Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Year: 2008 (page 1 of 6)

Michel Faber – The Fire Gospel

The List
30 October 2008

Michel Faber is a tough act to follow, especially when you’re Michel Faber. The chameleonic author has built an impressive back catalogue that flips between postmodern memoirs of a Victorian prostitute, ghostly love stories or a sci-fi thriller about a woman addicted to picking up hitchhikers. So where exactly do you go next? Full of surprises, and always with a literary ace or two up his sleeve, in The Fire Gospel Faber has produced not quite the most controversial book of all time, but a book telling the story of the most controversial book of all time.

Theo Griepenkerl is a junk food-eating jazz lover, and an expert on ancient languages. When he stumbles across 2000-year-old scrolls giving an eyewitness account of Christ’s crucifixion, he sees a fast-track to glory, plus instant cash. The translator has also just been dumped, so the timing is perfect. Without dwelling too long on the impact this fifth gospel may have on Christendom, not to mention book sales, Griepenkerl goes ahead and publishes. Unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospels – often criticised as badly translated, exaggerated, or by men who never met Jesus – Griepenkerl tells the gospel according to Malchus, a servant in Jesus’ inner circle.

During Griepenkerl’s US book tour with the so-called ‘Fire Gospel’, there’s an episode where he looks up Amazon customer reviews of himself. It’s full of Faber’s industry-savvy observations, and insights into the financial and PR side of the literary world. Some readers praise Griepenkerl (shortened to Grippin – it’s easier to type into Google) for the book’s honesty; many write it off as a fake; others spit hate in his cyber direction, blaming him for shattering their Christian faith. Faber, born in Holland, now living in the Highlands, wrote The Fire Gospel for Canongate’s Myths series, in which Alexander McCall Smith, Margaret Atwood and Ali Smith have all updated classic myths for modern audiences.

Besides showing the rollercoaster ride blockbusting authors quickly find themselves on, Faber wants to remind us of the divisive, inflammatory power of the written word. Being an award-winning author himself, with his 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White currently being turned into a Hollywood film, it’s a chance to draw from personal experience – not something he’s in the habit of doing. A treasured Faber trait is his ability to crawl into the skin of wildly different characters, turning small walk-on parts into fully developed, 3D cast members. In the past he’s been scarily convincing as a 19-year-old whore, surgically enhanced alien, manic depressive wife and Celtic supporter. As characters go, Grippin was no doubt a much smaller leap to make.

Like Grippin, trying to convey the book’s ‘leisurely complexity’ on a US talk show, Faber is flexing his literary and academic muscles here, but covering everything in easy to digest, page-turning and often very funny prose. Reworking the Prometheus myth, he covers religion, global politics, celebrity bookworms and author groupies. Not quite the coming of the second Messiah, it’s definitely proof that one of our most entertaining and original authors has risen again.

The Fire Gospel is published by Canongate.



7 October 2008

Errors make no mistake electro

When this Glasgow band first got together four years ago, they wanted to sound ‘a bit like New Order’. Either they were being modest, or maybe they really didn’t realise how far-reaching their take on electro would end up being. Continue reading

Jeremy Hardy



The Sunday Times
22 August 2004

My Edinburgh

The former Perrier award-winner Hardy gave up his life as a “bar-room hellraiser” to pursue a career in stand-up 20 years ago Continue reading

Getting Even: Revenge Stories

The List
18 October 2007
Mitzi Szereto (Ed)
3 stars

Sounding worryingly like a manual for angry Bobbitt types, this anthology of short stories looks at ways of serving up the cold dish of revenge.

Men don’t come out looking too rosy, and boors, cheaters, liars and leches are given just desserts by poison, sharp nail files or dogged scheming. Where it could sway into lemon-sucking spite, or a man-bashing orgy, the stories are tempered with a cheeky, wicked sense of humour that keeps the tone entertaining, rather than just plain embittered.

The range is enjoyable too, flipping from noir fiction to zombie fantasy. Umi Sinha’s thought-provoking floral prose in ‘Parvati’ takes the reader to post-colonial India where a maharajah gets jealous of a frisky monkey, and a few pages later, a downtrodden middle American married to a white trash slob is plotting ways of becoming a widow. This is an entertaining set of modern Tales of the Unexpected.

Getting Even: Revenge Stories (Serpent’s Tail)

John Burnside – Glister

John Burnside
The List
8 May 2008
4 stars

It’s safe to say this latest novel from Fifer John Burnside won’t be sparking a tourism boom on the east coast anytime soon. But his bleakly beautiful tale digs beneath the surface of the everyday to do what he does best, hunting out terrifying and comforting truths about what makes us tick. The fictional hell-hole of Innertown lives in the shadow of a disused chemical plant. It’s not clear what poisons were brewed up behind the factory walls, but the coastline is suffering a toxic hangover, where deformed animals and diseased humans crawl about their day-to-day existences. When schoolboys start disappearing, the local bobby seems suspiciously blasé, and a collective, paranoid finger is pointed at a reclusive weirdo hiding in the wasteland, writing love letters to a death row killer.

Burnside narrates his way around the grim backdrop of smalltown claustrophia and inertia through Leonard, a 15-year-old bookworm. A likeable, sensitive smartarse that knows exactly what it means when a teacher calls him a misanthrope, and quotes Molière right back at him, he’s full of the kind of precocious insight that makes him all the more aware of the nightmare life mapped out for him. Part coming-of-age drama, part sci-fi thriller, with a healthy dose of satisfyingly dark Scottish miserabilism, the themes of sin and redemption or death and the afterlife should make this as heavy as a wrecking ball, but Burnside’s too subtle and masterful with his language for that. In his hands, the doom and gloom becomes absorbing and eloquent.

Glister (Jonathan Cape)

Women who knit a profit from witty arts and crafts

Carrie Maclennan and Clare Nicolson, photo by Justin Griffiths-Williams
Carrie Maclennan and Clare Nicolson, photo by Justin Griffiths-Williams


The Sunday Times
12 October 2008

Cross-stitch and embroidery – with an added modern sense of fun – are a booming business, finds Claire Sawers

Continue reading

Tibor Fischer – Good to be God

Good to be God

The List
4 September 2008
4 stars

Tyndale Corbett is worried that ‘do-gooding, over-forgiving softies’ have given religion a bad name. After stealing a friend’s identity and fleeing to Miami to escape his dead-end existence, he wants to con a congregation into believing he’s God. Decency and law-abiding got him nowhere, but his new role as a humble, yet hard-nosed vigilante, dishing out rough justice amongst South Beach’s crack dealers, bullshitters and blamers, leads him to unexpected enlightenment.

Tibor Fischer’s surreal morality tale is bullet-riddled with wisdom, but freed from worthiness thanks to his brilliantly dry, warped humour. Narrated by a washed-up loser who’s met one too many wiseguys, Fischer is fooling no one. He delivers the gospel according to a very intelligent, far from perfect man (a bit like his fantasy plot, which revisits common ground from his previous novels), and although he’d like us to believe Corbett’s a wrinkly old cynic, the black comedy lets slip his compassionate side.

Good to be God (Alma Books)

Mark Doty – Theories and Apparitions

Mark Doty

The List
2 October 2008
4 stars

Mark Doty’s talent has always been in bringing elegance to simple, normally very recognisable, snapshots from everyday life. The American poet starts out with a plain observation – some rude truck driver tearing up the NYC streets; his dog, Beau, wagging its tail; a bat leaving an ‘inky signature’ in the night sky – before using it as a springboard for exploring tender and profound truths, but in a very laidback way.

Doty’s eighth book is succinct and moving, mood-swinging gracefully through a 55-year-old’s frustrations, fears, grateful snatches of surprise or ‘unbridled joy’. Less grandiose or raw than previous books, where he dealt with the death of his partner or the aftermath of 9/11, the intensity of his grief and despair has been replaced by equally deeply-felt, only less tortured emotions, plus the occasional shoulder-shrug or eye-roll at the dilemmas life throws at him. Effortlessly done, condensing his soul-searching into neat and beautiful soundbites.

Theories and Apparitions (Jonathan Cape)

Fujiya & Miyagi

Fujiya & Miyagi

Fujiya & Miyagi

23 September 2008

After their addictive 2006 album, Transparent Things, Brighton’s Fujiya & Miyagi returned last month with their third LP, Lightbulbs. Continue reading

United by the frill of business


Fiona and Clare


The Sunday Times
10 December 2006

The Two of Us: Clare Thommen and Fiona McLean, directors of Boudiche 

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