The swordfish by Hugo Claus

 

 

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The swordfish by Hugo Claus

Belgian fiction

original title -De zwaardvis

Translator – Ruth levitt

Source – personnel copy

One of the things I hope with buying cheap secondhand books from Amazon was to revisit some writers from the blog whom I really enjoyed and Hugo Claus was one such writer his novel the wonder which was reviewed in the first year of the blog and has been one I have often but in my top ten favourite books since then. He was one of the best known Flemish writers in his time he wrote both Novels , poems novellas and Plays. He featured on a collection of stamps of great Flemish writers. This novella was a special for the  yearly Boekenweekgeschenk which happens every year in Flemish bookshops a writer is chosen to writer a work of 96 pages in length.Here is a list of the writers and books they wrote for this week .

Martin would have preferred to ascend the hills like Clint Eastwood, the hero of the boys at school, with large, sure strides, hands stroking the revolvers at his hips. But that would be heresy with a cross on your shoulders. The wish belonged to an earlier time, before he knew anything about Jesus and before Miss Dora has given him the book that he was reading furtively , in secrecy of his room, and almost knew by heart.

Miss dora his private tutor has twisted martins mind.

This short novella is actually one of those novellas that feel like an epic novel. It follows four characters in a fiction village a mother and son Martin and Silbylle ,their father Gerard has disappeared at the start of the book, although the book is told in a non chronological order so we find out what happened to Gerard. Then there is willy the headmaster of the school whom has concerns for the son Marttin as he isn’t in the school and is being taught by a private tutor provide by the state due to his religious belief . Into this add a vet richard an alcoholic  who has a dark past. Martin the boy is in love with american culture Clint east wood and fish especially the swordfish . All this leads senseless crime in the village of Zavelgam.A summer is full of strange comings and going .

Martin holds the splinter of wood up in front of him, leans forward, buzzes and zooms past the sheep who jump out of his way. His lance, his sword is not sharp enough,not long enough, but it doesn’t matter. He can be smaller than a real swordfish in the same way that jesus can be a fish.It is a metal flair.

Martin is still a child in many ways .

 

Now Hugo Claus was given a theme of books and film tp writer this novella about and came up with this brilliant novella of a village told from four points of view that show how lies, religion and childhood views can effect a few people. Richard a man who abuse woman and drinks. Then there is martin he is lead down the wrong path by his private tutor and is confused in the world. His other has a secret to how the father and husband disappeared. Then there is the schoolmaster maybe the most levelheaded in the village. A mad 96 pages that seem much more. I have also purchased Claus classic novel The sorrows of Belgium.

Have you read a book by Hugo Claus ?

 

The street kids by Pier Paolo Pasolini

The street kids by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Italian Fiction

Original title –  Ragazzi di Vita

Translator – Ann Goldstein

Source – review copy

Pier Paolo Pasolini is best known now as a filmmaker now and even the subject of a film of his own life  . Passolini was one of the leading lights in Italian cinema and also in writing during his time , unfortunately his life was cut short. I am pleased Europa editions had decide to do a new translation of his debut novel that at the time it came out cause a storm due to its subject matter of the kids on the street of post war Italy.

It was a very hot july day. Riccetto, who was supposed to take his first Communion and be confirmed, had gotten up at five ; but, heading down Via Donna Oilmpia in his long grey pants and white shirt, he looked more like a guy going out in his sunday best to pick up girls along the Tiber than like a communicant or a soldier of Jesus . With a group of boys like him , all in white shirts, he arrived at the church of divine providence, where at nine Don Pizutti gave him communion and at eleven the bishop confirmed him .

Maybe the first step on the road to being a man in Italy is being confirmed into the church .

The story follows a group of street kids in those chaotic post war year in Italy , well Rome Riccetto is a street boy but he is turning into a man and this is the story of that time when a boy becomes a man. The story is how this one boy and his friends try to get their world seen by the greater world . These boys steal to get by in their world , like steal chairs and then spend the money on food to get by but as they steal they also end up sometimes getting stolen off in turn. Then there is also the other part of boys becoming men and that is the sexual side , this sees them visiting ladies of the night with various results. This is a story of a tough world told by those inside it  and how hard it is to grow up in this world.

Discouraged, and displaying their discouragement with a sneer, the three delinquents sat on the parapet: Lenzetta was lying down, stomach up, with his hands under his dusty neck, singing, Riccetto sat on the edge with his legs dangling; only Alduccio was standing, leaning against the all with his hip and elbow, his legs nervously crossed.He was the only one who didn’t seem bored, who was awaiting events with some hope.

The gang are growing and trying to get by but also have many a fall along the way .

This is a book that is considered a classic of its time and it is it needs to sit alongside the likes rome open city the great post war master piece of Italian cinema , as a piece of neo realist art describing the post war struggle of Italy and it underclass that as is shown in the book was largely unknown as is shown by the boys wanting to get people to see them rather than turn the other cheek , there world is one that is maybe older than the one around them it is a world of thieves and a warp sense of honour among thieves  is maybe more from the world of a dickens novel. The main characters could almost be from Oliver Twist or even maybe part of Grass post war Danzig from the tin drum trilogy .

The Eskimo solution by Pascal Garnier

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The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier

French Noir fiction

Original title – La Solution Esquimau

Translators – Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken

Source – review copy

I can’t believe that four years have flown since I first came across Pascal Garnier , when Gallic books sent me the first of thew late writers books and actually in the line of his publish” romans “(novels )the first .)I have reviewed four of his books before here is a link to the reviews. I have found his books funny and dark at the same time he had a very black humour that is all of his own. It safe to say every time a book o his drops through the letter box it is a treat.

Louis’s mother took all her medication for the week in one go on Monday morning so that she could be sure she wouldn’t forget. That was he best day of the week . She laughed at anything and nothing,spent an hour staring at the pattern on her waxed tablecloth, moved her knick-knacks about and invariably ended up embarking on a complicated recipe for which she only possessed a fraction of the ingredients. At eight O’clock, she collapsed in a heap for at least twelve hours .

Now this is a strange story that is set in Normandy a writer has taken a small cottage after an advance from his publisher he has taken to finish a novel he is writing. Now the novel is narrated by a man called Louis, and louis has a job and that is riding the world of Older people first he starts of with his own family member his mother and then spreads his wings and starts to help his friends with their relatives. with their older family members . Now the serial Killer Louis has been written in turn by the writer Louis and people around the writer louis of a certain age are also dying . Has his writing seep into the world or is he really Louis and a killer not a writer .

Ever day at the same time I go up to my study, read over these pages and ask myself,” What’s the point of writing a story I already know off by heart? “I’ve explained it to so many people that the tiresome formality of putting down on paper is about as exciting to me as opening the TV guide to discover The longest day  showing on every channel. In an ideal world I’d sell the story as it is, in its raw state, to someone who had some enthusiasm for writing it.Or didn’t but would write it all the same.

Louis with his story he knows so well maybe to well as it seeps into his world as he works on it himself .

This is one of the books that make you think as the lines between the real and written world blur for one man. I was reminded of the film stranger than fiction where Will Ferrel is a character in a book but doesn’t know it so is louis a character or the writer or one the same ?This as the novel moves on is harder to tell as the lines between them blur . What is being talked about and done by Louis  is  Seincide(killing the elderly )  as it is called is also what the title refers to this is where the Inuit used to place old people on the ice to float away and die .Many cultures have myths or old customs around killing the old and of course there is a number of books and films about it as well like Logan’s run where 30 is the oldest people can be or the novel wanting seed by Anthony Burgess which tackles over population and has various solution.,I feel this maybe was a writer playing with an Idea of real and written life blurring . He maybe could fleshed it out some more but, it is the usual length of his books which makes me wonder did he writer for a certain reader as I find his books can be read in an evening and keep ypou think all the next day and more in many cases. Another in the late writers Cannon and on his french wiki page it seems there is a number of other books still to come out .

Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes

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Knowledge of hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes

Portuguese fiction

Original title – Conhecimento do Inferno

Translator – Clifford E Landers

Source – personnel copy

Well I can’t quite remember when i first heard of Antunes as a writer , I think it was back with an interview with Frank Wynne years ago. well the years went by I tried for a copy from the library they had one but it was a missing book. Then I had at times tried and failed to find him in book shops, but he seems to only be on shelves of larger waterstones or the LRB and then his books  seemed to have fallen behind what ever caught my eye that month. well a new shelf space at the new house has allowed me to bargain shop. Any way back to Antunes he was a psychiatrist and served in the portuguese army during the Angolan war he start to write a number of years after the wars, he mainly focused his early novels on the war years and its aftermath. This was his third novel.

The sea of the Algarve is made of cardboard like theater scenery, and the english don’t realize it: they conscientiously spread their towels on the sawust sand, protect themselves with dark glasses from the paper sun, stroll enthralled on the stage of Albufeira where public employees disguised as carnival barkers, squatting on the ground, inflict on them Moroccan necklaces secretly manufactured by the tourism board

The opening lines on leaving the Algarve Antonio Lobo Antunes is going home to Lisbon

There is almost a Borges type mirror to this story of a man driving home from his holiday in the Algarve back to Lisbon. Where the  narrator is working in the mental institution with the damage of the post war era of the Angolan conflict where he talks to those who suffered during the war. This si the journey home but almost like going back to hell as the spiral down the journey. As we see how the narrator who is also called Antonio Antunes like the writer himself struggles to control his role as listen helper and in a way god to those he is trying to heal.But he like many in his position is getting scared by those he is healing so the sadness falls as the near he gets to the centre.

I’ve never left the hospital, he thought as he received his change from the gasoline, observing the guy from whom the face, the gestures, the voice of Mr Carlos were slowly disappearing, the same way a smile dissipates in an old picture art the beach, or the acacias dissolves in the pale fog of October, as colourless and mute as the animals in dreams.Mr Carlos was slowly diappearing the employees were cleaning the windows of the station wagon in circular movements using a kind of sponge

he repeats the phrase I never left the hospital in this chapter as his mind wanders and he is remind of the hospital on his return journey.

This book is third in a trio of books he wrote on the Angolan war and its aftermath from the point of view of being a psychiatrist. I said this was like Borges with a mirror this is a reflective image of the writer himself but one with flaws like those old mirrors that twisted and bent the reflection in the light. I instantly got what everyone said about Antunes being a great writer , I don’t get the Faulkner comparison myself but there is a longing in his writing that almost sums up that portuguese word Saudade but a twist form of it a longing for what has happened not to have happened a sort of wishing the past away and want to remove the scars of a dark part of his country’s past. The wars in Angola were among the most brutal of african independence as Portugal struggled to keep a foothold in Africa. Have you read Antunes ?

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Moscow in the 1930’s by Natalia Gromova

Russian fiction

original title – Последняя Москва.

Translator – Christopher Culver

Source – review copy

Well its a second visit to the Russia this woman in translation month , This time we have a historic novel about writers. Natalia Gromova is from a russian military family , she has lived in Moscow since an early agee and got a job at 16 working in the state historical library whilst finishing her studies , she has work for the Soviet encyclopedia in the past but since the mid 90s has been writing books that she use the historic archives to put together historic novels from original diaries , letters and articles of the time .

Alexander Fyodorovich served Russian literature like a priest: literature had completely replaced religion for his generation. But neither literature nor culture , as it became clear later, could save them from the chaos of revolution and then all ugly realities of Soviet life. many of these high-born gymnasium teachers and university professors looked at the complex issues of society and politics with disgust, and the consequences of this naturally fell on the heads of their children, who swept into the maelstrom of history.

I loved this passage about how literature took over religion in some in the 30’s

Moscow in the 1930’s is set during those pre war years of Stalin rule , we are drawn into a world of house and place that arent there anymore .This stitches together the diaries of writers like Olga Bessarabova, Vavara Grigiryena  are the two main sources for this work  well-known and now even forgotten to paint a picture of a world of writing at the time the friendships . People like Maria Belkina a well-known writer in her time but now forgotten to us in english. I loved the way Natalia brought us behind the doors of these writers as they discuss the works of the day and the writers Bulgakov who at the time was working on his own masterpiece that was set also in Moscow the Master and the Margarita during the 30’s .Daniil andreyev is another character who is in the story he was even in the book arrested by Stalin it turns out a lot of his great works were destroyed by The state secret police .

The more I read , the more colourful a picture I got of an old Moscow home . There were more than enough of these in the past. TO a degree, these Moscow homes were literary figures in themselves: fro the Rostovs happy home on Provarskaya street in War and Peace to the home of Gromeko family on the Arbat in Doctor Zhivago. Here the doors were always wide open, the house would teem with guests, a number of relatives would be resident, and holidays would be regularly celebrated, with Christmas festivities for children and adults

In her diary, Olga Bessarabova described the Dobrov home in the same way

An open door for the writer of the day to spend time with Olga and her family .

This is one of those books you need a notebook next to you as you read to note the names of the writers mention and their works . I did this and then looked to see what is available not much but I still have some to check out further Andreyev for example his later book roza mir , rose of the world came out in the late 90’s. Natalia Gromova brings a long gone Moscow to life , this is one of a number of books she has written using the same technique of real diaries and setting as a frame for her novels .I found this compelling if a slow read so much to absorb makes it a book that I will be rereading and discovering again.

 

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