The latest addition to my website is Haruki Murakami‘s 騎士団長殺し (Killing Commendatore). This is the usual Murakami, with a lone hero (a portrait painter by profession), trying to solve a mystery (or, in this case, several, possibly interrelated, mysteries), having to cope with the supernatural and helped by a strange but resilient girl (and, in this case, it it really is a girl, not a woman). The plot is complicated with pre-war Vienna, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the art of portrait painting, paternity issues and secret hideaways galore all coming into the mix. As always, with Murakami, the plot is complicated but it is all great fun and a really good read and while not of the quality of some of his earlier work, it is still a fine book.
The latest addition to my website is Germán Sierra‘s The Artifact. Sierra is a Spanish neuroscientist but this book was written in English, though his previous novels were written in Spanish. It is essentially a novel and treatise on the future of the species, dealing with artificial intelligence, quasi-life forms, new technologies and how we relate to them and a Ballardian car accident. There are two plots, one involving the narrator who loses an arm when his car is hit by an AI controlled drone and another when he is sent an MRI from a former student showing a brain with an artifact (an anomaly seen during visual representation in MRI. It is a feature appearing in an image that is not present in the original object.) However, what makes this book so interesting is Sierra’s discussion of a whole range of biological, quasi-biological, cybernetic, neurological and other developments in our species. It is one of the most original novels I have read for some time. Not an easy read but very well worth it.
The latest addition to my website is Ersi Sotiropoulos‘ Τι μενει απο τη νυχτα (What’s Left of the Night). The novel tells of three days in June 1897 spent by Greek poet C(onstantine) P Cavafy and his older brother, John. The family has fallen on hard times, so money is tight. Cavafy himself struggles with his art – how he should write – as well as comparisons with other writers, primarily French poets. The two brothers wander round Paris, often accompanied by a fellow Greek, Nikos Mardaras, unpaid secretary to the successful (and absent) Greek poet, Jean Moréas. John likes Mardaras while Constantine cannot stand him. As well as seeing his artistic struggles, we see his sexual struggles (he is very much attracted to a male Russian ballet dancer staying at their hotel), his issues with his mother and his inability to fit in. Sotiropoulos gives us an excellent portrait of the artist and his life.
The latest addition to my website is Christoph Ransmayr‘s Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or the Course of Time]. The hero of this book is Alister Cox, based on the very real James Cox. Unlike James Cox, Alister Cox travels to China to build clocks for the Chinese Emperor Qianlong. Qianlong is not particularly interested in the clocks and automata that they bring with them but wants a clock that can tell variable time – the time of a child or a lover or a man condemned to death. They work on those clocks and make some progress but the Emperor still seems less than impressed. Then the Emperor says he wants an eternal clock – a clock that works eternally. Cox feels he cam make such a clock but he is warned by Joseph Kiang, his interpreter, that to do so would be to challenge the Emperor, who has sole control of time, and to challenge the Emperor can only end one way – badly. I found this book less interesting than Ransmayr’s other work as it did not seem to really take off but was almost mundane, despite its exotic location and fascinating theme. It has been translated into four other languages but not English.
The latest addition to my website is Hye Young-Pyun‘s 재와 빨강 (City of Ash and Red). This a grim Kafkaesque story about an unnamed man from an unnamed country, who works for a pesticide company. He is sent to the head office of the company, which is located in another country, where he barely speaks the language. On arrival, there is an epidemic and he is held at the airport for checks. He then goes to the flat the company has given him but it is in area where there are huge piles of rubbish because of a strike, and looting is taking place. His case is stolen at the building, which is then put into lock down because of the epidemic. He learns from a friend (actually his ex-wife’s second and now ex-husband) that the police are after him. When they come looking for him, he escapes through the window and is left to fend for himself among the piles of rubbish, other down-and-outs and lots and lots of rats. Hye Young-Pyun lays it on, as our hero, plunges further into a nightmare.
The latest addition to my website is Nicole Lundrigan‘s Thaw. The novel is set in the small Newfoundland town of Cupboard Cove and tells the story of two people who live there, as well as of their families. Tilley Gover is a sensitive boy with a loving mother but an aggressive and macho father and brother, both of whom think he should be more manly. He is interested in drawing and, when a celebrated artist, David Boone, returns to his home town, he learns from David about drawing and painting. David is there with his wife and his daughter, but also his mother, Hazel, who has had something of a wayward life, cursed by the circumstances of her birth, and who is now apparently going senile. However, there are dark, hidden secrets which will come out and involve both families. Lundrigan tells her story well, clearly having no time for the macho culture,
The latest addition to my website is Hye Young-Pyun‘s 홀 (The Hole), a disturbing Korean novel about a paralysed man. Oghi has a successful career as a professor of cartography, though his wife has not been able to succeed at any career and nor have they have had any children. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that they were in a car crash in which she was killed and he was left paralysed. His mother-in-law (a widow with no other children) takes over his care but we soon begin to wonder what she has in mind. Is she trying to help him or does she have some other sinister aim? And what is the large hole she is digging in the garden? Hye Young-Pyun tells a very convincing story and leaves us guessing till the end.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Embalse [Reservoir]. This is another first-class novel by Aira, telling about a couple from Buenos Aires holidaying in a remote Argentinian town by a lake with their young children. Martín, the husband, keeps finding strange things on his walks – large houses just near his he had never seen before, paths he had never seen before, strange perspectives and nature in its glory but also its mystery. He does not take to the locals, whom he finds peculiar nor does he take to the gay/transvestite community. However, his walks and investigations reveal strange goings-on, probably associated with the Fish Breeding Centre, with chickens that can swim, strange glows and an influx of major Argentinian footballers into the town. Poking around where he perhaps should not reveals much more. Sadly, this novel has not been translated into English, whcih is a pity, as it is a very fine work.
The latest addition to my website is Dubravka Ugrešić‘s Forsiranje romana-reke (Fording the Stream of Consciousness). This is a wonderful, witty satire on literary conferences. The setting is a literary conference in Zagreb, while Yugoslavia was still a country, and Ugrešić manages to mock numerous nationalities and their foibles, but, not surprisingly, with a special level of mockery for the Russians and, indeed, her own compatriots. Conspiracies galore, lots of sex (and sexual positions), including an aborted rape by three women of a sexist critic, lists, in-jokes and other post-modernist tropes, not to mention sciatica, are features of this hilarious book.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Autumn. This is the first in Ali Smith’s four Seasons series of novels and, apparently, the first post-Brexit novel. It tells the story of Elisabeth Demand who, when a young child, lives next door to Daniel Gluck, a man sixty-nine years older than her, who becomes her unofficial babysitter. They share stories and she admires his taste in music and in art. Indeed, when she comes to study art as an adult, it is Pauline Boty, the relatively little known only female British Pop Art painter she writes her thesis on, despite her male tutor looking down on Boty. In later life, when she is thirty-two, Elisabeth visits Daniel, now 101, in the care home, apparently his only visitor. Feminism, time and the shortness of time left and Brexit and its generally negative effects are the key themes of the work. I found it somewhat bitty but still a worthwhile novel.