Friday, December 12, 2014

The Inevitable List

Ten of the novels I most enjoyed this year (a couple published in the UK in 2013 and one not out until next year, here, so it goes). Click to embiggen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In Bucharest

Writing takes you to some odd places - a warrant sweep in a fleabag hotel in Portland, Oregon, for instance, or one of the store houses of the British Museum. And then there are conventions and literary festivals, like the one in Romania from which I've just returned.

The Bucharest International Literary Festival, small but lively and terrifically hospitable, was held in an arts club that, because smoking isn't banned in public places in Romania, had the authentic haze and tang of a bohemian intellectual gathering. Science fiction and fantasy are growing in popularity: a new publishing house, Paladin, run by Michael Haulica (who's also an author) is bringing out more than a dozen titles a year (The Quiet War was published this year). The SFF panel, the first in the festival's history, featuring Romanian authors Michael Haulica and Sebastian A. Corn, Richard Morgan and myself, attracted a pleasing large and attentive audience. There was also a fun evening at the British Council's library - you can find the video here.

Bucharest is a bustling, cosmopolitan city, and its fantastically eclectic architecture mixes Neo-Classical with Art Deco, Baroque, and much else. So it's a great city to wander through, with unexpected encounters with odd and lovely buildings.

Chestburster architecture - the National Architects Union Headquarters.

Kretzulescu Church, built in the Romanian Brâncovenesc style, 1720-1722.

The OTT French Baroque of Cantacuzino Palace.

Belle Epoque shopping arcade in Bucharest's Old Town.

Pleasing miscellany of vernacular buildings in the old town.

Spiked amongst the older buildings are steel and glass boxes in the bland international commercial style, many built immediately after the 1989 revolution, as well as huge Brutalist apartment blocks, some in a style inspired by Ceaușescu's visit to North Korea.

North Korean Brutalism.

Straightforward Brutalism.

Detail, cast-concrete lamp post.

Although outwardly prosperous, parts of the city are crumbling because of lack of public and private investment. The bright plate glass windows displaying luxury goods along the Calea Victoriei are overhung by the decrepit balconies of private flats; there are empty shops and derelict buildings in the city centre; on one main thoroughfare the pavement had been ripped up and work seemingly abandoned. Still, there's a definite buzz in the air. It's almost exactly twenty-five years after the revolution that toppled Nicolae Ceaușescu's Communist regime, and just a few weeks ago, in a hotly contested presidential election, the incumbent prime minister was defeated by an opposition candidate running on an anti-corruption ticket. Many Romanians are hoping this will be a hinge-point, a move away from a political system that has strong links with the country's old regime. I'd love to visit again, to see how things are changing and to take in much more of its deep and eclectic history.

The Memorial of Rebirth, Revolution Square.

Home made memorial to anti-communist fighters. The neo-Romanian University of Architecture is in the background.
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