Month: November 2015

Rafael Chirbes Foundation

I have made no secret of the fact that I consider Rafael Chirbes to have been a brilliant writer and his untimely death a few months ago was a great tragedy. His last book published will be out in English next year. I am now glad to learn that a Rafael Chirbes foundation is to be set up (link in Spanish), to be run by his niece. It will be in Beniarbeig, in his former house and will be a cultural centre, as well as having the books that he wrote, his personal library of 8000 books as well as his diaries and notebooks. His novel Paris-Austerlitz (link in Spanish), completed before his death, will come out in January and I shall certainly look forward to reading it.

Herta Müller: Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel)


The latest addition to my website is Herta Müller‘s Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel). This tells the story of Leopold Auberg, a seventeen year old German-Romanian. When the Soviets capture Romania at the end of World War II, all those of German origin aged between seventeen and forty-five are rounded up and sent to a labour camp in the Soviet Union for no other reason than that they are of German ethnicity. Most of the novel is about their time there and their struggle with hunger, cold, brutality and missing home and family. Hunger is the driving force as the English title implies and hunger and the need to satisfy that hunger excuses much of their not always good behaviour. Müller describes in some detail the life in the camp, the activities, the deaths, the little victories and the relationships between the inmates and between the inmates and the guards. While the novel is certainly well written and helped bring Müller fame in Germany, we have seen it before though, admittedly, normally about Russian rather than Romanian nationals and I did not really feel that this novel added much new on the subject, though, perhaps, emphasising the brutality of the Soviets is never amiss.

Kathryn Davis: Duplex


The latest addition to my website is Kathryn DavisDuplex. This novel takes a fairly conventional story – a street somewhere in the US, with a boy and girl growing up together and destined to be married but somehow not quite working it out. However, to really confuse us, Davis has thrown in both strong science fiction elements and strong fairy tale elements. Eddie and Mary are childhood friends and later sweethearts. However, on this street are not just the usual assortment of characters but a family of robots, who do not eat or sleep, and need their batteries recharging regularly but, in many respects, at least on the surface, are similar to human beings. Eddie when a young teen is taken to an enchanted isle and he changes, though it is not clear how. Later, he will become a very successful baseball star. While still at high school, he gets Mary pregnant and he makes her give the baby up but then leaves her. When injured in his baseball career, Eddie will go back to an enchanted place. Meanwhile, the former teacher of Eddie has an affair with a man who is a sorcerer and known as Body-without-Soul and will later travel herself to a strange enchanted place. What are we to make of this? Davis, I think, leaves it deliberately ambiguous. We can see it as a conventional story disrupted by two genres, science fiction and fairy tale, or we can see it as a moral tale about being true to oneself or we can add our interpretation and let the story take us where we will. An interesting idea but one that did not entirely work for me.

Kathryn Davis: The Thin Place


The latest addition to my website is Kathryn DavisThe Thin Place, a brilliant but understated novel about spirituality, the forces of nature and the role they play in our lives and the often arbitrariness of life, but all firmly rooted in the real world. The real world, in this case, is a small New England town called Varennes, not far from the Canadian border. The people of the town get on with their lives but Davis also shows us that nature also does, in its way. This can take the form of animals doing what animals do, plants growing, and meteorological and geological forces affecting the lives of the people, either brutally, as in the case of a storm, or more subtly, as Davis shows us the geological forces that shaped the town and surrounding area. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have varied from the sentimental to the silly but Davis cleverly integrates it into the different stories of the people of Varennes. Much of what the people do is what people do elsewhere. They marry, separate, grow old, go to school, have affairs, go to church and so on. But other things happen. A man seemingly dies but is revived by a young girl. Was he dead or just unconscious? One of her friends does the same to a dog, that had been shot and apparently killed. Accidents happen and people are injured and die. But meanwhile, people worry about the homeless using the church, about their relationships, about the Gilbert and Sullivan performance the children are putting on at school. Davis is clearly telling us to be responsible towards nature in its broadest sense but also warning us that sudden forces, whether from outside or within, can suddenly send us veering off course and, of course, can bring death. This a wonderful novel about some of the bigger things in life and how they affect our everyday life and deserves to better known.

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