Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon by James Hilton
Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Amazing book.

Recently I went for a long weekend in an old farmhouse in upstate New York with friends. The group included several authors, a few educators, a literature PhD or two, and a psychotherapist, and although we were all familiar with the novel, or, at least, we knew it was about Shangri-La, not one of us had ever read Lost Horizon by James Hilton. It is, therefore, officially, the most unread classic of twentieth century literature. Or it was last weekend. 

From the first pages of the novel you realize that you are in the hands of a master storyteller. And Hilton does not disappoint after that: the entire book is crafted like a lovely gem carved and split out of crystal into beautiful shape. Although not much happens after the first forty pages, you are, by that point in the novel, pulled forward by the many mysteries that were quickly established in the prologue and the beginning. As some mysteries are resolved, more are uncovered, and ultimately – and satisfyingly – not all are neatly tied up by the end of the tale. 

I don’t want to give anything away, but so many of the themes resonate strongly today – an outside world rife with war, environmental degradation, technological advancements, and moral confusion; and, in contrast, a fragile island – a haven of peace, health, and wisdom. 

Please read!

Shangri-La as depicted in Sky Captain
Shangri-La as depicted in 2003 film Sky Captain


Lost Horizon on Project Gutenberg Australia

LostHorizon.Org – Fan Club of James Hilton

IMDB: Frank Capra’s 1937 Film Version

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Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories

between my father and the kingA new collection of Janet Frame stories, many of them previously unpublished, has been released by Counterpoint. Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s most distinguished writers, is one of my favorite authors.


New York Times Book Review by By ALISON McCULLOCH

Kirkus Review

Janet Frame by Jerry Bauer
Janet Frame by Jerry Bauer




Previous Fictionvictims Review Owls Do Cry

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Are You Somebody?

Nuala O’Faolain

O’Faolain, a journalist for the Irish Times, was asked to collect her columns for publication, but the introduction she sat down to write eventually expanded into this beautifully cadenced and moving memoir, into which many of the columns have been folded.

The second of nine children, O’Faolain lived a bohemian childhood with little money and many books. Her father, a well- known journalist in Ireland, left to her mother the responsibility for their children. O’Faolain’s mother read voraciously and drank with a similar appetite, often neglecting her children.

O’Faolain explores the role of women in Ireland and how gender has affected her life. O’Faolain’s candor made a deep impression when the book was published in Ireland; it quickly landed on the bestseller list, staying at the top for 20 weeks. A testament to a full and passionately lived life–all the more affecting because of that life’s vividly described imperfection and pain.


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Television by Jean Philippe Toussaint
Television by Jean Philippe Toussaint

A slightly grandiose academic takes a sabbatical in Berlin to compile his research into a book about Titian. He has nothing to do but sit down and write. However, despite his scorn for popular culture and the best intentions to give up the addictive medium altogether, an extended (and often self-congratulatory) rationalization leads to very little writing, but quite a lot of television.

Don’t laugh; it could happen to you.

This is one of my favorite reads in the past five years. I snickered and chortled the whole way through. I thought it was rollicking and Chaplinesque. Many of my friends did not find it quite as  funny, but I felt Toussaint accurately described the tiny traps of vanity  that often befall people who “know” things. People such as myself! Probably not a flattering thing to admit…

Many thanks to the Dalkey Archive Press who brought this novel back into print in the United States.


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Owls Do Cry

Owls do Cry by Janet Frame

The silent force of flowing water. Beautiful objects viewed behind glass. Intimations of joy and pain from an artist’s soul.

This stunningly beautiful first novel gently turns over the extraordinary hours and days of a less-than-ordinary family from a small town in New Zealand. Marred by a childhood tragedy, the stories of the lives of four siblings unfold around the fraught journey of the middle sister, Daphne – diagnosed schizophrenic, creative, emotional – through mental institutions and treatment into adulthood.

Told in gorgeous stream of consciousness with hallucinatory lyricism, the book draws from Frame’s own difficult family situation as a child, and from her experiences of eight years spent as an adolescent and young adult in New Zealand’s asylums.

Film Biography directed by Jane Campion



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The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk

The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk

My first read by Pamuk. No, that’s not true. I tried to read Snow a few years ago and never got off the ground despite raves from friends.
This novel, however, gripped me like a weird, powerful dream you might have while napping on a lazy clear summer day. You wake up in a daze, disoriented and sweating, but luxuriating in the vivid details and marveling at the intricate folds and turns – the mysterious corners and magical twists of the mind.

Coming to the novel after my failed first attempt – for which I did not blame Pamuk at all – I was still somewhat wary as a result of rumors of the author’s callousness and arrogance. When I then picked up the book and began to read, I was, initially, even more put off by the obvious signatures of Borges and Calvino on the whole affair: my fears were confirmed. Not that I don’t love the gods of postmodernism, but so many energetic, intellectual tributes read more like seed catalogs or weird detective novels. Although sometimes compelling, for me, especially as a man in my forties, I find that novels of ideas must be tempered by human warmth. Philosophy and intellectualism are exciting, but only if there is red blood flowing through that veiny plot.

Not to fear, Pamuk transcended my fears and prejudices and won me over with story. I haven’t been so excited in a long time! I loved it. Read The White Castle.


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When I Was Mortal

When I Was Mortal
Javier Marías

Within the first few sentences of this dazzling collection of short stories by the acclaimed Spanish writer Javier Marías, you realize, with a thrilling sense of recognition, that you are in the hands of a master storyteller of Jamesian or Borgesian stature.

Intelligent and inventive, Marías carefully pieces together incident, motive and character into tightly constructed, ornate fabrications that never wholly obscure the black, restive heart that lies at their center.

These are complicated, precise and satisfying stories.

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Andorra by Peter Cameron
Peter Cameron
I really love Cameron’s writing. His sentences are often exquisitely evocative, although you sometimes feel like you’re somehow stuck inside a DeBeers diamond commercial.

Crisp, clear, descriptive, and dryly golden-ripe: finely hollowed out, albeit in a real way.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t really move along very organically, and the meta-crap enveloping the tale is clumsy and doesn’t hold together in any interesting way. (Full disclosure: I love good meta-crap.)

Please note that I only give the book such a harsh review here because there is so much potential. I’d love to read a rewritten version of the same book in which the characters possess just the tiniest bit more blood in their veins — the “peppery smell of her skin” doesn’t count — and in which the last 75 pages feel less like a rock rolling back down the hill after it’s been carried up for the first 200.

I do want to read more by this author.

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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Marisha Pessl
Marisha Pessl
Another high school adventure a la Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Very well written, and whip-smart. 500 pages of fun.

The main character (who reads far too many books) reminded me of how I read when I was young. Do you remember when you thought the secrets of life were contained in each and every book you pulled off the library shelf? The higher the shelf and the dustier the tome, the more likely the book was to reveal the mysteries of the the universe!

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A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance
Rohinton Mistry
With extraordinarily deft storytelling and clear, cool compassion for its characters, this novel charts the enormous changes in Indian society through the the experiences and eyes of the four main characters whose lives intertwine in the 1970’s.

Mistry is an astonishingly talented writer and artist. Often, with a single, delicately crafted sentence, the truth and clarity of his vision will pierce your heart. And the unforgettable characters Dina, Ishvar, Om, and Maneck have stayed with me since I first read this book in 1999.

Though darker than Mahfouz, Mistry is no less deserving of Nobel recognition.

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