Category: The Modern Novel website Page 1 of 137

Brenda Lozano: Brujas (Witches)

The latest addition to my website is Brenda Lozano‘s Brujas (Witches). We follow the story of three Mexican women. Paloma is, in fact, a muxe, assigned male at birth but who dresses and behaves in ways otherwise associated with women. She starts off as Gaspar, following the family tradition of being a curandero, a traditional healer, before continuing as Paloma. The book starts with her murder. We also follow Feliciana, related to Paloma, who becomes a successful curandera, both of physical ailments and disease of the soul. By the time she is twenty, she has three children and is a widow. The third woman is Zoe, a journalist from Mexico City, who is subject to sexism, though we also follow the story of her family, particularly her more colourful sister Leandra, who, among other things, sets fire to her school. All women, like others in this book, are subject to male violence but all three show how women live their lives.

Vladimir Sorokin: Теллурия (Telluria)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sorokin‘s Теллурия (Telluria). This novel is set in a future where Russia and Europe have splintered into smaller states and seem to have been recently fighting a Christianity-Islam war which the Christians have won. The story is told in fifty vignettes, recounting the current siltation and the past, and we get a mixture of quasi-mediaeval tales, futuristic ones and those outlining what is going on. The key is tellurium, the drug of choice, found only in the microstate of Telluria in the Altai mountains (ruled by a Frenchman!). This is sold (usually illegally) in the form of nails which have to be hammered into the user’s head by a skilled carpenter (with the inevitable risk of death) and which people eagerly try to get hold of. Above all, Sorokin tells a mixture of stories about this world, what it looks likes and how it got to be be what it has become and gives us only a passing nod to Putin.

Salvador Elizondo: El hipogeo secreto (The Secret Crypt)

The latest addition to my website is Salvador Elizondo‘s El hipogeo secreto (The Secret Crypt). The novel is about a writer called Salvador Elizondo who is writing a book called The Secret Crypt. We start with a disparate group called Urkreis and we gradually learn that they are, possibly, the characters of this novel. Gradually, Elizondo, the real author but also the author who is the subject of the book, who may or may not be the same person and may or may not exist, tries to come to terms with his characters (and they with him), himself as both author and subject, the reader, who is reading the book in which she is one of the subjects and where the book has not actually been written yet, as we are reading it as it is being written. If you are lost, you will be further lost as all these conundrums get more and more complicated as the book progresses. It is very clever, very original and fun to read if you are not looking for a clear outcome.

Sergey Kuznetsov: Хоровод воды (The Round Dance of Water)

The latest addition to my website is Sergey Kuznetsov‘s Хоровод воды (The Round Dance of Water). This is a novel that tells the story of an extended family, from the Revolution to the present day, though with the main focus on the post-Soviet era. Kuznetsov himself stated that he wanted to write about my contemporaries who are trying to understand themselves by looking at the past of their families and their country. Several of the extended family do not know who their father is or have little or no contact with him. For many of the modern ones casual sex and alcohol are important in their lives. However, we gradually learn about their ancestors and their roles in the Soviet era – from a NKVD member to a couple who helped build the Moscow Metro. The modern ones struggle with life but, by the end, the main ones are starting to realise that family is important and that there is more to life than booze and sex. It is superb a novel, quite unlike many of the other modern Russian novels you may have read.

Eva Baltasar: Boulder (Boulder)

The latest addition to my website is Eva Baltasar‘s Boulder (Boulder). Our narrator works as a mess-hall cook in various places in Chile, getting a job on a freighter early in the book. She is a complete loner, wanting only drink, tobacco and sex. In her travels she meets Samsa, a Scandinavian geologist, and they start a Lesbian relationship. When Samsa gets a job in Iceland, our narrator, now called Boulder by Samsa (I’m like those large, solitary rocks in southern Patagonia, pieces of a world left over after creation), goes with her. Boulder has no intention of being the housewife and gets a series of badly paid cook jobs but the pair manage to survive for several years. And then Samsa wants a baby. Boulder definitely does not want one but knows she will lose Samsa if she refuses. She struggles with the issue and then meets Anna. This is a fascinating portrayal of a single-minded woman who wants little out of life beyond, sex, alcohol and her own independence.

Jordi Cussà: Cavalls salvatges (Wild Horses)

The latest addition to my website is Jordi Cussà‘s Cavalls salvatges (Wild Horses). The story shows that in many small towns in Catalonia in the 1980s, most young people were heroin junkies. The story is narrated to a great extent by Lex, clearly based on the author, and he and virtually all of the fairly large cast spend their time shooting up heroin, with some casual sex and some rock’n’roll. They deal drugs, they steal, they get high, they die – from AIDS, overdoses, hepatitis, suicide and various drug-related complications. Some go to prison. Some try to give up, rarely succeeding. No-one quits horse. Once you get in the saddle you’re in it for life, says one character. Why do they do it? I still believe that at the outset of our addiction we were hooked not just on the drugs but also on the lifestyle that came with them, says Lex. Jordi Cussà himself died from a respiratory condition, presumably drug-related,as he was a serious heroin junkie. It is a sad story but one that is likely to put you off heroin abuse.

Juan Pablo Villalobos: La invasión del pueblo del espíritu (Invasion of the Spirit People)

The latest addition to my website is Juan Pablo VillalobosLa invasión del pueblo del espíritu (Invasion of the Spirit People) . Set in an unnamed city but almost certainly Barcelona, this novel follows Gastón, an immigrant who runs a market garden. His friend Max, has a restaurant but he has lost his lease and refuses to leave while Gastón’s dog called Kitten is dying of cancer. Meanwhile Pol, Max’s son is working in the tundra but suddenly appears, with tales of aliens using directed panspermia to control us, while Max’s father turns up, on the run from the authorities in his country. Gastón just wants to have Kitten die peacefully in his garden, not at the vet’s, while watching the greatest footballer on Earth play, though he, too, seems to have his problems. Immigration is clearly the main topic as most of the main characters are immigrants (including the footballer) and those from Russia and China face greater opposition from the local vigilantes but, in Villalobos’s view, they enrich the local culture. With his usual humour, colourful story and sympathy for the immigrants, Villalobos gives us another fine novel.

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles: El síndrome de Lisboa (The Lisbon Syndrome)

The latest addition to my website is Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles‘s El síndrome de Lisboa (The Lisbon Syndrome). The novel is set in Caracas, Venezuela, where repression by the authorities is at its height. One day, Lisbon disappears and we eventually find out it might have been hit by an asteroid. Meanwhile, our hero Fernando, whose marriage is breaking up, is focussing on the local drama group for teenagers and it is going well, though the authorities are not too keen. The building was provided by Moreira, a Portuguese exile whose story we learn and he and Fernando remain close friends. Meanwhile, the repression is getting worse and the people have no choice but to stick together and fight back. The original Spanish was self-published through Amazon, which shows self-published books can be of high quality, as this one clearly us.

Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae (Prae Part 2)

The latest addition to my website is Miklós Szentkuthy‘s Prae (Prae Part 2). This is the second part of Szentkuthy’s monumental novel, the first part having been reviewed previously. Like the first part it is long and very complicated, with key themes – love/lust, loneliness, religion, morals and coping with life, examined in a decidedly complex way. While the early part of the novel focusses on Leatrice, whom we met in the first part, and examines her dreams, her loneliness, her relationship with her Uncle Peter and with a drug-using actress, the second part is the ruminations of a sixty-year old Anglican priest living in Exeter. He is a flawed character – drug using, unfaithful to his wife, with whom he has frequent fights and generally unhappy with his life – but, as we might expect, he ruminates on a variety of topics, including, of course, love/sex. women, loneliness, religion and morals. This work might be better known had it been written in English, French or German but, whatever the language, like Joyce and Proust, it is one of those works likely to be more talked about than read.

Markiyan Kamysh: Оформляндія або прогулянка в Зону (Stalking the Atomic City)

The latest addition to my website is Markiyan Kamysh‘s Оформляндія або прогулянка в Зону (Stalking the Atomic City). Markiyan Kamysh is a stalker, which means he enters Chernobyl illegally and wanders round exploring, regardless of the dangers of radiation, wild animals, snow drifts and the police. He has faced all four and survived. Why does he do it? He is not entirely sure but has done it, at the time of writing, one thousand one hundred and forty-six times. He sometimes takes tourists in but he despises them. He likes nothing better than being there alone with few provisions, enjoying the solitude and nature. The police try to get him and sometimes do but he always comes back for more. He tells us what he finds, what he sees, what he takes with him. Every time I came back, I swore that it would be my last, my very last visit but it never is.

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