This is the first English translation, published in January 2017, of the famous Dutch novel. It is a novel about boredom – tedium – monotony – ennui. You’d think that with such a subject the book would be, well, boring. It isn’t. Remember the TV series Seinfeld? Pretty much nothing happened in each episode, yet, it was entertaining. Seinfeld is often described as being “a show about nothing”, since many of the episodes written by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld are about the minutiae, the small humdrum matters, of daily life. It’s same in this book. As author Tom McCarthy explains in an article about his favourite books in which nothing happens, the lack of an exciting plot, “creates the perfect blind spot in which a hundred events can take place, and everything can be said.” Continue reading
Madam, I’m afraid he’s come down with a bad case of Trolls
If you’ve never imagined that trolls are an actual “thing” to people in Scandinavian countries, read this. Honest to Pete, you will come to believe this troll is as real as your dog or, more disconcertingly, your husband or wife. It is haunting, marvellous, and really refreshingly different, and confronts the reader with questions about the nature of love and alienation. It is no fairy-tale, nor is it a fantasy, though it is about a troll. A troll is a class of being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore, classified somewhere between a smart animal and a cave-dwelling humanoid. Despite today’s globalized world of connected technologies and electronic media, there are ancient folkloric beliefs that are alive and well in Iceland, for instance. Surveys show that more than half the nation believes in elves and “hidden people”, elf-like “Huldufólk” who live amongst the lava rocks, or at least don’t deny their existence since it is considered bad luck to do so.
Similarly, there are people in Finland who believe that trolls are real – or just want to believe trolls are real. Every country in the world has its mythical beings, and so long as people have story-telling and imagination, that will continue, helped along by mass communication and imaging methods. The Finns, in particular, have trolls. Continue reading
Here is the last part in a series of four posts on the subject of fan fiction versus copyright rules. Now it’s the turn of the famous children’s book, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which is still copyrighted but has nevertheless been a frequent subject for fan fiction, adaptations, sequels and parodies. Argentine poet Alejandro Roemmers has written a fan fiction sequel to it, called The Return of the Young Prince, which will be published in English in hard cover later this year. I suggest you think of it as Roemmers’ gift to the world, say thank you kindly, and leave it at that. If you want to know how it compares to the original, read on. Continue reading
Sjón: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Reader of Sjón. Her current mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Reader has gone before. Apologies to the writers of Star Trek, in this, its 50th anniversary year, but this is what reading the novels of Icelandic author Sjón is like. The first American edition of Sjón’s novel Moonstone – The Boy Who Never Was, was published earlier this year. While I read it, I often wondered just how it is possible for someone to express so precisely, in such visually compelling language, such foreignness, not only to readers not from Iceland, but also probably for readers from Iceland. It is in English, capably and truthfully translated by Victoria Cribb, but at the same time it is a journey into places, minds, characters, mores and subjects that I had never before encountered in a novel.
Hard to read but worthwhile reading
Some books are hard to read and hard to finish. It could be because of obscure references, bad editing, bad translation, weird printing, etc. But I’ve recently got through two novels that were hard to read and to finish because of the style in which they were written. One is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in which it is literally the language that is the problem – it might as well have been partially written in Klingon for all I understood of it when I read it the first time. Another problem was the subject – it is about immigrants and the persistence of their culture even in their new life, like invisible hands pulling them back to their homeland. The specifics, that of the Dominican Republic, were completely foreign to me until I read this. However, by the time I got it, three, four readings later, the poetry of Junot Díaz’s English/Spanish had completely infused my mind.
Tomorrow’s review: the flipside of this argument; Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights by Salman Rushdie. Watch this space. Continue reading
Halloween is around the corner, and what with the silly dressing up and tricking and treating, here are two books that give real meaning to all things grim and deathly. Death is a difficult subject to write about, but particularly when it is not coincidental but core to a book’s theme or plot. I’ve (re)read two books recently that are about death: One, Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man, has death as a subject, a character, and as a major theme. The other, Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened of, has death as a major theme, and the author’s own death as a subject. Now let these authors open up the creaking door to the vault of your sub-consciousness where your fear of death lurks in unspeakable obscurity. Which is much scarier than ghosts and ghoulies.
Review of The Unfixed Stars, by Michael Byers
And photos of Pluto this week
Looking at the pictures of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons space probe reminded me of the excellent novel about the discovery of Pluto, The Unfixed Stars, by Michael Byers. I was quite surprised at such poetical, impassioned writing in a novel about astronomy and mathematics. It made me look at the night sky with a renewed sense of wonder. But now that I’ve seen the pictures that New Horizons has sent back, the first detailed pictures humans have ever seen of Pluto and its five moons, I understand why celestial objects evoke passion and expressions of awe in people – and why Byers’ wrote like he did. His novel – which I highly recommend – depicts the suspenseful search for Planet X, the 9th planet in the solar system, a story based on actual events that are stranger than fiction. Continue reading