July 2019 | Books & Links

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Wednesday 31st July 2019

Fiction

Journey by Moonlight – Antal Szerb

With a long wait on my reservations list and nothing to read, I picked up Journey by Moonlight at the end of June whilst browsing the stacks at the library. I recognised the cover style to be Pushkin Press (cloth bound hardback editions with interesting illustrations) and, without a synopsis on the cover or inside, took a chance on it. I binge-read the Pushkin Press editions of Zweig’s back catalogue in December and January, and so my decision was based on the knowledge that Pushkin publish well translated European classics.

Journey by Moonlight reminded me of much of Zweig’s work. Set in the inter-war period, the story opens with Hungarian newlyweds Mihaly and Erzsi on honeymoon in Italy. The surprise arrival of a childhood friend at dinner one night triggers Mihaly to tell Erzsi about events that took place during his teenage years. On a train through Italy a few days later, Mihaly steps off for coffee at a station and reboards the wrong train, thus abandoning Erzsi and embarking on a journey fuelled by nostalgia and self-discovery.

I found the start and end of the book compelling, but my attention drifted a little in the middle. Perhaps it’s a result of the sheer volume of Zweig I read six months ago but I just didn’t have as much of an appetite for melodrama (love, nostalgia, a preoccupation with suicide).

Autumn – Ali Smith

I’m wary of hype and hyperbole, especially when it comes to authors who write zeitgeist and/or very experimental novels. Ali Smith’s first three installments of her Seasonal Quartet have all received rave reviews and appeared on many a ‘must read’ list in recent months so I’ve been aware of them but, knowing that her work is highly experimental, non-linear and stylised, I hadn’t felt compelled to check them out at the library. With a gap in my reading my curiosity eventually got the better of me, and I borrowed ‘Autumn’ promising myself that I’d keep an open mind.

Ali Smith wrote ‘Autumn’ very quickly during the summer of 2016 following the UK’s referendum on EU membership and ‘Autumn’ is billed as the first ‘Brexit’ novel. With a split narrative that switches back and forth between Daniel, a 101 year old man dying in a care home and Elisabeth, a 32 year old academic who struck up a friendship with Daniel when she was a child, ‘Autumn’ is filled with reflections on life in contemporary Britain. While Brexit does come up, the novel isn’t really about Brexit. More than being a single issue novel, Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn’ describes the mood in the UK in the immediate aftermath of the vote, and the concerns and fixations of different communities and generations.

There are long, stream of consciousness dream sections that I didn’t enjoy all that much, interspersed with beautiful, lyrical prose and razor sharp observations of everyday life in Britain. It’s these sections that I enjoyed the most, and for which I persisted through the parts of the story concerned with the life and work of Pauline Boty and Christine Keeler / the Profumo Affair which I didn’t find as interesting. I enjoyed ‘Autumn’ enough to pick up the next two installments of the series, too. I’m glad I kept an open mind.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ is a strange book. Despite the title, it’s not about vegetarianism. The story begins with the decision by an otherwise quiet housewife to stop eating meat, something which is very unusual in South Korea. It’s hard to describe this book without giving too much away. In short, the housewife’s decision to stop eating meat, and stop eating much of anything at all, has a series of unexpected knock on effects for her wider family, acting as the trigger for the established order of life to fall apart. I wasn’t expecting ‘The Vegetarian’ to be as dark as it is and I really struggled reading certain parts of the story as it is pretty harrowing.

Graphic Novels

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Finally, a Neil Gaiman book (other than Norse Mythology) that I enjoyed. It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland but creepier. Still, I think I’m done with Gaiman. I’ve explored enough of his back catalogue without success, I just don’t like his flavour of horror.

Shortcomings – Adrian Tomine

I reserved this at the library months ago, and had forgotten about it when it came through. It was a quick read and quite good, but I didn’t really like the main characters all that much, with the exception of Alice.

White Rapids – Pascal Blanchet

A very quick read, as the writing is brief and it is mostly artwork. White Rapids is based on the true story of the rise and fall of an energy town built around a hydroelectric dam in Canada. I liked the art style but thought that the typography was all over the place for such a short graphic novel.

Articles & Links

A four part documentary about Studio Ghibli illustrator Hayao Miyazaki. I find it fascinating to see how successful film directors, photographers, artists, illustrators and other creatives go about their work. This documentary is extra special as the filming took place over ten years. I sometimes feel like I’m not producing work fast enough, and I’m often impatient to finish filming and get my work out in the world. This documentary is a good reminder that sometimes the best stories take time in the telling.

An article in the Guardian following a day in the life of an icecream van man.

An article, published back in January 2018, about the difficulties and responsibilities faced by a translator when translating fiction. The article is about the translation from Korean to English of Han Kang’s work.

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