Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: Season of Crimson Blossoms

crimson

The latest addition to my website is Abubakar Adam Ibrahim‘s Season of Crimson Blossoms. This is a novel set in contemporary Nigeria, against a background of violence, corruption, drug-dealing and religious extremism. Binta is a fifty-five year old Muslim. Her husband was killed in religious riots ten years previously and her son shot by the police fifteen years previously. She has a successful son still alive and two married daughters, though one daughter has just left her second husband. She lives with her niece, who witnessed her father and brother killed in religious riots, and her granddaughter. One day she is attacked by a robber in her house, who has come to steal from her. However, when he sees her face to face, he backs off and the next day returns most of the stolen items. He later comes to apologise. Soon despite the thirty year age difference they have started an affair. She reminds him of the mother he barely knew. He reminds her of her son killed by the police. The robber, Reza, is part of a gang that is involved in drug-dealing and which works for a rich senator who uses the gang to carry out his dirty deeds. When the senator orders the kidnapping of the son of a rival and the kidnapping goes wrong and the affair between the two soon becomes the talk of the town, both of them are in a difficult situation. Ibrahim tells an excellent story of a quasi-Oedipal relationship against the background of a country in turmoil.

Thea Astley: Coda

coda

The latest addition to my website is Thea Astley‘s Coda. This novel is an affectionate tale about an Australian woman, Kathleen, who is getting older and dementia and incontinence are creeping on. Despite this she keeps on going, despite the fact that she gets lost or locked into shops or galleries. We follow her life: marriage to Ronald, just demobbed after the end of the war, in thrall to his father and having to run his father’s store in first in Queensland and then, after the death of his father, running the store in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Ronald cannot cope and the family moves back to Queensland, where Ronald soon dies of cancer. Kathleen brings up her two children, Brian (known as Brain) and Shamrock, both of whom do badly at school though, seemingly, make quite good marriages, even if Kathleen does not take to their respective spouses. Neither of them but particularly her daughter, Shamrock, married to a rich Member of Parliament/property developer, is particularly helpful to their mother in old age. However, it may be the end of her life and she may forget everything, but Kathleen is determined to keep going and keep going she does.

Rodrigo Hasbún: Los afectos (Affections)

affections

The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo Hasbún‘s Los afectos (Affections), a first-class novel, based on the story of a real German family that emigrated to Bolivia. The family is the Ertl family: father, a former cameraman of Leni Riefenstahl, mother, a chain smoker who will die of cancer, and three daughters, one of whom will join Che Guevara’s guerilla group, the second who will return to Germany and the the third who becomes a chain smoker like her mother and remains solitary. The story starts with an expedition, led by Hans, the father, to find a lost Inca city. He takes his two oldest daughters, Monika and Heidi. The expedition is not a success, though Heidi meets and marries a fellow expedition member and Hans runs off with the entomologist. Aurelia, the mother, and Trixi the youngest daughter, thirteen years old, stay behind and smoke. While we follow the fate of the others as well, the focus is on Monika, who joins Guevara’s guerilla group and becomes the most wanted woman in Bolivia. The book, however, is about their relationships, complicated, affectionate to a certain degree, as the title implies, but always fraught. For a relatively short book, the novel packs a real punch and is superbly told by Hasbún.

Max Aub: Campo abierto [Open Field]

abierto

The latest addition to my website is Max Aub‘s Campo abierto [Open Field], the second book in Max Aub’s Magic Labyrinth series about the Spanish Civil War, though the third to be published. This one is set in Valencia in the first part (where Aub grew up) and Madrid in the second part, leading up to the fall of Madrid to the Francoist forces. The book is a series of stories about the various individuals caught up in the Civil War, mainly, though certainly not exclusively on the republican side. We follow a revolutionary theatre group, in particular two young people, Vicente and Asunción, who are in love but too involved in their theatre and politics to tell one another. We also follow various individuals who get shot, because they are on the wrong side, in the wrong place at the wrong time or, in a few cases, fighting against the enemy. Summary executions occur all too frequently. When we move to Madrid, we follow the approach of the Francoist forces as they gradually get closer, with the poorly armed republicans unable to resist Franco’s tanks. Vicente and Asunción both move to Madrid, he fighting with the forces defending Madrid, she with the theatre group. The book ends as Madrid is about to fall to Franco. Aub tells an excellent story, showing the dissent within the republican forces, both the enthusiasm of many of the ordinary people as well as the horrors they have to face and the inevitable defeat, which they cannot believe will happen.

Latitude Festival’s Top 20 Books by Women

Apparently not a top novel
Apparently not a top novel

The Women’s Prize for Fiction has just posted Latitude Festival’s Top 20 Books by Women. What a disappointing selection! Only one originally written in a language other than English (Allende), only three others by non-UK, non-US writers (Roy, Atwood and Ngozi Adichie) and, FFS, Girl on a Train. May I politely remind them of María Luisa Bombal, Carmen Boullosa, Elizabeth Bowen, Kay Boyle, Mary Butts, A S Byatt, Angela Carter, Maryse Condé, Simone de Beauvoir, Alba de Céspedes, Ellen Douglas, Marguerite Duras, Anne Enright, Rosario Ferré, Elena Garro, Teolinda Gersâo, Natalia Ginzburg, Ellen Glasgow, Nadine Gordimer, Patricia Grace, Almudena Grandes, Han Kang, Marlen Haushofer, Qurratulain Hyder, Elfriede Jelinek, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Hiromi Kawakami, A L Kennedy, Agota Kristof, Doris Lessing, Clarice Lispector, Rosetta Loy, Dacia Maraini, Angeles Mastretta, Ana María Matute, Minae Mizumura, Elsa Morante, Herta Müller, Irène Némirovsky, Amélie Nothomb, Joyce Carol Oates, Yōko Ogawa, Anna Maria Ortese, Park Kyŏng-ni, Aline Pettersson, Elena Poniatowska, Ann Quin, Jean Rhys, Dorothy Richardson, Mercè Rodoreda, Nathalie Sarraute, Joanna Scott, Leïla Sebbar, Leslie Marmon Silko, Susan Sontag, Muriel Spark, Magda Szabó, Esther Tusquets, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Luisa Valenzuela, Marlene van Niekerk, Marina Warner, Eudora Welty, Edith Wharton, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf and Marguerite Yourcenar, to name but a few? Do Hawkins, Mosse, Moran, Kingsolver, Sebold and Shriver come before Virginia Woolf or, indeed, the other excellent writers in my list above? I think not.

Hendrik Groen: Pogingen om iets van het leven te maken. Het geheime dagboek van Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 jaar (Attempts to Make Something of Life. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old)

groen

The latest addition to my website is Hendrik Groen‘s Pogingen om iets van het leven te maken. Het geheime dagboek van Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 jaar (Attempts to Make Something of Life. The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old). This is a hilariously funny diary by an elderly Dutch man in a care home in North Amsterdam. For a long time, the real identity of the author was unknown and various hypotheses were proposed, including Arnon Grunberg, Stijn Aerden, Marcel Verreck, Marcel van Roosmalen, Sylvia Witteman, Remco Campert, Nico Dijkshoorn, Carel Helder, Robert Vuijsje, A.L. Snijders and Youp van ‘t Hek. However, it has since been learned that he is a librarian, born in 1955, who lives in North Amsterdam, called Peter de Smet. Groen claims to be friendly and helpful and often is, but he is very much opposed to the authorities, and mocks them ceaselessly, including the care home management, the government and the police. He is happy to subvert in a way reminiscent of the UK TV programme Waiting for God (shown on PBS in the USA). He and his friends, particularly Evert, are determined to go out with their heads held high, which means both having a good time and causing minor sabotage in the home. Above all, this book is very funny and shows that old age and approaching death can and should be treated light-heartedly and that one does not have to succumb to sitting quietly in the care home chair when one is nearly eighty-four years old

Rosario Ferré: La casa de la laguna (The House on the Lagoon)

lagoon

The latest addition to my website is Rosario Ferré‘s La casa de la laguna (The House on the Lagoon). Ferré, whose father was a governor of Puerto Rico, writes about a house and family on Puerto Rico, from the arrival of the Buenaventura Mendizabal from Spain at the beginning of the last century to the 1993 referendum on statehood. Buenaventura has a temper and this is passed on to his son Quintín, so much so that Isabel has doubts about marrying him when she sees him lose his temper. But she does marry him and this novel is her attempt to write about the family, hers and his, and an attempt to see how the parents’ behaviour is passed on to the children. Quintín and Isabel build a beautiful house on a lagoon, with the architect having freely stolen his ideas from Frank Lloyd Wright, though this house is one of three houses that are built on the site during the course of the book. Isabel’s manuscript is secret but Quintín finds it and is highly critical of its feminist, Independista and non-historical approach, as Isabel reveals family secrets Quintín would have preferred kept hidden, including murder, suicide, rape, forced abortion and other violent acts. Virtually all of their relatives have colourful and not always worthy pasts and it is these stories of these many characters that make the book so fascinating.

Gérard Bessette: L’incubation (Incubation)

incubation

The latest addition to my website is Gérard Bessette‘s L’incubation (Incubation). The novel is entirely narrated in stream-of-consciousness style by a man known as Lagarde, a librarian by profession. He is primarily telling the story Gordon Blackwell, his friend and an English teacher at the university in the small Canadian town of Narcotown. Gordon had met Antinéa (an English woman, despite her name) in London during the Blitz in World War II. They had started an affair, despite the fact that Antinéa was married to Jack, fighting in North Africa, and Gordon was engaged to Maggie back home in Narcotown. When Jack returned, injured, Antinéa paid little attention to him but when he died, she had a nervous breakdown. Gordon returned to Canada, married Maggie and they had two children When Antinéa, ten years later, comes to Canada to find Gordon, thing inevitably do not work out well. The stream-of-consciousness style, a new departure for Bessette, and influenced by the nouveau roman, is surprisingly effective at driving the fairly routine story on but it does seem a bit dated, fifty years plus later.

Claire-Louise Bennett: Pond

pond

The latest addition to my website is Claire-Louise Bennett‘s Pond. This book is subtitled Stories but it is really a novel, as it tells the tale of the unnamed narrator and her three years living in a (fairly) remote cottage in rural Ireland. We learn that she likes nature but not in a too romantic way. She has affairs, but really only finds men attractive and desirable when she is drunk which, as she tells us, is quite a lot of the time. She struggles a bit with life, not always sure what she is doing, lacking organisational and planning skills and not really fitting in anywhere, and not really wanting to. What makes this novel is the skilful writing and the way the narrator examines herself or reveals herself to be a woman who is not quite at one with the world, even as she more or less gets by.

Miguel Gutiérrez dies

mundo

Peruvian novelist Miguel Gutiérrez died yesterday, shortly before his seventy-sixth birthday. I can find no reports in English but it has been in announced in Spanish here and here. He is best-known for his novel about incest El mundo sin Xóchitl [The World Without Xochitl], which I thought was an excellent novel. Neither this novel nor any of his others works has been translated into English or, as far as I can determine, any other language. Though well-known as a novelist, he also wrote extensively on literature, Peruvian as well as literature from elsewhere.