Under the Channel by Gilles Pétel

under the channel

Under the Channel by Gilles Pétel

French Crime fiction

Original title – Sous la manche

Translators – Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken

Source – Review copy

Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other (he searches for the contrary of saved) damned.”
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot via CLASSIC LIT 


Gilles Pétel was born and brought up in Dunkirk , he studied Philosophy at the University of Nice , he then taught abroad for a number of year .He wrote his first book in 1996 ,this is his fifth novel and the first to be translated to English .He has taught in London during the Financial crisis working at a French school in London .

Roland really couldn’t face an argument tonight .He had only just left a crime scene .No matter how used he was to seeing dead bodies ,they still left him shaken, and he wasn’t prepared for coming home to a fight .

Roland and his wife are struggling when we first meet him in the book .

Well the  story of this book is in the Title a man is murdered Under the Channel ,the man John Bunny a Forty five year old Scottish man living in London working as an estate agent ,arrives on the Eurostar at Paris and is found dead .So the case of his death is given to Roland Desfeuilleres  A Forty year old married with kids ,his life is at a bit of a crossroads when he is given this case and goes to London to discover more about John Bunny and his life in London .But in doing so he maybe discovers that his life could of being something else with at first being wow by this man’s wonderful life in London ,but then he sees the flaws in it and what may have led to his death and also maybe learns something about his own life .

The doctor uncovered John Burny’s naked body , as the lieutenant looked impatiently on .Then he exclaimed :

“He’s in great shape ! how old did you say he was ?”

“forty-five ”

The victim looked younger than Desfeuilleres, although he was five years older .In spite of himself desfeuilleres felt envious ,jealous even ,hardly an appropriate reaction to the sight of the unfortunate man .

Roland sees John and maybe wants to see how this older man looked so much better than him .

Well this book is rather like a couple of series that have been on TV in recent year the bridge and the Tunnel ,what happens when a body is discovered or killed midway between two countries ,unlike those it is also a story of two men One alive and One dead .I felt the philosophy  that Gilles ,had studied in some way as these two men John and Roland ,so close in age yet so different in the own lives enter each others lives ,Roland will learn a lot from this journey to London  ,about himself , the modern world of money and power in the world and also what one man will give up to be on top in that world .Also it is a reminder of how great crime novels on trains or about trains can be ,from Murder on the orient express , through strangers on a train ,the edge by Dick Francis .As a train brings together people on a journey  that aren’t meant to know each other and 750 people in a eurostar it is a great place to try and hide a crime  or as here a murder .A clever book about two different lives colliding and neither being the same after .

Have you a favourite French crime novel

Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Boyhood island Karl Ove Knausgaard

Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Norwegian fiction

Original title – Min Kamp Tredje Bok

Translator – Don Bartlett

Source – Library


“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!

J M Barrie the writer of Peter Pan


Well book two is on the IFFP shortlist of Karl Ove Knausgaard six book collection My struggle and in the time it was longlist and shortlist Book three of the collection has come out in hardback .I have already read books one and two  and have loved a both of them so was excited to get to the halfway point (well not really in terms of pages as the next few books are longer ) .

We moved there in the summer of 1970 , when most of the houses on the site were still being built .The shrill warning siren ,which sounded before and explosion was a common feature of my childhood , and that very distinctive feeling of doom you can experience when shock waves from the explosion ripple through the ground causing the house to tremble was common too .

The house the Knaugaard family moved to on the Island .

So Boyhood island like the previous books is a fictionalized account of the life of Karl Ove Knausgaard ,so far we have seen his relationship with his father ,late teen years and the struggling start as a writer and young father .Now on book three we dive back to his earlier childhood a seventies Norway  we see Karl Ove ‘s school years unfold as he lives with his family in a series of places and small islands were his family settled .Karl Ove making friends ,seeing his parents change ,observing there relationship as a child in hindsight watching them argue .This is really a normal childhood made into high art every little piece of his childhood is taken apart what he ate ,what he watch , the early discovery of books , a love of comics etc etc . We do see what made the man but also what it was to be a child in the seventies in Norway .

The disagreements never lasted long, a few hours later I was playing with them again if I wanted , but there was something awry .I was finding myself in situations with my back against the wall more and more often ,the others were moving away more and more often when I approached , even Geir ,in fact ,on occasion I realised they were actually hiding from me .

Trouble at times Karl Ove struggled at times  with his temper .

Now I must say this one of the three actually is the book I have like least ,still with Karl Ove great style of writing but something feels more forced about this one maybe to many facts ,I felt as though he’d maybe tried to hard to remember his childhood and maybe like we all do is remember the parts around our childhood , in my case the spangles , jackanoary , having snails in my pockets ,childhood fights with my younger brother , playing with my younger brother as we made things out of lego .This is what we get here ,underneath is parts we have seen in the other books hints of troubles ahead between Karl Ove and his father .It didn’t quite click the writers voice in this just isn’t child like enough at times ,not that it is bad now there is still those flourishes of description that for me is his real strength to carry the everyday into something more than the everyday to us the reader is a rare talent .Will I be reading on of course so I will count down the days until vol four arrives with us this time next year .

Have you got this far with Karl Ove ?

The sorrow of angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

SOrrow of angels

The sorrow of angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Harmur englanna

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – review copy

I might have speculated on my chances of going to Heaven; but candidly I did not care. I could not have wept if I had tried. I had no wish to review the evils of my past. But the past did seem to have been a bit wasted. The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions: the road to Heaven is paved with lost opportunities.

Apsley Cherry Garrard from his book the worst journey in the world .via goodreads

Well yesterday I covered part one of this trilogy Heaven and Hell  ,so far Jón Kalman Stefánsson has written nine novels and in 2005 won the Icelandic Literature prize .Like the first in this trilogy I read this on more than one occasion the prose are very rich and need to be savoured on more than one occasion I feel .

It’s snowing .The snowflakes fill the vault of the sky and pile up on the world .The wind is gentle and drifts hold their shape ,The surface of the sea is calm and ceaselessly swallows the snow .

Weather but a little calmer than in other parts of the book .

Well I think that quote sums this book up well ,the book follows a journey taken by the still unnamed boy who was one of the main characters in the first book and Jens a postman as they seek to deliver a package for a doctor in the hinterland of Iceland .Now the boy an orphan whom in the first book lost his good friend seems a much more rounded character in this book one who because of his past has fallen in love with books .The journey sees the two battle each other and the elements around them and maybe grow to know each other from this shared journey .As they move from farm to farm to get the item delivered .

The coffee brews .

Oh, the aroma of this black drink !

Why do we have to remember it so well ;it’s been so very long , since we could drink coffee , many decades ,yet still the tast and pleasure haunts us .Our bodies were devoured to the last morsel long ago .

As a coffee lover Stefanssson often mentions coffee .

Snow ,snow ,snow ,cold ,wind this is maybe the book summed up in five words what we have here like the first book is a book is about man and his surrounds ,how we can conquer most things but the elements still even now (although this book is set a hundred years ago ) we struggle in the worst conditions to get by .Again the book is told in a collective voice ,an echo of a past gone but kept alive in these pages .The journey they are  undertaking is maybe an eternal one that man has been taken since the beginning of time  , the one that isn’t about getting there but about taking the journey .Philip Roughton has caught what I call the cold feel of the book ,I assume there is more in Icelandic about cold and cold weather but he has still managed to make you feel a real chill down your spine ,this would be a great book to read on a hot summers day as it will cool you down .This is another from this years IFFP it is on our shadow shortlist .

Have you read either of the books by this writer ?


Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

heaven and hell

Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Icelandic fiction

Original title Himnaríki og helvíti

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source review copy

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

From the rim of the ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge .

Now this is a book I have read three times in the last year and it wasn’t till the last rereading this last weekend I finally got what I felt  Jón Kalman Stefánsson was trying to get across . Jón Kalman Stefánsson is an Icelandic writer ,that studied Literature but then didn’t pass his final exams ,so drifted into teaching ,then became a librarian in Denmark ,before deciding to become a writer which he now does full-time .Heaven and Hell is the first in a trilogy of novels ,tomorrow I’ll be reviewing the second book Sorrow of angels ,but too this book now .

The sea is cold and sometimes dark it is a gigantic creature that never rests , and here no-one can swim except for Jonas who works in the summers at the Norwegian whaling station , the Norwegians taught him how to swim , he is called either the Cod or the Sea-wolf the later more fitting considering his appearance .

I loved the image I got here of Jonas .

Heaven and Hell is the story of a boy ,a boat ,the crew of the boat ,a good man losing his life .But it’s more than that its a feeling a world gone the voices in the book are from the past telling of a world that was a world where Fishermen would read Paradise lost .The crew now have to head out further to get the cod one Crew man Barður whom was the one that was reading Milton ,left some of his gear behind and thus dies of the cold  and wet minus his waterproof gear ,this is a harsh world the rest of the crew seem unbothered by this event apart from one the Boy whom is  the other main character of this book we don’t know his name but he sets of with Barður book across the Island to return this book to its original owner a Blind sea-captain .Along the way he meets a bunch of almost surreal characters .A quest to return the book .

Hell is not knowing whether we are alive of dead

I live ,she lives ,they live ,he dies

This rough conjunction stuck us like a mace on the head ,because the story about the boy ,the snow ,the huts ,almost made us forget our own deaths .

I finally grew to love passages like this .

Now the reason I struggled with this book ,I feel is the style of writing is a style I’m not readily use to a collective voice ,but also I like to get a foothold in a story rather like a climb that little slither of rock I can balance and see what is ahead and in the first two reading I didn’t get that and I feel part of that was wanting to compare this to the few other Icelandic novels I have read ,which it really is very different ,so on this last reading I sat and just like a boat set sail in his prose and Got it and actually went Dam Tony whom I know loves this and the follow-up book was right  .How did I make this break it was using my own life and remember a visit to a fishing museum(s) in Fife ,looking after a lady twenty years ago that followed the Herring fleet up the north coast of England and Scotland during the 20s and 30s ,the small fishing huts I passed once a week in Northumberland all shot into my mind as I turned the pages for a third time and I just went why (but that is the beauty of books and rereading  it took me to try to see the beauty and sometimes we need to break something down and just let it drift over us ) .The world you are drawn into is one of hard men , the cruel sea and a boy looking beyond this world and making more of it .Milton maybe this is the world of Paradise lost in the flesh these fishermen are the cast out souls of Paradise lost .I was remind also in this last reread of Under Milkwood ,how much was I had seen it a week earlier but it evokes the same world feel that dark, tough but very real world that Thomas did in his verse poem .


The hut I remember from Northumberland very like the world in this book picture by Attribution: Jonathan Billinger

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

sworn virgin cover Elvira Dones

Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones

Albanian fiction

Original title – Vergine giurata

Translator – Clarissa Botsford

Source – Review copy

After that my guess is that you will never hear from him again. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that… he is gone.

Verbal in the film the Usual suspects

Elvira Dones is an us based Albanian writer ,she has written seven novels in Albanian before living in Italy and starting to write in Italian ,where she has written two books ,this is one of them .She also made a documentary about twelve Sworn Virgins like Hana /Mark in this novel ,that have left Albania and gone to live in the US .This book is also due to be made into a film .

You can’t write good poems with a dry cunt ,she thinks to herself again ,annoyed .Why the hell did she tell him she wrote ?

Hana /Mark on plane to US maybe thinks more like a man still

Well I really pleased when I got sent this as I have only read Kadare and a small piece by Ornela Vorpsi that was in one of the Dalkey European collection .So the chance to read about a country that has interested me since working in a factory in Germany along side a couple from  Kosovo ,whom had like Hana in this book escaped Albania (Kosovo is actually Serbia but the country itself is 90% Albanian ) ,So the chance to discover another tale of this country grabbed me .Anyway to the book Sworn Virgin is the story of Hana/Mark ,at the start of the story we see the young Hana in the capital of Albania Tirana studying away at Literature ,start to just spread her wings .She was originally from a small village brought up by her uncle  ,but a call from an Uncle brings her back to her village ,this is because her family want her to marry as the Uncle is dying and there is no male Heir , but that glimpse of another world in Tirana leads to Mark ,as Hana decides under the old ways of her country to live as a man as a Sworn virgin ,so live goes on Until a relative that left Albania ask Mark /Hana to come and live in the US so after all these years of being a man can Hana find her womanhood again ?

“Ok ” she decide .”Me first , since I’m the one who dragged you into this situation .I’m a woman , I’ve always been one .I’m not a transvestite , or a transsexual ,and I’m not gay .I’ve never been any of these things .It’s just that I swore to become a man ,in a social ,sense ,sixteen years ago .I had to do it because circumstances forced me to .

Hana in Us meets a man and tells him this .

This is one of those stories when you hear about it you go to yourself on no it doesn’t happen but this is part of the past ,but when in the post world war two period Hoxha ran the  country as an isolate place for forty years so a lot of these old practices kept going .Here in a piece from Slate by Jill Peters you get the full effect of what happened to Hana/Mark , as you see ,it’s not just dressing as a man no it is to coin the phrase “the whole nine yards ” .The book isn’t a straight narrative no we jump from now to then as we see Hana/Marks life unfold .Elvira captures so well it seems Hana becoming Mark and even better Mark years later becoming Hana once more and how to the outsider do you explain being a Sworn virgin ?As ever And other stories have turned up a quirky novel about a part of the world I always want to know more about .

Have you a favourite part of the world to read books from ?


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