CategoryFiction

Patience by Toby Litt

“Please be patient with me,” says Elliott at the start of Toby Litt’s novel Patience. Elliott is a disabled boy living in a Catholic orphanage in 1979. He is largely unable to move or speak, but his inner voice is richly expressive. I was reminded of Gerald Murnane’s writing at times, not just with the long, winding sentences, but also the way that Elliott’s imagination opens up patterns in the world.

For example, here he is watching a greenfinch:

…the green vision danced and fretted and eagered and preened in front of me I could not believe who could believe that I deserved so many feathers that overlapped in such a succinct way and that slid over one another in greens that were doorways to shy sly gardens of other greens that tree green had only hinted at.

Litt asks his readers to experience the world at Elliott’s pace, but the depth that’s revealed in doing so makes Patience a rewarding book. Elliott’s burgeoning friendship with a new boy, Jim, is a delight to read about.

#InternationalBooker2020: Melchor, Kehlmann, Azar

A selection of titles from the International Booker Prize longlist

Fernanda Melchor, Hurricane Season (2017)
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (2020)

Hurricane Season is an appropriate title for a novel that roars into the unsuspecting reader’s mind, with its long and winding sentences, and its refusal to flinch from the brutalities of its world.

Set in a Mexican village, Melchor’s book begins with the murder of a woman known as “the Witch”, whose house is rumoured to hide a stash of treasure. Subsequent chapters unpeel the events that led to the killing, and show the dark realities of life in this community.

It’s a powerful translation by Sophie Hughes, and a novel that’s not soon forgotten.

Daniel Kehlmann, Tyll (2017)
Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (2020)

Tyll Ulenspiegel, the main character of this novel, is based on a trickster figure from medieval German folklore. Kehlmann brings him forward in time to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). Tyll escapes the childhood village where his father is accused of witchcraft, and as an adult becomes a travelling entertainer and court jester.

Kehlmann’s novel is at its best when Tyll is at centre-stage, the prankster who breaks through the superstitions and mores of his society. When he isn’t front and centre… well, it probably helps to know about the historical background. Overall, though, Tyll is engaging and enjoyable. ⁣

Shokoofeh Azar, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree (2017)
Translated from the Persian by an anonymous translator

Following the 1979 Revolution, Bahar’s family were forced to flee Tehran for the small village of Razan, seeking to maintain their intellectual freedom, and at least some sort of continuity in life.

But the authorities catch up with them eventually. As the novel begins in 1988, Bahar’s mother has climbed a greengage tree and apparently attained enlightenment. At the same time, Bahar’s brother has been executed elsewhere. Brightness and brutality are intermingled in the text. ⁣

Azar’s novel is full of stories within stories, and the supernatural is never far away (even Bahar, our narrator, is a ghost). It’s compelling to read, delightful and powerful in equal measure.⁣

#Boekenweek2020: an extract from Two Blankets, Three Sheets by Rodaan Al Galidi

It’s time for my second stop on the UK blog tour for Boekenweek. Today I have an extract from Two Blankets, Three Sheets by Rodaan Al Galidi, translated from the Dutch by Jonathan Reeder and published by World Editions.

The blurb goes like this:

Amsterdam Airport, 1998. Samir Karim steps off a plane from Vietnam, flushes his fake passport down the toilet, and requests asylum. Fleeing Iraq to avoid conscription into Saddam Hussein’s army, he has spent seven years anonymously wandering through Asia. Now, safely in the heart of Europe, he is sent to an asylum center and assigned a bed in a shared dorm—where he will spend the next nine years. As he navigates his way around the absurdities of Dutch bureaucracy, Samir tries his best to get along with his 500 new housemates. Told with compassion and a unique sense of humor, this is an inspiring tale of survival, a close-up view into the hidden world of refugees and human smugglers, and a sobering reflection of our times.

An extract from the novel follows next…

Continue reading

#Boekenweek2020: an extract from The Blessed Rita by Tommy Wieringa

Today’s post is part of a UK blog tour to mark Boekenweek, an annual celebration of Dutch literature that takes place each spring in the Netherlands.

I’m pleased to share an extract from The Blessed Rita, the latest novel by Tommy Wieringa to appear in English, translated by Sam Garrett. I was impressed by Wieringa’s The Death of Murat Idrissi last year, so I’m looking forward to this one.

Here’s the blurb:

What is the purpose of a man? Living in a disused farmhouse with his elderly father, Paul Krüzen is not sure he knows anymore. The mill his grandfather toiled in is closed, the glory of the Great Wars is long past, and it has been many years since his mother escaped in the arms of a Russian pilot, never once looking back. What do they have to look forward to now?

Saint Rita, the patron saint of lost causes, watches over Paul and his best friend Horseradish Hedwig, two misfits at odds with the modern world, while Paul takes comfort in his own Blessed Rita, a prostitute from Quezon. But even she cannot protect them from the tragedy that is about to unfold.

In this darkly funny novel about life on the margins of society, Dutch sensation Tommy Wieringa asks what happens to those left behind.

If that’s piqued your interest, here is an extract from the book…

Continue reading

Coming up on the blog this month…

Most of my reading this March will be taken up with the International Booker Prize, but there are a couple of other events coming up that I want to tell you about.

Boekenweek

From 7-15 March is Boekenweek in the Netherlands, an annual celebration of books. A couple of years ago, the Dutch publisher World Editions organised a blog tour for Boekenweek that I took part in, and they’re doing the same again this year.

As part of the 2020 tour, I will be running a couple of extracts from Dutch novels in translation. On Sunday 8 March, there’ll be an excerpt from The Blessed Rita by Tommy Wieringa (tr. Sam Garrett), and on Wednesday 11 March it’s the turn of The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (tr. Michele Hutchison).

Dylan Thomas Prize

Starting on 5 March, there’s a big blog tour in support of the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize, which is for writers aged 39 or under. A total of 66 bloggers will be reviewing the books on the longlist.

I’ll have a couple of posts as part of the Dylan Thomas Prize tour. I will be concentrating on poetry: on Tuesday 24 March I’ll be looking at Flèche by Mary Jean Chan, and on Monday 6 April it will be If All the World and Love were Young by Stephen Sexton.

#InternationalBooker2020 longlist: let the shadowing begin!

It’s International Booker Prize time, and once again I’ll be reading along and reviewing where I can. The longlist was announced this morning, so here’s what we’ve got:

  • Red Dog by Willem Anker, translated from the Afrikaans by Michael Heyns (South Africa, Pushkin Press).
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar, translated from the Farsi by an anonymous translator (Iran, Europa Editions UK).
  • The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Camara, translated from the Spanish by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh (Argentina, Charco Press).
  • The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls (Norway, Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin (Georgia, Scribe UK).
  • Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq, translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside (France, William Heinemann).
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin (Germany, Quercus).
  • Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Fitzcarraldo Editions).
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Japan, Harvill Secker).
  • Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins (France, Peirene Press).
  • Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Argentina, Oneworld).
  • The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison (Netherlands, Faber and Faber).
  • Mac and His Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull-Costa and Sophie Hughes (Spain, Harvill Secker).

Okay, well… To date, I have read two of these: the Pagano (which I liked) and the Ogawa (which I really liked, but I’m reviewing it for Strange Horizons so you’ll have to wait to find out more…). It’s great to see Schweblin and Vila-Matas on here, and I’m excited to explore the rest. How much I’ll get through is another question, because some of these books are quite long (and the Haratischvili is very long indeed). But I don’t want to rush – we’ll just see what happens.

As always, I will be taking part in the shadow panel to choose our own shortlist and winner. This year, I will be joined by Stu, Frances, Bellezza, Vivek, Barbara, Paul, Antonomasia and Oisin. I wish us all – and you – an enjoyable journey.

Republic of Consciousness Prize shortlist 2020

One of my favourite literary awards, the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, announced its shortlist this evening:

Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo (tr. Frank Wynne) – Fitzcarraldo Editions. A novel about a French farming family’s experience through the 20th century.

Broken Jaw by Minoli Salgado – the87press. A collection of Sri Lankan short stories spanning the public and private spheres.

Love by Hanne Ørstavik (tr. Martin Aitken) – And Other Stories. A short Norwegian novel about the relationship between a mother and son, told over the course of an evening.

Patience by Toby Litt – Galley Beggar Press. The story of a disabled boy yearning for connection, from the publisher of last year’s co-winner.

We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner – Dostoyevsky Wannabe. A tale of belonging and ambiguous reality set on the Isle of Wight, by the only author to have been shortlisted for the Prize twice.

A fascinating selection – congratulations to all!

#FitzcarraldoFortnight: Langley and Hildyard

Patrick Langley, Arkady (2018)

I’m starting Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight with the first debut that Fitzcarraldo published: Patrick Langley’s novel Arkady. It’s told as a series of episodes from the lives of Jackson and Frank, brothers on the margins of an austerity-ravaged society that feels only a few steps away from now. They find an abandoned canal boat that they name Arkady. The brothers then have a chance to leave their city and look for a new life.

What really makes Arkady work for me is its impressionistic quality. It is tempting to read the brothers’ city as being London, but really it’s not a place with a precise geography. The brothers experience their environment as an abstract urban landscape, and that’s how Langley makes us see it. That background makes the relationship between Frank and Jackson all the more vivid. Their bond is one thing that might weather the storms life throws at them, in a strikingly affecting piece of work.

Daisy Hildyard, The Second Body (2017)

This book is an essay in trying to square the human sense of being a physical-bodied individual with the fact of being embedded in an ecosystem. Daisy Hildyard refers to the latter as “having a second body”, one that reaches around the world. ⁣

Hildyard draws together science, literature (this book gave me a new perspective on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels in particular) and personal experience. She argues that it’s difficult for us to imagine the individual and the global scale at the same time, unless perhaps nature invades your personal space, as when Hildyard’s house is flooded in the book’s final chapter.

I find myself agreeing with her on that – it has been my experience, in the past and even during the reading of this book. So The Second Body is a challenge: to think differently. It will stay with me for some time. ⁣

Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight

For the rest of this month, Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy’s Literary Life are hosting Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight. I’ve followed the publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions since they started in 2014. They caught my attention with their striking house cover design and uncompromising approach to publishing (any publisher that would start with a book like Mathias Enard’s Zone is making quite a statement).

I wanted to join in with Fitzcarraldo Fortnight because I have plenty of their books that I still haven’t read, so here’s a chance to catch up a bit. I’ll post individual reviews over on Instagram first, with two or three round-ups on here.

To start with, though, I’ve gathered together all my existing reviews of Fitzcarraldo titles below. If you’ve never tried this publisher, I warmly recommend them.

Eula Biss
On Immunity

Jeremy Cooper
Ash Before Oak

Mathias Enard
Compass
Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants
Zone

Annie Ernaux
The Years

Agustín Fernández Mallo
Nocilla Dream
Nocilla Experience
Nocilla Lab

A Peirene Press round-up

Claudio Morandini, Snow, Dog, Foot (2015)
Translated from the Italian by J Ockenden (2020)

Peirene’s series theme for 2019-20 is ‘Closed Universe’, and this first title takes us into the troubled mind of one old man living in the Alps.

Adelmo Farandola (always referred to by his full name) spends the winter up in the mountains away from people, and the summer even further up in the mountains. When we meet him, he goes down to the village to stock up on supplies for the winter. The shopkeeper is surprised to see him because (she says) he visited only last week. Adelmo has no memory of that.

For most of Morandini’s novel, it’s just Adelmo, his dog, and the young ranger who goes by from time to time. Adelmo is snowed in for months, then has to decide what to do when he sees a foot poking out of the snow.

What makes Snow, Dog, Foot so compelling is the ambiguity running through it. Reality is fluid for Adelmo, so there’s no fanfare when (for example) the dog starts talking to him, because that’s just the way things are. Adelmo has complete trust in his senses, which means we have constant mistrust. The book grows ever more poignant as the layers of perception peel away and we understand what’s happening.

Emmanuelle Pagano, Faces on the Tip of My Tongue (2012)
Translated from the French by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis (2019)

Part of Peirene’s ‘There Be Monsters’ series, this is a collection of linked stories set in rural France. These are vivid tales of character: the hitchhiker who stands in drivers’ blind spots. The old man near the holiday rental who’ll tell stories of the local area to anyone who will listen. The father remembering his daughter’s childhood through an old jigsaw puzzle.

Characters and images recur, not least the roads that link up places but also lead away from them. The repeating references to individuals and events serve to remind how small a community can be. But the details of the stories reveal how even familiar faces may be unknown or forgotten.

Birgit Vanderbeke, You Would Have Missed Me (2016)
Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch (2019)

Another title from the ‘There Be Monsters’ series. Vanderbeke draws on her own childhood for this tale of an East German refugee trying to settle into West German society in the 1960s.⁣

I particularly like the childlike tone of the narration: the hurried gabble of this happened and then that and this and you know what else, as though the narrator wants to tell us everything.⁣

© 2020 David's Book World

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: