"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Are Bookshops Dead?

Of course not, but some are more healthy than others. What do you notice about this picture (apart from the lousy lighting)? I took this at the weekend in a back street of the provincial south west town of Perpignan in France and it shows (what is normal in most European countries) a unique display of about 30 new books chosen by the owner. In Britain bookshop windows are both boring and dishonest. Dishonest because the books are not chosen by the bookseller but rather space is bought and sold with bribes paid by publishers to get exposure in the window. The same old predictable clutch of best-selling titles, marketed like baked beans in "3 for 2" clumps, duly appears in every chain bookshop window from one end of the country to the other. In this case there are some best-sellers, of course, like Daniel Pennac, and there is Marie Darrieussecq (one of the few contemporary French literary novelists to be translated into English) with her controversial new novel Tom est mort that has provoked one of those bogus 'plagiarism' rows. (I may blog about it later when I've read it.) But it feels like someone's thoughtful choice and it was interesting to browse. Of course the ease with which we can order books through Amazon at drastically reduced prices is changing everything. Most of the hardback Man Booker titles are available at paperback prices at Amazon and you won't need your brolly to go out and get them so quite how any bookshop, even an independent, is going to survive beats me.


Mark Thwaite said...

Do keep us posted about the Darrieussecq "controversy" Nick. Up until "White", which I didn't get along with, I've always thought Darrieussecq was pretty good and I'm interested to hear news of her latest ...

Nicholas Murray said...

My source for this controversy is a piece by Elisabeth Ladenson in the London Review of Books 20 September issue, "Short Cuts" feature, p20. She explains that Camille Laurens wrote a book about losing a child and now Marie D, her former fan, has written this new book about the same subject without having actually experienced losing a child causing Laurens to accuse her of "psychological plagiarism". There's enough there to keep a whole faculty of literary theorists going for a month. Shades of the alleged 'plagiarism' of Graham Swift from Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" which the nitwits on Private Eye's Literary Review couldn't see was a conscious hommage rather than a rip-off (or that's how I saw it).

Nicholas Murray said...

By the way after the brilliant "Truismes" translated as "Pig Tales" I lost the plot with Darrieussecq whom I found a little unrewarding in subsequent books so I am going to try with this one again.