Fever dream by Samanta Schweblin

 

Fever dream by Samanta Schweblin

Argentinean fiction

Original title – , Distancia de rescate

Translator – Megan Mcdowell

Source – Personal copy

Now this was the first book I read after the longlist came out as it was the one we may have called in I feel if it hadn’t made the longlist. Samanta is another from the granta list of the best Spanish language writers under 35 that came out a few years ago , I wish they would do a few more of these books for other languages that list has produced some of the best books I have read over the last few years and Samanta is one of the names of that list I had want to try long before I actually got to this book .

They’re like worms

What kind of worms ?

like worms , all over

It’s the boy who’s talking , murmuring into my ear. I am the one asking questions.

Worms in the body ?

Yes, in the body

Earthworms ?

No, another kind of worms

It’s dark and I can’t see.The sheets are rough, they bunched up under my body. I can’t move , but I am talking .

The opening lines leave the question why is the sheet rough on Amanda is she even alive ?

The english title is maybe more to the point of what this book is the spanish title means rescue distance , which in itself is a question where as the english title is Fever dream and that is just what we have here . Two people in a hospital room the first Amanda she lies waking from a fever or in a fever and beside her is a boy , not her son David he is trying to guide her in his own young way , she talks of worms around her he gets he to try to rec all what exactly happened to get them there .Then earlier Amanda in her dream talks to Carla about her son that fell ill six years earlier Also called David .We also see a bleak land that of Patagonia , this land where the Gauchos still farm like they did years ago but is this also a sign of how the world she lives in has changed recently ? Amanda story is one that has very few answers to us as the reader more questions which even thou this book is only 150 short pages it has me two weeks later think about what it is all about ,

How can it not be ? That’s the story we need to understand

No , that’s not the story, it has nothing to do with the exact moment. Don’t get distracted.

I need to measure the danger, other wise it’s hard to calculate the rescue distance . The same way I surveyed the house and its surroundings when we arrived, now I need to see the green house, understand its gravity .

When did you start to measure this rescue distance ?

It’s something I inherited from my mother. “I want you close ” she’d say to me . “let’s stay within rescue distance .”

The spanish title explained her in a detached conversation from Amanda .

This is a very unsettling book that has echos of so many thinks , I do wonder myself if it is just one person with two voices , is David a soul that Amanda meet when she was at the hospital before with her own child , like the landscape she lives in is he a shepherd to guide either one way or the other to the light of life or to the light of being with a daughter she may have lost . Maybe this is like the sixth sense or the film the passenger where those that are dead never really accepted  that they are like Bruce Willis or Anne Hathway in both those films need to be guided to the other side . The book to me has a feel of Beckett in a way Amanda and David detatched voices remind me somewhat of Vladmir and Estragon waiting in a room somewhat in limbo trying to get from one place but waaiting for some to guide them. Amanda voice at times remind me of the way Beckett wrote in something like Not I her life tumbles out of her at a great speed , this is wonderfully drawn out in Mcdowell’s translation . For me this will make the shortlist and may just make our shadow shortlist.

The Principle by Jerome ferrari

The Principle by Jerome Ferrari

French fiction

Original title – Le Principe

Translator – Howard Curtis

Source – review copy

Well from a new French writer to me yesterday with Pierre Senges to an old favourite of this blog Jerome Ferrari has had his two earlier books translated into English The sermon on the fall of Rome and Where I left my soul.  He won the Prix Goncourt with his last novel and lived in Abu Dhabi where he teaches Philosophy. but now lives in Casablanca , like his other novels I have read this is a look back at recent history this time he has looked back at those fever years of the war when scientists where trying to build the Bomb.

You were twenty-three years old , and it was there, on that desolate island where no flowers grow, that you were first granted the opportunity to look over god’s shoulder,There was no miracle, of course, or eve to be honest , anything resembling God;s shoulder, but to give an account of what happened that night, our only choice, as you know better than anyone, is between metaphor and silence . For you , there was first silence, then the blinding light of an exhilaration more precious than happiness

This the time he made his famous uncertain principle

we are drawn into the world of Germany in the  early 1930’s  and onwards when the country falls under a dark shadow of the Nazis,  we follow the life of Werner Heisenberg , a man best known know for his uncertain principle .We glimpse into his world one of knowledge , but he was best known for something he worked out many years earlier his principle . we see his life unfold drawn into the Nazis world of the hunt for the Bomb as he was the one that made classic science become the atomic age of science he is at the forefront. What we see is how a man of science and his own principles has to walk a tight line of the age he is trying but not trying if you know what I mean ! Faced with a world he didn’t expect to be in from those early days  of discovery .

They’re all bored to death

Something in them becomes gradually worn pout over the  endless weeks

Professor Heisenberg plays Mozart sonatas, by heart on the piano. Nobody listens to him anymore. Every day, Professor Hahn walks for hours in the garden, never tiring .He calculates the distance he’s covered. If he’d walked straight ahead , he would have crossed the sea. By know he would have been ages in Germany

They struggle to get the Bomb made .

This was a clever novel that is a good autobiography in a novel form of a figure , that was at the heart of the burning atomic age a man who provide the turning point in the way people thought of Physics. Like his earlier books lament and sorrow under lie the main character in a way also like his earlier books he deals with how people deal with those situation where we have no chance to turn and the world seems in utter chaos. In Where I left my soul it was the Algerian war and the sermon which was an angrier look back at his childhood homeland  as ever using his poetic writing style to look at one person struggle in this world . Here it is the madness of the Nazis and Hitler wanting the Bomb before the allies. There is similarities in style too In search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi which was also a look at the same group of people in this novel from a different angle where they try to find the top man in the programme. An interesting look at the times .

The Major refutation by Pierre Senges

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The Major Refutation by Pierre Senges

French fiction

Original title – La réfutation majeure

Translator – Jacob Siefring

Source – review copy via translator

I have from time to time be contacted by the translator to review their latest book and this was the case with Jacob , whom I knew vaguely via twitter and the fact he has been championing this writers work. He has translated a number of works by Pierre Senges . Pierre Senges start initially as a jazz musician , this I note as later I do wonder if this hs influenced his style of writing . He has been a writer since the 1990s and has written over fifteen books and also a large number of works for radio in France. He is noted for his baroque style and the way he twists history with a way of keeping the original style to his works .

If this New world actually existed, if its measure could be had in hectares and in tons, or maliciously in carats to reflect the value of its diamond mines, or in nautical miles because it is semmingly capable of devouring an entire hemisphere as a crab would , going from north to south and from east to west- if this were the case , then adventures would have set foot there long ago ,smugglers failing to find better use for their discovery would have taken it as their refugee

From the opening page of the Major Refutation , this seems true how could something so large be unknown !

This book is meant to be a work that was written by Antonio De Guevara , this is a work that was mention supposedly and lost then found and it is a work The book is a work about trips to discover what is the new world then to send people these  written as a treatise to Charles V  , about the falsehood of the new world. this is back in a time when of course some people thought the earth was flat and places unknown on maps were often just marked with the words here be monsters ! De Guevara argument is that the new world isn’t all it is meant to be and is a creation by others to deceive the king and other and De Gueveara brings many arguments to why this is the case in what are letter like chapters.

The invention of the new world and of the useless islands supposed the invention of evidence, fabricated on this side f the earth, on the continent, in the portuguese colonies perhaps but always brought back into port; for it is impossible to make a country of fog,of phantoms and of gleaming gold exist out there with out having some exotic but tangible scraps wash up on our beaches .Some talk might have sufficed; our taverns are full of those boasters returned from afar, full of one-armed men who clasped in an embrace the great Khan of China and the incestuous gang of prester John

The New World is made up of lies , boasters and false goods

When I started blogging the real hunt for me wasn’t just world lit , no I could just count countries I do but not in a race . For me the reason I blog is to be like an explorer of books a discoverer of fiction , an adventure on the edge of what the novel is and this is why getting connect with guy like Jacob and been introduce to a writer like Pierre Senges this book is a book that has thanks to the time Jacob spent translating it , you can find out more on Jacobs blog . This is a book that defies pigeonholed .For me the fact in his early life he was into jazz and was a musician plays a part in this book , great jazz can take something ordinary and twist it and bend it into something totally new.so like John Coltrane in his working of my favourite things we have some part of the original . Well lets break this down Fray Antoino de Guevera was a preacher and his preaching was about peace and a different vision of what empire was , Charles the fifth was the spanish lead at the time the new world was discovered. So  the parts are their want Pierre Senges has done is create a rift on the two men and the idea of there being a treatise on there not being a new world . I loved this as Jacob said it is a unusal book and one that if he hadn’t pushed we wouldn’t have read , one great thing is so many transltors have there pet projects and maybe publisher need listen to them more (a sublte nod here to Horcynus Orca which I know is a pet project of Andrea Camelleri translator ), how many more are out there !!

Cheese by Willem Elsschot

 

 

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Cheese  by Willem Elsschot

Dutch fiction

Original title – Kaas

Translator – Sander Berg

Source = review copy

I was contact by Alma books as they are want to highlight  some of their back catalogue gems , I choose this and a book by Louis – Ferdinand Celine . I choose this as I had a happy memories of Holland and cheese , My father has done a lot of business in the Netherlands over the years and  about twenty years ago got a gift of some Cheese socks which he passed on to me the had a Edam hole style cheese with a little mouse looking out of a hole on each one , I loved those socks so a book about cheese , which from my time on the borders of Netherlands and spend a number of days in Nijmegen and surrounding area I know the dutch take the cheese seriously.

This Mr Van Sconnbeke comes from an old, wealthy family .He’s a bachelor and lives by himself in a big house in one of our most beautiful streets.

he has plenty of money, as do all his friends. These are for the most part judges , lawyers , merchants or retired businessmen.every member of this company possesses at least one car, with the exception of Mr Van Schoonbeke himself , my brother and me .But Mr Van Schoonbeke could own his car if he wished, and no one knows this better than his friends. Indeed, they think it’s rather curious and sometimes speak of him as “that old devil Albert”

The main reason for Frans is his friendship with Mr van Schoonbeke

Frans Laarmans is the main character of this book , he starts as a clerk in the novel in Antwerp . But has a chance to further his career and becomes a merchant in a much larger company egged on by his posh friends to take the job . This is where the problems begin with this new job where in a chance to impress his bosses and prove that a simple clerk like him is worth the job . He gets in a tangle with one supply with ordering to many as he get confused over what he has ordered with him then twenty tons of cheese turns up . Then he tries to get it sold but with no hope , his wife and children suffer as he starts to fall apart in a way .

The twenty tons were waiting for me on four trailers in the courtyard. They’d quickly offloaded the cheese last night to avoid paying demurrage to the railway company . That’s how I was able to witness my cheese being locked away in my safe . I stood in the middle of the cellar, like an instructor in a manege, keeping a close eye on everything until the last crate had been brought in

The large pile of cheese he has to get rid off before it goes off .

This is meant to be a comic masterpiece of comic  dutch literature . This is a novel of social-climbing Frans is a man who is wanting to climb it is similar in some ways too Wodehouse ,Frans is one of those oddly name side character from Jeeves and Wooster in a way one of those small stories that get told as an aside in the Wodehouse stories  . this is a classic man trying to better himself but with a dry look at failing at it a man who hates cheese ,drowning in cheese. I not sure it fully works when I first mentioned I was reading this a connection on twitter said they had thrown it to one side half read . I said and still hold by it that humour is hard to translate, in parts it works . I feel there is another level that maybe we miss that is some what Belgium humour , I was reminded of what Jonathan meades observations about the odd ways belgium is so different yet so close to us the quirky way they have small museums for everything and the way each street is individual in their look . Laarmans is a character that Elsschot used in his other big novel and again in his other books he wrote , he was considered to be semi biographical reflection of the man himself.

 

Compass by Mathias Enard

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Compass by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Boussole

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

Well strange I did my round-up and book of the month for february yesterday .I am sure unless something unexpected comes along this will be March’s  book of the month only a day in . This is the third novel by Mathias Enard I have read and for me this is his best . It won the Prix Goncourt in 2015. Mathias Enard studied Persian and Arabic and has spent long periods in the Middle east . This is his tenth novel

Sarah found that pharse extraordinary, “Take me, lead me where you like ; I won’t bother you, I sleep all day, in the evening you can let me go to the concert and at night you can do what you like with me ” a declaration of absolute beauty and despair, a total nudity – unlike Liszt , I know where she is buried , the montmatre cemetery. Which Sarah showed me

sarah quotes Marie Duplessis Liszt’s mistress and a woman who inspired Alexander Dumas .

The last but one  sentence of the intro is the key  to what  this book is about  simply Enard is a huge fan of the Middle east and this book is his ode to the way us in the West and the east mix together . I’m now not sure what we call this area the middle east or as Nawai El Saadawi who’s middle east , the Wests middle east ! so from the middle west here is my view of this wonderful book . Then we have the term Orient the older term which is the one Enard seems to prefer . Anyway the Arab speaking world and How Enard has chosen to show us this  west and east struggle via Franz Ritter a Austrian musicologist who over the space of one late night and early morning suffering  with a bout of insomnia he recalls his frequent trips to this part of the work . so from Istanbul to Tehran and place like Aleppo and Damascus we follow Franz but also Sarah a spirited french woman like Franz caught between west and east. SO as the night goes on the arc of the relationship maybe also arcs the relationship of west and east . Like the point of a compass this book points east to the heart of Arab world and an affair that was doomed but also the clashing of the west and east how the west has viewed the east through music , art and literature and how these have been tinged by the East from Franz Liszt to Agatha Christie the east has touch many artists and their works .

The debate became stormy ; Sarah had mentioned the great name, the wolf  had appeared in the midst of the flock , in the freezing desert: Edward Said .It was like invoking the Devil in a Carmelite convent ; Bilger , horrified at the idea that he could be associated with any kind of Orientalism, immediately began embarrassed auto criticism, renouncing everything : Francois-marie and julie were nuanced on the question, while still acknowledging that Said had asked a burning but pertinent question : the relationship between knowledge and power in the Orient

Said one of the main names you connect with Orientalism

Well as you see this book is one that it is easy to fall in love with it is one of the novels that you will also need a note-book and maybe Spotify hand to listen to the music mentioned and the books mentioned. So as we see Franz wrestle with on coming sleep and the dreams to remember the good and bad times of the relationship. This is also an ode to that lost world his times in Aleppo , which is now a smoking ruined city instead we see the Aleppo that drew people there before the war . We get a sense of a past that isn’t there now a time when the world wasn’t so tense in this Joycean evening of vivid dreams of a long past relationship and world .

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