Maybe this time by Alois Hotschnig

Maybe this time Alois Hotschnig

Austrian fiction (short stories )

Translator – Tess Lewis

Source – review copy

Alois was born in Berg in Austria .He studied medicine ,then German and English language and literature at university of Innsbruck but didn’t get a degree ,since that he has been a freelancer writer working in many fields of writing he has also won 13 prizes for his works including the Austrian writers prize .

Now maybe this time has sat since last german lit month and it was unreviewed ,partly due to the fact I want to use it somewhere maybe in a short story project but never quite got round to it .I found I initially struggled to connect with this collection of stories but I am a believe in Meike and her choices for Peirene so rather than last year post a so so post I decide to reread the collection to see if after a second run through if I connected more to these stories than on my first reading so yesterday I reread it all as it is only 106 pages and actual written probably about seventy-five pages so only took an evening to reread .So on the second rereading I cracked what Hotschnig had in mind .

Whenever I left the house ,they lay in their jetty and when I came back ,hours later they were still lying there .In the sun ,in the shade in the wind and rain .Day in ,day out every day .

The opening lines of the first story the same silence the same noise.

From the opening story onwards the is a feeling of detachment in these stories an old women and her neighbours their ,are they real or spirits is she real why are they there these are all questions you are left with .Elsewhere a woman is seemingly being followed every day via a cafe to her house ,is this a stalker ,detective or just a spirit ? Some one awakes with blisters on their hands and a story in there mind but is it their story or not .These are just some of the tales you encounter in this collection .

I pulled myself together ,convinced the darkness was deceiving me .But my hands throbbed with pain, and with the pain they became mine once more .I tore open the curtains and examined my hands in the daylight .They were covered with blisters .

From the story the beginning of something just what is happening ?


The beauty of these short stories is what is happening in them  is left to you as the reader to figure out most of the time .As  these are bare bones of stories few names descriptions just happenings and  actions  most often viewed from the main characters in the stories usually .On the back of the book  he is compared to Kafka and Bernhard I don’t see Bern hard although maybe in longer fiction he may be more like the great Austrian master ,I as a reader always assume Bernhard as deep almost self-indulgent prose that make the reader really dive in , this isn’t Hotschnig now part of Kafka I get the feeling of not knowing where you are is a common theme .But for me it brought to mind a couple of things the first is the scenes in the two Wim Wenders films wings of desire and faraway so close were we meet the angels Daniel and Cassiel as they glimpse people life’s as they are sad ,old ,have secrets or stories to tell and we see it through the eyes of the angels .Another collection I was reminded of was Roald Dahls Tales of the unexpected not so much in story lines but more in the fact both collections keep you thinking as the unexpected happens and you wonder where the stories are going .

How is your favourite Austrian writer ?

Do you like stories that make you the reader think ?

Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Translator Helen Stevenson

Source library book

A couple of years ago I review another book by Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass .Since I read that a couple more of his novels have appeared in English translation so when I saw this one in the library I decide it was time to review him again ,as his style of writing had intrigued me the first time I read it .He still lives in the California where he is a professor of french ,he is also quite a controversial writer  for how he sometimes shows a lot of african problems are of their own making .

So to the book Memoirs of the Porcupine won the Prix Renudot a prize that has a number of big name winners in the past . Memoirs of a porcupine is the story of a porcupine he is the spirit of Kibandi a young eleven year old that is facing his journey into adult life .His father has taken him in to the forest to drink a liquid that had been stuck in the ground for many years and thus the narrator the porcupine appears .After this Kibandi turns to killing people and this is the account of this murderous spree by his spirit animal and Kibandi where they went through the village killing people  ,now his master is dead the porcupine feels free to tell their  story .Now the porcupine has helped in the killing using his special talents  but he was Kibandi spirit so had too .As the memoir moves on he also starts to calls himself later in the book Broken glass eluding to the book I read before .

I wasn’t present at Kibandi’s birth ,not like some doubles ,peaceful doubles they’re called who are born the same day as the child ,and watch them grow ,their masters never see them ,they only intervene when necessary ,when their initiate falls ill ,for example or has a jinx put on them ,it’s a dull life being a peaceful double ,in fact  I don’t know how they stand it .

I was reminded of the Pullman’s  book here ,but also Mabanckou sly humour at times .

Now like broken glass there is a very loose feel to Mabanckou prose style almost like it is written by a porcupine or a drunk , a  certain beat to his work as you read .I ve read a couple of interviews and articles about  him like this one in the economist ,and I can feel a rumba beat that he says he so enjoys  in this book , but also a passion for clever word play ,a style that seems simply written but is deep oh and he doesn’t like full stops there isn’t  any in this book but after a time you get how  the grammar works  .Again he has been compared to Beckett as I often see (although part of me wonders if any one you can’t easily put in a box are compared to Beckett or Faulkner ,you often see them mention ) .But having read Ahmadou Kourouma waiting for the wild beast s , I feel Mabanckou is firmly placed in the Franco african school of writing some parts of this book echo Kourouma style wise and even further back to other writers I ve read .This is where elements of magic realism ,surrealism but also a large chunk of oral tradition the tales told by the village type ,the parables to warn of where you can go wrong  .The heart of this book is rooted  in African myth the myth of animal doubles has appear in many places around the world even Philip Pullman used the in his “his dark materials ” books .As well as looking back he is looking in the present part of me wonder if Kibandi story is partly about the child solders and the violence that have been seen in the region of Africa in the where  Alain Mabanckou is from  .neighbouring Uganda the lords resistance army has used very young men to run riot and kill millions .Not overly sure but there is a feel Kibandi story is a warning of what can happen when child on the verge of young adulthood can  go the wrong way .Again I leave his book wanting to try more of this unusual writer ,but also maybe wanting to read earlier Franco african writers to help better place him as a writer (that said I have since I read this ,I have read Mongo Beti book King Lazarus a long out of print book from the african writer series ).

Do you have a favourite french language African writer ?

Have you read Mabanckou ?

The flying creatures of Fra Angelico by Antonio Tabucchi

The flying creatures of Fra Angelico by Antonio Tabucchi #

Italian Fiction

Translator – Tim Parks

Source review copy from Archipelago books due out next month 

I m on a break but this came my way from his American publish , great fortune as the book I d ordered from my library hadn’t turned up in time for Caroline’s Antoino Tabucchi reading week  .This is the second book I have read by the late Italian writer .Antonio Tabucchi was a professor of Portuguese literature and language .He spent six months of every year in Lisbon in the later part of his life and is well-known in Italy for his translations of the great Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa ,whom Tabucchi came across in the late sixties and then studied Portuguese to understand him better and also translate his work into Italian .Tabucchi himself  published over twenty works with novels ,short story collections and Non fiction .He maybe sums himself up best in this quote .

“Literature for me isn’t a workaday job but something which involves desires ,dreams and fantasy “

Well to this his latest book  The flying creatures of Fra Angelico , it is a collection of stories ,made up letters and pieces  and seems much more than its 128 pages .The title story which is  also  the first in the collection is about a group of strange creatures oddly coloured and shape that start to appear one by one in the garden of Fra Angelico (Fra Angelico was a 15th century friar and artist ,he is well-known for his depictions of christ .He was also sainted by the late John Paul the second ).Any way one of the Fra’s , then seems to be able to talk to these creatures .

Fra Giovanni looked at him and felt sorry for him and muttered: “You’re overtired.” The creature looked back with his big moist eyes, then closed his eyelids and wriggled a few feathers in his wings: a yellow feather, a green one and two blue ones, the latter three times in rapid succession. Fra Giovanni understood and said, spelling it out as one learning a code: “You’ve made a trip, it was too long.” And then he asked: “Why do I understand what you say?” The creature opened his arms as far as his position allowed, as if to say, I haven’t the faintest idea. So that Fra Giovanni concluded: “Obviously I understand you because I understand you.” Then he said: “Now I’ll help you get down.”

Fra Giovanni chatting to the creature .

An odd story with religious overtones where are the creatures from and what do they mean ? One  of those short stories that leaves you with a head full of questions .Then we have a group of made up letters clever and witty the king of Portugal asking a famous artist to paint then  saying what he would love in the painting  ,made me laugh ,another is a couple of letters from Tabucchi to an Indian writer that he met in Indian about his book the Indian Nocturne one of his most famous books ,also on why people from the west come to India and the Indian said there were two sorts of people .I won’t tell you what types they are  you’ll have to  buy the book and find out .Then back for a few shorter stories a couple having a meal ,is all it seems  was one that grabbed me a clever story where not is all it seems .then the last story is maybe another pointer of Tabucchi as a person. A discussion on the number of undertakers in Lisbon ,which it appears is 16 pages of the yellow pages for that city and why this may be so  .This leads to the Portuguese term Saudade .

They are practising Saudade. Try imitating them. Of course it’s a difficult road to take, the effects are not immediate, sometimes you may have to be willing to wait many years. But death, as we all know, is that too.

the closing lines of the book

The closing lines maybe some up the book it has a feel of sadness ,death and secrets at times ,also a feel of his beloved Portugal where he spent so much of his life .I feel Tabucchi is playing with his writing styles in these little gems  almost trying different styles for his novels ,but far from being throwaway they show a master of his art at work . He is often overlooked as an inventive writer for the likes of Calvino .I’ m remind of a cabinet of curios  my grandparents had full of odd little pieces of  ,silver ,ivory ,wooden carvings as a kid I would keep asking to look in and feel and ask about the pieces and this is like that it is a book that I will go back to reading (well pdf for now but I will get the book ) as I feel that it is a collection that will stand numerous rereading and always give you something new as a reader  .

Have you read Tabucchi ?


HHhH by Laurent Binet

HHhH by Laurent Binet

French fiction

Translator – Sam Taylor

Laurent Binet is one of the hottest new writers in France ,this his debut novel won the Prix Goncourt prize for debut novel rather like our Costa prize for a first novel in the UK .He was Born and grew up in Paris, his father is a historian .He recently chronicled the campaign of the new french president Hollande .He currently teaches in Paris .

Well I think every one has heard of HHhH by now .I do wish every book in translation was given as much press time as this book has been .I think this is help in a large part by the wonderful job Harvill ecker have done on the book as an item of book art in its self a stunning cover shot, is match by a nice grey marble hardback and the use of a germanic style font for the HHhH which is also follow through on the edge of the pages a bit like a huge red ink stamp ,you may have seen in countless world war two movies .So I give it away the book is about the second world war and mainly about three people three people the first is the character of the tile as the title is an acronym for Herr Himmler gesicht heisst Heydrich or Himler’s brain is called Heydrich – Heydrich was Himler’s right hand man and for those of you who remember was played by Kenneth Branagh in the film (well tv play here but think a film abroad ) Conspiracy ,I have include the trailer here give an idea of the man we are talking about in the book .Binet opens the book with the build up of Heydrich from his youth ,then in the army and then as an officer in the S.S and how he ended up as the one that started the final solution he was the one the proposed the mass killing of the Jews in europe .

Little Heydrich – cute blond ,studious ,hardworking ,loved by his parents .Violinist ,pianist ,junior chemist .A boy with a shrill voice which earns him a nickname the first in a long list : at school ,they called him the goat .

A little boy who grew into ? well watch the trailer for an idea

So we see how the boy they called the ” goat ” became” the butcher of Prague” .As he rises in power and ends up in Czechoslovakia ,he becomes a target for assassination by the Czech resistance and this is the second part of the book to men are sent by Czechoslovakian resistance to kill him in Operation Anthripod the two men chosen are Gabik and Kubis are two very different men to one another but are sent with one purpose sent with one purpose to Kill the butcher of Prague .

Gabcik the Slovak and Kubis the Moravian have never been to Prague ,and in fact this is one of the reasons they were chosen .If they don’t know anyone the won’t be recognized .But lack of local knowledge is a handicap ,so part of the training involves studying maps of the beautiful city .

Is it a handicap the lack of knowledge you’ll have to read the book.

Well now I have a problem ,I liked this book a lot. But I did have one or two problems with it .The historic narrative is great the long passages of action are worthy to stand up with all great war fiction ,he captures the build up of Heydrich as an SS officer well and then the tension of the two men in pursuit of Heydrich well as well .No my problem is the third narrative strain which is Binet breaking out of the book and talking to you as the reader this is rather like Calvino did at time in if on a winter’s night, he address you as a reader ,the main drive of this discussion is a comparison between his book HHhH and the book the Kindly ones by Jonathan Littell (he is american but grew up speaking french and writes in french this book is the only book in the last ten years I ve not finished ) ,Now I didn’t particularly like the kindly ones but Binet really didn’t like it ,the french publisher had to remove twenty pages of his words about the kindly ones from the french edition of this book .I like some of his comments about writing in general but others seem less important .The book hasn’t page numbers just chapters number I do wonder if the chapters are like bits he collect as he thought of the book as some just half-dozen lines others tens of pages like he almost decide to include his own notes as he progressed through the book . The book remind a bit in style of the bits of USA by John dos Passos I read when I got it to read a few years ago a mish mash of narrative, fact and commentary thus build a novel a bit like you may a collage out of little bits of pictures to build a bigger picture that is HHhH .Now I ve read that some people having problems with the translation some names have been change from the French edition I m not overly concerned the change of the surname Veil in french to Weil in english as it is a germanic name the V is said like “vow” in english anyway so could sound like a w in english .As a first job of translating from french to english Sam Taylor has done a sterling job .

Have you read this book what did you think ?

The panda theory by Pascal Garnier

The Panda Theory by Pascal Garnier

French Fiction

Translator – Svein Cloustin

Pascal Garnier was a french writer he had a number of jobs including being in a number of rock and roll bands before turning to a writing career in his mid thirties ,he unfortunately died in 2010 age 61 ,Gallic books have taken to translate three of his books .In france he was frequently compared to Simenon and Bove .The Panda Theory is the first of these books to be published .

Now Panda theory is a strange book it falls between categories of books lit,detective ,darkly humourous and also a slight surreal air .A strange turns up in a Breton Town his name is Gabriel as the book went on I saw him as a catalyst rather like Spencer Tracy’s character in Bad day at black rock a man come to sort things out .He makes friend he is a chef and connects well with the locals a pretty Hotel receptionist Madeline ,then there is a Junkie pair and a stuffed panda in a bar that which was won at a fun fair by Gabriel .This is all added by the fact the Gabriel is seemingly from nowhere ,you do wonder if his name has a meaning Gabriel being the name of the most famous angel and this man seems on one level to angelic helping people with their lives and the cooker of wonderful food  .But then there is always a feeling that this is too good  to be true .I found the feeling of something else at work apart from the goodness we see very dark .I think this is in dept in some part to the french love of existentialism the moral questions we ask and in this way is this why Gabriel is here ?  is he real ? As I said like spencer Tracy he is here to make people think .This is another take on the stranger comes to town ,we see so much in western films .

He was sitting alone at the end of a bench on a deserted railway platform .Above him a tangle of metal girders merged into the gloom ,It was the station of a small Breton town on a Sunday in October – a completely nondescript town but certainly Brittany ,the interior the sea was far away its presence unimaginable .

The opening very like bad day at black rock the feeling of being nowhere in particular .

Garnier has woven a strange unusual tale here it is very unlike anything I ve read for years I m going to be eagerly  awaiting  the other two books the publisher has got in the pipeline from him .I ve not read enough of the other writers he is compared too I m assuming it is more Simenon non Maigret books the french readers  have in mind when comparing his work to Simenon and I have only read one of them ,numerous Maigret’s  thou and that said ,in some ways there is a dry humor that also seeps through Maigret the slipped comments he sometimes makes that make you smile especially with his wife are maybe sometimes echoed  in Gabriel comments to people .It was a shame he passed so early in his writing career I feel Garnier would be a major french writer at some point .

Have you read this book ?

A Far cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark

A far cry from Kensington by Muriel spark

Scottish fiction

Muriel Spark was a Scottish born writer ,she wrote over twenty novels in her life .She studied in Scotland  at Herriot watts a course on precise writing,she then taught english before world war two and in the war worked in intelligence ,after the war she moved to London .She is probably best known for the book the prime of Miss  Jean  Brody .I Haven’t until now tried her works she is one of the writers I class as scary female ,but thankfully for Simon of stuck in a book and Harriet of Harriet Devine who are hosting Muriel spark week as they both took part in my Henry Green reading week I thought this would be an ideal chance to try her so I head to the main library in Chesterfield and found a few of her book on their shelves ,the one that grabbed my eye was the Virago modern Classic of A far cry from Kensington .

So I cracked it open last weekend the book was  A far cry from Kensington I was drawn to the fact this story was partly set in the publishing world  .The book is about Mrs Hawkins a catholic ,war widow , it is told in retrospective ,as she starts on  the low rungs of  the publishing world at a rather poorly run publisher Ullswater press ,I love an early description of her working at the office at how the partners in the business work .I laughed at how she describe the daily life of publishing in the fifties  .Later this company folds and she is left looking for a job ,luckily she did at a more well-known and prestigious publishing house ,but when there she finds things are still run badly .

Then as now ,all jobs in publishing were greatly sought after ,and perhaps consequently ,poorly  paid

think even sixty years after this book this is still true .

The other tract of the story is her home life she lives in a house divide into flats .In one of these flats lives Wanda a polish women and a dress-maker  ,this also leads to a few comic lines about her out look on life .That is a enough of the comic parts as the book is dark as well things turn strange when Mrs Hawkins called a writer   a pisseur de copie (urinates frightful prose ) as he wants the Ullswater press to put his work out this desire takes a dark turn and at a later point the man Hector Bartlett is possibly  involved with Wanda but later in the book things start going bad for Wanda and is it this man ?and her work and home life collide with a shocking results .

“How is Wanda getting on ,Mrs Hawkins ?”

Wanda ,the Polish dressmaker ,had enough problems to fill up the rest of the afternoon.Mr York filled his glass,and I him in about Wanda

“Wanda ” I said “suffers greatly ”

“I never met a pole who doesn’t ”

this little passage made me laugh .

I really didn’t know what to expect from Spark but didn’t expect to fall in love with her clear prose style the way she drew you into the story with twist and turns of the plot ,the main characters all seemed so well drawn out to me , very real Hawkins a war widow and Catholic struck me in some part as a thinly veiled Spark  .I would imagine post war the was a number of Polish or other eastern european women like Wanda  after the second world war I was drawn to a character in Christie’s  book a murder is announced called Mitzi she had the same paranoid and suffered personality as Wanda .Muriel spark  did live in London after the war but not in Kensington but Camberwell .and worked as an editor  for a poetry magazine so would have had interaction with the Publishing world of the time .I m going to try to pick another spark on my visit to sheffield later this week hoping the second hand shop has some of the great early penguin covers .Thanks to Simon for host the week

Have you read spark ?

What would you suggest to try next ?

May 2022


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