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20 October 2008

Blooming in the desert

Houellebecq and Henri-Levy are raging against the French media, while Qatar gets a new publishing ho

By Ruth Collins

Eastern promise

This week the publishing house Bloomsbury announced their decision to launch Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, a new Arabic-language partner company in Qatar. This may have less to do with raising the profile of native Arabic writers than it does with tapping into the riches currently circulating in Gulf states. Yet it is also in keeping with the trend set at the London Book Fair earlier this year when the Arab world provided the central market focus. As part of their year of culture Liverpool also got in on the act and held an Arabic Arts festival in July. And during the last few years Arabic novels such as The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al-Aswany and Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea have been well-received in the UK, as has Mourid Barghouti‘s award-winning poetry I Saw Ramallah, which was translated into English by Bloomsbury in 2005.

Whipping garcons

The outspoken novelist Michel Houellebecq and the philosopher Bernard Henr-Levy are more than used to criticism in their native France. Houellebecq has been widely criticised as a chauvinist pig, condemned for the explicit sexual content in his novels and publicly ousted from his own literary-philosophical group for intellectual heresy. Henri-Levy himself is notoriously narcissistic, once proclaiming to a journalist, “God is dead but my hair is perfect.” Now, they have joined forces, claiming they are unjustifiably treated like “whipping boys of our era in France.” Their new book, entitled Public Enemies, is a series of confessional correspondence between the pair to expose how badly they have been treated by the media. Houellebecq, whose screen adaptation of his own best-selling novel Possibility of an Island is at the London Film Festival this week, describes the French media as constantly waging a “war of extermination” against him. Perhaps this “war” is why the film has been ripped to shreds by French film critics – now is your chance to find out.

Stirling efforts

The residents of Accordia housing development in Cambridge had plenty of reason to celebrate this week when it was announced that they had been awarded the Stirling Prize for Architecture 2008. This unassuming housing development beat entries by eminent architects such as Zaha Hadid and Nicholas Grimshaw to the first place spot. RIBA judges described Accordia, built on a brownfield site formerly owned by the military, as “high-density housing at its very best”. In these straitened times, are we seeing a shift in priorities for architects away from glitzy high-profile projects? Watch this space.

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