Category: The Modern Novel website Page 2 of 129

Juli Zeh: Neujahr (New Year)

The latest addition to my website is Juli Zeh‘s Neujahr (New Year). Henning is on holiday in Lanzarote with his wife, Theresa, and young children. On New Year’s Day 2018 he decides to go cycling on his own up the steep slope to Mount Atalaya. During his ride he thinks of his life, which is not going well, particularly because of frequent unexplained panic attacks. He and Theresa both work half-time to share child-minding duties but that is not going well, either. As he reaches the summit he is exhausted and dehydrated and is rescued by a fellow German but collapses and recalls in detail a traumatic event from his childhood which may or may not explain his panic attacks. As always Zeh gives us an excellent psychological story.

Sigrid Undset: Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken 2 (The Snake Pit; later: Olav Audunssøn. 2. Providence)

The latest addition to my website is Sigrid Undset‘s Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken 2 (The Snake Pit; later: Olav Audunssøn. 2. Providence). This is the second in her Olav Audunssøn tetralogy, following on from Olav Audunssøn i Hestviken (The Axe); later: (OlavAudunssøn. 1. Vows). In this book Olav and Ingunn finally get together and marry but there is a shadow hanging over them, Olav’s guilt at murdering Teit, who fathered Ingunn’s child, Eirik, and Ingunn’s guilt at her relationship with Teit, even though Olav seemed to have disappeared. Olav will eventually adopt Eirik and recognise him as well but that only partially solves the problem, with the entire book devoted to the shadow that hangs over the couple because of their respective sins, which affects not only their own relationship but their relationship with others, including but not limited to Eirik. Undset tells the story superbly and shows the damage that the feeling of sin and guilt can cause.

Andrei Bely: Симфонии (Symphonies)

The latest addition to my website is Andrei Bely‘s Симфонии (Symphonies). These are four works – prose poems is the not entirely satisfactory term I would use – written in Bely’s youth, very much under the influence of Symbolism. All were written well before the Russian Revolution and are full of colourful imagery, drawn from nature, mysticism and the Symbolist love of doom and gloom. While they all have a sort of plot, Bely is far more interested in the imagery and they are clearly written by a poet. They are interesting in their own right but also to show us the early writing of the man who would go on to write one of the great 20th century novels Петербург (Petersburg).

Adrienne Yabouza: Co-épouses et co-veuves, (Co-wives, Co-widows)

The latest addition to my website is Adrienne Yabouza‘s Co-épouses et co-veuves, (Co-wives, Co-widows), the first adult novel from the Central African Republic to be published in English. It tells the story of Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou, the two wives of successful house-builder Lidou. Lidou has done well and everything is going well, except for his performance in bed. He tries a mixture of both Cialis and local concoction which initially works but then kills him. His sister and his cousin are in cahoots to deprive the co-widows of their rights and, with the help of a bit of bribery, they do so, driving the two women and their children back to their parents. However, the women are not going to take it lying down and call on other women to help them. It is a very enjoyable story, with a background of the not entirely honest Central African Republic elections, showing how the patriarchy operates in that country.

Ellis Sharp: Twenty-Twenty

The latest addition to my website is Ellis Sharp‘s Twenty-Twenty. This is a diary, influenced by Uwe Johnson‘s Jahrestage (Anniversaries), which he reads and comments on, in the early part of the book. We follow the author – he simply calls himself Ellis – both in his daily activities – shopping,looking after his young daughter, watching TV, reading – but also in his strong political views. Reading online, often Twitter, he is highly critical of Israel/Zionism, the Labour Party, the British media, the British government, particularly its handling of the covid crisis, Biden and much of the UK liberal commentariat. We follow what he reads, what he watches and what he listens to but much is left out – his writing, his daughter’s mother and the details of the many phone calls he makes and receives. Issues such as covid and climate change do make an appearance though perhaps not as much as we might have expected, while Brexit is barely mentioned (though he does not like the EU.) It is an enjoyable read – if you are not a Zionist, Blairite, or Boris Johnson supporter.

Willem Frederik Hermans: Herinneringen van een engelbewaarder (A Guardian Angel Recalls)

The latest addition to my website is Willem Frederik Hermans Hermans: Herinneringen van een engelbewaarder (A Guardian Angel Recalls). Our hero is Bert Alberegt, a Dutch state prosecutor. In a hurry to get to a trial, he takes a short cut going the wrong way down a one way road and accidentally kills a young girl. He hides the body, and spends the rest of the book wondering whether he will be found out. However, he has a guardian angel who keeps telling him to do the right thing but the Devil is also giving his point of view. These two spend the book advising Bert what to do and what not to do which gives a flippant edge to a serious book. Before killing the girl, Bert had put his girlfriend – a German Jew and Communist – on a ship to England and he is eager to join her but cannot find a way to do so. Things get more complicated when the Nazis invade the Netherlands – it is May 1940 – and Bert barely avoids being killed but is now more eager than ever to flee to England, particularly as it turns out that his best friend has been helping the family of the dead girl. Hermans cleverly mixes the very serious – the Nazi invasion and the death of the girl – with the less serious (the guardian angel vs the Devil) and manages it superbly.

Shukri Mabkhout: الطلياني (The Italian)

The latest addition to my website is Shukri Mabkhout‘s الطلياني (The Italian. This is a rare example of a Tunisian novel written in Arabic translated into English. It tells the story of Abdel Nasser whose Italian film star good looks give the book its title. The book opens in the summer of 1990 with the funeral of Abdel Nasser’s well-respected father. Abel Nasser behaves badly, kicking the imam in the head. He will tell no-one why, not even his older brother, whom he looks up to, though there are various theories. Only one person can understand why – the imam’s wife. We then follow Abdel Nasser’s life from a spoilt childhood, left-wing politics at the university and his meeting with another leftist Zeina, very much her own woman. They secretly get married but it does not work out as Zeina is focussed on her studies and Abdel Nasser has affairs while he drifts in to a career of journalism, where he is very successful. Meanwhile the political background in Tunisia of that era (late 20th century) affects them all. It is a complex and well-told story, showing that love and politics do not mix.

Susan Daitch: Siege of Comedians

The latest addition to my website is Susan Daitch‘s Siege of Comedians. This is a superb and highly complex novel with three main characters and lots of secondary ones. We follow Iridia, a forensic sculptor for the Brooklyn Missing Persons Bureau, who uncovers a people trafficking plot but has to flee to Vienna as the traffickers are after herl. We then follow Martin Shusterman who goes to Buenos Aires but his girlfriend is disappeared so he becomes an accent expert. However he is obsessed with a Buenos Aires neighbour , Karl Sauer, a Nazi film-maker, and he also heads to Vienna to track him down. The building in Vienna where Sauer worked had been a brothel in 17th century Vienna and we follow the woman who ran the brothel but also three trafficked women who ended up in her brothel. Daitch is clearly attacking the horrific treatment of women through the ages but also tells a superb and complex story with lots of side issues, making this a very complex novel but one well worth reading.

Akram Musallam: اسيرة العقرب الذي يتصبب عرقا (The Dance of the Deep-Blue Scorpion)

The latest addition to my website is Akram Musallam‘s اسيرة العقرب الذي يتصبب عرقا (The Dance of the Deep-Blue Scorpion). Our unnamed narrator, clearly based on the author, had a epiphanic moment as a teen, when a French woman showed him her blue scorpion tattoo and let him outline the shape of her hips, while naked, on a mirror. He has never seen or heard from her since. We follow him as he now tries to write a novel about himself and the scorpion, but also about his parents (father lost part of his leg, another pivotal moment), his aunt and her stories and the car park where he writes his novel as it used to have an apartment where the famous Palestinian poet Hussein Barghouthi lived. Muted, in the background is the Israeli occupation and the intifada. Above all, our author feels emptiness, nothingness and loss – loss of Palestinian culture, of the dance hall where he first saw the scorpion and meaning in his life.

Un Su Kim: 벗 캐비닛 (The Cabinet)

The latest addition to my website is Un Su Kim‘s 벗 캐비닛 (The Cabinet). This is a wildly inventive novel, telling of Deok-geun Kong, a South Korean office worker, who gets involved in a project to document all cases of symptomers, those people who show signs of abnormal behaviours. These range from people who survive on a diet of petrol or glass or even electricity, to those who meet their doppelgängers, from those who lose several months or even years of their life to those who rewrite their memories and a host of others showing anomalous behaviour. Kong’s boss, Professor Kwon has a theory – that they represent a new species evolving from Homo sapiens. But are they just lonely people in the big city? However, Kwon is dying and Kong is not keen to carry on the work, while the evil Syndicate will do anything to get hold of the papers.

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