The latest addition to my website is Sasha Sokolov‘s Школа для дураков (A School for Fools). Sokolov did not even try to publish this novel in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s and it was first published in Russian in the United States. It is easy to see why the Soviet Union would not allow him to publish. It is a very modernist work, more in the style of Joyce and Faulkner than that of any Soviet author. It is narrated by a young man who has psychological troubles and who is looking back two years to the time when he was in a special school. There is no linear plot but, rather, a mosaic of impressions of his life, his trouble with authority (his parents and teachers), his love of nature and his search for identity, which he often discusses with an alter ego. It is a very poetical work, whose reputation has continued in Russia and the West. Though currently out of print in English, Overlook Press will be publishing a new edition in June 2013.
The latest addition to my website is Emyr Humphreys‘ A Toy Epic. It is a relatively short novel that tells the story of three boys in 1930s Wales who know one another but who come from different backgrounds. It is told through the thoughts and points of view of each of the boys as they struggle with their own particular issues, often filtered through the influence of their background and upbringing. One is from a working class family, who lives in a council house and whose father is a bus driver; one is the son of a vicar and the third is the son of farmer, from a very religious family. They end up at the same school, where all three obtained scholarships, and have mixed success at school and with the issues they face – sex, education and prospective career, parents, religion and politics. As usual with Humphreys, it is told in a somewhat poetical style and, though short, works well.
The latest addition to my website is François Mauriac‘s Le Désert de l’amour (The Desert of Love). While it does have Mauriac’s trademark doom and gloom, it also has a (very slight) glimmer of hope at the end. However, before we get to the end, we learn of the desert of love in the life of Paul, a doctor, and his son Raymond. Paul is unhappy in his marriage (through no fault of his wife) and does not get on with his son, daughter and son-in-law, though does make an occasional effort to do so. He has fallen in love with Maria Cross, a widow whose young son has recently died. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Raymond, in his mid-thirties, had met this woman seventeen years previously and that she had done something to him that caused him great bitterness. He now sees her again, thinking about revenge. The novel is, to a great extent, about what happened.
The latest addition to my website is Luigi Malerba‘s Il protagonista [The Protagonist]. This is a novel narrated by a penis. It is not the first novel featuring a penis by a major twentieth century Italian novelist. Alberto Moravia wrote a novel called Io e Lui, published in the US as Two: A Phallic Novel and in the UK as The Two of Us. However, this one is narrated by the penis, owned by a man known only as The Boss, who lives in a third floor flat in Rome by the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. The Boss tries his luck with women, using his radio ham hobby as a way of meeting them. Meanwhile, the penis is dissatisfied at being kept hidden away all the time and not being allowed to, as he calls it, go into the garden. It is certainly an amusing novel, with Malerba’s usual quirkiness, and confirms what most women knew, that men are controlled by their penis and use it to think with.
The latest addition to my website is António Lobo Antunes‘ Que farei quando tudo arde? (What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?). Like Antunes’ other works, this one is not easy. Antunes writes from the point of view of various narrators, who speak in half sentences, stream of consciousness and repetition. The story is primarily told by Paulo Antunes Lima, the son of a teacher, Judite, and a drag queen, Carlos, who gave him to another couple, who had lost their daughter through illness. Much of the story tells of the drag queen and junkie world of Lisbon, to which Carlos and Paulo belong as well of Paulo’s understandable issues with both his biological and foster parents. No-one in this story can be said to be happy but it does give a fine portrait of a fragmented, grim world, a view Antunes has of the country as a whole.
The latest addition to my website is Emyr Humphreys‘s A Man’s Estate. It tells the story of a small village (and one man who has left the village when a baby) and how the activities of all of them affect all the others. Philip Elis was given up at birth by his mother to his aunt (and late father’s mistress), as his mother was so bitter about her late husband’s behaviour (mistresses, illegitimate child) that she wanted nothing to do with her newly born son. However, the farm on which his mother lives with her second husband and daughter from her first marriage is, technically, Philip’s. He needs the money so he is off to Wales to meet his mother, daughter, and stepfather for the first time. However, most of the novel concerns the inhabitants of the village and the many issues they seem to face and have faced, leading to a general crisis. It is certainly a gloomy novel, full of guilt, revenge and bitterness, but very well told.
The latest addition to my website is François Mauriac‘s Génitrix (Genitrix). This one is still the gloomy tale that we usually find with Mauriac. In this case, it involves a mother who treats her fifty year old son as a child and gets very jealous when he marries a much younger woman. She is even more jealous when the wife, Mathilde, becomes pregnant but not at all disappointed when Mathilde dies following a miscarriage. However, to her horror, she finds that Mathilde dead is far more of a rival for her son’s affection than Mathilde alive. As always, it is not the people who win but the Catholic gloom and guilt.
The latest addition to my website is Juan Marsé‘s El embrujo de Shanghai (Shanghai Nights). This is somewhat different from Marsé’s normal style, in that, while there are strong elements of realism, he does have his more fantastical elements. It is set in Barcelona just after the Spanish Civl War. The fourteen-year old Daniel is the narrator. He has to help an older man who was injured in the Civil War and who is, to say the least, somewhat eccentric. However, he also has to draw a picture of Susana, a fifteen-year old girl suffering from tuberculosis, and he befriends her. Her father, Kim, has had to leave Spain after the Civil War and it is one of his comrades who tells tales to Susana and Daniel of Kim’s dangerous mission to Shanghai to kill a former Gestapo agent and protect the wife of friend. The two stories – the mission to Shanghai, on the one hand, and Daniel, Susana and their friends and family, on the other – alternate and offer a strong contrast to one another. It is certainly one of Marsé’s most interesting books and is readily available in English.
The latest addition to my website is Amélie Nothomb‘s Biographie de la faim (The Life of Hunger). This one is similar to many of her other novels – the story of the young Amélie Nothomb on her travels. In this case, she follows the idea of hunger, not just for food but for anything we want but cannot easily have, while, at the same time, recounting her life as a child and the daughter of a Belgian diplomat. Japan, Bangladesh, Beijing, New York, Burma, Laos and Japan again are all grist to Nothomb’s mill as we get the usually quirky view of exotic cultures as seen from the point of view of a somewhat eccentric Belgian girl/woman as well as a host of amusing anecdotes. If you know Nothomb, you will know what to expect and, if you don’t, you will find this very amusing and pleasant reading.
The latest addition to my website is Parijat‘s शिरिषको फूल (Blue Mimosa), a novel by an Indian-born, Nepali writer and one of only two of her novels translated into English. Parijat was born in Darjeeling but moved to Nepal when she was seventeen and spent the rest of her life there, suffering from various health problems, but still writing poetry, stories and novels as well as being involved in charitable works. This is a very short novel and tells the story of a Nepali man, who has come back from World War II, empty and unhappy, and who has become an alcoholic. He makes friend with another drinker and, through him, meets the man’s three unmarried sisters. He is attracted to the middle sister, but she is headstrong, difficult and aggressive and things do not go very well, particularly when we learn what really happened to him in the war. Though it has been translated into English, it is sadly very difficult to get hold of in English, even though it was republished. A well-known online bookseller is currently quoting just one copy for sale – at £1000 (=$1500).