Friday, 28 June 2013

Friday Funs


I am somewhat ridiculously obsessed with Russian literature (especially postmodern metafiction, which will most likely be my MA thesis) and one of the main issues I have is that I don’t know that many contemporary Russian authors. Another main issue is that of reading translations, but since my plan to teach myself Russian kind of fell flat when I went back to uni to study literature, I have to consider that a moot point for now.

Being in that mood (after a couple of glasses of rosé) I googled contemporary Russian authors and somehow stumbled upon Grigory  Ryzhakov’s blog and this post listing his top 20 Modern Russian authors. After jotting down the ones with English translations and ordering books by Vladimir Makanin (new author for me), Vladimir Sorokin (recently finished, and loved, The Queue), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsy (who is not contemporary, but I really want to read more of his works), I decided to read more of Grigory’s posts.

And then it happened.
Something I knew nothing about and that almost made me cream my pants actually made squee like a schoolgirl.

A post mentioning Stephen Fry (the love of my life) hosting a documentary about modern Russian prose.

I simply can’t wait (even though I secretly hate get disturbed by seeing/hearing authors as that changes the image I have of them in my head).
The same post also linked to Read Russia, “a new initiative - based in Moscow, New York, and London - established to celebrate Russian literature and Russian book culture.  Through innovative programs, projects, and events supporting the English-language translation and publication of Russian works, Read Russia provides international audiences with fresh opportunities to engage - in person, on screen, and online - with Russia's literary leaders and heritage.” The site is offering for free a Read Russia Anthology containing “30 short works from Russia’s leading contemporary writers.”

Since one is only allowed to squee once in each post, I’ll have to sort of jump for joy at having downloaded this.
And to think, just earlier today I was considering emulating Scott Pack (because he is full of awesome) in reading one short story a day for a year, and then this comes along to provide me with enough material for a month.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma (4/5)

First published: 2010
Page count: 324

The back says: “You’ve always been my best friend, my soul mate, and now I’ve fallen in love with you too.
Why is that such a crime?”

She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen, gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future.

And now they have fallen in love. But... They are brother and sister.

I say: I cannot recall where I first heard about or saw this novel, but I knew that I wanted to read it out of that morbid curiosity I have, and even though I admittedly was very much uncomfortable during some parts, it was a learning experience.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

More than just two siblings falling in love, this is a story about Lochan and Maya who have to take care of their 3 younger siblings because their alcoholic mother prefers to go out partying. We alternate between their voices and the struggles they go through trying to juggle school, friends (Maya has some, Lochan has none), get money from their mother before she spends it, while making sure that social services don’t find out about their situation and breaks up their family. It is while depending on each other to make it all work that Lochan and Maya fall in love.
I consider myself a very open minded person, and I do believe that people should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt anyone. However, while reading this and taking part of Lochan and Maya’s justifications of their actions, I couldn’t help but question my own thoughts about incest. Personally, this is nothing I could ever dream of doing, but I did keep asking myself if it was my, or society’s, business what they were doing. Without getting too deep into all of this, one of the reasons I continue to torture myself read about topics that make me uncomfortable is to look at things from a different perspective and gain a deeper understanding of why people do certain things or behave in a certain way.

In short, I like literature that makes me think; and this made me think.
A lot.

Forgetting the incest, which isn’t all there is to this novel, I genuinely felt the vivid descriptions of Lochan’s anxiety attacks whenever he had to speak with anyone who wasn’t family. The same goes for the angst - it felt so real, so tangible. Suzuma is excellent at capturing the minutest details of emotions and everyday drama that I’m left in a state of awe at her wordsmithery (not a real word, I know). There were a few instances when the sentence structure seemed too mature and advanced, but that may just be my idea of how teens should speak.
So yeah, 4/5 because it was a great read with the type of ending that I absolutely relish. Saying what it is would be a serious spoiler, but even though I could see it coming, there is one little change in the end that I didn’t expect.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Queue by Vladimir Sorokin (5/5)

First published: 1983
Original title:

Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Sally Laird
Page count: 263

The back says: Over the last twenty-five years Vladimir Sorokin has established himself as a provocative and unignorable presence in contemporary Russian literature, and The Queue, his first novel, is now recognized as a modern classic. Sorokin’s brilliance – his formal daring, his keen eye and ear for the absurdities of life and language, his unequalled playfulness – is manifest in this sly comedy set during the late Soviet “years of stagnation.” Thousands of citizens are in line for... nobody knows quite what, but the rumours are flying. Leather or suede? Jackets, jeans? Turkish, Swedish, maybe even American? It doesn’t matter – if something’s for sale, it’s time to queue up. The endless line of expectant, irritable, inquisitive, bored but never less than determined people has a life and a will of its own and Sorokin, in a tour de force, conveys that life entirely through the ebb and flow of conversation. We get to know his characters as they joke and curse, flirt, fight over position in line, make love or break up, slurp down ice cream and vodka, run errands, fill out crossword puzzles, fall asleep and stand attention again when morning comes around and the queue – which may be as long as a life and as wide as the world – exercises its hypnotic hold.
I say: I found out about this perfection of a novel when reading Russian Postmodernist Fiction by Nina Kolesnikoff (which is brilliant, but since I don’t review academic literature on this blog, just take my word for it) while writing an essay, and promptly decided to order it, because a novel constructed by only dialogue must be explored.

And this was amazing.
The synopsis above sums it all up nicely and there isn’t that much to add to it; people standing in a queue for something and talk to each other during the wait while getting up to all sorts or random madness. At first we have no idea who is who, but slowly we start to recognise their different voices – and in some cases, even their names – and when that realisation hits it brings the novel to a higher level. It’s also the unpredictability of the plot that I loved about this, because prior to reading I was asking myself how much could really happen while standing in a queue.

Of course, I was disregarding the fact that this was a queue in Russia.
More than just the humour and absurdity of the plot, the reason I think this is a masterpiece is due to the social commentary of the entire novel; not just what the characters are saying (which, in itself, is very critical) but more specifically the way that the government treats the citizens. They’re queuing for something, but don’t know what, and as time goes by they leave the main queue to queue up for food, drinks, and what have you. Constantly certain that they’re close to the goods they’re not even sure they want, other people are bussed in and allowed to get serviced before them – foreigners, perhaps Swedish – and while the police tell them to keep quiet and stop fussing.

It’s all very disheartening.
But that’s where the humour comes in. As a fan of terse wit, this was such a delight I was laughing out loud a lot. Sometimes because someone told an actual joke or said something funny, but mostly because it was all so bizarre I just couldn’t help but laugh.

The one thing I have an issue with (and others with me, I have come to understand) is the translator’s usage of British English slang. Now, I do prefer my English British, but some of the wording, like “here's our cuppa” and “don't fancy that” was just illogical and I do hope someone removes that for future readers.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (4.5/5)

First published: 2009
Page count: 598

The back says: For the first time in six years, Jordan returns from California to Utah, to visit his mother – in jail. As a young boy he was expelled from his family’s secretive polygamous Mormon sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime.

Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, second Prophet of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how she battled for her freedom from her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, The 19th Wife expertly weaves together these two narratives in an enthralling epic of love, family, murder and faith.
I say: Goodness me, what a tour de force this was. I had trouble putting it down once I had started reading, and it was on my mind long after I finished. I have always been interested in religion, but since I lost my faith (I used to be Christian) I have been particularly fascinated with The Church of Latter Day Saints and Mormonism.
Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea.

Due to this I was rather excited to start reading The 19th Wife and I have to concede that I am really glad that I did. There is so much startling history in this novel that I was googling while reading to see how much was made up by Ebershoff and how much was based on actual events. As always with religion and history, it’s hard to discern what is true and what isn’t, but I’m not going to go into that not.

So, Jordan goes back to his hometown to see if his mother killed his father and, of course, soon starts to work on the case. He gets a runaway kid as a sidekick and even though a lot of the plot was unbelievable, it was fast paced and very intriguing to see how life in the polygamist village was depicted.

And then we have the autobiography of Ann Eliza Young (who I didn’t know was a real person) entitled Wife No. 19, in which we follow her life from 1844 until 1917 when she disappeared. I was so fascinated by these excerpts from the autobiography that I have downloaded it and will read it when the mood strikes me.
Finally there were some documents, letters, and even a fictional essay about Ann Eliza Young thrown in for good measure that annoyed me. Although I understand that Ebershoff wanted them in there to give answers to certain questions, the digressions were often tedious and took too much attention away from the two main plots. There’s a letter inserted from Ann Eliza Young’s son in which he goes on and on about watching dolphins at the shore while speculating on what happened to his mother.


I’m not sure what further to say about the novel other than that it is well-written and riveting. Even if one isn’t fascinated with LDS or Mormonism there’s enough about cult behaviour in here to interest everyone. The conclusion of the murder was very banal and I wish it had taken a different turn, although it wasn’t my first suspect I pride myself in the fact that it was my second suspect who did it.

As always, I was stupid enough to watch the film version of the novel and I will do everyone a favour by telling them not to see it. It’s terrible. Really bad acting all around, and the plot has been changed and ruined (which is stupid considering they even changed facts from Ann Eliza Young’s life, like making it so she had one child instead of two, and the number of women her father married). A travesty all around.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Svinalängorna av Susanna Alakoski (5/5)

Publiceringsdatum: 2006
Antal sidor: 259

Baksidan säger:
Leena har två bästa vänner. Åse är nästan den enda hon känner som inte har en pappa som super, men hennes mamma brukar bli full så det jämnar ut sig. Riittas pappa är full nästan varje dag.

Ett nybyggt bostadsområde i Ystad fylls på 60-talet av invandrarfamiljer och låginkomsttagare. För Leena och hennes finska föräldrar är den nya lägenheten höjden av lyx: tre rum, balkong, parkett. Av kommunen får kvarteret snart namnet Svinalängorna.

De brandgula trevåningshusen blir en samlande plats för Susanna Alakoskis roman om Leena, som klarögt och fartfyllt berättar om sig själv, sina föräldrar och grannar och alla de dråpliga och drastiska händelser som utspelar sig runt henne. Men skrattet fastnar i halsen när denna barndomsskildrings verkliga karaktär börjar skönjas. Leena, hennes syskon och vänner kastas i skrämmande ryck mellan perioder av skenbar ordning och fullkomligt kaos, och när boken är slut har vi tagit del av en skakande berättelse om klassamhälle och barns utsatthet och överlevnadskraft.

Jag säger: Nu har det gått några månader sedan jag läste ut den här, och trots att jag inte minns detaljerna så finns känslan kvar – och den är obehaglig men hoppfull. Den är berättad ur Leenas perspektiv från åldrarna 6 till 14, så det är genom ett barns oskyldiga ögon vi tar del av livet i Svinalängorna. Men eftersom Leenas föräldrar är alkoholister dröjer det inte länge innan oskyldigheten försvinner och tonen i berättelsen mörknar.

Det som jag minns mest är skammen som Leena känner över att ha alkoholiserade föräldrar, hur hon jämför sin tillvaro med sina kompisars och hur hon får ta vuxet ansvar vid så ung ålder. Men det är inte enbart misär utan även mycket humor och oväsentliga saker som barn gör och som fick Leena att glömma bort sin familj ett tag.

Alakoskis språk och beskrivningar är en viktig del av romanen. Hon förskönar inte någonting och därför känns det speciellt träffande när det presenteras ur ett barns perspektiv. Jag gillar även att det var finlandssvenska uttryck som användes vilket fick det att kännas mer autentiskt.

Kort och gott så kunde jag inte lägga boken ifrån mig förrän den var slut, och kommer säkert att läsa om den i framtiden.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Den Svarta Boken / The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk (2.5/5)

First published: 1990
Original title: Kara Kitap
Original language: Turkish
Translation to Swedish by: Jan Verner-Carlsson
Page count: 410

GoodReads says: Galip is a lawyer living in Istanbul. His wife, the detective novel–loving Ruya, has disappeared. Could she have left him for her ex-husband or Celâl, a popular newspaper columnist? But Celâl, too, seems to have vanished. As Galip investigates, he finds himself assuming the enviable Celâl's identity, wearing his clothes, answering his phone calls, even writing his columns. Galip pursues every conceivable clue, but the nature of the mystery keeps changing, and when he receives a death threat, he begins to fear the worst.

I say: I read this in Swedish for uni, so any comments about the language may be specific for that translation. And I have many comments about the language and the prose.
Quite frankly, this bored me all the way through.

I don’t particularly like detective stories and having to suffer through something I otherwise would have tossed to the side due to uni made me resent this.

A lot.
The composition in flawless, I have to give Pamuk that. And the plot itself is interesting. What I took issue with was that I couldn’t get into the prose. The narrator, Galip, was so full of contradiction and neurosis, and was just so annoying that I didn’t want to follow him on his search for his wife. And then we have newspaper articles written by his uncle Celâl strewn in every other chapter that I found to be dull and conceited. Yes, this was the way Celâl wrote, but I hated it.

There were a few passages about Istanbul’s history that I thought were fascinating, and they are the only redeeming parts of the novel. Because even though we spent a lot of time discussing the novel and what it meant – and I feel like I need to stress that it is a very well-written piece of literature that is apparently already a modern classic in Turkey - I can’t get over how much I struggled to get through it.
So, despite the fact that I usually hammer on about how I prefer a well-written book with less plot over a poorly written book with a great plot, The Black Book throws that notion out the window. But then again, just because I novel I well-written doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s written in a style that I enjoy. So yeah, not my type of literature and therefore I was never destined to like it, and I think 2.5/5 gives a good enough idea of how I feel about it.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (2/5)

First published: 1998
Page count: 193

The back says: On a chilly February day, two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly’s lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence. Clive is Britain’s most successful modern composer; Vernon is editor of the quality broadsheet The Judge. Gorgeous, feisty Molly had had other lovers, too, notably Julian Garmony, foreign secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister. In the days that follow Molly’s funeral, Clive and Vernon will make a pact with consequences neither has foreseen. Each will make a disastrous moral decision, their friendship will be tested to its limits, and Julian Garmony will be fighting for his political life.
I say: Well, this was a disappointing read. I’ve been hearing great things about McEwan, and Amsterdam, but I haven’t been in the mood to search him out, so finding this in a used book store was interpreted as a sign to give it a go.

Which I did.

With great effort.

This is a short read that somehow managed to bore me into thinking it was at least 500 pages. The inane details of Clive’s hike in the Cotswolds and his music, mixed with the tedium of Vernon’s newspaper career almost put me to sleep. But I laboured on, thinking that surely something spectacular is about to happen.

It didn’t.
I could see the end from miles way and it was such a disappointment I can’t even know what to say. I mean, really? You take us on this journey and have it end like that?

There isn’t much to say about McEwan’s prose; it shifted between pretentious and mundane, and there was far too much focus on describing things that felt irrelevant to the plot. A lot of it felt like fillers and at 193 pages it was still about 150 pages too long.

2/5 for this and I’m in no hurry to pick up any other of McEwan’s books, but if I stumble upon one, I’ll give it another go.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Gösta Berlings Saga by Selma Lagerlöf (4/5) [re-read]

First published: 1891
Page count: 437

says: The hero, Gösta Berling, is a deposed minister, who has been saved by the Mistress of Ekeby from freezing to death and thereupon becomes one of her pensioners in the manor at Ekeby. As the pensioners finally get power in their own hands, they manage the property as they themselves see fit, and their lives are filled with many wild adventures, Gösta Berling is the leading spirit, the poet, the charming personality among a band of revelers. But before the story ends, Gösta Berling is redeemed, and even the old Mistress of Ekeby is permitted to come to her old home to die.

I say: I read this in Swedish for uni, which was great because the version I had read of this in my teens wasn’t the full version. It has been translated into English a few times and is in the public domain, so one should be able to find it somewhere for free (Project Gutenberg doesn’t have it, and at the time of writing is acting weird and I can’t see).

The reason I’m writing the review in English is because I think this is so good I hope non-Swedish speakers pick it up. Of course, my comments on language may not be accurate for the translations, but whatever.

As much as I loved the language, and it was beautiful, lyrical and oftentimes poetic, Lagerlöf does have a tendency to overuse pathetic fallacies – which I don’t really mind, but they were everywhere. Lagerlöf’s prose is in the style of an old lady telling the story of a village to her grandchildren, and sometimes even addresses the reader with little commentaries on the plot and the characters. Usually I get annoyed with the overly familiar narrator, but Lagerlöf really makes it work.
Because there are so many characters in this novel, and because their lives entwine in such complex ways, it becomes difficult for me to properly retell what happens. Apart from Gösta Berling leaving his parish in fear of being publicly shamed and winds up at Ekeby where he and the other pensioners (a ragtag of old men who pretty much spend their days drinking, eating and partying) go about causing all sorts of mischief, everything else that happens gives a glimpse into village life in Sweden the end of the 18th century.

That is what made me love this; the simple, and all the same, complicated lives that are depicted.
Lagerlöf is one of Sweden’s greatest writers, and the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and although I’ve grown up hearing about her brilliance it’s nice to be able to re-read her works and form a personal opinion of them. I have more of her works on my shelves and hope to make it through her entire catalogue at some point.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (4/5)

First published: 1959
Page count: 182

The back says: Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House; Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Luke, the adventurous future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with chilling, even horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

I say: I don’t like thrillers or horror stories, so I am not sure why I even decided to buy this – let alone read it – but I managed to get through it, which is a triumph in itself. I have to admit, though, that I started reading it at night and had to give up and finish it during the day.

Yes, it freaked me out that much (but I am terrified of ghosts).

The plot was simple enough: four people go to a haunted house and mysterious things start happening that freak them all out – and me too. Then comes the surprise, but at the same time not so surprise, ending and I pat myself on the back for finishing the story and actually start looking at buying more of Jackson’s works.
It was that captivating.

The prose was very riveting and I scared myself half to death a few times. It’s been a long time since I read (or watched) any horror/thriller and maybe it’s just me being excessively anxious, but I thought this was a perfect haunted house story. It has been made into film twice, but I doubt that I’ll even watch any of them.

So, 4/5 because there were a few things about the plot and characters that slightly annoyed me and that I can’t address without spoiling the novel. I would like to read more of Jackson’s work – during the day, of course – because I really liked her way of slowly unfurling the story and then producing an end that was both expected and surprising.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Ransom by David Malouf (4/5)

First published: 2009
Page count: 224

The back says: In this exquisite gem of a novel, David Malouf shines new light on Homer's Iliad, adding twists and reflections, as well as flashes of earthy humour, to surprise and enchant. Lyrical, immediate and heartbreaking, Malouf's fable engraves the epic themes of the Trojan war onto a perfect miniature - themes of war and heroics, hubris and humanity, chance and fate, the bonds between soldiers, fathers and sons, all brilliantly recast for our times.

I say: I bought this before I had read the Iliad and then read it almost too long after having read the Iliad, leaving some of the storyline murky and uncertain, but I cannot decide if this was a good or a bad move. Perhaps it works on both levels, but I’d like to say it’s a requisite having read Homer’s version prior to reading this - at least books 16 to 24. It will make sense without it, but this adds more emotion and depth to the epic Greek poem.
When I read the Iliad last year I had some issues with the writing/translation and one of the reasons I loved Ransom was because the prose was so beautiful – almost poetic – that it erased all those previous issues and allowed me to marvel at the language and the story at the same time. Malouf truly brings the story to new heights for someone like me, who worships language, and not just with its beauty but also with its humorous aspects. I fell in love with Achilles before, and Malouf made me love him even more.

I’ve said that I will re-read the Iliad at some point (but with a different translation) and I hope I remember to re-read Ransom right after to savour it once more.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya (4/5)

First published: 2000
Original title: Kys –

Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Jamey Gambrell
Page count: 297

The back says: Two hundred years after civilization ended in an event known as the Blast, Benedikt isn’t one to complain. He’s got a job – transcribing old books and presenting them as the words of the great leader, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe – and though he doesn’t enjoy the privileged status of a Murza at least he’s not a serf or a half-human four-legged Degenerator harnessed to a troika. He has a house, too, with enough mice to cook up a tasty meal, and he’s happily free of mutations: no extra fingers, no gills no cockscombs sprouting from his eyelids. And he’s managed – at least so far – to steer clear of the ever-vigilant Saniturions, who track down anyone who manifests the slightest sign of Freethinking, and the legendary screeching Slynx that waits in the wilderness beyond.

I say: I first became aware of The Slynx when it showed up as a recommendation on GoodReads, and after trying to ignore it for a few months, I finally caved in and bought it (I have been trying not to buy new books, which is hard since the library only carries that many English books that I want to read). So, as soon as I received this I started reading, and to be honest, it was a very slow start for me. It took quite some time for me to get into Tolstayas prose, which felt awkward and clumsy with splashes of exceedingly academic language. I understand the need of describing the new Moscow, but it felt like so much was spent on description at the expense of the story.
I did have thoughts of saving it for later (mostly because I was looking for an easy read to take my mind off my essay), but I stuck with it and as soon as everything was explained, the plot moved along at such an exciting and intricate pace I couldn’t put it down.

The best part of the novel is that it surprised me with its diversion from the quintessential post-apocalyptic plot in which the protagonist has always felt that there’s something wrong with the world, decides to rebel and it all ends in some kind of glorious awakening and/or liberation of a large part of the people. In The Slynx, Benedikt does feel that there’s something wrong, but ignores it for the longest time. He continues copying texts supposedly written by Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe (and yes, they always said Glorybe after mentioning his name) and genuinely believes that Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe is the most intelligent man there is who only has the people’s interest at heart. Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe pretends to have created so many things, like the wheel, the yoke and Christmas (though it’s not called Christmas) which I found both laughable since I know that he’s deceiving his people, but also sad that they don’t know any better.
One very interesting aspect of the novel is that after the Blast a lot of the children that were being born suffered from various physical defects, known as Consequence. The people who survived the Blast have as a Consequence that they cannot die of old age, but of illness and the like, so there are people who are over 200 years old. They remember the time before the Blast and are treated with scorn because they question the current state of affairs and adhere to their old ways. And then we have the half-human four-legged beings known as Degenerators, whose jobs it is to drag the richer citizens’ troikas. They also remember the days before the Blast but it is never explained how they came about as they were regular human beings prior to the Blast.

And then we have the Slynx, a form of magical being that catches hold of the person who dares venture into the woods and somehow makes them insane. Everyone fears the Slynx, especially Benedikt, who throws himself into states of terrible distress every time he thinks he has been touched by it. I am not going to say anything more about the Slynx as that would be too spoilery, but... nah, I’ll just leave it at that.

All in all I really like the novel. It would have gotten a 5/5 if not for the incredibly slow start, but I’m glad I stuck with it and look forward to re-reading it again. Like I said, I was looking for a quick post-apocalyptic dystopian read, but this was so much more than that. There are so many Russian literary references that I was in literary heaven, writing down all the authors and works that I have never read or heard of. Because yes, reading books from the old days is banned and whoever possesses a book is visited by the Saniturions and then taken somewhere to be cured.

There are so many elements of literary awesome that it’s sort of understandable that it took Tolstaya 10 years to finish. She is a great grandniece of Leo Tolstoy so the pressure is expected. I will, of course, look into her other works that have been translated, which include a collection of short stories and a collection of essays on Russia.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Autoportrait by Éduard Levé (5/5)

First published: 2005
Original title:

Original language: French
Translation to English by: Lorin Stein
Page count: 117

The back says: In this brilliant and sobering self-portrait, Edouard Leve hides nothing from his readers, setting out his entire life, more or less at random, in a string of declarative sentences. Autoportrait is a physical, psychological, sexual, political, and philosophical triumph. Beyond sincerity, Leve works toward an objectivity so radical it could pass for crudeness, triviality, even banality: the author has stripped himself bare. With the force of a set of maxims or morals, Leve s prose seems at first to be an autobiography without sentiment, as though written by a machine until, through the accumulation of detail, and the author s dry, quizzical tone, we find ourselves disarmed, enthralled, and enraptured by nothing less than the perfect fiction . . . made entirely of facts.

I say: I fell in love with Levé when I read Suicide last year, and I cannot believe that it’s taken me this long to read Autoportrait. But, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait – and this wasn’t merely good,
it was pure perfection.

Just as it says in the synopsis, it’s a string of sentences about Levé’s life; his childhood, work, travels, friend and old lovers. Strangely enough, I didn’t read the synopsis before starting the memoir, so it was a bit of a shock to encounter sentences without an apparent logic behind them. But as I kept on reading I realized that the logic lies in its fragmentation. Chronology is all well and good, but memory rarely follows a timeline – at least not mine, and surely not Levé’s.
A lot of the sentences seem trivial, while others seem too significant to be reduced to a few words, and it’s this blend that makes for such a beautifully fluid memoir. I found myself lost nodding in agreement, blinking tears back and running my fingers across the page in a childish attempt to get closer to the text. When I had read the last sentences I wanted nothing more than to reach out and hug Levé, but since he is no longer alive, I’ll have to make due with re-reading his words.
“Fifteen years old will is always the middle of my life, regardless of when I die. I believe there is an afterlife, but not an afterdeath. I do not ask “do you love me.” Only once can I say “I’m dying” without telling a lie. The best day of my life may already be behind me.” – p 117