“The publishing imprints of Random House and Penguin will continue to publish their books with the autonomy they presently enjoy, and retain their distinct editorial identities.”
- Bertelsmann and Pearson press release, via Shelf Awareness.
The end (or the beginning) of an era for Penguin. Image: Stefan Wermuth, Reuters.
This week saw the end of, or the beginning of, an era, depending which way you prefer to look at it.
Only four days after officially confirming that they were in discussions about combining their book publishing operations, Pearson and Bertelsmann announced they are creating a joint venture named Penguin Random House.
The timing from rumour to fait accompli might seem super fast but there was possibly good cause for their alacrity. The deal effectively scuttled News Corp. potential offer of £1 billion ($1.62 billion) for Penguin that was reportedly going to be made later in the week. Had they been successful, we might be talking about HarperCollins Penguin instead of Penguin Random House.
Preceding the actual facts of the matter was the much more entertaining speculation ignited in the Twitterverse. The novelist Kameron Hurley was responsible for this graphic and there was much debate about whether the merged company would be renamed Penguin House or Random Penguin.
I liked this contribution from Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story, “All these years of trying to please my German masters and now I have to learn Cockney?”
Let’s hope that whatever happens the well-being of authors, the diversity of published works and the edification and entertainment of readers are not sacrificed.
The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans
“Laenna said, softly, ‘Raiders. Nid told me. They’ve been seen up the coast. I thought he was trying to scare me.’ Under the blood and the mud, her face was white.
There was nowhere else to go. Signy grabbed her sister’s hand. ‘Come on!’
They turned and ran back the way they’d come, too terrified to scream; breath and energy were needed for survival. At their backs a thudding crash began. The raiders had seen the girls and that noise, sword hilt against shield boss, frightened the sisters more than facing the newcomers. That noise meant death; now, not later.
The children hit the top of the cliff. They screamed as they ran towards the Abbey, past Laenna’s captor, only now getting to his feet.
‘They’re here, they’re coming. Run!’
If the man did not understand, he heard the bellow of approaching death. And then he was sprinting after the girls, he was past them, yelling…
‘Brothers, Brothers, ring the bell. The bell! Raiders!’
That was the first night of the Wanderer in this world.”
By 800AD, the island of Findnar is home to a small Christina community of nuns and monks trying to set up a religious centre.
Before them, the local Picts visited the island to source valuable foods and worship the Sun god Cruach at a circle of stones where they performed their religious ceremonies.
Now the two peoples live in uncomfortable proximity but they are both united by their fear of the raiding Viking armies, whose sackings of local villages means death or slavery and years of poverty.
In 2012, Freya Dane is undertaking her PhD in archaeology when her father, also an archaeologist, dies. Freya hasn’t seen Michael Dane since she was a little girl and is shocked that he leaves her an island in his will, the island of Findnar. Freya travels from Sydney to Portsolly, Scotland determined to put her father’s affairs in order before selling the island.
But once on the island, Freya becomes caught up in her father’s work and is haunted by strange dreams and hallucinations of a strange dark haired girl.
Posie Graeme-Evans is best known to Australians as the creator and producer of the hit series, McLeod’s Daughters. However, when it comes to writing, Graeme-Evans has a penchant for historical rather than contemporary drama and in The Island House she has created both an archeological puzzle and a love story that spans centuries.
Artifacts, her late father’s notes and strange dreams eventually lead Freya to discover the fates of Signy, the Pictish daughter of a shaman who becomes a Christian nun, the man she loves and the tragic ending to their lives.
The Island House is a great read, as much for the rich historical detail as for the thoughtful exploration of what it means to love and what it means to belong.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Released in 1975, the movie version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest gave us a disturbingly real performance from Jack Nicholson. But the book itself was released in 1962, which means it is celebrating it’s 50th year in print.
Author Ken Kesey based the story on his own experiences as an orderly working the graveyard shift at a mental institution in California. During his time there, Kesey participated in an illegal covert CIA research project, codenamed Project MKUltra, in which he was secretly given LSD and subjected to various experiments supposedly testing theories of behavioural engineering.
From this, Kesey created those memorable characters, Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy and through their battle of wills, he explores what it means to be sane or insane. It was hailed at the time of publication as a ‘glittering parable of good and evil’ and the movie went on to win 5 Academy Awards.
Fifty years on, it might be time for a dip back into a modern literary classic.
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
“I’m about to ask who from the family is still alive when she abruptly cuts me off.
“And then there was the incident with you kids in the recreation room.” Again she gives me the look. “Are you playing dumb or are you actually dumb?”
Not knowing what she’s talking about, I decline to answer.
“Your brother performed surgery on my son,” she says, as though offering me a clue, a little something to jog my memory.
“What kind of surgery?”
“He recircumscised him, using a compass and a protractor and Elmer’s glue.”
I vaguely remember something. It was one of the Jewish holidays, and all of the children were downstairs playing. I have a thirty-watt memory of being down on the floor, on the rug with the cousins, and there being an intense Monopoly game going on with off-site buying and selling of property and hotels, and while we were playing, my brother and my cousin Jason were doing something at my father’s desk that seemed strange.
I remember thinking how like George it was, getting someone to do something they shouldn’t for his pleasure. The recreation room was part playroom, part office, with the office area blocked off by file cabinets and white shag carpeting, so it wasn’t like I could actually see what he was doing, but I knew it was weird.
“Was Jason alright?”
“Yes, there was very little physical damage – a small cut, a lot of blood, and a visit to the plastic surgeon – but now he’s gay.”
“Are you saying that George made Jason gay?”
“Something did – I don’t think you’re born gay, do you? Something happens, a trauma turns you that way.”
The tableau is a family Thanksgiving gathering, there is highflying television executive George Silver with his perfect wife Jane and two kids Nate and Ashley.
George has it all; the house, the lifestyle and the attention. Harry, the narrator and George’s older brother, who everyone assumes is the younger of the two, watches on from the sidelines.
His marriage to Chinese-American Claire is predictable, childless, uneventful and vaguely unfulfilling. Harry teaches Nixon at a second rate college to a bunch of students who have to do a unit of history to satisfy their degree requirements and tinkers with his book on the disgraced President, something he’s been working on for fifteen years.
Within days, a stolen kiss and a lethal car accident changes Harry’s world irrevocably, setting him on a collision course with self-revelation. Throwing every relationship, from friends, relatives and complete strangers in grocery stores into a mixing pot of high emotions; loneliness, intimacy, fear, confusion, violence and forgiveness. Harry could never have imagined on that fateful day that one year later, the family Thanksgiving gathering would be such a totally different affair.
May We Be Forgiven is a novel that surges on narrative adrenalin, told with such power and finesse that it makes you constantly pause to marvel at its technical brilliance and marvelous language.
The characters almost leap from the page with vitality, the dialogue is crisp and idiomatic. A.M. Homes has written a satire of contemporary American life that rivals predecessors such as John Irvine’s The World According to Garp and even more intensely, Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections. The Lamberts have nothing on Harry and George Silver.
This is astonishing, high wire act storytelling that will take your breath away. A must add to your reading list.
The Power of Quiet
Susan Cain has written a fantastic book entitled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
In it, Cain explores how modern society has evolved to value the qualities we associate with extroverts and has downgraded and disparaged those associated with introverts.
Cain argues that rather than being a social handicap, introversion is actually widespread, socially advantageous and necessary. This accompanying clip features the amazing illustrations of Molly Crabapple and Cain’s theory on why we need introverts.
Succinct and gorgeous- a winning combination!
On My Bedside Table Are…
Eloise is the debut novel from Judy Finnigan, best known for her long running UK TV chat show, Richard and Judy. Eloise is a new mother of twin girls when she finds out that what she thought was a milk lump in her breast is cancer.
Consumed by denial she buries herself in self-help books and alternative therapies. Within five years she is dead, leaving her family, and her best friend Cathy, devastated by grief. Cathy’s mental health is fragile and when strange dreams begin to haunt her, at first she fears her depression is returning.
But there is more to Eloise’s death than anyone realizes and Cathy feels compelled to find out details of her best friend’s past, never expecting it will lead her to uncover a deep and tragic secret Eloise had hoped she would take to the grave.
Finnigan is renowned for championing entertaining and compelling fiction and her own novel promises to be all that and more.
At one end of the spectrum is Fifty Shades. We all know the story by now. Fan fiction inspired by the Twilight series, originally posted in the internet, practically goes viral, gets picked up by a major publishing house for lots of dollars and then goes on to sell multiple millions of copies and make a gazillion dollars. A one-off, right?
I’ve got news for you. Abigail Gibbs started writing The Dark Heroine: Dinner With a Vampire as a fourteen year old, posting her story on an online platform under a pseudonym. She’d write into the wee hours of the morning, unfolding the tale of Violet Lee who has the misfortune to be the only witness to a mass murder, London’s Bloodbath, whilst waiting for a girlfriend to show for late night sushi.
Attempting to escape the scene of the crime, she is captured by the perpetrators and their leader Kaspar, heir to the Vampiric throne spares her life.
Since over 17 million people having already read the online version, Gibb’s newly acquired literary agent suggested she withhold the final chapter until the print version of the book was released.
And here it is, amid much fan fare, another Twilight fan fiction, although Gibbs has one major advantage over the other Twilight fan fiction – she can write. In fact, she writes really well.
It’s no surprise that publisher Random House has the new Caroline Overington novel, Sisters of Mercy, as their Book of the Month. Overington has made a name for herself as a writer of troubled contemporary women’s fiction.
This time, she turns her sights on children and how well we take care of them. She tells the tale of two sisters, unknown to each other until their father dies, and one of them, Snow Delaney, is shocked to discover she is not the only heir to his substantial estate. But how is it that Snow Delaney grew up with a nice mum and dad in a nice street whilst her sister Agnes grew up in a Manchester orphanage? And now that Snow is residing in Silverwater gaol, serving time for a crime she swears she didn’t commit, is she concealing a crime far greater than the one she is in for?
When crime reporter Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett is asked by his boss to investigate the disappearance of an elderly British tourist, little does he suspect that she had travelled to Australia to meet the sister she never knew she had: Snow Delaney. Overington mines the deep well of stories from her journalistic career to create some of the most chilling fiction that speaks to every woman.
Sisters of Mercy will not disappoint.
Booktopia’s Top 5 Interior Design Books
Bowerbird by Sibella Court BUY THE BOOK
How to Decorate by Shannon Fricke BUY THE BOOK
My Cool Shed: An Inspirational Guide to Stylish Hideaways and Workspaces by Jane Field-Lewis BUY THE BOOK
The Iconic Interior: 1900 to the Present by Dominic Bradbury BUY THE BOOK
New Paris Style by Danielle Miller BUY THE BOOK
As we slide into November, you may well be thinking more about bookmakers of another kind. But if you are still into reading and not making bets on the four-legged circus, pop a comment in the thread. Are you reading anything particularly good? Or bad for that matter.
Until next week! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.