Month: June 2016 Page 1 of 2

Don DeLillo: Zero K


The latest addition to my website is Don DeLillo‘s Zero K. DeLillo is a Marmite author. Marmite is a disgusting vegetable paste, used in food flavouring or as a sandwich spread. People either love it or hate it. As a result, the word Marmite has come to be used to describe someone or something that people either love or hate. A recent example is our likely next Prime Minister Boris Johnson. My feelings about both Marmite and Boris Johnson are similar. However, I love Don DeLillo, while being aware that many do not.



This book is narrated by Jeffrey Lockhart, something of a drifter, both in terms of his romantic relationships and his career. When he was a young teenager, his father, Ross, walked out on his mother. Ross has become very successful both in the financial world but also at looking at what the future might hold. He married an archaeologist, Artis, who is now dying. At the beginning of the novel, Jeffrey is taken by a series of private planes to a mysterious place called The Convergence, somewhere in Kazakhstan, near the Kyrgyzstan border, where people who are dying are put to sleep and cryogenically preserved with a view to being resuscitated at some unspecified time in the future, probably as someone new. Artis is about to be put to sleep and Jeffrey has come to say his farewells. The place is somewhat mysterious, with strange people, strange sculptures, doors which seem permanently locked and screens popping up with films of disasters and wars. Jeffrey is bemused by all of this and finds it uncomfortable, particularly when his father, who is healthy, announces that he is to join Artis in being put to sleep. Back in the real world, Jeffrey still feels detached, with a girlfriend whose adopted son is Ukrainian by birth, is learning Pashto and clearly is also detached from the world. This is another first-class novel by DeLillo about the human condition as it is and might be and about characters who are, to use the words of one character, fallen out of history.

Max Aub: Campo cerrado (Field of Honour)


The latest addition to my website is Max Aub‘s Campo cerrado (Field of Honour). Aub was born into a French Jewish family but the family moved to Seville when he was eleven and he adopted Spanish as his language. He is best-known for his series of six books called the Magic Labyrinth, set in the Spanish Civil War. This is the first, and the only one translated into English. It tells the story of Rafael Serrador, a young man from Castellón, near Valencia who, aged sixteen, moves to Barcelona. He gradually becomes involved in politics. He is very unsure of himself and what he believes and ends up joining the Falange, i.e. the Fascists. He starts becoming disillusioned when the leader tells him that he is interested only in ideas and not people. When the Spanish Civil War does break out, at the end of the novel, we follow events in Barcelona as the workers resist the take-over of the city by the Fascists and Nationalists. At this point, Rafael realises the error of his ways and fights with the anarchists rather than the Falange. It is an excellent book, though the language is sometimes difficult (in the Spanish; I have not seen the English version) and Aub does get carried away with both his descriptions and dialogue.

Max Porter: Grief is the Thing With Feathers


The latest addition to my website is Max Porter‘s Grief is the Thing With Feathers. This is a highly imaginative book about grief. Dad – we never know his name – has just lost his wife. It seems that she fell and hit her head. He is left with two young sons. He is visited by grief, in the form of a large, familiar but somewhat pushy crow. The book is divided into chapters, each one narrated in turn by Dad, the crow and the boys. Porter makes very creative use of fables and stories to illustrate both grief at the loss of a loved one and father-son relationships. We follow the story of how the father, in particular, but also his sons, adapt to their loss and the role of grief in the form of the very active crow. The crow image comes from Ted Hughes (Dad is writing a book about him and briefly met him once) and the title comes from Emily Dickinson.

Espido Freire: Soria Moria


The latest addition to my website is Espido Freire‘s Soria Moria. This is the story of well-to-do English families living and working in Tenerife as the beginning of the last century, just prior to World War I. The Hamiltons have three daughters. Two are married but we mainly follow the youngest, the fourteen-year old Dolores. She is friendly with isabella de Betancourt. Isabella’s cousin Scott and his friend, Thomas, recently exiled from Cuba, after the Spanish-American War, are to visit and all four children are invited to the Hamitons’ house in Fuerteventura, along with Lucía Berriel, whom the girls know but do not particularly like. Indeed, once they get there, the girls pick on Lucía, playing tricks on her and the whole incident ends in tragedy. They return to Tenerife, where they are brought together and play at Soria Moria, a Norwegian fairy tale, which has the boys becoming dukes and the girls duchesses. Inevitably this leads to a certain amount of sexual tension and the two girls fall out over their interest in Scott. However, it is 1914 and war will take the boys away. I did not find this novel as convincing as Freire’s earlier ones and the Soria Moria episode in particular seemed somewhat forced and not something that fourteen-fifteen year olds would have indulged in.

America Reads

One of the favourite books in the US

One of the favourite books in the US

The Library of Congress currently has an exhibition of books people in the USA like reading. It is not an impressive list but then it is not meant to be a best-of list, only a popular list. I have to admit that I have read only thirteen of the books on the first list and only seven on the second and I do not consider it likely that I shall be reading any more. Surprises, apart from the fact that it is a complete mystery to me why anyone reads Ayn Rand, include Tim O’Brien‘s Things I carried Carried (I have read three of his books but not that one); Gravity’s Rainbow. Have people actually read it or is it just one of those books survey respondents claim to have read to show that they are well read?; Melville but no Hawthorne; no London, Wharton, Morrison, Updike, Tom Wolfe, Emily Dickinson, Poe, Angelou, Carl Sagan; relatively few women and only one African-American and no Hispanics. Only seven of my favourite US novels make the list but that is not really surprising. I have no doubt the British equivalent would not be impressive with ‘Arry Potter high on the list.

Marlen Haushofer: Die Tapetentür (The Jib Door)


The latest addition to my website is Marlen Haushofer‘s Die Tapetentür (The Jib Door). The novel is part diary/part third person narrative and tells of Annette, a thirty-year old librarian in Vienna. Annette lives on her own and is very happy to do so. She has had boyfriends and currently has a boyfriend, Alexander, whom she is growing somewhat tired of. He is always talking about himself and keeps telling her how indispensable he is at the institute where he works. When he tells her that he is to go on a six-month exchange to Paris, she is not in the least bit disappointed; indeed, she welcomes it. After his departure, she enjoys her own company, though occasionally sees friends. But then she starts to have twinges of loneliness, nothing too strong. When she has to go to a lawyer’s office to sort out the inheritance of her father (who left her mother twenty-three years ago), she meets the lawyer, Gregor. At first she does not take to him, but they start dating and, eventually, she gets pregnant and she moves into his flat. Gradually, she changes. She is not, as she says more than once, the woman she used to be. We follow her changes, as she moves from becoming an independent woman to a dependent wife, at the same time, emphasising the difference between men and women and, by extension, between her and Gregor. It is a fine novel about the psychology of a woman and the psychological differences between men and women.

Lisa McInerney: Glorious Heresies


The latest addition to my website is Lisa McInerney‘s Glorious Heresies. The novel is about what McInerney calls the arse end of Ireland. It is set in a grim part of Cork. All the main characters, without exception, are variously drunks, drug addicts, drug dealers, abusers, rapists, prostitutes, murderers (at least three of the main characters commit a murder in this book), arsonists (one actual and two potential in this book), petty criminals and the like. While some may have the occasional redeeming characteristic and many are clearly victims of Ireland’s economic crisis and their own grim circumstances, none of them can be said to be likeable which, of course, is McInerney’s point. The story revolves around an accidental murder – a woman kills an intruder – and how this murder involves, directly or indirectly, all of the main characters. The woman is the mother of a gangster who enlists a petty criminal, widower, father of six and drunk, to help him dispose of the body but others learn of the story and the gangster feels that this is a problem he has to deal with and he does or at least tries to. It is not a pretty story nor, for that matter, enjoyable but clearly McInerney feels this is what her country has come to. The novel has just won the the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction . Frankly, I would have given the prize to the favourite, Anne Enright‘s The Green Road, a much better novel in my opinion.

Andreas Embirikos: Ἄργώ ἤ Πλούς Αεροστάτου (Argo or Aerostat Flight)


The latest addition to my website is Andreas EmbirikosἌργώ ἤ Πλούς Αεροστάτου (Argo or Aerostat Flight). Embirikos was a Greek poet who also wrote some prose, including this story. It is set in early twentieth century Colombia and has no Greek characters in the story. Don Pedro is a rich Colombian, born in Spain, a widower and father of a teenager, Carlotta. To Don Pedro’s horror, Carlotta is interested in their neighbour, Pablo Gonzalez. As she has accepted a bunch of flowers from Pablo, he forbids her from coming to see the launch of the balloon, Argo, the next day. Don Pedro who, by his own admission, is a womaniser, something he deems acceptable for men but not for (respectable) women, such as his late wife or daughter. At the balloon launch – he is with his married mistress – the three balloonists are revealed to be an English lord, a Russian count and a French explorer. At the last minute, the Russian count, who has been eyeing a young Colombian woman, leaps out of the basket, cuts the rope and embraces the young woman. Don Pedro decides to rush back home to tell Carlotta that the balloon is to fly over their property and she can see it. However, Carlotta is having passionate sex with Pablo and the balloonists can see what Don Pedro is about to see for himself. It is a strange but interesting tale of passion, hypocrisy and ballooning though sadly not easy to obtain.

Taner Baybars: A Trap for the Burglar


The latest addition to my website is Taner BaybarsA Trap for the Burglar. Though I have two Greek-Cypriots on my website, this is the first Turkish-Cypriot, a man noted mainly for his poetry and for translating Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet. This is his only published novel, a somewhat odd novel about a couple, John and Jane, who are regularly burgled. The husband builds a complex and sophisticated trap to catch the burglar but it seems possible that the burglar may be one of the couple, not least as both have something to hide from the other. When their friend Valerie comes and asks to stay, because her husband is threatening her, things take a more complicated turn, not least because Valerie’s tale may not be entirely true either and also because John seduces her. It seems very much a novel of its time, i.e. 1965, though it is somewhat different, even if not to everyone’s taste.

Milena Busquets: También esto pasará (This Too Shall Pass)


The latest addition to my website is Milena Busquets‘s También esto pasará (This Too Shall Pass). Busquets is the daughter of well-known (in Spain but not in the English-speaking world) publisher and writer Esther Tusquets. Tusquets died in 2012. This novel is about a forty tear old woman, Blanca, whose mother has just died. Though her relationship with her mother was far from perfect, she mourns her mother and misses her. At the same time. she has something of a chaotic life. She is twice-divorced, though still having sex with her first husband (they love each other but cannot stand one another). She has a son by each husband. She is having an affair with Santi, a married man with children, who cannot divorce his wife. He is an architect and his firm has no work so he cannot afford to divorce her. She also has an eye on a dark, handsome stranger she sees at her mother’s funeral. After the funeral, she decides to go and stay at her mother’s (now her) holiday home in Cadaqués. She takes with her her two girlfriends (who both have children and both have romantic problems), the babysitter, both ex-husbands and her children. In Cadaqués are Santi and his family, the mysterious dark stranger from the funeral and other friends. Chaos is inevitable, as Blanca cannot decide who she is sleeping with, finds her life is in total chaos, cannot cope with being forty and misses and mourns her mother. It is very enjoyable, lively and colourful novel and, unusually, has already been translated into English.

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