The Dream Labyrinth
Book Notes has great sympathy for first-time novelists. Their position is like that of Atlas: the fate of the world that they make rests on their shoulders alone. The absolute freedom of fiction can be deadly, because the more ambitious the creation, the greater the risk that the book will never be read. On the other hand, pleasing critics and readers is often higher on the writer's agenda than being original. That is why finding a book that flaunts its disregard for the expectations of others and tells a good story is a real event. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by GW Dahlquist is just such a book. A heady mixture of fantasy, eroticism and alternate-historical adventure, this enormous novel looks set to overpower all sceptics with the sheer might of its storytelling. Set in an unnamed European city, the novel involves a mysterious cabal's plan to capture the memories of the human race. Only Celeste Temple stands in the cabal's way, but to defeat it she must enter a dazzling thought labyrinth as infinite as her imagination. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters looks like a classic example of fiction doing what only it can.
A number of years ago Book Notes came accross a trilogy of novels and has never looked at the world in the same way again. Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books are a colossal achievement; a rare instance of a writer creating another universe as vast, vivid and unfathomable as our own. Telling stories, however, was just one of Mervyn Peake's catalogue of talents. At last the life of this astonishingly-gifted individual is celebrated in a new book, Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art, edited by Peake's son Sebastian. Born to missionary parents in China in 1911, Peake grew up near Peking's Forbidden City. On returning to England, his artistic abilities and wonderful poetry made him famous. The Gormenghast trilogy is undoubtedly his crowning achievement.
Populated by such oddities as the ancient servant Mr Flay, the monstrous chef Swelter, the brilliantly absurd Dr Pruenesquallor and his man-hungry sister Irma, the novels follow the villainous youth Steerpike as he seeks to end the reign of melancholic Groan family amid the crumbling towers of the land of Gormenghast. With Peake's supreme descriptive skills and macabre sense of humour in full flight, the Gormenghast books contain beauty and grotesquerie in equal measure and are an immortal masterpiece of the imagination.
The year is 1918. You are 20, have just left college and are preparing to tour Europe. Oh, and you are a member of one of the wealthiest families on earth.
All of us are thrown into unusual circumstances every now and then, but few people find themselves treading so close to the beating heart of history as Peggy Guggenheim. Peggy was not prepared to settle for a life of opulent indolence.
Instead, she set out on a very personal aesthetic mission which is recalled in Peggy Guggenheim: Mistress of Modernism, a new biography by Mary Dearborn. Art was Peggy's game, but she was more interested in the artists of tomorrow.
Guggenheim established galleries in England, Venice and New York which became meccas for all the rising stars of what would become the Modernist movement, including Marcel Duchamp, Henry Moore and Max Ernst. She was also famous for her lovers: among those who became caught in her collector's gaze was Samuel Beckett, whom Guggenheim ruthlessly pursued through Paris.
As well as helping artists with their work, Peggy Guggenheim saved many of their lives by sheltering those wanted by the Nazis.
That's what Book Notes calls living life to the full.