The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

 

The Rabbit factor by Antti Tuomainen

Finnish fiction

Original title – Jäniskerroin.

Translator – David Hackston

Source – Library book

I posted this on the international crime dagger shortlist and it was a book that caught my eye earlier in the year when Karen had posted the cover. I had also seen a few blog reviews of the book. Hence, it was on my radar when I had seen lt in the library I decided I get it when it was shortlisted I decide to try and read the five books well four as I had already read and reviewed Bullet train and had this at hand it seemed like a small project for the next few months and Karen who I had met and known since she was at Arcadia books and know has Brenda books has always been very kind in sending books. Antti Tuomainen has won the best Finnish crime novel in the past this is a funny crime novel this book has been brought to be made into a film by Amazon with Steve Carell who is actually someone I imagine would be good as the main character from this book

I’m looking the rabbit in the eye when the lights suddenly go out. With my left hand, I squeeze the tube of industrial-strength glue, with my right hand I hold the screwdriver and listen.

In the half-dark the rabbit seems to grow, its head swells, its eyes bulge, the tips of its ears stretch upwards and seem to disappear into the dimness, it’s from teeth curve like an elephant’s tusks. in an instant, the three-meter-tall figure looks twice as tall, twice as wide and considerably more threatening, as though it was guarding the darkness within it. Now it seems to be watching mess if I’m an enticing carrot

The opening lines just make you smile and have a dark tinge to it as well !!

The book has Henri as its main character he is an insurance actuary (he. calculates the risks ) he is a man whose life is powered by numbers and is very ordered so when he first finds out when his brother died that he has inhered the amusement park that his brother owned. when he looks at the accounts being the sort of man he is Henri is shocked by what he finds and who his brother had had dealings with as he owns money to some criminal gangs that have kept the park afloat. The park is well full of oddballs a clubber past his best caretaker with dreams of bigger things amongst the park. this is what made me enjoy the book it is a book about clashing personalities and personalities when Henri meets the other main character in the book Laura she is the total opposite of him this free spirit of an artist but the two are drawn to each other as Henri tries to sort out what happened to his brother and how to get off the mess therein and how the park has been run with the criminal money. he has to start to try and sort it all out.  This ipark with the giant rabbit. The rabbit is in the opening lines as he mends the rabbit as shown on the cover with a broken ear. This has a bit of everything for all types of readers, not just Crime fans !!

Laura Helanto had dark-rimmed glasses and brown hair that curled and spread out like a bush until It touched her shoulders. Her eyes were blue-green and had an inquisitive alertness about them. She was around forty, perhaps a year or two over, just like me, about average height for a Finnish woman. I was rather adept at estimating people’s height because I was a tall man myself, one hundred and ninety-two centimetres, so I was used to continuous meaningless questions on the subject.

His first look at Laura

I loved this I maybe had in my head Henri as Steve Carell but he is that sort of character he has played straight-laced at times this is a classic take on the fish out of water story. Add to that the fact he finds out the crime gang has funded the park. This is a dark comedy of errors clashing souls a set of park workers that could have come of a comedy from the likes of league gentleman it shares that sense of when Henri enters the world of the park it was like stepping into a Royston Vassy in Finland a sort of world that has its own rules and cast of odd characters. As I said this is a book that has a wider appeal than just to crime fans it has a little romance as we see Laura ad Henri grow closer over the book, and dark comedy adds to that just some observances on human life and all. So if you took a pinch of Wodehouse, add a couple of dashes of nordic crime add a bit of surrealism and a pinch of the league of gentlemen and shake it in a cocktail shaker you’d have this book a special blend that has one of my all-time favourite covers I just love that rabbit lol.

Winstons score – +A genre-bending crime fiction worth seeking out !!

Cigarette by Per Hagman

Cigarette by Per Hagman

Swedish fiction

Original title – Cigarett

Translator -Elinor Fahrman

Source – review copy

I have enjoyed all the books that Nordisk books have been bring out Duncan the owner seems to have great taste for the books he selects from Scandinavia. Her we have the debut novel from the Swedish writer `Per Hagman this caused a scandal when it first came out in the early nineties as the Local literary press say how can a serious publisher put out a book which is just a lost of nights out and drugs and one night stands and call it a novel. Per Hagman at the time maybe lived the life of the narrator of this book he early on in his career he made a living out working in restaurant whilst he worked as a freelance writer and dj at the same time. Cigarette was his debut novel he has since written 6 more novels his second novel Pool was made into a film. This is his debut in English.

Viktor arrives with four bottles of wine. He asks how far in we are and Micke says he’s on his fourth or fifth beer.

“Better hurry up then” He pulls a corkscrew out of his pocket and smile. Victor looks splendidly correct in his white shirt and black tie and expensive which corduroys. Probably has something to do with him being a secretary or something at some law firm.

One of the first nights out described in the books as they start drinking

The book follows our Narrator as we follow his life as he works as a waiter in the Hard Rock Cafe in Stockholm the year is 1989 (which is about the time I first start to go out so this remind me partly of my journey in my late teens and early twenties when I went out and drank most weekends) This is a man that like many of this generation works maybe that is just working he tries to get by then live it hard at night with the people he work Micke with those he has seen in the Hard Rock Cafe those pretty folks follows his nights out after work the girls . Then the flip side of that is also seen the connection with his parents when they visit also the past is a counter point to the drinking the drugs and the culture of the time  which Hagman shows his narrator doing. For me it was like falling back thirty years remember the way I avoid work at times and used to go out. What it captures is a age gone it is as I said in the intro just a auto fiction piece of. nights out. It is a world of Hedonism that maybe isn’t there anymore.

Start work at half nine. I’m pretty much the only one of the staff who didn’t go out the night before. everyone’s hangover and sluggish the final couple of hours and I find out the police raided the Pipeline last night and that Melody might be closing down.

Lunch starts and the daily special is fish burger and we joke about how disgusting it looks and hope it’s not the staff food.

There is always the Morning after the night before but he missed out (I thought about how the face of here where I have lived since my mid twenties the changing bars , clubs I wonder if the Stockholm of the book is still there I doubt it!!)

It is hard to describe the book as it is just nights out and it is compelling if like me that was your life in a small part it was the last gasp of a world before the smartphone took over. Hagman is known for this type of novel books that capture the hedonism of living at night of going out of one night stands drinking and drugs . I think this is a far away land to me know I rarely drink these days mainly my monthly or so lads night (well now afternoon out ) and I was never one for drugs. I have even been a non smoker for nearly 8 years(I love the Swedish cover of this book which has a nod to the old gitanes cigarette packing). this was a cult classic I can see why its a shame it didn’t come out at the time the 90s it would sat well along books from the likes of Irvine welsh, those early Will self books, Alex Garland  and Brett Easton Ellis ( what maybe was the culture of the time that lad culture that was just coming to the fore in the early 90s)  all capture in some part the hedonism and maybe last time we meet had sex and it wasn’t an app or such that have changed this world of dating and nights out for ever. I feel it is largely a work of Auto fiction it seems this may have been the writers own world in some part. so if you were a fan of some of the writers I have mentioned or just want a book describing being young in 90’s Stockholm this would be the book for you ? Have you a favourite book that touches your teen – twenties ?

Winstons score – A – A reminder of a bygone time and way of life a lost world of youth

After the sun by Jonas Eika

After the Sun by Jonas Eika

Danish fiction

Original title – Efter Solen

Translator – Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg

Source – personal copy

Every time the booker or old IFFP list comes out there is always open or two books on the list that have just passed me by I especially this last couple of years don’t keep my ear as close to the ground as I once did. So this was one I wasn’t aware of which was the same for the title last year from Lolli editions it seems like a publisher I should maybe keep a closer eye on. This is the first book by Jonas Eika to be translated and is his second book this won the Nordic council Literature prize as Paul on our shadow jury point out this is a prize that has former winners such as Dag Solstad, Son, Kim Line and one of the other Longest writers Jon Fosse. So  for me it must have something about it so I picked it up last week and read the first story but just didn’t connect so I decided yesterday to just sit and read it cover to cover it is under two hundred pages and is a collection of five stories but two are the same story at different angles.

He was sickly pale in the way that people tend to be in pictures from the nineties. “This is me at KFC when the first one opened in Denmark.. Me at the first Burger King, did you know they proposed a whopper-big Mac mash up, in the name of world peace?.. Here I am at subway.. dominoes..The bagel company when they opened their first shop on Gothersgade in 94 I sear, tasting these things for the first time was completely…How should I say unique. Like I was tasting them and only them.I always take pictures for the first time

This description of various fast food and the whhoper Mac mash up made me smile.

I think the reason I didn’t connect with it initially is  the style of his writing which is fast and jarring at times and the first story Alvin our narrator arrive back to fix the bank software as that is his job this is where his path is halted as he arrives the servers he is due to work on and the bank its self has collapsed the story follows the aftermath of this but then like most of the stories in the collection go here and there. The one story that really caught me is the middle story in the collection Rachel Nevada which to me had one of the greatest change of plot in a short story I have ever read and the story follows an elderly couple who had lost both there daughters and then decided the only way for them to cope with this is to sell up and hit the road and this is how they end up at Rachel Nevada this leads to the Husband in the story getting drawn to an object in the desert that seems to be calling out leading to Antonio want to find out more about it.This small town is just near Area 51 the heart of what is UFO country even down to the A’le inn the local pub. But then there is a great plot change and a minor character that had already appeared just in passing we get a bio of her career as a singer songwriter I found myself trying to find if this was an actual singer as the bi was so real. Other stories deal with beach boys and rich customers on the seats.

Antonio awoke almost choking on his own breathing. The pain burned sour in his throat. coughing made the plastic tube writhe in the wound. He took it out of his mouth, leaned his head back and opened the passageway. Then he got back up on his legs and shock the images out of his head, images of jackrabbits with long erect ears and black spotted coats.Hundreds of jackrabbits hopping across the steppes, dry lakes and mountainsides, the jackrabbit being a kind of Totem anti animal in Karen Ruthio’s universe.

Antonio in the desert sees images and also links to the latter part of the story Rachel Nevada.

There is a lot of talk of the Maximalist novel well I think what we have hear is the maximalist short story what Jonas has done is pack lots of ideas they just fall of the page as we see a mind that drifts here and there in the stories hence they seem at times chaotic but isn’t modern life chaotic at times. In an interview I saw with him and his translator he talk about writing just after his nights and just having to get the words out but also means it was a hard book to translated as it has a a feel of being here and there but that is how it was written I was reminded of Burroughs and the effect was like the first time I read Burroughs I remember just eating up Naked lunch then his two trilogies which used the cut up technique this has a feel of that as I said it had a feel of his work also Kerouac that energy you get from On the road which I am just reading at the moment as well.As I said this is the opposite of a the likes of the craved down Raymond craver this is like as he said in the interview the Ursula le Guin essay about writing sci as being like a carrier bag and that is what this is a bit of this and that all stuck together it a fusion of ideas a story that could be a dozen novels in one. This is one of those gems from the longest that I wouldn’t discovered it maybe is chaotic and disorienting but it is also brilliant vivid captures the zeitgeist of the moment and a fresh view of the world.Have you read this book ?

Winstons score – +A one to watch so much energy in these stories maybe the first collection of Maximalist short story collection.

The land of short sentences by Stine Pilgaard

The land of short sentences by Stine Pilgaard

Danish Fiction

Original title – Meter i sekundet

Translator – Hunter Simpson

Source – review copy

I move to Denmark today I’ve had a short break ready to blog a bit more with the booker coming in the next week I will be reading a few more books in the next few weeks. I don’t know about you but Whenever I get sent a book from Denmark I am keen to read it as they always seem to surprise me and this one with its theme of a  couple moving to a small town and not quite fitting in has universal themes add to this the town is like being in wales in a way as they like to sing a lot. This is the third novel from the Danish writer academy graduate Stine Pilgaard, but the first to be translated into English. She is from Aarhus but like the character in this book she has moved to a small rural community in Jutland in Denmark.

The lesson is over abd there’s an awkward silence in the car. Since I passed the written test I’ve been taking so-called experience hours, I go to driving lessons the way other people go golfing. Last week my bank called with concerns about all of the transferrs I’ve been making, referring to them as suspicious. Fifty-eight payments, said the banks repreesentiativem and I could tell that she was wondering if I was the victim of balckmail. Nice, nice says my driving instructorm a friendly man from Sondervig who likes giving high fives. Maybe he’s just jovial by nature, but I have a theory that he was once a professional athlete and now he can’t hsake that habit.

Passages like this made me laugh out loud especially as some that probably had as many lessons when I passed a few years ago my test !!

The book follows a young couple where the husband has got a job to teach adults at a sort of adult school where the students live on the campus so to speak. The headmaster seems to keen to draw her into the school life but she has just given birth and just isn’t clicking with the locals. There is a number of threads going on first is her trying to settle into this new smaller town. One feels this maybe is from the writer’s own experience I know whenever I moved to small towns which are a few times over the years it is hard to get the feel of a place sometimes even in the same country people can be very different !!  Then we see her husband a teacher and how he settles which is much easier than his wife. There is a local tradition of making songs a number of which are in the books a sort of Danish sea shanties. add to this she gets a job as the local agony aunt on the paper but as the letters are sent to her she tends to relate the letters with her own life rather than the actual problems but as the stories cross and her husband and a student grow close is there a hint in the letters she is reading is there maybe a few clues dropped then there is another thread this is one of those books about how human we all are and also how funny the world can be at times.

Dear letterbox

I am a thirty-seven-year-old man who is in treatment to deal with my long battle with alcohol abuse. I grew up in a troubled family. but I’ve finally broken free of the destructive patterns I learned in my childhood. My wife has supported me all the way. and I’m deeply grateful to her, but she can’t understanf the demons that I’m struggling with. My mentor at AA is a middle aged woman who knows exactly what I’m living through. My feelings for her have grown during the process, as have hers for me. I feel like she is my true soulmate tather than my wife, even though my wife has always stood by me.I’m confused and I feel so guilty.

Sincerely

The pattern Breaker

Then we have parts when you want to cry like this early letter to her heartbreaking in a way

As I said in my intro I have enjoyed a lot of the Danish books I have read in recent years. It is a comic work in a number of ways a comedy of manners of being new in a place it has a number of different writing styles from dreamlike chapters realistic, songs and epistolary chunks what is woven is a modern relationship where one partner has taken the other out of there comfort zone and in this case at that hardest of times just after a child so this adds to the distance in the relationship here as both settle in at different paces. then there is the juggling of being a new mother and having a new job on top of being in a strange place where she is struggling to connect with those around her. I felt how real this was at times I remember trying to fit in in my late teens moving from Cheshire to the Northeast and feeling like it was a different world for a time I felt this as for me it was a similar jolt to the narrator as Jutland like the Northeast seems somewhere that has a strong identity that is different to the rest of Denmark. Add to that the struggling to cope with being a new mother we have a novel that has a mix of love falling apart, settling in and trying to fit in all at the same time. This is like one of the couples from friends or something like this life had had a child and settle down it is a sort of spin-off from what was maybe a happy city life for the couple its a next step what happens if the Danish Ross and Rachel had a child and he went to teach in Alaska!  ave you a favourite Danish book or writer ?

 

The ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas

The Ice Palace by Tarjei vesaas

Norwegian fiction

Original title – Is-slottet

Translator – Elizabeth Rokkan

Source – Personal copy

In my second book of the year we are back in Europe and in the north with one of Norway’s greatest writers. we marvel at knausgaard and fosse for their insight and vision into the human character these days. But Tarjei Vesaas was doing the same fifty years before them and in his time he wrote for more than fifty years his book was mainly based around his rural life his farmhouse is a place of pilgrimage for fans of his writing. He was known for his insights into everyday life he won the Nordic book council prize the biggest book prize in Scandinavia. He was nominated 30 times for the Nobel Literature prize and in strong contention on three occasions. This is one of a number of books that were brought out by Peter Owen a publisher I think has such a great list of writers. So here we have the forerunner to those great Norweigian writers of today.

Unn must have been standing at the window watching for Siss, for she came out before Siss reached the doorstep. She was wearing her school slacks

“It must have been dark?” she asked

“Dark?” yes, but that doesn’t matter; replied Siss, although she had been quite nervous of the darkness and the short cutr through the wood.

“It must have been cold too? It’s dreadfully cold her this evening”

“That doesn’t matter either,” said Sim

Unn said: It’s such fun that you wanted to come.

The night of the event that is at the heart of the book

The book is the story of two girls just on the cusp of being young adults they are the sort of girls that wouldn’t usually get on as one is quiet and the other is boisterous and a live wire. The quiet girl Unn is new to the village and has arrived to live with her Aunt and her friend is Siss. What follows is the outfall of an evening the two girls get close as they get to know each other at her aunts she shows Siss the pictures of her father as they relax in each other company the young girls undress and watch each other. But when they have done this it feels strange and not quite right to Unn after the event one of those things that happen at that age of just having feelings and thoughts that are awakening. So when next Day Unn decides to skip school and head to the Ice Palace of the title a place the girls are due to go to a frozen Ice palace but when she ends up in trouble it is Siss left as she viewed the event very differently. She later has to cope with the gap of her friend that has gone and what had happened haunts her as she struggles to move on with what happened.

Unn had not arrived when Siss hurried into the warm classroom. Several of the others were there. Some of them said casually, “Hi SIss.”

She did not say a word about yesterday’s meeting. They probably expected it, because of the exchange of notes, but they contained themselves. They were probably waiting to see what would happen when Unn turned up. Sdiss had it all worked out: as soon as Unn appeared in the doorway she would go to meet her so that eveyrone should see how things stood. The Idea made her so happy thart she tingled all over.

The next day Siss is awaitng Unn at schoolbut she never comes to school again !!

This is one of those books that takes a single event the one evening that the two girls had stripped and watched one another a strange act but given there age one that happens this one night is the hook for the book the death of Unnn and the aftermath for Siss. It shows how we can view things from different ag=ngles after the event. It is a story of the loss of a friendship broken but there is a third character in the book and that is the place rural Norway the ice palace and all the other places he describes jump off the page this is the second book I have reviewed by Vesaas I will over time review more as I get them. One of the things I love about the time I have been blogging is seeing how a writer like Vesaas has had a knock-on effect I can see his influence in fosse work and other Nordic writers. Sparse in his style this work is hard-hitting in it’s impact this is one of those books that pack a punch far more than its length and will hit the reader hard. It is also short enough to be read in a single sitting which I did. Have you read any books by him?

Winstons score – A, a gem of a book that should be better known.

Some Of Kind Company by Nan Östman

Some Kind of Company by Nan Östman

Swedish Fiction

Original Title –  Ett slags sällskap

Translator – Julia Rivers

Source – Review copy

I am always happy when I get approached by a new Publisher. Aspal Prime is a new small publisher that has brought out the later life novel of Swedish writer Nan Östman a writer best known for writing children’s fiction. In her earlier fiction, the was a recurrent theme of English Culture and Literature.  also girls and women Apart from some detective fiction she wrote with her husband. Her children’s books were the most borrowed books from Swedish libraries in the ’80s. She published this book when she was well in her seventies an observance of someone of similar age to her. This was the first time she had ventured into Adult fiction she published another adult after that she passed away in her nineties in 2015.

I must make one thing clear straight away, even if it sounds foolish. I believe people can advertise for almost anything in Personal ads and others will reply. So, as the English say – No sex please. I think it sounds a bit less clumsy and a little more nonchalant in English, Though stillsilly. But it’s best to say it straight out. There are men who are still virile well into old age( according to what I have read and heard) and  I believe specialist erotica for old people is now available in books and films. Well I am quite prudish and have nothing to offer a hungry old man in that respect.

In her first reply to Bo she makes it clear what she is after a platonic thing.

The book follows a woman in her seventies that is maybe a classic example of an empty nester her kids have gone and Marieanne’s marriage to Hakan has reached that point where they are two ships in the night a lot of the love has gone and there is a silence in their life. She is a translator and is worried that at some point her work may dry up and then where would she be. So she decides to take out an advert for a penpal a male friend to write with she gets a reply from a widower Bo and the two start talking he is an archivist and lost his wife as the two chat Anne is cagey at first about Hakan and their situation but as they talk we see how there life is and what it is like growing old. This is a book about the later part of life and what happens when those nearest become distant or as in Bo’s case aren’t there. It is a tale of being stuck in later life on the inside of loneliness and loveless marriage. she has it all but inside the marriage, it is a very different story. Hakan is a difficult man a quiet man that has lost his wife.

Dear Archivist

You seem to be more interested in Hakan than in me! And it feel as though you are taking his part, That is understandable, It is hardly  a recomendation of me that I have driven my husband to silence, That is what you think, isn’t it, even if tou don’t say it out loud.

The fact is that I don’t discuss Hakan with unkown people and barely with those I do know. We shall see later if it is possible for you to qualify as being someone who can be confided in, first you have to actualy make some effort.

Later he asks aboth her and Hakan but she is cagey at first about their marriage and what had happened to it.

This is one of the reasons I love smaller publishers and their ability to maybe take chances on books that the larger publishers wouldn’t. Now Nan Östman is a very well-known writer in her time and this was one of those rare gems of a writer take a chance and producing a great book in later life. One imagines maybe a lot of Anne’s world is that of the writer herself the comfortable but the life the Anne and Hakan have is far from that inside. What we have is a view of later life Marriage a book about when two older lonely souls connecting her and Bo meet and their shared loneliness is an insight. I enjoyed this book it is very different from all the other Nordic books I have read. As the translator says in the intro Nan uses her own life and her view of Swedish society. At its heart is Loneliness and how we deal with it they are both examples of people that in later life can be lonely the widower that lost his wife early and the empty nester with the Husband that has drifted away from her.

Winstons Score – -A , a hidden gem rediscovered and a perfect first read for Woman in translation month.

Red Milk by Sjón

Red Milk by Sjón

Icelandic fiction 

Original title – Korngult hár, grá augu

Translator – Victoria Cribb

Source – Personal copy

Well I know head up to Iceland and to an old friend of the blog a writer who I have reviewed three times before here but it has been five years since I reviewed a book by Sjón. I have Codex 1962 on my tbr that I was kindly sent by a twitter friend but this jumped out at me and I alway love a novella a book that can be read in the evening which his other books have tend to be. He has a way of drawing the reader into the world he is writing in the after word to this book he said he had touched on Nazisim in two previous books so decided to look at what made some one get drawn into the far right world.

The other policeman is holding a notebook. In it , he writes in pencil ” Blond hair, grey eyes“,below which he produces a deft sketch of the body and the railway compartment.

The policeman who had finished going through the dead man’s pockets turns to his colleague and shakes his head. They both look out of the carraige window. A small crowd has gathered on the platform to watch what what is happening inside the compartment. Neither officer noticed the three men in black shirts hurrying away from the train and disappearing into the station building

The end of the opening chapter and gunnars men in black shirts where there.

The drawing into the far right world that sjon based the book on follows the life of Gunnar Kampen the book opens in 1962 at cheltenham station as he is found dead on a train, but who are the men on the platform of the staion wearing the black shirts. This  part of the book  is were the Icelandic title of the book is from as he is described as Gunnar is described as  Blond hair, grey eyes. That is how it opens then we are drawn back to his youth and find out how he ended up on the path he did and dead in that train and this starts at the second world war in iceland listening to all that was going on from his fathers radio. But when events in Norway change he ends up meeting his aunt he hair had been shaved of and his uncle is in prison this is how he gets drawn into the far right world. This is where Sjon uses a number of real life well known far right figures in the post war era and there attempts to set up a world wide Nazi network. He use Gunnar trip down this poath showing how this young boy get drawn in bit by bit then when he discovers Savitir Devi and writes to him he gets further into the far right world.til he is on a train in the Uk to meet some men in Black shirts and deeper into the world wide net of Nazis.

Icelander take great interest in the affairs of their brother nation, There are a larger number of Norweigans living here,as well of people of Norwegian descent like us, Every year, books are published about recent events, there are talks aon the radio and plays staged. Ofically, they all toe the same lie. Recently, I was meeting of a current affairs club I belong to, where the topic of the day was Norway. A fter the meeting had finished, a man (O.P), who had known you kn Oslo came over to talk to me. He told me where you were, why you were there and how many years you had left.

As his family come back from Norway he gets the first onnection to the far rigtht world via his Uncle and what he did in Norway!

 

This is part Bildungsroman and part thriller and also part cautionary tale. Sjón weaves a web around Gunnar so he ends up like a fly trapped in the web of Nazism as it gabs him bit by bit how easy it can be for a normal boy like Gunnar  can get caught up in this world. It is insoired by one of the real life leaders of the Red milk an Icelandic right wing group. The book is about how people fall down the rabbit holes it is what Sjon wanted to do and that is find how this happens we don’t get a full explination to what it is makes people do this but an insight into one mans world. It is most of all a cautionary tale of gunnars life. He use a number of different styles of writing epistolary, historic novel, thriller and mystery. If you have read his earlier books this will appeal to you ! Have you a favourite read from Sjón ?

Winstons score – B An interesting novella of how the far right can draw people in. a cautionary tale.

Summer Night , and Then comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Summer Night, and Then Comes the Night by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Sumarljós og svo kemur nóttin

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – review copy

I am now back on to the last few titles to squeeze in before the booker international longlist comes out at the end of the month. Here we go back to a writer that I have featured on the blog three times before he was a winner of our shadow prize a while ago. He taught at the high school level for a time and also wrote for a newspaper. He spent time in the 80s living in western Iceland doing odd jobs. This is  where the book is set, though the book is set in the 90s there. The book come to us in English now, but it was published a number of years ago in Iceland. Before the Heaven and Hell trilogy of books that came out here. This is a collection of interconnecting stories around the village of 400 souls as the days are full of light before that dark or winter arrives.

Back in the day, the post office was one of the hubs of the village, through which letters and parcels streamed, where there were two telephone booths for those who needed to make calls outside the country, and at which queues would often form on tuesdays- the deadlune for ordering alchol from the south that was supposed to be drunk over the weekend. But now those phone booths have been taken away; are goneare the days when agusta could listen in. Now the village even has its own off-licence open from 1pm to 2 30 pm. Tuesdays and Thursdays; thus does everything change.

The village is full of life but in ways dying off with things disappearing over time.

When the stories open with the line that the houses are younger than the ninety-year-olds that live there but no one of any note has really come from there and there is no church or graveyard there we get the sense this is a strange place and here we see the inner lives of some of those that live in the village. The action opens up with a girl in a black velvet dress and an astronomer a girl that got a job as the director at the knitting factory a few years ago. She is the dream of many a man in the village. Then we see a summer affair and a wife’s revenge on the couple leaves Kjartan on the end of revenge from his wife. Characters like the nosey postman who has read everyone’s mail and knows what is going on in the village. A lawyer who has some strange beliefs about how the world is !! A man loses his virginity, a doctor keels over when a dog barks.

Destiny takes strange paths – that is, of er acept that it exosts that our exostence isn’t dependent on the terrible power of coincidence. Hannes breaks beneath the wieght of the darknessthe shadows catch him, he hangs himself, leaves a letter for his son and another for Gudmundor and Solrun, in which he asks his friends to see to it that jionas had be given a full-time postition as a police office: “I belive this to bethe only way to make him a man. It will be difficult schooling, but that’s life, he has the bones to bear it: underneatrh his meekness is an unexpected and mysteryous strength” Hannes was probably alone in his view, which, at best, seemed merely preposterious, wishful thinking.

Detstiny has run all over the village over time.

This a glimpse of a strange world cut off from the rest of Iceland the ordinary lives of the locals. Now one review I read of the book mentioned a comparison to Undermilk wood I can see that there is the same sense of every day and the bizarre of every day that was Llareggub Dylan Thomas distant Welsh village. But for me, there is a little more of Iceland lit in there. One of the Laxness work I reviewed a while ago under the Glacier which is another work set in a remote Icelandic village like the village in this story had a church but hasn’t anymore but the vicar has never been to our village wherein Laxness work the vicar went rogue. The locals now a sense of the otherworldly just a distance away from the rest of the world. I was also reminded of another book from Iceland And the wind sees them all especially the story of Elisabeth and her velvet dress which folks dreamed of her was similar in feel to Kata in her polka dot dress cycling through the village. This is a great collection of interlinking stories of a small insular community that has drifted away from the world. the stories re glimpse into ordinary folks at those times when the world is a bit mad and it is all Brilliantly brought alive from Stefansson. Have you a favorite book from Iceland?

Winstons score – A-

 

Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý

Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý

Swedish fiction

Original title – Eländet

Translator – Nichola Smalley

Source – sent from the translator

I swapped a couple of books from and other stories for a copy of the TLS  I had that included a review of this book in I have met Nochola the translator of this book via her work at And other stories a couple of times, so it is a shame it has taken me a while to get to a review of books she has translated. looking up about the writer I came across this quote which seemed to sum him up as a writer. “Andrzej Tichý is a writer who, time and time again, with a language that sings, says something important about the Swedish contemporary. Read him”. He has lived in Sweden since 1981 born in Prague to a Polish mother and Czech father there is a sense of the great Mittel European writers in his work. 

The way the wax plant flowers moved, those small movements, that trembling, that gentle vibrating, like an echo of the moving trings, combined with the low-frequency tone, the rumble – all that lingered in my consciousness as I saw the newly built tower block and the figures on its roof, with the railway tracks and rail yard in the background, all while I tried to say something to the guitarist and the composer about scelsi and my microtonal worl. We walked toward the central station to take the the train to Copenhagen, to Vor Frue Kirke and the moosmann concert.

Where he meets the Junkie and his past falls back into his world and those year flood back

This book is told in a feverish manner at times what happened when a cellist comes face to face with a spun out Junkie for the second book in a row we have a sort of Proustian moment where this one single event leads the Ccellist into a journey through his past and the sense that he broke free of it a part of growing up in the Housing projects with a group of what in the day would be slackers this is an ode to the early nineties and the urban world he grew up in of skaters, junkies, rappers. Where there are Parties and clubs but he remembers that it was also a road to nowhere, as the memories of his past come tumbling in on him. This is all told in slang as we see his early jobs also the tension of the multi-cultural community he lives in just bubbling below the surface. He is the present is due to give a concert with two other musicians of the work Giacinto Scelsi the Italian modernist composer. This a story of breaking out but also the sense of loss of the comrade brothers he left behind in the melting post he grew up in.

THen a car pulled up. A man got out and other things. Then a car pulled. A man got out and asked if they wanted work. Employment, he said, Earn a little money, he said, they asked what they’d be doing.. Handing out flyers, he said. For his building firm. Go aroundthe wealthy neighbourhoods and stuff a few flyers through letterboxes. They asked how much they’d get five hundred. To share. Course we will, they said. That’s a lot of money, they thought. They got in the car. He drove them to the wealthy neighbourhood. They got a stack each. Took a side each and put them in the letterboxesas he drove behind them, crept along along slowly behind them

A classic ilustration of GEnration X the McJobs cash in hand jobs struggling to get by.

A lot of reviews I have seen of this book have mentioned Bernhard it hard not to avoid that as the book is told in a similar style of breathless prose, as the past comes flooding into his mind but jumbled up like a montage of his life with no real gaps as you get caught up in the cellist’s past and his thoughts of the world he grew up in. This is like a sample of his past mixtape of memories. The clash of high and low culture is shown here from his early love of street beats of the hip hop of the day over the modern music of Scelsi (I will put my hand up again her I know nothing of him just what I have read my modern classical knowledge is little) and the hip hop he likes is different to the bands I knew at the time but it reminds me of going to clubs in UK, Holland, and Germany late nights. Then time spent in cities like Manchester, Newcastle, Nimwegen, Kassel, and Dortmund at the similar time to this so the group he described remind me of my german friends although we didn’t do drugs we like a drink and clubs. This is a song about breaking free of the past. But there will always be that reminder of the past.

Winstons score – A- ( a Bernhard fan got score well with me)

 

 

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Icelandic fiction

Original title –  Stormfuglar,

Translator  – Quentin Bates

Source – Personal copy

It been over a year since I have reviewed an Icelandic novel which is a shame as it is one of those countries that most of the books in translation I have read over the time of the blog I have enjoyed. This book when it arrived appealed I am a fan of films that deal with the weather and the sea the likes of Perfect storm or the finest hour to name two. So when I read that this is based on actual events that happened in 1959 and the events that lead to a number of boats getting in trouble. The book is written by Einar Kárason. He has been writing since the late seventies his debut novel from 1981 was also translated into English as Devils island. He has since he has written over fifteen more novels this came out in 2018.

When the young deckhand Larus had said farewell to his parentrs and waved as the willys drove away, he went up Mavur’s gangplank.He went to the heelhouse and reported to the first mate who was there, who told him that he crew beginning to turn up and everything was almost read, sh he should go and find himself a berth in the deck crew’s quarter,  forward under the whaleback; he could then get himself a cup of coffee from the galley Larus carried his kitbag accross gthe deck, opened an iron dorr andf then another one beyond it, and made his way down a couple of steps. There were two cabins, and from both came loud voices, drunken talk and clouds of tobacco smoke, and Larus wondered whether he dar go in there

Larus arrives on the boat and sees the old sea dogs bel;ow deck.

Storm birds is told about the crew of the trawler Mávur which in which we are told the event of late February in 1959 as the fishing trawlers head from Iceland to the fishing grounds around the Grand banks just off Newfoundland. This was also the setting for the film and book The Perfect storm. The events of the voyage to fish is told by a young man Larus a young man of just 18 that is sent of by his parents although when his fellow crewmates arrive he gets embarrassed by them as they are a collection of salty seadogs and he is the new boy. The skipper has them knocking the ice of the boat as the weather starts turning to freeze the boats as the weather worsens we see the harshness of the sea that cruel sea of Monserrat as he had described it during the war years. So as they reach the fishing grounds but as it comes clear the boat and others around them are in distress they work  22 hours a day just trying to get through any downtime is spent forgetting the weather as at one point Larus talks about the books they are reading the radio Operator book chest were he finds war stories and biographies. another is reading Laxness. The story is on the edge as we find if they all make it as they try to get out of the weather back to the safety of Harbour. The events show how they dealt with the conditions as they find out what happens to the fellow fishermen on their boats just voice in the distant some too far away to help.

Larus continued to turn the pages of his book of maritime diasters when ever he had time to read, and its accounts became all the more horric because he knew they had been so close to such a tragedy.

The mess was often busy with card games in the evenings, and sometimes they played poker for matches or cigarettes.Some of the crew lounged around reading the various contents of the radio operator’s book chest – biographies, war stories; one of the engineers was reading Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Prizer Winners, and would occasionally shake with silent laughter

Larus describes what they do in the free time on the boat.

This is almost a thriller as the tension is always there from their setting off but it is soon the men against the weather as the waves rage and the ice forms as the temperature sinks down. That is what is handled so well in the book is the conditions from the struggle keeping the ruining parts of the boat’s free so they can carry on. and struggle this is the classic of man’s battle with the elements that we have seen before from those North Atlantic convoys of “The Cruel Sea ” to the comradeship and battling spirit of the fishermen in The perfect storm as we see how a crew battle with nature itself and we find the true power of nature. This is a short book but full of colour and works in English as the translator brings the colour and conditions of the voyage to life. If you like an adventurous man against nature books then this is one for you. Have you a favorite book in that genre?

 

 

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