Balkan Bombshell women’s writing from Serbia and Montenegro

Balkan Bombshells Contemporary Women’s writing from Serbia and Montenegro

Serbian and Montenegro fiction

Translator (also compiled by )

Source – review copy

I am late to review this book I had half-read it before the move and fell in love with the collection of writers Will had chosen to assemble in this collection of  17  contemporary writers from the Balakns. As many of you may know, I have long been a fan of  Istros books for several years and have kindly been sent most of the books over the years to review here on the blog. So there were a few of the writers in this collection I had come across as they had been brought out before from ISTROS and also in the Peter Owen Istros collection that came out a few years ago. But most of the writers were new to me and showed me the strength and breadth of Balkan writing. So I finally picked it up this week and started the book again and worked through the collection I will only mention a few stories; I always loved to leave most of a collection like this to be discovered by other readers.

The man in question had chosen the biggest piglet on the farm, paid a good price for it and then sat down in the yard to taste Budimir’s rakija. ‘Nenad, he said, shaking Marijana’s hand and smiling to reveal a few bad teeth. Ma-riiana didn’t dare to speak while Nenad talked about his house in the forest, far from the village and the neighbours.

‘It’s peaceful and quiet where I am, he said and looked at Marijana. ‘Do you also like peace and quiet?’

Marijana meets the Forester that wants her hand in Marrige will it work out

The opening story is of a girl unmarried Marijana, a poor girl; it seems as if the first thing we are told is everything she could own would fit in a blue Bag a friend had brought her back from Macedonia. Her brother like Bikes, but she loves to bake. The locals are always asking when she will get married and are told when the right man comes along. So when a forester comes and asks for her hand in marriage, she is off to the hills is he the one she has waited for ? Bojana Babic’s story is simple but has an undercurrent to it. Next is a fever dream of a story. We meet Bambi as she enter a grey house, but as she does, it seems to move around her she bumps into people. Something is happening next. She is on the toilet, and has she had an abortion? This unnerving story from Zvanka Gazivoda reminds me of those great Argentina writers of recent years. The last story I will discuss is about someone returning to Belgrade after spending a long time in Canada due to the war. But as she arrives in Serbia, it is precisely the same time as Slobodan Milošević has died so how those she knew before have changed over the years she has been away? The people she knew had either gone and fought elsewhere, shrunk as people or died. The story is first the account of her trip, then the second part is a written letter as an email that arrives simultaneously.

There’s one now who wasn’t there a moment ago. Shorter than Bambi. He comes towards her and Bambi holds out her hand, but he just grabs her upper arm and wants to drag her away. She resists half-heartedly and looks around in wonder, but her friends are busy with themselves – fixing their hair, brushing their sleeves or buttoning up – and now they go for a walk around the house. Skull remains, for-tunately, but he goes to the window opening and lights a cigarette. It’s as if smoking is prohibited inside, so he won’t break the rules. He looks out and doesn’t turn round.

Rain is pouring steadily.

The fever dream of this story it drags you in to Bambi and what is really happening ?


I choose three stories as it leaves so many others, and some are great. I like some like the ‘The Title”  as a Mother and Daughter fight over her play’s provocative title. Then folk lore creeps into other stories like young pioneers where old cures can be used to help out. THIS IS A collection that works I often find short story collections can be a little bloated as they try to fit too much into the collection. These work as they are a collection of Amuse Bouche stories sort shot over in a few minutes but leave a lingering taste in your reader’s mouth. This collection shows how strong Balakn’s writing is and also the connections the Translator and Compiler Will has gone around the Balkans to find these solid female voices. Have you a favourite female writer from the Balkans?

Winstons score – A A whistle-stop tour of the best female writers in the Balkans

The return of Stu’s Favourite Podcasts

It seemed a while since I had done a post around the bookish and a couple non-books podcasts I have been listening to in the last while I did a post many years ago, but some of the podcasts have gone others had evolved over the years. SO lets get into it

First is The Mookse and Gripes. Trevor as a blogger has been as around as long as I can remember being on the net which is about the time I started this blog. He has done the podcast for a number of years firstly with his brother and now with Paul. This version for me really works there is an excellent connection as they chat over books it is a mix of deep dives into writers and publishers and a list of books around a set topic. Of course, it has a lot of books in Translation mentioned.

Next up is tea or Books. Simon and Rachel have long been a favourite for me. I love their chat I love the fact they discuss books, so out of my sphere of reading it reminds me of what is out there; the show is split into a discussion around a question around books do you like books set in a bookshop or such. Then the second part is two books that share a theme or trait and which they like best.

Next up a really new shiny podcast, Lost in Redonda is a new podcast it is also split into two parts. The first discusses a backlist title the second half is a journey into the world of The King of Redonda, Javier Marias. He is a writer. I have read but have always felt that over people love him I am hoping well it has so far it has made me want to take a deep dive into Marias at some point and discover this writer more than know already.

Next up is Frances One Bright book podcast she has been involved with the Shadow Booker international since the start. Her podcast is a discussion around a single book that they all read it is great to see how different readers that broadly have similar tastes react to the books they read.

Next is another Newish podcast. The pair are young and host this unlike the other podcasts where I have known or known the people connected to the podcast This is a podcast dedicated to NYRB classics they are going to read all the books from them (I bet Trevor from Mookse is kicking himself he has long championed them )

Then we have Biulaq a podcast focused on Arabic Literature featuring the people behind the Arablit Blog and the Arabist blog. This has given me so many books in the last year or so even in this week’s episode I had read two of the three books I will be reading the other book they mention if you want to learn about Arabic fiction in translation.

Then we have the Anthony Burgess podcast that is working through his 99 novels and also has shown around him as a writer as you may know I have a huge soft spot for him and I am enjoying the trip through the 99 best books he had chosen as the best in English.

A little different a writer podcast the poet Sally Bayley talks about writing, poetry and life on her narrowboat a mix of her life poetry and nature a sweet podcast.

Mentions for Book podcast

Backlisted -a mine of great backlisted titles

Reading McCarthy – all about Cormac McCarthy and his boooks

Vollmania – All around William T Vollman

Chatting lit I’m very new to this but seems interesting so far

Then we have


This design podcast has been going years it looks at design and how we often miss it one of my favourite ones was about Thomassons those piece of street furnture maintain but totally useless now this came from American Baseball payer that was useless when he played in Japan this lead to people using his name for pictures of these unused piece of street furniture.

Have you a favourite podcast ?


Liminal by Roland Schimmelpfennig

Liminal by Roland Schimmelpfennig

German Fiction

Original title –Die Linie zwischen Tag und Nacht

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – Review copy

I was excited when this dropped through my; letterbox as I was a massive fan of Roland’s first novel to be translated into English, which had come out several years ago and also had one of the memorable titles of recent years ‘One Clear, ice-cold January Morning at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century. I said at the time, he is actually best known as a Playwright in his homeland as his plays are amongst the best known in the German-speaking world, and he is the most performed in Germany. He initially worked as a journalist before turning to Drama. The German title is the line between day and night, and that is what the book centres on the situation of people caught between the world of the day and the dark of the night.

Two helicopters circled above Görlitzer Park, but they were flying far too close to one another; what if they touched, what if they plummeted from the sky into the dancing crowd?

But were there really two helicopters circling above us?Maybe it was just one; having been awake for more than twenty-four hours I might be seeing double.

Dancing next to me by the canal were a Colombian draughtswoman, a Croatian roofer, a Portuguese waitress, a Syrian IT guy, an Indian girl who could breathe fire, and a very tall, very thin, bearded Russian who described himself as a mystic. The Russian, Ivan, was the only one I knew.

All of them were wide awake yet deathly tired, and they all shared what they had on them: cocaine, MDMA, ketamine, speed, beer and vodka.

The nscene as the body drifted past Tommy and nthe fellow Clubbers


The book opens with the line she floated in her white wedding dress on the green water. A dead woman is floating past a techno club in Berlin, and no one bats an eye not sure if it is just a show or something but it is Tommy, a disgraced drugs officer, that sees that girl is dead and isn’t some sort of art piece floating by the multitudes dance a collection of Croatian roofers, Portuguese waitress a tall thin Russian this is the collection of people that have drunk and taken drugs together in the club all that night. Tommy decides to discover more about the dead girl, a journey that takes =him to the dark heart of Berlin’s nightclub scene. Drawn into the world he used to try and police. He was a great officer, but he got tainted by the drugs and drawn into the night as he drags this dead girl out of the canal, he has to face his past mistakes and try and discover who she was and also how she ended up floating dead in a wedding dress down a canal as the clubbers just carried on dancing.

I sat with Gianni in the restaurant, which was still empty.By now we were onto our fourth grappa.

We talked about Csaba. We talked about saba’s trip to Hamburg.

-That’s what he’s like, Gianni said. It’s not greed, it’s a lack of restraint.

Gianni asked me about the dead woman in the canal. I asked him how he knew about her and he said, I was there.

Half the city was there. The television cameras were there.

You’re famous, Tommy, but then again you’ve been famous for a while now.

Gianni made a gesture as if he were holding a camera.- It was nice to see you, Chef de Police à bord, he said as I made to leave. “Chef de Police à bord” is what Csaba once called me.

Tommy has to go into his own past as he tries to find out what has happened!

This isn’t a thriller or a road trip into the dark heart of the club scene and its darker side the drugs and how so many young people fall along the way.  We follow Tommy as he wades through the flotsam and jetsom that is the line between the sea of drugs and the land of the day and everyone else. Tommy knows this place well he has been caught up in his own flotsam and jetsom for far too long. This would make a great Wim Wender film s it has Berlin at is heart and Wenders Berlin, through his lens also captured that line between day and night, between drugs and trying to live in the day. This is the story that should be his next movie. I was reminded of some of the scenes in Wenders Faraway so close. So many souls in this book had drifted off in the sea of drug casualties of the night. Have you read any books by Schimmelpfenig or seen his plays ?

Winstons score – +A One of the best books from Germany I have read in recent years.

I served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal

I served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal

Czech Fiction

Original title – Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále

Translator – Paul Wilson

Source – Personal copy

I am not much of a royalist ut had a fun idea that this book would be perfect for today. I’ve had this on my shelves for a while I have reviewed three other books from Hrabal over the years he is a writer that used to be better known and was one of the leading if not the leading Czech writer of the 20th century. He had studied law before World War Two and qualified after the war but was a man of many jobs a man that loved to hang around pubs this led to the nature of his writing this is a man with the ear for people and the way they act. He was a fan of the book The good soldier Svejk (which I had read many years ago and the character of this book is similar to the main character in this book).

Every morning at six and again in the evening before bedtime the boss would come around, checking to make sure I’d washed my feet, and I had to be in bed by twelve.So I began to keep my ears open and not hear anything and keep my eyes open and not see anything. I saw how neat and orderly everything was, and how the boss didn’t like us to be too friendly with one another, I mean, if the checkout girl went to the movies with the waiter, they’d both be fired on the spot. I also got to know the regular customers who drank at a table in the kitchen, and every day I had to polish their glasses.

In those early years he works hard but sees all that is happening around him.

The book follows Ditie through his life. He starts off as a busboy but he sees the waiters he works in a grand-sounding hotel the Golden Prague but it is more of a small country hotel. He sees rich people having parties and bringing prostitutes for sex this is where he loses his virginity in a brothel. Then as the years go by we see him moving up the ladder as he heads to a larger hotel in the city he finally is a waiter and starts to notice money, a woman. and taking pride in himself. Aspiring to be the Head Waiter one of them leads to the title of the book he had served the King of England. Ditie is a simple man but he wants to move on and the book is a story of how he does that alongside the fact all this is taking place whilst the 30s is happening and the darkening cloud of nazi is there and he gets drawn into marrying a German woman that he does as he sees what is happening to a number of his fellow Czechs the boy flows him in the post-war years and communism a life that parallel the writers own years.

And that was how I first found it out, because when I asked the headwaiter a basic question–How do you know all this?- he answered, pulling himself up to his full height Because I served the King of England. The King? I said, clapping my hands.Do you mean you actually served the King of England? And the headwater nodded his head in satisfaction.

The scene that gave the book its title and of course the reason I reviewed it today.

Hrabal is a writer I love and was reminded of how much I did by the guys at Feeling Bookish who sent, me a message on Twitter. I had listened to their episode on this book a while ago but they remind me about it as I posted on TwitterI was reading this book and thanks to them I learnt a few facts Ditie means child in Czech a nickname he gathered along the way for his child-like looks. Hrabal also wrote this book in 18 day sprint. He captures a simple man travelling through a world but with a sort of luck, it is like a Czech Forest Gump at times if it had been written by Woody Allen.Ditie is a satire on those years but also a warning on those years . It is also a man growing up but never really becoming an adult as the child is still there and one thinks there is a lot of that in Hrabal himself.  Alongside this, we see the passage of that year the pre-war dying embers of the Austro-Hungarian empire leave the void that the Nazis filled then we see the post-war communist year as his life rides a wave itself the latter part of the book seems to have some of Hrabal own insights into life this was written when he was in the later part of his life when he wrote this book and there is a feeling of maybe it being his words mixed with the narrator’s own words. Have you read Hrabal?

Winston’s score – A From one of the masters of  European writing in the 20th century.

I’ll Do Anything you want by Iolanda Batallé

I’ll Do Anything You Want by Iolanda Batalle

Catalan fiction

Original title – Faré tot el que tu vulguis

Translators- Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent

Source –  Review copy

I was so pleased I was able to get a copy of this sent by 3 times rebel press as I had been a huge fan of the first two books the I had read last year they are a small publisher that has decided to publish working-class female voices from around the world in minority languages. This tie it is from the Catalan writer Iolanda Batallé. She is a teacher and writer. But she has also set up a number of publishing Imprints and raised international awareness in Cultural projects in her country. She also runs a bookshop called Ona in her Home town(one for the bookshop bucket list ) an emblematic bookshop a house of culture and a house of literature(sounds simply wonderful) . She has written four books.

THE COST OF LIVING KEEPS RISING, AND YET HUMANKIND HAS recently gone down in value. Nora strode along the jetway without looking back. She knew he was watching. His gaze held a deep nostalgia, a feeling so tangible, so solid she could almost knead it, the way she did when she had baked with her grandmother. Nacho watched her, her black skirt just above the knee, her blazer, her swaying hips. He noted with amusement that the men desired her and even the women were looking at her. He’d always wanted to know what had happened to his mother, but he’d never found a single clue.

His mother had turned blue after being with a man who was not his father. Dead. He’d witnessed it by chance, he was supposed to be at school. Mother’s turned blue! There’s nothing that can be done. That’s when he decided to become a shark. Seven years later he heard the song king of painter the first time.

I loved the clever use of this song as she has the affair and sees her sexual awakening in an S&M world


This book follows one’s sexual awakening Journey we meet Nora she is a housewife bored of her life in many ways. So when she starts an affair that then leads her into a world of High-class prostitution. Her world starts to come alive as she dives into a world of S&M . But in Nora’s head this is almost a dream-like feeling for her but as we the reader are an avatar on her journey we maybe see the slim lines of darkness and the danger as she drifts further into this world. As she as a woman is sexually awakened to the new level of desire these meets bring to her body, we see how she and her husband drifted apart over the 25 years of their marriage. This is a woman’s journey into her own body and what lust and sex can awaken in a woman. But there is always a feeling of what might happen in the background of her thought the sexual looking-glass journey. As we follow a sexual Alice as she eats and licks things and other things that make her body and desire grow!

SOMETIMES SHE FELT LIKE SHE DIDN’T KNOW WHERE SHE WAS.She wondered if it was all really happening. But there was no evidence to indicate it wasn’t. She’d avoided phoning Júlia for days, because when she did everything became all too real. Júlia had told her to break it off, she’d said it wasn’t right … that wasn’t what she’d meant when she spoke of infidelity. Ah, so now, to top things off, I need to be unfaithful the way you want me to be! Nora had yelled before hanging up on her. She needed to tell someone about what she was going through, but there was no one. The people who would have listened without judging were dead, and Robert obviously wasn’t an option. Teresa, her therapist, had passed away.

The dream like feeling of her journey is described her

This is a wonderfully poetic book that sees our narrator on her journey. The nod to Alice is mentioned on the cover and there is a feeling of someone dreaming through a world that isn’t dreamlike and that yes is giving her a lot of power in herself and her own desire but then on there other hand is dangerous like putting a hand through a flame you’re going get burnt eventually. This reminds me of the rabbit holes you went down in books William S  Burroughs wrote about sexual awakening his were around sex and drugs but this is driven by a woman who wants to break free of her boring world and feels that is something Burroughs also did well they want to break free and feel something else!! Or Anais Noin those first waves of writers that tackled what are taboo subjects in their books. This has led to writers like Iolanda that can now enter a sexual world of high-class sex for money a woman that is navigating that world as a woman empowered for now.!! The over thing I loved was the use of music in this book it used piece of music as a sort of tag for the sexual events as a way of remember the nights of passion. This is another gem from a press that is publishing hard-hitting books.

Have you a favourite book that deals with sexual desires?

533 A Book of Days by Cees Nooteboom

533 A Book of Days by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch Non-Fiction

Original title – 533: een dagenboek

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source – Personal copy

I featured an Interview with Cees many years ago on the blog. I haven’t had many interviews recently, and I love getting insight from a writer. This is the fifth book from Cees I will have reviewed. He is one of those great writers that can write across various styles of writing poetry, fiction, and travel writing, and this is something of a memoir of his life and those books he has consumed over the years and the writers he has known all and a love of literature that shines through this book. This is a book compiled over years of his summer vacations in Menorca. Another of the books I read by him was his lament every year when he had to move. This is him in the summer mulling over memories of his years of writing and the writers he has encountered. He is. writer that should have won the Nobel by now one of the great voices of his nation.

Literary politics (such a thing exists: hegemonies, influences, triumvirates, legacies) and death. Elias Canetti (“The Prophet Elias [Elijah] defeated the Angel of Death. My name is becoming increasingly uncanny to me.”) on Thomas Bernhard. He claims him for himself but is afraid he will have to surrender him to Beckett. “I elevate him to my student and of course he is that, in a much deeper sense than Iris Murdoch his former lover], who changes everything into pleasantness and light and has essentially become a clever and engaging entertainment writer. For that reason alone, she cannot be a real student of mine, because she is obsessed with sexuality. Bernhard, on the other hand, is, like me, obsessed with death. Recently, how-ever, he has been under the influence of a man who puts my own in the shade, namely Beckett. Bernhard’s hypochondria

I love his thoughts on Bernhard !!

The book comprises several Vignettes that see Cees looking back on his life or, over time, talking about the catus in his garden that all have names. So he recounts things like Canetti’s death and how Thomas Bernhard was obsessed with death . Then we see how a walk on the Island connects him to god as he did it. This is a book that collects his thoughts a lot about plant and how Yucca leaves looks like Daggers. Then we have pieces around the night sky. Thoughts around Finnegans wake ( a book that I have yet to tackle and always love people’s view of it ) He then has a section around Hungarian writers which mentions Count Banffy, who I have read the first part of his trilogy. Then Peter Esterhazy and his epic novel Celestial Harmonies, a book that has been unread on my own shelf for far too long. In a later piece, he mentions Miklos Szentkuthy, another writer who has been on my radar for too long. Witold Gombrowicz is a writer who has a lot to say about as well as so many of the writers that were and are around as he has been a writer. This is one of the significant figures of European literature writing every summer over his many years in his villa in Menorca.


As I write on, Gould, in 1981, plays sonata number 42 as an illustration of Szentkuthy’s proposition: the difference between that sonata and my cactus is the difference between the classical-rational structure of a “work” on the one hand, and biological forms (my cactus – as I am writing this, I see him before me as though I were looking into my garden in Spain) on the other. “My own writings for the time being,” says Miklos Szentkuthy, “belong to the cactus category: if I can have a role in literature it is the direct tangibility of biological lines and forms of instinct in my sentences. ‘Experimental novel’ was said about Prae in more than one place, by which one was supposed to understand an anachronistic relic of the old-fashioned mood of the roth century.” Prae, in spite of the huge reputation that the book has in Hungary, has been translated into few other languages, which prompts both suspicion and curiosity.

Prae is one of those books I must read at some point !!

I am a massive fan of Cees. I should read him more often, but he is a writer I want to have books left from, but in this book, he reminds me as a reader of those books still out there to discover and made me think of how underread I am in some areas of my reading. I love books like this, a glimpse into a great writer’s mind and workings and musing. He does mention writers’ diaries in passing; at times, this isn’t a diary but more a collection of moments and thoughts caught over time, a lifetime from those early days of his as a writer, his debut novel, which I have yet to read. I also love the talk of his planets and his garden as someone who isn’t a gardener but hopes to get some great plants in my new garden (well, when my rear lawn is laid ). This is hard to pigeonhole as it covers so many different subjects it just needs to be read !! Have ypu read any books by Cees ?

Winston’s score +A – I love a book that spurs me on as a reader to read more and discover more !!

That was the Month that was April 2023

  1. Boulder by Eva Baltasar 
  2. The power and The glory by Graham Greene 
  3. Conversations in Bolzano by Sandor Marai
  4. The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon
  5. The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier
  6. Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth 
  7. A System so Magnificent it is Blinding by Amanda Svensson

I am finally back on track after the move initially this month; bookshelves running late, and other things slowed the blogging, but I managed to review seven books. I started with a poetic Catalan novel that follows a love affair in Iceland. Then a priest on the run Is chased through Mexico. Then we catch up with Cassanova on the run after escaping prison, heading back for an old love and a former rival he fought over. Then we have a man awakening to a dead body and refacing the world. These three were my entries for the 1940 club, which I love whenever it comes around. Then I reviewed a trio of international booker books. Firstly, a French Hamlet sees a night of violence and secrets come to light. Then a daughter estranged from her mother returns home, watches her, and looks back on her life. Then a set of triplets over the world and then return home when their father disappears, and secrets are finally revealed.

Book of the month

I missed including the Booker ones as we shadowed them, but this was a real gem and reminded me how much I loved Greene. He is one of those classic English writers, who mixed tense, human emotions, and catholicism so well.

Non-book events

I queue from 5:30 to get my record store day records. I got the Echo and the Bunnymen, Ian Mcculloch, Pixies, the Fall, and the two Heidi Berry records as a splurge, but I have some great memories of artists I have loved since my teens. We also have Netflix back, as it is part of our new tv package. So we have watched a series called The Watcher, a series about a couple that moves to the dream house and then gets a weird letter from someone calling themselves the watch and several odd things happen along the way. We also watched a film called Woman at the Window, a twist on the rear window story in a way.

Next month

I will round of the outstanding booker reviews we will be announcing the shortlist for the shadow jury choices this month. I have many books read and ready to review, and I hope to get to a few backlisted from my own tbr pile later this coming month. Other than that, I will just do what I always do flow my own path.

A System so Magnificent it is blinding by Amanda Svensson

A System so Magnificent it is Blinding by Amanda Svensson

Swedish Fiction

Original title – Ett system så magnifikt att det bländar

Translator – Nichola Smalley

Source – Personal copy

There are always one or two books on the Booker longlist that are new to me. There is so many books coming out it is hard to follow everything that comes out in Translation every year.  I had Read Nichola’s other book she had translated on the Booker longlist. SO knew this, like her other translation, would be a  complex book. Amanda Svensson won two large book prizes in Sweden with this book. She has written four novels. This is her last to be published in Swedish but is the first to be translated into English. The book follows a set of triplets. It is a complex book of many layers and narratives.

Like his own to Violetta, from the day she came into the picture until what happened finally happened.

During his years with Violetta, Sebastian had spent more and more time with her family, and less and less with his own. Perhaps it was easier to belong in a context where belonging was less a matter of course.

Violetta was also an only child. Shed learned at an early age to demand the love Sebastian had taken for granted – to stop at nothing to get

As I say her death is a void in this family

The book follows the Isaksson triplets, that have spread themselves all around the world. When an event draws them all back to their Homeland Sweden the Father has gone missing, but as this happens, their mother throws them a curve ball over the origins alongside the father disappearing. The main Triplet is Sebastian he is settled in London a leading scientist in his field, and has joined the strange London Institute of Cognitive Science. He has a patient he is working with that only sees the world in two dimensions (this made me remember the scene in  Supermen where the villains are sent into exile in a 2d world). Then Clara visits Easter Island to join a Doomsday cult, but as she visits the island a few times, she bumps into someone related to Sebastian’s boss. This is how the stories cross over. Then there is the final triplet. Matilda has escaped Berlin to her Hokmeland as she is on the run from a colour. These stories cross and intersect at times this is a complex book then we have a space well what may have been the space filled by Sebastian’s girlfriend that committed suicide and has often left a void in those she touched with in the family.

He got off at Mornington Crescent. A Dalmatian peed on a lamppost, the tiles on the Tube station opposite shone blood-red in the sunshine. The air smelled of exhaust fumes and caramelised almonds and expensive perfume evaporating from the sweaty skin of women, it smelled of marijuana. Sebastian was, by nature, a very honest person, he rarely lied to anyone, not even to himself – naturally, he knew why hed come here. He wanted to see her house, her door, her windows, he wanted to see the magnolia in her garden that she’d spoken about with a kind of tenderness in her vocal cords. He wanted to see her child, perhaps. Her husband, her shopping bags, her pot plants, if she had any. He tried to convince himself that this wasn’t pathological behaviour, but he wasnt sure. Was it really so strange, to want to know everything about another person? Wasnt that the very essence of love?

I like the locations in London and Mornington Crescent always makes me smile.

I must admit I struggled with this one I think more than it not being a great book, it was the wrong time for me to read the book; its reading spanned the House move. I had read about 35%  before we moved and then hadn’t returned to it till last week, so I maybe should restart the book, but the book follows the triplets. The part of the book I connected with the most top was the bits in London; it made me wonder if she had spent a much time in London. Especially mention of Mornington Crescent made me wonder if she was a radio four fan, as well as it is a game on I’m Sorry, I haven’t a clue. This is part family saga, part road movie sprinkled with some magic realism. I could picture Wim Wenders in his prime making this a world-shaking road movie film with the triplets at its heart. It has humour at times, but to me, I wonder if it needed unpicking and would make a striking quartet of books the triplets and then the space left by Violetta’s death, it is a book brimming with ideas and stories, but m,e as a reader would like a few things tied up better at times. Also felt it could be a book double the size to fill the bits I maybe want to know about but didn’t get answers for, if that makes sense; she seems like a writer full of great ideas to write about. But this is one of those sprawling books that maybe needs to be read few times to fully get the sense of all that happens. It is hard. I want to love this one, but I felt it just missed the mark for me.,

Winstons score – -B I just maybe read it at the wrong time. I may reread it at some point and see if I feel better about it.

Is Mother Dead ? by Vigdis Hjorth

Is Mother dead by Vigdis Hjorth

Norwegian fiction

Original title –Er mor død

Translator Charlotte Barslund

Source – personal copy

This is the second book by the Norwegian writer Vigdis Hjorth I have read; I have a copy of Will and Testament by the same writer and have reviewed A House in Norway. It was mentioned in the review comments to Will and Testament, and this book, it seems, are thinly veiled works of auto-fiction that use her own life as part of the story. This book came after the family reaction to the book Will and Testament. This book follows her own splitting with her mother and sister. It is a novel but has part of her own experience sprinkled over it. This is open book from the longlist I would have gotten to. At some point, I am a sucker for these great Nordic works of fiction that blur the writer’s own life and their fictional worlds.

Ruth thinks talking to me won’t do Mum any good. Mum can’t take any more. Mum hasn’t been able to cope with what has already happened, my sudden departure, my work, which exposed her to shame, that I didn’t come over during the diff-cult time, for Dad’s funeral. Mum is finally over me and any contact with me might reopen old wounds. I understand.

Early on we see what ghas caused the rift with her mother.

The book is a novel about family and family connections, in this case, two daughters with their mother, but what happens when one daughter has made a piece of art that has upset the mother as it is about the mother and their childhood. What is it like to be that daughter, the artist looking in now on the relationship with your mother that is broken and her relationship with your sister? This is the premise for the book Joanna recently widows and has had to return to her home country of Norway. She had been on course to become a lawyer in her earlier years when she met an art teacher and fell in love. The course of her life changed, and she produced art that made a rift. Now she has to confront the rift her art has caused her works on motherhood as we see her become a spy on her mother and watch her. Still, also, as she is doing this, we see her looking back at her and her sister’s interactions with the mother her hatred is focused on the sister Ruth in a lot of ways after a rather blunt text from her sister about she’d only let her know when her mother was dead.We see Joanne spy from as distance in the house they grew up in many years after her last visit past and present merge in one as she tries to get a handle on the now from what has happened.  The title in Norwegian is a play on words around death and murder, as the words are similar in Norwegian. Will she be able to fix what she has broken her parental and sibling relationships with her art.

In the house where I grew up and the house we moved to when I was in my early teens, there were several photographs of Ruth and me on the large antique bureau in the living room. A black-and-white photo of each daughter on her third birthday, taken by a professional photographer. We had bows in our hair to keep our fringes out of the way. Confirmation pictures and then wedding photographs followed, first Thorleif and me in front of the old stone church, then Ruth and Reidar in front of the same church, the summer before I left.

As Joanne sits opposite hidden watchuing her Mum’s house the house she grew up in

I said it was autofiction because it is partly the fallout of her previous book, which made accusations that her father had caused a rift in her own family, like what Joanna’s paintings have in this book. There was a similar reaction to Knausgaard’s work when he brought out his epic book. Sometimes it is hard to face the truth as Joanne sees it in her reaction to the past and her art  and then to deal with the aftermath of your truth. It also looks at sibling relationships the feeling that can bubble under with those you are closes to the things you see from the outside like Joanna does that make her wonder around what happened years ago. This is a work that uses a writers own life in opart but then uses it to build a compelling npovel about loss of a relaionship , the past and what to do with it. The triangle of the relationships in this mother daughter and sister with sister. Yet another twist on the theme of motherhood on this years longlist reading. Have you read any books from Hjorth ?

Winston score -A  This novel pulls apart a mother daughter spilt can it be mended ?

The Birthday party by Laurent Mauvignier

The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier

French fiction

Original title – Histories de la nuit

Translator -Daniel Levin Becker

Source – Personal copy

When the longlist came out there were a couple of books from Fitzcarraldo, as there is every year, it seems, and I hadn’t got them, but as they are a publisher, I have yet to read a book I have really hated (that said I rarely read bad books I have a built-in radar for books I enjoy). Mauvignier is a writer that studies art and has written several books a couple of which have been translated by other publishers over the years. This is his first book from Fitzcarraldo and was the last book by him to be published in French. The title is different from the French title. I do wonder if it is to give the books a little nod towards the Pinter play of the same title, which shares a few characteristics. He has also written for tv and film. There is a sense of that this could easily be a six-part drama series in a novel.

Well, instead of chitchatting, you’d better hurry up.

It’s true, Christine is right, he has to put up the decorations in the living room and set the table, go into town

– not exactly next door, because of the risk of traffic on the ring road – it’s Bergogne who speaks of the ring road, while Christine, incorrigible Parisienne that she is, calls it the périph, as though the name would change anything about the reality of the fifty-odd kilometres Bergogne has to travel to pick up his wife’s gift.

Early on as the night is getting underway .

The book is set over the course of one evening in Rural France as a husband comes home to sort out the 40th birthday party for his wife, Marion. Marion is due home later. She is a figure of mystery to fill out the village they live in. There is a daughter Ida and a neighbour, Christine, an artist whose star is fading. Still, she actually spends most of her time looking after Ida after school as the parents have to work hard to keep her head above water Patirce, the father and husband of the family, is working the family farm, and his wife is working to help out. So Ida spends more time with Christine than with her parents. The other house in the three-house hamlet of three lone girls is empty. So the evening begins to unfold a car appears, and there have been some letters sent that have unnerved the family, and there is a sense that there is more to Marion, the wife’s life before they meet is a blank slate as she talks little around it. So her husband is unaware of why she has this huge tattoo and why she has it. What is her real past? What happens when a person’s dark past catches up on them and the past and present collide? This is what is at the heart of the story; it is a thriller about when ones past catches you in the present and the fallout from that meeting. Who has come to three lone girls on her 40th birthday? What is her past? Why is there so much violence from her past?

For now, the only thing that really changes with Bergogne’s arrival is that one of the two men, the older one, the one who said his name was Christophe and who wanted to see the house for sale, said he’d have to go down to, he said, welcome Mister Bergogne.

That’s what he said: welcome Mister Bergogne.

Mister Bergogne, and Christine thought just you wait to welcome Mister Bergogne’s fist to your face, pretending not to be surprised that in saying this the man had above all confessed to her that he wasn’t here by chance, that he knew the names of the hamlet’s residents; and in spite of her anger, she still can’t get over these words that seem so respectful and polite but that are really what, she won-ders, these words that beneath their polish barely hide their irony and sarcasm, Mister Bergogne,

The two home invaders are there when Patrice returns but

I said this could have been a six-part drama. The way the story unfolded reminded me of the Canadian tv series Cardinal which, like this book, is a slow burner of a series and this is that type of book slow but still page-turner novel it is hard to combine both and make it work. He does to some point aI still would have like to have seen 100 or so pages cut but is has a French feel to it reminding me of slow-moving films like le boucher where the action is slow and also set in a village has a lot of violence but also has a similar pace to this book. That is because, actually, sometimes in real life, these things are slow to develop it just is as the night happens, we see the past of his wife come to light as these men have done a home invasion and taken all of these small hamlet hostage. All of this is standard thriller territory. The home invasion, the dark past, and the social position the family find themselves in rural politics is also thrown into the mix. It is like someone has hired Thomas Bernhard to write an action thriller, and this is his take on the thriller. A book that is a take on a thriller using a more modernist in style than a page-turner may be the first thriller of the slow movement !!

Winstons score – B,I’d love see what he writes next, if this is just a one-off or if he is writing a new style of thriller !!

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June 2023


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