The latest addition to my website is Carlos Rojas‘ El sueño de Sarajevo [The Dream of Sarajevo]. This is the third book of his Sandro Vasari trilogy and certainly the best. Its is a very complicated book, set in a fictitous mental asylum called The Dream of Reason, where the relatively few patients are both fictitious and historical characters, but many of whom are dead and are there as ghosts. These include Fernando VII, King of Spain, Marcel Proust and the philosopher Descartes. Several of them have lived for several hundred years or died and come back to life. All have witnessed strange events, both historical and fictitious. One has had premonitions about events such as the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand or the assassination of Tsar Nicholas and his family. Many of them cross paths during their excursions through history. Rojas uses all of this to comment on Spain and her history, religion, politics, philosophy, memory and a host of other topics. This is a first-class novel which really deserves to be better known. Sadly, this book has not been translated into English or any other language
The latest addition to my website is Carmen Laforet‘s Nada (Nada; Andrea), a Spanish novel that not only has been translated into English but is in print in English in both the USA and UK. It was published in 1945 and is set immediately after the Spanish Civil War when things were grim, particularly in Barcelona, where the novel takes place. Andrea is an orphan who goes to Barcelona to study at university and stay at her grandparents’ house, a house she remembers from her childhood as being splendid. However, when she arrives, she finds that they have sold some of the building and the remaining parts are dilapidated, piled with furniture, which they gradually are selling off. Moreover, the remaining members of the family – her grandmother, her aunt, two uncles and the wife and young son of one of the uncles – are perpetually squabbling, often with fists. Andrea tries to fit in but finds it very difficult. This novel had considerable success in Spain and was translated into many languages, not least, in part, because it is seen as a metaphor for the situation of Spain after the Ciivil War.
I have just published my latest website statistics. I am not sure if they mean anything, but I note that I have read books from thirteen more countries than six months ago (Bermuda, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Maldives, Moldova, San Marino, Seychelles and Uzbekistan) and have reviewed sixty-six books during that period, though only eleven by women writers. There were seven books each from Ireland and Spain. I expect in the coming six months, Spain will do much better. Indeed, in terms of number of authors read, I expect Spain to overtake Ireland and, possibly, Russia. My current order, based on authors read is USA, England, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Canada and Mexico. Does that reflect the quality of authors of this period? No, I think England, Italy and,possibly, Ireland are too overrated with China, Japan and Argentina too underrated. However, I don’t expect these figures to change much.
Why do we seem to like Hitler in our fiction? Last year saw the English translation of Laurent Binet‘s HHhH (HHhH) and next year will see the publication in English of Timur Vermes‘ Er ist wieder da [He’s Back]. Now, the latest twist on the Hitler story is another French book, this one by the pseudonymous François Saintonge, called Dolfi et Marilyn. It tells the story of the 130 year old billionaire Reinhard Gentschel who clones his two favourite dead people – Adolf Hitler and Marilyn Monroe. I have not seen any announcement as to whether it is to be translated into English but I would not be surprised. I have not yet read it and do not know whether I will. So why are we still fascinated by him? After all, we do not seem to have too many novels about other 20th century monsters, such as Stalin and Mao, though maybe the Russians and Chinese are producing them and we are not aware of them. Non-fiction books about the Nazis also apparently sell very well. Is this because Nazism and Hitler affected us (i.e. Western Europeans) much more than did Stalin and Mao? Whatever the case, I am sure we will see more books along these lines.
Having read John Lanchester‘s article on the lack of novels involving the London Tube system, I decided to create a list of novels (partially) set on the London Underground Railway. While I did find a few, there were not many impressive works, with far more films, including one that did not make Wikipedia’s list (see above) though it did make this list. Lanchester says that as the tube is so central to Londoners’ lives, he is surprised that there is no novel where the tube is central. Of the novels on my list, I had read six and, I must confess, that only with the Julian Barnes’ novel, did I even remember the tube featuring at all. However, people do read on the Underground as Annie Mole’s excellent blog shows.
The most recent addition to my website is Carlos Rojas‘ El Ingenioso Hidalgo y Poeta Federico García Lorca asciende a los infiernos (The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell). This is the second in the loose trilogy,the first being El valle de los caídos [The Valley of the Fallen]. This one, as the title shows, is about Lorca after his mysterious death and shows not only an unusual idea of hell – you spend your time watching a theatrical performance of your life, your dreams and your fantasies – but also tries to show what happened to Lorca when and after he was arrested and what might have happened had he not been arrested, as well as raising other issues in his life. Amazingly, this novel is about to be published in English by the Yale University Press (April in the USA and May in the UK), for which they can only be warmly congratulated.
The latest addition to my website is Christos Tsiolkas‘ Dead Europe. I had previously read his The Slap but was not terribly impressed with it. I was not terribly impressed with this book, either, though it is certainly more interesting than The Slap. It tells both the tale of a thirty-six year old gay Australian photographer through several European cities and the story of a Greek family, from a mountain village, with their superstitions and anti-Semitism (a key theme of the book), a family we soon learn that is his mother’s family. We may all have our differing views on whether Europe is dead (and, conversely, Australia and the United States are not) but I do not feel that Tsiolkas makes his case in this book. Nevertheless, it is interesting to get a different perspective.
The latest addition to my website is Joseph McElroy‘s Actress in the House. This is another somewhat odd novel from McElroy, his first in fifteen years (and the next one won’t be till June 2013, ten years after this one). It starts with an actor slapping an actress, playing his sister, very hard in the face and carries on with McElroy’s trademark themes of people trying to make sense out of random information and link things together, a lawyer wondering whether he should sue the state of Connecticut for causing an earthquake, a couple sleeping together in the nude but not having sex, an atrocity during the Vietnam War and various odd events seemingly somehow connected. It makes for interesting if somewhat puzzling reading.
The latest addition to my website is Carlos Rojas‘ El valle de los caídos [The Valley of the Fallen]. This book is the first in a trilogy by Rojas concerning Spanish history. Despite the title, named after a Francoist monument to the fallen in the Civil War, it does not involve the Civil War but is about Goya, Charles IV and Ferdinand VII, kings of Spain during Goya’s era, and the death of Franco. Rojas mixes up events from Goya’s time and from Goya’s perspective with a story told in the few days leading up to Franco’s death and comes to the conclusion that things really have not got much better and probably are not going to do so. I plan to get to the next two books in the trilogy in the next week or two.
The latest addition to my website is António Lobo Antunes‘s Conhecimento do Inferno (Knowledge of Hell, an earlier novel by Antunes but still very much in the style of his later novels. It is the story of a psychiatrist called António Lobo Antunes who is travelling from the Algarve to Lisbon by car and is recounting what he sees but, more particularly, his life, to his (absent) daughter, Joanna. His vision is inevitably bleak as he starts off by criticising the English tourists and the Portuguese who sell things to them and moves on to paint an overall bleak portrait of Portugal as it is in the present day. But he also spends much time damning his own profession and the psychiatrists who practise it, as well as describing the horrors of Portugal’s colonial war in Angola, where he served as an army doctor. As always with Antunes it is superbly told, told in an original and vivid language but it is uniformly grim as well.