The Visitor by Maeve Brennan

thevisitor

Anastasia thought, She lived for those evenings. I knew she would say that. She lived for those evenings. It is pitiful. We are all just the same, and yet we go over and over our little lives time and time again, looking at each other and talking earnestly.

She listened earnestly. (p58-9)

Anastasia has returned to her childhood home in Dublin, the home of her Grandmother, the formidable Mrs. King. Her parents are both dead, her mother recently so. She hasn’t been home in six years after leaving to join her mother who fled Dublin, her husband and his family for Paris.

Anastasia does not receive a warm welcome. The grandmother is as mean and pinched a person as you can imagine, wielding silence and propriety to passive aggressive perfection, determined to be left alone to mourn her son. Quietly manipulative, she has orchestrated her life around her son and Anastasia’s mother, hence Anastasia herself, were and remain intruders, visitors, who never belonged. Any hope of bringing her mother’s body back from Paris or of living peacefully in her childhood home will be dashed. Continue reading

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz translated by Adrian Nathan West

theweightofthings

I don’t know what I expected from The Weight of Things, but what I got was something entirely unexpected and powerful. I feel ashamed that this is the first time I’ve read Marianne Fritz. It seems, somehow, sadly entirely typical that a body of work written in a language other than English and by a woman, should remain outside of the canon of someone, like me, who has spent my entire adulthood studying, reading and writing literature. If this is how it is now, how will it be when we move further from Europe? More than ever, the work of the translator is essential. We need to hear voices that don’t speak quite like our own.

The Weight of Things was the first published book of the Austrian author, Marianne Fritz, who has been called by some a female Joyce – an ambiguous accolade. Apparently, her work after The Weight of Things becomes untranslatable as it fleshes out into diagrams, maps, paragraphs created around single letters, manuscripts so complex they were printed direct from the original copies. The thought is an enticing one for me and leads to a further sense of shame in my own lack of linguistic ability.

To return to the work in hand, The Weight of Things is a slight volume that eases you in with a portrait of an embattled marriage only to take you into the heart of a world weighed down by thought and reflection. So intense is Berta’s contemplation of her children and her desire for them to be unburdened of her and the difficulties of making one’s way in the world, that unending sleep seems their only option and she the only one who can take them there. Continue reading

The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

bookofharlan

The Book of Harlan is exactly that and more. It tells the story of a man named Harlan from his very beginnings, including the history of his parents, until 1973. As we follow his story through the musical heights of Harlem in the 1920s and 30s, into the Second World War and beyond, we are exposed to a host of characters who fill Harlan’s life.

Harlan is not a lone character, but a man connected to family and friends, to his work, his country and the wider world. You cannot read about Harlan without reading about the history of the first half of the 20th Century. But instead of reading a history so many of us have read before, this is history from the perspective of a black American. Continue reading

Closing His Eyes by Luay Hamza Abbas

ClosingHisEyes

Closing His Eyes is a collection of short stories from the famous Iraqi writer, Luay Hamza Abbas. This was the only book I could find of his that was translated into English. Whilst I am very grateful to Yasmeen Hanoosh for translating these stories, as a flavour of the original prose seems to linger in the meanderings of the characters who half inhabit the new world emigrated to and yet remain in Bazra, their eyes unable to forget violence that has become everyday, I still found the language confusing and feel certain the work is not yet fully translated into English. Responding to the stories therefore, becomes difficult and frustrating. I can feel their particular style, their vision, hovering underneath the ambiguous English.

Perhaps this is not so terrible a thing. I felt as if I had been situated within the liminal space many of the characters seemed to inhabit. Life was going on around me, narrative was taking place, but I was standing apart from it, unable to move beyond the vividness of certain violent moments, or the aching of loss for a familiar face or city. Continue reading