The Last of the Rings
How someone greets the news that a new work by JRR Tolkien has been published will depend on their literary inclination. If you are one of the many in love with the magical universe Prof Tolkien invented, you will no doubt beat a path to the nearest bookseller with all the haste of a Balrog. If you are above such inanity, you will let loose a howl like a foul Nazgul and cast yourself into the bottomless pit of Mount Doom rather than contemplate having to talk Tolkien for the whole of this month.
Book Notes has always tried to take the middle ground in the debate. While agreeing that The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion would seem to be quite enough already, it is hard not to be curious about this latest book. Written in 1918, The Children of Hurin was the last complete work left amongst Tolkien's papers and has been prepared for publication by his son Christopher. Harper Collins has launched half a million copies at stores the world over, so it would seem that resistance is futile.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr: 1922-2007
Although he won mainstream success many times during his lengthy career, Kurt Vonnegut Jr will always be remembered as one of the great cult figures of American literature. An outrageous fantasist, a peerless satirist and a brilliant observer of the confusion, deceit and outright lunacy of modern life, he created a fun-house whose doors he opened to his readers. A ceaseless literary experimentalist, Vonnegut's works were never predictable but were always characterized by his unstoppable energy and zany imagination. Also essential was his sense of morality which could, with lethal efficiency, unmask hypocrisy and inhumanity.
Kurt Vonnegut's fiction had its origin in a single experience, the Allied bombing of Dresden, an act of awesome barbarity that he witnessed as a young man. He began writing science fiction after the Second World War but the 1960s saw him move in more unusual territory. The crazed, offbeat novels that followed culminated with SlaughterHouse-5, the book which best displayed his unique talent for devastating irony and which put him into the front rank of American writing. Vonnegut continued to produce highly acclaimed novels like Breakfast of Champions and to speak publicly about his suspicions concerning global politics. He retired from writing in the late-1990s. His death marks the departure of an irreplaceable figure in contemporary fiction.
Erica Wagner is one of the most accomplished critics currently working in Britain. The books supplement editor of The Times since 1996, she is an invaluable and forthright guide to the world of modern literature. What is less well known is that 10 years ago she published Gravity, a collection of short stories that was one of the most highly-rated of the 1990s. Now Erica Wagner has finally made a return to fiction with a novel, Seizure.
Janet Ward suffers from seizures, waking nightmares in which the fabric of her world breaks down and she glimpses another reality. Striving to overcome this condition, she marries and tries to settle into some kind of normality.
Then Janet is told that her mother has died and that she has inherited a cottage on a bleak part of the Scottish coast. The problem is that Janet has lived since the age of three believing her mother to be dead. Arriving at the cottage she finds that Tom, a mysterious sculptor, has also been summoned. Why is Janet experiencing seizures? Who is Tom? What lies behind the mystery that unites them? Wagner is sure to keep us guessing.