Page 2 of 117

Goldsmiths Prize shortlist 2017

The shortlist for this year’s Goldsmiths Prize was announced tonight:

  • H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker (William Heinemann)
  • A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume (William Heinemann)
  • Playing Possum by Kevin Davey (Aaaargh! Press) 
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (Fourth Estate)
  • First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta Books)
  • Phone by Will Self (Viking)

I’m not going to have time to read and blog the shortlist this year, but I still wanted to mention it because the Goldsmiths’ remit is very much up my street. A few first impressions, then:

The only one I’ve read to date is Reservoir 13 (reviewed for Shiny New Books here); I’m really pleased to see it on the shortlist. The nomination of H(A)PPY reminds me yet again that I really must read Nicola Barker. Sara Baume’s first novel was interesting, so I’m optimistic about her second. I’ve heard great things about Gwendoline Riley’s First Love.  From past experience, I have mixed feelings about Will Self’s work. Kevin Davey’s name is completely new to me; but his book sounds intriguing, and comes with praise from Gabriel Josipovici, which is a promising sign as far as I’m concerned.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the judges’ meetings…

Resurrection Bay – Emma Viskic: a snapshot review

This is a contemporary title Pushkin Press’s crime imprint, Pushkin Vertigo; and also the first novel by Australian writer Viskic. Caleb Zelic, a private investigator, begins the novel with his best friend’s body in his arms. Gary, a cop, has been brutally slain. With the police suspicious of him, Caleb tries to find out what happened. Then his partner-PI goes missing, and his own life is threatened. Caleb seeks help from his ex-wife Kat, but as events unfold, he finds more and more secrets wherever he turns… 

Resurrection Bay is a really enjoyable crime thriller: punchily written and snappily paced, with a vivid cast of characters. Caleb is also deaf, which is handled nicely by Viskic. There’s a sense of fluid communication as he switches between signing and vocalising speech, but there are are also times when we are adrift on a sea of words with him. I’m pleased to hear there will be more novels featuring Caleb Zelic; he’s an intriguing character whom I look forward to meeting again.

A version of this review was originally published as a thread on Twitter. 

Book details 

Resurrection Bay (2015) by Emma Viskic, Pushkin Vertigo, 282 pages, paperback (review copy). 

The Angel in the Stone – R.L. McKinney: a snapshot review

More than 20 years on, Calum is still haunted by his brother Finn’s death in a climbing accident. Their mother Mary, who now has dementia, blames Calum for Finn’s death, and is becoming increasingly paranoid as her condition progresses. Calum returned to Scotland five years ago, following a failed relationship in America. He still isn’t entirely settled, even now. Meanwhile, Calum’s estranged daughter Catriona is heading over from Aberdeen, seeking reconciliation and carrying secrets of her own.

The Angel in the Stone is the second novel by R.L. McKinney, an American writer who has lived in Scotland since 1995. In the book, McKinney weaves a nuanced portrait of family relationships, exploring what may cause those bonds to fray, break, or be made anew. There are also neat thematic parallels in the background: the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, and the changing face of the Highlands. All in all, The Angel in the Stone is an interesting read, worth checking out.

A version of this review was first published as a thread on Twitter. 

Book details 

The Angel in the Stone (2017) by R.L. McKinney, Sandstone Press, 298 pages, paperback (review copy). 

Elmet – Fiona Mozley: a Shiny New Books review 

The shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced tomorrow. One of the titles that might make an appearance is Elmet, the debut by British writer Fiona Mozley. It’s an intriguing novel about a family living outside the frameworks of modern law and society – and I’ve reviewed it here for Shiny New Books. 

Book details 

Elmet (2017) by Fiona Mozley, JM Originals, 320 pages, paperback (review copy). 

The White City – Karolina Ramqvist: a snapshot review

I have to admit, one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was because it won the Per Olov Enquist Literary Prize; and I loved the one book of Enquist’s that I’ve read, so naturally I’m going to like a novel that won a prize named after him, aren’t I? Well, whether that’s sound reasoning or not, it worked: I liked The White City (Karolina Ramqvist’s English-language debut, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel) very much. 

Karin lives with her baby daughter Dream, in the mansion bought for her by her gangster husband John. But now John has ‘gone’ (the circumstances are not specified), and Karin’s life is crumbling around her, with the house due to be repossessed. Karin is desperate for a way out, even if that means heading further into John’s shadowy world.

The White City reads like a gangster thriller turned inside out: never mind the gangsters; this novel focuses on two people left behind. Karin’s viewpoint is disorienting at first, because she’s not so preoccupied with the background information that would be handy to us. Her world is in turmoil, and what she holds on to – what’s most vivid in her mind – is her daughter, and being a mother to Dream.

The strongest images at the start of the book are of weather and landscape – and body and movement. In this way, the ‘white city’ of the title is not just Stockholm; it can also be seen as Karin herself, coming to terms with motherhood. And there are still thrills there, ready and waiting for the right time. The White City is short and sharp – just as I like novels best.
Elsewhere 

  • Saskia Vogel writes for the Paris Review on translating The White City

Book details 

The White City (2015) by Karolina Ramqvist (2017), tr. Saskia Vogel (2017), Grove Press, 176 pages, paperback (review copy). 

Record of a Night Too Brief – Hiromi Kawakami: a snapshot review

This is a collection of three stories by the author of Strange Weather in Tokyo (aka The Briefcase); The Nakano Thrift Shop; and Manazuru. The protagonists of all three stories are disconnected from life in some way; Kawakami explores this through various fantastical encounters.

The title story takes its narrator through a series of strange vignettes (dreams?): transformed into a horse; guest at a bizarre banquet. Alternating chapters chronicle her relationship with a girl, who shrinks, disappears and reappears as circumstances change.

In ‘Missing’, the protagonist’s brother has disappeared – though occasionally he returns, and only she can see him. Now the family is trying to find room for the brother’s wife-to-be (who, unbeknownst to her, is now marrying the narrator’s other brother). There’s a deadpan quality to this story which offsets the strangeness, and which I really like.

The final story is called ‘A Snake Stepped On’. Its protagonist does indeed step on a snake — which then turns into a woman, takes up residence in the narrator’s home, and claims to be her mother. As the story progresses, snakes appear all over, perhaps representing …the tensions squirming beneath the surface of everyday life. With some arresting imagery, this story is a fitting end to an intriguing collection.

A version of this review was originally published as a thread on Twitter. 

Elsewhere 

  • An extract from the story ‘Record of a Night Too Brief’ at Words Without Borders.
  • Reviews of the book by my fellow MBIP-shadowers Tony’s Reading List and 1streading.
  • An interesting interview with translator Lucy North at Bookwitty. 

Book details 

Record of a Night Too Brief (1996) by Hiromi Kawakami, tr. Lucy North (2017), Pushkin Press, 160 pages, paperback (personal copy).

The Castle of Whispers – Carole Martinez

It’s time for some historical fiction, the second novel by French writer Carole Martinez. In the late 12th century, Esclarmonde is the beautiful daughter of a lord; she faces marriage to the philandering Lothaire, scion of Montfaucon, but she knows that this will lead to an unacceptable loss of autonomy:

I would be nothing but a modest container whom successive pregnancies would finally carry away. And even if Lothaire died before me, my widowhood would not protect me, but would abandon me again to the highest bidder as a token of some alliance or other. 

(translation by Howard Curtis) 

There’s only one thing that Esclarmonde can think to do: at the wedding ceremony, she cuts off her ear and announces that she will dedicate her life to Christ as an anchoress. Her family’s seat, the Castle of Whispers, has been added to piecemeal over the generations; now her father adds the chapel in which Esclarmonde will be sealed for the rest of her days. She will be considered dead to the world, even receiving the rite of extreme unction.  

However, the night before her confinement begins, Esclarmonde is raped. In the following months, she falls pregnant and gives birth to a boy whom she names Ezléar, “God’s help”. She decides to keep the child, whose birth comes to be seen as miraculous (no one asks Esclarmonde the question that would reveal otherwise). Add to this that no one has been claimed by death since Esclarmonde entered her cell, and the Damsel of the Whispers’ reputation only grows. 

But although Esclarmonde’s godliness increases in the eyes of others, her own feelings are moving in a different direction:

Gradually, without my even noticing, my attention moved away from the hagioscope to my son and all the people he attracted. God occupied me less than his creatures from now, and I never grew tired of watching them, listening to them, trying to understand what motivated their little brains. I no longer dreaded their judgment, or even that of God. I had not lied, I had merely kept silent about a truth that nobody wanted to hear anyway, and my silence had offered a blank space to be embroidered, an emptiness that everyone had seized on with delight. 

Esclarmonde’s self-questioning over her faith is a recurring theme of The Castle of Whispers. Another is motherhood, and what Elzéar represents you Esclarmonde – whether she’ll be happy to surrender him to the outside world before he grows too large to fit through the window to her cell. A further theme is power: in a world ruled by men, Esclarmonde gains a certain amount of power through her status as an anchor essay. Later on in the novel, she convinces her father to join Frederick Barbarossa’s forces on the Third Crusade; the lord’s young wife Douce, Esclarmonde’s stepmother, rules at home in his stead. The book becomes an exploration of the shifting spaces of male and female power. 

I’m struck by how much The Castle of Whispers encompasses when its protagonist spends most of time confined to a small space. More than that, it’s thoroughly engrossing. After this, I’ll certainly be going back to look at Martinez’s first novel, The Threads of the Heart, and looking out for future books, too. 

Elsewhere 

Stu has reviewed this book over at Winstonsdad’s Blog

Book details 

The Castle of Whispers (2011) by Carole Martinez, tr. Howard Curtis (2014), Europa Editions, 194 pages, hardback (review copy). 

You Will Grow into Them – Malcolm Devlin: a Minor Literature[s] review

Today I’m delighted to make my debut at Minor Literature[s], a site that I’ve long admired. If you’ve never come across Minor Lit[s] before, it publishes fiction, poetry, essays, reviews and more. The ‘minor’ in the site’s name originally referred to writing in a second language, after Kafka; but it has broadened out to encompass different ways in which literature can be considered ‘minor’ (though not lesser!) in the context of contemporary publishing – all while maintaining its own distinctive aesthetic. 

The book that I’m reviewing is You Will Grow into Them, the debut story collection by Malcolm Devlin, published by Unsung Stories. Devlin’s name was new to me when I accepted the review copy; but I saw that he’d had stories published in Interzone and Black Static, and the book came with plaudits from trusted names like Nina Allan, so that was enough for me.

I found in Devlin a writer whose work demands my attention. The stories in this collection are centred on change in its various forms, and carry a real sense of how destabilising it can be. But I don’t want to say too much on this blog when there’s a review for you to read right here

Book details 

You Will Grow into Them (2017) by Malcolm Devlin, Unsung Stories, 344 pages, paperback (review copy). 

The Russian Riveter 

Last week, the European Literature Network published the second edition of its regular magazine The Riveter. This one is devoted to Russian literature, and has fiction and poetry in translation, as well as reviews – including my review of Andrey Kurkov’s The Bickford Fuse (tr. Boris Dralyuk). 

The Russian Riveter is available to download free as a 48-page PDF from here. Do take a look. 

Seeing Red – Lina Meruane

August is Women in Translation Month, and that’s going to be my main focus on the blog this month. But Spanish Lit Month has also been extended to August (and expanded to cover Portuguese lit) – so I thought I’d start the month off with a book that falls under both headings. 

Lina Meruane is a Chilean writer and academic living and working in New York. Seeing Red is her fourth novel, but the first to be translated into English. It’s also semi-autobiographical: Meruane’s protagonist has the same name as her; and the book revolves around a medical condition that the author herself lived with. 

It begins at a house party. Lina is on her own in the bedroom when suddenly blood fills her eye: juvenile diabetes had meant that her retinal veins were fragile, and now one has burst. Immediately, Lina starts wondering about the future: is this going to lead to “the dark passage where only anonymous, besieged cries could be heard,” or is there a way out? Lina won’t have any answers until she sees her doctor in a few days, by which time there’s enough blood in her second eye to leave her effectively blind when she moves. The doctor suggests that it may be possible to restore Lina’s sight with an operation – an option she leaps at – but not for another month at least. Much to her consternation, Lina has no choice but to wait. 

Naturally, her sudden sight loss affects Lina’s life in many ways. A flavour of some is given in this passage, where Lina has travelled back to Chile on vacation and is met by her father at the airport:

My father comes to the rescue and pulls me out of my introspection. It’s his bony tourniquet hand that falls onto my shoulder. His debilitated skeleton, his long femur I hold onto. He leans over to kiss my forehead and I extend my fingers to run them over his face, trying to trace his face into my palm. I touch him like the professional blind woman I’m becoming. My father is alive, I think, he’s alive in there, inside his body. Then his voice, the word daughter, winds its way through the crush of passengers waiting for suitcases, and in my ear drum his relieved words echo: I had to insist before they’d let me come in and look for you. 
(translation by Megan McDowell) 

Here we have a clamour of sensory information, as well as a laborious process of working it all out, something that’s increasingly familiar to Lina (that wry “professional blind woman” comment). I’ve quoted at some length here because that’s the nature of the book: each chapter is presented as a single long paragraph. This has the effect of bringing the reader down to Lina’s pace, having to work through situations slowly. It also heightens the sense that there’s no escape from Lina’s circumstances, no short cut to recovery – especially in the sections concerning Lina’s treatment, when it’s unclear whether the operation will work, and she has to take extreme care to avoid causing damage while her eyes heal. 
Megan McDowell’s translation is superb, so much rhythm, sound and colour. Here, for example, is Lina in bed with her partner Ignacio:

I started by putting my tongue in a corner of his eyelid, slowly, and as my mouth covered his eyes I felt a savage desire to suck them, hard, to take possession of them on my palate as if they were little eggs or enormous and excited roe, hard, but Ignacio, half-asleep or now half-awake, refused to open them, he refused to give himself to that newly discovered desire, and instead of giving me what I wanted he pushed me back onto the bed and put his tongue in my ear and between my lips although he didn’t dare lick my sick eyes when I asked him to… 

That sentence goes on still further, evoking the slow unwinding of Lina’s desire. There are strong feelings throughout Seeing Red, as Lina’s relationships with her loved ones come under strain, and she fixated on the possibility of a cure for her blindness. Strong feelings on the page turn into an intense experience for the reader; a fine English-language debut for Meruane.

Book details 

Seeing Red (2012) by Lina Meruane, tr. Megan McDowell (2016), Deep Vellum Publishing, 162 pages, paperback (personal copy). 

The UK edition of Seeing Red is published by Atlantic Books

© 2017 David's Book World

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: