Soledad Puértolas: Burdeos (Bordeaux)

The latest addition to my website is Soledad PuértolasBurdeos (Bordeaux). The novel tells three stories, with several of the characters appearing in two or all three stories. The first two are set in Bordeaux, with the third set in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The characters are nearly all all well-to-do bourgeoisie. The main theme of the stories is that marriage/close relationships are not a good thing, particularly for women, with the men being controlling, patronising or simply taking their wives for granted. Despite this, the solitary life, which several of the characters lead, is not really a good thing either. In the third story, Elizabeth Parker gives some advice, namely marry anyone as long as they love you. Perhaps this is the message Puértolas wishes to share.

César Aira: El volante [The Flyer]

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El volante [The Flyer]. This is another novel from Aira which starts in a fairly straightforward manner and then veers off, concluding with something of an apocalyptic ending.

Norma Traversini is a teacher of dramatic arts, who is writing a flyer to be distributed around the neighbourhood (in Buenos Aires) offering her services to teach her neighbours how to be more sincere in their daily dealings with lovers, bosses and children. Unfortunately, she gets carried away in explanations and, even when she starts again, does not seem to be able to do anything but waffle. She then changes tack and starts summarising a novel she has recently read, the name of whose main character, Lady Barbie Windson (sic) is the name she has chosen for her studio. Lady Barbie is being educated in Kent while her parents are in India. When her mother suddenly dies, she, aged twenty, is summoned to India to be her father’s hostess. She gets caught up in a wild adventure, involving Catholic vs Protestants battles, kidnappings, crocodiles, polo ponys, Indian mystics, teleportation, silk worms, the ruined city of Kali, resurrection from the dead and a strange character called The Mask. It is all great fun but does not help Norma with her flyer.

Irina Odoevtseva: Изольда (Isolde)

The latest addition to my website is Irina Odoevtseva:‘s Изольда (Isolde). This book was first published in 1929 and was condemned by Odoevtseva’s fellow Russian émigré writers, including Nabokov, as it dealt with teenage sex and nihilism and was therefore clearly immoral. It tells the story of a Russian émigré family in Biarritz in the 1920s. They are irresponsible mother Natasha, more concerned with her love life than her children (her husband was killed in the Revolution) and her two teenage children, Liza and Nikolai. Liza meets a young Englishman, Cromwell, who christens her Isolde before he knows her name and falls in love with her. When they are joined by Liza’s nominal boyfriend, Andrei, and Natasha disappears in pursuit of her boyfriend, things get very much out of hand. It was published the same year as Jean Cocteau‘s Les Enfants terribles (Children of the Game (UK); The Holy Terrors (US); Les enfants terribles), to which it bears some resemblance.

Sara Stridsberg: Drömfakulteten (UK: Faculty of Dreams; US: Valerie)

The latest addition to my website is Sara Stridsberg‘s Drömfakulteten (UK: Faculty of Dreams; US: Valerie) . The US title – Valerie – gives a much better idea of the subject than the UK one (a literal translation of the Swedish original), as the novel is about Valerie Solanas, who is known for two things: the SCUM manifesto (SCUM stand for the Society for Cutting Up Men) and for shooting (but not killing) Andy Warhol. In her introduction, Stridsberg says All characters in the novel should therefore be regarded as fictional, including Valerie Solanas herself.. While Solanas is real, many of the other characters are not and much of what we are told about Solanas is imaginary. We follow her early life, her sexual abuse by her father, her successful college career and then Scum and Warhol, leading to a mental hospital, followed by prostitution and, finally, death in a seedy San Francisco hotel. We do not learn why she shot Warhol, but we do learn about a woman who could have been a success but who ended up dying a miserable death. Stridsberg gives us a superb, feminist novel about the underbelly of fame and success in the US.

Paul Gadenne: Les Hauts-Quartiers [The Upper Districts]

The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Les Hauts-Quartiers [The Upper Districts]. This novel was published seventeen years after Gadenne’s death and has not been translated into any other language. It is long (800 pages) and rambling. It tells the story of Didier Aubert, a young man clearly based on the author. We start with Dunkirk, as Didier and his mother flee the advancing Germans and escape to South-West France. Like Gadenne, Didier suffers from tuberculosis and like Gadenne is an ascetic intellectual. Didier struggles with finding suitable accommodation, struggles in his relationships and struggles with the bourgeoisie (whom Gadenne continually mocks), those who live in the Hauts-Quartiers, the posh part of town. He really wants peace and quiet for his studies but that is just not possible, as life gets in the way. It is considered by many critics to be a classic of twentieth-century French literature but perhaps needed a good editor.

Mircea Cărtărescu: Orbitor Vol 1, Aripa stângă (Blinding – The Left Wing)

The latest addition to my website is Mircea Cărtărescu‘s Orbitor Vol 1, Aripa stângă (Blinding – The Left Wing), the first book in a trilogy (and the only one of the three translated into English). This is an intensely visionary book, far more intense than any other book you are likely to read, Dante included. The basic outline is a mixture of Cărtărescu telling his own story – the main character is a writer called Mircea – as well as the story of his family, including his ancestors, his attempts at writing and his view of Bucharest where he has always lived, both with his family and in his own as an adult. However, the main feature of the book is undoubtedly Mircea’s dreams, visions and images of his life, of the city and, in this book, of his hospital stay for facial palsy, which creates a work which has deservedly become a classic of modern European literature.

Yuz Aleshkovsky: Николай Николаевич (Nikolai Nikolaevich)/Маскировка (Camouflage)

The latest addition to my website is Yuz Aleshkovsky‘s Николай Николаевич (Nikolai Nikolaevich) and Маскировка (Camouflage), published in the same volume in both Russian and English. Both are distinguished by vicious anti-Soviet satire and the extensive use of obscenities. Николай Николаевич (Nikolai Nikolaevich) is about the eponymous hero, a former prisoner, who finds work first as a laboratory assistant and then as the laboratory guinea pig, which requires him to masturbate every day, with his semen to be used to create a new race of humans to be sent into space. Unfortunately the laboratory gets caught up in the Lysenkoism issue and is closed down.

Маскировка (Camouflage) is about a fictitious town where nuclear arms are secretly made. The activity has to be disguised so camouflagers are used to pretend to be normal Soviet citizens, which is what the US spy satellites will see. Being a normal Soviet citizen means being permanently drunk and Fyodor Milashkin, our hero, does that very well, till he and the other members of his brigade are found by the police one morning having being anally raped. While mocking the Soviet drink culture, Aleshkovsky goes on to eavesdrop on a meeting of the Politburo Brezhnev, Kosygin and Co – and mercilessly mocks them. Both books are very funny, very obscene and very anti-Soviet,

Shi Tiesheng: 我的丁一之旅 (My Travels in Ding Yi)

The latest addition to my website is Shi Tiesheng‘s 我的丁一之旅 (My Travels in Ding Yi). This was Shi Tiesheng’s final book and he packed a lot into it. The story is told by a spirit who inhabits the bodies of humans. He first started with Adam in the Garden of Eden and still loves Eve, for whom he is always on the look-out. However, he now spends most of his time in a Chinese boy (later man), Ding Yi, though he also flits in and out of or author, Shi Tiesheng, with whom he does not always agree. Ding Yi, as an adult, is very much into sex, something the spirit does not comprehend, except as a means of reproduction, though he does understand love. Not having a body himself, he does not understand humans’ greed for food either. Indeed, considering how long he has been inhabiting humans, he seems remarkably ignorant of their behaviour and foibles. Much of the book concerns the issue of sex and love. Ding Yi and others are influenced by the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Indeed, Ding Yi writes a play based on it. While this is certainly an interesting tale, I found it dragged a bit but you will certainly learn about how a non-human feels about sex and love.

Virginia Woolf – Monk’s House

While we had visited nearby Charleston, home of the Bloomsbury set a couple of times, we had never visited nearby (six miles distance) Monk’s House. till now Virginia and Leonard Woolf bought the simple cottage in 1919. They had been married seven years. Virginia wrote four of her best-known books there: Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando and The Waves.

Virginia found it a place of calm: how happy I am how calm, for the moment how sweet life is with L here, in its regularity and order, and the garden and the room at night and music and my walks and writing easily and interestedly.

A Room of Her Own

The house had many disadvantages. It was small, it was damp, it flooded, it had no indoor plumbing and no electricity. However, it had a wild but large garden and splendid views over the South Downs. Gradually, with the royalties from their books, they did the house up. Mrs. Dalloway, for example, paid for an indoors toilet. They built an extension. and a lodge – Virginia’s Room of Her Own (see photo above right. It is now behind glass, hence the not very good photo).

The house was reputedly very messy, with books everywhere. (The books have since been removed but replaced. by National Trust books, i.e. old-looking books bought in bulk. I was struck by the four volume set of the Intimate Memoirs of Colonel House – House was Woodrow Wilson’s adviser – presumably acquired because no-one in the National Trust had any idea of who Colonel House was). A few have been judiciously placed on the stairs but, as you cannot go upstairs (the building is permanently occupied by a National Trust person for security reasons) it is relatively safe.

The pictures at top left and immediately left show that there were some works of art there. (The house is very small so it is difficult to take photos). Some were by the Bloomsbury set from nearby Charleston, particularly, Virginia’s sister and Vanessa’s lover Duncan Grant.

Virginia committed suicide in the nearby River Ouse. After her death, Leonard lived there for twenty-eight years, till his death. Much of the time he was with his lover, the artist Trekkie Parsons. Like many women artists, she has faded into obscurity, except for her relationship with Leonard. Some of her paintings are in the house, while many others have disappeared. Work is now taking place to track them down.

Andrej Nikolaidis: The Olcinium Trilogy

The latest addition to my website is Andrej NikolaidisThe Olcinium Trilogy ((Sin (The Son), Dolazak (The Coming), Devet (Till Kingdom Come)). This is a superb trilogy of novels, related but separate, about life in contemporary Montenegro. We follow three separate stories each one fairly grim, exposing the underbelly of post-Yugoslavia Montenegro, with a host of issues, ranging from massive conspiracies, corruption, spatio-temporal lapses, climate change and a general collapse into drug and alcohol abuse.They are mainly set in and around Ulcinj, where Nikolaidis lives, and they often delve into Ulcinj’s somewhat murky history. Nikolaidis tells his stories very well holding nothing back and, while, to quote the Independent newspaper reviewer, they may not be as cheerful as Samuel Beckett, they are certainly first-class novels,