Compulsive Reader

The Compulsive Reader News
Volume 17, Issue 6, 3rd June 2016


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Literary News
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Here is the latest batch of reviews this month:

A review of Plain-Speaking Jane by Jane Caro

Regardless of how deeply Caro looks within for answers, what she never does is apologise. There’s absolutely no shame here—not of her mental health issues, her parenting, her outspokenness, her relationship choices, her political affiliations, her atheism, her engagement in public conversation or her career choices. By not apologising, even as she shares her worst mistakes, Caro encourages her readers to show compassion to themselves. Read more:

A review of The A to Z of Normal by Helen Barbour

The A to Z of Normal, by British author Helen Barbour, is a “relationship novel,” but has more to say than a romance, or a “chick lit” book. Readers like to learn while being entertained, and in this novel, Ms. Barbour gently educates us about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and deserves praise for recognizing the dramatic potential in a subject seldom-explored in fiction. For the full review visit:

Reflection, Imagination, Possibility: Lianne La Havas’ Blood

Lianne La Havas—a British girl of Jamaican and Greek heritage (her Greek father was a musician)—has been a part of music scenes large and small (associated at one time or another with Paloma Faith, Bon Iver, Alicia Keys, and Prince); and her work has won her critical respect and popularity. Yet, though young, recognized, and rewarded, there she has had to fight for her integrity. Read more:

Interview with Marie Darrieussecq

I caught up with Marie Darrieussecq at the Sydney Writers Festival and we talked about such things as her latest novel Men, her characters Solange and Kouhouesso, on the glitz of the city and being an outsider, on passion vs love, her research process, on finding the right voice, and lots more. For the full interview visit:

A review of Men by Marie Darrieussecq

Solange’s journey is one that takes her into her own heart of darkness, where she finds her limitations, her humiliations and restrictions, and the cultural, political, gendered and racial stereotypes through which she has defined herself. Throughout the novel she begins to unravel these, unwinding herself slowly until she is temporarily removed altogether as subject. Read more:

A review of The Diary of Norman K by Dimitrios Ikonomou

It takes strength of character to pursue, and create, human wretchedness in all its shapes for 360 pages. Like many unreliable narrators before him, Norman K ranges from obnoxious to villainous in his pretension, and The Diary of Norman K shows how uniquely we puts on airs, down to a style of speech best described by his “friend” Russell as “an Elizabethan aristocrat who had just woken up from a two-hundred-year coma. For the full review visit:

A review of The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick

What we’re celebrating most of all in The Odd Woman and the City, is our mutual humanity: all those wonderful discordant notes, all of the flaws, and all of our failures. We love, we lose, and in these gaps, in these surprises, we make our art, our lives, our meaning. Read more:

A review of Good Globe by Shelby Simpson

Simpson’s writing style is informal and conversational—the entire book reads like a girlfriend recounting tales of her latest travel adventures over a few cocktails on a night out. The way Simpson tells it, hopping on a plane to an exotic locale is No Big Deal—if you do it right. She stresses that traveling takes some advance budgeting and planning, but when you reach your destination, there’s a lot to be said for taking each day as it comes. For the full review visit:

A review of The Bricks that Build the Houses by Kate Tempest

Beneath the fun, fast, and well-plotted story, is a deep poetic exploration of yearning, creativity, and the constrictions of poverty. The characters live between pulses of transcendence that take place as they struggle to create meaning from their hand-to-mouth lives. Read more:

A review of He Runs the Moon by Wendy Brandmark

Themes of identity and belonging disturb the calm surface of Wendy Brandmark’s collection of short stories, which are set in Denver, New York and Boston in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of the stories concern characters who have been displaced geographically and emotionally: young or old, successful or unsuccessful, their lives have slipped their moorings. Read more:

All of the reviews listed above available at The Compulsive Reader on the front page. Older reviews are kept indefinitely in our extensive (and growing) categorized archives (currently at 1,939s reviews!), which can be browsed or searched from the front page of the site.



In the literary news this month, Jenny Erpenbeck has won the €25,000 (about $28,975) Thomas Mann Prize. The author of many novels, stories, essays and plays, she was cited for addressing “the precarious political history of the 20th century as well as the burning questions of the present,” according to Abendblatt.

The ninth annual presentation of the Best Translated Book Awards (BTBA) has been made and features, for fiction, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, and for poetry, Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas, translated from the Portuguese by Hilary Kaplan. Each winning author and translator receives a $5,000 cash prize. One of the most useful elements of this competition is Post’s gratifying compendium of “Why This Book Should Win” articles, one for each of the 35 longlisted works, which can be read here:

The Desmond Elliott Prize 2016 has announced a shortlist of three books in the running to take home the “most prestigious award for first-time novelists”. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (John Murray), The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester (Penguin) and Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (Scribe), have been chosen from a longlist of ten books published in the last year by British and Irish debut novelists. McCrea and McInerney are Irish, while Rochester is English.

Poetry figures for the first time in seven years on the short list for the £10,000 Ondaatje Prize, released by the Royal Society of Literature today. The award is for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place” The judges — the journalist Kate Adie, the writer and critic Mark Lawson and the poet Moniza Alvi — have included a debut collection, The River by Jane Clarke (Bloodaxe Books, The Great Explosion by Brian Dillon (Penguin), Weatherland by Alexandra Harris (Thames & Hudson), Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev (Faber & Faber), The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks (Penguin), and This Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian, in which the Indian Tamil writer examines the scars left on Sri Lanka by its 26-year civil war.

Restless Books is pleased to announce the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, which each year will award $10,000 and publication to a first-time, first-generation American author. The 2016 prize goes to Deepak Unnikrishnan for his novel Temporary People, a book of linked stories about the migrant workers of the United Arab Emirates. Read on for the author’s introduction and an excerpt, and the judges’ citation. Temporary People, will be published by Restless Books in spring 2017.

An electrifying portrait of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, in which television is the chief tool of authoritarianism, has won the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize, for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev, an award-winning television producer, details the cynicism and simulation he found while making reality shows for the TNT network (sponsored by a giant gas company) from an office called Byzantium, and then working for Ostankino, “the battering ram of Kremlin propaganda”.

An account of modern Russia, which in its investigation into media manipulation is “absolutely in [George] Orwell’s own tradition” has won the UK’s most prestigious prize for political writing, the Orwell prize for books. Chair of judges for the prize Lord William Waldegrave compared Arkady Ostrovsky’s The Invention of Russia to George Orwell’s novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. The Invention of Russia beat titles including Jason Burke’s The New Threat from Islamic Militancy, John Kay’s Other People’s Money and Emma Sky’s The Unravelling to the prize.

The Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist for 2016 has been announced. The shortlist includes Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, Leap by Myfanwy Jones, Black Rock White City by A S Patric, Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar, and The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (which I’m reading now!). More details can be found here:

Imran Garda’s debut novel, The Thunder That Roars, has been announced as the joint winner of the prestigious Olive Schreiner Prize for Prose.
The prize is awarded annually by the English Academy of South Africa for a work of prose, poetry or drama. Garda’s novel shares the 2015 Olive Schreiner Prize with Jill Nudelman’s Inheriting the Earth, published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Literary fiction in translation has now taken a further, and vital step forward with the outcome of the newly revamped Man Booker International Prize. The inaugural winner, as expected, is the South Korean writer Han Kang (45) for her disturbingly beautiful short novel The Vegetarian. It is a cautionary tale told in three acts from contrasting viewpoints which charts a young woman’s slow drift into apathy. The £50,000 prize is divided equally between the author and the translator: this is a major innovation.

An ‘astounding array’ of work by six young writers, including Sunjeev Sahota and the Guardian first book award winner Andrew McMillan, will compete for the £30,000 prize in May. The shortlist includes: Pond, by Claire-Louise Bennett (Fitzcarraldo Editions), The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James (Harvill Secker [UK] / Alfred A Knopf [US]), Disinformation by Frances Leviston (Picador), Physical by Andrew McMillan (Jonathan Cape), Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Faber & Faber), and The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (Picador).

Max Porter has won this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers with his debut book Grief is the Thing with Feathers. A senior editor at Granta and Portobello Books, he was awarded the £30,000 prize at a ceremony in Swansea University’s Great Hall. This year’s shortlist combined poetry and prose. Alongside Max Porter, the five other shortlisted writers were Claire-Louise Bennett (UK), Pond, Fitzcarraldo Editions; Tania James (USA), The Tusk that Did the Damage, Harvill Secker [UK] / Alfred A. Knopf [US]; Frances Leviston (UK), Disinformation, Picador; Andrew McMillan (UK), Physical, Jonathan Cape and Sunjeev Sahota (UK), The Year of the Runaways, Picador.

Magda Szubanski’s first book, Reckoning, has won the Book of the Year prize at the Australian Book Industry Awards. Reckoning, a memoir that centres around Magda’s relationship with her father, a teenage assassin during World War II, also won the Biography Book of the Year at the gala. A full list of winners and shortlisted titles can be found here:

Finally, Richard Flanagan has accused the Australian federal government of attempting to destroy the publishing industry and the livelihoods of writers. Flanagan’s tirade against the Coalition followed other prominent authors, including Tim Winton and Tom Keneally, the Australian Society of Authors and the Copyright Agency speaking out against proposed a Productivity Commission proposal to reduce copyright on published words to just 15 years. The Guardian published Flanagan’s full speech here:

Have a great month!

================================================= is the place to go for all your reading needs. We have book reviews, book giveaways, and many other interesting places to visit. Visit:



Congratulations to Sharon Huether, who won a copy of The Opposite of Comfortable by Sharon Nir.

Congratulations also to Julie Rupert, who won a copy of The Weekender

Our new site giveaway is for a copy of The Grotto’s Secret by Paula Wynn. To win, send me an email at with your postal address and the subject line “Grotto’s Secret”.

We also have a copy of A review of The A to Z of Normal by Helen Barbour. To win, send me an email at with your postal address and the subject line “A to Z of Normal”.

Finally, we have 2 ebooks of Robert Eggleton’s Rarity from the Hollow. To win, send me an email at (no address required!) with the subject line “Rarity from the Hollow”.

Good luck everybody!



We will shortly be featuring reviews of My Name is Lucy Barton, The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley, An interview with Rarity from the Hollow author Robert Eggleton, an interview with Jane Caro (see our review this month of Plain-Speaking Jane, a review of Where Have You Been All My Life? by Villagers, featuring Conor O’Brien, and lots more reviews, news, interviews, and giveaways.

Don’t forget to drop by The Compulsive Reader talks (see widget on right hand side of the site) or at to listen to the latest interview with Vivien Gornick (conducted live at the Sydney Writers Festival). To listen, visit the showpage or you can listen directly from the site widget (right hand side of the site).

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(c) 2016 Magdalena Ball. Nothing in this newsletter may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher, however reprint rights are readily available. Please feel free to forward this newsletter in its entirety.

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