Monday, 28 June 2010


I was wondering what those renowned bibliophiles - the England football squad and associated staff - might be reading for consolation as they fly back to Britain. The following candidates suggested themselves, but if you can think 0f others, please let me know.

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
Always Coming Home by Ursula le Guin
Four to Score by Janet Evanovich

...and the oft mistitled Muller's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer.


Friday, 25 June 2010


I'm currently plastering over one of the many gaping cracks in the semi-detached cottage that is my reading. This is to say I've been discovering the lovely travel writing of Robert Louis Stevenson, in the form of Travels with a Donkey and Across the Plains. The clarity and detail Stevenson offers, together with his sense of humanity and appetite for adventure and not least his naturally elegant style, have made my vicarious journeys across Languedoc and America an absolute treat, not to mention enabling me to discourse at length on donkey goads.

Stevenson moves across subjects - place, religion, food, work - with all the ease the hapless donkey lacks, making these books an educational journey also. Here are a few samples, beginning with the plains of Nebraska:

To one hurrying through by steam there was a certain exhilaration in this spacious vacancy, this greatness of the air, this discovery of the whole arch of heaven, this straight, unbroken, prison-line of the horizon.

moving to a frosty Dutch woman with whom he shares a train carriage:

Her parting words were ingeniously honest: 'I am sure' said she 'we all ought to be very much obliged to you.' I cannot pretend that she put me at my ease; but I had a certain respect for such a genuine dislike. A poor nature would have slipped, in the course of these familiarities, into a sort of worthless toleration for me.

and from Languedoc:

We struck at last into a wide white highroad, carpeted with noiseless dust. The night had come; the moon had been shining for a long while upon the opposite mountain, when on turning a corner my donkey and I issued ourselves into her light. I had emptied out my brandy at Florac, for I could bear the stuff no longer, and replaced it with some generous and scented Volnay; and now I drank to the moon's sacred majesty upon the road.

All this is not entirely unrelated to Capuchin, as in January we are publishing our an edition of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to follow on from Kidnapped. The former will be the first Capuchin to carry a new cover design, but more of that later.


Wednesday, 23 June 2010


We are launching our edition of Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling at Heywood Hill's Bookshop at 6 p.m. on Thursday July 15th. Julian Fellowes, who has provided the Capuchin foreword, will be reading from the book.

Not only because Nancy Mitford worked at Heywood Hill, but also because it is rightly one of London's most renowned bookshops, we are delighted to have arranged this event.

If you would like to receive an invitation, please e-mail

Monday, 21 June 2010


I have just read that Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl has been declared 'the best Puffin book ever'. Although I quite enjoyed reading this book, and possess no ill will whatsoever towards Mr. Colfer, I could not believe that any books other than The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula LeGuin had been allowed to carry this mantle.

The award was voted for by children, which makes me wonder if LeGuin's exquisite quartet, (I thought the fifth book, The Other Wind was very disappointing) is being forgotten amongst the tide of more slickly-marketed and facile literature.

I hope not.


Thursday, 17 June 2010


Given the nature of the list, arranging to have lunch with a Capuchin author can be difficult. Bram Stoker never answers my calls, and Rudyard Kipling always has an excuse. I did, however spend a delightful time yesterday with Julian Mitchell, whose novel The Undiscovered Country (not to be confused with the Star Trek film, which also borrowed that quote from Shakespeare) we are to republish in July.

In the intervals between discussing cutting-edge ideas for marketing and sales, we rambled over several topics, and discovered a shared love and awe for R.S. Thomas, the man and his poetry. Thomas was far from noted for his sunny disposition and casual bonhomie: he once described the Welsh as:
An impotent people
Sick with inbreeding
Worrying the carcase of an old song.

Julian described how one poor servant of a renowned society drove half way across the British Isles to Thomas' rural Welsh home in order to present a prestigious prize, only to have Thomas, with a snatch of the trophy and a 'Thank you very much', slam the door in his face. Julian had considerably better success, having succeeded in wresting a cup of tea and a full quarter hour of the great man's time from him on one occasion.

It's wonderful to be working with such an interesting and successful writer, whose Another Country (play and film, both featuring Rupert Everett), although his best-known work, is but one among many acclaimed dramatic and prose achievements, including much television work and the screenplay of the biopic Wilde. Julian is currently attending the rehearsals of his new play, an adaptation of The Good Soldier, the novel by Ford Madox Ford. This will play at the Theatre Royal Bath from July, and may then migrate to London.


Monday, 14 June 2010


I couldn't resist, having all but finished The Unbearable Bassington, sprinkling a few Saki bon mots across the blog. You may like to use them and pass them off as your own in social situations.

Of a pompous and shallow gentleman who specialised in dominating dinner parties with his own brand of smug piety:

(he was) a skilled window-dresser in the emporium of his own personality

On dressing:

some people are born with a sense of how to clothe themselves, others acquire it, others look as if their clothes had been thrust upon them.

and a characteristic barb from the arch putter-down of stupidity and pretension, Lady Caroline:

'I can generally manage to attend to more than one thing at a time' said Serena, rashly; 'I think I must have a sort of double brain.'
'Much better to economise and have one really good one,' observed Lady Caroline.

But the book is much more than a collection of waspish observations; Saki writes about the serious aspects of life with equal conviction and power, as the final section, set in an African country, well demonstrates:

Somewhere in the west country of England Comus had an uncle who lived in a rose-smothered rectory and taught a wholesome gentle-hearted creed that expressed itself in the spirit of “Little lamb, who made thee?” and faithfully reflected the beautiful homely Christ-child sentiment of Saxon Europe. What a far away, unreal fairy story it all seemed here in this West African land, where the bodies of men were of as little account as the bubbles that floated on the oily froth of the great flowing river, and where it required a stretch of wild profitless imagination to credit them with undying souls.

The book also delightfully and poignantly observes the various stages of romantic relationships between young people, as well as painting a general and fascinating picture of decadent Edwardian society.


Thursday, 10 June 2010


The New York Times recently published a lengthy celebration of this book by the renowned contemporary author Jonathan Franzen.

Mr. Franzen writes:

Although its prose ranges from good to fabulously good — is lyrical in the true sense, every observation and description bursting with feeling, meaning, subjectivity — and although its plotting is unobtrusively masterly, the book operates at a pitch of psychological violence that makes “Revolutionary Road” look like “Everybody Loves Raymond."

and meditates at length on the reasons why the novel is not as recognised as it deserves to be. The essay is replete with erudition and wit, and makes some fascinating observations on the whole business of publishing and reading novels and places this book in the context of literature in general and several specific related novelists and novels.


Friday, 4 June 2010


It had been many years since I exposed my soul to the caustic brilliance that is the writing of H.H. Munro, immortally known as 'Saki'. Yesterday evening, even through the fog of a tired brain further enshrouded by the vicissitudes of commuting, I began reading The Unbearable Bassington, and was instantly refreshed, through all parts of my being, by the playfulness,wit and elegance of his prose. It was like literary mouthwash.

Here's the opening:

In her younger days Francesca had been known as the beautiful Miss Greech; at forty, although much of the original beauty remained, she was just dear Francesca Bassington. No one would have dreamed of calling her sweet, but a good many people who scarcely knew her were punctilious about putting in the ‘dear’.

Her enemies, in their honester moments, would have admitted that she was svelte and knew how to dress, but they would have agreed with her friends in asserting that she had no soul. When one’s friends and enemies agree on any particular point they are usually wrong. Francesca herself, if pressed in an unguarded moment to describe her soul, would probably have described her drawing-room. Not that she would have considered that the one had stamped the impress of its character on the other, so that close scrutiny might reveal its outstanding features, and even suggest its hidden places, but because she might have dimly recognised that her drawing-room was her soul.

There is another link to Capuchin in one of the two favourite theories as to how the author's pseudonym was chosen, namely that it is a reference to the South American primate of the same name, 'a small, long-tailed monkey from the Western Hemisphere', that is a central character in 'The Remoulding of Groby Lington.' The other contending explanation is that the name was chosen after the cupbearer in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, a work satirised in 'Reginald on Christmas Presents' .


Thursday, 3 June 2010


You will, being people possessed of sensitive literary antennae, have been aware of the recent and very thorough coverage of the Hay literature festival. Although I've visited Hay-on-Wye twice (once on a cycling holiday that involved a devious circular route from Hertfordshire to Wales and back, and once as a birthday treat supplied by my wife), I've never made it to the Festival itself, but intend to do so one of these years. While studying at that august and attractively environed temple of learning, UCW Aberystwyth, I also organised an English department outing to Hay-on-Wye, only to find that only three people went, two of whom came back totally unburdened by books (although one of those did buy some clothes).

I note, as they say, with interest that there is now an event which is an adjunct to the festival and has a philosophical theme, called How the Light gets in. The name is a quotation from a song by that supreme modern music lyricist, mystic and sage, Leonard Cohen, about whose prodigious talents and work I could wax lyrical for much more time than I have available and you probably have inclination to attend. The song in question is called "Anthem", from the album "The Future" and the full phrase is:

There is a crack, a crack, in everything,
That's how the light gets in.


Tuesday, 1 June 2010


What's not to like about Gallic Books? They publish French novels in their first English translation, which are not only brilliantly selected but also look very attractive. I must confess a personal interest here, in that I used to work for the sales team that helped Gallic to launch into the book trade, and nicer people you could not hope to meet.

Gallic started with period crime novels (although written by contemporary French writers) but have branched out, and at the moment I am, as it were, sitting very happily on one of these branches, to wit 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog'. This delightful novel is narrated alternately by the secretly cultured concierge of an apartment block in Paris and the precocious daughter of a resident family. The latter keeps a journal to record her (numbered) profound thoughts, which have led her to the conclusion that the only way to make sense of her life is for her to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. Imagine a Left Bank version of Adrian Mole, and you won't go far wrong. Meanwhile, the concierge pursues her clandestine passions for philosophy, literature and art, weaving a screen of ordinariness and anonymity around her to deflect the suspicions of her employers, and her musings on both activities are beautifully rendered, with the smallest whiff of irony and parody.

This goes on until a death in the apartment brings change, in the form of an enigmatic Japanese man.

Here's a taster, from Renee the concierge:

This morning, while listening to France Inter on the radio, I was surprised to
discover that I am not who I thought I was. Up until then I had ascribed the
reasons for my cultural ecleticism to my condition as a proletarian autodidact.

and Paloma the junior philosopher:

I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start
that life is absurd. That might deprive you of a few good moments in your
childhood but it would save you a considerable amount of time as an adult.

The book is suffused with humour, wit and humanity, and is one I can see myself rereading, preferably in Paris.