Joyce Cary: Except the Lord

The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Except the Lord, the second of a trilogy that started with Prisoner of Grace. In this previous novel, we followed the adult life of Chester Nimmo, as told by his ex-wife, Nina. This book is told by Chester himself and is mainly about his childhood. He grew up in a rural Devon village. His father was both a farm labourer and an Adventist preacher. The family was poor and, like many of the people of that time, suffered from health problems. His mother and two young sisters all died of tuberculosis. As Chester is writing this account, presumably for Nina, in an attempt to win her back, he often tells of things he did and the lessons he learned from his actions and the consequence, with the aim of showing how he has developed. We follow his interest in religion, left-wing politics and unionism as well as his relationship with his family. It did not work as well as the previous one for me but is still an interesting read to see how the adult became what he was.

Dana Todorović: Tragična sudbina Morica Tota (The Tragic Fate of Moritz Toth)

The latest addition to my website is Dana Todorović:‘s Tragična sudbina Morica Tota (The Tragic Fate of Moritz Toth). This is a clever tale of an unemployed punk rocker, the eponymous Moritz Toth, who finds salvation as the prompter for the lead tenor in Turandot. However, he also finds that at first one and then two mysterious characters seem to be stalking him. Who are they? Why are they stalking him and are they going to murder him? Meanwhile, we are also following the story of Tobias Keller, Advisor for Moral Issues with the Office of the Great Overseer, who has broken the rules in his role as guide to Moritz Toth by putting pebble in front of his bicycle in breach of Article 98a of the Causal Authority Regulations. Who is Tobias? Who is the Great Overseer? And what have they got to do with Moritz? Todorović tells a fine tale with philosophical conundrums, the problems of determinism and how opera and a loving prostitute can save a worried man.

Ricardo Romero: La habitación del presidente (The President’s Room)

The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Romero‘s La habitación del presidente (The President’s Room). This is Romero’s first work published in English, from a new press, Charco Press. The narrator, a boy, lives in a house with his parents and brothers. The house, like others in the neighbourhood, has a president’s room, set aside in case the President visits. The boy, unnamed like the other characters, has a few worries about the house, the room, houses with basements, adjoining houses and other issues, which Romero skilfully describes in a way to make the whole story unsettling. He is scared to enter the President’s Room but, inevitably, one day the President does come and our narrator, alone of his family does see him. Romero tells his story well and this is an interesting introduction to Charco Press.

Boualem Sansal: Rue Darwin

The latest addition to my website is Boualem Sansal‘s Rue Darwin. This is a superb work by Sansal which tells the story of Yazid, an Algerian, the same age as Sansal, who takes his mother to Paris to die (of cancer) and where she can see her other children, Yazid being the only one still living in Algeria. Sadly, she falls into a coma on the plane and does not see her children but she tells Yazid (possibly telepathically) that he should return to Rue Darwin, the street where they grew up. In doing so, he finds that his antecedents are more complicated than he thought, involving the (female) head of a powerful clan, prostitution and abduction, while, at the same time, telling us about and vociferously condemning all the wars Algeria has been involved in. The novel gives us an albeit partial view of Algeria while telling an excellent and complex story.

Ricardo Piglia: La ciudad ausente (The Absent City)

The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Piglia‘s La ciudad ausente (The Absent City). This is a complex novel – a detective story, a political novel, a Joycean extravaganza, a Bildungsroman and a city novel, set during Argentina’s dirty war but concerned not only with the struggle against the brutal government but with two authors – James Joyce (whose Finnegans Wake acts as a sacred text for those fleeing the government repression) and the far less well-known (in the English-speaking world) Macedonio Fernández who has created a complex machine based in part on a Poe story and in part on the brain of his late wife, Elena. Junior, a journalist, is tracking down the machine and the Engineer, who may well have been the programmer of the machine, and gets in involved with various unsavory characters as well as those fleeing the government repression. It is a highly intelligent and original novel though, sadly, does not seem to have had the success outside Argentina that it had there.

Zigmunds Skujiņš: Vīrietis labākajos gados (A Man in His Prime)

The latest addition to my website is Zigmunds SkujiņšVīrietis labākajos gados (A Man in His Prime). This is one of two novels written by Skujiņš translated into English from Latvian. This one was published by the Soviet publishers Progress and is long since out of print and difficult to obtain. It tells the story of a man in his prime, Alfrēds Turlavs, aged forty-six and happily married. He is head of the design department of a telecommunications company in Riga and has been instructed to work on a new innervation telephone exchange. He does not think it will work and will be very expensive, so he goes behind his bosses’ back to work on an alternative model. At the same time, he starts an affair with one of his subordinates and gets her pregnant. Inevitably, things go wrong for him, both at work and in his private life. It is a well-told story and Alfrēds Turlavs could be a typical man in his prime in many other countries.

Dumitru Tsepeneag: La belle Roumaine (La Belle Roumaine)

The latest addition to my website is Dumitru Tsepeneag‘s La belle Roumaine (La Belle Roumaine). This is another totally anarchic and gloriously funny novel from Tsepeneag. The eponymous beautiful Romanian woman is Ana or maybe she is Anne or Aneta or Anette or Hannah. She might be a doctor or a nurse or she might be a prostitute. She might be Jewish or she might not. Her father may have been killed at Auschwitz or he may have been a collaborator. We follow her round Europe, particularly in Berlin and Paris, where she has a succession of lovers, each one of whom is given a different story about her life and her background. Is she working for Ceaușescu’s secret service? Was she attacked on the metro? How does she earn her money? What languages does she really speak and is she really Romanian? The other characters never learn the truth and nor do we – if there is a truth. It is very funny, totally chaotic and another wonderful book from Tsepeneag which Dalkey Archive Press has brought us.

Javier Marías: Berta Isla

The latest addition to my website is Javier MaríasBerta Isla. This is, in my view, by far his masterpiece. It tells the story of Tomás, half-English, half-Spanish, with a gift for languages and the eponymous Berta Isla. They meet and fall in love in Madrid. Tomás goes to university in Oxford, while Berta stays in Madrid. In Oxford, he risks a prison sentence and can only escape if he joins the British Secret Service, which he does. Returning to Madrid, he marries Berta and nominally works in the British Embassy in Madrid. However, his work requires increasingly long absences and it is only during one of these absences that Berta has reason to suspect his double life. He will neither deny nor confirm it. He then goes off at the beginning of the Falklands War and then disappears for years, without any word. Berta has to worry firstly what has happened to him and also whether, as she says at the beginning of the novel, is he the man she married. The power of the state, the horrors of war and, in particular, dirty war as well as the effect of Tomás’ double life on the couple are the key themes of this book, which is superbly written and tells a very original story.

Robert Walser: Der Spaziergang (The Walk)

The latest addition to my website is Robert Walser‘s Der Spaziergang (The Walk). This simply tells the story of a writer out for a walk in a provincial Swiss town. However, as the writer is based on Walser, he is not averse to giving his opinion on all and sundry, 1000 lashes for those cutting down trees, a particularly rude letter to an unknown recipient for an unknown reason, a verbal assault on the unfortunate tailor who has not made his new suit properly and even a complaint to his hostess, Frau Aebi, that she is feeding him too much. He can be complimentary – a woman passerby is told she should be an actress, a woman singing that she should be an opera singer – and can also enjoy the beauties of the walk but still thinks, when he sees children, that Age one day will terrify and bridle them. Another witty and very colourful work from Walser.

Amélie Nothomb: Frappe-toi le coeur [Strike Your Heart]

The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Frappe-toi le coeur [Strike Your Heart], her latest annual novel. This is something of a change from her normal style, as it is a damning indictment of two mothers, for both neglecting and spoiling their children, with dire consequences. The heroine is Diane, whose mother Marie is looking forward to the good life, which does not include motherhood. She virtually ignores Diane, her first child, but indulges her son, Nicolas, and then overspoils her daughter, Celia. Diane goes on to study cardiology and becomes close to her university lecturer, Olivia Aubusson, who also neglects her daughter, Mariel. Diane helps Olivia become a full professor, something she has been denied for sexist reasons, but then feels betrayed by Olivia. Olivia and Marie will pay a bitter price and they will leave three scarred daughters.