Wednesday 17 March 2010

A Chance to Win Ian McEwan's Latest Book "Solar"

Critical Literature Review in conjunction with Random House UK is happy to give away an autographed copy of Ian McEwan's latest book "Solar".

There is a chance to grab a signed copy of Ian McEwan's new book titled "Solar" due to be released on 18 March 2010 (published by Jonathan Cape - a Random House imprint) or one of five tee-shirts. For a chance to win, answer the following questions by commenting below or on our Facebook or Twitter Pages. What is Ian McEwan's date of birth and what is the title of his first published book?

The first person to provide the correct answer in the comment box will win the signed book and the next five correct answers will win the five tee-shirts. Goodluck.

Sunday 14 March 2010

The Visa to a Better Life

This week, Critical Literature Review presents Ayodele Morocco-Clarke's review of Thansanqa N. Ncube's StoryTime published short story titled "The Visa". Enjoy!

Almost everywhere one looks, the phrase ‘The world is a global village’ is bandied  about as if all barriers and borders which separate the countries that comprise the earth’s surface have withered away, leaving people with the freedom to roam freely in a boundary-less world. While this might be true in the cyber world, I need not point out that the same does not apply in the physical world. The restrictions placed by different sovereign countries upon entry into their national territory by aliens has had the effect of often barricading most of the planet’s underprivileged and/or not so privileged from exercising the right of free movement from one place to another. Citizens of most of the countries of the world have to apply for and be granted some form of visa or entry permit in order to travel to or through the territory of a country other than their own.

The story “The Visa” by Thansanqa N. Ncube follows a man who has fled from Zimbabwe as a result of an ever increasing economic crisis evidenced by hyper-inflation and instability in the country. Leaving behind a fiancée at home, he travels to the United Kingdom on a visitor’s visa with the intention of working illegally and saving enough money to bring his fiancée Sarudzo over to Britain. However, their plans have to be modified when the British government tightens immigration laws which result in fewer people successfully scaling the rigorous visa screening and entry clearance processes. Thus, the protagonist’s new goal is to save enough money from his wages to eventually return home to conduct the marriage of his dreams, extend their house back home and sustain the new family he and his bride will eventually raise.

After converting the visitor’s visa (he had initially entered the UK with) into a two year student’s visa, the protagonist continues to carry out the plan agreed with his fiancée back home. He phones her regularly and often sends money back home with the intention of returning to settle down with her. Unfortunately for Sarudzo, it is well known that even the best laid plans of men sometimes go awry, and the entry of the sophisticated Skhu into our protagonist’s life exposes him to a side of life to which he had hitherto been unaware of. This leads him to a crossroads in which he has to decide on who he will choose to carry on his future with.

The Visa is the type of story anyone who is even remotely aware of the nature of immigrant living in the UK would have encountered in some form of the other or at least heard about. The subterfuge employed by many economic migrants in a bid to set their foot on British soil is one that is well documented in the media and other literary treatise.

I found that the author let the story down with his poor editing of the work. Also, the author appears overly fond of the use of ellipses, whether or not they are appropriate in the telling of the story (another instance in which a good edit would have cleaned up the work suitably).

I further observed that the description of the conversion of the protagonist’s visa from that of a visitor to that of a student does not fall within the protocol adopted by the British Home Office which requires applicants to return to their home country to make that particular type of visa change.  Moreover, visitor-to-student visa conversions are not awarded within the UK to individuals whose visitor’s visas have expired. One may however excuse this on the ground of authorial, artistic or narrative license. There is also some confusion in the story regarding the expiration of the student visa. For example, in a narrative sentence immediately preceding that of Skhu, there is a contradiction of whether or not the protagonist has overstayed his welcome in the UK –

“…I cannot stay in this country and live like a fugitive. My visa is expiring, and I have to go, maybe I can try and apply for another one from home”

“Of course you know you will not get another visa, you have overstayed your student visa

However, the foregoing nevertheless, should you allow yourself not to be deterred by these shortcomings, this is quite an enjoyable story you are likely to appreciate as it relates to real issues relevant in today’s world.

[Ayodele Morocco-Clarke is a Nigerian lawyer and writer of mixed heritage who has a passion for literature. She is the editor of Critical Literature Review and her written works have appeared in Author Africa 2009, Hackwriters (a University of Portsmouth magazine), Sphere Literary MagazineStoryTimeAuthor-Me and on The Clarity of Night blog. She also has work forthcoming in  Mimi MagazineThe Anthology of Immigrant Writing (2010) and  African Roar [2010 short story anthology, co-published by Lion Press and StoryTime]. Ayodele hopes to publish an anthology of short fiction soon and is currently working on her first novel.]

Sunday 7 March 2010

A Swashbuckling War Epic!!!

Ramdom House, the UK publishing company provided Critical Literature Review with some books to review and this week, Critical Literature Review is proud to present the review of the first of the books. Produced below is Emily Varga's review of Claire Letemendia's historical epic début novel, "The Best of Men".  Enjoy!!!

Claire Letemendia, the debut author of The Best of Men, drops readers into the world of English Civil war—a world filled with enough intrigue, sex, violence, love, and spies—just enough to make us forget about the state of the world’s banks for a little while.

The novel’s lead protagonist is Laurence Beaumont, a cardsharp, mercenary, and spy, who has spent 6 years on continental Europe and is now returning to Great Britain—with proof of a plot to assassinate the King in his possession. Beaumont is the typical tragic, bad boy hero—hopping from bed to bed while at the same time engaging in exciting action scenes which are decidedly not Byronesque.

When I first picked up this book, I thought I would need about a month to finish it, and I am not a traditionally slow reader. This is because the book is a 700 page long historical novel. However, the more I read, the more I became engrossed in the novel and impressed by the story telling tactics of Letemendia. Often, large historical novels such as this can become bogged down by history and the reader can get lost in an academic textbook of fact. This book does have its fair share of history and packs a wallop of information. But it still manages to keep a pace that makes it interesting to the reader and exciting as a story. This is particularly hard in a novel with the setting of the English Civil War, as Letemendia’s is. There are times when there are so many characters that it is difficult to keep track of who is who and which historical event is what. There are also moments when I definitely noticed that it was a 700 page book that I was reading. However, these criticisms are fleeting amidst the vivid world that Letemendia invokes and the visceral characters that she builds within this world.

I particularly liked the character of Isabelle Savage—a temptress for Beaumont and an intelligent and strong woman in her own right. It is sometimes very difficult to find female characters in historical novels like this which are not reduced to stereotype—which is why a woman who is a sexual creature but who is also very independent and who lives in the middle of the 17th century is so very refreshing. Perhaps she is a bit out of her time, but with this view then so is the protagonist. It is what keeps the reader engaged and what allows the reader to relate to the main characters—and find humanity in history. 

The beginning of the novel took a bit of work to get into, but once you got past that first initial chunk things began to form shape. Instead of trying to figure things out and remember which character is connected to what, I just gave up after a while and kept reading. After that, things got a bit easier and I was able to enjoy the novel as a novel, and not a giant historical enactment. That is not to say that history lovers will not enjoy this story, on the contrary, evidence of Letemendia’s incredible research and scholarly background seeps into every page of the novel. This is a book which took her ten years to write, and it has definitely paid off.

There is heady romance in this story, adventure, swashbuckling, and a brilliantly developed plot. What I have described here has all the chemistry for a great bodice-ripper romance novel—but it isn’t that easy, or simple. The plot is a story that has been told before, but it is rare to find such an excellent combination of storytelling, historical world-building and riveting suspense wrapped up in one book. The main conflict—that of the assassination of the king—is not resolved by the end of the novel, but that is because Claire Letemendia promises a trilogy.

I do think that this book could definitely have been sheared down a bit to become a more succinct and sleeker novel. But as it is now, I would recommend it to anyone who wants an escape into an excellently built world. If you want a fantastic historical detail of the English Civil War, more information on the role of the Scottish in the civil war (as history tends to forget that both Ireland and Scotland fought in this war too!), and also to know the machinations of life in a brothel, or read a book with action, torture, romance, and duels, then you just may like this book. It didn’t take me quite a month to read it, but it is by no means a quick read. However, if you are willing to invest the time, it is definitely worth it. Forget about the recession for a while and think about how much worse—or better—things could have been amidst the English Civil War.

[Emily Varga is an English Literature graduate who has worked in book publishing in North America. She has previously reviewed works in her university newspaper literary and arts supplements. She currently lives in Scotland where she works in the public sector. Emily is an active member of her city book club and still enjoys writing the occasional book review.]