The latest addition to my website is Clemens J. Setz‘s Die Stunde zwischen Frau und Gitarre [The Hour Between Woman and Guitar]. This is a monumental novel – 1021 pages – so unlikely to appear in English, though it has been translated into French. It is set in a care home and involves a young care assistant, Natalie Reinegger, who has to look after a man in wheel chair, Alexander Dorm, who had been a stalker and had driven a woman he stalked to commit suicide. To Natalie’s surprise, his only visitor is Christopher Hollberg, the widower of the woman who committed suicide. On the surface, the two men seem to get on well but gradually Natalie is dragged into their relationship which is not as straightforward as it seems. At the same time we are following Natalie’s own life – her casual affairs, her friends, her IPhone, her imaginary mouse and her real cat as well as the stories of the other care assistants and other patients. The book is way too long but Setz keeps on going and keeps the reader’s attention, despite no major plot revelations.
The latest addition to my website is Kamel Daoud‘s Zabor ou Les psaumes [Zabor or The Psalms]. This novel, by the author of Meursault, contre-enquête (Meursault, Counter Investigation), is a superb novel, better, in my view, than Meursault, about an Algerian man who lives alone with his aunt, only comes out at night and writes the stories of the dying, so that they will be remembered in a remote Algerian town, where illiteracy is high. He has had a troubled relationship with his father who abandoned his mother early on (she died not long afterwards) and now has a large family with Zabor’s step-mother. He does not get on with his step-mother or step-brothers. However, his father is now dying and he is summoned to write his story. Nothing good can come out of this. Zabor is a contrarian, a lover of reading and writing and, apart from sex (he is a virgin), not much else but he is a wonderful, colourful creation. Other Press plan to publish it in English in 2019.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El tilo (The Lime Tree; The Linden Tree). This is somewhat different from the normal Aira in that there is no strange or fanciful story but rather the story of a boy growing up in the town of Coronel Pringles did, as did Aira himself. We learn about his father’s abrupt renunciation of Catholicism in favour of Peronism, his father’s job in charge of all the public lighting in the town, of the changes when Perón was overthrown, of the large house where the three of them lived in only one room, with the other rooms all empty and of how the unnamed narrator came to love stories and story-telling. And, of course, we learn of the huge lime tree, its use by the narrator’s father and its ultimate destruction. This is certainly not Aira’s best work but worth reading nonetheless.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Pour saluer Melville (Melville: A Novel), published in French in 1941 but only published this year in English. It was intended, initially, as an introduction to Giono’s translation of Moby Dick into French but was expanded into a short novel, with Giono inventing a fanciful story about Melville. The story, essentially, concerns Melville’s visit to London to get his novel White Jacket published. Once he has handed over the manuscript, he has two weeks to kill, so decides to set off for the (fictitious) Woodcut, near Bristol as a young man said that is what he would do do, if he had the time and money, as his girlfriend lived there. Melville decided to go there himself but, en route, he meets an Irish nationalist woman, helping the Irish during the Great Famine and the two become, briefly, quite close. It is combination of this woman and his guardian angel (yes, really) that inspires him to write Moby Dick. He returns to the the United States but never forgets her. The story is quite untrue but certainly an interesting fantasy.
The latest addition to my website is Boualem Sansal‘s 2084 la fin du monde (2084: The End Of The World). This is Sansal’s updated, Algerianised 1984. Though he refers to 1984, it is a very different book. It is essentially a satire on religious control and orthodoxy in Algeria and Saudi Arabia and similar states. The book is set at some future time (not necessarily 2084) in Abistan which, as far as most of the inhabitants know, covers the entire world. Our hero is Ati and he is trying to discover whether if what the religious authorities have led the people to believe is true. He has to undertake two long and difficult journeys to do so and we follow his adventures. Sansal is very damning of Islamic fundamentalism as found in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, etc. and tells a very good story of how Ati learns what he is not meant to learn.
The latest addition to my website is Maria Gabriela Llansol‘s Geografia de Rebeldes (Geography of Rebels trilogy). This is Llansol’s first work published in English. The first two books focus on Ana del Mercado y Peñalosa, a historical person and friend of St John of the Cross. Ana interacts with St John but also with other important characters, from European intellectual history, including, in particular, Thomas Müntzer. Her interaction is spiritual, not least as she was not a contemporary or many of these peoples. Through the use of imagery and the voices of the characters, she conveys the importance of these people in European intellectual life and history, while also conveying the role of community of women, the role of nature and a radical view of religion. It is a beautiful book, generally eschewing plot and other features of a conventional novel, which may make it challenging but very much worthwhile.
The latest addition to my website is Chico Buarque‘s Estorvo (Turbulence). Buarque is best-known as a singer and composer but he has written novels, poetry and drama. This is quite a strange one. Our unnamed narrator, originally from a rich family in Rio de Janeiro, seems to have dropped out. Awoken by a man in suit knocking at his door, he manages to escape the man and wanders around the city, visiting his rich sister (to sponge off her and to steal her jewellery), his ex-wife, also to sponge off her, and the farm where he grew up, which seems to have been partially taken over by drug-dealing squatters. He lives his life in a dream, disconnected from the real world but, despite being beaten up and trying to dispose of a case full of marijuana, seems to just about to get by.
The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Not Honour More. This is the third in Carey’s second trilogy and definitely the weakest. It follows on from the first – Prisoner of Grace – and is narrated by Jim Latter, former soldier and colonial officer, married to Nina, née Woodville, who had been married to the Liberal politician, Chester Nimmo, for a long time. Chester now Lord Nimmo is still living with Latters and Latter suspects him of having an affair with Nina. Meanwhile the 1926 General Strike is starting and Latter is called on to organise the Specials (auxiliary police force) while Nimmo sees it as a way back into politics. Of course, it all goes badly wrong for all of them. With Latter being a most unsympathetic character, volatile, jealous and full of his own self-importance, his narration does not endear him to us nor does it make for as an enjoyable book as its predecessors.
The latest addition to my website is Geoff Nicholson‘s The Miranda. I have read all of Nicholson’s novels but this one is somewhat different from the others, less quirky, less funny, less English and much darker. Joe Johnson, our narrator, is a retired torturer. He is engaged by a shadowy, presumably US government organisation (the novel is set entirely in the US) to torture those people that are going to serve abroad and risk being captured and tortured, in order to desensitise them. He has now retired, his marriage ended, and moves to a rural area where he plans to walk 25,000 miles around his garden, the equivalent of walking the circumference of the Earth. However, one of his torture victims has gone rogue, he has nasty and violent neighbours behind him and a woman artist wants to make him an art work. However, he also has Miranda, a woman who does his shopping for him and uses him as a guinea pig to create the next great cocktail, to be called The Miranda. All of this and more comes together in a quasi-apocalyptic, Nicholsonian finale. It is a clever story with several twists but very dark, with too much torture and brutality for my taste.
The latest addition to my website is Ece Temelkuran‘s Düğümlere Üfleyen Kadınlar (Women Who Blow on Knots). This is a superb feminist novel about four women – the unnamed Turkish narrator, a Tunisian dancer and hacker, an Egyptian academic and a somewhat mysterious older woman who is Amazigh – who start off in Tunisia in the Arab Spring and then set out on an overland journey to Syria, via Libya (with anti-Gaddafi guerrillas), Alexandria and Beirut. The older Amazigh woman wants to kill an ex-lover, the Egyptian and Tunisian women gradually reveal secrets of their past and all four show that a revolution is not a revolution unless women play a major role in it and women’s issues are to the fore. It is a brilliant adventure story but also a novel raising key topics of great importance to our current world.