The latest addition to my website is Victor Pelevin‘s Жизнь насекомых (The Life of Insects). This is a thoroughly original book which takes as its premise the idea that insects can also have human form and behave and act like humans. We have mosquitoes who travel the world, looking for the ideal blood to suck, but dress in business suits and wander around as humans, even having a sexual relationship with a fly in human form. We have a moth that smokes (lighting his cigarette with a lighter!) and reads Marcus Aurelius but also discourses on light and darkness with his moth friend. There is a cicada that goes to the office like anyone else. However, as well as behaving and looking like humans, they can fly, burrow and build ant-hills. They suck human blood, eat their own kin, push dung balls (dung-beetles), eat and drink what insects eat and drink and die, e.g. by being squashed by a human foot and by being caught on flypaper. In a lesser hand, this might seem silly, but Pelevin uses it both for post-modern games and jokes but also to make some serious points as it is the insects in insect form that seem far more philosophical than the humans. What is the dung ball of dung-beetles for? What is the moth’s strange relationship with light and dark? It is very well done and a thoroughly original piece of work, which I can highly recommend.
The latest addition to my website is Edmundo Paz Soldán‘s Los vivos y los muertos [The Living and the Dead]. It is based on events in the 1990s in the town of Dryden, New York, when nine people died in the space of three months, seven of whom were murdered. Paz Soldán lived in nearby Ithaca and followed the events, particularly as seven of the victims were adolescents. His novel tells a story of similar but different events in the fictitious town of Madison, with two twin brothers killed (in separate incidents) in car crashes, four people murdered by two sexually obsessed men, the two murderers committing suicide and one other car crash death, the result of drunk driving. Paz Soldán states in the afterword that he wanted to write a meditation on loss but it is also about a community that seems fairly normal at first sight but has its problems underneath. Before the deaths, we see a man dishonourably discharged from the US Air Force for sexual assault, who brutalises his wife and sons and lusts after his fifteen-year old neighbour, unhappy marriages and adolescents struggling to cope, with sexual and drug problems not uncommon. The sense of loss is not surprising but it tends to exacerbate the already fragile community spirit. It is a grim novel but an interesting novel about a community which, as they say, seems to be living in a Stephen King novel.
The latest addition to my website is Sergei Lebedev‘s Предела забвения (Oblivion). The Russian title means something like The Limits of Oblivion, though much of the novel is about recovering lost memories, specifically lost memories of the Soviet era of prison camps. The unnamed narrator is rescued twice by a man he calls Grandfather II. It is Grandfather II who persuades his mother and her family to have a child, when doctors had suggested an abortion, for her delicate health and it is Grandfather II who gives his blood (at the expense of his own life) when the narrator is badly bitten by a dog and there is no suitable blood for him. In between these two events, Grandfather II, who is blind, has helped the narrator grow up and taught him much. Grandfather II has always kept his past secret and, eventually, after Grandfather II’s death, the narrator investigates, on the basis of some letters he finds in Grandfather II’s dacha. The trail leads him to a town which had been a prison camp (and still looks somewhat like one) where minerals were mined from a huge quarry. There he makes a surprising find about Grandfather II’s past and then heads out to the tundra, where there are a few former prisoners and an inhospitable climate. Above all, Lebedev gives us a first-class though very grim picture of life in the Russia of prison camps and an only marginally better portrait of life there in the post-Soviet era, with stories, psychological insights (not least about the narrator) and descriptions of landscapes, which show Lebedev to be a writer to watch.