TagSimon Kurt Unsworth

Book notes: Cossé, Levine, Unsworth

Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore (2009/10)

A Novel Bookstore is the ninth novel by French writer Laurence Cossé (the translaltion is by Alison Anderson); one of the launch titles for the UK imprint of Europa Editions; and a celebration of literature. Ivan Georg is a bookseller who has reached his forties mostly drifting through life; but that all changes when he meets Francesca Aldo-Valbelli, a fellow-lover of literature, with the wealth to turn a vision into reality – and the particular vision which the pair has is a bookstore which will stock only good novels, as selected by a secret committee of writers. The Good Novel bookstore duly opens inParis, and is a great success; but there are those who seek to discredit this well-intentioned enterprise – even to the point of physically attacking its committee members.

Though Cossé’s novel is framed as a mystery, its structure (with a lengthy detour in the middle detailing the history of The Good Novel) – and, indeed, the very resolution of the mystery – suggests that this element is not the main point of A Novel Bookstore; rather, it’s about the value of literature itself. There are direct statements of what good novels can do – literature ‘prepares you for life’ (p. 150), it ‘bring[s] like-minded people together and get[s] them talking’ (p. 81) – but we also see how literature has enriched the lives of the characters who write and read it in the book.

There are aspects of A Novel Bookstore which seem less disruptive here than I’d usually find them in a novel – such as the passages where Ivan and Francesca discuss books, passages which are detailed but don’t drag – and I’m not sure whether I am just cutting the book more slack because I share its enthusiasm for literature, and it imagines a place where I’d love to shop. Well, if that’s the case, so be it; for today, the celebration is enough.

Reviews elsewhere: A Common Reader; Of Books and Reading; Books are My Boyfriends; Nonsuch Book.

Sara Levine, Treasure Island!!! (2012)

Sara Levine’s debut novel (another Europa UK launch title) also revolves around the transforming power of literature, though here it’s one work in particular, and the result is perhaps not as positive. Levine’s (unnamed) narrator is a twenty-something graduate with a penchant for the easy (one might say lazy) option, until reading Treasure Island inspires her to be more like Jim Hawkins, and be bold and adventurous in her life. So she takes money from the Pet Library where she works in order to buy a parrot (which does not go down well with her boss), and goes on from there.

The crux of Treasure Island!!! for me is the narrator’s lack of self-awareness: her inability (or unwillingness) to acknowledge the negative effects her actions have on others; to recognise that the changes she’s making in her life are not as daring as she thinks; to countenance that other people might have aspirations and lives as complex and important as her own. The protagonist’s narrative voice veers between wry and snarky, which adds to the portrayal of someone who is unsympathetic, but not entirely alienating. One’s reaction to her is held in tension to the very end, where there’s a suggestion that the narrator may finally be finding her way, despite everything.

Reviews elsewhere: Bluestalking; The Well-Read Wife; Muse at Highway Speeds; Em and Emm.

Simon Kurt Unsworth, Rough Music (2012)

Now a new chapbook from Spectral Press, this time by the ever-reliable Simon Unsworth. It’s the tale of a man named Cornish, who’s been hiding an affair from his wife Andrea, and is now having to cope with a bunch of masked figures making a racket and acting out some strange performance beneath his bedroom window every night – though nobody else seems to notice them. From the start, Cornish is not exactly a sympathetic character; but Unsworth gradually and effectively reveals just how cold and calculating the protagonist is, which makes his inevitable comeuppance all the more satisfying. The ‘rough music’ outside also works well, as it shifts back and forth between having a metaphorical function and driving forward changes in the story. All in all, nicely done.

Reviews elsewhere: HellBound Times; The Ginger Nuts of Horror.

The month in reading: March 2010

I didn’t get as much time to read in March as I’d hoped, and so read relatively few books last month, but the pick of the bunch was And This is TrueEmily Mackie‘s debut novel about a son trying to come to terms with his changing relationship with his father, and about the treacherousness of memory.

Other highlights from March were  Suzanne Bugler‘s fine character study, This Perfect World; Alex Preston‘s tale of the financial world, This Bleeding City; and Alastair Reynolds‘s sf adventure, Terminal World. And Simon Kurt Unsworth‘s ‘The Knitted Child’ was a simply beautiful short story.

Black Static 15: Simon Kurt Unsworth, ‘The Knitted Child’

A young woman suffers a miscarriage, and her grandmother knits her a doll to replace the child she lost. It’s no ordinary gift, though, because the old woman has magic, and her doll is sentient — but it has no way to communicate.

This is such a beautiful story. For a start, Unsworth’s prose has the rhythm of classic storytelling — one imagines ‘The Knitted Child’ being great read aloud. The tale as a whole is a highly evocative portrait of grief, made perhaps all the more so because we see much of the story from the knitted child’s viewpoint; so, we experience not only the family’s heartbreak, but also the doll’s frustration and sadness at not being able to act — at not being able to be in reality the child that it wants to be in its mind.

‘The Knitted Child was the first of Simon Unsworth’s stories that I’d read; it will not be the last.

Links
Simon Kurt Unsworth’s blog
Index of my Black Static 15 posts

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