June 3, 2013 § 1 Comment

LITERARY MINIATURES by Florence Noiville (University of Chicago Press, 224pp; £14)

Literary journalists looking for a model of how to do it could take lessons from Florence Noiville, long-standing staff writer and editor of foreign fiction for ‘Le Monde’. Her capsule interviews with great writers of the world are almost invariably conducted face to face in their own homes and in their own languages. She doesn’t take notes (don’t try this at home!), but writes up the interviews later in a form that her translator calls “inspired renderings”. The word Noiville herself uses for these “pressed and compressed portraits” is “miniature.” UK readers will be familiar with writers such as John Le Carré, William Trevor, Kazuo Ishiguro and A. S. Byatt, but Europe and America (north and south) are equally well served by “renderings” of conversations that are simple without being superficial, amusing without being patronising. Imagine a smart ‘New Yorker’ essay filtered through a fine French sensibility, and you’ll get it.


THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe (Two Roads, 336pp; £7.99)

The mother and son book club was founded in a shared mocha moment in the waiting room of the Sloane-Kettering outpatient care centre in Manhattan where Mary Anne Schwalbe was being treated for pancreatic cancer. “What are you reading?” asked Will. “’Crossing to Safety’ by Wallace Stegner”, said Mary Anne. And so it began; the final affirmation of their mother/son bond, through their mutual love of reading and of each other. It is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching love letter; honest about the pains of illness and death, inspiring in the comfort and the lessons they both took from the books they chose to read together. Books had always mattered to Mary Anne as “the most powerful tool in the human arsenal”. She believed that books not only entertain but enable us to take part in the human conversation. In her son’s book, they fulfil exactly those purposes.

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