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.

Elena Ferrante has won the Nobel Prize!

No, she hasn’t but I needed a catchy title that combined the two key literary events of the past couple of weeks and Bob Dylan unmasked definitely seemed like second best.

So let’s start with Elena Ferrante. Many people have been very critical about the unmasking of her by Claudio Gatti. Jeanette Winterson, for example, was particularly bitter. I can entirely sympathise with Jeanette Winterson and others who are bitter and, of course, with Anita Raja, who has had her life disrupted, probably forever. However…

1. The Internet is prurient. It was, I think, set up to exchange information and still does that, to a certain extent. However, its main function now seems to the wilful display and enjoyment of what other people are doing. You know that. I know that. And Elena Ferrante knows that.

2. As Joe Louis may or may not have said, You can run but you cannot hide – from Google. In the EU, there is now “the right to be forgotten”. This stemmed from a case brought by a Spanish man. He had been forced to sell a property to pay off social security debts. When his name was searched the announcement about this sale came to the top of the search listings. He did not like that and sued at the Court of Justice of the European Union. He won and he and all other EU nationals now have this right to be forgotten, i.e. removed from Google search listings. Despite this, I found the link above to the case – by Googling. Moreover, if you search for his name both in Google UK and Google Spain, you still get the story of his crusade and, therefore, the information about his social security debts.

3. In the UK, we have something called a superinjunction. If you are very rich, you can go to a judge and s/he will issue an order saying that a specific story about you cannot be published, either in the printed press or online. I will mention three cases. The first involved Ryan Giggs, who, at the timed, played football (i.e. soccer) for a low-life football club called Manchester United. He was having a sexual affair with his brother’s wife. Perhaps understandably, he did not want the world to know about this and, presumably, particularly did not want his brother or his wife to know about it, so he took out a superinjunction. However, a Member of Parliament, using parliamentary privilege, revealed all in the Houses of Parliament and the press was able to report this. Thus, he wasted his money and everyone, including his wife and brother, knew what he was up to.

Jeremy Clarkson is an obnoxious TV presenter, formerly of a popular car programme called Top Gear. When his ex-wife wanted to publish details of their life together, he took out a superinjunction. He soon realised that it was a) pointless and b) expensive, so dropped it.

A celebrity couple has taken out a superinjunction to prevent publication of a story about a three-way sexual romp they had. The injunction still holds. However, it only applies in England and Wales, so anyone, even people in England and Wales, can find out in seconds who is involved, by going to non-English/Welsh websites. I am fairly certain that anyone in England and Wales who wants to know now does know but the English and Welsh press cannot report it.

4. Wayne Rooney, another footballer who played (and sometimes still plays) for the low-life football team mentioned above, allegedly had an affair with a prostitute (while married). He was thinking about getting a superinjunction but he was told not to bother, as it would likely be declined as he previously shared details of his private life with the media.

5. Elena Ferrante is not, of course, the first author to write under a pseudonym. Many women writers used to write under a male pseudonym, in order to increase their chances of getting published. The Brontë sisters and George Eliot are just a few of the many examples. Many authors have chosen to use pseudonyms for one reason or another, from Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain to Flann O’Brien and J K Rowling (Wikipedia has a list). Some writers, such as Cecil Day-Lewis and Julian Barnes have used a pseudonym to write different types of books. Some, such as B Traven have managed to carry the secret to the grave. Other writers, while not adopting a pseudonym, have kept a very low profile In recent times, Thomas Pynchon and J D Salinger are famous examples. But this does not top people from tying to find who they are and where they are. I know, you know and Elena Ferrante knows that if you do try to hide your identity, people are going to try and find it and all too often will succeed. Just ask J K Rowling.

6. In Italy considerable effort was expended to find the real person behind the Ferrante name. In his article, Gatti mentions various candidates. In particular, a textual analysis suggested that Ferrante was Domenico Starnone, Anita Raja’s husband. She herself had also been suggested.

(Interesting aside. Software has been developed to enable us to identify the sex of the author of a text. This is one example. Putting the first chapter of Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend into this software gives the result that the author is likely to be female and likely to be European. I wonder why the textual analysis of Starnone did not give the same result. Is it is because it works differently in Italian? Only one of his works has been translated into English (and published, incidentally, by Europa Editions, who also publish Ferrante in English) and this work does not appear to be available in e-book format, so I have not tested to see if he comes out male, according to this software.)

7. Conclusions? Ferrante was always going to be unmasked. Given the nature of the Internet, the nature of people’s curiosity, the difficulty of keeping anything hidden from Google and the nature of the literary business, I am sure that even Ferrante herself did not expect to remain anonymous forever. I would add that Ferrante and her publisher very much benefited from the publicity she received. The reviewers, the bloggers,the readers, social media, all helped her sell more books and helped her buy the properties, which were her unmasking. Yes, she may be sad and/or bitter at her unmasking but I do not think that she can really complain. I know that, you know that and Ferrante knows that.

Which brings me to Dylan.

8. Various commentators (all right hundreds, maybe thousands) have speculated on why he got it. Here are my theories, which may or may not be correct. Apart from the obvious one – they really did think he was a very deserving writer – I have four possible ideas:

  • Publicity. Whatever you may say about the decision, it has generated a huge amount of publicity for the Nobel Prize. You may argue that they do not need publicity but you would be wrong. it is the Internet. Everyone needs publicity.
  • There have been numerous complaints from commentators, particularly those from the US, that the award keeps going to an obscure Austrian novelist no-one has heard of or an obscure French novelist no-one has heard of. Moreover, the Academy, it is alleged, is prejudiced against US writers, based on remarks by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury. The fact that there have been two secretaries since that remark was made has altered nothing. So now the award has gone to a US writer, who writes in English and whom everyone has heard of. What’s to complain about?
  • Related to the above, this means that the Swedish Academy does not have to/will not give it to a US writer for some while, which will mean that all the supporters of Philip Roth can stop bleating about how he should get it as there is a good chance he will be dead by the time it is the turn of the US again. Same applies to Oates, Pynchon, DeLillo and McCarthy.
  • Trump. Trump? Yes, Trump. A few years the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Obama. What had he done to deserve it? He was fighting two wars at the time and had not brought about peace, despite vague promises. However, he got it for one simple reason. He was not George W Bush. You may argue that you are not George W Bush either, which is undoubtedly accurate, as I am fairly sure that he does not read this blog. But then you are not President of the United States. If you have ever visited Sweden, you will be aware how many people hate the US right. They hated Bush with a passion and they hate Trump. So what better than to give the prize to the writer who best embodies values opposed to those of Donald Trump. Whatever you may think of Dylan musically, politically or otherwise, you cannot deny that he has stood up for causes such as immigrants, African-Americans and the poor and downtrodden in a way that is the antithesis of Donald Trump and his views. It may be that Roth, Oates, Pynchon, DeLillo and McCarthy have similar views. I do not know but, if they have, they are certainly not as well known as Dylan for these views.

9. It has been argued that a mere singer does not deserve the prize. If you isolate his words from his music, they do not, many say, stand up with the literary quality of more deserving writers. But, in my view, you cannot and should not isolate the words from the music. Just as with drama, for example, you cannot entirely isolate the text from the performance, the stage directions and even the actors, you cannot and should not isolate the words from the music in songs. Words with music have a long tradition. It is highly likely that, in the Middle Ages, the exposure of most people to poetry would be by songs sung by troubadours. Songs such as The Song of Roland (which would have almost certainly won an eleventh century Goncourt Prize or Nobel Prize, had they existed then) were highly influential. Dante and Petrarch, themselves huge influences on later European literature, were very much influenced by troubadours and their songs. In more modern times, there have been numerous cases of words set to music, including, of course, opera, oratorios, masses and lieder. From Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to John Taverner’s The Whale, classical musicians have made extensive use of words to go with their music.

10. Dylan is not a monolithic composer. He has written satirical political songs, such as Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues and Talkin’ World War III Blues, songs about the unfair treatment of African-Americans, such as George Jackson (sung here by Joan Baez), Hurricane and The Death of Emmett Till, love songs such as Sara, religious songs such as Gotta Serve Somebody, songs telling a story such as The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest and a whole host more songs on any number of different topics. He has almost certainly influenced more musicians than any other artist and has probably been covered by more musicians than anyone except, possibly, the Beatles and they were not just one artist.

11.Recent discussions have put forward the claims of other singers, such as Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, both of which are valid claims but I will still go for Dylan over Cohen and Simon. I will also throw in another artist, who was not Jewish but had a lot of sympathy for the Jews, namely Pete Townshend.

12. Conclusion? I am not shocked at the award to Dylan (not as shocked as Dylan himself seems to be, as he does not seem to have, at the time of writing, acknowledged the award.) I applaud the Academy’s brave decision to look beyond the novelists, the occasional poet and the occasional dramatist. Could they have picked a novelist who would have been more worthy than Dylan? Of course they could. We can all come up with names. However, I do definitely consider him more worthy than Philip Roth. It would certainly have been nice to give the award to some relatively unknown novelist (unknown to the public at large, I mean) and, no doubt, they will revert to type next year. Two predictions (no, not the winner, which I will invariably get wrong). Philip Roth won’t win it and Elena Ferrante won’t win it. As for me, I am going to listen to Dylan singing Queen Jane Approximately (but not this version).

Bob Dylan wins Nobel Prize for Literature

I won the Nobel Prize!
I won the Nobel Prize!

No, this is not a joke. Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016. A lot of people are really not going to like this but I have always been impressed by Bob Dylan’s lyrics. Whether he is worthy of winning it over other US writers, such as Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates or Thomas Pynchon, I am not sure but he is certainly more worthy than Philip Roth. US commentators have bitterly complained that the US has not had a winner since 1993 with Toni Morrison. Now they cannot complain, as they frequently do, that the winner is obscure, unknown and read by no-one. So here are three Dylan songs to entertain you. Listen to the lyrics: My Back Pages, as sung by the Byrds, but written by Dylan, All Along the Watchtower sung by Jimi Hendrix but written by Dylan and Like a Rolling Stone, sung by Dylan and The Band and written by Dylan. Congratulations Bob!

Republic of Consciousness Prize for Best Novel published by a Small Press

pond

I am well aware that, while I have quite a few reviews of books published by independent presses, I do not have many published by UK-based independent presses, publishing books originally written in English. Author Neil Griffiths, author of books such as Betrayal in Naples and Saving Caravaggio, is setting up The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Best Novel published by a Small Press. He outlines his reasons here. He points out that he has only recently discovered a few small presses – Fitzcarraldo Editions, Galley Beggar Press and And Other Stories are specifically mentioned. I have books published by all of them on my website. He specifically mentions Zone (Zone) by Matthias Enard, which was first published in English in the US by Open Letter, with Fitzcarraldo publishing it in the UK. As well as Zone, he mentions A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which did not really work for me and Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond, which I had not heard of, but which looks interesting. If you scroll down on this page, you can read his A broadside against mainstream publishing, which is worth reading and with which I can only agree. I wish him luck with this prize and shall follow it with interest.

Saltire Literary Awards

dosan

The Saltire Society has announced its shortlist for its 2015 literary awards. While the fiction list has several of the usual suspects – Irvine Welsh, Kate Atkinson, the underrated Janice Galloway, whose novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing I read many years ago and plan to reread and review some day, Andrew O’Hagan amd Michael Faber, what is most interesting to me is the incluson of a novel in Scottish Gaelic: Norma NicLeòid/Norma Macleod’s An Dosan (Dosan is a shortened form of the title character’s full name, Domnhall Seumas Iain). Macleod, who lives on the Isle of Skye, has written all her novels in Gaelic. I have just read Moray Watson’s An Introduction to Gaelic Fiction and he speaks highly of her, not least because she is the first author to write a sequel novel in Gaelic! Her husband Fionnlagh and her nephew, Iain, have also written novels in Gaelic. Anyone who has browsed my site, will know that I very much welcome novels written in minority languages, particularly those in the middle of the culture where there is a dominant world language, so long may the NicLeóids/MacLeods continue to write novels in Gaelic. It would be nice if one or two were translated into English but it is a good thing that these small cultures can keep the tradition alive in their own language. It is also good that the Saltire Society recognises the importance of the Gaelic tradition.

Man Booker Prize shortlist

The favourite?
The favourite?

They have just announced the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

They are:

Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings
Tom McCarthy: Satin Island
Chigozie Obioma: The Fishermen
Sunjeev Sahota: The Year of the Runaways
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread
Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

Two from the UK, two from the US, one from Jamaica and one from Nigeria. Two women.

I have not read any of them but may well do so. I would think that the Yanagihara is the favourite.

Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize Longlist

One of the nominees
One of the nominees

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize has announced its longlist. Here is what they say about it:
This diverse group of books has been chosen by the judges as they display the flair, range and literary rigour abounding in British writing today and should, the judges believe, be widely read. In a nation reeling from the most divisive general election for many years, this is a group of books that can unify readers in the power of a good story.

Another nominee
Another nominee

It is certainly an interesting list, not least because there were quite a few I have not heard of and I only own four of them. (Sadly, I own far too many books I will probably never read.) Nice to see that the majority are by women authors and it is also nice to see a blogger on the selection panel. I hope this helps sell some of these.

Literary prizes

Winner of the most recent Waverton Good Read Award
Winner of the most recent Waverton Good Read Award

If you have been following this blog recently, you will have noticed I have been reading selections from the shortlists/winners of literary prizes. This was a response to the disappointing (for me) Man Booker Prize shortlist. One thing I did discover is that there are far more literary prizes than I had imagined. Wikipedia has a list, though it is not complete (e.g. the Folio Prize and Dylan Thomas Prize do not seem to be there.) There are far more there you and I could possibly have ever heard of. Quite a few are excluded for the purposes of my current exercise: those only in languages I cannot read; those who give the award to an individual rather than to a specific book (e.g. the Nobel Prize); those who give the award only to genre fiction and those who give the award to a work which is not a novel, either because the rules do not allow novels or because it allows other types of writing and one of these types won it this year.

Winner of the Croatian Ksaver Šandor Gjalski Prize - Juliana Matanović: I na početku i na kraju bijaše kava
Winner of the Croatian Ksaver Šandor Gjalski Prize – Juliana Matanović: I na početku i na kraju bijaše kava

However, even allowing for these exclusions, there are many literary prizes for which I did not read a shortlisted book/winner. Indeed, had I wanted to, I could easily have continued till next year and still not read a book from every literary prize shortlist. And who has heard of all of these, outside the publishing world? Does winning, for example, the Dylan Thomas Prize or the Waverton Good Read Award resonate beyond the author’s immediate family, friends and publisher/agent? Have you heard of either and/or can you name the most recent or any winners? No, nor can I. More publicity for authors and books is certainly to be welcomed and, of course, even the Nobel Prize brings forth cries of Who is this guy?, particularly from the English-speaking world. Nevertheless I wonder, do we need all of these prizes?

2014 Akutagawa Prize winner - Tomoka Shibasaki's 春の庭 [Spring Garden]
2014 Akutagawa Prize winner – Tomoka Shibasaki’s 春の庭 [Spring Garden]

So this year, this is what I read. Some are cheats, in that I had read them before and was not aware that they had made the various shortlists. Some are duplicated in that some books seem to hoover up the prizes or, at least, hoover up the shortlists (congratulations Eleanor Catton and Eimar McBride). The country name indicates the host country of the prize, not necessarily the nationality of the individual shortlisted/winning authors. Note that the links to the prize are either to the official site, where that exists or is kept up to date or, if not, to an announcement, usually in the press. Many of these will be in the original language, rather than English. It is amazing how many of the official sites fail to update their details. To give one example, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction still tells us that the winner will be announced June 4 (they must mean 4 June, the normal English way of writing it).

This year's winner of the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize
This year’s winner of the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize

Ignoring those that were actually published in 2013 (Hello again, Eimear McBride and Eleanor Catton), I did read some interesting books that I may not have otherwise read. I particularly enjoyed Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation]; Lutz Seiler: Kruso; Francesco Piccolo: Il desiderio di essere come tutti [The Desire to be Like Everyone]; Jorge Franco: El mundo de afuera [The World Outside]; Gertrud Leutenegger: Panischer Frühling [Panic Spring] and Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven and was disappointed with Carmen Amoraga: La vida era eso [Such Was Life] and not too impressed with Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North. While I probably will not repeat the exercise next year, it does show me that some interesting books can be found by scouring the literary prize shortlists. I would like to hope that publishers are doing the same and are picking some of these out for translation into English as clearly some are very much deserving. Congratulations to all of these for making the shortlist and, for those who won, for winning, with, again, special congratulations to Eleanor Catton and Eimear McBride.

Australia
Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awards: Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North; Fiona McFarlane: The Night Guest (both shortlist; winner not yet announced)
Voss Literary Prize: Fiona McFarlane: The Night Guest; Hannah Kent: Burial Rites; Tim Winton: Eyrie (all shortlist; winner to be announced 19 November)

Canada
Scotiabank Giller Prize: Heather O’Neill: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (shortlist) (Sean Michaels: US Conductors won)

France
Prix Goncourt: Clara Dupont Monod: Le roi disait que j’étais diable [The King Said I Was a Devil] (second shortlist); Kamel Daoud: Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation] (final shortlist) (Lydie Salvayre’s Pas Pleurer won)
Prix Renaudot: Clara Dupont Monod: Le roi disait que j’étais diable [The King Said I Was a Devil] (shortlist); Kamel Daoud: Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation] (shortlist) (David Foenkinos’ Charlotte won)
Prix François Mauriac: Kamel Daoud: Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation] (winner)
Prix des 5 continents: Kamel Daoud: Meursault, contre-enquête [Meursault, Counter Investigation] (winner)
Prix Medicis étranger: Vladimir Lorchenkov: Все там будем (The Good Life Elsewhere) (longlist) (Lily Brett: Lola Bensky won)

Germany
Deutscher Buchpreis: Lutz Seiler: Kruso (winner); Gertrud Leutenegger: Panischer Frühling [Panic Spring] (shortlist)

Ireland
Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award: Eimear McBride: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (winner); Colum McCann: Transatlantic (shortlist)
Eason Novel of the Year: David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks (shortlist) (winner to be announced 26 November)

Italy
Strega: Francesco Piccolo: Il desiderio di essere come tutti [The Desire to be Like Everyone] (winner); Francesco Pecoraro: La vita in tempo di pace [Life in Peacetime] (shortlist)
Premio Letterario Viareggio-Rèpaci: Francesco Pecoraro: La vita in tempo di pace [Life in Peacetime] (winner)

Morocco
Moroccan Mamounia Prize: Réda Dalil: Le Job [The Job] (winner)

New Zealand
New Zealand Post Book Awards: Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries (shortlist) (Jill Trevelyan: Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand won)

Spain
Premio Alfaguara de Novela: Jorge Franco: El mundo de afuera [The World Outside] (winner)
Premio Nadal: Carmen Amoraga: La vida era eso [Such Was Life] (winner)

Switzerland
Schweizer Buchpreis: Gertrud Leutenegger: Panischer Frühling [Panic Spring] (shortlist) (Lukas Bärfuss: Koala won)

UK
Bad Sex Prize: Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North; Haruki Murakami: 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年 (Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) (both shortlist – winner announced 3 December 2014)
Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction: Eimear McBride: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (winner)
Desmond Elliott Prize: Eimear McBride: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (winner)
Folio Prize: Eimear McBride: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (shortlist) (George Saunders: Tenth of December won)
International Dylan Thomas Prize: Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries; Eimear McBride: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (both shortlist) (Joshua Ferris: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour won)
Man Booker: Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North (winner)
Walter Scott Prize: Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries; Kate Atkinson: Life After Life; Jim Crace: Harvest (all shortlist) (Robert Harris: An Officer and a Spy won)
Waterstones Book of the Year: Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North (shortlist) (winner announced 1 December)

USA
National Book Award for Fiction: Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven (shortlist) (winner announced 19 November)
Pulitzer: Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch (winner)

Emily St. John Mandel: Station Eleven

station

The latest addition to my website is Emily St. John Mandel‘s Station Eleven. This book has been shortlisted for the US National Book Award, with the winner to be announced 19 November. This is a post-apocalyptic novel, but don’t let that put you off. As you will see in my review, there are a already a few post-apocalyptic novels on this site and they are generally very well written and intelligent, as is this one. They do not all have to be pitched battles between good and evil nor Space Westerns consisting of lone cowboys ridding the universe of evil-doers. The apocalypse is caused by an outbreak of a pandemic called Georgia Flu, which kills off around ninety-nine percent of the world’s human population in a very short time. The main survivors in this story all have some connection with Arthur Leander, a successful Canadian film actor who dies of a heart attack on stage, while playing King Lear, just as the pandemic is breaking out. Two of the survivors, Kirsten Raymonde, then eight years old and appearing in King Lear with Leander, and Jeevan Chaudhary, former paparazzo, who had stalked Leander but is now a paramedic and audience member, both witness Leander’s death. After the pandemic, Kirsten joins the Travelling Symphony, a troupe of both musicians and actors, who travel round what was the North-West of the United States, playing and performing in the scattered towns where there are survivors. All had been going well, till, in one town, they found that a man who called himself The Prophet had taken over and was terrorising the area. The Symphony has conflicts with him, causing them all sorts of problems. Meanwhile we follow the life of Arthur Leander, his rise to fame, his three marriage and divorces, and his contacts with the people who will survive. We also learn of a flight rerouted to Severn City Airport, as the pandemic breaks out, which will never leave the airport and how the survivors settle and survive there. Mandel tells an excellent story but also raises issues such as memories, loss of memories and recovery of memories as well as the issue of how music, Shakespeare and the determination that survival is not enough can help put back together a broken world.

Jorge Franco: El mundo de afuera [The World Outside]

mundo

The latest addition to my website is Jorge Franco‘s El mundo de afuera [The World Outside], the winner of the prestigious Spanish Alfaguara Prize this year. This is an excellent novel, mainly set in Franco’s home town of Medellín, Colombia and mainly involving the kidnapping of a rich man, Don Diego Echavarría Misa. Don Diego is a keen lover of Germany and all things German. This love includes the country, Wagner but also Hitler’s way of doing things. When visiting Germany in the 1950s, he meets and falls in love with Benedikta Zur Nieden, whom everyone calls Dita. They return to Colombia (via an expensive European shopping trip) and Diego has a fairytale castle built in Medellín, based on La Rochefoucauld Castle. They have a daughter, Isolda, who is treated like and behaves like a princess. She is generally kept in the castle and its grounds, with her own (German) governess. However, she has been seen in the woods next to the castle by some of the locals. One of the locals is an older man, Mono, who has fallen in love with her. He plans to kidnap both father and daughter but this goes wrong and he ends up kidnapping only Diego. Much of the novel is about his relationship with Diego – he makes no attempt to conceal himself – and the activities of his fairly incompetent gang. Fortunately for them the police are equally incompetent. To the surprise of the gang, no ransom is forthcoming and they are starting to get worried. While this is going on, we are following Mono’s external life – his love for Isolda, his young, gay lover and Twiggy, a young woman who thinks she is Mono’s girlfriend. He also still lives with his mother, who seems to be blissfully ignorant of her son’s full but haphazard life. Dita then brings in a Belgian psychic who thinks that he can determine whether Diego is alive or dead and track down where he is kept. It certainly is an enjoyable novel. While it has not been translated into English, two of Franco’s earlier novels have been, so there is some hope that this one might be.