation unless absolutely necessary – in Simon’s case very occasionally, and in Merwin’s case, never. This produces small nodes of surprising meaning in the Merwin – he is able to shape several meanings simultaneously, or deliver one with what appears to be absolute clarity, before it begins to vibrate with ambiguity moments later. Merwin’s recent work has drawn itself closer to nature – there is solace there – but his earlier works come across to me as wounded, worried. And, because his verse is so open, the reader cannot help but start searching for concordances, and new ways of thinking. And then it’s 3am…

 

 

wisdom1. The Wisdom Books – Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; Strong as Death is Love – The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and Daniel; Ancient Israel – The Former Prophets Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings by Robert Alter

Without a doubt, Robert Alter’s ongoing translation of the Bible has been the biggest revelation of the year for me. Going back to the roots of the text, Alter provides both a terrific, poetic rendering of the narrative, and provides – running parallel to the text, a commentary that concentrates on the books as ‘literature’. Thus he brings both the skill of a literary critic and the erudition of a linguist to the task. The Bible becomes a living thing – that it became a collection, and that the collection became a holy book, becomes more and more baffling and more and more intriguing. One comes to the conclusion that this is as much down to the genius of words as to the genius of religion – so little of the Bible is moral proselytizing, so much of it thrums with ambiguity. And the notes are a marvellous source of tid-bits, from the quotidian – did you know the etymology of ‘restaurant’ is restorant? – to the sublime – David’s son, Amnon, in love with his sister Tamar, says in English “Tamar the sister of Absolom my brother I do love”  which Alter points out is, in the Hebrew, a “series of gasping sighs – ‘et-tamar’ ahot ‘avshalom ‘ahi ‘ani’ ‘ohev”, the opening vowel sounds of each word panting out his desire. I haven’t read Alter’s Five Books of Moses yet, but they are next on the list. I believe they start with a bang…

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