Paul Gadenne: Siloé [Siloam]

The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Siloé [Siloam]. This is a very long autobiographical novel, Gadenne’s first, based on his stay in a tuberculosis asylum in the French Alps. Unlike Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), Gadenne does use TB as symbol of the human condition but uses the isolation of Simon Delambre, the hero, to show how much a man can change in such conditions. He is influenced my many things in his change: the beauties of nature, friendship with ordinary people, some manual labour (sewing), absence from the urban hurly-burly and routine and, above all, love. He meets and falls in love with a woman patient, Ariane (French for Ariadne) and they plan a future together. At the end of the book, Simon is clearly a changed man and definitely not a Hans Castorp as in Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). Sadly, none of Gadenne’s work has been translated into English.

Edward Upward: In the Thirties

The latest addition to my website is Edward Upward‘s In the Thirties, the first book in his The Spiral Ascent trilogy, his best-known work. We follow the story of Alan Sebrill, in the 1930s. Sebrill, like Upward on whom he is clearly based, is a committed Communist. At the beginning of the book, he is determined to write poetry but struggles with it, feeling that it is perhaps not committed enough. After something of an epiphany, he realises he must commit himself more to the political struggle. He returns to London, where he gets a job as a teacher (a job he does not particularly relish) and joins the Communist Party. We follow the struggles of the Party, both with the problems of the Depression and, in the latter part of the book, the rise of Fascism, including the activities of the Fascists in England. Their views (almost uncritical support of the Soviet Union and Stalin) seem very naive. However, following Alan’s political (and romantic) development make the book an enjoyable read.

Jonathan Coe: Middle England

The latest addition to my website is Jonathan Coe‘s Middle England. This is his best novel since his superb political satire What a Carve Up! (US: The Winshaw Legacy). It continues the stories of Benjamin Trotter, his family and friends, from The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle, while giving us another brilliant political satire, this time aimed at recent events (2010 onwards), with particular reference to Brexit. Coe skilfully mixes in the political environment, his political satire and the story of several characters from those earlier novels. He does not hide his views – Fuck Brexit! as Benjamin Trotter says – but does show the other side to a certain degree and shows how the generation gap, the class gap and the Brexit gap are alive and well in no longer moderate England.

Musings on the Nobel Prize for Literature

Maryse’s Condé Ségou
Now that the day when the Nobel Prize for Literature might have been announced is well past and not only did we not get it this year, we may not get it next year, and now that we have had the Murakami-less, heavily Scandinavian weighted Alternative Nobel literature prize, interestingly and deservedly won by the non-Scandinavian Maryse Condé, an author I have long admired, is it time to look ahead again?

Lee por Gusto has suggested a list of possible Latin American and Spanish winners. Many of these are poets, whom I have never heard of and never read and, unless you read Spanish, you probably will not have heard of either. However, there are a few interesting and, indeed, likely suggestions, including the Spanish novelists Javier Cercas, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Juan Marsé, Javier Marías and Enrique Vila-Matas

César Aira’s latest

When the issue of giving the Nobel Prize to a woman came up on Twitter, I proposed, only slightly tongue in cheek, six women, all Mexican: Carmen Boullosa, Rosario Castellanos, Elena Garro, Margo Glantz, Elena Poniatowska and Cristina Rivera-Garza. Three make the list. I would be happy to see any of these win, though were I to pick my ideal winner, it would be César Aira, who is not a woman, not Mexican and who does not make the list.

The current issue of Le Nouveau Magazine Littéraire has a section on the Nobel Prize, with various critics giving their choices. We start with Éric Fottorino who states If there are no more rules and we can speak to the dead as if they were alive, I shall choose Philip Roth To which I would respond If there are no more rules and we can speak to the dead as if they were alive, I shall choose William Shakespeare, a far superior writer to Roth I think everyone would agree. There are rules. Roth is dead and would not, in my view, even have been close, even if he were still alive.

Murakami’s latest

There are some more sensible suggestions. Amélie Nothomb goes for what might be considered the obvious choice: Haruki Murakami. Obvious maybe, but still a sound choice. The two French writers proposed are Annie Ernaux and Jean Echenoz. Other proposals include Ludmila Ulitskaya, proposed by Geneviève Brisac, Milan Kundera, whose time has surely gone, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a bit too soon, I think, Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferrière, an interesting choice, Ismail Kadare, a choice I would agree with, Joyce Carol Oates, certainly a worthy choice, and Russell Banks, a decidedly odd choice. Richard Malka concludes by nominating The One We Do Not Name, a writer who does not exist but who has opposed authority, been in prison and writes in different genres. If he existed, says Malka, he would deserve it.

There are certainly some interesting choices there for the Nobel Prize Committee, be it the Swedish Academy or someone else, and for amateur critics like me. As I said, I would choose César Aira and I would think Murakami would be the favourite. And yes, I have noticed that there are no Africans on this list, so I will mention Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Alain Mabanckou as two other contenders.

Niviaq Korneliussen: Homo sapienne (UK: Crimson; US: Last Night in Nuuk)

The latest addition to my website is Niviaq Korneliussen‘s Homo sapienne (UK: Crimson; US: Last Night in Nuuk). The UK and US editions have different titles, with the UK title coming from one of the character’s favourite songs. In addition the UK title was published 1 November 2018 while the US edition is not published till 15 January 2019. The success of this book – it has already been published in several other languages – is simply because it is set in Greenland, written by a Greenland author and yet is about bisexuality, gender identification, excessive consumption of alcohol, casual sex and continual partying, topics we would not normally associate with Greenland. We follow five characters who struggle with their sexuality, their partners, their gender identification (in one case) and where the next party is to be held. It is certainly lively and colourful and gives us a different view of Greenland from the other Greenland novel on my website (written exactly a hundred years previously) but it is not great literature.