Lit News Round-up: 13 October 2012

We were all agape—and green with envy—when Lena Dunham‘s yet-to-be-written debut collection of coming-of-age essays, tentatively titled Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s Learned, sparked a heated bidding war and finally received a jaw-dropping advance of reportedly $3.5–$3.7 million from Random House. Of course, Dunham is the creator and star of HBO’s much talked about and Emmy-winning TV series, Girls, and has been vaunted as the voice of her generation—or at least, a voice—and she is only 26. Writer Jason Pinter delves into the economics of Dunham’s deal, and the Huffington Post looks at some of the biggest book deals ever made.

You can still book tickets to watch the Man Booker prize shortlisted authors (here’s a Guardian piece where they each introduce their novels) read at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall at 7:30pm on Monday, 15 October. The winner will be announced shortly after 9:40pm the next day on 16 October on the BBC News Channel and BBC World. The winner’s event, held for the first time ever, will be on Thursday, 18 October at 7pm, at the Apple Store in Covent Garden; the winner will discuss what it feels like to win the coveted award. This is an exclusive event, but you can win tickets via the TelegraphBookhugger, and, amongst others.

Speaking of literary prizes, Mo Yan, 57—author of several novels including Red Sorghum, which was successfully adapted into a film by Zhang Yimou, and Big Breasts & Wide Hips—is the first Chinese citizen, though not the first Chinese, to win the Nobel prize for literature. Gao Xingjian (Soul Mountain, One Man’s Bible), a Chinese-born dissident now living in exile in France with French citizenship, won the prize in 2000; however, his work is laden with criticism of the Chinese communist government and banned in China—so his win was a point of ignominy for the Chinese government. Not so for Mo Yan, though not everyone is celebrating either. The artist and political activist Ai Weiwei recognises Mo Yan’s literary achievements but calls his win “an insult to humanity and to literature” because of the cosy relationship he enjoys with Chinese authorities. Mo Yan has managed to placate Chinese censors by employing what the Swedish Academy describes as “hallucinatory realism“—a mixture of folk tales, history and the contemporary—for which he has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and William FaulknerAs a son of the cultural revolution, his pen name “Mo Yan” means “don’t speak”, and as such he has surprised many by speaking up for jailed fellow laureate Liu Xiaobo. SOAS professor of Chinese Michel Hockx is reported saying, “I don’t like the idea that Chinese writers are only good if they challenge the government—a good writer is a good writer. It’s not a good yard stick of anything; are the only good British writers the ones who speak out against the war?” The Millions has a round-up of Mo Yan’s work.

Private donors, including Cherie Blair and the novelist Joanna Trollope, have come forward to save what is now called the Women’s Prize for Fiction after the mobile services company Orange announced its withdrawal of sponsorship earlier in May. The Prize is awarded for the best novel of the year written by a woman writing in English—whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter—and published in the UK. The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a bronze figurine known as “the Bessie”.

One of the most-awaited literary adaptations this year, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road hit the big screens yesterday here in the UK. It might interest you to know that the original manuscript on which the author famously typed his streams of consciousness in 1951 is a 120ft-long roll of paper, which is now on display at the British Library until December 27.

After more than a century, the stories of “Miss Gladden”, the first female sleuth of British fiction, is in print again. The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester (1832– c.1909) was first published in 1864, and is now republished by the British Library. The book features several cases—typical of detective fiction at the time—and also contains a foreword written by Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Available here.

HarperCollins is also to publish J.R.R. Tolkien’s never-before-seen 200-page poem, The Fall of Arthur, next spring. In the epic tale, King Arthur tries to protect his country from Mordred the usurper—not inspired by Middle Earth.

Out of this World at the British Library

With ‘Out of This World’, the British Library has crafted a comprehensive, interplanetary journey through Science Fiction, perhaps the most inventive and ingenious of storytelling genres, but also one of the most derided.  I genuinely loved the British Library’s previous exhibition ‘Evolving English’, a far-reaching, interactive and multimedia exploration of how we communicate, and my visit to ‘Out of This World’ proves to be every bit as enlightening.

Visitors are subjected to ancient and forgotten texts, as well as beloved classics, in addition to interactive installations and audiovisual media. The curators aim to explain that SF, although accused as being a low-culture twentieth century phenomenon, is in fact a genre storytellers have used to discuss issues and ideas as far back as the 2nd century AD. An illustrative example is Lucian of Samosata’s ‘True History’. Dated at circa 170AD, the novel satirises travellers’ tales by detailing a trip to the moon. The work is considered by many as the first piece of SF ever written, and the author drew upon mankind’s fascination with the unknown and alien. Words seem futile devices when it comes to describing the book’s singularly odd illustrations of dog-faced men fighting on winged acorns.

Similarly strange is the story of how Edward Bulmer- Lytton’s 1871 novel ‘The Coming Race’ inadvertently provided inspiration for the name of a popular beef drink. The book’s hero travels to a subterranean utopia populated by a race of angels who sustain themselves on ‘Vril’, a fluid and latent source of energy. A opportunist marketing team decided to appropriate the ‘Vril’ affix for their beef extract product, hoping the it would provide the product with connotations of energy and lustre found in the novel, and ‘Bovril’, as we know it today, was born. A bold move, although I suspect even the product’s manufacturers would have to admit it hasn’t maintained the associated qualities of potency to this day.

Representative of how the genre can provide opportunities to speculate and discuss issues in a distanced but no less yet direct manner is Lous-Sebastien Mercier’s ‘The Year 2440’. The hero of the 1771 novel is a Parisian who falls asleep and awakes in 2440. Written in the period leading up to the French Revolution and in a context of social unrest, Mercier depicts a future enlightened France, complete with radical political, social and scientific change. A chapter the writer added fifteen years later described a device which predicted the advent of the hot air balloon.

As well as explorations of accepted SF staples such as Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells, and an insight into how creators of comic superheroes utilized science and mutation, there are also detours to more obscure interpretations of the genre, such as Japanese Manga’s contribution to the genre, ‘The Adventures of Robo-Cat’. ‘Clay/9000’, a most informative robot, kindly lectured me on the Polish visionary Stanislaw Lem, and an installation encouraging visitors to design and draw aliens is also an inclusive touch, in an exhibition which believers and non-believers of the art of Science Fiction alike will enjoy.

Out of this World is at the British Library until 25th September.