The latest addition to my website is Niviaq Korneliussen‘s Homo sapienne (UK: Crimson; US: Last Night in Nuuk). The UK and US editions have different titles, with the UK title coming from one of the character’s favourite songs. In addition the UK title was published 1 November 2018 while the US edition is not published till 15 January 2019. The success of this book – it has already been published in several other languages – is simply because it is set in Greenland, written by a Greenland author and yet is about bisexuality, gender identification, excessive consumption of alcohol, casual sex and continual partying, topics we would not normally associate with Greenland. We follow five characters who struggle with their sexuality, their partners, their gender identification (in one case) and where the next party is to be held. It is certainly lively and colourful and gives us a different view of Greenland from the other Greenland novel on my website (written exactly a hundred years previously) but it is not great literature.
The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Winter. This is the second novel in her seasonal tetralogy. It tells the story of a dysfunctional family. The oldest sister, Iris, has strong left-wing views and is thrown out of the house by her father. Sophia, her younger sister, behaves and is responsible and goes on to become a successful businesswoman. She has a son, Arthur (Art) from a casual affair. Neither sister married and both are now old and not speaking to one another. Having broken off with his girlfriend, Charlotte, Arthur now turns up for Christmas at his mother’s huge house in Cornwall (where she lives alone) accompanied by a substitute, hired Charlotte, in the form of Lux. Iris is summoned as Sophia seem to be not eating and is accompanied by a strange, disembodied head and the four spend Christmas together where the past is aired, relationships discussed and challenged and topics such as Brexit, refugees, environmental politics and Greenham Common the subject of conversation. Smith makes her point about her issues but also about working together for the common good, something she feels that we do not do well either as a country or individuals.
The latest addition to my website is Ersi Sotiropoulos‘ Τι μενει απο τη νυχτα (What’s Left of the Night). The novel tells of three days in June 1897 spent by Greek poet C(onstantine) P Cavafy and his older brother, John. The family has fallen on hard times, so money is tight. Cavafy himself struggles with his art – how he should write – as well as comparisons with other writers, primarily French poets. The two brothers wander round Paris, often accompanied by a fellow Greek, Nikos Mardaras, unpaid secretary to the successful (and absent) Greek poet, Jean Moréas. John likes Mardaras while Constantine cannot stand him. As well as seeing his artistic struggles, we see his sexual struggles (he is very much attracted to a male Russian ballet dancer staying at their hotel), his issues with his mother and his inability to fit in. Sotiropoulos gives us an excellent portrait of the artist and his life.
The latest addition to my website is Hye Young-Pyun‘s 재와 빨강 (City of Ash and Red). This a grim Kafkaesque story about an unnamed man from an unnamed country, who works for a pesticide company. He is sent to the head office of the company, which is located in another country, where he barely speaks the language. On arrival, there is an epidemic and he is held at the airport for checks. He then goes to the flat the company has given him but it is in area where there are huge piles of rubbish because of a strike, and looting is taking place. His case is stolen at the building, which is then put into lock down because of the epidemic. He learns from a friend (actually his ex-wife’s second and now ex-husband) that the police are after him. When they come looking for him, he escapes through the window and is left to fend for himself among the piles of rubbish, other down-and-outs and lots and lots of rats. Hye Young-Pyun lays it on, as our hero, plunges further into a nightmare.
The latest addition to my website is Nicole Lundrigan‘s Thaw. The novel is set in the small Newfoundland town of Cupboard Cove and tells the story of two people who live there, as well as of their families. Tilley Gover is a sensitive boy with a loving mother but an aggressive and macho father and brother, both of whom think he should be more manly. He is interested in drawing and, when a celebrated artist, David Boone, returns to his home town, he learns from David about drawing and painting. David is there with his wife and his daughter, but also his mother, Hazel, who has had something of a wayward life, cursed by the circumstances of her birth, and who is now apparently going senile. However, there are dark, hidden secrets which will come out and involve both families. Lundrigan tells her story well, clearly having no time for the macho culture,
The latest addition to my website is Hye Young-Pyun‘s 홀 (The Hole), a disturbing Korean novel about a paralysed man. Oghi has a successful career as a professor of cartography, though his wife has not been able to succeed at any career and nor have they have had any children. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that they were in a car crash in which she was killed and he was left paralysed. His mother-in-law (a widow with no other children) takes over his care but we soon begin to wonder what she has in mind. Is she trying to help him or does she have some other sinister aim? And what is the large hole she is digging in the garden? Hye Young-Pyun tells a very convincing story and leaves us guessing till the end.
The latest addition to my website is Dubravka Ugrešić‘s Forsiranje romana-reke (Fording the Stream of Consciousness). This is a wonderful, witty satire on literary conferences. The setting is a literary conference in Zagreb, while Yugoslavia was still a country, and Ugrešić manages to mock numerous nationalities and their foibles, but, not surprisingly, with a special level of mockery for the Russians and, indeed, her own compatriots. Conspiracies galore, lots of sex (and sexual positions), including an aborted rape by three women of a sexist critic, lists, in-jokes and other post-modernist tropes, not to mention sciatica, are features of this hilarious book.
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.
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.
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.