Category: The Modern Novel website Page 2 of 135

Masatsugu Ono: 森のはずれで (At the Edge of the Woods)

The latest addition to my website is Masatsugu Ono‘s 森のはずれで (At the Edge of the Woods). An unnamed family – husband, pregnant wife and young son, possibly Japanese – move to a foreign country, to a house at the edge of the woods. The wife goes back to her parents to have her child, leaving father (who seems not to work) and son. The woods are strange. The trees move of their own accord, there are strange noises and, according to the local farmer and postman, there are imps who steal things and people. The son finds an old woman with her tale to tell. His behaviour becomes erratic. There seems to be a refugee crisis. Two dwarfs appear at the front door. And only the dogs have names. This is an excellent novel in the Japanese ghost story tradition, where things get stranger and stranger.

Daša Drndić: Canzone di guerra

The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Canzone di guerra. Our narrator is Tea Radan, a Croatian single mother who has emigrated to Çanada. In a series of sketches, she describes her life, bringing up a daughter as an émigré in Canada (of which she is very critical) but also a whole range of issues relating to Croatia and Yugoslavia, including the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, the Tito era and the post-Tito break-up of Yugoslavia. Her time in Canada is far from perfect. For Tea and other Yugoslav émigrés, many of whom are highly skilled graduates, getting an appropriate job because of language difficulties and recognition of Croatian/Yugoslav qualifications is almost impossible so they end up selling hot dogs or stuffing envelopes. She also finds that Canada has been very lax about former Nazis and carries out her own investigation. Using a mixture of wry humour, bitterness, a strong sense of what is right and wrong, a dogged persistence and a strong critical faculty, she gives is an excellent picture of the situation in her homeland and the life of an émigré.

Vladimir Sorokin: День опричника (Day of the Oprichnik)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sorokin‘s День опричника (Day of the Oprichnik). This novel is set a few years in the future. Russia now has a Tsar again and, as with Ivan the Terrible, he is protected by an armed force called the Oprichniks. The story tells a day in the life of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, the fourth highest ranking Oprichnik and an exciting and busy day it is. He and his colleagues start off by attacking the the house of a nobleman, who has run foul of the Tsar. The nobleman is hanged, his wife gang-raped and his children sent to an orphanage. While killing and other brutalities happen later, we also see bribery and corruption, book burning, flogging, drug use, alcohol and wine, special privileges, outwitting the Chinese and, I might mention, glowing genitals. We see it all through the eyes of Komiaga who is firmly committed to the cause and works hard to protect sacred Russia (yes, Russia is Christian). It is clearly an attack on both Ivan the Terrible and Putin, but an indirect one with no direct satire, sarcasm and humour and, as such, works very well.

Ali Smith: Companion Piece

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Companion Piece. As the title implies, this is an appendage to her brilliant Seasons tetralogy and is somewhat similar, in that we follow current events, with Smith criticising what is happening in the UK. However, we also follow the story of Sandy Gray, a not very commercially successful artist (she paints poems) and her relationship with Martina Pelf, with whom she was at university. Martina phones Sandy (after thirty years of no contact) because of something strange that happened to her while she was detained at Heathrow airport. Sandy, who is in covid lockdown and struggling with her aged and ill father, gets caught up with Martina and her family. At the same time we learn of a seventeenth century young woman and her struggles and her tangential link to Martina’s story. Above all this novel is about women telling stories, about the horrors of modern Britain, about the ill-treatment of women, about language and about how life is not always as straightforward as it seems. It confirms Smith as one of the foremost British writers of this century.

Pat Gray: The Redemption Cut

The latest addition to my website is Pat Gray‘s The Redemption Cut. In one respect this is your standard detective story – maverick cop ignores his bosses, the rules and “modern policing techniques” to solve the crime. However, it is set in Belfast in 1976 during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the cop, McCann, has to deal with strong partisan feeling not only from the criminals but also from the police and other officials. The vast majority of the characters, police, criminals and others, are Protestant and therefore determined that Ulster remain a part of the United Kingdom and will do what it takes to ensure that happens. This makes the investigation (into a brutal murder) more difficult, not helped by the fact that it is all too easy for the police and criminals to blame the IRA for every misdeed. Gray tells his story well and shows up the horrors of that era in Ulster.

Volodymyr Rafeyenko: Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love)

The latest addition to my website is Volodymyr Rafeyenko‘s Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love. Both Rafayenko and his hero Haba Habinsky moved away from the Donbas region when fighting broke out in 2013/14 and came to Kyiv. Haba seemingly has no friends or relatives in Kyiv and though he has a Ph.D and was a university lecturer, he ends up working in a supermarket. However, though there is an element of realism in this book, it uses post-modernism/fantasy/absurdism in many parts of the book. Haba, for example is pursued by aMare’s head, a traditional Ukrainian mythical creature and spends much of his time dipping in and out of the real world and the fantasy/post-modernist world. His love life, his meeting with his boss’s niece who may be his boss’s nephew and numerous literary, fantasy, mythical references appear. Language is also key. And is it all a dream? Like most people from Donbas, both Rafayenko and Haba have Russian as their first language. This is Rafayenko’s first book in Ukrainian (previous ones were in Russian) and Haba learns Ukrainian and makes good progress and discusses the language issue throughout the book. This is certainly an original book but one well worth reading.

Andrey Kurkov: Серые пчелы (Grey Bees)

The latest addition to my website is Andrey Kurkov‘s Серые пчелы (Grey Bees). This a superb novel from Kurkov about a beekeeper, Sergeyich, who lives in a small village in the grey zone on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Post-2014, after the Russian occupation of Crimea, most people have moved away and there are only two people left in this village. Sergeyich decides his bees need warmth and quiet, away from the frequent shelling, so he takes them on a journey and we follow his adventures, particularly his journey to meet a fellow beekeeper in Crimea, a Crimean Tatar. Sergeyich is fairly easygoing but clashes somewhat with the Russian authorities in now occupied Crimea. This is a first-class novel showing the Ukrainian-Russian border area prior to the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Xue Yiwei: 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I)

The latest addition to my website is Xue Yiwei‘s 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I). Our unnamed narrator is from China. He, his wife and daughter had migrated from China to Montreal, nominally to get a better education for the daughter. It had not worked out. The marriage was not happy and the wife could not get a decent job They ended up owning a convenience store. At the beginning of the novel, the wife had died of pancreatic cancer and the daughter wanted nothing to do with him. Neither he nor we know why. He takes up skating where he meets (separately) the two eponymous women. Celia is the older and a local. She is divorced. Misoka is in a wheelchair and is a French-speaking South-east Asian immigrant. Both women are fairly private but do soften during the book. Both women seem to have a keen interest in China. The book recounts their three-way relationship over the one winter period and how all three are affected by it. Xue Yiwei tells an excellent story about immigration, loneliness, failed relationships and how meeting random strangers can perhaps change you.

Javier Cercas: Terra Alta (Even the Darkest Night)

The latest addition to my website is Javier CercasTerra Alta (Even the Darkest Night). Cercas has now turned to crime novels – two more in this series have been published in Spanish. We are following a Spanish police officer – Melchor Marín – who had been a drug dealer for which he was sent to prison. When his mother, a prostitute, is brutally murdered and he reads Les Misérables in prison, he sees the light and, with help from his lawyer, is able to conceal his background and become a police officer. When he shoots four Islamic terrorists, it is decided to move him to a remote region – Terra Alta, where nothing happens. When something does happen – the richest man in the area and his wife are tortured and killed – he is on the case, and continues when his superiors have closed the case. Inevitably, things are not as they seem and, also inevitably, the Spanish Civil War creeps in. However, it is the colourful Melchor Marín that makes this book interesting.

Fernanda Melchor: Paradais (Paradais)

The latest addition to my website is Fernanda Melchor‘s Paradais (Paradais). The novel is set in an exclusive gated community in Mexico. The sixteen-year old Polo has dropped out of school but his mother has forced him to take a job at Paradais, where he has to clean up, garden and keep the place tidy, a job he hates almost as much as he hates his controlling mother and his pregnant cousin who lives with them. His only friend is Franco, whom he nicknames Fatboy, grandson of Paradais residents, who has also dropped out and provides cigarettes and alcohol. Fatboy lusts after one of the residents, Marian Marono, wife of a TV star, while Polo cannot wait to get away, for which he needs money. Both can be obtained from the Maronos home and Fatboy knows how to get in. Violence, crime, drugs, alcohol consumption and the huge disparity between rich and poor are all themes of this book, where no-one seem content and poverty and wealth clash.

Page 2 of 135

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén