The latest addition to my website is Ian McEwan‘s Machines Like Me. As the title implies, this is about robots. Set in an alternative 1982 where Thatcher has lost the Falklands War and Alan Turing did not kill himself but invented the Internet, it tells the story of Charlie Friend who, with an inheritance, bought one of a batch of twenty-five robots, called, imaginatively, Adam. (The females, which sold out at once, are called Eve). We follow Charlie’s relationship with Adam, not as simple as he thought it was going to be, and with Miranda, the woman who lives upstairs. Throw in Miranda’s past (revealed to Charlie by Adam) and ab abused child whom Miranda would like to adopt and we have a complicated plot. However, the main issue is, are robots sentient beings, should we treat them as such and can they learn what we have learned – the good, the bad and the ugly – and adapt accordingly? This is McEwan’s best book for a whole and well worth reading both for the story and the issues it raises.
The latest addition to my website is Padraic Colum‘s The Flying Swans. Colum is better-known as a poet, playwright and recounter of Irish folk tales so this book – one of the two adult novels – he wrote – is relatively unknown, which is a pity, as it is a very fine story. It tells of the O’Rehill family, formerly Irish gentry but pushed out somewhat by their English colonial masters, but now – late nineteenth century – trying to get back. We follow, in particular, two members, father and son Robert and Ulick. Both father and son seem adrift, unsure of where they are going and what to do. Robert manages to alienate several of his family. He twice abandons his wife and children and shows a general lack of responsibility. Ulick struggles to help his abandoned mother and bring up his younger brother but he, too, cannot find his place and loses his way more than once. Colum tells a superb story, augmented with a large cast of colourful Irish characters.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Spring. This is another superb novel from Smith in her four-seasons tetralogy. The key theme in this book is the harsh treatment meted out to refugees in the UK but there is much, more more to the novel. We follow two stories. Richard Lease is a TV director. He has not worked for a while and is asked to direct a sexed-up version of a novel which tells of Katherine Mansfield and Rainer Maria Rilke who apparently stayed in the same remote Swiss hotel at around the same time in 1922 but probably never met. Meanwhile his great friend and normal scriptwriter, Paddy Neal is dying and does die. He can take no more and heads off to Scotland, getting off at Kingussie. Also heading for Kingussie are Britt and Florence. Britt works for a security company in an Immigration Removal Centre, while Florence is a strange twelve-year old girl, who managed to get changes made at the Centre and has an unusual effect on most people she meets. Smith raises many themes, from grief to clouds, from women artists to Brexit, from dumbing down to the UK government austerity programme, all leading to another first-class work.
The latest addition to my website is Dritëro Agolli‘s Komisari Memo (The Bronze Bust). It is nice to know that Ismail Kadare is not the only Albanian novelist translated into English. While this book is not of the same calibre as Kadare, it is still a well-told tale, about Albanian partisans in World War II, fighting the Germans and Albanian nationalists (in cahoots with the Germans). The main focus is on the eponymous (in the Albanian title) Commissar Memo, a communist hero. We know he has died from the beginning, as a group of people are hauling a bronze bust of him up a hill. We follow his career as he tries to change the political views of the locals, antagonises the nationalists, gets shot in the leg (badly), hides out in a town occupied by the Germans and then joins a partisan group fighting the Germans and nationalists. He is certainly the standard communist hero, though not without faults. Not a great work but a good read.
The latest addition to my website is Paolo Maurensig‘s Il diavolo nel cassetto (A Devil Comes to Town). This is a tongue-in-cheek fable about a remote Swiss village, where everyone is a would-be writer but all have their manuscripts rejected. When a young woman, considered simple-minded by the other villagers, wins a literary prize, word spreads and the Devil, in the form of a publishers, arrived in the village to help the villagers publish their work. The curate of the village, who is telling the story, engages the Devil in a life-and-death struggle. With foxes as the avatars of the Devil, the publisher as the Devil and amateur writers as tools of the Devil, Maurensig is clearly having fun with this work.
The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Golden Spur. This is another very witty novel from Powell – her final novel – set, of course in New York (in 1955), centred around a watering hole (the eponymous Golden Spur) and about a naive young man – Jonathan Jaimison – from the provinces (Ohio). His mother (now dead) had spent some time in New York more than twenty-five years ago, as a typist for various writers, and he has just learned from his aunt, his mother’s sister, that his mother returned from New York to marry Jonathan’s father, already pregnant. Jonathan’s mission in New York is to try and find his biological father. He soon has several candidates, based both on his mother’s friends but also his own preferences for a father. We follow his time in New York, his search for a father and his effect, invariably positive, on the various people he meets.
The latest addition to my website is Pola Oloixarac‘s Las constelaciones oscuras (Dark Constellations). This novel tells the story of stunning scientific discoveries and inventions, in the field of botany, genetics and information technology, from 1882 to some time in the not too distant future. In all cases, the discoveries/inventions lead to a new way of looking at the world. In the present/near future, we follow Cassio, a top hacker who is involved in a project which allows governments in Latin America to track all individuals purely on the basis of their genetic imprint, a dangerous invention which Cassio finally realises. Oloixarac enthuses about these technological and scientific changes that she describe, while being less ready to point their harmful effects. Despite that, this really is an original and innovative novel.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La cena (Dinner). This is Aira’s zombie novel. The narrator, a sixty-year old, never married bankrupt man, living with his mother on her pension, and the mother go to dinner with a friend. The mother and friend gossip about the people in the town, past and present, and then the friend shows them various curiosities he has in his house, of which the mother does not approve. That evening, while the narrator is channel surfing, zombies rise en masse from the cemetery and attack the town, sucking the endorphins from the brains of the inhabitants. They kill many and badly damage the town but a solution is found, connected with the events of the dinner that evening. It is not quite your standard zombie novel, primarily because of the way the zombies are controlled, but it is certainly one of Aira’s most unusual works.
The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Rue profonde [The Deep Street]. This is strange, short novel about an unnamed poet, living in a garret in Paris, who is writing a short poem, something he will continue to do throughout the book. He struggles with this poem, influenced by various images (the shadow of his building on the opposite one, a horse struggling with a cart). However, his poet friend tells him to get out, stroll around and see life, which he does and, inevitably, he meets a woman. Though the relationship is short and not particularly sweet, it does change his life. Sadly, the book has not been translated into English, only into Spanish.
The latest addition to my website is Mario Benedetti‘s Primavera con una esquina rota (Springtime in a Broken Mirror). This is only the second of Benedetti’s novels to appear in English. Another one will appear in June 2019. This one is set in the 1970s when the military have taken over power in Uruguay and there is considerable repression, with many Uruguayans going into exile. We follow the stories of five people: Santiago who is in a jail in Montevideo, his wife Graciela, his daughter Beatriz and his father Rafael, who are all in exile in Buenos Aires, and Benedetti himself, who was an exile during this period. Santiago has four more years to serve in prison but is eager to see his wife and daughter again. However, Graciela is having an affair with Rolando, Santiago’s best friend. Benedetti tells an excellent story of how involuntary exile affects these various people and how it changes them.