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Weekly Roundup: Guns, critics, ebooks and English

Weekly Roundup: Guns, critics, ebooks and English

Novelists are famed for their research but the novelist Aminatta Forna, one of this year's Man Booker International Prize judges, admitted attaining an unlikely new skill as preparation for writing A Hired Man (published by Bloomsbury this week). The book is set in Croatia and has a deer hunter for a narrator so, naturally, Forna had to learn how to fire a rifle. “I went to the range at Bisley in Surrey and I’m now a National Rifle Association member … At first I was knocked off my feet by the gun, but by the end I could hit targets at a kilometre range.” The fact that critics have been showering her novel with praise is, however, entirely unrelated to her lethal new ability.

Barbara Pym published her first novel in 1950 and soon found success but in one of those curious shifts in fashion she then entered what she called “the wilderness”. Between 1963 and 1977 she couldn't find a publisher for her comic novels. Then fashions changed again when Philip Larkin in the Times Literary Supplement described her as “the most underrated novelist of the 20th century” and a new phase of popularity began. By way of validation she was shortlisted for that year's (then) Booker Prize for Quartet in Autumn. This novel has just been brought out as an ebook by Bello for a mere £4. It is a good way to enter the work of a writer tagged by one reviewer as having: “The wit and style of a 20th-century Jane Austen.”

Some Man Booker authors (and a judge) have been opting for a bout of self-flagellation of late. They responded to a request asking them to lay bare their writerly faults with remarkable candour. Anne Enright (winner with The Gathering in 2007) bemoaned a punctuation obsession – “I am tormented by my need for commas”; Robert Macfarlane, this year's chair of judges, laments his portentousness, lack of jokes, “overlarded” prose and other tonal and stylistic failings; Rachel Cusk (Man Booker Prize longlisted in 2005 for In the Fold) nods at complaints that she is glum, overwrites and depicts “a world without love”. Lay off yourselves, seems the appropriate response. At least none are as bad as Tolstoy who said that Anna Karenina served “no purpose” and was plain “bad”.

Mohsin Hamid, Man Booker Prize shortlisted in 2007 for The Reluctant Fundamentalist, has been talking ahead of the publication of his latest novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. In an interview in The Guardian he explained how he switched from speaking Urdu to English. He was three years old and his family had just moved from Pakistan to California when his mother found him crying and surrounded by other children. They asked her whether Mohsin was “retarded” because he couldn't speak English. He refused to utter a word for a month but when he did finally talk “it was in English, in full sentences”.