Saturday 21 October 2017

Will Karen be next in the Millionaire writer's club?

This newspaper recently reported on John Boyne's newfound place in an elite Millionaire's Club -- his novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas being among 68 novels that have sold over a million copies in Ireland and the UK over the past decade.

Karen Thompson Walker's first novel, The Age of Miracles, may not manage such dizzying sales, but the book is already notable for making its 31-year-old author an awful lot of money -- after an intense bidding war, it sold for a whopping £500,000 in the UK and a million dollars in the United States.

The book is being published on June 21 -- which is the longest day of the year and so an apt launch date for a novel that recounts how a giant earthquake shifts the earth off its axis and causes days to progressively lengthen, causing all sorts of global and personal crises.

The advances to the author are very large in an industry that's been hit both by the recession and by new technologies, but in the words of one agent: "Publishers are looking for Twilight or JK Rowling or The Time Traveller's Wife -- that sure-fire book that ticks all the boxes."

Simon & Schuster are obviously hoping that Walker's novel is that sure-fire book, but she has a long way to go before she gets accepted into the club of which Boyne has just become a member -- and which also includes Cecelia Ahern.

*****

Who reads Robert Browning now? His detractors have included Oscar Wilde, who quipped that "Meredith was a prose Browning, and so was Browning", and certainly some of his longer poems can prove to be a dutiful and unrewarding slog.

But in this bicentenary of his birth you could occupy your reading time worse than by reacquainting yourself with a few of the shorter poems.

The masterfully-told My Last Duchess can still chill to the marrow, while A Toccata of Galuppi's remains a brilliant and desolating meditation on the vanity of human wishes.

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