The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 27 April 2017

In the Café of Lost Youth

Hello Gentle Reader

Family, friends, co-workers, strangers: they all have the most audacious and asinine ability at their disposal. With thoughtless arrogance, they reserve the right to appear and disappear from one’s life without a reason to be given. They can come; and they can go. In and out. Through the door and out the window. It doesn’t really matter at any point. Sometimes they blow in like a spring breeze; while others burst through the doors like a summer whirlwind; or howl at you like a winter blizzard. It is the most threatening prospect of the concept of relationships though, how easily one is in it, and how easy they are capable of excusing themselves from it. Each of us are a sun in our own solar system, and passes through the solar systems of others, like planets behaving as asteroids, continually filled with wanderlust, eclipsing and replacing those who recently departed. All the while, others trespass and excuse themselves for disturbing us in our own self-absorption. The trouble with all this is, there is no real focal point in which we can retrace our steps. Once it’s extinguished, reigniting an old flame is as about as successful as breathing on the moon. On such matters each of us resign ourselves to the emotional fallout, as for the greatest of moments we think we are about to implode, due to the nuclear reactions of the emotional nature. Yet casually, we spin about on our axis of absorption, greeted and left with: ‘hellos,’ and ‘goodbyes.’ In any case, we pass through the interpersonal cosmos with similar devastating and fortunate greetings and passing’s. Relationships, or rather the desire of human connection is a virulent disease of desire, in which all individuals are afflicted with; and all individuals suffer it. Yet we rinse and repeat and move on ourselves.

Patrick Modiano has been referred to as one of the most important post-war French writers at work. Despite this, Modiaono bears no resemblance to other post-war writers such as: Claude Simon, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Francis Pong, and Alain Robbe-Grillet, among many others. Yet, Modiano is not a writer of grand epics or historical blockbusters. His work is not saturated in extensive historical research, with bibliographies taking up as much room as the actual novel itself. Rather, Modiano’s work is plain and understated in style and prose. While his themes deal with the elusiveness of time, the melancholy of memories, the displacement of place, and the casual and widespread amnesia and oblivion of guilt and compliance. On an individual or personal level, his themes range from the alienation of an individual, to their dislocation of identity in relation to their surroundings. This may stem from Patrick Modiano’s displaced childhood and youth; which has been described as a tragedy of sorts. Modiano’s father, Albert, was an Italian man of Jewish descent (Sephardic Jewish descent to be exact) who during World War II refused to wear the yellow Star of David to mark him as Jewish; it was during this time he met Louisa Colpeyn a Belgian (Flemmish) actress; and the two had a semi-clandestine relationship. Albert, was rounded up though during the Paris occupation, and was only saved from an end at a concentration camp thanks to the intervention of a friend. It was during this time, Albert would do business on the black market—specifically speaking with the Carlingue gang (who make specific reference in “Suspended Sentences,”) proxy agents to the French gestapo. The leaders of this group were recruited form the French underground. The relationship with Louisa and Albert was doomed to end, and did end at the birth of Patrick. After the War, both of Modiano’s parents were absent in his life: his mother on tour, and his father on matters pertaining to business. In their absence, Modiano was raised by his paternal grandparents on his mother’s side, who taught him to speak Flemish as his first language; and during this time he would become closer with his younger brother Rudy. Upon reaching age, Patrick Modiano was sent to boarding school after boarding school; until tragedy struck when Rudy was nine (or ten) years old, and the young brother died of illness. Modiano recalls being picked up by his father, and being informed of his brother’s death, which would become a hallmark tragedy on the writer’s youth. The abandonment, alienation, displacement, and strained relationship with locations of memory and contemporary present, as well as a desire for human contact, and the incompetency to engage in the warmth of another human being, can all be found in Modiano’s work; and to small degrees reflect the lukewarm atmosphere of Modiano’s early life.

In his novel: “Out of the Dark,” there is a quote:

“We had no real qualities, except the one that youth gives to everyone for a very brief time, like a vague promise that will never be kept.”

This quote still resonates with me. It’s a great depiction of youth: how it misspends its time, it lacks any definitive character or experience; and is completely oblivious to the realities which will come to shape it its character, mold its mind and define its being. Until then though, the qualities of youth are brief, and glorious; shrouded in a haze of glowing nostalgia, but ensnared in gossamer which deceives the reality of the past in comparison to the present. Everything always looks more enticing and delicious in hindsight—because the work is already done; and as per usual conveniently one forgets the mess made to reach the end result. The quote is also a unique summary of the lost youth, which drifts and radiates through Modiano’s novel “In the Café of Lost Youth.” Despite a decade difference between their publication dates (“Out of the Dark,” published originally in 1995 and “In the Café of Lost Youth,” appearing in 1997) they are more sibling like then they are different; though only by thematic elements and connections. As in most of Patrick Modiano’s work his novels are continual doors leading to a new room or wing in a never ending house or run down hotel; where the remnants of his ruined characters essence lingers, by the objects of their departure, such as a blue ether bottle, ballet shoes, faded photographs, or simply an open window eluding to the unfortunate, the imagined, and the all but tragic.

“In the Café of Lost Youth,” is one of Patrick Modiano’s more unique novels; as it is his first (and to my knowledge) the only novel in which he employees multiple perspectives to narrate the novel. Besides the divergence in his literary format, Modiano’s novel progresses much in the same manner: an ambiguous relationship with time, an ambivalent association with memories, a displacement of landscape and location, and of course the lurking threat of danger, which never truly arises.

The novel itself revolves around a café ‘Le Condé,’ and its eccentric and eclectic clientele and patrons; superficially though it focusses on the haunting and elusive young woman, nicknamed Louki, who drifts into the café, and sits down with the locals, but does not participate in their conversations. Her wafting and waif like nature, often make her a point of conversation and desire. Throughout the novel, Louki is the focal point, specifically pertaining to questions of who she is, where she came from, and what is her story. Three men and Louki herself narrate the events of the novel, and through the melancholic tour of postwar Paris in the 1950’s/1960’s we come to learn her story and her own place within it. Despite the admiration, desire, and herself being the topic of speculation and conversation, she eludes being understood and caged—which only makes her personal mythology grow.

Through three different perspectives, and her own, we begin to understand what transpires in one’s life to truly shape their identity. Louki – or Jacqueline Delanque (a familiar name to those seasoned with Modiano’s personal flavours of streets and names) – grew up with an absent and nameless father, and her mother was poor, working as an usher in the famous Moulin Rouge. Louki (or Jacqueline) would spend her childhood wandering the neighbourhood and exploring its gloomy alleys, and hidden histories. Yet, like all youth born of transient circumstances, Louki finds herself walking down a path to ruin. Her friendship with a certain Jeannette Gaul would be an upstart of excitement, but would lead Louki’s life to its present situation of existential ennui, postwar disenfranchisement, and youthful lack of direction. Through the second narrator, a private investigator hired by her husband to find out about her disappearance, we learn about Louki’s desire for escape or some sort of revelation to awaken her. Safe to say she never truly realizes this. Its Roland though the final narrator of the novel, who may or may not be Modiano’s stand in—does his best to understand Louki; though he obsesses about the Parisian ‘neutral zones,’ dark matter, and all sort of physic, philosophical astrological curiosities.

At the end of the novel Louki remains an unknown and elusive creature, who wafts and drifts through the personal solar systems of the patrons of ‘Le Condé.’ She is admired, desired, sought after, speculated and discussed – yet all the while remaining completely unknown and even untouched by her fellow clients and patrons. “In the Café of Lost Youth,” Patrick Modiano returns to his well weathered themes and motif’s, the aimlessness of youth, and how youth is the focal point in which ones character is shaped and developed; and at times even destroyed. It’s a literary road map of a Paris not well traversed or discussed, one filled with starving artists, rebellious bohemians, and the aimless youth looking for the ecstasy and adventure of life—in the end though all that awaits any of them is: disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement and disenchantment. Reality is always a coarse pill to swallow in comparison to our dreams.

Much like all of Patrick Modiano’s novels, more questions are always asked then answered. The pleasure of reading a Modiano novel is how information just rises and is divulged in its atomized and fragmented format. “In the Café of Lost Youth,” employee’s different narrators, to offer a variety of information, which may contradict the information already presented, simply because the perspective itself is different. Unfortunately I found the novel, not as moving as Modiano is capable; but this may also stem from the fact that I read the book on and off, over the course of weeks, rather than settling down and devouring it in a single sitting. In the end Modiano portrays youth, childhood, society and location, as the defining environmental incubators, which shapes individuals we become. I look forward to returning to “In the Café of Lost Youth,” down the road and at such time reading it in one sitting.

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

M. Mary

Friday 21 April 2017

Man Booker International Prize 2017 Shortlist

Hello Gentle Reader
Hot on the heels of the Best Translated Book Award finalists, the Man Booker International Prize has now released this year’s final candidates for the award—in other words (or in a way to quote my mother): “Double Trouble,” my Dear Gentle Reader.

List below Gentle Reader is this year’s shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize for 2017, in no particular order.

David Grossman – Israel – “A Horse Walks Into a Bar,”
Roy Jacobsen – Norway – “The Unseen,”
Mathias Enard – France – “Compass,”
Samanta Schweblin – Argentina – “Fever Dream,”
Dorthe Nors – Denmark – “Mirror, Shoulder, Signal,”
Amos Oz – Israel – “Judas,”

There it is Gentle Reader this year’s finalists for the Man Booker International Prize. In comparison to the Best Translated Book award shortlist, the Man Booker International Prize’s final list of candidates, is considerably more condescended and manageable—this is both a positive and a consequence; the greater the options the greater the ability for a nice surprise and diverse discussion of who the winner should be; but to many names in the hat, means more convoluted conversations must take place, in order to reach the inevitable and immediate conclusion, set out in the time line. This year’s Man Booker International Prize, lacking the eccentric, eclectic and exciting diversity the Best Translated Book Award possessed; then again the Man Booker International Prize (much like its parent prize the Booker Prize) has always been known for having its conservative literary leanings. For example on this year’s Best Translated Book Award shortlist, Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano and two time winning author László Krasznahorkai were omitted from the shortlist, in favour of others, such as Boubacar Boris Diop and Ananda Dev; in contrast with this year’s Man Booker International prize, two seasoned and well known international authors make it onto the shortlist: David Grossman and Amos Oz. It was disappointing to see some authors and their works dropped from the initial list, such as: Wioletta Greg and her work “Swallowing Mercury,” and Jon Kalman Stefansson: “Fish Have No Feet.” Despite the compare and contrast, it should be noted, both awards are governed by different polices and regulations, in to what qualifies for the award. It is obvious that the Man Booker International Prize is strictly stringent in its eligibility for nomination, in comparison to the Best Translated Book Award.

If it is one aspect which can be gathered from the two awards; it is Argentina is entering the literary map with greater quality work, as Samanta Schweblin debut in English “Fever Dream,” has been described as hallucinogenic, feverish and brilliant—it should also be noted, “Fever Dream,” is the shortest novel on this year’s shortlist, and   Samanta Schweblin is also the youngest nominated writer. If “Fever Dream,” were to win, it would go on to show short novels, can pack a far greater punch then the doorstop novels, some writers continue to write; as well be another feather in the cap of the independent publisher Oneworld, who had published and promoted two other high profile winning writers for the Booker Prize: Marlon James, “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” and Paul Beatty “The Sellout.”

For now though Gentle Reader, there is this year’s finalists for this year’s Man Booker International Prize.

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

M. Mary

Tuesday 18 April 2017

The Best Translated Book Award Finalists 2017

Hello Gentle Reader

This year’s Best Translated Book Award, is as eccentric, eclectic and exciting; as to be expected from the award. The longlist of twenty five novels and ten poetry collections was diverse which strengthened the awards objectives and mission. No two novels were alike. The themes were wide ranging and human in universal appeal; which allowed for the list to be a unique quilt and patchwork of languages and styles. The following is this year’s shortlisted works of fiction in no particular order:

Marie NDiaye – France (Exile-Germany) – “Ladvine,”
Stefan Hertmans – Belgium – “War and Turpentine,”
Boubacar Boris Diop – Senegal – “Doomi Golo,”
Pedro Cabiya – Dominican Republic – “Wicked Weeds,”
Ananda Dev – Mauritius – “Eve Out of Her Ruins,”
Antonio di Benedett – Argentina – “Zama,”
Daniel Saldaña Parí – Mexico – “Among Strange Victims,”
Sergei Lebedev – Russia – “Oblivion,”
Lúcio Cardos – Brazil – “Chronicles of a Murdered House,”
Laia Jufresa – Mexico – “Umami,”

This years shortlist is just as strong as its predecessor. However, it is striking to see which authors and their respective works who have been omitted from this year’s shortlist. I had expected Boubacar Boris Diop and his novel “Doomi Golo,” to be on this year’s shortlist, and am happy to see Marie NDiaye is also included on the list. The omission of László Krasznahorkai, was a shocking sight this year. Generally speaking, whenever the Hungarian master of the apocalypse is nominated for a award, he is usually inducted on its short running list, and more or less considered the bookie favourite to win. This year to see his short novel “The lost Wolf and Herman,” to be excluded from this year’s shortlisted titles, is a paradox of disappointment and joy; disappointment, because there can be no denying, Krasznahorkai as a literary master and international giant of literature, and the elimination of his novel as a front runner, appears slightly taboo and insulting; while on the other hand, there is great joy, to see László Krasznahorkai take a back seat this year, while other writers and their works are promoted in favour of him, offering a greater breath of fresh air for the award. It is personally shocking to see Maja Haderlap and her novel “Angel of Oblivion,” not included on this year’s shortlist. The language of “Angel of Oblivion,” was poetic and personal in touch. The beginning of the novel is its greatest strength; its baroque like language and description of the mundane and magical daily routine of the farm, where the young girl is left in wonder and awe at the mystical and occult traditions of her grandmother, whose wisdom and experience is a guiding factor of the young girls early life, as her parents are almost incapable of raising a child, let alone living together with a sense of civil cohabitation, and these issues would later be explored later in the novel, as the narrator does her best to understand and comprehend the dark scars history, had left on her father, mother and grandmother, as the narrator slowly is left to inherit the mess of memories, along with the grief and guilt alongside. The novel itself was a great piece of testimony, but lacked the cut and dry perspective of a purely academic or historical approach; rather with poetic language, baroque memories, and a light personal touch on the border of autobiography, Maja Haderlap, created a wonderful novel of language, division, grief, guilt and memory, which happened to include historical points of reference.

Pedro Cabiya and his novel “Wicked Weeds,” is one of the more surprising works inducted on this years shortlist. The novel “Wicked Weeds,” carries the subtitle: “A Zombie Novel," which did not strike great confidence in me. Yet upon further research, the novel appears allegorical in nature, as it grapples with the concept of what it means to be human, but also the ecological and environmental apocalypse which may await all of us around the corner. Both Mexican writers made it onto the shortlist, in favour of two well known giants of Spanish literature: Javiar Marias and Enrique Vila-Mattas. The Spanish language also retains the most represented language on both lists: with nine writers and books, working in the language on the longlist, and now four writes appearing on the shortlist. In all though Gentle Reader, the shortlist is just as strong as its predecessor, in a more condescended version. Though I initially thought Maja Haderlap, Patrick Modiano, and Laszlo Krasznahorkai, would have been included on the shortlist, with their respective works.   

The following Gentle Reader, is the poetry shortlist for this year's award. Again the list is not presented in any particular order:

Abdellatif Laabi – Morocco – “In Praise of Defeat,” 
Yideum Kim – (South) Korea – “Cheer Up, Femme Fatale,”
Szilárd Borbély – Hungary – “Berlin-Hamlet,”
Alejandra Pizarnik – Argentina – “Extracting the Stone of Madness,”
Michael Donhauser – Germany – “Of Things,”

I make no qualm or issue about stating openly and frankly that I do not read poetry, and have little appreciation for poetry. Though I confess adamantly my love and admiration for Wisława Szymborska, among a few other poets; and have done my best to advocate personally and privately the genius of Doris Kareva (Estonia), Hasso Krull (Estonia), Sirkka Turkka (Finland) and Tua Forsström (Swedish Language/Finland), among other poets who I happen to discover online. But beyond reading one or a couple poems, by a minimal pantheon, is as far as my poetry reading goes. I am not a digester of poetry collections or poets, though I often wish to learn from them and their unique sense and feel for language. My admiration for poets is only apparent with vehement conviction is when they turn their pen from the line to the sentence, and their poems become prose.

Of the poets shortlisted for this year’s poetry, only two appear familiar:Abdellatif Laâbi a well known man of Moroccan letters, but has been forced into exile into France, after being arrested and tortured for crimes of opinion. Laâbi though is regarded as one of the most prominent and important voices of poetry to have come out of Morocco. I am familiar with Alejandra Pizarnik from New Directions Books, which has been introducing her work into the English language over the past few years now, as well as being on the Best Translated Book award shortlist for poetry back in two-thousand and fifteen. Though I find Pizarnik’s poetry heavy handed and a bit unmoving, her life itself is interesting, though tragic. At the age of thirty-six, Alejandra Pizarnik committed suicide. Despite her tragic end and short career, Alejandra Pizarnik was noted for being a poet who was profoundly uninterested in politics, and her poems never went into the political atmosphere of discussion. Pizarnik’s poems were rooted in the symbolic and romanticism of European poets such as Arthur Rimbaud. Alejandra Pizarnik tuned and toned her poems towards subjects of death, childhood, pain, and loneliness. In it she wrote dense poems which reflected the unfortunate and unforgiving world which surrounded her. With her tragic death and short career, she is considered a legendary poet of Argentina and a formidable force of the Spanish language and Latin/South American literary culture.  There they are Gentle Reader, the shortlists for this year’s Best Translated Book Award 2017, both for fiction and poetry. Of the two lists, it appears the Spanish language is represented the most frequently with a combined total of five works originally written in the language; four from the fiction shortlist and one from the poetry shortlist. Still the award is anyone’s game from now on, and the judges have their work cut out for them, as they work to adjudicate the best book to be awarded this year’s Best Translated Book Award.

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

M. Mary 

Thursday 13 April 2017

Jon Fosse’s: Trilogy

Hello Gentle Reader

Theatre is a commodity for both entertainment and second hand emotion, which is to be delivered with the greatest talents of oration and body language. Actors however are only human puppets who give voice and body to the characters in which they are told to represent with the greatest powers of their ability. Actors are merely voice and body to characters far from their imagination. Theatre technicians are more or less magicians and landscapers, who through smoke and mirrors are able to conjure and project the image necessary for the theatrical envisioned reality to find its physical space in which to occupy. Now working both at a hockey arena and a live theatre, while slogging my way through school—I have the unique position to watch the imagined take its illusionary physical form. Yet who you don’t see the writer of the production. You meet the actors of course; wound up to the point that they are as tight as ticks, the introverted technician doing their best to interpret direction into the desired form; and the director who sees fit to oversee the production, and ensure it’s a swimming success. No line is dropped; no light out of place, no movement improvised—everything must be tightly controlled. But the writer; they most certainly have washed their hands of this project; they’ve completed their task and moved on to something new. A writer (as it was once stated) is next to god. They are introverted and quiet creatures, but beneath their bookish appearances lay the most egotistical creator. In their minds resides a personal paradise, a place reserved and untouched by others, populating this world are the most subservient of people, who will do as dictated and instructed. With a scribble of a pen, this world will come into existence; with a strike of eraser or pen, the world can change. Magdalena Tulli herself had commented on the absentminded ability of people to create worlds with impulsive fervor and then soon lose interest in them, where they pop and dissolve back into the nothingness in which they were fabricated from. Writers I can only presume write, and once the craft is honed and completed its left at that; what is on the page is the beginning and the end of their involvement. Actors are to bring to life the characters which have been envisioned, while technicians use light, smoke, and mirrors to decorate the world imagined. Beyond this though, writers it appears have no interest in their creations. Too many chefs in the kitchen is after all rather damaging to the ego; and when someone else has a different idea as to how your characters should act or behave, will certainly leave ones toes throbbing. The meddling of other associates and reality itself can never truly come to achieving the imagined world, which has been documented on the page.

Jon Fosse is the worlds most performed living playwright. He has written around forty plays including adaptions; with his debut play: “Someone Is Going To Come,” written in nineteen-ninety two to nineteen-ninety three, and was first produced in nineteen-ninety six. The theatre has not been Fosse’s greatest love or even h is foray into it. His first love and debut into literature was prose, in which he debuted in nineteen-eighty three with “Red, Black.” He did not turn his eyes to the theatre until he was in his mid-thirties. Yet in two-thousand and fourteen, Fosse has ended his affair with the theatre, stating he would prefer to write more slowly and less of course, and the thought of writing a new play does not bring any sense of enjoyment or pleasure for the writer.

Though Jon Fosse has written many plays, novels and poems, and has been translated into more than forty languages, the reception of his theatrical dramas in the English language, have been polite but ambivalent or muted at best. There is no denying Fosse’s talent for the theatre, with his splintered dialogue, silences, pauses; all reminiscent of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter; yet Fosse brings something else to the table with both his prose and dramatic texts; there is a certain poetic stream of consciousness movement, and a lack of absurdity or humour, and a more cooler and apprehensive take to his desolate scenery and equal hesitant characters, completely uncertain with regards to life. The characters of Fosse’s universe are marooned and are often at odds with their life and their surroundings; and yet they always appear apathetic or incapable of doing much else beyond brooding over the casual existential anxiety which looms well overhead. It could be said the English stage is less welcoming or forgiving of those it deems of foreign languages. Despite the lack of appreciation or warm enthusiasm Fosse has received in the English language world, he is world renowned and successful. There is not a year that goes by in which Jon Fosse is noted a noted possible contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature; were in two-thousand thirteen looked like his year.

Two years ago Jon Fosse received the Nordic Council Literature Prize for his Trilogy: “Andvake,” (“Wakefullness,”) “Olavs Draumar,” (“Olav’s Dream,”) and “Kveldsvævd,” (“Weariness,”).
The adjudicating committee for the prize had the following to say about Jon Fosse’s win:

“This year’s prize winner is a rare example of innovative style hand in hand with content that has the ability to touch readers across time and place. Conveyed in a highly poetic form of prose and with a wilfully playful attitude to the narrative, this love story spans all times and no time. Like few others, the author manages to chisel out a highly personal literary form. Weaving biblical allusions, Christian mysticism and poetic imagery into the tension of the plot in a way that opens up the story of two people in love to a wider world and to history.”

Jon Fosse’s trilogy is less then two-hundred pages in length, but in its small packaging, it packs a poetic punch, which novels twice or tripe its size fail to achieve.

“Andvake,” (“Wakefulness,”)

The first in the Trilogy, introduces the characters Asle and Alida, two poor and unfortunate souls lost and wondering – whose circumstances mimic that of Joseph and Mary, in the famous nativity story. Alse and Alida are poor, homeless and Alida is pregnant. The short novella showcases Fosse’s renowned style: his long meandering sentences, his repetitive and stream of consciousness style, and his almost simplistic (yet hypnotic) vocabulary, not to mention the hallmark of his theatrical works, the splintered dialogue.

Through the novella the reader is given witness to the plight of Asle and Alida, orphans left abandoned to the world. Asle’s father had died when he was younger, but he remembers the fiddle his father played at weddings (where by happenstance he would meet his future love: Alida), and as the novel opens his mother is also now deceased, which leaves Asle to the cruel world on his own. Unfortunate turns to misery shortly after, where the boat house in which he lives in is repossessed by its owners who informs Asle and Alida to vacate. Alida’s prospects are no better either, her mother and her are at each other’s throats. Ma Herdis has greater faith in Alida’s sister Oline (described as the ‘good one,’ or ‘the white one,’) was more capable of taking over the farm. Desperate times call for even greater desperate measures; thievery and perhaps some murderous intrigue in the mix. Fosse however allows such dramatic events to play off stage and are commented on with an understated inclination.

The novella finishes with Asle and Alida in Bjørgvin seeking a room for rent, where they are out of the rain and the autumn chill. Much like Joseph and Mary though, they are met with insult, injury or a slammed door. No one could possibly desire to take such people in. Salvation can only come when it is once again taken, and so Alida should release her child into a cruel world, which has only been capable of receiving him through cruel actions. Yet despite the actions of Asle and Alida, there is always a sense of pity and sympathy which radiates from their souls and shadows; where forgiveness is sought, and through kind portrayals given.

“Olavs Draumar,” (“Olav’s Dream,”)

No one can escape their past. Change your name. Sweep your past beneath the rug. Stay in the fog. Solitude and silence is ally and lover. Yet every shadow follows like a stray dog. No one can retain opaque perspective or image forever.

In “Olav’s Dream,” Asle and Alida now run hide among assumed aliases: Olav and Asta with their new born child Sigvald. They live on the outskirts of town, scrapping together a meager existence, for themselves, but it was better than their previous life and circumstances. Olav has decided to head off to Bjørgvin where he will procure rings for Asta and himself, to solidify their status as an item. As Olav leaves the house however, Asta remarks it will be the last time she will see him.

On his journey to Bjørgvin Olav is referred to by a similar name: Asle. He does his best dissuade this remark as nothing more than a mistaken identity. Yet the man who calls him Asle does not let up on Olav, and again refers to him as Asle. Thankfully Olav is capable of shaking the unwanted spectator off, and makes it Bjørgvin—though it’s not much a sanctuary in itself. It is here though Olav is treated to a few tankers of beer, and even finds the most beautiful bracelet in which he is able to gift Asta. The most wonderful bracelet, which she so fittingly deserves. Luck and love is always in short supply; and unrest is quick to absorb such a small commodity within its quantity. The man from the past resurfaces once again, and this time confronts Olav about questionable actions he has done when he was Asle.

Innocence, love, crimes of desperation with passion as reason—these are no longer excusable; as fate now requires payment and penance, through the noose of justice. Olav’s life (or lie) quickly shatters and dissolves around him. The bracelet for Asta stolen; the life he dreamed for his family and himself is quickly tied off with a tourniquet. Asle is brought forward on accusations of murder, and by the law of the day (whichever unfortunate day this is) he is to meet his maker through the same shadowy old geezer who exposed him, who now is given the satisfaction of ruining and taking Olav’s life, as hangman.

“Olav’s Dream,” is perhaps my personal favourite of Fosse’s trilogy. It is often reviewed and stated with Jon Fosse’s prose, that when one reads Fosse’s work, there is a rhythm which one must get in sync with in order to truly appreciate the repetitive and poetic qualities of Fosse’s prose. Often I’ve found myself slightly out of step with the waltz of Fosse’s work, and yet now finally, with the final passages of “Olav’s Dream,” his miraculous prose finally revealed their poetic ingenuity and beauty, and left me cold with an uncertainty whether or not it would be possible to continue. Finally it seems I got Jon Fosse’s work, and it was a startling and welcoming revelation.

“Kveldsvævd,” (“Weariness,”).

Conclusion and curtain call. “Weariness,” opens with Ales an old woman ruminating on her life. She recalls Little Sister who died young, and her older brother Sigvald had left when she was still young and never return, though he played the fiddle—much like his father Asle (Olav) and his grandfather Pa Sigvald. Ales see her mother Alida through her living room window, and follows, her aged mother into the kitchen the coziest place in the home. For the kitchen is heart and hearth of any home: with stove, coffee and tea.

Through Ales we see the conclusion of Alida’s life without Asle. Salvation was to be found for Alida, now homeless and starving, doing her best to take care of her still new born child: Sigvald. With the beginning charity of Åsleik, Alida is treated to a meal and beer, and then a home, where she would work as his house keeper, before finally marrying him. Though Asle still lurks deep in her heart—and with a serendipitous hand of fate, she would find his stolen bracelet, in which he planned to place upon her wrist; the most beautiful bracelet in the world.

“Weariness,” recounts with great clarity the events of Asle and Alida’s life. How Asle murdered Alida’s mother, the boat house owner, the midwife; and through these crimes, he is hung for them, leaving Alida in the cruel and unforgiving world, where she returns to Bjørgvin to find Asle but in return once again finds doors locked and slammed shut. In contrast to the depraved and uncertain world of Alida enters Åsleik whose life appears to have gone in its mundane usual certainty with no major hiccups or acts of desperation. He informs Alida of the fate of Asle, though she cannot bear thought of her husband a murder who has been hung.

Tragedy however is in large supply for the lovers Asle and Alida. As Alida points out Asle is in the waves, the sea, the clouds and the sky. He is there, around her, enveloping her, and yearning for her. Ales comments early, she never saw her mother Alida old. As the novella ends, Alida is caressed and carried out to the sea, to be with her beloved Asle.

Concluding Thoughts –

Jon Fosse is an expert in the miniature and the minimal requirements to get the biggest impact in his writing – a trait that is greatly admired (at least on my end). However, Fosse’s language a already noted requires a certain amount of synchronization in order for the affect to be profound, provocative and to truly realize how he has staked his claim as one of the greatest writers at work on the international literary stage. Personally, I find I either read to fast, or skim lightly and often am not capable of slipping into his rhythmic language often; but when I have, it’s an amazing impact, which leaves one completely cold in the way the best writers are capable of managing it. Fosse’s use of simple repetitive language to create a profound poetic love story and love song to the unfortunate lovers fighting against fate and life is an endearing read. It has many mystical as well as theological overtones, with comparison to the nativity story; but all inclinations of religious themes begin and end here. Fosse’s work is his own, and it’s a sharp shard of a gem which pierces and penetrates, with sly mastery which evokes real sentiment, not second hand emotions or panhandled sympathies. The plight is human, and the world is cruel; but through it all love exists and moves forward, on the smallest string of a fiddle.

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

M. Mary 

Sunday 9 April 2017

Folio Prize 2017, Shortlist

Hello Gentle Reader

Three years ago, the Folio Prize was conceived and born to rival the Man Booker Prize—a literary dispute of sorts. In two-thousand and eleven the Man Booker Prize created controversy, when its judges decided to emphasize readability, at (what some perceived) the expense of literary merit. The Folio Prize also did something to rival the Man Booker Prize, by stating it was inclusive to all English language novels, and not limited to books published in the United Kingdom or Commonwealth. The Man Booker Prize would meet this challenge in two-thousand and fourteen by widening its scope to include the same mission, and opened its doors to books published beyond the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. This broadening perspective could be witnessed in two-thousand and sixteen when Paul Beatty (an American writer) won the award with his novel “The Sellout.” In its first two years, the Folio Prize has awarded the American short-story writer George Saunders and the Indian-American writer Akhil Sharma; in two-thousand and fourteen and fifteen respectively. In two-thousand and sixteen, however, the Folio Prize was not awarded as its organizers were on the hunt for a new sponsor; now the prize is back and has up the ante, by including non-fiction work on its shortlist. It will be interesting to see if the Man Booker Prize will retaliate, against its obvious rival.

With the inclusion of this year’s non-fiction work, the shortlist is strictly split between fiction and non-fiction. The following is this year’s shortlist for the Folio Prize.

China Miéville – “This Census-Taker,”
Laura Cummings – “The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez,”
Hisham Matar – “The Return,”
CE Morgan – “The Sport of Kings,”
Madeline Thien – “Do We Say Nothing,”
Francis Spufford – “Golden Hill,”
Maggie Nelson – “The Argonauts,”
Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami – “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War,”

There it is Gentle Reader, the eight finalists for this year’s Folio Prize. It will be interesting to see if the Man Booker Prize will begin to change how it conducts business, in order to further compete with its literary rival. Though the two awards, seek to complete the same objective, by different measures and methods; they do bring to mind an often unique literary pissing match, which brings unique attention to both the writers and books listed. It is also great fun to observe how the too attempt to remain relevant over each other—the Man Booker, however, does have age; while the Folio still remains in its infancy, with much support behind it from David Mitchell to Margaret Atwood.

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

M. Mary

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Dies, Aged 83

Hello Gentle Reader,

Russian poetry is a lot like Russian ballet or Russian figure skating—it has been refined to its most glittering, dazzling and sparkling elements; that anything less than technical perfection and beautiful composition, is wasted potential and not worth publishing. Russian poetry of the twentieth century possessed some of the greatest poets in the world: from the Soul of the Silver Age: Anna Akhmatova, to the tragic Marina Tsvetaeva. Following in their footsteps were Great Russian and Soviet poets, like the little Russian China doll Bella Akhmadulina, Nobel Laureates Joseph Brodsky and Boris Pasternak. Contemporary Russian poetry is also producing great poetic voices to join the canon, such as Anzhelina Polonskaya and Dmitry Vodennikov. There is something to almost admire about the devotion to Russian poetry. How it’s savored and recited by the masses; as if a poem is neither a secret nor a gift, exchanged between two people, under the moon, skin between sheets and shadows and souls intertwined. Poetry in Russia is a landmark of linguist zeal, but also a hallmark of history and heritage, and as well as seeking survival and resistance in political turbulence, by stating realities in the most hidden manners, but by also offering hope. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a poet of hope, who voiced this profound concept without cynicism and without sarcasm. It was noted in one of the many obituaries, now celebrating and mourning Yevtushenko, that he had achieved a rarity in today’s world: popularity as a poet. Yet his poetry was a product of his perseverance and his resistance against an ideology which sought to strike down dissidence strip away individuality and thought; in which it could create a culture of compliance, and submission. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, however, revolted—though not with violence as Lenin and Mao did; but with poetry. His poems boomed and blasted around the Soviet Union and its satellite states; he challenged Stalin, and was the voice of the oppressed populace, but the voice of hope of a Russia which would whether this storm as it had in the past. Despite these great inclinations, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was not a dissident poet himself—in fact the Kremlin’s doors were open to him as a individual, and he was capable of leaving the country, to go to Cuba to visit Fidel Castro, and the United States, to toast his friend Robert Kennedy. Despite the acceptance by the government, who allowed his poetry to be published in Soviet newspapers; Yevgeny Yevtushenko was not a propagating poet of communism or Stalin (both his grandfathers were sentenced to the Gulags). Through it all though, Yevgeny Yevtushenko weathered the storm, and would come out on top. Along with: Andrei Voznesensky, Bella Akhmadulina (to whom he was once married), and Robert Rozhdestvensky— Yevtushenko was considered one of the Soviets classic poets, who was capable of filling a stadium to hear his poems recited, like a teenager now going to see a concert. It is once reported that during such an event, Yevtushenko was carried throughout the stadium, like an Olympian of poetry. Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s life was complicated however, he swung between love, hate, and bitterness in one motion; as is reflected in the unfortunate destruction of his friendship to fellow Russian poet Joseph Brodsky (who Yevtushenko once freed from exile; but would lose, when Brodsky was forcefully removed from the Soviet Union.)

Despite the hot and cold nature of Yevgeny Yevtushenko as a human being; his command of poetry and the audience cannot be overlooked. His resilience was hope, not dissidence in its entirety; though he used his prestige and connections to assist numerous Russian writers. It is his final wish to be buried next to his favourite writer, Boris Pasternak.

Russia has certainly lost one of its most profound and convincing voices. He was a writer who continued to recite poems in stadiums and theatres throughout Russia. He was a poet who was instrumental in the thaw of the Soviet Union, and the move forward towards democracy.

Rest in Peace Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

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

M. Mary