The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Pour saluer Melville (Melville: A Novel), published in French in 1941 but only published this year in English. It was intended, initially, as an introduction to Giono’s translation of Moby Dick into French but was expanded into a short novel, with Giono inventing a fanciful story about Melville. The story, essentially, concerns Melville’s visit to London to get his novel White Jacket published. Once he has handed over the manuscript, he has two weeks to kill, so decides to set off for the (fictitious) Woodcut, near Bristol as a young man said that is what he would do do, if he had the time and money, as his girlfriend lived there. Melville decided to go there himself but, en route, he meets an Irish nationalist woman, helping the Irish during the Great Famine and the two become, briefly, quite close. It is combination of this woman and his guardian angel (yes, really) that inspires him to write Moby Dick. He returns to the the United States but never forgets her. The story is quite untrue but certainly an interesting fantasy.
The latest addition to my website is Boualem Sansal‘s 2084 la fin du monde (2084: The End Of The World). This is Sansal’s updated, Algerianised 1984. Though he refers to 1984, it is a very different book. It is essentially a satire on religious control and orthodoxy in Algeria and Saudi Arabia and similar states. The book is set at some future time (not necessarily 2084) in Abistan which, as far as most of the inhabitants know, covers the entire world. Our hero is Ati and he is trying to discover whether if what the religious authorities have led the people to believe is true. He has to undertake two long and difficult journeys to do so and we follow his adventures. Sansal is very damning of Islamic fundamentalism as found in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, etc. and tells a very good story of how Ati learns what he is not meant to learn.
The latest addition to my website is Maria Gabriela Llansol‘s Geografia de Rebeldes (Geography of Rebels trilogy). This is Llansol’s first work published in English. The first two books focus on Ana del Mercado y Peñalosa, a historical person and friend of St John of the Cross. Ana interacts with St John but also with other important characters, from European intellectual history, including, in particular, Thomas Müntzer. Her interaction is spiritual, not least as she was not a contemporary or many of these peoples. Through the use of imagery and the voices of the characters, she conveys the importance of these people in European intellectual life and history, while also conveying the role of community of women, the role of nature and a radical view of religion. It is a beautiful book, generally eschewing plot and other features of a conventional novel, which may make it challenging but very much worthwhile.
The latest addition to my website is Chico Buarque‘s Estorvo (Turbulence). Buarque is best-known as a singer and composer but he has written novels, poetry and drama. This is quite a strange one. Our unnamed narrator, originally from a rich family in Rio de Janeiro, seems to have dropped out. Awoken by a man in suit knocking at his door, he manages to escape the man and wanders around the city, visiting his rich sister (to sponge off her and to steal her jewellery), his ex-wife, also to sponge off her, and the farm where he grew up, which seems to have been partially taken over by drug-dealing squatters. He lives his life in a dream, disconnected from the real world but, despite being beaten up and trying to dispose of a case full of marijuana, seems to just about to get by.
The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Not Honour More. This is the third in Carey’s second trilogy and definitely the weakest. It follows on from the first – Prisoner of Grace – and is narrated by Jim Latter, former soldier and colonial officer, married to Nina, née Woodville, who had been married to the Liberal politician, Chester Nimmo, for a long time. Chester now Lord Nimmo is still living with Latters and Latter suspects him of having an affair with Nina. Meanwhile the 1926 General Strike is starting and Latter is called on to organise the Specials (auxiliary police force) while Nimmo sees it as a way back into politics. Of course, it all goes badly wrong for all of them. With Latter being a most unsympathetic character, volatile, jealous and full of his own self-importance, his narration does not endear him to us nor does it make for as an enjoyable book as its predecessors.
The latest addition to my website is Geoff Nicholson‘s The Miranda. I have read all of Nicholson’s novels but this one is somewhat different from the others, less quirky, less funny, less English and much darker. Joe Johnson, our narrator, is a retired torturer. He is engaged by a shadowy, presumably US government organisation (the novel is set entirely in the US) to torture those people that are going to serve abroad and risk being captured and tortured, in order to desensitise them. He has now retired, his marriage ended, and moves to a rural area where he plans to walk 25,000 miles around his garden, the equivalent of walking the circumference of the Earth. However, one of his torture victims has gone rogue, he has nasty and violent neighbours behind him and a woman artist wants to make him an art work. However, he also has Miranda, a woman who does his shopping for him and uses him as a guinea pig to create the next great cocktail, to be called The Miranda. All of this and more comes together in a quasi-apocalyptic, Nicholsonian finale. It is a clever story with several twists but very dark, with too much torture and brutality for my taste.
The latest addition to my website is Ece Temelkuran‘s Düğümlere Üfleyen Kadınlar (Women Who Blow on Knots). This is a superb feminist novel about four women – the unnamed Turkish narrator, a Tunisian dancer and hacker, an Egyptian academic and a somewhat mysterious older woman who is Amazigh – who start off in Tunisia in the Arab Spring and then set out on an overland journey to Syria, via Libya (with anti-Gaddafi guerrillas), Alexandria and Beirut. The older Amazigh woman wants to kill an ex-lover, the Egyptian and Tunisian women gradually reveal secrets of their past and all four show that a revolution is not a revolution unless women play a major role in it and women’s issues are to the fore. It is a brilliant adventure story but also a novel raising key topics of great importance to our current world.
The latest addition to my website is Jean Giono‘s Jean Giono: Le Moulin de Pologne (The Malediction). This is not the joyous Giono novel of his early years but, as the English title tells us, a novel about a curse. The Coste family lived in the Moulin de Pologne (Poland Mill), an estate rather than simply a mill. Mr Coste had lost his wife and two sons suddenly and unexpectedly and is determined his surviving daughters will marry men without any family history of disease or disaster. The matchmaker finds two brothers who meet his needs but the curse is still there and it strikes his daughters and their families and subsequent generations, till we get to the last survivor, Julie, a contemporary of the narrator. She seems somewhat unstable so everyone is surprised when she marries the rather gruff new owner of the Moulin de Pologne. They have a son and everything seems to be going well for the family but the curse of the Costes is still there. It is not a bad book but definitely grim and not, in my view, as good as his early work.
The latest addition to my website is Nicola Pugliese‘s Malacqua (Malacqua). It tells a story of Naples over four days when it rains continually and heavily. While this could have been a straightforward catastrophe novel, Pugleise’s superb writing gives it an aura of a religious apocalypse, with cars disappearing into a chasm, a haunting screeching noise which turns out to be coming from a doll, with other identical dolls found at other catastrophe locations, and a house collapsing, killing the inhabitants. All the while we follow a journalist, a passive observer, as much concerned with his own issues as with the rain, we also follow a succession of other characters, all of whom seem to be living in a strange world of their own. It is a brilliant and very original novel, Pugliese’s only novel, and we must be grateful to And Other Stories that it now appears in English. Already – yes, early November – in the Spectator’s Best Books of the Year, Anna Aslanyan describes it as this year’s strangest and most seductive book. I can only agree with her.
The latest addition to my website is Angus Robertson‘s An t-Ogha Mór: No, Am Fear-Sgeòil air Uilinn (The Ogha Mor). This was the the second Scots Gaelic novel written and the first to be translated into English. It isn’t a very good novel, written in a stilted, forced archaic style and starts off plot lines and then abandons them. Its basic theme is the clash between the clans, particularly following the Jacobite of Rising of 1715 and leading to the 1745 Rising. We follow the stories of a few individuals involved in the fight for or against the Stuart cause and see the evil and treacherous plotting of the anti-Stuarts (including the then Prince of Wales) and the brave and honest actions of the pro-Stuarts. It is an interesting read but it is easy to see why the English translation is long since out of print and difficult to obtain, though the Gaelic version is still available.