The latest addition to my website is Simon Sellars‘ Applied Ballardianism: Memoir From a Parallel Universe. This novel is an example of theory-fiction, in that it is written as a novel, indeed, is a novel, but, at the same time, as the title tells us, is something of a critique or study of the work of J G Ballard. The narrator is clearly based, at least in part, on the author. He is an Australian man who struggles to find where he is going but then discovers Ballard. While studying him for a Ph.D., what is more important for this work is that he continues to find examples of Ballardianisms in his life. Ballard’s view of the world helps him understand the world he lives in, whether it is in Melbourne with its various problems, or other parts of the world he visits, often as a travel guide writer. Sellars skilfully integrates the Ballard view with virtually everything the narrator does, sees or thinks. It helps to have read Ballard to fully appreciate this novel but even if you have not, you can still enjoy it.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Los fantasmas (Ghosts). The novel is set in a high-rise building in Buenos Aires, where expensive flats are being built for the well-to-do but which is still not finished. A Chilean family, the Viñas, who act as caretakers, lives in the building. The story is set on New Year’s Eve and the Viñas are having family round for a celebration. However, there is another party. The resident ghosts are having their Big Midnight Feast. The workers and the Viñas take the ghosts for granted, even though they are all male and all naked. The ghosts invite Patri, the eldest Viñas child to their party. There is only one condition. She must be dead. As always with Aira, it is a superb story, with a philosophical aside and an awareness of the ordinary people.
The latest addition to my website is Willem Frederik Hermans‘ De donkere kamer van Damokles (The Darkroom of Damocles). This is the story of Henri Osewoudt. When aged twelve, his mother murders his father (we do not know why) and he goes to live with his uncle and aunt and shares a bed with his nineteen year old cousin Ria. Some years later, just before World War II, his mother is released so Henri marries Ria (to her parents’ disgust) and moves back to his parents’ tobacco shop with Ria and his mother. He is visited by a shady man, Dorbeck, seemingly from the Dutch Resistance, and is unwittingly dragged into the Resistance, killing people and getting involved in various dubious activities. He is captured and escapes (twice). When the war ends he is arrested for having betrayed numerous Dutch resistance fighters, saying Dorbeck can vouch for his innocence. But Dorbeck is not to be found and no-one has heard of him.
The latest addition to my website is Willem Frederik Hermans‘ Het behouden huis (An Untouched House). This is a long story about a Dutchman who had been captured three times by the Germans during World War II and had managed to escape every time, finally ending up with a group of Soviet partisans. Our unnamed narrator has no idea where he is but they keep on killing Germans. In this story they capture a spa town and he goes into an empty house, bathes, shaves and puts on civilian clothes. When he wakes up, the Germans have retaken the town and want to billet officers with him, thinking he is the owner of the house. He has to agree but what if the owners return or the partisans retake the town or the Germans find out that he is not the owner? This is typical Hermans, bleak, with much wanton cruelty and random destruction and very much in the War Is Hell genre.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s There But For The. This is another original novel from Ali Smith, telling the tale of Miles Garth, who is invited to a posh dinner party in Greenwich (London) and subsequently locks himself in the spare bedroom, refusing to come out or to talk to anyone about it. We follow the stories of four people who had tangential connections to him but no-one seems to know him well. We also follow the publicity his actions generate and how people cash on his temporary celebrity. Hovering around it all is Brooke, a ten year old neighbour who tells terrible jokes, learns facts from the Internet and seems to be more of a voice of reason than any of the adults. It is clever, witty (and satirical) and most original.
The latest addition to my website is Erhard von Büren‘s Ein langer blauer Montag (A Long Blue Monday). This is the third novel von Büren has written and I have read of his and it is another excellent work. The story is narrated by Paul Ganter, a young Swiss man from the wrong side of the tracks, who falls for Claudia, very much from the right side of the tracks, while they are performing in a local play, and after his tentative attempts at wooing her seem to lead nowhere, he decides to write a trilogy of plays, influenced by Tennessee Williams, and essentially autobiographical, with the hope that that will influence her. The story is told forty years later and we know he has not married her (he is married to someone else) but he still has his doubts about himself and life.
The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Europa Minor, the fourth book in Szentkuthy’s Saint Orpheus’s Breviary series. This is the last of the series translated into French, though it is expected that this and further ones will appear in English from Contra Mundum Press. In this novel, Szentkuthy turns his attention to Asia, with the title a somewhat mocking reference to the European use of Asia Minor for the Anatolian plateau. We jump around from Philip II of Spain, Queen Mary of England (who was married to Philip) and Queen Elizabeth I of England (who reads The Tale of the Genji, nearly three hundred years before it appeared in English), before moving on to strange Persian folk-tales, invented by Szentkuthy, the Mogul Empire and Emperor Akbar in particular and Genghis Khan before returning to Queens Mary and Elizabeth. We even get an appearance from a couple of Americans: Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, of all people. It is glorious fun, totally anarchic and it all goes to show that, well, the Asians are superior to the Europeans in many ways.
The latest addition to my website is Dag Solstad‘s T. Singer (T. Singer). This is the story of a man who, as usual for Solstad is ordinary but, when subject to more detailed scrutiny is less than ordinary and also a man who on the surface seems normal – job, marriage, social relations – but, in fact, gradually wishes to detach himself from life and other people, which he more or less does. Solstad peers beneath the surface of Singer and reveals a complex man but a man who wishes to be entirely self-sufficient, dependent on no-one. It is very well told and we cannot help but be fascinated by this ordinary but unusual man.
The latest addition to my website is François Bon‘s Sortie d’usine [Factory Exit]. This is Bon’s first novel but, sadly, neither this novel nor any of his others have been translated into English. It is a stream of consciousness novel, told in the third person, about life in a factory. The unnamed protagonist who, like Bon himself did, works in a metallurgical factory and he looks at it as though with a camera, moving around the factory, seeing the processes, the people, the surroundings, critical and cynical at times, affectionate towards certain employees (though generally not towards the management) and showing the lack of health and safety concerns (many of the employees are deaf because of the noise and we see a couple of serious injuries), the dehumanising aspect of such work and the tiredness and boredom of the working day. Bon never lets up, with his camera moving around, now to a well-liked employee, now to a strike and the HR manager speaking to the staff, now to the grime and grimness. It is not pretty and not happy but very well done.
The latest addition to my website is Sayaka Murata‘s ンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman). Murata did and, apparently, still does work in a convenience store. Keiko Furukura has never quite understand social norms since she was a child. When starting university she sees a new convenience store opening up and applies for the job. At the beginning of this novel she has worked there for eighteen years. She has found her place, her life governed by the convenience store and its manual of behaviour. She is very happy, knows her job well and does not want to change. To her parents’ chagrin she has never had a boyfriend, let alone a husband. Then Shiraha turns up to work at the store, looking as much for a wife as for a job. Murata tells her story very sympathetically, showing that finding your niche, even if it as a lowly as convenience store worker, is what matters, particularly if you do not fit in with the way society thinks you should fit in.