Book Jacket

 

rank  Editors Pick
word count 23365
date submitted 19.09.2008
date updated 03.07.2013
genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
classification: moderate
incomplete

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall

Dan Holloway

17 year-old Sandrine grows up in post-communist Hungary and dreams of moving to the West. An Eastern European "Norwegian Wood" Complete at 67,000 words

 

The day the Berlin Wall came down, Jennifer returned to England, leaving her week-old daughter, Szandi, to grow up on a Hungarian vineyard with 300 years of history. Now 18, Szandi is part of Budapest’s cosmopolitan art scene, sharing a flat and a bohemian lifestyle with her lover and fellow sculptress, Yang. She has finally found her place in the world. Then a letter arrives that threatens everything, and forces her to choose once and for all: between the past and the present; between East and West; between her family and her lover.

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a coming of age story that inhabits anti-capitalist chatrooms and ancient wine cellars, seedy bars and dreaming spires; and takes us on a remarkable journey across Europe and cyberspace in the company of rock stars and dropouts, diaries that appear from nowhere, a telepathic fashion mogul, and the talking statue of a bull.

 
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tags

art, blog, chatroom, coming of age, cool, erotic, hip, hungary, indie, internet, lesbian, music, nationalism, politics, urban, web, wine

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264 comments

 

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HarperCollins Wrote


Let me start by saying that I liked this very much. There are problems with it, to be sure, but you can write, and I don’t say this lightly; few can. Reading Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, I felt that I was in safe hands; that I was being well-guided; that my attention would be rewarded.

There is a satisfying architecture to the narrative: the reader is dropped in media res and fed information and plot details that gradually cohere. This is a good trick; it builds up a kind of psychological suspense, and keeps the reader on their toes – instead of asking, as in a linear narrative, What happens next?, the reader must work out where in the narrative the scene they are reading occurs, and how it relates to what they already know. This is a useful, and effective, way of generating suspense in a narrative that might not naturally have it, and also a way of ensuring a real engagement with the writing.

I was also impressed by that writing: broadly speaking, you both convey effectively the necessary information – this is what I mean by feeling in safe hands – and also take a little time to think, and reflect. It’s an artful style, with some very striking moments.

The main problem with Songs, as I see it, is when the style becomes too self-conscious; I feel that there are too many moments when you try too hard. Of course, the novel is narrated by a self-conscious teenager who writes self-conscious blogs, so there is a mimetic justification for this approach, but, if I’m being honest, I don’t think it works, and detracts from the considerable strengths of the book. There is a lot of telling going on; Sandrine parses her own feelings about everything, often exhaustingly, and is much more interested than we are in the minutiae of her memories and dreams. She, understandably, finds herself fascinating; we, I’m afraid, don’t – or, at least, we don’t when she’s telling us about herself.

The parallelism of a person and a country coming of age; the past’s haunting of the present in both; the hopes and fears of different generations: all these are rich veins that you exploit well, and provide a fascinating core to the book. If I were you, I would go through the novel with a ruthless pencil, and remove anything that doesn’t serve the story. Be absolutely sure that each sentence deserves its place. Trust yourself that character will still emerge; you are a good enough writer and observer for this to happen. If you did this, seriously, I would read it again.

29/01/09

Itzy wrote 1972 days ago

Hello Dan,
This is a wonderful beginning to your book. The first sentence works well as a hook and makes me want to read on. I love the way you use the description of how well she knows the flat to show that she's been friends with Yang for a long time, instead of simply telling us. I also particularly liked the sensual description of Yang's writing, which shows us how much Szandi appreciates Yang herself. I'm intrigued to know what happened to Claire, and the letter sets Sandrine's dilemma up nicely.

I have nothing to criticise concerning your style, which is fluid, full of imagery and symbolism. I did, however, feel that you overplayed the rôle of rope and string. It was ok up to and including the point where you use the pull to the West, and connect it to her mother, but after this it bugged me.

We really fall into the centre of Sandrine's life in these early chapters, thanks to the vivid detail, and I found myself completely carried away by the story. Perhaps it's because I'm not familiar with Eastern Europe, or the rock band scenario, but I started to feel rather lost by ch4. I'm not sure whether I'm in the present or the past, and I can't really figure out who Radko is. By the time I reached the end, I felt that I was being tempted by lots of beginnings of stories, but that I wasn't progressing at all into the heart of the story. I don't know where it's leading – it seems to lack direction. Perhaps this is intentional, because this is how Sandrine is feeling. But I'm afraid it puts me off reading a lot further because I'm struggling to understand (I must either be a bit on the thick side or it's too late to be doing a crit). There almost seems to be too much going on at once.

Your writing really draws me in, effortlessly. The dialogue is good, the pace is comfortable, the characterisation of Sandrine is spot on. It's just a shame that I'm having problems fitting the bits together. I'm sure it would help if I could read on further.

Have you written any other books? I like your style so much, I'd love to read something else.

Windy Two Rivers wrote 1966 days ago

Dan,
Well, I finally made it over. I have read the first few over a few times, and it is such a crap thing to say, but I'm not sure what to offer you for crit. It is beautiful and wraps itself around you like a coarse wool blanket. Warm and comforting, but far from soft. Having nothing to add, I skimmed around a bit. I really enjoyed chapter six. The description of the need to get out in the street was brilliant. The having no answer for the waiter. The description of the grief- authentic. I believe this one has a shot so, I am backing it. I hope it helps. Sorry I couldn't offer anything constructive, after the wonderful crit you gave me. I hope you kick ass on the ed's desk.

Christy

Larry Harrison wrote 1958 days ago

Dan. I've read as far as chapter 13, and have to break off now, which isn't really fair, as I like to read everything.

This is the kind of book I read for pleasure. You start with a discussion about conceptual art, which is very bold - forget all those forum posts about How to Write a First Chapter - and which works, not least because it sets the tone for the book. Your style is not unlike Murakami, in that you are not really a naturalistic writer, but you are capable of great lyricism, as in the letter from Claire. Some of your sensuous images (of silk against skin, for example) remind me more of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What I loved was your detailed observation, and your ability to make the familiar strange. This means your writing is always fresh and never cliched ('... tearing it clumsily like I'm gutting a fish with a blunt knife.' '... like the dentist used to do before he told me I needed a filling.' )

In chapter 3, I had trouble following the narrative once or twice, and I was confused about Peter's uncle, who was taken prisoner during the invasion of Iwo Jima, which was, of course, Japanese territory. Iwo Jima (now called Iwo-To) was invaded by US marines in 1945. Did Peter's capture mean he was a Japanese national? Can't be, because he would never have been able to marry a Chinese woman. Have I missed something obvious? Probably. Reading on the screen is not my strong point.

One typo spotted: 'feint' (deceptive move) for 'faint' (slight).

It's great that you have got to number one with Songs, because it shows that good writing is appreciated and backed by the majority of readers of this site.

Larry

Mazza wrote 1958 days ago

Dan, this is beautiful. In fact, this had got to be the most beautiful and emoting thing I have read in a long, long time.

I am fully emoted and reliving some of these scenes for myself. So skillfully written and the writing is as much of a sculpture as the contents.

You have my vote on this - completely.

Mazza

Virginia Moffatt wrote 263 days ago

Hey Dan, didn't realise you had loaded work up here. Great to read this. Atmospheric, intense, with lots of revelations to come. Claire and Michael's deaths are so shocking, brutal and unexpected. Great way to pull the reader in. Am not quite sure of Sandrine, her voice feels too old to be 17, but her story is compelling and makes me want to read on. And well done for being an Editor's Pick...Virginia

iandsmith wrote 890 days ago

Thanks for posting this, Dan. It is extremely helpful to read these views and to be reminded that they are only one person’s views. I’m not taking anything away from your writing, and you certainly can write, but I don’t agree with the reviewer that “few can”. On the contrary. Many can write, and they write very well as authonomy proves.

Similarly, it isn’t universally accepted that non-linear techniques always produce the responses described here. Writers like Franzen, Carver, Munro, Self, Welch, Kelman have all demonstrated that linear narrative is equally successful.

In media res doesn’t necessarily make the reader feel, “in safe hands”, “well-guided” or “rewarded”. It doesn’t necessarily, “build up a kind of psychological suspense, and keep the reader on their toes”. It would be a mistake to believe that non-linear narrative is the definition of being able to write. It’s just one way. So thanks again for posting this. It does explain quite a few things.

WiSpY wrote 986 days ago

You are an excellent writer. This story is interesting and the characters are believable. The writing attributed to Yang for the sculpture was particularly good. This isn't my normal cup of tea, but I drank it with relish :)

SPW wrote 1304 days ago

Dan,
At last i have found something that I can truly say is Perfect.
Awesome.

Simon,
Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else.

alva wrote 1335 days ago

Dan, I am not famous, proven, a specialist whose advise should be raptly heard. But I am an excellent reader, cruel self-editor and visual artist and poet. Before you think, "aren't we all," let me say I tell you this to explain why I can and do agree with the HarperCollins comment below. Before I read "his" comment, I thought somewhat the same. Particularly in reading the letter from Claire. It struck me as much less good writing (I recognized my own pretty, rambling style) than most of the rest of this page. It held me because it was attempting to describe almost a pulsing, colorfilled, moodfilled everymoment that poor Claire wistfully hoped to hand to Sandrine. that's hard to do. Realizing how I felt about the letter's prose, I was able then to hone in on commentary for your work overall. gorgeous, creative, deep, and, as HC said it better, sometimes just a bit too teenage introspectively poetic. I humbly think, having been confused, as bad readers definitely will be, by quickly introduced characters, situations (it even took me a while to realize sand. was a woman), so forth, that if you lower your poetic standards JUST A BIT and add some information, in a few words, every now and then, things would improve and the book would go over the freakin' top.
It's already brilliant. Just not cooked.
Am I being completely dense and is the thing already published, successful, heading to the screen?
Uh, beer comes up too much. Just a bit trite. Not up to your better standards. You have great imagination.

why did HC read it in the first place?

Viola wrote 1344 days ago
GK Stritch wrote 1355 days ago

Hi, Dan,

I'm following your instructions and not backing your book. Are you sure? If you change your mind, please let me know. If you have a few minutes, explain the gold star and tell me more about your interesting self and your Authonomy experience.

All best wishes.

GK Stritch
CBGB Was My High School

SusieGulick wrote 1365 days ago

Dear Dan, I am so impressed that you got to the editor's desk! :) Congrats! :) I just backed your book that came online & have already backed your other book. :) You had asked that we not back this book, but here goes. :) I loved most of all that you put the words to the songs & your heroine is not about to give up, now matter what - choices, choices, choices. :) Great that you took me along in your story. :) Love, Susie :) Now, all 3 of your books are backed. :) Could you please back my 2 memoir as my quest is the editor's desk, too. :) Thanks so very much. Love, Susie :)

Burgio wrote 1469 days ago

I'm backing this book because you make such a case you don't want it backed and I woke up this morning in one of those moods to make trouble for somebody. So there. I've backed it. Burgio.

Famlavan wrote 1489 days ago

I have been doing research to find out what a book needs to attain your level – Think I might give in now!! May I congratulate you on a superb piece of writing. Mmm feel a rewrite coming on

Eve Thomas wrote 1489 days ago

Hi Dan

I was a little apprehensive when I came across your book as it is not my usual read so to speak.

From the start I was drawn in and found it difficult to stop.

Backed with pleasure
Eve Thomas
Choices

Eve Thomas wrote 1489 days ago

Hi Dan
At first I thought it was not my cup of tea so to speak but from the moment I commenced reading I found it very difficult to stop.
Backed with pleasure

Eve Thomas
Choices

lionel25 wrote 1532 days ago

Dan, I see why this made it to the top. Great narrative and dialogue. I'll back this out of respect to you.

Regards,

Joffrey (The Silver Spoon Effect)

Miss Wells wrote 1567 days ago

I know this already has a gold star but I wanted to express my admiration with a backing.

David Fearnhead wrote 1581 days ago

It is easy to see why this book made the ed's desk. So my backing may be superfluous but i had to find room on my shelf for a book such as this. Great plot, the use of location really sucked me in and I was keen to see how you handled eastern Europe. To echo some of what HC said, I think you should relax and trust in your story. There is such a thing as trying too hard and with your talent you don't need to. Backed.

writingwildly wrote 1584 days ago

Wow. I'm in awe of your story-telling. I'm so intimidated by your writing that I hesitate to even try to make any suggestions. In fact I only have one, and it's purely subjective. It's a tiny practical thing - there were times when the dialogue sped by so quickly that I couldn't tell which character was speaking. It slowed me down while I re-read and tried to sort out the voices.

This is such a beautiful story - rather, these are such beautiful stories woven together. Thank you for sharing.
- Genevieve
Under The Same Sky

JohnRL1029 wrote 1772 days ago

Shit. If HarperCollins had complaints about this, what chance do any of us have? This is really good writing. Your opening scene was blazing with realistic dialogue and fine cut prose. I love the T-shirt: Slut Slit. ha. The explanation for the balloons in the gel was stunning. This is a really powerful piece of work. And the lesbian sex scene got me very hot. HA. Your sex scenes are very beautifully and tastefully done though. Doesn't give us too much or too little. Nice.

plumboz wrote 1848 days ago

Dan,

Thanks for WLing my book. I see you are not only amongst the Gold Star members but your H/C review is about the most encouraging one I have seen. Well done. And much good fortune with your writing. I have made a couple of commitments to other "struggling" books here but I am watchlisting yours just to make sure I remember to give it a good read.

Best,
Alan

csilla wrote 1858 days ago

Hi Dan,
I have started reading and seriously had to force myself to stop because it drew me in. I will definitely be back and read it (unfortunately I have a deadline for an editing job). The dialogue in the first chapter between Yang and Szandi is great: hooks the reader, gives a strong impression of their relationship and personality. A very good start.
Best,
Csilla

csilla wrote 1858 days ago

Hi Dan,
I have started reading and seriously had to force myself to stop because it drew me in. I will definitely be back and read it (unfortunately I have a deadline for an editing job). The dialogue in the first chapter between Yang and Szandi is great: hooks the reader, gives a strong impression of their relationship and personality. A very good start.
Best,
Csilla

Martin Horton wrote 1900 days ago

Absolutely superb. I must confess to not having read it all, but it is, is I am allowed to say this, the best thing I have read on here in a long while. Sandrine's character is absorbing....must read more! Martin.

NickP wrote 1906 days ago

"if you did this seriously, I would read it again."

Going to go for it, Dan?

JohnnyVee wrote 1906 days ago

Excellent crit! Get to work oh bearded one!

Raymond Nickford wrote 1912 days ago

Dan - thought opening dialogue was v crisp. Suited the register your character might have used in reality.
I approached and arrived at Yang's studio with you, felt the "mist coming off the Danube" - though I've only experienced it off the Rhine. Could believe the reality of the crumbling facades in Yang's territory.
The sentence construction, not only in dialogue but also in decription, strikes me as a la Hemingway but still has your voice as you give me the truth of your Yang "stoned". Yang is still more thoughtfully drawn as you build her; talented yet Bohemian enough to make absolutely no concession to Queen's English.
I liked "Her letters had the elegance and tightness of her body..." not only for the elegance of the expression itself, but also because the narrator has dropped another nuanced hint that that his pulse is quickened by her curves. You have me foaming at the mouth in anticipation but equally aware that poignancy underlines your purpose.
Really, I don't need to read more. First, you use all the techniques to keep a reader on board from the beginning - straight into dialogue and keep it crisp, slot in the description when you can afford without ruffling a reader who has little time, above all, keep true to what you feel about your characters while doing your utmost to let your reader share that truth. Second, for me, your synopsis suggests a core around which there is a depth of feeling and a poignancy which underlines the predicament to which your characters and all of us find ourselves victim. This is my raison d'etre for writing - and for reading. You don't need my support but you deserve it - shelved.

fourears wrote 1918 days ago

Dan, this is some gorgeous writing here. Your present-tense approach is written with the kind of deftness that makes me sit back and shake my head in awe. The story moves along at a beautiful pace, crackling with verve and energy and surprises around every corner. Small details bring the scenery to life ("cramped stone steps"--amongst other offerings). The theme is edgy, timeless, resonating with some form of deep ache that I can't seem to put my finger on. From the very beginning I want to follow Sandrine on her journey, to discover the choice she must make as a result of her discoveries in faraway lands I am fortunate enough to visit through the vivid imagery portrayed here in your work.

Examples of beautiful, eye-popping phrases (it was hard to pick just one!):

"breath of a thousand ghosts"
"sucked in two black moons."
"like he had a layer of cellar mould draped over him."

I'm backing this book without hesitation. Here's wishing you the best of luck with the HC editors. I would be shocked and saddened if they let this one slip through their fingers.

Siobhán wrote 1930 days ago

Hi Dan
Just dropped by to see who'd got the Dec Editor's Desk.
Congrats and good luck with the HC review.
Siobhán

Chaz P wrote 1934 days ago

Dan,

OK, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m back at this. Started it a month ago, got only so far as the slut-slit shirt description in Ch. 1 and headed for … oh, I don’t know, safer ground? I knew I’d come back, though. The writing is too exquisite. I’m a sucker for that, pulled by its gravitational force.

Still, for your sake, I hope the reading public at large – or at least that the professional editors and publishers measuring the perception of same – can appreciate this the way a community of writers can. For all the hauntingly beautiful lyricism that fills Chapter One, in terms of plot (and I am no defender of the plot-driven novel), we have little more than the mystery of Claire to keep us going. And, sure, Dad at the end, the calling home, so to speak.

Oh, but then again, the prose, figurative, evocative and precise. So sure, I’m in. I’m ready to go on, and ready to back. As you head on to the ED (I’m assuming you will), here’s hoping the editors are equally game.

All my best,
Chaz

Jan-jan wrote 1935 days ago

If I had time, right now, to read all of this, I would. Sorry it's taken me so long to get around to it.

Shelved.

Debbie wrote 1936 days ago

Dan. Apologies for the delay in looking at your book. I'm conscious that it's month end and you're number 1, so you really don't need my vote! To be fair, I've only looked at the first chapter of this as it's really not my thing, but it *is* very well-written, tight and yet with lots of description. I'm impressed, but really not qualified to offer any criticism here, so I won't insult you by trying. Best of luck with the Ed's Desk!

sunsinger wrote 1938 days ago

I hope I find this book in my local independent book store in the near future. Best of luck with it. From all I've been reading here, this novel is going to find it's way into a major marketing campaign.

Malcolm

Abu El Banat wrote 1939 days ago

Dan: I started this post, "Shelved on the basis of seven chapters, which will not be the last seven I read." As I wrote, I went back to the book to check a point or two, and got sucked back in; I'm now on chapter 18 and have to force myself back to the post, so compelling is your writing.

Shelved for the effortless fluidity of the language; shelved for Sandrine herself; shelved for the pieces of the Berlin Wall which I chipped out of the thing with my bare hands, Christmas 1989. Shelved because it deserves to be published. A glowing example of the kind of book I would have passed by in Waterstones, but I'm ever so glad I've read.

The interesting thing is that through the poetry of the writing, you have made me care about things that are otherwise quite, well, foreign to me. I've never been behind the former Iron Curtain (apart from to East Berlin that memorable December); I've never been, or felt like being, a radical activist or a rocker; my life as a blogger begins and ends with Authonomy; I've never been part of any of the scenes you're describing here; but your descriptions and your people are so real, so honest, that I am utterly drawn in.

I've been aware of a debate, on and off, about how much you should explain to the reader vs. how much you should expect them to work out for themselves. Allowing that a book as literate as 'Songs' should expect to attract an intelligent reader, I think you've got it about right. More exposition of the dramatis personae at the outset, and you would risk clogging up the effortless fluidity with tedious, pedestrian explanation. And the fact that you repeat your explanations, starting with a few brief words and then reiterating something in more detail a few chapters later, is a great strength and totally consistent with Sandrine's voice.

Only one thing caught my eye that you may want to think about: the suddenness with which you switch between Radko's death and Claire's in chapters 3 and 4. Because the one is such a strong echo of the other, I found myself briefly confused and had to re-read it a few times to clarify that we actually had three deaths here, not one.

Another thing I love is the compassion with which you've treated ALL the characters so far. Even Istvan has credible drivers for being a twit (he says patronisingly). And I particularly like how you've treated her father and her relationship with her father. If only all 18-year-olds were that tolerant, that mature.

Thanks Dan. Honoured to have you on my shelf.

Sylvia wrote 1942 days ago

Dan, this is a beautifully written novel, even more so now than when I first looked at it. The themes and parallels weave deep layers into the story, but beware of them becoming too prominent. Your choice of language is poetic without being distracting, and I almost feel the plot is a poem too.

There were moments in chapter 1 when I felt slightly excluded, possibly because the two women were so similar to each other, sharing so much, and were so dissimilar to me, but I suspect that is a 'me' thing rather than a problem with the story. I was more involved during later chapters when the story opened wider.

I usually select a few favourite phrases to quote, but that's almost impossible here because there are so many. I'm popping this on the shelf briefly, just to help ensure it stays where it is for the rest of the month.

Possible tweaks: 'like a layer of fine powder ... like the stone of a fresh-peeled lychee' a little too much for me, the combination of the two. 'You wanna watch it' initially ambiguous as the word 'watch' has just been used in another context.

Lucie Roberts wrote 1942 days ago

Hi Dan. What an opening chapter! Loved it. Atmospheric, tender, sensual, nostalgic, full of sound, colour and memories--a palimpsest of emotions. Great writing and imagery--loved the comparison between the handwriting and Yang’s figure; “You’re born and you open your eyes and all around you see this cat’s cradle of ropes and cords and strings.”; and “a sound like rain falling gently on glass.” Must admit that I felt strangely let down by the start of the second chapter--probably because the first was such a hard act to follow, but by the end of it, I was back… and stuck in. Think it’s absolutely amazing how you've managed to insinuate yourself into the head and under the skin of a 17-year old girl--utterly realistic--you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head with both the dialogue and Sandrine’s characterisation. Back to the first chapter--loved the whole ballon passage--the imagery, description of the sculpture, Yang’s explanation, Sandrine’s cynical remarks (actually think you should rename Songs. Were you influenced by Nena’s Cold War-era protest song btw--“Ninety-nine dreams I have had, And every one a red balloon, It's all over, and I'm standing pretty, In this dust that was a city, If I could find a souvenir, Just to prove the world was here, And here is a red balloon, I think of you and let it go”?). Just a few last things: I spotted a typo in chapt 3: “Fuck of (off) the lot of you.”, good luck with the Ed desk, Merry Xmas and all the best (including success) in 2009.

Katia Bassett wrote 1942 days ago

Hi Dan,
I'm only in as far as chapter 2, but it has been an amazing ride. Your voice is full of such sorrow - in essence, your narration is a song. Of course, Sandrine's being a musician resonates with me a great deal, especially when you talk about her song lyrics pouring out of her. The jellyfish metaphor in chapter 1 is superb. Thanks for this experience, and I'll be back to read the rest! Talk to you soon.

SFW wrote 1943 days ago

What is there to say? Any comment I have would be a waste. I think you may, ever so slightly, over telegraph your themes in chp1? Does that count as helpful? 'Cause it's all I've got. Everything else is deft, moody and fine, fine, fine.

The standard exclamation on reading something like this is 'Why aren't you higher?'. Except. Well...

We need a negative 1 ranking.

toscka wrote 1944 days ago

Dan, you are about to hit the editor's desk. Having been there prematurely - back in the pre-plugging days when the site first went live - I thought I'd look over yours to see if there is anything that might jar, anything an editor would see and use to throw it out. I've read chapter One. It's very well done. And yes, it does remind me a little of Murakami, but with more emotion (his work is strangely bland, albeit interestingly so). Chapter one was excellent. So... any niggles?

One or two perhaps - the windows of your soul line - it's a very greeting card, mills and boon kind of line. One of my friends once wrote his own wedding vows. "I look into the windows of your soul" each of the happy couple said, and the congregation starting sniggering. Maybe it's me, but I would cut that.

The 4 or 5 paras before the letter when she is reminiscing about claire - nothing wrong with them per se, but I wonder if they could be cut back just a little. I always try and pay attention to where my mind starts wandering when reviewing, and there it did a bit.

The letter - if you haven't read the synopsis, I wonder whether it's meaning is clear enough. I wonder whether something like "take over Szan Gabor for him when he's gone" or something to make it slightly more clear that she is being asked to do something for her father, or to take over the running of somewhere for her father...

Lastly, the final paragraphs. I felt I wanted the chapter to end with the words "and of blood and rust" (you have a typo here by the way). I see why you need to go on because the last para is presumably a link into chapter 2, but you might want to have another look. Somehow you meandered a little here... The trick with a novel like this is, I suspect, to keep the clarity and the simplicity (something Kundera does well, and Murakami is an expert at). Where the prose wanders a little, as in before the letter and in the last few paras, another sharper edit might help.

Anyway, all small points. Over all the first chapter was excellent.

As for the market.... it's very literary... up HC's alley? I have no idea. I shall be very interested to find out. I'll read more, because I am really enjoying it. It is more than worthy of the top spot.

Ps/ if you ever have the inclination, I'd be delighted to here your views on the Stone Fables. All the best and Merry Xmas.

I'm backing this just in case

mrblack wrote 1945 days ago

sorry, I have started giving up on books that have "I" in the first paragraph. But good luck.

anthonysaunders wrote 1946 days ago

Dan, although somewhat later than I had hoped, I have at last managed to read the first six chapters of Songs. As you know, I had already backed Songs. That was on the basis of reading the first chapter.

What I like about this book is that it is character led. The narrative comes from the development of the characters, Sandrine especially, and the relationships between them. The plot structure (I know you were keen to know how we reacted to the structure of the book) is clearly centred on character, rather than on events. While the latter move the narrative forwards, the importance of the characters in relation to these events, big and small, is what comes through. In my view, the structure that you have is well suited to this approach. That is not to imply that it could not be tightened in places, although this is perhaps more of an issue of some overwritten passages, rather than the structure being at fault.

The story moves well between time and place. I did not feel tripped up by any of these changes. As others have said already, you have a fluid style that you write with assurance. You draw in the reader because you create a desire to know more about Sandrine and her relationships. Your imagery is fresh for the most part, although sometimes it is a little overdone but that is easily fixed and certainly no obstacle to publishability.

If I were to make a criticism it is this: you sometimes introduce ideas, such as the powerful one with razor, without returning to it soon enough. Perhaps if I read more I will think differently about that. The only other thing I would say is that sometimes the dialogue is too much but I have said that to one or two others about their books and that may well be a reflection of my style rather than anything else.

You deserve to be at the top of the chart and I hope you remain there.

I like Songs. I particularly like the way you get inside the head of 17-year-old girl. At no time did I feel uncomfortable with that (seeing as I am neither 17 nor a girl any more than you are).

Again, I can apologise for my tardiness in getting to this. I will return it to my shelf although I'm not sure that this will do anything now.

Jeriah wrote 1946 days ago

Dan-
I will be watching closely how Harper's treats your work. I've read the first chapter, and have put it on my shelf- I will be reading the entire work, and will comment as I go. First, I find it refreshing to find another writer writing in first person as well as you do-it will help me with The Apricot Turner immensely- we have a similar style.
I have a couple of questions:
1) Why not stop chapter one before the para beginning "Yang's Asleep"? You''ve set up the reader with the central metaphor, and we should take pause and absorb all that chp One has to offer. I've often thought, 'Oh please mr/ms reader, please stop at chp one and re-read it another time for all its worth!' Your pitch has helped set the stage, so we know where you're going, and there is no rush- let us stop and smell the roses (or ballons, if you prefer!)

2) Why take us so early into a sex scene between the two women? Is it absolutely necessary for the story? It might be, and I've read only the first chp- and intend on reading the entire book- but, I don't know about you, but I need some warming up before I can jump in the sack- particularily with someone I just met (like your characters). You are dealing with homosexuality and although you may be more progressive than most, I assume you'd like many people to read your work. Think about the movie Brokeback Mountain. The trick to it was that the audience falls in love with the main characters while they fall in love with themselves. We become part and parcel of the lovemaking- we're taken from the beginning of their relationship- and finally when we reach the sex in the tent, we are better prepared to watch- and this was a good feat considering I'm a straight heterosexual! The way this was handled in the movie makes the onlooker deal with their own fears and phobias about homosexuality, while brilliantly establishing the true love the two men have for one another- something that cannot be denied. What do you think?

Anyhow, this portends to be one of the best books I've read so far on this site, I will keep reading, and watching for Harper's comments- please post them when they make them?
Good luck, and thanks for the good read!


obastide wrote 1946 days ago

dan; your pitch is intriguing. i am adding you to my watchlist.

Freddie Omm wrote 1947 days ago

First of all congrats on being numero uno, hope it brings great things your way..

I like this opening a lot - the situation, the people ironic-pretentious are ones I can relate to, even when the poetry comes I like all that and the art. I've knocked about the East a bit so that rsonates too. I'm WLing you, wish you a Merry Christmas, I'm off skiing, be back NY, hope to see you here then.

Best,
Freddie

Julie Starr wrote 1947 days ago

Hi, Dan

Just thought I'd read a little more of your book, since you're on your way to getting read I thought I'd see if I could spot anyting for when you're under the all-important HC scrutiny. I dropped in at chapter 30, as I haven't got that far before. Anyway, I'd say the atmosphere is one of sadness and that's beautifully done, not too heavy, just right. I love the voice of the book, its full of character. What I would say is...some of your dialogue seems clunky (I've noticed this before I think). The best test is that you read it outloud. For example, 'Work?' he seemed to be talking to himself, 'I'll have to see, but I do have some...(and the rest). It sounds a little long, wordy, I don't think 'i'll have to see' is very believable. what about:
'have you got any work? I asked as your father opened the door, my hugarian passable enough by now.
'Work?' he paused 'Maybe,' he mused, looking at my hands with a farmer's eye. 'I have warm food and maybe a bed while,' he countered, 'the pickers will return next week'

That's obviously crappy but hopefully you get my point. The bit about 'shit, smells like shit, etc.' seems to have one too many instances of 'shit' in it. Its only a 10% thing all the way through, but I do think it would sliken up the writing. Other (minor) point, 'I cried for seven days until I'd wrung the last drop from my body'. seems like an after thought. Plus the following sentences seem strangely structured, e.g. And then, in the night I left. It was the night the Berlin Wall came down. The break in the sentence seems clunky. Why not something like:

It was then that I surrendered to my grief, dropping to my knees in submission. I cried for six days until every emotion I'd ever tried to defend myself from had defeated me. The barricades I'd built against my feelings for you collasped and fell away. The night when I eventually stopped crying was the night I left that place. In another place, far away, it was also the night the Berlin wall came down.

Obviously not perfect but hopefully illustrates my point.

OK Dan, that's all for now. Hope that is helpful (I'm consious that you'll only get one shot at the Ed's desk and I want to support your success).

By the way, I know you're probably really busy but I've re-written the first few chapters of my novel from scratch and if you get chance to support me with that sometime, I'd appreicate it.

love

Julie
x

Lockjaw Lipssealed wrote 1947 days ago

This is the perfect example for all those out there who say that a book has to grab you in the first few page with a car chase or a bloody murder. Songs From the Other Side of the Wall proves that you can grab the reader with amazing writing! The eloquence of words are deceptively seducing. Dan uses description that brings you into place, you feel like you are there in the room with the characters.

Some of the kindest things that have been said about my book, were that the readers would be taking it to the counter if it was in the store today. Songs From the Other Side of the Wall is that book for me.

Lockjaw

jessthewriter wrote 1949 days ago

After just the first chapter, well, somewhere in the middle, it became obvious to me why this is the number one book. It is beautiful and poetic. Who else could start a book about an art project and make it masterful? Not I.
I added you to the shelf. The rest of the book is for me, for fun.

Jess

Ruthy wrote 1951 days ago

Hey, Dan,
I watchlisted this so I could read it, and now I`m back in the fray I`m going to bookshelf it. The writing is beautiful, and this is the kind of novel which it is a pleasure to read. But, of course, you must know that because it`s ranked so high. Well done on that!

Mark'swriter wrote 1953 days ago

Why's it have to be Gay?

rixi wrote 1953 days ago

I know when I was younger, and when friends were younger, we powered through as many "gay" books as possible. Not necessarily because we wanted to but because it's something other gay teenagers expected of us. I think out of about 12, only one of them I would pick up again and that isn't because it was exceptionally well written or original. I simply like cheesy things.

It's -mostly- those books that made me avoid reading anything tagged as "gay" on Authonomy. It's because you're so high up the list that I feel allowed to read this. I'm only sorry about not reading it sooner. This is exceptionally beautiful. Totally deserving of it's high place. It doesn't strike me as predominantly gay either, which is nice. Makes a change from all those coming out stories that simply change location and character names.

I feel lost in Szandrine's memories, thoughts, all of it. Very compelling, beautifully written (well out of my league to comment on) and I can't say I noticed anything besides the odd formatting glitch to bother you with. I sincerely hope you do well with this - the effort put in clearly deserves it.

LisaLRegan wrote 1954 days ago

This is really awesome stuff! (Wistful sigh) I wish I could write as well as you!

LisaLRegan wrote 1954 days ago

You're a great writer! This has really sucked me in within just a few paragraphs. Well done! I hope to see this on the shelves of a bookstore someday soon!

Lady Nyo wrote 1955 days ago

Dear Dan!

This is exciting reading....I am printing it out right now for further reading. The vineyard theme...can't get far from Hungary without a Vineyard!

LOL!...I had a LOT of fun researching mine in "Az Kapitany" and learned something about vine culture along the way...put in a couple of vines, too.

Will give you a crit later when I have finished reading.

My best!

Lady Nyo