Month: March 2022 Page 1 of 2

Pat Gray: The Redemption Cut

The latest addition to my website is Pat Gray‘s The Redemption Cut. In one respect this is your standard detective story – maverick cop ignores his bosses, the rules and “modern policing techniques” to solve the crime. However, it is set in Belfast in 1976 during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the cop, McCann, has to deal with strong partisan feeling not only from the criminals but also from the police and other officials. The vast majority of the characters, police, criminals and others, are Protestant and therefore determined that Ulster remain a part of the United Kingdom and will do what it takes to ensure that happens. This makes the investigation (into a brutal murder) more difficult, not helped by the fact that it is all too easy for the police and criminals to blame the IRA for every misdeed. Gray tells his story well and shows up the horrors of that era in Ulster.

Volodymyr Rafeyenko: Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love)

The latest addition to my website is Volodymyr Rafeyenko‘s Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love. Both Rafayenko and his hero Haba Habinsky moved away from the Donbas region when fighting broke out in 2013/14 and came to Kyiv. Haba seemingly has no friends or relatives in Kyiv and though he has a Ph.D and was a university lecturer, he ends up working in a supermarket. However, though there is an element of realism in this book, it uses post-modernism/fantasy/absurdism in many parts of the book. Haba, for example is pursued by aMare’s head, a traditional Ukrainian mythical creature and spends much of his time dipping in and out of the real world and the fantasy/post-modernist world. His love life, his meeting with his boss’s niece who may be his boss’s nephew and numerous literary, fantasy, mythical references appear. Language is also key. And is it all a dream? Like most people from Donbas, both Rafayenko and Haba have Russian as their first language. This is Rafayenko’s first book in Ukrainian (previous ones were in Russian) and Haba learns Ukrainian and makes good progress and discusses the language issue throughout the book. This is certainly an original book but one well worth reading.

Andrey Kurkov: Серые пчелы (Grey Bees)

The latest addition to my website is Andrey Kurkov‘s Серые пчелы (Grey Bees). This a superb novel from Kurkov about a beekeeper, Sergeyich, who lives in a small village in the grey zone on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Post-2014, after the Russian occupation of Crimea, most people have moved away and there are only two people left in this village. Sergeyich decides his bees need warmth and quiet, away from the frequent shelling, so he takes them on a journey and we follow his adventures, particularly his journey to meet a fellow beekeeper in Crimea, a Crimean Tatar. Sergeyich is fairly easygoing but clashes somewhat with the Russian authorities in now occupied Crimea. This is a first-class novel showing the Ukrainian-Russian border area prior to the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Xue Yiwei: 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I)

The latest addition to my website is Xue Yiwei‘s 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I). Our unnamed narrator is from China. He, his wife and daughter had migrated from China to Montreal, nominally to get a better education for the daughter. It had not worked out. The marriage was not happy and the wife could not get a decent job They ended up owning a convenience store. At the beginning of the novel, the wife had died of pancreatic cancer and the daughter wanted nothing to do with him. Neither he nor we know why. He takes up skating where he meets (separately) the two eponymous women. Celia is the older and a local. She is divorced. Misoka is in a wheelchair and is a French-speaking South-east Asian immigrant. Both women are fairly private but do soften during the book. Both women seem to have a keen interest in China. The book recounts their three-way relationship over the one winter period and how all three are affected by it. Xue Yiwei tells an excellent story about immigration, loneliness, failed relationships and how meeting random strangers can perhaps change you.

Javier Cercas: Terra Alta (Even the Darkest Night)

The latest addition to my website is Javier CercasTerra Alta (Even the Darkest Night). Cercas has now turned to crime novels – two more in this series have been published in Spanish. We are following a Spanish police officer – Melchor Marín – who had been a drug dealer for which he was sent to prison. When his mother, a prostitute, is brutally murdered and he reads Les Misérables in prison, he sees the light and, with help from his lawyer, is able to conceal his background and become a police officer. When he shoots four Islamic terrorists, it is decided to move him to a remote region – Terra Alta, where nothing happens. When something does happen – the richest man in the area and his wife are tortured and killed – he is on the case, and continues when his superiors have closed the case. Inevitably, things are not as they seem and, also inevitably, the Spanish Civil War creeps in. However, it is the colourful Melchor Marín that makes this book interesting.

Fernanda Melchor: Paradais (Paradais)

The latest addition to my website is Fernanda Melchor‘s Paradais (Paradais). The novel is set in an exclusive gated community in Mexico. The sixteen-year old Polo has dropped out of school but his mother has forced him to take a job at Paradais, where he has to clean up, garden and keep the place tidy, a job he hates almost as much as he hates his controlling mother and his pregnant cousin who lives with them. His only friend is Franco, whom he nicknames Fatboy, grandson of Paradais residents, who has also dropped out and provides cigarettes and alcohol. Fatboy lusts after one of the residents, Marian Marono, wife of a TV star, while Polo cannot wait to get away, for which he needs money. Both can be obtained from the Maronos home and Fatboy knows how to get in. Violence, crime, drugs, alcohol consumption and the huge disparity between rich and poor are all themes of this book, where no-one seem content and poverty and wealth clash.

Ellis Sharp: Alice in Venice

The latest addition to my website is Ellis Sharp‘s Alice in Venice. Alice Short is on holiday in Venice to visit the varioius sites where the film Don’t Look Now was filmed. She meets – maybe -a Frenchman called Alain who may be drug dealer, an assassin or an academic specialising in Henry Fielding or may not actually exist. She visits the sites and we learn about the film, what happened to the cast and the director and how, in some cases, the sites have changed. They chat about books set in Venice and famous visitors to Venice and various other, often cryptic, matters. As is normal with Sharp, things are not always clear but the book certainly joins the list of fascinating books set in Venice.

Robert Irwin: The Limits of Vision

The latest addition to my website is Robert Irwin‘s The Limits of Vision. Marcia is an English housewife seemingly obsessed with cleanliness. When her vacuum cleaner breaks down, just before her coffee morning guests arrive, she is confronted by Mucor the Fungus, the spokesperson for dirt. Once her guests arrive, admiring the Dutch painting of a spotlessly clean house, she drifts off to the Gobi Desert with Teilhard de Chardin, who admires her housekeeping skills. She will later have a bath with Leonardo da Vinci, hear Blake’s poem about the Hoover and meet other long deceased celebrities to help her solve her cleaning problems. Is she mad and, more importantly, what does husband Philip think? The answer is not what you might expect. As always Robert Irwin produces something different from the norm. The book was first published in 1986 but has been republished in 1922 by Dedalus Books.

Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi: Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure

The latest addition to my website is Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi‘s Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure. This book is a fictional biography and an alternative version of historic events about Fat White Family, a contemporary English rock/punk band. The book is told in the third person (presumably by Stripe) with first person commentary by Saoudi, the frontman of the band. Saoudi (Algerian father, English mother) started at art school but soon moved into music and, in particular, aggressive, punk with outrageous performances. We follow the rise of the band (with many hiccups on the way) and their thoroughly self-destructive nature (lots of alcohol and drugs, continual squabbling, lots of personnel changes, clashes with the authorities) . Whether you are interested in the Fat White Family or not, the book is certainly a fascinating account of a band that set out to shock and is clearly self-destructive, narcissistic, provocative, controversial and badly-behaved.

Hassouna Mosbahi: الطلييتيم الدهر (Solitaire)

The latest addition to my website is Hassouna Mosbahi‘s الطلييتيم الدهر (Solitaire). Yunus is a Tunisian man who has just reached he age of sixty. He feels that his life is coming to an end. He is divorced. His country is, in his view, a mess and totally corrupt and so is the greater Arab world. This view seems to be more or less shared by his friends of the same age. Much of the book takes he form of his reminiscences, which include his interest in Sufism (and he recounts tales of Sufi mystics), Tunisian history (stories from Tunisian history), literature (he loves Flaubert and even tells us two tales based on Flaubert) and his own life which has inevitably been somewhat complicated. We also get comparisons with his male friends, including those who have spent most of their adult life away from Tunisia and returned to find that the country is in a much worse state than they had thought it would be. All agree: old age is awful and the country and the world have gone to the dogs. There is one woman who gets something of a look-in: President Ben Ali’s second wife, Leïla Ben Ali, née Trabelsi, who is viciously attacked for her corruption. But, on the whole this is about men not liking getting old and looking back on their often interesting life and as such it works very well.

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