CategoryGlattauer Daniel

Sunday Salon: Ten Love Stories

I’ve been reading Marry Me, Dan Rhodes’s new collection of flash fiction on the theme of marriage. This being Rhodes, all is not exactly sweetness and light: in many of these stories, a male narrator is treated shabbily by his female partner – or occasionally he’s the one behaving shabbily himself – in absurd and darkly amusing ways.

‘Is there someone else?’ asks one man as his wife leaves him. ‘No,’ she replies, ‘there isn’t. But I would really, really like there to be’. Another woman informs her husband that he’ll have to leave, then produces a catalogue and sells him pots and pans for his new home (‘I would give you a discount because I know you, but it’s early days and I’m sure you’ll understand that I’ve got to keep a firm grip on my finances now I’m a single gal’). And so on, and so on, with these wonderfully barbed and pithy lines.

But, just occasionally. there are touches of real romance, as with the couple who put the lump of charcoal he gave her in lieu of a diamond under their mattress in the hope that pressure may transform it. The result: ‘it never looks any different. I think we would be a bit disappointed if it ever did.’ Moments like this bring light to the book, which ends up being quite sweet, in its own deliciously sour way.

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As it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, I decided to go back through my blog archives and see how many love stories I’ve reviewed over the years. My instinct was that it wouldn’t be that many, but (allowing for my subjective interpretation), I’ve come up with a list of nine more books to add to the one above, which is more than I expected. Here they are – but I’m not necessarily promising happy endings…

Viola di Grado, 70% Acrylic 30% Wool (reviewed Jan 2013)

A girl struggling to move on from her father’s death may have found a way forward when she meets a local boy who teaches her Chinese – if she can let herself move forward, that is. I really enjoyed this book, but it might as much an anti-love story as a love story.

Evan Mandery, Q: a Love Story (reviewed Sept 2012)

This must be a love story, because it says so in the title, right? Well, maybe not, as its protagonist receives repeated visits from his future self, trying to persuade him to call off his relationships. But the ending is actually rather affecting.

Alice Zeniter, Take This Man (reviewed May 2012)

A fine portrait of complex circumstances, as a young French-Algerian woman prepares to marry her Malian childhood friend in a bit to prevent his deportation. Not so much a tale of ‘will they?won’t they?’ as ‘should they? shouldn’t they?’.

Henry Green, Loving (reviewed Jan 2012)

A tale of love and contested space in a wartime country house. It begins and ends with the words of a fairytale, but that kind of happiness is a long way from being guaranteed.

Robert Shearman, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (reviewed Aug 2011)

An excellent set of stories examining love in its various manifestations.

Alison MacLeod, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (reviewed July 2011)

Another fine set of stories about love.

Daniel Glattauer, Love Virtually (reviewed Feb 2011)

A novel told through two people’s emails; their correspondence becomes a form of courtship dance. Will they or won’t they? I don’t know without reading the sequel.

Priya Basil, The Obscure Logic of the Heart (reviewed June 2010)

A non-religious boy from a wealthy Kenyan Sikh family and a girl from a devout Birmingham Muslim family fall in love – and the complexities of their situation are very nicely delineated in the book.

Ronan O’Brien, Confessions of a Fallen Angel (reviewed Aug 2009)

The story of a young man who has apparently prophetic dreams of people’s deaths. I include it here for its wonderful portrait of falling in love twice, in two different ways – the dizzy rush of first love, and a slower flowering of affection later on in life.

Book notes: Preussler, Glattauer, Bauer

Otfried Preussler, Krabat (1971/2)

First published in English under the title The Satanic Mill, this German children’s classic (translated by Anthea Bell) has now been reissued under its original title as part of the Library of Lost Books. It is the story of Krabat, a boy in 16th-century Saxony, who investigates a strange mill and finds himself compelled to become the miller’s apprentice, working alongside his eleven journeymen. The Master teaches his journeymen dark magic, but at a price: every New Year’s Eve, one of them will die.

Some children’s books can, of course, be well appreciated when one reads them as an adult; but I find myself wishing that I’d read Krabat as a child, because I can imagine how much stronger the sense of discovery and excitement would have been. Even so, I very much enjoyed Preussler’s crisply-told tale. What’s particularly striking is how much the book doesn’t reveal; there’s very little about Krabat’s life before the mill, and much about the miller and his powers is also left open to interpretation. As a result, the air of mystery and strangeness around the book never goes away; I was left guessing what would happen up to the very last page – there is no sense in this novel that a happy ending is guaranteed.

Links
Otfried Preussler’s website
Publisher Scott Pack blogs about the book

Daniel Glattauer, Love Virtually (2006/11)

It starts simply enough: Emmi Rothner tries to cancel a magazine subscription, but mistypes the address and her email ends up in Leo Leike’s inbox. He notifies her of the mistake, and all is forgotten until, months later, Leo receives Emmi’s automated Christmas message and yet another email meant for the magazine. So begins an intimate email correspondence underpinned by something that may yet turn out to be love.

Love Virtually is told entirely through the medium of Emmi’s and Leo’s emails (in a nice touch, the novel uses  two translators – Katharina Bielenberg and Jame Bulloch, who are a married couple  – each working on the messages of one protagonist). At first, I was unsure of this device, as, by their nature, such correspondences are always going to be more interesting for the participants than for outside observers. And, sure enough, there were times when the tone of the emails – enticingly drawn-out for Leo and Emmi, but rather long-winded for this reader – tried my patience.

But, as I got further in (and the novel was swift and snappy enough that this didn’t take long), I warmed to the ebb and flow of the exchange, which is a kind of courtship dance that creates personae for the two correspondents whilst occasionally offering glimpses of the real characters underneath. Both protagonists could gain or lose from the dialogue: Leo is single, though the sparks of his recently-ended relationship have not yet burnt out entirely; Emmi is married with children, but seems to drive the correspondence more than Leo, as it provides her with something that her existing relationship does not. Whatever reservations I might have had towards the beginning, by the end of Love Virtually I was gripped, wanting to know what happened. The ending is judged perfectly, and paves the way for the sequel, which will receive its English-language publication later in the year.

Links
Publishers’ interview with the translators
Love Virtually reviewed elsewhere: Vulpes Libris; Book Monkey; The Complete Review.

Belinda Bauer, Blacklands (2010)

My first choice for the Great Transworld Crime Caper – not that there’s much of the caper about this book – I first came across Blacklands as one of last year’s TV Book Club choices. I didn’t read it at the time, but I should have, because I missed a gem. Twelve-year-old Steven Lamb is preoccupied with finding the body of his uncle Billy, assumed to have been murdered as a child. Steven keeps digging on Exmoor, but without success; in desperation, he writes a letter to convicted child-killer Arnold Avery (one of whose victims is thought to be Billy)) asking where his uncle’s body is – and a game of cat and mouse begins.

What makes Blacklands work so well is Bauer’s sharply observant eye, and the careful positioning of Steven’s and Avery’s correspondence (and the search for Billy’s body) in her characters’ lives. Steven’s Nan – Billy’s mother – is forever scarred by the loss of her son (‘underneath she would always be Poor Mrs Peters’, [p. 8]) , which she refuses to accept. This has translated into a fractured household; Steven’s quest to find Billy is partly an attempt to patch up his family, but also his way of bringing purpose to a life beset by troubles at school as well as home.

For Avery, Steven’s letters also bring a sense of purpose and hope, though a much more chilling one – particularly after an inadvertent reflection in a photograph taken by Steven reveals to Avery that his correspondent is a child. Bauer opens enough of a window on to Avery’s mind to make our visits there deeply disturbing, but not so much that we lose sight of the monster he is. The author also builds tension very effectively as the novel progresses. Blacklands is a difficult read at times, but ultimately I found it a rewarding one.

Links
Belinda Bauer’s website
Blacklands reviewed elsewhere: It’s a Crime!; Petrona; Catherine, Caffeinated.

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