The latest addition to my website is Ned Beauman‘s The Teleportation Accident. It’s not a science fiction novel, more a pastiche of science fiction, US noir, particularly 1930s noir, conspiracy theories and spy fiction. It’s quirky, it’s funny, at times it is stupid but is a thoroughly enjoyable read and certainly different from your run-of-the-mill Granta Young Novelist fiction (Beauman made the list). However, it does have one thing in common with one of the other works. It is only the second novel that I can recall reading that uses the word panopticon.
The latest addition to my website is Tahmima Anam‘s The Good Muslim. It tells the story of a feminist doctor in Bangladesh during the period immediately after independence in 1971 as well as in the mid-1980s. Maya’s brother, with whom she had been very close, has returned from the war a very changed man and he becomes very religious and marries a very religious woman. Maya herself has moved away from Dhaka, abandoning her plans to be a surgeon, to work in the areas away from Dhaka where there are few medical facilities. She comes up against entrenched attitudes about the role of women and other issues and, by the start of the book, has decided to return home to Dhaka, particularly as her sister-in-law has died. She sees her country facing many problems, such as corruption, police brutality and a move towards the rise of a capitalist class. Anam was one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists.
The latest addition to my website is Naomi Alderman‘s The Lessons. Naomi Alderman is one of the Granta’s Best Young British Novelists. Though this novel, an Oxford University and after novel, owes a certain amount to Brideshead Revisited, The Line of Beauty and The Secret History, it is still a good, well-written novel, telling the story of an ordinary middle-class Oxford student meeting up with a very rich but very unbalanced student, with whom he has a homosexual affair and with whom he shares a house in Oxford, along with several other students, including his girlfriend. As with any good university novel, it is about how this student tries to find out who he really is and where he is going. I look forward to reading future novels by Alderman.
On Monday and Tuesday, Sotheby’s in London held an auction for English PEN of books by well-known authors, with annotations by the authors. The organiser of the auction, book dealer Rick Gekoski, describes what many of them did. I did think of attending the auction myself but realised the prices would be way out of my range, as turned out to be the case. Most of the headlines were about some book about some boy magician. (This is going to sound horribly pretentious but I have only read the first of the boy magician books and then in Irish. Why in Irish? When I was learning Irish (one day I will review a book only available in Irish on my website), my extraordinarily bright daughter gave me a copy of the book in Irish to help with my learning.) The results of the auction show that that book sold for £150,000 but I would have been more interested in Remains of the Day, which sold for a mere £18,000 or Wolf Hall at £16,000 or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at £13,000 or Amsterdam at £7000 or Oscar and Lucinda at £4,8000 or Last Orders at £3200. You can support English Pen by joining here and learn more about them here. They do lots of good work helping writers all over the world.
Though we are only just over twelve years into the 21st century (yes, I can do the maths; the 21st century started on 1 January 2001), ABC has produced its list of the ten best Spanish novels of the 21st century. However, the first one on the list was actually published in the 20th century (yes, I am pedantic) – La fiesta del chivo (The Feast of the Goat) being published in 2000. Technically, it is Peruvian but apparently Vargas Llosa has Spanish citizenship so they are claiming him. Of the others on the list, three are on my site – Crematorio [The Crematorium], Tu rostro mañana (Your Face Tomorrow) (link to the first one – there are actually three in the series, all on my site) and Los enamoramientos (The Infatuations), though I hope to get to some of the others soon. Sadly not all have been published in English.
The latest addition to my website is François Mauriac‘s Le Mystère Frontenac (UK: The Frontenac Mystery; US: The Frontenacs). Unlike some of his other novels, where the family is seen as insidious and threatening, in this novel the family comes across as much more friendly, even if, at times, some of the individuals feel forced into certain actions because of the family. Indeed, the mystery of the title refers to the closeness of the family. The Frontenac family, widow Blanche, her five children and her late husband’s brother, generally stick together and even if Uncle Xavier has a guilty secret (which, though he is unaware of this, everyone knows) they do try and behave as a more or less normal family. Of course, there is pressure on the three boys (the girls are barely mentioned) to conform to a certain way of behaviour and two of them do, after their arms have been mildly twisted, with only Yves, the poet, straying somewhat. Mauriac is such a fine writer that this novel does work and it had considerable success in France and is still much read.
The latest addition to my website is Mohamed Toihiri‘s La République des Imberbes [The Republic of the Beardless], the first novel from the Comoros on my website. The Comoros have had a tumultuous history since independence from France in 1975 and this novel gives a barely fictionalised account of a specific period when the ruthless Ali Soilih was in power for around two and a half years. The novel starts with his overthrow by a small group of mercenaries, led by John Ménard, the not very well disguised Bob Denard but goes on to give Soilih’s (called Guigoz in the book) thoughts about his life, ranging from his completely closing down the civil service to banning sorcery (and arresting and torturing those who practised it) to appointing young people (hence the title) to key positions. In the meantime, Soilih/Guigoz is totally ruthless, vicious and cruel to all and sundry. A fascinating book, though not available in English, to add the list of novels about dictators.
The latest addition to my website is Ivan Kakovitch‘s Mount Semele, the first Assyrian novel on my website. Most people probably think of the Assyrians as a fierce, warlike people who appeared in the Bible (and also in Byron’s poem The Destruction of Sennacherib) and who were essentially wiped out by the Babylonians and Medes in 605 BC. While this is true, they did continue as a people, even if they did not have their own territory. Unlike most of their neighbours, they turned to Christianity rather than Islam. Though they generally kept on good terms with their Muslim neighbours and rulers, they did suffer some repression throughout their history, particularly from Tamurlane in the 14th century and then again in the 19th and 20th centuries. Kakovitch’s book recounts events in their history from 1915 to the Mount Semele massacre, when their final resistance was destroyed by Iraqi forces. After the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians, like other peoples of the region, such as the Kurds and Armenians, hoped to gain independence. However, because of a combination of opposition by the Western powers, particularly Britain, and opposition from others in the region, this did not happen. Kakovitch’s novel recounts these events through the eyes of his grandmother, Sonia, and, more particularly, his great-uncle, Michel Nona, the de facto leader of the Assyrians during this period. It is a fascinating story and one probably unknown to most Westerners.
The latest addition to my website is Sum Marky‘s Vila Flogá [Villa Flogá], the first, and probably last, novel from São Tomé e Príncipe on my site. As far as I can tell there is no novel from São Tomé e Príncipe that has been published in English or, indeed, any other language but Portuguese. Indeed, there are very few published prose writers from this country. Marky remains one of the few novelists, with his books all out of print. This book was both quite fun and had a serious point, not least because it mentions (albeit in passing) the Batepá massacre and the events leading up to it, particularly the fact that the white government used forced labour to get workers for the white-owned plantations. The story is about a black cook, Sum Olímpio, who works for two white men, Sum Ferón and Sum Raul, confirmed bachelors both, interested in wine, women and song. Sum Olímpio lives in a shack, which he calls Vila Flogá. However, the government’s slum clearance project means that Vila Flogá is going to be bulldozed. Sum Olímpio needs 300 escudos to buy another piece of land, money he does not have. Borrowing (from his employers) and theft (also from his employers) form part of his plan to get the money. Sum Olímpio is something of a figure of fun but Marky (who was white) did show the problems the creoles faced when dealing with the whites.
I have recently returned frrm a week in Provence so this is a good time to say a few words about their literature. Provençal literature, which should be called Occitan literature, had its peak in the 12th and 13th centuries and influenced many poets, including Petrarch and Dante. Indeed, Petrarch spent much time in Provence and there is a museum devoted to him in Fontaine de Vaucluse, site of the largest underground spring in France. Not a great deal more happened till the founding of the Félibrige in the mid-nineteenth century. The Félibrige was an association of like-minded poets, whose best-known member was Frédéric Mistral, author of Mirèio , a long poem in Provençal, which helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the only Provençal writer to do so.
Occitan literature does not have much of a reputation now. I have one author on my Occitan page though expect to read some authors, such as Joan Bodon (Jean Boudou), Bernat (Bernard) Manciet and Alem Surre-Garcia (link in French). However, I did expect to find other works while in Provence. A tour of the bookshops in Aix-en-Provence (i.e. in Provence) sadly revealed that, apart from the odd copy of Mirèio, the Provençal bookshops had as many books in Mongolian as in Provençal. Nor did they have any of the contemporary Provençal writers translated into French. When I asked for books in Provençal at the wittily named Librairie de Provence, they looked at me as though I was mad. We have books about Provence (i.e. travel, guidebooks, cooking) was the response. Sadly, the language and culture seem to be dying.
But we did go to Lourmarin, famous perhaps as the home of Peter Mayle (no, we didn’t see him) but also the place where two famous French writers are buried. The first is Albert Camus, who needs no introduction. He bought a place in Lourmarin with the money from his Nobel Prize and died in a car crash less than two years later. Provence, however, is also home to several famous writers who wrote in French but about Provence. They have yet to appear on my site but I have read all of them many years ago and plan to reread them. Marcel Pagnol is probably the best-known, not least because of the films of his book and the films he himself made. Jean Giono is less well-known, at least in the English-speaking world. A few of his books are available in English but, sadly, not too many.
Even less well-known is Henri Bosco, born in Avignon and buried in Lourmarin, not far from Camus. None of his works is in print in English, though some have been translated and, even in France, his reputation is fading, perhaps because he wrote about what he knew – Provence. I will mention, in passing, René Char from Isle sur la Sorgue, a pretty little town, now known for its antiques, and Samuel Beckett who is not from Provence but spent some time in Rousillon, a town famous for its ochre, during the war, hiding from the Germans.