The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 28 July 2016

Mahasweta Devi, dies at the age of 90

Hello Gentle Reader

I came across Mahasweta Devi only recently, while beginning to do research for my annual Nobel Speculation list. It is always a real shame when in producing and researching the list, I know very few Indian writers, and am only capable of including an embarrassing amount of Indian writers on the list. I know when I came across Mahasweta Devi that I would be unable to include her on the list, because of her advanced age; however, I was immediately struck by the social conscious of the writer. Devi was spearheading movements about tribal life in India, and how the tribal cultures where continually on the brink of anthropological extinction in the every encroaching modern and information saturated world. It wasn’t just the tribal people Devi wrote most about, she also had a sympathetic and often empathetic view towards all people on the lower caste of the system, which often made her spokeswomen for equal rights. She openly said in a speech at the Jaipur literary festival, that all human beings had the divine right to dream. Publisher Urvashi Bhutalia told the BBC: “I would remember her as one of the most important writers in India because of the subjects she chose and remained faithful to them.” Devi indeed was a kind woman, who is known for remaining completely faithful to her chosen subjects of writing. She fought for equal rights for all human beings. She died earlier this week, from cardiac arrest, and multiple organ failure. India and the Bengali language, certainly lost one of its best writers.

Rest in Peace, Mahasweta Devi

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read


M. Mary

The Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist

Hello Gentle Reader

Last year’s Booker Prize went to the Jamaican writer Marlon James for his novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” The winning novel and writer, were quickly praised, and have further shut down the apprehension and trepidation of the Booker Prize including writers from America. This year’s longlist has been equally praised by critics, and touted by the judges, as continuing the tradition of the Booker Prize, with greater emphasis on literature being produced in the English language. The Longlist is as follows:

J.M. Coetzee – South African/Australia – “The Schooldays of Jesus,”
AL Kennedy – U.K. – “Serious Sweet,”
Deborah Levey – U.K. – “Hot Milk,”
Ian McGuire – U.K. – “The North Water,”
Wyl Menmuir – U.K. – “The Many,”
David Szalay – Canada/U.K. –  “All That Man Is,”
Madeleine Thien – Canada –  “Do Not Say We Have Nothing,”
Paul Beatty – U.S – “The Sellout,”
David Means – U.S – “Hystopia,”
Ottessa Moshfegh – U.S – “Eileen,”
Virginia Reeves – U.S – “Work Like Any Other,”
Elizabeth Strout – U.S – “My Name Is Lucy,”
Graeme Macrae Burnet – U.K – “His Bloody Project,”

On the above list there are:

5 writers from the U.K.
5 writers from the U.S.
2 Bi-national writers (J.M. Coetzee and David Szalay).
1 writer from Canada.

This years Longlist is unique for a few reasons. One is that U.K. and the U.S have the greatest amount of writer on the list, with five writers each (six for the U.K. if you include David Szalay). Also Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee makes another appearance on the Booker Prize longlist (and possible shortlist) with his newest novel “The School Days of Jesus.” Along with Peter Carey, J.M. Coetzee is the only writer, to have won the Booker Prize twice. Along with J.M. Coetzee, as a returning writer to have been placed on the longlist; Deborah Levy also returns with her novel “Hot Milk.” Levy was previously nominated for the prize in 2012 for her novel “Swimming Home.” AL Kennedy also makes it on the list, which comes to surprise when the former judge, over ten years ago called the prize in 2001: “a pile of crooked nonsense.” Yet now Kennedy is on the other end of the prize, and hopefully it has improved over the years. Elizabeth Stout, famous for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel “Olive Kitteridge,” – which was made into a wonderful mini-series for HBO; is also on the list with her new novel “My Name Is Lucy.” Perhaps one of the most interesting and surprise inclusions on the list is Graeme Macrae Burnet for his novel “His Bloody Project,” which has been described as a crime novel. But rest assured Gentle Reader, the Booker Prize judges state and proclaimed the novel had transcended the crime fiction genre.

At the end of the day Gentle Reader, thirteen novels, by thirteen very different writers. It will be unique to see what the shortlist will be, and who will be on it. This years shortlist, certainly follows for the most part, last year’s coattails, quite well, including a diversity of new talent alongside established writers.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Saturday 16 July 2016

The Hungarian writer Peter Esterhazy Dies


Hello Gentle Reader

The postmodernist chronicler of Hungary, Peter Esterhazy died last Thursday (July 14th) from pancreatic cancer. Esterhazy was a leading 20th century Hungarian writer, was known for his postmodernist chronicles that examined life in Communist Hungary. His most famous novel “Celestial Harmonies,” traces his aristocratic lineage of his family, from its rise during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to its displacement and dispossession under the communist regime. Two years later, Esterhazy released a companion novel to “Celestial Harmonous,” titled: “Revised Edition,” which featured an appendix of its predescessor, and also revealed the details of, Esterhazy’s father being an informant of the secret police. His writing style was known for its unique rhythm; described by “Reuters,” as a “stop-and-go rhythm,” where his books and style was more concerned with twists and surprises in the book, rather than a straight and linear narrative; this often meant personal experiences, sarcastic humor along with toilet humor, and direct quotations and references of other writers work, were to be found as hallmarks of his style. His last book to be published is “Pancreatic Diary,” in which case he writes about the disease, and its infected organ inside of him, alongside biographical sketches and vignettes. Despite the disease though, Esterhazy attended the Budapest Book Fair, and read from his latest and last book.

Hungarian literature has lost one of its great pillars of its unique language and literature. Esterhazy was a postmodernist writer, who would best be described as being quite in tune with the absurd nature of history, and its callous inability to discriminate against individuals, as it degrades the mighty and the unfortunate alike. His work is described as frustrating, yet rewarding; and it should come to no surprise that Peter Esterhazy was a highly speculated writer for the Nobel.

Rest in Peace Peter Esterhazy.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read


M. Mary

Thursday 7 July 2016

Morning and Evening

Hello Gentle Reader

Working nights, I have observed more sunsets, and sunrises; twilights and dusks, gradually blow out the candle of the day, and strike the match of dawn. The moon waxing to its fully illuminated self; and observer its silver light wane, to a sliver of a hangnail in the sky. The morning tweets of morning birds beaks; is more a goodbye, then a herald of a new day. Coffee is brewed, showers pour, beds are abandoned, and the morning rituals commence as normal, a cup of coffee is drunk, ties are tied, pants are secured with belts; shoes are next: it dress or high heel. Garages open, cars are started, and away they go. Some leave sooner than others, to beat the rush hour traffic; others choose in sleep ridden logic to stay in bed longer, and take their chances with the rush hour traffic. Yet, after a period of doing school work, reading a few chapters or a few stories from a collection, I slip into the cover of the womb, which has come to be my bed, and I fall asleep, just as the world is renewed with a bright new sense of vigor, and the mundane world commenced once again. Everything, throughout the day though, is condensed into these two pivotal moments, for the normal the regular life of an individual. The morning and the day, where they go to work, sit behind a computer, in a cubicle or an office; they engage in the everyday office politics, stemming from the water cooler itself or the coffee pot in the lunch room. Their superior, boss, manager, issues another new assignment, before the current one is even complete or near complete; and yet they are told, as they were told two weeks ago, in regards to their current project; that this assignment is very important and needs to be completed immediately, you may need to work longer hours or pull in a few weekends in order to see its completion. Then of course the question is raised: why do I do this; is this, what my life has come down to? The answer is fatalistic but correct: but of course this is what your life has come down to. Only later will it be condensed down to its ethereal ingredients, framed by memory and by ghosts, in which case you then have the ability to reflect on it further. You then have the ability to regret, to make arrangements, to go on with the old times as they were.

Jon Fosse is one of the greatest living playwrights in the world today. Yet one would be forgiven for not knowing either his name, or any of the names of his plays, currently being performed. As “The Guardian,” explains, despite Jon Fosse’s success, being one of Europe’s most performed playwrights, and translated into an forty languages; there is something alienating about his plays when they are adapted to the English stage. Many independent reviewers agree, it’s the best theatrical drama and performance they’ve observed in a long time; but many question and often lament, that they fail to understand the play. Though, the reviews are polite, they are muted, and the English speaking and viewing community, has been all but immune the charms of Fosse’s plays. Despite this though, he has been favorably compared Jon Fosse to both the great playwright Samuel Beckett, as well as Beckett’s successor, Harold Pinter. However, Jon Fosse is different than both of his predecessors. The absurdity of Beckett’s work, strives in and around a lack of communication, which rivals the absurdity of existence; a somewhat existential purgatory, with heavy comical undertones. Harold Pinter however, wrote with greater menace in his plays, where the lack of communication, was not the absence of speech, but rather too much communication, where two individuals communicated with extensive verbose dialogue, failing to see others point of view. This was however, until Harold Pinter became more reactionary and political leaning in his theatrical work. Yet, Jon Fosse remains completely separate and different then both of the other two playwrights. His work is a bit more, dark and brooding, with his plays often set in abstract spaces, but the fishing villages, the sea, the fjords; all make their appearances in his plays. For Jon Fosse though, what makes him far more unique and separate from both Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett; is his passion is not in plays and playwriting, or the theatre itself. For Fosse, his passion has always been (and remains) to be the longer prose form of the novel; and has since retired from writing plays to concentrate on his prose endeavors.

Though, primarily known for his plays, Jon Fosse’s great passion has been novels, and so far only four of Jon Fosse’s novels have been translated and published in English. They are: “Melancholia (I),” “Melancholia (II),” “Aliss at the Fire,” and “Morning & Evening.” However, Fosse’s famed trilogy will be released by Dalkey Archive Press by the end of the year. In “Morning and Evening,” Jon Fosse condenses the life of Johannes a fisherman between the two pivotal moments of his life. The first fifteen pages of the novel, deal with the birth of Johannes, from the perspective of his anxious father Olai. The rest of this short sweet novel is dedicated to Johanne’s and the strange day in which he wakes up, where he does not vomit first thing in the morning, and he feels lighter than normal.

The prose of “Morning and Evening,” is much like “Aliss at the Fire.” The syntax structure is long and winding; weaving in between the physical realities of the characters, and their internal memories. The prose takes acquaintance and adjustment; but after a foot hold has been grasped, the novel moves quickly. The first fifteen pages, discussing the birth of Johannes move haphazardly, and slightly awkward. The birth itself appears painfully slow, as Olai asks questions which waiver between terror and hope, of what will certainly await his new born son. The second part of the novel concerns Johannes more closely, as he awakes one morning, and finds himself lighter, and more capable of moving, as if he were young once again. Johannes begins to his daily routine. He has a cup of coffee, a morning cigarette (one of those rare few simple pleasures in which he indulges in), and has a piece of bread with slice of brown cheese, before setting off to inspect his bicycle, which again he comes to realize as he maneuver through the shed, that he is once again lighter then he recalls being as of late, only to discover that a tire on the bicycle requires his attention and needs to be repaired. In which case, Johannes slips off for a walk to the bay; and thus this miraculous day begins to take more surreal journey, as he ponders his way through his walk about his life with his wife Erna, who died a few years ago, and about his daughter Signe, his favourite child, who lives nearby and often stops by to say hello or phones every day. He recalls Peter his old friend, and how lonely everything seems now with him gone as well.

This new light filled day of Johannes is filled with memories, and they become more apparent to him, when he finds Peter down on the day, and will soon be heading out to collect his crab, and will be sure to deliver the finest of the bunch to young lady, who was a love interest of Johannes before he met and fell in love with Erna. The memories ebb and flow; coming in and departing once again. The ghosts Johannes past appear unexpectedly then evaporate, after a short visit. The day’s peculiarity becomes increasingly more dreadful for Johannes as more and more ghosts appears, and more and more memories evaporate, shortly after coming back into existence. As Peter says to Johannes:

“The sea doesn’t want you, he says
and Peter wipes a tear away
Now all that’s left is earth, Peter Says.”

This novel is filled with numerous biblical references and undertones, but they do not diminish the overall philosophical inquiring nature of the novel, in regards to life and death; however being able to spot them, scrutinize them, and understand while most certainly be a helpful understanding of the text, I am sure – perhaps more than which I grasped. The novel itself though, moved with the style in which Fosse has become famous for, the unpunctuated long stream of consciousness sentences, and the splintered dialogue (be prepared for a lot of ‘yes,’ to be spoken.). Yet, Jon Fosse executed an ethereal story about life and death, with understated precision, showcasing the pivotal moments of one man’s; both his birth and his eventual end, and all the memories, longing, sadness, regrets, and joys which are sewed into the fabric of a life. A short read, but its subject matter, betraying the deceptive page length the novel presents, where the ghosts and memories of Johannes haunt long after its been read, and shelved.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

Yves Bonnefoy Dies age 93

Hello Gentle Reader

Yves Bonnefoy was France’s pre-eminent post-war poet; to add to his resume though, he was also a translator of Shakespeare, and an art critic, in the vein of Baudelaire. Despite his humble roots and beginnings, Bonnefoy studied mathematics and philosophy, at the Sorbonne, and after World War II, traveled around Europe and the United States, and studied art history. During this time he was associated with the surrealists, whose influence was never long lasting and could only be seen on his first published collection. His breakthrough in poetry was the intimate “On the Motion and Immobility of Douve.” This breakthrough book showcased his mature and own style of poetry, a deceptive simplicity in its vocabulary. After the publication of “On the Motion and Immobility of Douve,” and the subsequent collections of poetry, Yves Bonnefoy would become France’s most prominent poet, and would be elected as the Chair of Comparative Poetics at the Coll├Ęge de France. Bonnefoy would also teach in Britain and the United States. Despite all of this though, Yves Bonnefoy would be seen by new readers as abstract and obscure in his poetic dealings, and yet remained unapologetic for his chosen form of writing, and for the way he wrote it. Yves Bonnefoy wrote, and revitalized French poetry after the Second World War, he was both a connoisseur, critic, and intellect when it came to language, poetry, philosophy and art; and will be remembered for his service to French poetry and its language. France has certainly lost one of its greatest keepers of the French language, and innovators of French poetry.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read


M. Mary