Ali Smith: Autumn

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Autumn. This is the first in Ali Smith’s four Seasons series of novels and, apparently, the first post-Brexit novel. It tells the story of Elisabeth Demand who, when a young child, lives next door to Daniel Gluck, a man sixty-nine years older than her, who becomes her unofficial babysitter. They share stories and she admires his taste in music and in art. Indeed, when she comes to study art as an adult, it is Pauline Boty, the relatively little known only female British Pop Art painter she writes her thesis on, despite her male tutor looking down on Boty. In later life, when she is thirty-two, Elisabeth visits Daniel, now 101, in the care home, apparently his only visitor. Feminism, time and the shortness of time left and Brexit and its generally negative effects are the key themes of the work. I found it somewhat bitty but still a worthwhile novel.

Pat Barker: The Silence of the Girls

The latest addition to my website is Pat Barker‘s The Silence of the Girls. This is a feminist retelling of the Trojan War, based primarily on The Iliad. It is narrated mainly by Briseis, wife of King Mynes of Lyrnessus, an ally of Troy conquered by the Greeks before they conquer Troy. Briseis is captured and made the concubine of Achilles and we see the events of the Trojan War through her eyes, instead of through the eyes of the (probably male) Homer. She and the other women suffer, as they are used for (usually rough) sex but also as nurses, servants, comforters, washers of the dead and other tasks deemed appropriate for female slaves. Meanwhile, Briseis becomes a pawn in the power struggle between Achilles and Agamemnon. We know how it all ends, with many men dead, but it is the women who suffer – rape, death, abuse, enslavement – without being involved in the war excepts as bystanders and/or victims, while the men joyously kill one another. Barker tells her tale well, with the implication being that men may not have improved much in the intervening three thousand years since the Trojan War.

Nicole Lundrigan: Unraveling Arva

The latest addition to my website is Nicole Lundrigan‘s Unraveling Arva. Set in Newfoundland, Lundrigan’s home province, this novel tells the story of Arva House. Both parents drowned, her father, apparently, after having drunk too much and her mother by suicide. She is now looking after Old Man Crane, an elderly and sick man, when she meets Clive. She is soon pregnant and they marry but life is not easy, with Clive’s infidelity and drinking, and two young children to look after. Arva tends to keep herself to herself but manages to struggle through, becoming her own woman, with the help of the close-knit community. Lundrigan tells an excellent tale of a small Newfoundland fishing community and of a woman whose unravelling is positive, not negative.

Mariko Ōhara: ハイブリッド・チャイルド (Hybrid Child)

The latest additon to my website is Mariko Ōhara‘s ハイブリッド・チャイルド (Hybrid Child). This is a science fiction novel, the second in the University of Minnesota’s Parallel Futures series and tells the story of a rogue humanoid battle unit, #3, which is all-powerful, virtually indestructible and can assume the form of anything it eats. It hides in a house where a seven-year old girl is buried in a secure vault and assumes the identity of the child, Jonah. Though it becomes involved in intergalactic and local wars, this is a feminist novel and the creature is not hell-bent on destruction but shows sensitivity and even love. Indeed, it is more the AI units than the humans that show sensitivity in this book. Ohara is a leading Japanese sci-fi writer and this book clearly shows why. Even if you are not a sci-fi fan, you will find this book well worth reading.

Ali Smith: How to Be Both

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s How to Be Both. This book tells two stories and, when it was originally published, half were printed with one first and the other half with the other one first. The first one (that I read) concerned the Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, known for his frescoes in Ferrara. The second story concerns George, a sixteen-year old English girl, whose mother suddenly died recently. Cross-dressing, gender fluidity and bisexuality are the both of the title though they do not figure prominently. The two are connected as, before her death, Carol George’s mother, takes George and her brother to Ferrara to see the frescoes. Carol is also an Internet rebel (Google bombing) and highly critical of certain politicians and, as a result, may or may not be under surveillance. I found the novel somewhat rambling but the George story was certainly more interesting than the Ferrara one.

Gine Cornelia Pedersen: Null (Zero)

The latest addition to my website is Gine Cornelia Pedersen‘s Null (Zero). This is Pedersen’s first (of two) novels and she has since made a name for herself as a TV star in Norway. This novel tells the story of a Norwegian girl, aged ten at the start of the novel and aged twenty-one by the end, who starts off by being somewhat sociopathic and, passing through teenage bad behaviour, has serious mental problems, spending some time in an institution, before being released and ultimately heading for Peru. Drugs, drink casual sex, violent behaviour, depression are all part of her problem. The novel is told in the first person, often in single, staccato sentences, as we follow her descent into Hell. Pedersen does not analyse or explain but merely shows what the unnamed narrator goes through.

Ali Smith: There But For The

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s There But For The. This is another original novel from Ali Smith, telling the tale of Miles Garth, who is invited to a posh dinner party in Greenwich (London) and subsequently locks himself in the spare bedroom, refusing to come out or to talk to anyone about it. We follow the stories of four people who had tangential connections to him but no-one seems to know him well. We also follow the publicity his actions generate and how people cash on his temporary celebrity. Hovering around it all is Brooke, a ten year old neighbour who tells terrible jokes, learns facts from the Internet and seems to be more of a voice of reason than any of the adults. It is clever, witty (and satirical) and most original.

Sayaka Murata: ンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman)

The latest addition to my website is Sayaka Murata‘s ンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman). Murata did and, apparently, still does work in a convenience store. Keiko Furukura has never quite understand social norms since she was a child. When starting university she sees a new convenience store opening up and applies for the job. At the beginning of this novel she has worked there for eighteen years. She has found her place, her life governed by the convenience store and its manual of behaviour. She is very happy, knows her job well and does not want to change. To her parents’ chagrin she has never had a boyfriend, let alone a husband. Then Shiraha turns up to work at the store, looking as much for a wife as for a job. Murata tells her story very sympathetically, showing that finding your niche, even if it as a lowly as convenience store worker, is what matters, particularly if you do not fit in with the way society thinks you should fit in.

Yūko Tsushima: 光の領分 (Territory of Light)

The latest addition to my website is Yūko Tsushima‘s 光の領分 (Territory of Light). Tsushima was the daughter of the writer Osamu Dazai who killed himself when she was one. This novel tells the story of a woman, whom we know only by her married name, who, at the start of the novel has left her husband. She has found a flat on the fourth floor of a Tokyo former office building which gives her a lot of light and, during the course of the novel, she lives there with her two year old daughter. She has various problems, including her controlling husband who has no job, difficulties with the flat, difficulties with her daughter who is temperamental, attempts by friends to make her reconcile with her husband (who is living with another woman) and generally cooping with life as a single mother. It is not a happy novel.

Scholastique Mukasonga: Notre-Dame du Nil (Our Lady of the Nile)

The latest addition to my website is Scholastique Mukasonga‘s Notre-Dame du Nil (Our Lady of the Nile). The novel tells the story of an elite girls’ school in the highlands of Rwanda. We follow some of the individual girls and teachers, as well as the various events at the school. In particular, the school is located not far from the source of the Nile and there is a black Madonna overlooking the site, to which the school makes an annual pilgrimage. However, this is the period when the Hutu-Tutsi conflict is breaking out and one girl, Gloriosa, daughter of a powerful father, helps foment the conflict in the school, even as it is starting up elsewhere in the country. As the school has both Hutu and Tutsi girls, things become very unpleasant. One of the girls is based on Mukasonga herself, who had to flee the country, while many of her family members were killed.