The latest addition to my website is Nicole Krauss‘ Forest Dark. This is another superb novel from Krauss, telling two parallel stories. One is about Jules Epstein, a sixty-eight year old, divorced Jewish-American man who has made a lot of money but now feels disconnected from his present and finds the need to reconnect with both his personal past (his parents, in particular) and his Jewish past. The other story is about a novelist called Nicole whose failing marriage and writers’ block gives her an epiphany – a sense of being in two places at once but also in the forest dark (a quote from Dante). Both set off to Israel, Jules to reconnect with King David and leave a tribute to his parents, Nicole to reconnect with the Tel Aviv Hilton, where she was conceived and where she has spent many happy hours both as a child and adult, which she thinks might be the key to writing her next novel, but also to find Kafka. Both Jules and Nicole also get their own contemporary but somewhat oddball guides. It is a book about discovering one’s private past but also one’ collective past as well as finding our who we are now.
The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Der Gehülfe (The Assistant). This is the second book published by Walser (the third he wrote) and is based on his own experiences. The story involves Joseph Marti, a self-critical, somewhat absent-minded young man, who goes to work for Carl Tobler, an inventor. He lives in the house with Tobler, his wife and four children. Tobler has several inventions, such as the Advertising Clock but, unfortunately for him, no-one seems interested either in investing in them or buying them. He gradually runs up debts, which he declines to pay, leaving Joseph spending at least part of his job fending off debt collectors. Joseph, meanwhile, drifts through life and his job, unpaid but often unconcerned. It is enjoyable book though not Walser’s best.
The latest addition to my website is Fiona Mozley‘s Elmet. There have been a lot of interesting novels coming out recently from young British women. I recently read Adelle Stripe‘s excellent Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, and here is another first-class novel set in Yorkshire. This novel surprised everybody by being nominated for the Man Booker longlist. It tells the story of a bare knuckle fighter, John, and his two teenage children, Daniel and Cathy, who live in a remote area of Yorkshire and live mainly off the land. However, they come up against an exploitative landowner and John takes the fight to him, leading to one of the most explosive endings in a début novel I have read. It is a wonderfully written novel and well deserving of its nomination and I for one would be very happy if it won.
The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s The Horse’s Mouth. This is the third book in Cary’s first trilogy and far the best-known, primarily because of the character of the narrator/protagonist Gulley Jimson and also because of the the film of the book starring Alec Guinness. Jimson is a thorough rogue, continually cheating, deceiving and lying, often in trouble with the law but always trying to paint his masterpiece, though never succeeding. The book is hilariously funny as he manages to wiggle out of most (though certainly not all) of his scrapes, and tries to paint.
The latest addition to my website is Nicole Krauss‘ The History of Love. This is an excellent book about creativity and authorship, about the Holocaust and about who we are. Leo Gursky was in love with Alma back in Slonim (variously in Poland and Russia). Her father paid for her to go to the USA before the Nazis arrived but Leo did not escape in time. However, he managed to hide out and emigrated to the USA after the war. Meanwhile, Alma, thinking him dead, had married. Leo had written three books before the war. The History of Love, however, was a novel apparently written by Zvi Litvinoff and only available in Spanish, about a woman called Alma. The connection between these characters, the novel and Alma Singer, who is named after the Alma of the novel, forms the basis for the complicated plot.
If you have poked around my website, you might be aware that every book, as well as being listed under the country/author, is also listed chronologically, so that you can see what books were published in any given year. I must admit to being somewhat fascinated by finding out that Book X was published in the same year as Book Y and have long thought it would be interesting to show books chronologically for each country as well as alphabetically by author. I have now done this for literature from the United States, the country where I have most books and most authors under review, not least because I have always found the US novel to be of special interest. It includes not only all the US books on my site but also the births and deaths of authors as well as quite a few books not on my site, in particular poetry, drama and non-fiction which will not, of course, appear on my site. However, as compiling this list took far longer than I thought it would, I do not see myself doing the same for other countries any time soon. I hope you find it interesting.
You may also have noticed that the design – what WordPress calls the theme – has changed. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the previous theme had not been updated since 2012, which is a long time in WordPress years, and was starting to show some incompatibilities with WordPress. Secondly, I just thought it might be nice to have a change now and then. I have to admit that I spent no more than a few minutes selecting a design, picking one that looked all right and, more particularly, was up-to-date. As there are hundreds or even thousands of possible designs, one that was up-to-date but also tried and tested was important to me. However, if after using it for a while, I am not too happy with it, I may well do further research and switch again. But then probably not.
I also took the opportunity to update the list of recommended blogs. Quite a few were defunct. A couple had changed their URLs. There were also quite a few which I visit regularly and which were not on the list. This list has now been updated. You can find it by scrolling down. It is on the right below the recent blog posts. Some of the blogs are not in English but I can recommend all of them. If you want more The Literary Saloon has loads.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Que ma joie demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring). This is an unusual book for Giono, as it flirts with fantasy. It is set, as usual, in a farming community in an unnamed region of central France. The region has been affected by a general malaise, making many people unhappy with even the odd suicide. Jourdan, one of the farmers, dreams of someone arriving to heal them and, sure enough, a wanderer, Bobi, turns up. He proceeds to change the general feeling by bringing the community closer to nature – sowing flowers instead of cash crops, feeding the birds with surplus corn, bringing in a tame stag – and generally bringing the community together. Not everyone accepts his views and things do go wrong but the overall message is that we should be closer together and work more together. A worthy message, given the period when the book was written (late 1930s).
The latest addition to my website is Igor Eliseev‘s One-Two. This novel tells the story of two conjoined girls and their life as children in a brutal Soviet institution and then their life in post-Soviet Russia where the capitalist system turns out to be just as cruel as the Soviet system, as they are hired in a Threepenny Opera style begging scam. Eliseev portrays the horrors of both Soviet and post-Soviet systems and the added suffering of the handicapped under both systems, as well as showing us the nature of the twins, their relationship wth one another but also their differences from one another. This is a very original novel and well worth reading.
The latest addition to my website is Claudio Magris‘ Un altro mare (A Different Sea). This novel tells the story of the very real Enrico Mreule. He is friends with two other young men, including the philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter, in Gorizia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The three friends spend their time discussing philosophy and the classics. But, in 1909, Enrico emigrates to Patagonia, where he lives an ascetic and solitary life. He returns to a much-changed world in 1922, partially because of his scurvy but partially because of Carlo’s suicide. Carlo has essentially passed his mantle on to Enrico. Back in what is now Italy, Enrico keeps his ascetic life style and moves out to the coast to a village in Yugoslavia. He continues his solitary and ascetic life, even after World War II and the advent of Communism in Yugoslavia. It is a very interesting story about a man who is not part of the modern world but lives in his own world of philosophy and the classics.
The latest addition to my website is Dumitru Tsepeneag‘s Hotel Europa (Hotel Europa). This is a hilarious, anarchic novel about an unnamed Romanian narrator (clearly based on Tsepeneag himself) who is living in France, married to a French woman, and who is trying to write a novel but is not sure what he wants the novel to be about or where it is going when he does start. However, it soon becomes apparent that the novel we are reading is the novel he is writing. Much of it is about events in Romania following the overthrow of the Ceaușescus in December 1989. He himself had accompanied a Médecins sans Frontières convoy to Bucharest at that time and the journey and the people he met start to form the basis of his novel. In particular, we follow the story of Ion, a young Romanian, who was involved in the 1989 demonstrations but then decides to slowly make his way across Europe to Paris, to escape the chaos of Romania. He encounters thugs who steal his large gambling winnings, several hotels called Hotel Europa, UFOs, women who may or may not be his missing girlfriend and other strange phenomena. It is a wonderful read both funny and serious.