London Under Snow by Jordi Llavina

London Under Snow by Jordi Llavina

Spanish Fiction

original title – Londres nevat

Translator – Douglas Suttle

Source – review copy

I am late to this it was sent last year but I tried to read it during the first long down but I wasn’t in the mood for a subtle work like this is. The writer Jordi Llavina is a Catalan writer and cultural journalist He has hosted a tv show on books and radio shows as well. He has written novels, poems, and short stories and it is with a short story collection we get to read him for the first time in English. He won the Josep Pla prize one of the big book prizes in Spain. This is the second book from the new press Fum d’estampa press that brings a mix of the best in contemporary and classic Catalan literature. Another possibility for the Booker international prize maybe ?

I first arrived London on a Feburary day in 2009. I was thirty years old. Among my persopnal effects I had a black leather notebook like those that Le Corbusier once used to sketch out architectural ideas or to note down some of his theoretical or techincal thoughts . On the second blank page, I wrote a title “London Under Snow (and other reflections) ” in pencil

Five day before I was to set off for the English capita, a colossal snowstorm had set alarm bells ringing and I was worried that the tick blanket of snow shown on the newspapers front pages would turn into s terrible layer of ice- I didn’t realise that the sefvices in London actually work reasonably well snowploughs, workers with reflective jackets and armed with spades and salt all work together to remove the settled snow.

Just as he is to go to Londo it is turned white and the lakes around get frozen up.

The book has six short stories that all have a theme of memory and loss involved in them they blur the line between the writer’s real life and a fictional world. The collection starts with the title story a look back at the first time the writer visited London. A wintery London he describes it being shown that it is snowing in London before he arrives it see him try and get a hat for a friend that is from a costly shop ending up with a fake but then trying to get the original only to try and return years later and the shop is gone. This last part of the story reminds me of when Helene Hanff went to the carcass of 84 Charing ross road. The next story is about a family one a message of a cousin the Andalusian had stopped at his parent’s house many years ago he had shared a room he remembers unpacking his stuff and that he went to live in a small village in Mexico he laments the loss of contact with other family members as his life has moved on. The other stories also see him have a couple that is coping with the grief of losing a baby. Loss of a home with a homeless man. There was another about a man who reminds him of his old drama teacher.

My Andlausian cousin is dead, A few days ago. I received a telegram sent from a post offive in the Mexican village where he had lived since the ninties. It had been sent by a woman with a name that was almost as pretty as that of the village where she had most likely spent the last few years of her life with him. I hadn’t heard anything from him for around a decade and a half but, while we having had little to do with each other’s life, we were quite fond of each other. Three had been a period when he was still living in Andalusia, before the rude interruption of electronic mail, that we would write long letters to one another on a monthly basis.He was eighteen months younger than me and had died [rematurely at the age of Forty-five.

I was remind in this of the end lines of the film standf by me where the narrator of the film talks of his friend chris he hadn’t seen in manyu year but would never forget!

There is a theme of memory and loss around these stories. I am reminded in this collection themes are in that Portuguese word Saudade that is a feeling of loss and longing is hanging here. From a tale of a hat , the notice of the loss of a family member. The style is subtle gentle writing of his life those he has known as I said I struggled to get the voice of him in my head as I read but this time I did. Proust came to mind in the first story the hat was a similar device to that of Proust’s Madeline that unlocks the memory of trying to get the hat for his friend. It blurs the lines of fiction and biography so you not sure it if is the writer’s actual life or just a mere work of fiction. A wonderful intro to a new voice lets hope we get to read some more from this thoughtful writer. Have you read any of the books the Fum d’Estampa has brought out in the last year or so?

Winstons score A-

The Madness by Narcis Oller

The Madness by Narcis Oller

Catalan fiction

Original title – La bogeria

Translator – Douglas Shuttle

Source – review copy

You ever think you reviewed a book and then discover you haven’t well this is a case in point I can remember writing about this book but I must have deleted it or part wrote and left it but anyway I return today with a classic of Catalan fiction from Narcis Oller. He translated books by Tolstoy and Dumas into Catalan also his french edition of one of his books was given a forward by Emila Zola. So he is in that vein of naturalism and realism of writers like Zola and Dicken. He wrote a number of well-received books. Here he captures through two men who meet over a period of time the political strife that would lead towards the civil war. This is from a new press Fum D’estampa specializing in Catalan

fiction

Daniel Serrallonga was older than us and must have then been around twenty-five years old. But his pale, hollow face, thick, unfuly beard and short, auburn hair made him look a lot older. Hiseyes, round and grey and hardly visible through the thick glass of his gold rimmed Prince-nez, ever balanced on the bridge of his hoked twisted nose, added years to him or , at least , provided him with an air of being of a somewhat undefinable age due to his clear lack of youth and the veil of sadness that they conferred on him.

He paints an interesting potrait of Daniel a sort of firey man by this description.

The story revolves around two men Daniel Serrallonga who has moved to the country and are narrator we don’t get told much about our narrator just he is a lawyer who has another friend Armengol whom he first met the young man daniel at a coffee house. As they meet our narrator observes who the young man challenges the local police officer who was booed by the other in the coffee house as he takes things to far our narrator sees this as an odd action. Daniel ends up in prison. Where he starts to write political pieces, but when he is released he discovers that his articles never saw the light of day as they were just destroyed by his friends that  he had trusted to put them out there for him. what follows is over the years the three men’s paths cross the narrator’s friend Armengol swaps careers and becomes a doctor later in his life as we see daniel fall out with his family or an inheritance becomes involved with various theories to the assassination of General Prim a would-be prime minister it is either this or his family woes with his sister that lead to Daniels downfall.IS he Mad ? what drove him there.

Four years passed without me hearing anything aqbout Daniel, and had it not been for bumping into Armengol in a bar in Barcelona, it woukld have been even longer.

“Hello, hello” grinned Armengol “What are you doing here ? Its great to see you!

“You too! What a concidence!”

I’m just back from Madrid. Oh, and you can take your hat to me,I am now offically a gradute doctor. I arrived atthis morning because of some carlist stopping the train at Calaf. And You

Later it is through Armengol who sees daniel in the medical sense more in the latter stages of the book.

I enjoyed this as many of you know I work with Learning disability patients we have a number that also has mental health issues which we usually see as they are in crisis when they arrive at our ward. So I am always interested in literature that involves mental health we see daniel fall apart throughout the book this is a time before understand of what is mental health with his theories etc and the swings in his behavior he has some sort of psychosis. The novel shows the background of the time the fragile state assassinations police corruption then through Daniels family we see what happens when the family falls out. This is a sad tale of one man’s descent into the well of misery. This is seen through two sides a look back at events from the present and then the events told as they happen. This shows Oller view of the times from the three main characters point of view

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