The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Japanese fiction

Original title –  猫の客

Translator – Eric Selland

Source – personal copy

I now head back to Japan for the third book for this years January inJapan event and I decided to look at my TBR pile of books and one I had brought just because I liked the Cat on the cover I worried the book was going to be one that I wouldn’t enjoy but I decided as I had just brought another Japanese bestseller about a cat it was time to read this cat book. The book was written by the Japanese Poet Takashi Hirade he was born in Moji and lives in Tokyo with his wife who is also a poet. He was described by Kenzaburo Oe as a poet who creates new prose from poetry. He has published over twenty books and edited a series of books in Japan.

Another one pf Chibi’s characteristics was that she changed the direction of her cautious attention frequently. This active behaviour wasn’t limited to her kittenhood. Perhaps because she played alone most of the time in the expansive garden, seh reacted strongly to insects and reptiles. And there were times when I could only conclude that she must be reacting to subtle changes in the wind and light, not detectable by humans. It may be that most cats share the same quickness, but even so, in Chibi’s case, it was acute – she was after all, the cat of Lightning Alley. My wife got into the habit of pointing to the cat whenever it went by, extolling its virtues.

Early on in his time with the couple.

The book in some ways is autobiographical to the writer’s own life as he was a writer. The story follows a couple in the mid-thirties in the mid-1980s as they move into a small house that is part of a larger estate within the grounds just of an alley in a quieter part of Tokyo. When they rent they are told early on that they can have no children or pets. They are a writer and proofreader so spend their days at home. So when a cat appears a white cat with patches of brown(I thought of my parent’s cat truffles she was pure white but in that coat, you could see what was a tabby pattern in white anyway back to the book) The cat they invite in as a guest to there home and Call him Chibi’s and his independent nature and his skill when he plays with a ping pong ball. He initially bits the wife but she gets to like him. The cat gives this couple that is in the same house but may be caught up in themselves something to focus on. The cat comes and goes as we view them interacting with him and what he meant to them as they see the world starting to change due to events around them.

We made a door to the rooom that only Chibi could get through, not any other cats.Below the lagrge window on the south wall, there was a floor-level window of frosted glass about sixteen inches tall running the full length of ones above it, for sweeping out dust. By opening this window just three inches , a gap was leftnwhich allowed only Chibi to squeeze through. In order to prevent cold air and insects from getting in, we hung a thick cotton curtain of royal blue over it.

On the wooden floorbardfs in a corner of the Japanese style room, we placed a cardboard box, which had orginally contained mandarin oranges, to act as Chibi’s own special room. we put a  towel in the box and a dish for her food. Then we set a bowl for milk beside  the box.

They make him feel welcome as their guest with his own door and box !!

This is one of those gentle books that are a pleasure to sit and read at its heart is maybe the loneliness of city life even a couple can be a part in the same small cottage til Chibi’s appearance. Also, another thread in the book is the garden is so well described with the bird’s trees etc described the garden is almost like an oasis in the city. This is like those films I love and Myamanda happens and that is where nothing happens but the world we see and are drawn into is the beauty of the journey. The time in their house gives them a breathing gap in the chaotic world of Tokyo this oasis and that stray white cat that has come into their lives is may be a way for them to move on in their own lives anyway that is what I felt this is one of those books that was a bestseller because it is one of those books that grab the imagination of the reader and gives you a couple of hours in the company of a couple and their guest cats. Have you read this book or any of his other books?

Winstons scores – B The tale of a cat that likes to visit families as a guest.

Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve

Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve

French fiction

Original title – Les Fleurs d’hiver

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – personal copy

I move on in the books I think maybe around the Booker international longlist when it comes out and to an old favourite publisher Peirene and the second book from their series of books for 2021. Angélique Villeneuve was born in Paris and has lived in Idia and Sweden before she returned to France and became a writer she has written books for both Adults and Children. known for how she portrays the lives of women challenged by events in her life in one of her most recent books. I was looking forward to this book as it struck me it could almost be a companion book to another french book I read many years ago pre-blog day but had a lasting Impression and that was Marc Dugain’s The officer’s ward which follows a soldier that was in a ward like the husband of our main character in this book as he recovered and had facial reconstruction. This book is also like the famous book The return of the Soldier by Rebecca West also follows what happened when the soldier involved in the great war returned to their home.

At first Jeanne stays rooted to her chair, entirely consumed with watching him and avoiding him.She knows what should see, through, where she should look, but bounces about, slips away from her. What she does grasp is that hes taller and handsome in his unifor, and unfanilar too.

She  doesn’t think,He’s here, she thins, it’s here. This unknown thing thart’s coming home to her. That she’s dreaded, and longed for. It’s here. It’s going to come in, it’s going to make its life with her, and with Leo too, it will come here, into this room that the two of them have shared so little since they left Belleville

On his return you can just see the way the tension comes into her thoughts of his reutrn!!

What happens when a family is reunited after the war Toussaint left his wife and then returns to their small apartment after two years away. who has worked as a seamstress through his time away to make money now has to try and make a life with a man that isn’t the man that left not just the effects of the war he has since then spent time in the Val de grace hospital having his face rebuilt but he no way looks like the man that left them two years ago.  Now home unable to talk the dynamics of the home has changed Jeanne and Leonie have struggled and become very close so when Toussaint returns this man his daughter has no idea who he is and Jeane has done what many of the women left behind in both wars and that forms her own circle of friends. mainly woman around her but has you feel grown as a person in the absence of Toussaint who is maybe now a burden on her as she is now in the traditionally male role of the time as the breadwinner for the family. What will happen will the two ever be able to reconnect and build a new life. How much more of recovery will he make? All this in a time when support for things like this happening was rather thin on the ground?

Tousaint introduces something new. not just within the walls of the small fourth-floor room, but also into Jeanne’s life and, to a lesser extent, into Leo’s ; silence.

For the first few days, curled ina foteal posistion under the eiderdown or sitting in the armchair with his head lolling forwardm he sleeps a great deal, although it’s not clear whether he’s boundlessly tired or if this withdraw; is in fact to eradicate his whole body.

The mother and daughter whisper around him, in the narrow spaves requished to them by this silence.

Toussaint is a home but still a burden it seems and there is a sense of unease around him !

As you may tell from my description of this book I loved it I have always been a fan of the books the Peirene choose every year they seem to pick three great books and that is maybe why three gives them chance to find gems around a loose theme. For me this book sits with other great books about war Little woman for example this is one little woman but it follows what happened after. the connection to The officer ward really struck me as almost a follow on to that book that followed soldiers in world war hospital also having facial surgery. The fear in Jeanne at his return is clear both the fact they have got used to him not being there but also the man that returns isn’t the same one! Also at the heart of the is the hardships of the war on those involved struggling to get by and keep themselves going. It is another gem from Peirene a glimpse into one family and through them, there is a wider story of the families during world war I. Have you read this book? Do you have a favourite book about world war One?

Winstons score – A a well written and translated story of three lives changed by war

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangel

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangel

French fiction

Original title – Un monde à portée de main

Translator – Jessica Moore

Source – Review Copy

I move for the fifth book this month to France to a book that could be on the man booker longlist that I didn’t get to last year a book from a writer I have reviewed another book by her Mend the living. She has been writing novels since 2000 her 2010 novel birth of a bridge was on the Prix Goncourt shortlist and also won a number of other prizes with this book. and with the book I have read Ment the living which was also made into a film. So here I have her latest book that follows a young woman from her student days to her first day in work and also the group of friends she made while studying. What follows is how they develop as artists and people

YOU MIGHT WONDER HOW PAULA KARST, THIS AVERAGE young woman, sheltered and predictable (and a little on the lazy side)_ someone who spends most of her time sitting in a cafe booth in the company of others like her, every ounce of existence frothing in the espresso with the mix of grace and vacuity that grazes genius; hpw this impetuous dabbler, for whom the future was invaribly and comfortably concealed in sfumato, ended up plunging headlong into the large studio on the rue de metal. even more suprising: she rushed there.

As she studies and liuves woth Jonas and has kate about the coffee and the drinks flows

The book follows Paula  Karst and her group of friends she made while studying art at an Institute in  Brussels what Maylis paints is a broad group of people a Female Bouncer from Scotland Kate is a tall blonde with her roots showing big teeth made her lips look thin then Jonas described as having owl-like eyes and lassos for arms these three stay close out of a class of 20 odd students the=ose months of nights out and drink draw them into a close relationship. What they are learning is how to use the techniques that make up the style of art Trompe-l’œi those works made to deceive the viewer but the question is here who is deceiving as she starts to work on film sets working on the sets this work takes her from place to place job to job but she wonders what is the point of this at times is she a real artist of just a Trompe-l’œi herself! this is a young woman that has the techniques but the jobs she is in has closed her creativity to just copying we she here learning how to fake effects with the friends this is ultimately tested when she has to fake the famous cave paintings of Lascaux as she reworks them we get an insight into her and her friend’s world.

But very quickly, in a pendulum swing that she anticipates mischievously, these same students start to worry about their originality, they squirm, stand on tiptoes to stick their heads above the pack, and stake their  claim to their way of doing things, their unique brushstoke. This thirst for distinction that torments them surfaces again after the shock treatment of their traing in woods and marbles it reappears like a lump in batter, and soon the students make it clear that they see the required exercises as strait jackets, ridgid, narrow, stifling their movements, suffocating their personalities, drying up their desire – this is how they express themselves incensed.

The struggle between the craft of paint and the art of being an Artist is caught well and is at the heart of what is Paula.

This is a book about learning who we are about those boundaries between art and craft Paula has the craft it is the bedrock of her style but like her surname which is an eroded landscape where the rick has been shaped into peaks and troughs, this is maybe a nod to what has happened to the Artist Paula Karst of the book, over time her artistic creative side has disappeared as she becomes a craft person is there a difference to me there is that spark is getting lost in her but she is working that paradox is hard to live with. As she starts working on the sets for Cinecitta. Like her other books, Maylis manages to turn the focus of her book onto one subject a heart her is is painting but what is painting is coping tricking art or craft !! This also maybe says something about her own life and that of her friends and the art. The book is rich in the techniques and study of art and what it takes to perfect the Trompe-l’œi style but at what cost! I read this thinking it would be a possible Man booker international chance after reading it I would be shocked not to see it on the list. I’ve never read a book that captures what it is to be an artist so well the craft of painting as they learn is caught well and then how they then go on to lose the techniques is caught well it is about art more than the people for my opinion. What did you think about this book? did it draw you into the world of art as a reader like it did me?

Winstons score – ++ A. One of my favourite books recent times

People from my Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

People from my Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

Japanese microfiction

Original title – 大きな鳥にさらわれないよう

Translator – Ted Gossen

Source – Library copy

I decided to go to the library for the first time in a long time as I thought I had a fine left from pre-Covoid as I had tried to order some books the other week but when I went in I must have paid the fine at the time it was just the card needed an update it was fun to browse again it had been to long and with the Booker international longlist coming up I will be trying to find some books I haven’t read before. One of the first \i found was this very short collection of micro-stories from Hiromi Kawakami who is one of those writers who I had read when she had her debut book out here 9 years ago but haven’t got back to even though I like the Briefcase when I reviewed it so it felt like it was time to try her books again and this was the perfect afternoon read and the second book for this years January in Japan reads. The book is narrated by an unnamed narrator.

A white cloth was lying at the foot of zelkova tree, When I walked over and picked it up, I saw a child underneath.

“What’s the big idea?” Thwe child glared at me, It had narrow eyes but thick eyebrows. I couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a boy.

Ooops. Sporry! I apologized. But the child kept glaring at me. Are you playing hide and seek or something? It shook its head vigorousily from side to side.

“I live her,” it said

The child in the story the secret lives under a cloth under a tree

The book is a collection of very short stories of a neighbourhood very odd one thou, with a collage made of sweets a town full of odd characters and time has a fluid nature as some stories are immediate other last decades. Oh, people changing to pigeons in their habits. I knew this was an odd collection when the first story is about a child that lives on a cloth under a tree that then adopt and stay young and has a weird dance after showers. This is followed by a description of chicken Hell in the second story. Other stories describe a dog let loose they call black that dies. The Dog is a recurring theme as is a girl called Kanae first crops up in a tale about her clever sister then we see her become a model after going off the rails in her younger year a look at how peoples perceptions can change over time.

Blackie was vicious.

Blackie was the name we gave the black dog that belonged to Kiyoshi Akai. He called it John, but there was nothing John-like about it. No a common black Japanese mutt like that could only be called Blackie

Blackie was a barker. Not only did he bark, he nit – and not playful little nips. His bites were serious the kind that draw blood we often saw his victims in the front of Akais house complaining. “Look at the blood!”they’d bellow. “What are you going to do about it?” Yet the boy and his mother always appeared quite unpertubered.

The Black dog Blackie is a dog left to room and bite the locals til something happens !!

This is an odd collection of stories. They are very funny and surreal in nature they have a fun feel to them and you can tell she must enjoy using the voice of this narrator and the town she describes. I loved the way she lays in recurring characters like Kanae and her family the black dog and its own a man that no one seems to like and dogs, Birds chickens and pigeons. I was reminded of studio Ghibli films at times with humans becoming like Pigeons was like something out of those films also the neighbourhood with its mix of real and fantasy I have seen in a film like Totoro by them were the modr=ern japan mix with an ancient spiritual past. This book mix real life and surreal things happening like win a wish lottery and how different winners use their three wishes which one man changes his wife which is very funny as it backfires on him. That is one of the things I felt there is a fable-like feel to these stories a warning behind the fun nature of these stories. This is a collection hard to pigeonhole as the stories are very interlinked with the recurring themes and all being set in the same neighbourhood as she builds up the layers it is almost a novella with short chapters or a micro-fiction collection it is 90 pages and read within a couple of hours. Have you read this collection or any of her other books?

Winstons score – B solid fun collection ideal for a commute or an evening read

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Japanese Memoir

Original title – 走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること
 Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto

Translator – Philip Gabriel

Source – Personal

I’m on my third book of the year and the first for this month January in Japan is a book I’m rereading something I haven’t done a lot of in recent times but this year I thinking I may throw a few books in like this books I read pre-blogging days this one IO had thought I reviewed but it appears I haven’t so when looking for books for this month this one jumped out at me as I had recently seen it mentions in a book vlog video and remembers how much I loved it the first time around and wonder if I would second time round. I am not a runner but like a walk every now and then here and there. The book is a memoir of his running life and how it has had a knock-on effect on others.

I began living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the end of MAy of this year, andf running has once again becomd the mainstay of my daily routine ever since. I’m seriously running now. By seriously I mean thirty-six miles a week. In other words, six miles a day, six days a week.It would be better if I ran seven days, but I have to factor in rainy days, and days when work keeps me too busy. There are some days. too, when frankly I just felt to tired to run . Taking all this into account, i leave one day a week a week as a day off. So, at thirty-six miles per week. I cover 156 miles every month, which for me s my standard for serious running

He average weeks running and his reigme is comitment six days a week.

The book follows Murakami’s journey as a runner. He used running as a way of keeping fit this was the time of aerobics and Jogging had all become big activities and he moved to Cambridge in the US and then started to put the miles in and build to long-distance running . We get little gems like when he thought he would become a writer he said he can remember the exact moment April fools day in the late seventies watching a baseball game. I think this is where I was first drawn to read his first two books long before they were republished as I read his description of writing and publishing them and then the discovery they were hard to get I ordered mine via library and they came from a US Library. One of his runs that stuck out is the one that gave the Marathon its name when he is in Greece running from Athens to Marathon the Greeks think he is made solo running in the middle in the summer in the Heat. Later another Baseball game and he is in Boston watching the red socks and doing another marathon. He connects the memories oft these runs training and the events around his life give a small glimpse into his life and his motivations

After this, while still running my Buisness, I wrote a medium length second novel, Pinball, 1973 and will working on this I wrote a few short stories and translated some sort fiction by F Scott Fitzgerald. Both Hear the wind sing and pinball, 1973 were nominated for thwe prestigous Akutagawa prize, for which they were said to be strong contenders, but in the end neither won, To tell the truth, though, I didn’t care one way of the other. If I did win it I’d become busy with interviews and writing assignments, and I was afraid this would interfere with running the club

His Jazz club days running the club and his early wriing days here

I enjoyed this second time round I am still not going to take up running but since this came out I have found my exercise thing swimming. I get how it made him feel getting fitter. I also see how the running and his running life is like his writing life is similar all about endurance and building up in a way this is visible just in the length of his books and how they grow in length. The main thing I noticed was the change in reach he talks of CDs, Md players things we don’t use and how tech has changed things like running where the is now just a playlist and we don’t just have a limit of a disc or tape. I do feel it maybe isn’t as insightful into him as a person it is more about the running and his writing than any insight into him as a person which I maybe hadn’t noticed as much the first time I read the book. The book is still a book I loved this time around which is something that always worries me about rereads I liked it a lot the first time round. I did enjoy discovering his running life again and the place he had run also the nostalgic tech made me smile. Have you read this book and even reread it since the tech in the book has moved on?

Winstons score – -A would liked a little more insight into the man but still loved it as much this time around .

 

The ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas

The Ice Palace by Tarjei vesaas

Norwegian fiction

Original title – Is-slottet

Translator – Elizabeth Rokkan

Source – Personal copy

In my second book of the year we are back in Europe and in the north with one of Norway’s greatest writers. we marvel at knausgaard and fosse for their insight and vision into the human character these days. But Tarjei Vesaas was doing the same fifty years before them and in his time he wrote for more than fifty years his book was mainly based around his rural life his farmhouse is a place of pilgrimage for fans of his writing. He was known for his insights into everyday life he won the Nordic book council prize the biggest book prize in Scandinavia. He was nominated 30 times for the Nobel Literature prize and in strong contention on three occasions. This is one of a number of books that were brought out by Peter Owen a publisher I think has such a great list of writers. So here we have the forerunner to those great Norweigian writers of today.

Unn must have been standing at the window watching for Siss, for she came out before Siss reached the doorstep. She was wearing her school slacks

“It must have been dark?” she asked

“Dark?” yes, but that doesn’t matter; replied Siss, although she had been quite nervous of the darkness and the short cutr through the wood.

“It must have been cold too? It’s dreadfully cold her this evening”

“That doesn’t matter either,” said Sim

Unn said: It’s such fun that you wanted to come.

The night of the event that is at the heart of the book

The book is the story of two girls just on the cusp of being young adults they are the sort of girls that wouldn’t usually get on as one is quiet and the other is boisterous and a live wire. The quiet girl Unn is new to the village and has arrived to live with her Aunt and her friend is Siss. What follows is the outfall of an evening the two girls get close as they get to know each other at her aunts she shows Siss the pictures of her father as they relax in each other company the young girls undress and watch each other. But when they have done this it feels strange and not quite right to Unn after the event one of those things that happen at that age of just having feelings and thoughts that are awakening. So when next Day Unn decides to skip school and head to the Ice Palace of the title a place the girls are due to go to a frozen Ice palace but when she ends up in trouble it is Siss left as she viewed the event very differently. She later has to cope with the gap of her friend that has gone and what had happened haunts her as she struggles to move on with what happened.

Unn had not arrived when Siss hurried into the warm classroom. Several of the others were there. Some of them said casually, “Hi SIss.”

She did not say a word about yesterday’s meeting. They probably expected it, because of the exchange of notes, but they contained themselves. They were probably waiting to see what would happen when Unn turned up. Sdiss had it all worked out: as soon as Unn appeared in the doorway she would go to meet her so that eveyrone should see how things stood. The Idea made her so happy thart she tingled all over.

The next day Siss is awaitng Unn at schoolbut she never comes to school again !!

This is one of those books that takes a single event the one evening that the two girls had stripped and watched one another a strange act but given there age one that happens this one night is the hook for the book the death of Unnn and the aftermath for Siss. It shows how we can view things from different ag=ngles after the event. It is a story of the loss of a friendship broken but there is a third character in the book and that is the place rural Norway the ice palace and all the other places he describes jump off the page this is the second book I have reviewed by Vesaas I will over time review more as I get them. One of the things I love about the time I have been blogging is seeing how a writer like Vesaas has had a knock-on effect I can see his influence in fosse work and other Nordic writers. Sparse in his style this work is hard-hitting in it’s impact this is one of those books that pack a punch far more than its length and will hit the reader hard. It is also short enough to be read in a single sitting which I did. Have you read any books by him?

Winstons score – A, a gem of a book that should be better known.

Love in the Big city by Sang Young Park

Love in the Big city by Sang Young Park

South Korean fiction

Original title –  (대도시의 사랑법)

Translator – Anton Hur

Source – Personal copy via subscription

This was one of the last books I read at the end of last year I subscribed the last April to Tilted Axis I am looking to join other subscriptions but this was my first and as they are locally based in Sheffield it was an easy choice to pick them also the books they have brought out this year so far are ones that appealed to me as they cover a broad area of subjects and countries around Asia. This was the one that caught my eye mainly due to the cover it is the debut release in  English by the New star of Korean fiction Snag Young Park. He was born in Daegu, which is an interview I saw with him he described as a conservative city he went to Sungkyunkwan University to Study French ( the same as the Narrator of this book ) He said he felt more at home in the cosmopolitan Seoul where he now lives this is his first book to be translated to English although some of his short stories have been translated and are among the most on words without borders website.

Things moved along quickly after Jaehee announced her marriage. For the three months before the weddin, I got to witness how shitty it was for a man and a woman in Korean society to unite as One family, which made me cease resenting the fact I couldn’t even dream of marriage. Not that I was confident it wasn’t jealousy,

Meanwhile, Jaehaee had a whole lot of things she needed from me. Her promotion came with a murderous workload, and with her future husband being largely absent from the preparations, I was her stadin groom.I accompanied her to the bridal shop, to the hanbok shop, to interior design firms and so on, helping her pick things out

The end of their time together is come close.

Our narrator in this novel or interlinking story collection the book grew out of one story follows the narrator from his years as a student where he shares an apartment with his good friend Jaehee as they experience the nightlife and the men they meet one of the things I discovered is putting cigarettes in the freezer, I wonder what difference this made to the Malboro a brand I did smoke when I smoked it made me wonder what the sensation was like. I often go off on little tangents like this what we get in the first part is a student life free wild and as these things are ends this happens when the two drift apart when she meets a man. Then we see our narrator heading home and looking after his mother a devout Christian and at this time he also has a relationship with an older man. The next story follows Kyu-ho and our narrator this is his big love affair they travel to Japan as But as a past lover reveals an HIV diagnosis or as he calls it Kylie this overshadows the couples happiness and his life with Kyu-ho as it restricts travel options and ultimately has a long term effect on their relationship.

I first met Gyu-ho at what’s now a defunct gay club in Itaewon it was Chuseok and they were having an all you can drink Tequilla event. Not having a family to join for Chuseok- being a certified unnatural focused in bringing shame to the family ( not much has changed since then) and genrally stuck in poverty (yup, still)_ I could hardly afford to pass up such an opportinity. I left the foloewing mesage in out group chat:

Hey guys theres an unlimited teguilla eent at G today

See you all there.

How he meet the main romance and relationship in the book Gyu-ho one what is the equivilant of Korea thanksgiving

I don’t read a lot of LGBT books well not enough is translated into English, so it is great to see some new voices getting translated into English the beauty of the book is in Anton Hur’s translation he has given it a clarity that must be in the original version of the book, our narrator live pops of the page but it is also an insight into the LGBT world of Korea which although open in Seoul this shows that there is an undercurrent of Homophobia and what faces most modern people loneliness our Narrator is a character but at its heart, there is a man trying to find his way in the world as we all our but also dealing with his feeling with his black Humour cutting at times. This is the first of my subscription and one of the best books |I read last year I hope to see it on the Man booker list let’s hope. Have you a favourite LGBT book that has been translated? How has your new year reading started ?

Winstons score – +A simply brilliant one of the strongest narrators I have read in years.

Three Bedrooms in Manhatten

Three Bedrooms in Manhatten

Belgian fiction

Original title – Trois Chambres à Manhattan

Translators – Marc Romano and Lawrence G Blochman

Source – Review copy

I’m late to my review of this I initially picked it up in the summer and just wasn’t connecting to the book then I often find if I try a book at another time like I did with this one I get into it. When I have more time on my side and as I had a morning and I have always found Simenon writes books that on the whole are under two hundred pages long and can be read in a single sitting like this one. As this book now makes a Dozen book I have reviewed by him this is one of his standalone books. This book stems from the post-war years that Simenon himself had lived in New york. It follows a couple of European like himself who have been transplanted and are wandering around the big city like lost souls into they meet in this book.

He was surorised to find himself eyeing the boy who had took their order to make sure he didn’t know her, thart she hadn’t come here a hundred times with other men. Would he make some sign of recongnition to her ?

Yet he wasn’t in love with her. He wasn’t sure he wasn’t already he felt irritaion watching her fumble in  her purse for a cigarette, woth her commonplace gestures, the way she brought the cigarette up to her  lips, smudging it with her lipstick as she fished around for her lighter

Even at the start it is on rocky ground as he isn’t sure of Kay.

The two lost souls at the heart of this book are Frank and Kay. Frank is a middle-aged Actor divorced and struggling after a scandal that saw his wife leave him for a younger actor and he is now been in America for six months (this was about the same time Simenon himself had been in the US when he wrote this book). Then we have  Kay a socialite who has fallen on hard times as they meet in the night after drinking in one of the all-night dinners that are about in Postwar New York. These lost souls connect and end up sleeping together and as they connect and meet on a couple more occasions what happens is a relationship between two souls that are at the lowest ebb and clinging to each other and this brief interlude of sex in sordid hotels, I was struck at his description of a run in Kay’s stocking that she had just to live with a harrowing place to be in. Frank and Kay are damaged but in the end, it is a relationship doomed to the three bedrooms they end up in as we see this brief relationship.

She took his head in her hands. She pushed it against her shoulder, pressing his cheek to hers. She held it therm almost by force, as if to fill him, bit by bit, with her heat and  her presence.

He kept one eye open. Inside was a block of anger he meant to keep intact.

“You weren’t as alone as I was , ” she said. She said it softly.He wouldn’t have heard the words if herlips hadn’t neem by his ears.

It means more to her it seems at times that it does to Frank

This is different from the other books that I have read by him. There is a feeling it must have some of his own experiences spent in New York, just after world war two whereas seen in the book there is a lot of ex-pats wandering around after dark in this city it is like the cover picture which is Edward Hoppers Nighthawks painting apt as these two could have a jump of the picture. They also are like characters from a Tom Waits song or a Raymond Carver short stories this has a large chunk of Dirty realism at its heart this is the dark side of those early post-war years before the gleam and shine of the 50s the tough times had by those that had escaped the horrors of the war years as they are clinging to life through drink and getting by adding to that they both have other problems a wife leaving and losing ones home to also compete with this is a glimpse at people at there lowest point. The relationship reminds me of the one John Cusack described in the Film version of High fidelity (I hate the fact it was moved to the US ) but his relationship with Sarah is very like this relationship two souls clinging to each other when at their lowest ebbs. An interesting book it was made into a film in the early 60 and would still make a good film as the characters are universal in a way the way it deals with casual sex and people on the edge of life drifting through their nights out.

Winstons score – B+ a tale of two lost souls and a couple of brief erotic encounters.

Winter In Sockho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Winter in Sockho by Elis Shua Dusapin

Swiss fiction

Original title – Hiver à Sokcho

Translator – Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Source – personal copy

I picked this up in a charity shop recently as I am one to avoid hype books but when I read the book blurb again it grabbed me somewhat and the writer of the book Elisa Shua Duspain a writer from a french Korean background that grew up around Europe and had won a number of writing prizes including the National book prizes for the best-translated books. The book was popular when it came out and had a rather eyecatching book I am always wary of books that seemed hype but it is a short book perfect for sitting and reading on a winter day off so that is what I did today.

My mother was squatting in the kitchen, her chin pressed top her neck, arms plunged into a bucket. She was ixing fish liver, leeeks and sweet potato noodles to make the stuffing for the squid. Her soondae were known to be the best in Sockho.

“Watch me work the mixture. See how i spread the stuffing evenly”

Iwasnt really listening. Liquid was spurting from the biucket, pooling around our boots and running towards the drain in the middle of the room. My mother lived at the port, above the loading bay, in one of the apartments reserved for fishmongers. Noisy. Cheap.My childhood home. I went to see her on sunday eveninggs and stayed over until Monday, my day off off. She’d been finding it difficult sleeping alone since I’do moved out.

Her mother struggles with her not being there

The book follows a relationship between a young french Korean girl and a Fench comic artist that has come to stay at the Guesthouse where she has been working for the elderly owner. But now it is winter in the resort she is in is this summer resort that is like one of those western towns with tumbleweed getting blown around as the tourists have now gone and it is a ghost city as it is winter. so when Kerrand appears this older French man catches her eye, as he is the opposite of her boyfriend an airhead that is trying to forge a career as a model the fumbling embrace where see describes his hand touching a scar on her leg that scar which causes her to bite at this airhead as she expects him one day to ask her to change herself for him. This is heightened by a fellow guest that has had recent facial surgery laying low in the winter town. So as Kerrand gathers are narrator can speak french he asks her to introduce him to the real Korea as they take a road trip to the border she is more drawn to this man. Although she despairs at the fact he isn’t that into the food as her mother the other main person in this book is a woman that can prepare the deadly pufferfish. I was reminded of the Simpson’s episode where the chef had maybe wrongly cut up the fish that Homeer had eaten a fine line. They used to share a bed in her mother’s small apartment and she is starting to struggle as she is away most of the week working at the hotel. This is a young woman drawn to the mysterious older man as she dreams of him noticing her even more than he does. Will he write his comic book about the place?

Kerrand was listening to me intently, head down, one hand on his forehead tohold back his hair. The only display that had caught my attention was one with schoolchildrens shoes from the north along with Choco pies packaged in blue instead of their trademark purple. Were they the real thing? Did they actually have a cake inside or had they been specially made for the Musuem?

She is so drawn to this mysterious older man

I liked the descriptions in this book she caught that feel of a seaside town when the tourist have gone in the winter I remember visiting my grandparents that lived in a seaside town in winter it is an eerie place a place of spaces that was this is echoed in the narrator description of his drawings full of white spaces. The story is a classic older man younger woman with a boyfriend that isn’t all he seems I was reminded of Lost in Translation the connection between these two is less intense but the feel of them discovering places is the same as she views those places again when she goes with Kerrand. it works it hasn’t that feel of Woody Allen at times where the relationship between a young woman and the older man feels forced what effect has she had on Him if any? It is a perfect winter read it is a subtle take on a relationship like those french movies Amelie for example where her encounters are brief and intense like our narrators take on these days of visiting small conversations. What are your favorite books or films around brief encounters?

Winstons score – B+ a wonderful short read set in a dead seaside town.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Running in the family by Michael Ondaatje

Canadian memoir

Source – personal copy

I decided to try something from my collection of books that aren’t translated I do have a lot on this pile more older writers I have previously liked and enjoyed so I decided to try and cut this down a bit over the next twelve months maybe one book a month from this pile so I decided to start with the booker winning writer Michael Ondaatje and his journey home to Sri Lanka or as it was then still called Ceylon and a memoir that looks at his extraordinary family and especially his two grandparents this book came out before his booker winning The English patient which is one of my favorite novels.

Francis de Saran had the most extreme case of alocholism in my Father’s generation and. always the quickest, was the  first to drink himselfinto the grave. He was my father’s and Noels closest friend and the best man at several wedding he tried to spoil. Unambitious and generous, he lost all his teeth young  something he could never remember doing. When he got into a fight he would remove his false teeeth and put them in his back pocker. he was in love for a while with Lorna Piachaud and started fightes all over her wedding reception. He attacked his own wofe and then, overcome with guilt decided to drown himself

One of his father’s friends is an indiction of the type of man his father was too.

As with most of his books, this uses memory as a springboard as we see him go back to his homeland he had left 254 years earlier before settling in  Canada his father a hard-drinking ex-soldier his a man he struggles to know so maybe visiting Ceylon and learning about his family will draw him closer. As he visits two times in the late seventies and 1980, in fact, these trips were around the same time my Auntie visited Ceylon I remember this as she brought me and my brother some wonderful kites made of paper. One of the characters he focuses on is his grandmother Lalla a woman who only found herself after being widowed at a young age when her husband passed when she was just in her thirties and the life of her friends and Neighbour Rene these two are a pair of merry widows. Lalla is a larger-than-life figure a joker a character that most families will have that life on long after they pass away.  then his grandfather on his father’s side his father meeting his mother and his parent’s marriage. The grandparent’s era is evocative the way he talks about it the last embers of Empire big parties the various cultures as a melting pot of life in the Ceylon of the twenties. A colorful and sometimes not a memoir more something between fiction and memoir it feels Ondaatje has called the book, not a history but a Portrait or a gesture and that is what it is one man looking for a past and trying to find out who he is and more.

So an hour later my grandmother, lalla, comes back and enterains everyone with stories of how she passed ships out there and the tell he David Grenire is dead. And nobody wants to break the news to his wife  Dickie is her sister. And she went and sat with Dickie who was still in a faint in the sand and  Lalla, wearing her elaborate bathing suit, held her hand. Don’t shock her, says Trevor, whatever you do break it to her gently.My grandmother waves him away and for fifteen minutes she sits alone with her sister, waiting for her to waken, She doesn’t know what to say. She is also suddenly very tired. she hates hurting anybody

His larger than life Grandmother with a hard task here

 

I love Ondaatje as a writer he has that ability to grab a reader and drift from place to place and to conjure up place whether in the English patient where he brought the desert and the villa in Italy so much to the life he evokes the Ceylon of the times now long gone his family ghost jump off the page. A place before the bloody history of the later part of the 20th century a country that has now gone and isn’t there. Ondaatje paint so well his grandparent’s era especially Lalla one of those larger-than-life figures every family has a woman that grew after her husband’s death so much. It also looks hard at his father at times a drinker and a man that he struggles to know his father is a figure from a different age maybe the last of that type of male it seemed to be a particular type of man that the Empire breed!  It also uses the memories well as it paints a more vivid picture than the facts those remember events places can be painter a little brighter a little more fun, a little bigger than they were as I said it is a memoir but use his writer’s flair to add to it. Have you read any books from Ondaatje?

Winstons score – +A nearly perfect book from a great writer.

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