Month: August 2019

Olga Tokarczuk: Bieguni (Flights)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Bieguni (Flights). The Polish title refers to a sect of Old Believers who believed that they should run away from anti-Christian authorities. However, though this issue briefly comes up later in the book, the novel is essentially a series of chapters of varying lengths, primarily on the theme of travel or, at least, of elsewhere, telling stories, historical anecdotes, experiences of travel, travel philosophy and her obsession with biological and anatomical oddities. She tells us some wonderful stories, introduces to the idea of plastination (a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts) and tells us her philosophy of travel – It Doesn’t Matter Where I Am, it makes no difference. I’m here. It is not a conventional novel but if you have ever travelled or wanted to travel, you will find it a joy to read.

Peter Adolphsen: Machine (Machine)

The latest addition to my website is Peter Adolphsen‘s Machine (Machine). This is another short but very inventive novel from Adolphsen. We follow the life of an oil molecule, from its creation some fifty-five million years ago (from the heart of a Eohippus) and how it either directly affects various various people or how things happen to them when it is being transported or used. There are two main characters – Jimmy Nash, originally from Azerbaijan, who extracts the oil from the ground, and Clarissa Sanders who puts the molecule in her car in the form of petrol. Their lives and the molecule interact in surprising ways. It is very clever, very inventive, very informative and a joy to read.

Sergio Chejfec: Los incompletos (The Incompletes)

The latest addition to my website is Sergio Chejfec‘s Los incompletos (The Incompletes). This is a decidedly strange novel. The unnamed narrator tells of his friend Felix, who has decided to leave Argentina and travel the world. Much of the book takes place in Moscow, where Felix stays in a hotel well away from the centre, with the building seemingly having a life of its own. The book is about his relationship with Masha, daughter of the owner and receptionist, though they essentially have no relationship, except watching one another. Felix does not leave the hotel till later in the book, when he discovers a huge, mysterious crater. Meanwhile the narrator (Chefjec himself?) muses on the whys and wherefores of Felix, Masha and their non-relationship, which may (or may not) help each of them make the other more complete.

Mircea Cărtărescu: Orbitor Vol 3, Aripa dreaptă [Blinding – The Right Wing]

The latest addition to my website is Mircea Cărtărescu‘s Orbitor Vol 3, Aripa dreaptă [Blinding – The Right Wing]. This is the third book in his Orbitor (Blinding) trilogy. This one has many of the themes of the first two books – Mircea’s life, from childhood to adulthood, Romanian politics and stunning and highly imaginative visions of Bucharest, of butterflies and his own life but it also focusses on the 1969 Romanian Revolution which saw the overthrow and execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena. Mircea does not take much part in it, though he seems to participate in one or two of the demonstrations, but he certainly witnesses and comments on it. However, what makes this book is Cărtărescu’s wonderful vision as we see Bucharest and the people (and insects!) in it not just as they are but through the author’s colourful imagination, often surrealistic, sometimes horrific but always stunningly creative.

Olga Tokarczuk: Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night). The novel is set in the Polish town of Nowa Ruda, south-west Poland (Tokarczuk lives in a nearby village). It used to be in Germany but became Polish after the war. It is on the Czech border. The female narrator tells stories of herself, her neighbours, the other inhabitants and people who visit the town, including the German occupiers in the war. We go back to the local saint Wilgefortis aka Kümmernis, who had a woman’s body but the face of Christ (with beard) and the two world wars and up to around 1980. Most of the inhabitants are somewhat eccentric. However, we are not spared the horrors of wars and multiple deaths. All the stories are highly imaginative and original, with mystery and otherworldliness hanging over them. It is another first-class work from Tokarczuk.

Eduardo Mendoza: El laberinto de las aceitunas (Olive Labyrinth)

The latest addition to my site is Eduardo Mendoza‘s El laberinto de las aceitunas (Olive Labyrinth). This is a follow-up to his El misterio de la cripta embrujada (Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt), once again featuring a detective called GoneWithTheWind, who is, in fact, confined to a mental hospital. Once again, he is removed from the hospital by Police Inspector Flores, this time by force, with a view to acting as bagman in handing over the ransom money to a gang who have apparently kidnapped a senior official. Inevitably, he is caught up in a complicated plot, with all sorts of wicked deeds and, inevitably, it all goes terribly wrong for him, even though he once again finds an attractive young woman to aid him. It is very funny, with Mendoza mocking Spanish officialdom and the plot is very tortuous

Olga Tokarczuk: Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times)

The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times). This is the second of Tokarczuk’s novels published in English. It tells the story of a quasi-mythological village in Poland called Primeval. The village has fairly precise geographical coordinates but does not exist in real life. We follow the Niebieski family and their relatives from 1914 to approximately 1980. In some cases we get realistic accounts, e.g. of the two world wars and their effect on the village, and in other cases, Tokarczuk uses fantasy or magic realism to show other aspects of the village, in the way that Gabriel García Márquez does in Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude). The whole story mirrors the suffering that Poland has experienced during the period, from the two world wars to Communism and its corruptions. It is a superb introduction to Tokarczuk’s work.

Patrick Modiano: Villa Triste (Villa Triste)

The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Villa Triste (Villa Triste). Set primarily in 1960, in a town near the Franco-Swiss border which seems to be Annecy, it follows the story of an eighteen-year old man who might be called Victor Chmara (but might not) who has fled Paris, possibly to escape the Algerian War. He seems to have no employment and does very little during the book. He meets Yvonne Jacquet, a would-be film star, and they get together under the watchful eyes of a mysterious doctor, René Meinthe. Nobody is who they seem and everyone seems to have something to hide and little is revealed, even when Victor returns twelve-thirteen years later.

Lucy Ellmann: Ducks, Newburyport

The latest addition to my website is Lucy Ellmann‘s Ducks, Newburyport. This is a very long (1020 pages), post-modern novel. Much of it consists of a single sentence, detailing the thoughts of a middle-aged woman from small town Ohio. She ranges over all the obvious topics – her life and her family (four children, one current and one ex-husband), but also current events, including Trump, guns, pollution and many other current topics. She gives us lists, word associations in their thousands, lots of comments about her life and life in Ohio and the US and her concerns about where her life is going and not going. At the same time, we follow a separate, more poignant story, told in a more conventional way, i.e. with sentences, about a mountain lioness, raising her cubs and struggling with humans, the bane of her life. It is very well told and a joy to read, as Ellmann is such a superb writer.

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