Category: The Modern Novel website Page 3 of 130

Patrick Modiano: Chevreuse

The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Chevreuse This novel follows the usual Patrick Modiano modus operandi. A man (Modiano’s alter ego) looks back, both from the age of seventy and the age of twenty. He meets various suspicious characters, a mysterious woman, visits a mysterious flat in Paris and revisits the house he lived in as a child (with no parents to be seen) in Chevreuse. We and he gradually learn that dirty deeds are afoot and that he may have witnessed a key event when he was five, for which the bad guys are now after him (when he is twenty and they have rediscovered him). Another enjoyable novel from Modiano.

Manon Steffan Ros: Llyfr Glas Nebo (Blue Book of Nebo)

The latest addition to my website is Manon Steffan Ros‘s Llyfr Glas Nebo (Blue Book of Nebo). This is a Welsh post-apocalyptic novel, translated from the Welsh. Following what looks like a nuclear war and the failure of a local nuclear power station, thirty-six years old Rowenna and her fourteen year old son, Dylan, living in a remote Welsh village, seem to be the only survivors, everyone else having died or moved away. The pair manage to survive, trapping animals and growing their own crops and we follow them, how they change from the pre-apocalypse period and become resourceful and resilient, but also learning, both from books they take from abandoned houses and from their struggle. But is there anyone out there?

Wolfgang Hilbig: Das Provisorium (The Interim)

The latest addition to my website is Wolfgang Hilbig‘s Das Provisorium (The Interim). This novel tells the story of C. He had been a good East German, working in a factory and then, at the age of forty, became a full-time writer. He eventually gets a visa to spend a year in West Germany, leaving his live-in girlfriend and mother. Much of his money is made from book tours, which he hates, rarely seeing the city but hanging out near the railway stations, which symbolise the journey home. He does go home a few times but when his visa expires and he has not applied for renewal, he is more or less stuck in West Germany and cannot really cope, feeling he belongs to neither country. He turns to drink and pornography, failing in relationships and moving to a different city, always on an interim basis. A sad but superbly written story of man who has lost his way.

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.

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