The swordfish by Hugo Claus



Image result for the swordfish hugo claus

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 ?


Football by Jean-Philippe Toussaint euro 2016

Football by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

Belgium Non -Fiction

original title – Football

Translator – Shaun Whiteside

Source – Review copy

Jean Philippe Toussaint is a writer I had long wanted to get to his novels are well-known for a minimalist style , so when this collection of prose piece by him on football arrived from Fitzcarraldo editions I got a chance to tick off a writer I had wanted to get to for a while. He has written nine novels which have been translated into many languages and he has won a number of book prizes as well .This also ties in with my current set of Euro 2016 related books as it follows his life in recent years tracking the Belgium team.


In Brussels, in the playgrounds of primary school no. 9 , we used to play football at break time and the criterion used ro seprate the two teams was nopt little versus big or fair versus dark or year four versus year five, it was moral versus religion . At the start of the year, in this secular school on rue Americaine in Ixelles, you effectively had to choose between Moral and religion, according to whether you parents or we ourselves wanted to take catechism classes.

I love this way they choose the teams in my day it was against a wall and I was often near the end .

The book is a collection of short essays about his early life and football , things like playing with friends , getting a bad injury whilst a kid. what jersey he loves.I like the insight into shirts and teams we always think of certain teams and colours his examples are France in Blue, Brazil in Yellow and Germany in White.But what happens when they don’t where that shirt of course here in the England this was the case on our biggest game ever the 66 final where the team wore red shirts! Then he finally watches matches as an adult first in France 98 which strangely serves as a mid-point in the book and a tying to the end of the book as of course both involve the french player Zidane.Toussaints memories are tied to his team Belgium and their course through the cup which in this case was three draws . Then what follows is how he sees the team at the following world cups the next saw them make the 2nd round only to lose to Brazil.then the missing belgium team means a short piece on 2006. Then South Africa also a year without Belgium . The work is rounded off with an earlier piece he wrote on Zidane about the mad night 2006 when Zidane end his career getting sent off for the first time for headbutting an italian player in an act out-of-place for the great player and hero of the first year Toussaint talks about .

Night has fallen over Berlin now, the intensity if the light has faded and Zidane has suddenly felt the sky darkening over his shoulders, leaving nothing in the firmament but the flayed trails of blck and pink clouds. Water mixed with night is an old remorse that will not sleep

No one in the stadium has understood what just happened.

That moment in 2006 from the piece Zidane’s melancholy

Now I find hard not to like this book as Toussaint is a true football fan , the real shame for me is the book ends just as the story of his team and country is about to turn the book ends in 2010 , when in 2014 the belgium team makes it quarter-final and even this time have been maybe the best team or second best team at euro 2016 so far with their team of stars. So lets hope we get a football 2 with these years at some point Toussaints take on Hazzard, Fellani and so on. The Belgium team is packed with talent not seen since the days of Enzo Scifo the great Belgium player with the Italian name that caught the eye in the 80s world cups where they finished 4th in 86 and Scifo was one of the stars of that year.This is one of the best football books I have read. But for further reading on the Benelux football I would point you in the way of Brilliant Orange a book on the mad genius of Dutch football .


The man I became by Peter Verhelst


The Man I became by Peter Verhelst

Belgian  fiction

Original title – Geschiedenis van een Berg

Translator – David Colmer

Source – review copy

It’s translation Thursday so I choose the latest book from one of my favourite publishers and the first in this years series. As you may or may not know every year Peirene collects their books around a theme, this years theme is Fairy tale. Peter Verhelst has written more than twenty books and has won a number of major prizes such as the Flemish state prize. This is his 11th novel . He is considered a post modernist writer, he also writes poetry and plays.

I don’t know exactly when – I still couldn’t think in terms of days and years, that’s how long ago it was – but the heat made us so drowsy that we nodded off and slept whole afternoon away in a heap, spread eagled on top of each other. We caught termites by pushing long twigs, as flexible as blade of grass, into their mounds and then licking the twigs clean.

Opening as the gorilla remembers where he was before he was captured

The man I became is the story of a gorilla told from his point of view, from being captured to arriving in europe where they start to turn the Ape to human to get him to fit in. The first way of trying to fit in first is at a cocktail party then he ends up at an over the top theme park. In this novel we meet the gorilla he learns to talk  and starts to think like a human even in the sense of times and starts on a path to become human in a way even thou he isn’t  but the more he sees of the human world the more he finds it against his own nature and then the theme park burns down.

Dreamland was a success. After every performance the applause was tumultuous. It attracted newspapers, magazines, camera crews. People came from all over the new world. The organizers decided to go from two shows a day to three. After a week the first accident happened. One of the Giraffes broke a leg. As a result the other giraffes had to work even more.

At the morning meeting the next day, the human ordered me to take over several off his duties. He would be concentrating on the supply of new animals and trainers. I worked day and night to ensure that both the training and organization of the shows ran smoothly. the giraffe with the broken leg was nowhere to be seen

I liked this as I imagined removing the animal names and adding refugees being overworked !

This is not the first book told by an ape , I loved will self’s great apes years ago and this is on a similar vein the use of the gorilla is a symbol for showing the flaws in human nature . This is a clever way at looking at human nature , why would we want an ape to be a human ? , then be in a show on civilization with a whole load of other animals trying to be human. I loved the way dreamland is put together its like a nightmare version of disneyland put together by Werner Herzog. He also shows the way we can all break replace an Ape with say a Syrian man or a child from sub Saharan Africa and at the core of this is an allegory to being an outsider in a different place we don’t always fit and sometimes we need to break out.A powerful modern take on a fairy tale it does what Orwell did in animal farm and communism with a theme park and refugees or people forced into europe .

Have you read a book narrated by animal ?

The woman who fed the dogs by Kristien Hemmerechts

The Woman Who Fed The Dogs

The woman who fed the dogs by Kristien Hemmerechts

Belgium Fiction

Original title – De vrouw die de honden eten gaf

Translator – Paul Vincent

A woman said: “I know my son is dead
I’ll never rest my hands on his sacred head”

Hindley wakes and Hindley says:
Hindley wakes, Hindley wakes, Hindley wakes, and says:
“Oh, wherever he has gone, I have gone”

But fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death
Fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death

I choose Smiths song Suffer little children a song about the moord Murders a similar case to this one .

I am back with another of the books from the first year of World editions which is the English arm of the big Dutch publisher De Geus .Kristien Hemmerechts has written over twenty novels in her time and numerous short story collections .She has won the Flemish state prize and Frans Kellendonk prize .Given that wonderful writing life this appears to be her first translation into English

“Odette , show us how well you can clean ” He kicked the waste bin over . “Sorry .Acident “. Or he would pour milk on the ground , step into the puddle and leave a trail of milk all over the house , .

” Thank you , M “. And then I mustn’t forget to pull my mouth into a smile .

“Odette wasn’t made to sit on her arse ” , he said

He made he do thing like this to gain his control of her , where many folk would said no at some point she didn’t !

This book is a fiction account of The story of Michelle Martin she was the ex-wife and accomplice of the Marc Dutroux ,He killed and sexually assault six girls in the mid 90’s .The case is one of the most notorious in Belgium history that lead to a change in the French justice system as what was seen as a bungled investigation .Also a third of people who shared the surname changed their name after he was caught . As you see this book is about  a powerful true story . For the book Marc becomes M and Michelle Martin is Odette , the story that unfolds shows the way she was drawn into this violent man’s world from his early petty crimes to the end of kidnapping , assaulting and killing of the young girls . We see all the events unfold through her eyes as she tells us of her and M’s lives .There is a lot about M’s past and how he was abused and this lead him to this path .We also see why she followed as the past they have unfolds bit by bit .

M wanted m because he wanted a daughter ,That was one of the first things he said to me in that caravan  of his that he had stationed in the car park by the skating rink .And asked me if I wanted to know how many women he had fucked in that caravan .And how many girls .”I didn’t need to know that ” I said calmly .That was lucky , he said , because he didn’t know approximately .

Sex played a big part in their relationship , as power games between them .

This is a book I wouldn’t picked up to read myself , I don’t drift towards books of this nature , but I felt I had to read it after being sent so many books from World edition .I ‘m pleased I did what is written is an even hand untainted view of this womans life . We see how she is drawn into M’s life and the crimes he and then they did together .You are left to decide whether she was an innocent that felt unable to speak or a willing partner in the crime for me this is one of those case that is a bit of both , Female killers are so rare they tend to be more well-known than male killer Myra Hindley for example is maybe the nearest comparison to this case I could think of in the UK were both Husband and Wife took part in the killing .I felt for Odette , but I at my core have a very strong moral heart and the things she did you have to know on a level are wrong .But that aside a journey into a world of killers and what drives people or gets people caught up with a psychopath on his killing .

The Mahé circle by Georges Simenon



The Mahe Circle

The circle by Georges Simenon

Belgian fiction (Roman Durs)

Original title – Le Cercle des Mahé

Translator – Sian Reynolds

Ah wanna tell ya ’bout a girl
You kno, she lives in Apt. 29
Why… that’s the one right up top a mine
Ah start to cry, Ah start to cry
O ah hear her walkin
Walkin barefoot cross the floor-boards
All thru this lonesome night
And ah hear her crying too.
Hot-tears come leaking down
splashing thru the cracks,
Down upon my face, ah catch’em in my mouth!
Walk’n’cry Walk’n’cry-y!!!
From her to eternity!
From her to eternity!
From her to eternity!

Well this is Nick cave song about obsession with a  neighbour source  

The first non Maigret novel ,I’m review here is the first to be reissued from the other type of fiction Simenon was known for his Roman Durs (means hard novels – they are more complex in the storylines than his other books and often darker ) .As it is Nobel week I decide to look at Nomination database that is on the Nobel site to see if he was ever nominated for the nobel prize it shows he had 6 nominations up til 1963 which is as far as the database goes up to so it looks like he may have had more in the years after that .

“She is dead isn’t she ?”

The eyes of the girl in the red dress were still starring at him through the darkness and he hesitated to answer the woman ,who went on :

“The last hour , she was trembling all over , I had to hold her … sweating too … bad smell  … I can still smell it on my hands

The woman dies just as the doctor gets there to see to her .


The circle is the story of one man  Dr Francois  Mahé  and his obsession with a women ,after he caught a glimpse of her this is on his holiday with his family on the small island of porquerolles of the southern coast of France , whilst their he also attends to a dying women as he is called into help whilst fishing with some local men .He returns home ,but then he drags his family back for the following three summers as he has a growing sense of attraction to this younger women Elizabeth  even getting a young family member to start trying to date her .

Already last year , she was much changed .She had still been wearing the red dress, as she was even this year , it was as though the dress was growing with her .And she was still just as thin , but her breasts had formed and now showed through the fabric

The girl has grown more into a women over the years he has visited the islands .

Well this is different to Maigret , there is a very sparse nature to Simenon’s story we only get what is need , he is never one to over load his writing with too much detail .The story could be viewed as one man’s mid-life crisis in a way , Francois is a man who has reach a point in his life he is a doctor ,has kids and a life ,but at some point he wants a different life .That is the main point of the book it is the battle of Francois  between the life he has and the life he sees on the small islands , worlds classes apart its a dark look at what happens when a rich chap looks over the other side whilst on holiday , I was reminded of the film Shirley Valentine , where a housewife falls in love on a greek island ,well imagine if that film had a male and was made by David Lynch and you have the Mahe circle , love here is really obsession , this obsession is also mirror in his obsession to catch a certain fish in the book .The island leaps of the pages at time , but all that sun and easy living as it seems isn’t all it is cracked up to be .

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