Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy, trans. by Tim Parks

There is nothing sweet about this novel. Though it is a short and quick read, every word resounds with a silent echo that makes the clean, sharp prose searing and intense.

Set in Switzerland, the narrator speaks of her time at various boarding schools and of one friend at a certain school in particular: Frédérique, a clever, beautiful girl who keeps her distance from the others. The narrator wants Frédérique for her own. Continue reading

Fire on the Mountain by Jean McNeil – Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Fire on the Mountain is a formidable novel. Like a mountain itself it is daunting and alluring. It stands loudly in the landscape, crying to be made sense of, the air thinner at its summit, more rarified, the winds harsh against it. The writing is searing and fierce, though even the most minutely explored character has a complexity that allows for empathy whether we like them or not. To summarise the novel, is to diminish it because it is about much more than the plot, but I’m going to give you a brief sense anyway (no spoilers you don’t get from the back cover, I promise). Continue reading

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Eighteenth Century London, whores, merchants and mermaids; The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock has them all and knows how to play each part to create a beautiful symphony. The language is rich and unguent. The characters full of emotions and desires.

Sometimes you open a book and feel certain of where it is headed, but The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock takes surprising roads in its exploration of the different strata of London. We follow one young mixed race girl as she rejects notions of a black brotherhood. We are confronted by the anger of shipbuilders not paid properly for their honest work that supports a whole Empire of trade. And we see the scope of women’s lives in the poor and new middle-classes. Continue reading

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen, trans. by Don Bartlett

I really enjoyed being immersed in the natural world of The Unseen. Island life off Norway’s coastline back in the 20th Century – though it could almost be anytime – is a delicate balance of resources, humans against animals, crops, the ocean and the weather. The blowing of the wind, the changing of the seasons, the softness of the eider down plucked from the eider ducks that nest beneath their front step, these things have a texture and smell, a visceral life that ensnares the reader. Continue reading

I am the brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy

The stories of this collection are undoubtedly precise. In their concision an air of disdainful melancholy hangs over the prose as if the terrors of ordinary life are too mundane to speak of and yet they must still be spoken of. Boredom, loneliness, sleeplessness, loss, all squirm under the surface of the characters who try so hard to make sense of it all that anger, violence or simple disinterest result.

Having only just finished reading the collection, I feel I must turn to the beginning and start again. There is an aesthetic quality, a vision that entices and repels me; it’s almost like learning the nuances of a new language: it takes study. Continue reading

Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams

As the title suggests, Attrib. and other stories is a collection of works that delights in examining and redefining the often surprising characteristics of people and things, particularly in terms of their etymology. Many of the stories echo with birdsong, and many burn with the intensity of emotions associated with falling in and out of love. They reexamine the periphery of events, so that saying goodbye to a loved one is set against the simultaneous loss of a man’s toupé caught up by the wind and blown into someone else’s face (‘Platform’), or the view of another goodbye scene is reimagined through the witness of a spider in the corner of the room (‘Spins’).

Perversely, because this story is not typical of the collection given that it isn’t in first person and doesn’t overtly play with words, my favourite story of book is ‘Spines’. It’s about a family who discover a hedgehog in the pool of their French holiday home. Their life is lived around the creature’s struggle to survive. Continue reading

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Lina is a writer and PhD student from Chile, living in New York. The book opens as the veins in Lina’s eyes hemorrhage. An event long dreaded from childhood, the incident leaves her blind, but for how long?

Seeing Red follows Lina as she waits to see if she will ever see again. Looking through her fingers, her writing so reliant upon those fingers to shape it, Lina complains that she can’t write if she can’t see. And as the days and weeks go on who can she rely on? Her relationship with her parents is complicated by the history of her illness and the guilt and resentment it generates. Her relationship with her boyfriend is now equally fraught. Whose eyes can she now see through? Who will give her their eyes? Continue reading

Autumn by Ali Smith

Daniel is sleeping in his bed at the care home. He is slowly making his way closer to death.

Elisabeth, a girl who used to live next door, whom Daniel babysat and inspired while Elisabeth’s mother went on dates, discovers his care home is not far from where her mother now lives and comes home more and more often to visit Daniel, pretending to be his granddaughter, waiting patiently for him to wake. Continue reading

First Person by Richard Flanagan

Kif is desperate to be a writer. Taking odd jobs and shift work, he spends every last minute scribbling or tapping away at an old computer in the tiny spare room regardless of his baby daughter and pregnant wife. Unsurprisingly, the lack of money begins to press heavily upon them.

Then Kif’s old childhood friend, Ray, gets him a job ghostwriting the autobiography of Ziggy Heidl the notorious Australian fraudster. The chance to be spoken of as a writer, but mainly the offer of a large sum of money, takes Kif from Tazmania to Melbourne into the frustrating world of Heidl whose stories play upon the sympathies of the listener, encouraging them to create their own version of Heidl’s past, one which hangs upon a few cleverly chosen but mundane words that fail to withstand any historical scrutiny. Continue reading

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Elmet is a beautifully written novel. There is an atmosphere that draws you in, a sense of being in and of the landscape that feels both gritty and timeless, putting human beings onto a level with the animals and foliage of England’s wooded land. At the centre of this wood are Daniel and his sister, Cathy.

Daniel and Cathy haven’t had a stable upbringing. Their father and mother move in and out of their lives and they are cared for mostly by their grandmother. When she dies and their mother has moved out for last time, their father pledges to stay with them always and to build them a home where they’ll be safe. A home, it turns out, in the woods on land that once belonged to their mother.

Divided between an italicised account in which Daniel searches for a her that you soon realise is Cathy, and an account of the events that led him to this search, there is a taut line of telling that flexes over the bones of a story about relationships between people, land, family, community and society. It is bleak and it is raw – drawing attention to those who live at the edges of official society, those who are poor and easily exploited – but it is also thoughtful and articulate, weaving a kind of magic of the faery tale into the modern world. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read it and let me know what you think.

Next week I’ll be reading First Person by Richard Flanagan.