Agnes by Peter Stamm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnes by Peter Stamm

Swiss fiction

Original title – Agnes

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – review copy

I have reviewed Peter Stamm three times before on the blog over the years. so when I got the chance to review his debut novel I jumped at the chance as he is a writer whose works I had enjoyed his other books. Agnes had come out in the UK but was never brought out in the US so it gave me a chance to go back twenty years this book came out in 98 in Germany and 2000 in English for the first time. He has written several novels but was a journalist iuntially and has written radio plays as well.

I was back in the library early the next morning, and even though I was waiting for Agnes, I had no trouble concentrating on my work. I knew she would come, and that we would talk anc smoke and drink coffee together. In my head our relationship was already much further advanced than it was in reality. I was already wondering abouther, beginning to have my doubts, though we hadn’t even been out together.

I was working well, reading and making notes, When Agnes arrived, around noon and she nodded to me, Once again, she put her foam rubber cushion down on a chair near me, spread out her things as she had done yesterday, picked up a book and started reading

The beginning of the relationship as they keep meeting in the library sharing coffee and a smoke,

 

An older writer he is unnamed is asked by his younger girlfriend Agnes a cellist studying physics and free spirit in her own way to write a story about her. Our narrator is in Chicago to write about luxury trains. He does what Agnes wants and writes about their relationship He does that but as they are happy and the everyday life of these two. The way they meet and fell in love but this doesn’t lead to the most interesting story about their relationship. As they work together on the story. But, when she tells him she is expecting a baby the narrative changes as he is older and doesn’t want a child he tells her that he doesn’t want the child this is a turning point in their relationship. but also in the story, he is writing about there relationship changes as he starts in that narrative to try and control the younger woman by making her into what he wants her to be as the two worlds the story and real life start to come intertwined as the relationship cracks apart.

We celebrated Christmas Eve together. It was some time since I’d shown Agnes what I’d written. Now I printed out the story on white paper and put it in a folder with a dedication.

“I haven’t got an ending yet,” I said,”But as soon as I do.Ill have the whole thing boiund into a little book for you ”

Agnes had knitted me a sweater

“God knows,I had enough wool, she said.

“Black wool”

“No I had it dyed. Light blue doesn’t really suit you.”I didn’t say anything. We were sitiing on the sofa, with a little christmas tree in front of us that Agnes had decorated with only candles.

Later on the feeling between the two has changed in the story.

As ever Stamm is a master of describing how relationships work but hew also is great at getting that moment when the relationships change the turning point so to speak that unseen event at the start of the narrative that initally seems like the perfect relationship even thou there is an age difference. This sees the writer trying to idealize Agnes later in the book. This is maybe free in style than his later books it is like he is trying a different way of writing in this book it is looser than his other books. But worth reading I alwaylike to try and see how a writer has grown this isn’t as cut and cleaned as say seven years but is still an interesting insight into the dynamics of relationships and also about writing about a relationship which when it is good can seem very boring. Have you read this book?

 

All Happy families by Hervé Le Tellier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Happy families by Hervé Le Tellier

french memoir

Original title  – Toutes les familles  heureuses

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

I loved the years recently and it reminds me I hadn’t had chance to get to this book that had come out a couple of months ago by another well known French writer Herve Le Tellier is also a member of the OULIPO group. A mathematician by training he became a journalist and editor. He has written a number of books including winning a prize for a comic novel. when he put a book out that he had supposedly translated from Portuguese called Me and Mitterand about a series of letters in a spoof novel by Jamie Montestrela but was Le Tellier himself.

Marafan syndrome is a disorder of the connective tissue. It affects about one person in every five thouseand. The gene whose mutation produces the condition is on chromosome 15, and the mutation can have nearly a thousand variants. Symptons of the syndrome include aortal aneurism, pronouced nearsightedness and unusual bone growt,Sufferers are often very tall with long thin fingers,

The britsh actor Peter Mayhew, famlus for playing the hairy wookie Chewbacca in the star wars movies has the syndrome.Some claim that Abraham Lincoln did too. But that is of no concern to us here

He then mentions Rahmaniov and how he had it.

This is another clever little french memoir. It is a series of vignettes about the writer’s life growing up in his family growing up. He explains early on the book that the time was right his father and stepfather both dead and his mother in the latter stages of Alzheimers he starts to think back at his own youth not as he saw it as unhappy but more a childhood that when looked back on maybe wasn’t the happiest his parents split when he was very young and he grew up with his mother and stepfather guy. Guy is from an old French family and distant to the young boy He was drawn into his world of books as a kid. He also spent a lot of time with his grandparents another tale about them, every weekend. One of the things I most connect with was his chapter about Rachmaninov’s concerto no. 2 which leads to a digression about the condition Marfan syndrome which for me is something I heard mention a lot in my teens as it was thought I had it as I am tall have long fingers and a few other signs I haven’t but to know that is why he was such a great pianist was news to me.

 “My sister’s a whore ” my mother took to saying when the flood barrier of decorium gave way to age and dementia, and she stopped feigning affection.

This whore was also my god mother. My mother admitted she’d never lover her, perhaps precisely because Raphaelle was so loveable.

It was to this first daughter that my grandfather had so genrously bequeathed his name. A happy boistrous girl, she ramined his favourtie. Raphaelle was only eighteen months older than Marceline but numbers are deceptive.There was nearly a decade between them my aunt was a woman at thirteen, my mother not untilshe was twenty.

The aunt and what his mother called her .

 

This is an honest look back at a childhood that wasn’t the happiest but he does it with great humor remember events. All families are like his when we look at it this is a modern family before its time. Where divorce has happened not so common as is shown when they want to change Herve name I remember changing my own name as a child for a couple of years.  I grew up in a stepfamily my stepfather is well may I said an odd chap so I could relate to his tales of his life this is a wonderful set of vignettes that showed his family carbuncles and all his sister father all are compelling reading like his auntie or as his mother called her in the chapter My sister a whore who had a parade line  of men. All told in a witty style that made me want to read his spoof work I mentioned in the first section of this review. Have you read any of Le Tellier fiction ?

Any means necessary by Jenny Rogneby

 

 

Any Means Necessary

Any means necessary by Jenny Rogneby

Swedish crime fiction

Original title – Alla medel tillåtna

Translator – Agnes Broome

Source – review copy

I don’t often take crime novels but something in Jenny’s bio grabbed me I like a writer that has maybe trodden the same path as there characters so when I saw that was she had studied criminology and worked as an investigator in Stockholm the same as Leona the lead character. Now if that wasn’t enough she was in a Swedish pop group cosmo4 that in there time was an opening act for Michael Jackson. She was also adopted as a baby from Ethiopia. This book is the second in a series but I had no feeling that I had to read the first book in the series to read this it managed to stand alone.

He adjusted the heavy belt strapped around his hips, relieving the pressure from the steel cylinders that made the waistband of her trousers chafe against his skin. The wire connecting them to the detonator shifted outside of his right trouser leg. He grabbed the trigger. Squeezed it hard. His hand was damp. Sweat? He didn’t know,

The only thing was the mission.

His final mission

One push of a button and everything would be over

The opening lines as the bomber does the unthinkable and blows himself up.

The book opens when a man blows himself up outside the parliament building in Stockholm. Now he managed to survive this bombing. Now he is facing Leona as she tries to find out if this man is just a loner or part of a wider plan of terrorism. This is the main story but we also have a side story of Leona own life she is in a piece she has family problems but even more than that she owes a lot of money to a gangsterArmand and he is breathing down her neck to get all his money back as soon as possible. Now Leona is a clever officer and streetwise she start to give training to other criminals to avoid getting caught but this is merely her way of finding a group of criminals to pull a heist she has in mind to finally get the monkey off her back. Meanwhile, she is still under pressure from her new boss at work that is pushing her to find out what the man called Fred in the hospital was doing. She walks a tightrope leading to explosive ends!

It was Monday morning and I had forced myself to go to the hospital. I had to wrap this up, This was going to be my last interview with Fred Sjostrom. After that I wouldn’t have to deal with the sterile walls, the hospital smell, the tubes and the machines.

Fred had claimed he wanted to tell me everything, but I wasn’t about spend hoursdragging information out of him. He had been given plenty of chances already

I had to setr a camera so that I would finally be able to show Alexander , once and for all, that my sitting in his room, listening to the threee words an hour he deigned to squeeze out, was indefensible waste of taxpayers money.

Fred talks but it takes time and also shows how long a case can take to put together.

Well as I said Jenny had been a police investigator so the inner workings of Leona as she works to find out what happened. Now the other side  Of Leona as the character the mastermind behind getting a group of criminals to do a heist I feel is maybe using character she had met during her years in Stockholm and using them in small parts here. Leona is maybe a classic anti-hero you want to dislike her for what she does but find it hard as in some ways she has her heart in the right place. The book maybe follows on from what happened in Stockholm in 2010 where there was a suicide bomber blew outside the Norwegian broadcast building in Stockholm which was the first Islamic attack in the Nordic countries so we aren’t sure if it is that or a local lone wolf and then we have her other life that shows even police officers have lives outside of their job. Leona has money problems I think this is a carry on from events in the first book but also maybe has the most out of the box idea in her heist idea. A crime tale with two great storylines and an interesting lead character imagine if Morse or Holmes had turned to crime to fund the drink and drug habits they may have been the same in fact I’m sure Holmes mused that he would have been the best criminal had he gone down that path and Leona is the same her savvy and knowledge means she stays steps ahead.

The other woman by Therese Bohman

The Other Woman by Therese Bohman

As I said in yesterdays covers post, I have read a couple of great books from Sweden by female writers this year, this being one of them the other being Wilful disregard by Lena Anderson which I reviewed earlier in the year. It was because I enjoyed wilful diregaerd so much I choose to review this from Other press.Also two great books from world editions from sweden as well it has been a great year for Swedish fiction on the blog .

The other woman is a take on being the other woman like it says on the cover. This is story of the affair told from the female perspective , we see this affair start and how it slowly grows through her eyes. The two main characters work in a hospital , she is a general dogsbody in the kitchen and he is a doctor , she finds out his name  Carl Malmberg and also that he is married  . He captures her eye one day and then they begin to spiral near each eventually coming together in a bang. The affair begins as they meet in secret, but is it all she hoped are dreams and reality the same

Occasionally I have wondered what it would be like to have an affair with one of them. particularly the tall handsome consultant who comes in for lunch all too rarely. I have thought about where we would meet, imagined him at home with me, even if the idea of him in my tiny apartment among my things is an unlikely scenario.I picture him sitting on my sofa, we are drinking a glass of wine , chatting. Perhaps we are discussing literature, which turns out to be a shared passion.

She daydreams of meeting Carl after seeing him where she works .

It is easy to see this as a standard love affair, which has been covered many times in fiction from The end of affair one my favourite Greene novels , through books like Lady Chatterley’s lover, which for me is like this book accept the roles are flipped the male is the one in the role of authority and the narrator is the lowest of the low in this world they live in. Also wilful diregard saw a may to december romance which this novel  is as well.What makes this stand up is the narrator’s voice and the overall world we are drawn into where even in a modern setting Class and social standing still there like in Lawrence’s day.

We get out of the car, he locks it, and we dash through the rain to the apartment block and , inside, over to my door. He stands behind me as I open up, I can feel his eyes on my back. I have rarely felt more present in the moment, I register everything – the grain of the wooden door frames, his scent, the key sticking slightly in the lock before it turns – while at the same time I am acting entirely on instinct .

The dream now is real he does come to her apartment .

For me the main character the unnamed narrator of the book is more than we first see , yes she works in the kitchen .But this woman is one that reads important books ,  she talks about the books she readsones like, notes from underground , Death in Venice and even the huge Magic Mountain she describes how on a course she sees everyone around her reading what she call banal books compared to her. She is a woman wanting to be more than a partner in bed, which it turns out is what she has become.We see a ugly duckling  wanting to be a swan in the world can see do it ?

He is a perfectly ordinary lover too. After I have asked him if he wants to come back to my place, and we have stood outside my door drunkenly searching for topics of conversation to fill the time between both of us thinking that we want to kiss each other and actually doing so, and we have kissed our way through the hallway and into bed, he makes love to me in a way that is kind of functional .

No books to discuss and no fireworks with Carl really .

Add to this a confident of the narrator called Alex , whom she starts to tell about the affair but is this Alex all they seem ? Then there is also the senses that Bohman does so well to ignite through her prose which in Marlaine Delargy translation come through so well. Also the sense of a detached style I have found a lot the last few years in Nordic fiction we almost look into this world of class, love, social standings like a voyeur feeling part of it but not able to touch it .Carl maybe see her as an object in a way even in the way he picks something for her to wear at one point. But for the narrator there is a whole other story and this affair is maybe just the start of her real life .This is Therese Bohman second novel to be translated to English I will be seeking out her first Drowned to read.

Have you a favourite female writer from Sweden ?

Swedish fiction

Translator – Marlaine Delargy

Source – review copy .

 

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