Sunday’s slush pile

  • “I thought the piles of unsolicited manuscripts it was my job to sift through would contain undiscovered gems. Reader, I was very wrong.” – Jean Hannah Edelstein in “The Shocking Truth about the slush pile.”
  • I enjoyed reading Kathy Reich’s first book in her Temperance Brennan series Déjà Dead. I doubt it ever saw a slush pile because it’s filled with enough chopped-up bones, high-quality forensic anthropologist work, unco-operative policework, and real scares at Brennan’s house to satisfy any reader of crime novels. Readers will learn a lot about saws, cutting bones, Montreal, and possibly a little québécois. I started the series with the last book, then the second-to-last book, and now the first book. I might have gotten hooked. something I never thought would happen (and am a little embarrassed to admit) with a police procedural. Perhaps this is better called an autopsy procedural.
  • I’m now reading Inland by Téa Obreht to atone for flirting with a crime book. So far, Obreht’s book moves at a more-lyrical pace, not counting the exploits of “The Mattie Gang.”
  • Cold weather has come to Georgia prompting us to remember at 1:00 a.m last night that we’d forgotten to move the more delicate potted plants inside. So, we went out and froze our asses off while making sure the plants didn’t.
  • Facebook has been filled lately with photographs of weird stuff in cooking pans that people are looking forward to eating (the stuff, not the pans). I think most of the “food” in the photographs looks trashcan ready even though these posts get lots of likes and recipe requests. I’m tempted to say that these culinary catastrophes look like stuff swept off the kitchen floor and dumped into a Dutch oven with a quart of water. But I don’t: (a) because I’m a polite person, and (b) because I don’t want people to come back and say that my books look like something vacuumed (or Hoovered if you’re English) out of a slush pile.
  • PW graphic

    I was happy to see this November 8th Publishers Weekly story: “In Written Opinion, Judge Florence Pan Delivers Knockout Blow to PRH, S&S Merger.” According to the judge, “The government has presented a compelling case that predicts substantial harm to competition as a result of the proposed merger of PRH and S&S,” Many well-known authors have been saying this ever since the proposed merger was announced. I agree with them–and the judge. There’s already too little competition due to earlier mergers. You can read the order here in PDF format.

  • Based on my glowing recommendation, a close friend of mine just began reading Wolf Hall, the 2009 historical novel by the late Hilary Mantel. I worry a little when I recommend novels and hope the friend is still speaking to me when they finish the book (assuming they finish the book). I have high hopes, especially when I see experts’ reactions like this one in Wikipedia: In The Guardian, Christopher Tayler wrote, “Wolf Hall succeeds on its own terms and then some, both as a non-frothy historical novel and as a display of Mantel’s extraordinary talent. Lyrically yet cleanly and tightly written, solidly imagined yet filled with spooky resonances, and very funny at times, it’s not like much else in contemporary British fiction. A sequel is apparently in the works, and it’s not the least of Mantel’s achievements that the reader finishes this 650-page book wanting more.”



Rereading ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Téa Obreht

Several days ago, I posted some ideas that a story happens in a place and can be revisited like any tourist destination. I especially like returning to places filled with magical realism since I often write in that genre. So it is that I decided to reread The Tiger’s Wife which NPR reviewed as Magical Realism Meets Big Cats.

I’m rereading the book now because I wanted to take another look at it before finally getting around to reading Inland, a novel set in the American Southwest.

NPR wrote that “The Tiger’s Wife rests securely in the genre of magical realism, inciting comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even Kafka.” The reviewer thought that the ending was too abrupt. I didn’t in my April 2011 review: “The Tiger’s Wife is dark and deep and perfectly crafted, and if you allow yourself to be immersed in it, you will see the blazing eyes of Shere Khan.” The novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was a 2011 National Book Award finalist.

From the Publisher

Author’s Website

“Weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love, Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation.

In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.”

Téa Obreht was born Tea Bajraktarević in the autumn of 1985, in BelgradeSR SerbiaSFR Yugoslavia, the only child of a single mother, Maja Obreht, while her father, a Bosniak,[10] was “never part of the picture.” – Wikipedia .


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Eulalie and Washerwoman, magical realism set in the backwoods of the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s.

My 2011 Favorite: ‘The Night Circus’ edges out ‘The Tiger’s Wife’

In April, I began my book review of The Tiger’s Wife with the following: Gather around, my friends, and I will tell you the story of the man who could never die, who, some say, still walks the streets of our village at night, and then—if most of you are still awake—I’ll tell you the story of the tiger Shere Khan whose eyes burn brightly in the night when he prowls near campfires like this looking for his wife.

As a storyteller, I’m drawn to stories that sparkle with probabilities, magic, a sense of mystery, and a raw potential for being real beneath the guise of the novelist’s art. In April, I didn’t think anyone would do better in 2011 than Téa Obreht. Then I started seeing the hype for Erin Morgenstern’s novel of fantasy and magical realism The Night Circus. Hype bothers me because it smacks of money-fed, well-oiled machines churning out literary propaganda for those favored authors who get the rare treatment of a real, book-selling campaign. As a storyteller and author, I am jealous of those authors and that alone kicks in a nasty attitude of bias against whatever it is they are selling.

Yet, when it came to The Tiger’s Wife and The Night Circus, my intuition told me I was going to like these books in spite of my bias and in spite of the fact that I really wanted my 2011 favorite to come from a small press. Perhaps The Night Circus edged out The Tiger’s Wife because I finished reading it later in the year. Or perhaps it was because the magic of two dueling magicians in the Le Cirque des Rêves in Morgenstern’s novel reminded me of the dueling magicians in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, my favorite novel in 2004.

Complete Worlds

Both Susanna Clarke and Erin Morgenstern paint rich pictures of complete worlds, worlds where there is room to experience the magic in depth and to believe that it fits there and really did happen or could happen. Booklist saw this complete world in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in its starred review: The brilliance of the novel lies in how Clarke so completely and believably creates a world within a world: the “outside” world being early-nineteenth-century England, as Napoleon the eagle looms over all of Europe; the “inner” world being the community of English magicians.

Likewise, Library Journal saw an equally complete world in Morgenstern’s novel this year: To enter the black-and-white-striped tents of Le Cirque des Rêves is to enter a world where objects really do turn into birds and people really do disappear…Debut novelist Morgenstern has written a 19th-century flight of fancy that is, nevertheless, completely believable. The smells, textures, sounds, and sights are almost palpable. A literary “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” this read is completely magical.

Mysterious Plot

In The Night Circus, two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, are magically bound by their mentors into an endless competition without rules or time limits that is destined to play itself out in a mysterious circus of dreams that arrives in towns with no advance notice and is only open from sunset to dawn. Celia and Marco use real magic, but because the public doesn’t believe in such things, they pretend to be illusionists.

Neither magician knows when or how his or her illusions will be judged or when or how a winner will be declared, but only that they are not allowed to tell the outside world about the competition. In fact, the competition itself influences how the circus is maintained, what the patrons see or think they see, and creates a rather dream-like realm where it’s difficult for readers and circus visitors to know where the fantasy of it all begins and ends.

While most of the reader reviews for The Night Circus are positive (three to five stars), as of today, the novel’s 64 one-and-two-star reviewers saw no plot in the book at all. Generally, they found the book to be boring and pointless. One way or the other, these reviewers’ expectations were not met. I suspect they were looking for an overt storyline more like Harry Potter’s battles with the evil Voldemort throughout J. K. Rowling’s popular series. Rowling has also created a very complete world, yet what happens in it happens faster and with more splash and consequence and that garners more happy readers.

Storytelling Itself

Near the end of The Night Circus, one of the two devious mentors tells a circus performer about the imporance of stories themselves and how they connect writer and reader in intersting ways and spin out consequences outside the control of either of them:

Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that…there are many kinds of magic, after all.

I love blurring reality and fiction together in my writing. My wont to do this, as a trickster and storyteller, led me to enjoy reading both The Tiger’s Wife and The Night Circus. Both Téa Obreht and Erin Morgenstern have created believable worlds with strong characters that can move and drive readers. Even though I have always loved tigers and have always disliked circuses, Le Cirque des Rêves has manged nonetheless to connect with my blood and self and purpose.

Coming Soon: a review of Mister Blue by Jacques Poulin, to be released later this month by archipelago books. Published in 1989 as Le Vieux Chagrin, the novel first appeared in English in 1993.

You May Also Like: Yesterday, I announced an end-of-the-year book give-away challenge for my contemporary fantasy Sarabande. If you enter, you might just win a free copy.


Review: ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Téa Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The tiger’s roar filled the cave with thunder. Mother Wolf shook herself clear of the cubs and sprang forward, her eyes, like two green moons in the darkness, facing the blazing eyes of Shere Khan. — Rudyard Kipling in “Mowgli’s Brothers” from “The Jungle Book” (1894)

Gather around, my friends, and I will tell you the story of the man who could never die, who, some say, still walks the streets of our village at night, and then—if most of you are still awake—I’ll tell you the story of the tiger Shere Khan whose eyes burn brightly in the night when he prowls near campfires like this looking for his wife.

Like all great storytellers, author Téa Obreht demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt in “The Tiger’s Wife” that memorable stories live at the crossroads of fact and fable. Doctor Natalia Stefanovic is treating children at an orphanage in an unspecified Balkan country when she learns that her beloved grandfather has died. The details are unclear. They provide no closure.

While seeking closure, Natalia remembers the times they spent together when she was young, their trips to the zoo to see the tigers, and the rather fantastic stories he told of his own youth. He told her the story of the deathless man and he told her the story of the tiger’s wife. Her grandfather experienced the events in these stories when he was a child, and like all memorable stories, they were somewhat true and somewhat pure potential and supposition, believed to varying degrees by those in the village who kept their children indoors at night when the tiger owned the streets.

Obreht tells us these stories in bits and pieces as Natalia juggles the real world of the orphanage and the superstitions of those in the village where the orphanage is located with the fables out of her grandfather’s past. To learn how and where he died, she will walk present-day roads laden with stories and she will walk into her memories of the tiger and the man who could never die, and when all is said and done, the truth of the matter will be a mix of everything she encounters at the crossroads.

“The Tiger’s Wife” is dark and deep and perfectly crafted, and if you allow yourself to be immersed in it, you will see the blazing eyes of Shere Khan.

View all my reviews

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, a novel of magical realism where fact and fable mix.