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 Mo Yan‘s 酒国 (The Republic of Wine). This is a chaotic, alcohol-fuelled story about excesses in China, particularly alcohol and sex. We follow two stories, which will merge. The first involves crack investigator Ding Gou’er of the Higher Procuratorate, who is sent to investigate allegations that local mine officials are eating young boys. Drink and sex will be his downfall. At the same time, we are following an exchange of correspondence between Li Yudou, a doctor of liquor studies and would-be writer, who is writing to the famous writer, Mo Yan, submitting stories to him. Mo Yan is not terribly impressed with the stories, though does try to get them published. The stories tend to recount episodes from life in Liquorland, where he lives, including stories about the rearing and eating of young boys as well as the writer’s sexual obsession with his mother-in-law. Gradually, the two sets of stories merge, with a cast of characters obsessed with food, alcohol and sex and a plot that tends towards chaos.
The latest addition to my website is Emmanuel Carrère‘s Un roman russe (My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir). Though the English calls it a memoir – and, to a great extent it is – it is written as a novel, called a novel by the author and the publisher and reads as a novel. There are three main themes, apart from the overarching theme of Carrère’s own somewhat chaotic life. The first is his journalistic investigation of András Toma, allegedly the last World War II soldier to be repatriated. Toma was held in a mental hospital in Russia for fifty-five years, as he did not speak Russian and no-one in the hospital spoke Hungarian. Carrère and a film crew twice travel to Russia and once to Hungary to investigate. We also learn about Carrère’s family, particularly his grandfather who was Georgian and who never fitted in when in France, and his grandmother who was descended from Russian aristocrats. Finally, we follow Carrère’s tempestuous love affair with Sophie. All three stories intertwine and Carrère tells his story very well, despite showing himself to be a very flawed character.
The latest addition to my website is Haruki Murakami‘s 騎士団長殺し (Killing Commendatore). This is the usual Murakami, with a lone hero (a portrait painter by profession), trying to solve a mystery (or, in this case, several, possibly interrelated, mysteries), having to cope with the supernatural and helped by a strange but resilient girl (and, in this case, it it really is a girl, not a woman). The plot is complicated with pre-war Vienna, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the art of portrait painting, paternity issues and secret hideaways galore all coming into the mix. As always, with Murakami, the plot is complicated but it is all great fun and a really good read and while not of the quality of some of his earlier work, it is still a fine book.
The latest addition to my website is Germán Sierra‘s The Artifact. Sierra is a Spanish neuroscientist but this book was written in English, though his previous novels were written in Spanish. It is essentially a novel and treatise on the future of the species, dealing with artificial intelligence, quasi-life forms, new technologies and how we relate to them and a Ballardian car accident. There are two plots, one involving the narrator who loses an arm when his car is hit by an AI controlled drone and another when he is sent an MRI from a former student showing a brain with an artifact (an anomaly seen during visual representation in MRI. It is a feature appearing in an image that is not present in the original object.) However, what makes this book so interesting is Sierra’s discussion of a whole range of biological, quasi-biological, cybernetic, neurological and other developments in our species. It is one of the most original novels I have read for some time. Not an easy read but very well worth it.
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 Christoph Ransmayr‘s Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit [Cox or the Course of Time]. The hero of this book is Alister Cox, based on the very real James Cox. Unlike James Cox, Alister Cox travels to China to build clocks for the Chinese Emperor Qianlong. Qianlong is not particularly interested in the clocks and automata that they bring with them but wants a clock that can tell variable time – the time of a child or a lover or a man condemned to death. They work on those clocks and make some progress but the Emperor still seems less than impressed. Then the Emperor says he wants an eternal clock – a clock that works eternally. Cox feels he cam make such a clock but he is warned by Joseph Kiang, his interpreter, that to do so would be to challenge the Emperor, who has sole control of time, and to challenge the Emperor can only end one way – badly. I found this book less interesting than Ransmayr’s other work as it did not seem to really take off but was almost mundane, despite its exotic location and fascinating theme. It has been translated into four other languages but not English.
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.