The latest addition to my website is Dina Salustio‘s A Louca de Serrano (The Madwoman of Serrano). This is the first novel written by a woman published in Cape Verde and the first in English. It may well be the first magic realist and feminist novel from Cape Verde. It tells the story of the remote village of Serrano, where the midwife is all important, where the madwoman dies aged thirty-three and is reborn aged nine and where the sexual relations between the men and women, including those involving strangers coming to the village, are complicated and make up the bulk of the story. We follow the stories of various characters but primarily three people, a man and two women, whose lives do not always turn out the way they want. Salustio is a wonderful story-teller and tells her story well.
The latest addition to my website is Soledad Puértolas‘ Queda la noche [The Night Remains]. This book follows the story of Aurora a thirty-something, single Spanish woman who struggles to cope with life. She has a series of desultory affairs but they do not really work out. She travels East with a male friend, particularly to New Delhi, where she meets a group of men and is attracted to two, an Indian and an Englishman but that does not work out, at least not in the way she hoped. Back home, things start to go wrong: parents, friends, boyfriends, relatives, life, all made more difficult by what happened in India turning out to be far more complicated than she (and we) had been aware of. It is a sad book, as all that remains for her is, as the title, says, the night. It has been translated into for languages, but not English.
The latest addition to my website is Margaret Atwood‘s The Testaments. This is her well-publicised follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, and is set some fifteen years after that book ended, still in Gilead, a successor country to the United States. In this book we primarily follow the story of three women. Aunt Lydia is in charge of the Ardua Home, where women are trained either to be wives/mothers or aunts (older women who mentor/teach younger women). She had been a lawyer before the revolution which led to the Sons of Jacob taking over and oppressing women in accordance with the men’s view of the Bible. She is now a survivor. Agnes is a young woman from a well-to-do home who is being trained to be a wife/mother but decides to become an aunt. Daisy was a Gilead baby but had been smuggled out to Canada and only learns of her fate at the beginning of the book. We follow the story of these three women and the fate of Gilead. Atwood again gives us a superb story and very much makes her point about the oppression of women.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Bieguni (Flights). The Polish title refers to a sect of Old Believers who believed that they should run away from anti-Christian authorities. However, though this issue briefly comes up later in the book, the novel is essentially a series of chapters of varying lengths, primarily on the theme of travel or, at least, of elsewhere, telling stories, historical anecdotes, experiences of travel, travel philosophy and her obsession with biological and anatomical oddities. She tells us some wonderful stories, introduces to the idea of plastination (a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts) and tells us her philosophy of travel – It Doesn’t Matter Where I Am, it makes no difference. I’m here. It is not a conventional novel but if you have ever travelled or wanted to travel, you will find it a joy to read.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Dom dzienny, dom nocny (House of Day, House of Night). The novel is set in the Polish town of Nowa Ruda, south-west Poland (Tokarczuk lives in a nearby village). It used to be in Germany but became Polish after the war. It is on the Czech border. The female narrator tells stories of herself, her neighbours, the other inhabitants and people who visit the town, including the German occupiers in the war. We go back to the local saint Wilgefortis aka Kümmernis, who had a woman’s body but the face of Christ (with beard) and the two world wars and up to around 1980. Most of the inhabitants are somewhat eccentric. However, we are not spared the horrors of wars and multiple deaths. All the stories are highly imaginative and original, with mystery and otherworldliness hanging over them. It is another first-class work from Tokarczuk.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Prawiek i inne czasy (Primeval and Other Times). This is the second of Tokarczuk’s novels published in English. It tells the story of a quasi-mythological village in Poland called Primeval. The village has fairly precise geographical coordinates but does not exist in real life. We follow the Niebieski family and their relatives from 1914 to approximately 1980. In some cases we get realistic accounts, e.g. of the two world wars and their effect on the village, and in other cases, Tokarczuk uses fantasy or magic realism to show other aspects of the village, in the way that Gabriel García Márquez does in Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude). The whole story mirrors the suffering that Poland has experienced during the period, from the two world wars to Communism and its corruptions. It is a superb introduction to Tokarczuk’s work.
The latest addition to my website is Lucy Ellmann‘s Ducks, Newburyport. This is a very long (1020 pages), post-modern novel. Much of it consists of a single sentence, detailing the thoughts of a middle-aged woman from small town Ohio. She ranges over all the obvious topics – her life and her family (four children, one current and one ex-husband), but also current events, including Trump, guns, pollution and many other current topics. She gives us lists, word associations in their thousands, lots of comments about her life and life in Ohio and the US and her concerns about where her life is going and not going. At the same time, we follow a separate, more poignant story, told in a more conventional way, i.e. with sentences, about a mountain lioness, raising her cubs and struggling with humans, the bane of her life. It is very well told and a joy to read, as Ellmann is such a superb writer.
The latest addition to my website is Soledad Puértolas‘ Burdeos (Bordeaux). The novel tells three stories, with several of the characters appearing in two or all three stories. The first two are set in Bordeaux, with the third set in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The characters are nearly all all well-to-do bourgeoisie. The main theme of the stories is that marriage/close relationships are not a good thing, particularly for women, with the men being controlling, patronising or simply taking their wives for granted. Despite this, the solitary life, which several of the characters lead, is not really a good thing either. In the third story, Elizabeth Parker gives some advice, namely marry anyone as long as they love you. Perhaps this is the message Puértolas wishes to share.
The latest addition to my website is Irina Odoevtseva:‘s Изольда (Isolde). This book was first published in 1929 and was condemned by Odoevtseva’s fellow Russian émigré writers, including Nabokov, as it dealt with teenage sex and nihilism and was therefore clearly immoral. It tells the story of a Russian émigré family in Biarritz in the 1920s. They are irresponsible mother Natasha, more concerned with her love life than her children (her husband was killed in the Revolution) and her two teenage children, Liza and Nikolai. Liza meets a young Englishman, Cromwell, who christens her Isolde before he knows her name and falls in love with her. When they are joined by Liza’s nominal boyfriend, Andrei, and Natasha disappears in pursuit of her boyfriend, things get very much out of hand. It was published the same year as Jean Cocteau‘s Les Enfants terribles (Children of the Game (UK); The Holy Terrors (US); Les enfants terribles), to which it bears some resemblance.
The latest addition to my website is Sara Stridsberg‘s Drömfakulteten (UK: Faculty of Dreams; US: Valerie) . The US title – Valerie – gives a much better idea of the subject than the UK one (a literal translation of the Swedish original), as the novel is about Valerie Solanas, who is known for two things: the SCUM manifesto (SCUM stand for the Society for Cutting Up Men) and for shooting (but not killing) Andy Warhol. In her introduction, Stridsberg says All characters in the novel should therefore be regarded as fictional, including Valerie Solanas herself.. While Solanas is real, many of the other characters are not and much of what we are told about Solanas is imaginary. We follow her early life, her sexual abuse by her father, her successful college career and then Scum and Warhol, leading to a mental hospital, followed by prostitution and, finally, death in a seedy San Francisco hotel. We do not learn why she shot Warhol, but we do learn about a woman who could have been a success but who ended up dying a miserable death. Stridsberg gives us a superb, feminist novel about the underbelly of fame and success in the US.