The latest addition to my website is Narcís Oller‘s La bogeria (The Madness). This is a short novel set in the late nineteenth century about a Catalan engineer and landowner called Daniel Serralonga whom we watch slowly slipping into insanity. His parents soon fell out with his mother becoming very religious and his father a gambler. The father will disown Daniel’s younger sisters, saying he is not their father, so they are brought up by an aunt. The father will later kill himself. We are following the story through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a lawyer, who is a friend of Daniel. He sees Daniel intermittently and each time there is some new episode dragging him towards instability – imprisonment for hitting a police commander, his obsession with General Prim and then conspiracy theories when the General is assassinated, a major inheritance dispute with his sisters, stock market problems. Each time we see him, he is looking worse and behaving more and more erratically. It is a delightful short novel, mocking, funny but also showing a certain amount of sympathy for a man who clearly cannot cope. The book is published by a new press – Fum d’Estampa Press – specialising in Catalan literature and I am looking forward to reading more of their publications.
The latest addition to my website is Kyūsaku Yumeno‘s ドグラマグラ (Dogra Magra). This is another Japanese epic – seven hundred pages in the Japanese original – which is both an incredibly complicated detective story as well as a searing indictment of contemporary (i.e. Japan in the 1930s) psychiatry where the doctors may well be more deranged than the inmates. Our narrator, initially unnamed, but who may (or may not) be Ichiro Kure, is a total amnesiac in the University of Kyushu psychiatric ward. He does not even remember his name but the doctor tells him that he has committed one or more terrible crimes but that he may (or may not) have been under the control of someone who had found out how to control the human psyche. We follow his narration but we also follow the often deranged notes of the doctors, both the current one and his colleague who may (or may not) have killed himself recently. Frequently, we not only have no idea about what is going on but neither we nor the characters know the real identity of the other characters. Nor is it clear who is the murderer, who the victim and who the detective. Ghosts of the deceased, a mysterious pained scroll of a dead woman, an apparently harmless old labourer, and the usual who is related to whom conundrum all add to our confusion. It is a superb and complex work, partially One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Чапаев и Пустота (UK: The Clay Machine-Gun; US: Buddha’s Little Finger) (both of which it preceded by many years) but so much more. Sadly, it is not available in English.