Héctor Abad Faciolince: Basura [Rubbish]

The latest addition to my website is Héctor Abad Faciolince‘s Basura [Rubbish]. The unnamed narrator moves into a flat and sees that one of his fellow residents is Bernardo Davanzati, who published a couple of novels some time ago but has now seemingly disappeared. While looking in the rubbish for a magazine he mistakenly threw away, he comes across pages full of handwritten text, clearly those of Davanzati. He takes these pages and thereafter checks every day, collecting a mass of pages. In these pages, Davanzati seems to be writing what may be a novel, or stories or his autobiography, the narrator is not sure which. Some of the writing is nonsensical, while other sections seem to tell something of the often sad story of Davanzati’s life. Eventually, he takes it further, breaking into his flat and contacting people who may know or have known Davanzati. The book raises issues of truth vs fiction, the unreliable narrator and investigation becoming obsession. Who is mad: the narrator, Davanzati or both? Sadly, the book has only been translated into Italian.

Chloe Aridjis: Sea Monsters

The latest addition to my website is Chloe AridjisSea Monsters. It tells the story of Luisa, a seventeen year old Mexican girl in 1988. She has no siblings and few friends. She is not close to her parents, who have their own preoccupations. She is not particularly interested in her school work or her future. She comes across Tomás, who has dropped out of school, and gradually they become closer. She reads about a troupe of Ukrainian dwarves who have defected from a Soviet circus troupe in Oaxaca and persuades Tomás that they should run away and go looking for the dwarves, so they head off to Zipolite. The second part of the book tells of her time there – she and Tomas drift apart – as she meets the mysterious Merman, thinks she sees the dwarves and has fantasies about the sea and about the dwarves. It is all about a young woman trying to find who she is and where she is going and what life holds for her.

John Lanchester: The Wall

The latest addition to my website is John Lanchester‘s The Wall. This is a post-apocalyptic novel about a country which has a wall entirely round its coastline (some 10,000 km) to keep out refugees. The country is presumably based on Britain. There has been an event called The Change, which has involved major flooding all over the world due to rising sea levels, presumably because of the melting of the polar ice caps. In the first part of the book, we follow a man called Kavanagh. The country requires everyone – men and women – to serve for two years as Defenders, keeping out any refugees trying to breach the wall. If any refugees do get through, the Defenders on that part of the wall are put into a boat, towed out to sea and abandoned to their fate. We follow the adventures of Kavanagh and his fellow Defenders, before turning to the story of some refugees in the second part of the book. This book was presumably written in the light of the proposed Trump wall and the refugee crisis in Europe and elsewhere and tells an effective story, but how much would a 10,000 km wall cost?

Manuel Vilas: Ordesa

The latest addition to my website is Manuel VilasOrdesa. This book has had considerable success in Spain, both commercially and critically. It is essentially autobiographical, a tale recounted by Vilas after his divorce, in which he examines the lives of his parents, of himself and of his sons and links the events and circumstances of their lives to what is going on in Spain. It is uniformly gloomy and pessimistic, though not without some humour and a very strong affection for his late parents. Spain, however, does not fare well in this book, which will join the increasing number of books published in Spain about how dismal the country is, particularly since the 2008 financial crisis. Vilas does not hold back either on his criticism of Spain and of himself (alcoholic, divorced because of infidelities, guilt about loss of parents). Self-flagellation may be more a Spanish thing than the UK/US thing so it will be interesting to see how well the book does in English (to be published by Canongate in the UK (in April 2020) and Riverhead in the US).

Edward Upward: No Home But the Struggle

The latest addition to my website is Edward Upward‘s No Home But the Struggle. This is the final book in Upward’s Spiral Ascent trilogy. He and his wife have now left the Communist Party, feeling that it has betrayed its ideals and have also become aware of the crimes of Stalin and the faults of the Soviet Union. Alan is retired from teaching, living in a house he inherited from his family, by the sea. The couple are now involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) but this takes up a relatively small part of the book. Much of it is spent reminiscing about his childhood and young adulthood, though he continues to struggle with his poetry and whether it is relevant to his political views. The book is perhaps less interesting than the previous two because there are no political controversies. Overall, I enjoyed the trilogy but, I suspect, it will not be remembered for long.

Michel Houellebecq: Sérotonine (Serotonin)

The latest addition to my website is Michel Houellebecq‘s Sérotonine (Serotonin). This is another controversial novel from Houellebecq. The main character. Florent, is an agronomist and he shows us that French agriculture (and other aspects of the French economy) is facing serious problems. At the same time, we follow the story of Florent who, to get away from his job studying French agriculture and from his Japanese girlfriend, goes off grid, abandoning job, flat and girlfriend and moving to a hotel in an unfashionable part of Paris. He does not sever contact with everyone, visiting Aymeric, his old college friend and now a farmer facing huge problems on his dairy farms (primarily because of EU policies – Houellebecq is very anti-EU) and trying to re-establish contact with two old girlfriends, which does not work out very well. In particular, he takes a new (fictitious) drug, Caprizol for his depression and it has strange effects on him. It is a well-written though very contrarian book. Florent is not a loveable hero but his lifestyle choice make interesting reading. It will be out in English in September 2019, though is already available in German.

Jamil Jan Kochai: 99 Nights in Logar

The latest addition to my website is Jamil Jan Kochai‘s 99 Nights in Logar. This is a first-class novel about an Afghan family, narrated by a twelve-year old boy, Marwan, who lives in the US but is visiting his home country with his parents. He is at war with his extended family’s dog, Budabash, but when Budabash has had enough and disappears, he and four other boys go in search for him, and have a series of adventures in still war-torn, still Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The search does not go well. Back home, love and marriage, flooding and even a bit of cross-dressing liven things up, as we see more of the war and its effects, with US forces still bombing and the Taliban roaming the countryside. The book is substantially improved by a series of Arabian Nights-style contemporary fables told by various characters. Kochai is an excellent story-teller and this book is a joy to read.

Patrick Boltshauser: Stromschnellen (Rapids)

The latest addition to my website is Patrick Boltshauser‘s . This book is so far the only one to appear in Dalkey Archive Press’s Liechtensteinian Literature Series, though the author was born in Switzerland and currently lives in Switzerland, but he did grow up in Liechtenstein. It tells the story of an unnamed narrator, a zoology student at the university of Bern, like the author, and his lack of focus and direction and, in particular, his troubles with the opposite sex. He has various girlfriends, all of whom seem to have other boyfriends, to his chagrin, and all of whom, like him seem to make something of a mess of their lives. He ends up dropping out but has learned nothing and is still chasing after a woman who is not too interested in him.

David Toscana: El ejército iluminado (The Enlightened Army)

The latest addition to my website is David Toscana‘s El ejército iluminado (The Enlightened Army). This Mexican novel tells the story of Ignacio Matus who has two bugbears, both concerned with his hatred for the United States. The first concerns the 1924 Olympics marathon at which, he claims, he won the bronze medal in front of the US runner Clarence DeMar. The only slight problem is that DeMar and the other athletes ran the race in Paris where the Olympics were being held, while Matus ran it in Monterrey, Mexico. Nevertheless, he had a better time than DeMar and theretofore should have the bronze medal. His other issue concerns the Mexican territories annexed by the United States in the mid nineteenth century which, he claims, rightfully belong to Mexico. When he is fired for teaching this view at school, he sets out with a ragged army to Texas and captures the Alamo. It is a very enjoyable book, even though things do not go quite right for DeMar but he is certainly one of the obsessive fools of literature, whom we cannot help having a grudging admiration for in his foolishness.

Dawn Powell: The Locusts Have No King

The latest addition to my website is Dawn Powell‘s The Locusts Have No King. This is a love story, about the many vicissitudes in the love life of Frederick Olliver, a struggling but very serious writer, and Lyle Gaynor, a married and successful playwright (with the plays written jointly with her invalid, sexually incapable husband). We follow their love life, and their relationships with others, while, at the same time, Powell satirises all and sundry, from the New York social scene to the intellectuals, the artists, the journalist and advertising men, the gossipers, the ambitious arrivals from the sticks (specifically Baltimore in this case) and anyone else who falls under Powell’s scrutiny. It is an enjoyable read but not her greatest novel,