Category: The Modern Novel website Page 1 of 124

Sheng Keyi: 死亡賦格 (Death Fugue)

The latest addition to my website is Sheng Keyi‘s 死亡賦格 (Death Fugue). The novel is set in two fictitious countries – Dayang, clearly based on modern China, and Swan Valley, a seemingly idyllic country that becomes a sort of Brave New World. Our hero Mengliu was a successful poet and got involved in demonstrations against the authorities, prompted by the mysterious appearance of a huge pile of excrement in the main square, whose source the authorities tried to conceal. Eventually, the authorities crack down. Mengliu’s girlfriend,Qizi disappears and he becomes a surgeon but continues to look for Qizi, ending up in Swan Valley and seemingly unable to escape. This is a superb dystopian novel,complex and very well thought-out.

Mario Levrero: La novela luminosa (The Luminous Novel)

The latest addition to my website is Mario Levrero‘s La novela luminosa (The Luminous Novel). This is the story, in the form of a diary, of a novelist called Mario who is endeavouring to write a luminous novel, based on an image he saw many years ago. The novel is long – 544 pages – and during these many pages, he outlines what he does all the time which is pretty well everything, except write the luminous or indeed any novel. He finds numerous distractions – computer/Internet, friends, buying and reading books, dead pigeons, ants, the occasional ghost, health (mental and physical), unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, the State bureaucracy, and other issues. As he says This whole book is the testimony of a monumental failure. At times we find him exasperating, at others we might sympathise but I never found it boring.

Hamid Ismailov: Manaschi

The latest addition to my website is Hamid Ismailov‘s Manaschi. This is another highly colourful book from Hamid Ismailov. The basis of the book is the Kyrgyz national epic Manas. (A manaschi is a reciter of the legend, which is primarily oral.) Baisal, a manaschi, has just died and his his foster-son Bekesh, returns to his village, now on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border. Bekesh meets his nephew Dapan, who can also recite the Manas and Tumor, Baisal’s eagle. However, there is soon conflict, between the Islamists and those that favour the Manas legend. Things get worse when the Chinese move in to construct a road through the mountains. Some of the events are paralleled in the Manas legend (the Chinese were Manas’ main enemy). Gradually, the curse of the manaschis and the clash between the various sides gets out of hand. Hamid Ismailov is a wonderful story-teller and this book very much confirms that.

Eto Mori:カラフル (Colourful)

The latest addition to my website is Eto Mori‘s カラフル (Colourful). Our unnamed hero has died but has been informed by his angel guide, Prapura, that he has won the lottery, and will be given another chance by entering the body of someone else. The someone else is Makoto Kobayashi, a fourteen year old boy who has just killed himself. Prapura dishes the dirt on the Kobayashi family – mother, father and older brother – and why Makoto killed himself. We learn Makoto was a loner but a talented artist. Gradually, our hero learns what is going on and struggles with his relationships with his family but also with Hiroka, his first love, and Shoko who seems to be attracted to him. However, if he does not recall the cardinal sin he committed in his previous life – and he struggles to do so – it is all going to end badly. While similar in subject to Mieko Kawakami‘s ヘヴン (Heaven), it is far more whimsical but also very much makes its point about the problems Japanese teenagers face.

Michel Butor: L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time)

The latest addition to my website is Michel Butor‘s L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time). I had already read and reviewed this novel (link is to the old review) but a new edition of the English translation has just appeared from Pariah Press so I have read that. (I read it in French for the previous review.) This is a complex story of a Frenchman Jacques Revel who spends a year as translator in the fictitious Northern England town of Bleston (based on Manchester). Jacques reads a murder mystery – The Bleston Murder by J C Hamilton – and finds it might not be entirely fiction and that it is also a key to some of the mysteries of Bleston, a town he hates and which seems to have an evil personality of its own. We follow his travails around the town and with some of its inhabitants as well as The Bleston Murder, its author and the mysterious fires which keep breaking out in Bleston. It is a superb book and very much worth rereading.

Rosa Maria Arquimbau: Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years)

The latest addition to my website is Rosa Maria Arquimbau‘s Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years). The novel tells the story of Laura Vidal, a Barcelona woman, from Francesc Macià declaring Catalan independence (14 April 1931) to 1971. She becomes a dressmaker and does reasonably well. However, the vicissitudes of life in Catalonia affect her, particularly the Spanish Civil War, when she flees the country for France, returning later. Above all, Laura is a feminist and independent woman and is not going to be told what to do, either by her family or men in general and steers her own path through the forty lost years. Arquimbau tells her tale well – Laura is clearly, at least to some degree, based on Arquimbau herself – even if she decides she has lost forty years.

Kōbō Abe: 砂の女 (The Woman in the Dunes)

The latest addition to my website is Kōbō Abe‘s 砂の女 (The Woman in the Dunes). A Japanese teacher is a keen collector of insects and is always hoping to find an unknown species. One day, without telling anyone where he is going, he sets off to a remote sea shore. He misses the last bus but the locals tell him he can stay there. Their houses are in deep holes in the sand so he descends a rope ladder to the house of a woman, who lost her husband and daughter to the sand. He learns that she has to spend most of the night shovelling the sand to protect not only her house but the entire village. He soon learns that they have trapped him there and he has to help her. The book is about his attempts to escape, his relationship with the woman, his thoughts about his life before the sand and how he has to adapt to a completely new life. We know from the very beginning that he will disappear for at leat seven years, as he is declared legally dead. This is a superb and justly famous psychological novel.

Luiz Ruffato: O verão tardio (Late Summer)

The latest addition to my website is Luiz Ruffato‘s O verão tardio (Late Summer). Our hero/narrator is Oseias Moretto Nunes. Like the author, he was born in Cataguases, a small town in Minas Gerais. He had lived in São Paulo but is now divorced, estranged from his son, out of a job and seemingly dying. The novel is about his return to Cataguases, where he tries, not very successfully, to reconnect with his family and people he knew many years ago. Of his four siblings, one is dead and the others barely talk to one another. The town is hot and subject to flooding. Crime, poverty and drugs are rife. He wanders around the town reminiscing about his not very happy childhood, meeting his three surviving siblings and a few others he knew. Virtually no-one is happy. Marriages have broken up or are unhappy. One sibling is rich and miserable, one poor and miserable and one in-between and miserable. There is no happy ending either for Oseias or, it would seem, for anyone else. Ruffato tells his tale well but I do hope he is happier.

Inga Abele: Paisums (High Tide)

The latest addition to my website is Inga Abele‘s Paisums (High Tide). Unusually, this story is told more or less in reverse order, i.e. it starts with our heroine, Ieva, as she is now, an independent woman, in love but finding this love an unneeded distraction and ends with her birth. We gradually learn of the decisions she makes in her earlier life and how they have affected who she is now and why. She has various problems to overcome – she is brought up by her grandparents and, indeed, her own daughter is brought up by Ieva’s mother. She marries a man to whom she is clearly unsuited – she is an intellectual, he is an anti-intellectual. He will end up in prison for murder and we only find out later why. She has an affair which goes wrong. She struggles with relationships and careers but, somehow, manages to pull through, ending (as we see at the start of the novel) as an independent woman who likes nothing better than to roam the woods. Abele gives us a complex portrait of a woman who may not always make the right choices but does manage to keep her head above water.

Llorenç Villalonga: Mort de dama [Death of a Lady]

The latest addition to my website is Llorenç Villalonga‘s Mort de dama [Death of a Lady]. This was Villalonga’s first book and was a wicked satire on the Mallorcan upper class of the day. The eponymous lady is Obdulia de Monteada and, as the title and the beginning of the book tell us, she is dying and will die by the end of the book, though she takes her time doing so. She is eighty-four, realises that she is going to die and takes to her bed. We follow her scathing criticism of various people – her relatives, other Mallorcan aristocrats, foreigners and modern women. We see those who expect to inherit at least something – all will be disappointed. For the Mallorcan aristocrat of the day -and that very much included Obdulia – dying and funerals were the highlight of their lives. High society turns up and gossips while we also learn about the past – the aristocrat who died in a brothel and the lady poet who cannot rhyme. The book is wickedly funny but sadly not available in English.

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