The Birdcage Archives

Sunday, 25 December 2022

– XI –

 Love is brief, beautiful, and intense. Everything after is maintenance and routine.  

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Xi Xi, Dies Aged 85

Hello Gentle Reader,
One of the greatest chroniclers and literary fashioners of Hong Kong, Xi Xi, has died at the age of 85. The writer who famously described Hong Kong as a 'Floating City,' to describe the anxious atmosphere as Hong Kong transitioned between two polar opposite political spectrum, was a beloved figure, who brought Hong Kong on to the literary stage, through her whimsical and fairy tale orientated narratives, which celebrated the exceptional uniqueness of Hong Kong. Xi Xi's bibliography is populated with short stories, novels, essay, poetry and screenplays, which were published, consumed, and loved by the people of Hong Kong. Xi Xi often regarded as a giant of contemporary Sinophone literature, who observed the unique characteristics, stories, and narratives of the small island city home. Xi Xi is renowned for her endearing portrait of the city as it transitioned away from British rule into the one county two system rule, before mainland China took a more aggressive stance. Throughout her six-decade career, Xi Xi remained beloved for her narratives which reimagined and imbued a sense of childlike curiosity into the mundane world, providing the aforementioned fairy tale narrative. This is perhaps what enshrined to her readers, who found her works to be an engaging and fabulist flight of fantasy within the mercurial city of Hong Kong. Who like other legendary cities, is both mythic landscape and urban ecosystem. This is perhaps what is most endearing about Xi Xi's work, is her understanding that the city of Hong Kong exists on a multi-tiered level, from the foundational brick into the soaring clouds overhead; to the bustling kitchens and crowded streets below; there was never any shortage of story, image, or narrative. Over the past few years, Xi Xi was being mentioned as a serious contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her international literary reputation grew as she won the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature and the Cikada Prize.
Rest in Peace Xi Xi.
Thank you for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read


M. Mary

Nélida Piñon, Dies Aged 85

Hello Gentle Reader,
Brazilian literature is full of great and legendary writers, which includes Clarice Lispector, Lúcio Cardoso, Hilda Hilst, and Ferreira Gullar. These writers thundered and swept through the Brazilian literary scene with hurricane force. Brilliant, elemental, and extraordinary. Their genius, sadly, was only recognized on an international level, post-mortem. Still even after death, their brilliance continues to persist, while their works are read and revered for their legendary quality. Contemporary Brazilian writers (the late) Rubem Fonseca and the 97-year-old Dalton Trevisan, are equally regarded in their legendary status; among them is Nélida Piñon, who recently died at the age of 85. In a fashion similar to Clarice Lispector, Nélida Piñon was known for being ground breaking and a writer of firsts, including being the first woman writer to be elected to the Brazilian Academy of Letters, later going on to become its first female president a few short years after her initial induction. It is no surprise or wonder that Nélida Piñon was considered one of the foremost writers of contemporary Brazilian literature, a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature; she won the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 2005, in addition to the FIL in 1995. Nélida Piñon's work included thirty books, which crossed genres, including novels, essays, short stories, and children's books, all of which were lovingly translated into thirty languages. In addition to her literary work, Nélida Piñon was an accomplished academic, scholar, and educator, encouraging and cultivating the next generation.
Rest in Peace Nélida Piñon.
Thank you for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

Sunday, 27 November 2022

– X –

I once overheard someone say: I write to know myself better. As the foremost expert of myself, I couldn’t imagine anyone I would like to know less about.

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Klara and the Sun

Hello Gentle Reader,

There can be no denying that over the past 30-40 years that the rapid rise and continued development of information technology and information processing capabilities, society as a whole has been economically, socially, and politically irreversibly altered. From the first at home personal computers to the ubiquitous smart phones and information sharing and resource of the internet, society has come leaps and bounds. Despite the beneficial nature and utilitarian applications this technology has produced, it is equally tempered with consequential effects. Issues and concerns regarding privacy. Moral and ethical questions regarding the now debatable nature of truth and fact. The entire term of veracity is now usurped by the collective or popular opinion superseding factual evidence. The internet has become both a repository of information, a catalogue of society’s magnificent discoveries, essays of wondrous thought, and academic research now finding a greater audience. Technology, however, has provided the platform for opinion and perspective to be wielded with the same dignity as truth or fact on the basis of mass dissemination and clout. Disinformation, propaganda, shock-jock opinions, yellow journalism, and sensationalism have become an exalted currency, being traded, and propagated to other consumers who accept it as gospel. Suddenly, entrenched facts—rudimentary truths—are available to be disregarded. The absurd has re-emerged into the mainstream consciousness, in which apostles of the asinine perpetrate baseless accusations against foundational legitimate realities. Such as the nature of the earth being round, whereby they persist in preaching ludicrous lunacy the medieval notion that the earth is flat. Technology is inherently neutral. Unaligned with what is unimpeachably true and what is open for further debatable discourse. Technology merely provides the platform and the opportunity. How such platforms are utilized is at the individual user’s discretion. As information becomes increasingly commoditized, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is seen as the next step in technologies evolution. As technologies become increasingly more sophisticated and smarter, an increase in autonomy is expected. Forms of AI have already been developed and deployed. In the going Russian-Ukraine War, both Russia and Ukraine have employed artificial intelligence in their warfare and defenses. Ukraine has reportedly used Turkish Bayraktar Tb2-Drones, which despite some human interface, are still capable of taking off, landing, and cruising without a human operator. In turn, Russia has utilized autonomous suicide drones as of late in its escalating invasion of Ukraine. The use of lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) has become a point of concern for political leaders across the world, who are now seeking to mitigate and legislate the legality of their deployment during a war. I suspect, despite the legitimate concern and legislative attempts to limit, mitigate, or even prevent such weapons being utilized in future warfare, their design, development, and subsequent deployment merely presents the chilling reality that they have arrived, and they are here to stay.

Yet, what about AI that has a face? Or seeks to develop stories; as in the case of, which crafted scary stories back in 2017. Then of course comes the more interesting stories, such as a Google engineer who published a transcript of his conversation with a LaMDA Chatbot, who according to the Engineer, has developed a sense of sentience. The nature of the conversation revolved around existential ponderings, including the nature of personhood and consciousness, but also a fear of being switched off, which is equivalent to death. Then what of Sophia, the first non-person to receive citizenship to a nation (even if it is Saudi Arabia). What has been viewed of her, is interesting. Facial movements and basic conversation, but nothing enlightening beyond what is discerned to being pre-scripted. Then of course, there is the famous disturbing robotic dogs, some of which have been deployed in Shanghai with China’s draconian zero COVID policy. Strapped with megaphones the mechanical four-legged canine, march down streets repeating mandates and pandemic messaging. Now, apparently in turn, human resources that loathsome organizational business unit, has reportedly being utilizing artificial intelligence in its screening measures of potential applicants for jobs. Of course, human resources and organizations have been utilizing computer algorithms and preliminary question as screening tools of potential applicants for years. Yet, now with record job openings and a looming recession, applicants as well as organizations are beginning to question the efficacy of electronic recruitment, as it appears to dismiss and disqualify candidates. Proponents of this system, however, insist that it has democratized the landscape, taking out human bias and instituting the cold rationale of an algorithm. On both sides of the spectrum, technology has provided great convenience to individuals and society, to the point of borderline luxury. While in turn has created a host of new problems, consequences, and deepening concerns that are not just limited to the economical but include the social and psychological structure of the individual and societal relations. Perhaps the pivoting question is, in which direction does society move? That chic utopian age of cosmopolitan advancement where toil and work is replaced with luxury and leisure; or does it become the oracular dystopian vision, which has preoccupied society for eons, where the majority of human society is reduced to obsoletion, desperation, and displacement, while the minority enjoys the splendor and spoils of a technologically advanced age.

However timeless these questions are, how concerning their relevance maybe, they are not the singular preoccupation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s most recent novel “Klara and the Sun.” The novel places these conundrums, these contemporary pressing concerns on the back burner, in order to return to familiar territory for Ishiguro: loneliness as an inevitable state of the human condition, regardless of its duration being extensive or finite; the limitless capacity for love, with all the complications and consequences entailed within it; preordained service as both meaning and measure of life, while returning to the trope of the master and servant, the uneven equilibrium of exaltation and stalwart loyalty; the concerning cost of progress, the expedited advancement outracing evolution; and empathy and the emotional life; all of which is wrapped up in Kazuo Ishiguro’s finely tuned crystalline prose, reminiscent of a pristine frozen lake, revealing the hidden depths beneath its surface, a world of complications, unease, and suppression. Normalcy is not a state of being, it is an illusionary gloss expertly applied across the surface.

“Klara and the Sun,” is set in what can be described as a relatively near-future dystopia, with much of the novel populated with ubiquitous items of daily life. This sense of familiarity is gradually usurped, through the narration of the eponymous Klara, an Artificial Friend (AF) who exists in Store surrounded by other AF’s. AF’s are solar powered androids who are manufactured and programmed to become companions for children and teenagers; the fact that they are solar powered imbues them with a sense of spiritual attachment to the sun, with an air which could almost be described as reverently theological in practice. Despite their manufactured existence, AF’s are in possession of singular independent identities. Klara’s best friend at Store is the fellow AF Rosa, but she also interacts with other AF’s including one named Rex for a short period. Klara is the narrator of the novel, and is exceptionally observant, aware, and intelligent, as affirmed and commented on by Manager, who runs the outlet. Store is split into three different tiers. There is front of store, which includes the large window with the Stripped Sofa, and the front alcove. There is mid-store, amongst the Red Shelves, Glass Table, and Glass Trolley. Finally, there is rear store. The tiered system was not exclusive to optimization for purchase, but includes the Suns reach. Prime locations are always at the front of the store, naturally, while being at the rear of the store was an unfortunate situation. Special honour though goes to the AF’s selected by Manager to sit on the Stripped Sofa in the window and represent Store to the outside world. When Klara and Rosa are selected for this honour, Klara showcases her remarkable ability for observation and understanding. As a passive impersonable observer, Klara recounts the sights she sees from the window, and finds people increasingly complex. As in the case of two people Klara identifies as Coffee Cup Lady and Raincoat Man, who are named as such based on her limited ability to categorize and comprehend the world due to her limited interactions with it and what current levels of exposure she has had. In the case of Coffee Cup Lady and Raincoat Man, Klara observers two people reunited after an extended absence, she recounts the perplexing paradox of both their shared joy in being reunited, but also can see the subtle pain playing out beneath it. Klara begins to understand that human beings can feel two competing and contrary emotions at once.  When Klara shares these observations with Manager, she is praised for her remarkable observations and comprehension of emotional responses. During her time at the window, Klara provides a feast of observations in order to introduce readers into her ‘thought,’ process. Childlike is too simple of a term to describe the perspectives of Klara, yet there are obvious limitations to her rationale, as Klara forms an understanding of the world both through observation and causation, which often leads to conjecture leading to a sense of mechanical superstition. This can be seen when Klara observes Beggarman and his dog lying across the street from Store, tucked in a doorway motionless. She presumes they are dead, that is, until Sun provides his ‘nourishment.’ As Klara and the other AFs are solar powered the sun is granted a revered position in their perspective of the world. Klara believes that people in turn can be impacted by the sun, when she observes ‘his,’ nourishment reviving Beggarman and his dog. In turn, however, Klara has a particular hatred towards Pollution spewed from the inconsiderate ‘Cootings Machine,’ that blocks out the Sun’s nourishment. This means Pollution is the natural antithesis to Sun, the provider for Klara and all other Artificial Friends.

Despite the sense that Klara is special, and routinely affirmed as being extraordinary, she is still an Artificial Friend by design, with the singular manufactured purpose to provide companionship to children and teenagers. In Klara’s world, human companionship and meaningful connections are obsolete. This apparently comes from a societal trend called “lifting,” a genetic editing procedure which is performed on children (by parents who can afford it) to increase a child’s academic acumen and intellect. There are of course risks to the procedures, and in all cases medical that includes up to death. This of course creates a dichotomous society. Lifted children have a secured and guaranteed future. They will get into prestigious universities and work in lucrative corporate and government positions. In turn lifted children do not attend regular public schools or any school, instead they are taught and tutored at home on their oblongs. Non-lifted children, however, have limited prospects both academically and career wise. As socialization has become out of the norm, less spontaneous, and less frequent, AFs like Klara are brought into the picture to provide companionship and comfort. Klara is chosen by Josie, a physically unsteady 14-year-old girl, who has a noticeable weakness in her walk.

As a master of dramatic irony, Kazuo Ishiguro provides the necessary elusion regarding the multifaced relationship between Klara, Josie, and Josie’s mother (The Mother or Chrissy). At Store, The Mother (Chrissy) ‘tests,’ Klara regarding Josie, her walk and speech pattern. It becomes clear that Klara is expected to be more then just a simple companion for Josie, who comes as no surprise is sickly due to being lifted. Yet the home of Josie gives Klara a broad canvas to narrate on and deduce the complexities of being human. An “interaction meeting,” with other lifted youth showcases the social division in the world. Josie’s best friend and neighbour Rick is not lifted like the other children, which alienates him from the others, including being singled out by an irate mother proclaiming he shouldn’t be in attendance to begin with. There’s a casual cruelty to the lifted children’s dynamics. Klara’s position and status as a commodity, an otherwise animate object is confirmed in their disregard for her well-being. Yet, just as in his famous and now classic novel “Never Let Me Go,” Kazuo Ishiguro begins to question what it means to be “human,” when the defining features of the term human being change. This comes to a tipping point during an outing to the waterfall. The Mother (Chrissy) maintains a distant and apprehensive relationship with Klara. Klara’s initial observations of the Mother were defined by appearance and clothes, high ranking office worker, with exhausted and angry eyes. At home Klara observes the at times tense, distant, awkward, and apprehensive relationship between Josie and the Mother. The two visit in the morning at the kitchen island, where the Mother has her coffee before work. Klara remains back by the refrigerator in order to provide privacy. The role Klara plays within the house is both companions, then caretaker for Josie, but also the failsafe and an understudy. Which begs to ask the question, when does the term love cease to exist in the altruistic and virtuous world, and enter a polluted state of sinister selfishness? Despite this, Klara is still a satellite within the household. When visiting another household, the question of how to treat Klara arises to the surface with acerbic poignancy. She’s not really a guest, but more advanced than an appliance to be shoved in the closet. In that regard Klara merely ‘exists,’ on the peripheral on standby. Her role as companion evolves into an empathetic understanding and caring nature in turn for Josie, seeking her salvation through her own spiritual understanding of how the world operates and works.

“Klara and the Sun,” truly showcases the narrative prowess of Kazuo Ishiguro, who as a novelist always has a keen attention for interior narratives, sifting the exterior through an intensely personal and observational character, who does not need to engage in lengthy explanations regarding the world. Klara provides no explanation, only observational data. ‘The Cootings Machine,’ has no utilitarian purpose beyond the production and proliferation of pollution. There is no elucidation regarding what entails ‘lifting,’ procedure or how its completed. Yet it does provide a personal flourish and touch to how the narrator interacts with the world around them. Klara in particular has a unique linguistic identifier when narrating, describing, and understanding the world around her, as can be seen in her compartmentalization of individuals as office workers; or the elderly couple reduced to being Coffee Cup Lady and Raincoat Man. Klara, however, has a special descriptive flourish when describing the sun, moving into almost rudimentary prose poetry, with colour being inflected into the light setting tone and tension. Yet commonly Sun provides and displays nourishment, bathing the house with its richness. “Klara and the Sun,” is companion and spiritual sibling to two of Kazuo Ishiguro’s famous novels “The Remains of the Day,” and “Never Let Me Go.” Yet, where Stevens the butler was reserved and dignified, if not beaten and defeated at the end; and Kathy predestined for tragedy; Klara is luminous glowing spark who perhaps turns the inherent melancholy into a shifting and shimmering state of tempered hope. The dystopian features of Klara’s world exist like flinting shadows along the peripheral. Josie’s father Paul a talented engineer, has been ‘substituted,’ by an alternative. The alterative through another scrap of dialogue surrounding the contention of theatre seats and Klara, is revealed that androids are not just manufactured to provide surrogate companionship for teenagers and children, but have economic measures as well, substituting the workforce where applicable and possible. These are merely quintessential socioeconomic details required to maintain the scenography. In turn, Klara is a fascinating narrator. Distantly intimate she provides keen insight into the human condition, and all the emotional sensibilities and ambiguities they present. Androids, artificial intelligence, even the notion of artificial life are not new literary tropes. The great science fiction master, Philip K. Dick wrote: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which is the basis for the Bladerunner film franchise, equally dealt with the complication posed by androids and their status to being seen as human or perhaps human enough. Where Philip K. Dick’s novel was noir and explicitly dystopian in both tone and spirit, setting, and atmosphere; “Klara and the Sun,” always carries the lumine of the sun, the radiance of light, and the beat of empathy. Klara in turn becomes a nuanced character complete with pathos as she grapples with the emotional complexities of the human condition, and all the sensibilities associated with them.  

“Klara and the Sun,” is a novel showcasing Kazuo Ishiguro is still at the peak of his literary capabilities. His eternal themes of love, memory, and loneliness will continue to remain relevant preoccupations of the human condition. These existential ponderings have baffled writers, philosophers, and poets for centuries and will continue to in coming centuries. Yet, Ishiguro has a talent for being a compelling writer when handling them, inflecting the narrators of each novel with their own perspective as they review their own condition in relation to the universal and existential complicated question. Where Stevens reservations, dignified stoicism made him incapable of acting and an ostrich when it came to emotional recognition; Klara remains an active and intimate observer, seeking to understand the complexities and nuances of humanity in order to gain a well-rounded grasp of empathy in order to best serve her child. All the while, she provides potent detail for the reader to come to their own conclusions and understandings. All of this wrapped up with an air of futurist fairytale like logic, makes Klara wonderful company and inevitably means the weight of the novel rests on her shoulders. When discussing Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, the graceful Sara Danius, commented on taking elements of both Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with a teaspoon of Marcel Proust, and you will have Kazuo Ishiguro, “Klara and the Sun,” is a remarkable example of what it is that Sara Danius is referring to. “Klara and the Sun,” has all the sensibilities of Jane Austen and the existential tension and dread of Franz Kafka. Perhaps its missing the love affair with time and memory as so evident with Proust, but still “Klara and the Sun,” is an exceptional novel. Special praise should be provided to the ending of the novel, which I apprehensively approached fearing that Ishiguro had cheapened out and sprinted towards the ending to be done with it; I couldn’t have been more wrong and founding the ending to being both natural and well earned.

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

M. Mary

Thursday, 10 November 2022

Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field

Hello Gentle Reader,

Emily Dickinson is mythologized in a variety of personas. One is the astute gardener of the soul. Of course, nature and the garden of her Amherst home were dominating features of her intimate landscape. Yet, flowers are often elevated beyond their superficial beauty and take on representation and personification of virtues. By extension the seasons cast their own tint and lens to the light, cloaking the world with a new ambience. Dickinson wrote:

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”

Which harks back to the faint silhouette of Gerbrand Bakker’s novel “The Detour,” where Dickinson haunts the pages with the most transparent of touches. Bakker is a masterful writer of landscape and tangibility with effortless talent; his stone plain prose is never lifeless, but vividly material. Dickinson’s stanza:

“These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, --
A blue and gold mistake.”

The final line: “A blue and gold mistake,” circulates throughout the novel with cryptic and meditative airs. In both instances, Dickinson wrote about the changing airs of the seasons. The referenced “blue and gold mistake,” is Autumn falsifying summer splendor; while the reference to November as the Norway of the year, is less a reference to the Norse mythology or illustrious Viking history. Rather Dickinson sought to reference the notion of a landscape in grayscale. A land of sepia earth, bleak mackerel skies, silver mercurial clouds, the tin rays of a distant sun. This is equally reflected when November comes to pass over John Lewis-Stempel’s field:

“November is one of my favourite months, with its faded afternoons of cemetery eeriness, and its churchy smell of damp musting leaves.”

There is genuine appreciation of the month which perilously exists within the precipice of winter. November, however, is a month sidelined with begrudged exhaustion. Though Lewis-Stempel rejoices the muted exaltation of November with its cemetery eeriness in the light filtered through the grey low clouds; or how the scent of leaves are reminiscent of old churches, uncomfortable, cold and damp carrying on in the pious tradition that worship is service best experienced in discomfort, in order to somehow empathize with the mortification and suffering as experienced by Christ, when in actuality its stingy tight fisted priests, old and musty themselves. Yet, this is not the resounding approval echoed in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables,” when the titular spirited heroine celebrates with characteristic romanticism the regalia of October:

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

November leaves little to the imagination. It’s a month straddling both the bareness of autumn and the frost of winter. Overcast afternoons – to quote John Lewis-Stempel – certainly do fill the day with the solemn ambience of a cemetery. Perfect for a month of remembrance, tribute, and contemplation. Which in turn is an apt description of “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field.” “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field,” is a seasonal biography of the farmland around the ancient home of John Lewis-Stempel in Herefordshire, where Lewis-Stempel’s family has lived for 700 years. This immediately sets the scene that the landscape in which John Lewis-Stempel writes about is not just same paltry plot of land, but one of personal significance. Through personal observation, experience, biology and ecological study, literary references, and historical record, John Lewis-Stempel has written a multilayered book of both natural history, personal anecdote, and celebration of the quintessential English countryside and lifestyle, which includes the regular transactions of life and death, even the natural cruelty of the natural world.

Perhaps owing to his career as a farmer, John Lewis-Stempel has a deep-rooted respect for nature and the natural world; thankfully he has a natural affinity or talent with prose. An expert erudite observer with a penchant for poetic display, John Lewis-Stempel provides a refreshing and intimate perspective of the English countryside. The countryside of the United Kingdom always recalls the manicured image of television, the poetry of William Wordsworth, and the pastoral paintings of John Constable. The English Garden is often viewed as the standard for perfection in landscaping architecture, manicured carpets of green lawns. Beautiful spectrum of wildflowers. An abundance of roses overflowing in a vigor. Lanes of lavender stirring in the breeze. The perfect place for a picnic or a cup of tea. Now the most adamant adversarial challengers to the pristine admiration of the English garden criticize it as a legacy item from colonization. A trademark to a colonial past. Such criticism is easy to ignore, for its emblazoned indoctrination and superficial principles, entrenched into the misgivings that outrage and being offended are equivalent to occupying some moral high ground. When it cheapens any merit to their arguments and makes fools of themselves. The admiration of the English garden is no different then admiring Japanese gardens or Italian garden or French gardens. “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field,” is not idyllic cottage read about the manufactured pastoral, but a book detailing the life of a working English farm, which includes the migratory birds, the sheep and the cows, the rabbits, the foxes, owl, moles, and badgers, which John Lewis-Stempel maintains great respect and adoration for.

Compassionately, John Lewis-Stempel writes about both the fostering and preservation of life on the field, but also of the innate reality of death. One scene recounts John Lewis-Stempel discovering red kites devouring a sheep’s carcass, and the grim task of having to dispose of the body. Perhaps other farms would have fixated on the economics of the death, how much money the premature slaughter would cost their bottom dollar; John Lewis-Stempel instead is disheartened by the loss, not due to profit, but of a sense of regret for the sheep who would be unable to continue. The burial is both an act of dignity and duty. This same compassion can be seen when the veterinarian comes to call. The visit is stressful. By his own admission, Lewis-Stempel states it’s an anxiety inducing time. Readers should abandon, any previous stereotype of a character reminiscent of James Herriot from All Creatures Great and Small. There is no tweed wearing country veterinarian. What John Lewis-Stempel describes instead is equivalent to a grey man, a scientific bureaucrat whose inspection and measurements, decide the fate of cattle. Though it’s a necessary precautionary measure for public health policy and agricultural policy, its depicted with a dispassionate sense of Kafkaesque approach.

As the seasons change, so do the fields. “Meadowland:  The Private Life of an English Field,” begins in January, that hangover of a month; that darkening bitter month and flows throughout the coming months and seasons. The deepening winter of January begins to cede for spring, and by March, the seasonal direction is noticeably changing. The green phantoms of spring give way to the summer and all its glory. It is in this season that after a mechanical failure, John Lewis-Stempel decides to swath the fields and make hay with an old-fashioned scythe. The task is laborious, difficult, as well as time consuming. Despite this, John Lewis-Stempel pushes through, finding further enjoyment in what I could view as misery. Through poetry he incites with great admiration and respect the farm-poets Robert Frost and John Clare and continues with the labour-intensive mediative task. All of which is interrupted by a fleeing vole, who seeing shelter and sanctuary scurries up harvesters’ leg, which causes a great deal of shriek and panicked dancing to dislodge, which explains why former hay cutters tied off their pant legs, meaning John Lewis-Stempel’s chosen attire for the day of shorts would not prevent such incidents.

Voles are not only creatures that Lewis-Stempel stumbles across within the fields or that he encounters. There is the fox family. So beautiful and red, the pups playful and curious. Then of course there are the badgers, whose courtship and relations carries a particular flavour. A pungent musk. Then of course is the warren of rabbits. The industrious mole, however, deserves special attention. Of all the animals in the world, the mole is perhaps the most anthropomorphized animal, depicted as genial, timid, and rather home-loving creature. The velvety subterranean rodent is a staple of English literature, be it from “The Wind in the Willows,” or the theological faith fulfilled moles of William Horwood’s “Duncton Wood.” John Lewis-Stempel provides a more naturalist perspective. When digging fence posts, Lewis-Stempel stumbles across what can only be described as a larder or pantry full of paralyzed earthworms. The fun fact provided by this book, is that moles salvia containing a toxin in it which immobilizes worms, allowing moles to capture them and store them into these underground larders for later consumption. John Lewis-Stempel describes how moles eat worms, a lot like spaghetti, where they squeeze out the earth and other contents out of the worm and then slurp them up like noodles. The mole should not be underestimated. The characterized and personified charming homebody animal, to a subterranean shark, with the squirrel’s passion for storage and savings.

As far as nature writing goes, John Lewis-Stempel is a master. “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field,” was the book that immediately caught my attention by John Lewis-Stempel, when it was originally published in 2014, the reviews praised the novel for its attentiveness to the natural world, and it would go on to win the Wainwright Prize. Unfortunately getting a reasonable copy of the book turned out to be an adventure. Time and circumstance were not always generous either. Yet after finally getting a hold of it, “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field,” proved to be well worth the wait. The seasonal cycle is expertly captured with admiration, appreciation, and a sense of passage. John Lewis-Stempel’s prose is uncomplicated, but refreshing in turn, maintain a dutiful understanding to describing the landscape, but also providing necessary commentary on the residents of the fields, both wild and domestic. An interest and understanding of history provide the necessary context regarding the landscape. While being a farmer, provides the professional qualifications to understand and remark on the process of stewarding the land. At no point in time does John Lewis-Stempel indulge into personification of the animals or the fields themselves, but this does not mean he lacks any sense of fondness or respect for them. In turn, where I would have suspected most nature writing to plain, blanched and bleached to the most uniform utilitarian style, John Lewis-Stempel remains engaging while avoiding tiresome plain prose, through flourishes of the poetic and engaging with other literary works to provide yet another level of context to the natural world.

Reading “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field,” was a relaxing and enjoyable read. John Lewis-Stempel proves that nature writing is a marvelously complex literary genre, one which celebrates the natural world, civilizations stewardship of the land, but also perhaps, reflects on how agriculture has terraformed the natural world in turn. Yet great strides are being made to return landscapes back to their primordial natural prime, as in the case of Scotland, which is set to be the first rewilded nation on the world, through efforts to reintroduce and establish the wilderness of the famous highlands, which for centuries as revered for its untamed wilds. Yet, after centuries upon centuries of human activity and deforestation, Scotland’s once primeval and untamed landscape was reduced to a tame windswept heaths, sparkling lochs, and green hills. Yet in due time, there are plans for the return of wolves and bears. Truly the efforts of reforestation and remediation of the landscape is an example to other nations to take note. As a Canadian, we often pride ourselves on our rich and complex geography. Yet, environmental protections and attitudes towards the natural landscape are not always cut and dry. Still, reading about the caretaking and beauty of a mere microcosm of the English landscape is a remarkable and enjoyable read, which has been perfect company as October’s splendor has been reaped into the barrens of November.  

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

M. Mary

Sunday, 30 October 2022

– IX –

Everyone talks about how inspiration and perspiration are the only keys to success in life. Never underestimate circumstances and its ability to impede, interrupt and interfere. Circumstance will always win out. Circumstance dictates the recipe and ingredients to what you need. Be prepared to make sacrifices. Thankfully circumstances can be changed. Do not bind your time or waste it, if no opportunities present themselves, then you must seek them or create them.

Thursday, 27 October 2022


Hello Gentle Reader

Margaret MacMillan is a renowned and decorated historian, whose accomplishments and CV are decorated with titles such as former provost of Trinity College Toronto, history professor University of Toronto, former history professor at Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University) and current professor of history at Oxford. In addition to her blazing and stunning academic career, Margaret MacMillan is also an accomplished published author on her expertise of historical international relations, and their continuing influence on modern day political life and discourse. MacMillan has also delivered both the Massey Lectures in Canada, Histories People: Personalities and the Past (2015) and the Reith Lectures, The Mark of Cain (2018) in the United Kingdom. Having had the pleasure of listening to the recordings of MacMillan’s five-part Massey lectures, I was struck not only by Margaret MacMillan’s use of irony, but also her incisive ability to prove that history can be quite enjoyable when not reduced to just dates, facts and figures; but by the people, personalities, and stories that create the often incomplete, but fascinating and entertaining window into the past. Margaret MacMillan reminds listeners, however, that when discussing history, we are not merely discussing or looking into the past, but entirely different worlds that are alien and foreign to our contemporary perspectives, tastes, and biases. Yet, they provide the foundation and groundwork for the modern world, which in turn makes up the next layer for the foundation of the future.  Margaret MacMillan makes it very clear that the work of the historian is very different than that of the novelist. As MacMillan vaguely recalled a historical novel, where the writer transplanted some thought and reaction into the mind of Marie Antoinette as she rode in a carriage from Palace Versailles, where she gazes out the window and thinks of a forthcoming revolution and a tear rolls down her cheek. Historians cannot take such indulgent liberties with such sentimental revisionism; they strictly adhere to the facts and figures as they are recorded. Thankfully what is designated in a record from a historian’s perspective is a broad pallet of spice. Historians understand that the most mundane elements can be the most enlightening. To this point, MacMillan points out marketing advertisements from British-India heralding hat styles to block or limit sun exposure and reduce tanning. Historians also read through intimate correspondence, including letters and diaries to gain a fuller understanding of the times. What is considered impolite by general standards of the time are dutifully absolved by time, death, and curiosity. Margaret MacMillan is generous in her assessment of these types of records. The intimacy and unfiltered observations of personal correspondence and diaries give an unfiltered lens of the realities of the time. Newspaper articles, advertisements, accounting ledgers, memos and government records are the bread and butter of understanding what values society held at the time. But the personal letters and dairies give an unfiltered look at out these values were put into practice.

A fascinating example of this would be the diaries of the German scholar Victor Klemperer, whose diaries explored the daily realities of life during the Third Reich of Nazi Germany. The banality of evil and its bureaucratic application, with an almost frightening Kafkaesque flare. Despite viewing himself in the contexts of German and converting to Protestantism, Victor Klemperer was designated a Jew by the Nazi’s prescriptive classification system. In a twist of bizarre administrative policy, Klemperer was spared the fate of others who had been designated Jews—the concentration camp—because he was married to a woman who was considered fittingly Aryan. This, however, does not mean Klemperer is spared discrimination or absurd policies. Margaret MacMillan recounts one such entry where Victor Klemperer laments the worst birthday he has ever had, where at the university library he was denied borrowing books because he was Jew as explained by a tearful librarian. In a fashion similar to the diary of Anne Frank, Victor Klemperer’s dairies gave an unprecedented vantage point and commentary on life under Nazi occupation, which provided an extensive context and understanding of ordinary life in conjunction with the government records of the detailed plans and information architecture of the Holocaust itself, and all the testimonials and witness accounts, video, photographs, and logs which were recovered from the camps detailing the depravity and inhumanity that transpired there. Personal records are a privilege for the historian—at least that’s the impression Margaret MacMillan provides. MacMillian secures the point by detailing the insight gained from the letters of Madame de Sévigné to her daughter, which had literary merit for their wit and vividness, but provided a wonderful perspective of court life during the Louis XIV’s reign. These otherwise personal letters provide the necessary context and colour outside of the historical register.

Annie Ernaux maintains a firm assertion she is not a historian; intrapersonal ethnographer or personable sociologist are the more accurate descriptions of Ernaux. Yet, her work maybe of some interest to future historians. “Exteriors,” in this case takes the form of a fragmented diary over the 1980’s and early 1990’s. This slim volume of prose, fragments, and observations grapple with the disjointed complexity of life and existence. It traces the extradentary mundane realities of life the expansive and strange realm of a new town (villes nouvelles), which lacks the medieval roots and historical resonance of Paris or other such established cities, having instead gestated from conscription, planning, and design. these places are often viewed with disdain. Lifeless and characterless. By products of urban studies that otherwise hodgepodge discipline of environmental studies, geography, and political theory. These orchestrated communities are criticized for lacking a sense of place (by which all critics mean history that is not manufactured). These communities are developed to with a utilitarian perspective, deprived of cultural components which are gained through a sense of historical resonance found elsewhere. Paris trots its streets with a parade of cultural landmarks and its cemeteries are populated with a plethora of famous residents, the literary of special notice. These new towns—mere suburbs—do not have such luxuries or legacies. They are the towns of the reality where the needs of daily life need to be met. Where supermarkets exist; hair salons sprout up with an air of ordinariness; and the apocalyptic emptiness of its residential streets are mere facts. Yet in time, these new urban districts attract the required residents who are more concerned with the business of daily life, including all the practical considerations required to set up shop or set down roots. For all its luxurious reputation, the lights and the glamour, Paris is excessively expensive, to the point of financial asphyxiation. The satellite communities; the fringe of suburbia; those otherwise backwater polyps, can prove to be a financially feasible for the families who can provide a functioning kitchen for the many mouths to feed, a yard for running and playing, while accommodating the necessary amenities such as supermarkets, schools, and miscellaneous recreation facilities and services, while still being in proximity to the marvelous metropolitan city centre, where everyone is bound to be employed. It is there in once such commune that Annie Ernaux settled in 1975: “in the midst’s of lives started elsewhere.” This commune gradually becomes a socially diverse and complex ecosystem. It is here on October 6th that Annie Ernaux made her way up to the front gate of her hidden home in the town of Cergy, where the 82-year-old Ernaux cloaked in a stylish black dress coat and brilliant scarlet scarf quickly met with journalists. She didn’t take questions from the assembled reporters, but was gracious, warm, and kind in her interactions.

Annie Ernaux maintains that the town of Cergy cannot be summarized as a lifeless place, but even she must concede it exists on the peripheral of life and events. Perhaps from this vantage point is exactly how Ernaux is able to craft her works. Away from the trappings and illusions of Parisian literary life, established now for centuries; Ernaux is able to observe and write about life with refreshing accuracy, completely away from the echo chamber of self-congratulatory praise taking place within the self-assured Parisian literary saloons. It is here Ernaux can trace, sketch, and experience the discombobulating upheaval of daily life:

“Memories as I am driving past the black 3M Minnesota office building with all its glass windows lit: when I first moved to the New Town, I would invariably lose my way but would go on driving, too panicked to stop. In the shopping mall, I would make sure I knew exactly through which door I had entered – A, B, C or D – so that I could locate the same exit later on. I would also try not to forget in which row of the parking lot I had left my car. I was afraid of having to wander under the concrete slab until nightfall without ever finding it. So many children got lost in the supermarket.”

Many of us have been in the same position as Ernaux, devoted to remembering which entrance of the mall we are entering, and which section of the parking lot we have parked at. The dislocation and expansiveness of everything, affirms our own minuscule positioning within the exterior world. Or perhaps in turn the sheer gluttonous consumption consumerism has come to embody in a purely physical and spacious form, shadowing our own insignificance in the process.

“Exteriors,” also provides insight into the other more empathetic moments, where despite geographical and linguistic differences existing, the common experience both lived and recorded, and then read and experienced via second-hand, can sense and understand the forming atmosphere and the moment as it is relayed. As if we can grasp onto the discomfort and embarrassment bristling unspoken amongst those anonymously gathered:

“We were waiting at the dentist’s, reading magazines laid out on a coffee table. Three patients who had never met. The sound of a motorbike close by reached us through the window of the waiting room (situated on the ground floor). A young male voice rang out, addressing someone from a distance: ‘So see you on Sunday, okay?’ The reply, coming from a boy or a girl, was impossible to catch. ‘Don’t be late, eh?’ the voice continued. Then, much louder: ‘And good fuck with the principal!’ No doubt said in jest, in lieu of ‘good luck’. An embarrassed silence descended upon the waiting room, because of these words and the situation we were in – complete strangers unwittingly caught in the act of eavesdropping. Had we been alone, the incident might have amused or intrigued us. In the company of others, it became obscene.”

Through observation, eavesdropping, and reading graffiti, Annie Ernaux traces herself within the flotsam and jetsam of the daily life on the peripheral, watching the comings and goings; the changing landscape; the neighbours who herald from distant lands, be it Vietnam, Côte d’Ivoire, Maghreb – or in the case of Annie Ernaux, Normandy. Each of them, however, finds a home within this specifically engineered and envisioned town, and it is here Ernaux is able to grasp at the driftwood of life, free from the ostentatious falsities which inevitably would be imposed on her writing if she were writing and working in Paris, where readers would approach her work with an otherwise established orientation and deep seeded expectations. Perhaps in the future, historians will read the work of Annie Ernaux both for their literary analysis, but also for their ability to record with palpable acuity the changing social dynamics and realties of the 20th Century; in a fashion reminiscent of the famous letters of Madame de Sévigné. Strikingly, however, Annie Eranux has mastered the ability to survey and encapsulate the sensation of the passing of time with a graceful and seamless transition. Annie Ernaux receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature is not surprising, her sociological narratives, memory exploring cartography, and interpersonal survey of the changing social dynamics and realities are wonderful. Her prose maybe pinpoint sharp and blanched to the point of being bleached; yet they remain startling and sparkling in their clarity, which can be unflinching and uncomfortable in their impersonal examinations, but also revelatory and necessary in their unsentimental accuracy for getting to the point of the manner without being slathered in sentimentality or tabloid sensationalism.

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

M. Mary

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

The Booker Prize Winner 2022

Hello Gentle Reader,
The Sri Lankan born writer, Shehan Karunatilaka won the 2022 Booker Prize for his novel “The Seven moons of Maali Almeida,” which was unanimously chosen by the judges who praised the novels complexity, pathos, and humour to render a complex tale of civil war, the never-ending fight for justice, and a thirst for life. The judges called the novel not only ambitious but also audacious, which is a fair assessment, as most reviews and descriptions of the novel vaguely allude to its almost crackhead speed, its ricocheting plot, and its appreciation for the absurd, creating an otherwise fever dream of a compelling novel. To me the descriptions of “The Seven moons of Maali Almeida,” seemed somewhat eccentric for a prize which revels in its proclamations and promotions that it itself is eccentric, daring, and interested in the best English language fiction, often instead opted for an otherwise more conventional and conservative approach, favouring the established over the bold. Yet, this years Booker Prize was composed of a bit of daring and unique, Shehan Karunatilaka and his luscious ludicrous novel of lavish colour and intensity is one such novel, which also happens to take the prize.
In addition to “The Seven moons of Maali Almeida,” the other two novels that were of interest were “Small Things Like These,” by Claire Keegan and “Treacle Walker,” by Alan Garner, both novels completely different but compelling in their own right. “Treacle Walker,” was a novel exploring the complexities of childhood with a blend of fantasy invading the realm of childhood innocence with all of its flights of wonderment. Alan Garner, is also the oldest writer to be nominated for the Booker Prize at 88. “Treacle Walker,” is cryptic and quiet novel celebrating a sense of English folktale. Where Claire Keegan’s novel “Small Things Like These,” is the shortest novel ever shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which is a testament to Keegan’s refined sensibility of language, and one of the leading figures of the contemporary Irish short story form. “Small Things like These,” should not be viewed as a seasonal Christmas tale. The season and its festivities decorate the landscape, but the time of year of goodwill, charity and peace on earth is not to be found within the open secrets of the small village, which still suffers cruelly in the clenched fists of the catholic church choking it into submission. Keegan’s novel explores the complexities of a society oppressed by an institution whose preaching’s and practices are not only at odds, but are more wolf than lamb. Yet, despite the harshness of the winter season, the stifled social system, “Small Things Like These,” proves to be a gem of a novel, tracing the bonds of community, the strength and stay of family, and the fortune of goodwill and kindness of decent people. I personally held out hope for Claire Keegan and her novel “Small Things Like These,” viewing it as a novel of extraordinary literary humanism, but can recognize this is a trait shared with Shehan Karunatilaka.
Congratulations to Shehan Karunatilaka, a well-earned Booker Prize win!
Thank you for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Post-Nobel Prize in Literature 2022 Thoughts

Hello Gentle Reader,

This years Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to the French writer, Annie Ernaux, who the Swedish Academy praised:

“for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”

Subsequently, Ernaux is the first female French writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature and is also the 17th women to receive the Literature Prize since it was originally awarded in 1901.

Once again, this year’s announcement followed the same formula that has been in place since the announcement in 2019 for the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize(s) for Literature. First, at the chiming bell of 1:00 ‘O’clock (CET), those white and gold accent doors of the Swedish Academy open into a beautiful ballroom—where at long last—a full house of journalists wait for the announcement. With the chime, out comes the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Mats Malm, who stands behind his barricade, rattles off the standard welcome before announcing this years Nobel Laureate. Unlike last year, when Mats Malm announced the laureate as Abdulrazak Gurnah in mumbled and hushed tones, which made it difficult to make out; this year’s enunciation was clear and concise, Annie Ernaux could be easily understood in Swedish, while waiting for the citation details in English. After the quick announcement, once again, Mats Malm bowed out, while Anders Olsson and Ellen Mattson, Chairman and member of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee, came through the doors, to once again deliver a dry sermon and brief overview of Annie Ernaux’s life and work, and take questions from the assembled journalists, while Mats Malm lurked in background.

I am not entirely sure what role the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy holds now, or what function it performs. Obviously in previous years and decades, the Permanent Secretary announced the years Laureate along with their citation, afterwards answering questions from journalists. The current format has divided these functions between the Permanent Secretary and the Chairman of the Swedish Academy’s internal Nobel Committee. At risk of sounding like a broken record: this current format doesn’t work very well. It convolutes matters; its tightly orchestrated, controlled, and scripted; in addition to being rather unceremonious—even boring. If the Permanent Secretary’s role is to fulfill the public relations role of the Swedish Academy, among other administrative tasks (I presume), then the role should be provided the agency to fulfill those obligations. Dividing functions to other members of the academy, specifically one in this repeated instance, muddies the waters continually. I don’t find either Mats Malm or Anders Olsson particularly warm or ‘cozy,’ individuals (and there is nothing wrong with that), however, the current fashion in which the news is being delivered does take the excitement out of the atmosphere. All the anticipation, all the eagerness, deflates when the award announcement becomes increasingly formal, orchestrated, scripted, and controlled in scope. There is no cheering or applause, just silence. The changing of the guard, however, between Mats Malm and Anders Olsson I find in particular, the most frustrating component. Pick a lane. Pick a role. Pick a function, and just do it. I wonder if Mats Malm’s fumbling as the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, truly comes down to Anders Olsson seeking to retain and maintain his grasp on the role he held in a temporary fashion, which ultimately leads him to eclipse Mats Malm, reducing Malm’s exposure and ability to conduct the very public component of his position. Even with Ellen Mattson joining Anders Olsson this year as he read out his usual script, and then decided to answer some questions, which once again, Anders Olsson truly takes up the air and maintains himself as the focal point. Poor Ellen Mattson needed to exert herself in order to be able to participate, while Mats Malm lurked in the background.

The heightened role of the Nobel Committee, an otherwise internal structure within the academy whose main focus is to assist in the development of the first semi-shortlist of nominated candidates for the Nobel Prize for Literature for the year, which is the presented to the academy at large. This takes place in the spring, where I am sure discussions and appraisals take place between the academy at large for the Nobel Committee to present a shortlist, with the Swedish Academy’s approval to begin the good work throughout the remainder of the spring and summer, that by the time September rolls around the hard work begins, when the academy deliberates, debates, and eventually decides on a laureate. At least this is my understanding based off of the Nobel Prize website. Unless I am mistaken and instead, the Nobel Committee is charged with crafting the entire shortlist with each committee member pushing a favoured candidate, and the greater Swedish Academy accepts the writers presented and reads their work and then deliberates.

Personally, I find it concerning (in the event that) the Nobel Committee and its members hold that much influence and sway within the Swedish Academy. I am sure, the work itself is laborious, difficult and even tiring, truly, but to invest in the thought that five members of an already relatively small academy of just 18 members in total, can weight, measure and adjudicate the expansive, diverse, and breathtaking reality of world literature, seems unplausible to me. In fact, if that’s the case that five members of the Swedish Academy, direct and steer the direction of the Nobel Prize for Literature for the year, I would think the credibility of the Swedish Academy’s ability to truly preside and hold the role of defacto international literary connoisseurs and experts, would fall into disrepute. This position is already weakened and hangs perilously by a few frayed threads. Regardless, in my humblest of opinions, Anders Olsson needs to step back and relinquish this persistent public relations involvement, while in turn, allow Mats Malm to do his job, however, good or bad it may be; but the continued muddying of the waters with the announcement is not appreciated. I hope and even think, given the opportunity, Mats Malm would may even thrive in the role of Permanent Secretary without being routinely managed or ducking out for Anders Olsson to upstage, and then only to read out a long tedious dry discounted sermon. If I am interested in the information I will read it on the Nobel Prize website, I’m not interested in having it dispassionately disseminated to me. I am far more interested in someone who is excited and is interested in engaging with the assembled journalists to have an interview and just tell us what they think about this year’s laureate, be it Horace Engdahl commenting on Doris Lessing’s autobiographies as a second wind in her sails, but also pointing out her talent with the short story form; or Peter Englund referencing and emphasizing Herta Müller’s remarkable literary language; or Sara Danius’s marvelous recipe allegory describing Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing, as a combination of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka, with a pinch of Marcel Proust, with a slight stir—but not to much(!); oh, I do miss Sara Danius. In turn, once again for another year, this current forum proves to be dispassionate and uninspired, which in turn, leaves those viewing the proceeding with equal lukewarm reactions.

As for Annie Ernaux, I think she is a welcomed and worthy laureate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, though admittedly, I was expecting her to be last years Literature Laureate, which may explain my lack of surprise that she won this year. I think Annie Ernaux is a deserving Nobel Laureate, who fits with equally good company with previous Nobel Laurates. As a writer, Annie Ernaux does take a different approach to literature in form, rather then the conventional forms of: poetry, prose (novel, short story), and dramatic writings; Ernaux instead writes in a chimeric fashion, incorporating elements of fiction, memoir, and social criticism, to craft her alchemical work that remains both intensely personal in its ethnographic excavation and examination, but feathers out to encompass a much broader purview beyond the insularity of the exclusively intrapersonal.

Annie Ernaux’s masterpiece: “The Years,” was my first introduction to Ernaux, both her writing style and literary proclivities. “The Years,” is a masterful work of a generation or collective biography, as it traces the anonymous ‘She,’ and ‘We,’ (though its safe to presume its Ernaux), through the end of the Second World War, into the first decade of the 21st Century. The social progress through the decades and generation were exemplary in their palpability, providing a cartograph of the social evolution and changing dynamics of society after the Second World War. Education, in particular, proved to be both the scales in which one could ascend to a higher social elevation, or be routed in a respectable but less prestigious direction. The clinical analysis of the indignity that is learned early on via the cruelty of how ones ‘capability,’ is assessed, in this instance that of a student’s academic acumen, is reminiscent livestock being assessed either for market or those spared the butcher’s block. In the politics and political events—beyond the May ‘68 student protests—discussed within the book often went over my head. I am not informed nor am I well versed in any capacity into the finer nuances of French political science or governance infrastructure. Yet, when the niche elements fade away, universal elements, tropes and realities become more apparent. In an increasingly small and globalized world, the rise of capitalism and consumerism, inevitably means everyone within the developed western world will be accustom to advertisements; the rise of supermarkets; changing social orders, which both dissolved old ingrained social views on class differences, while instituting new ones in turn. The whiplash inducing rapid development of the later half of the 20th Century and early 21st Century, truly flies by and encompasses not just the Cold War or the advent of the morning after pill, but the disenchantment and bitterness of those now castaway and lost within a world that revels in the novelty of the new, but is so lacking in soul, character, or virtue. To quote the remarkable German poet Durs Grünbein “The Years,” is truly a “sociological epic,” piece of writing.

The use of the term sociological is not an uncharacteristic term to use to describe Annie Ernaux or her writing in general terms. The Swedish Academy, followed more in line with Ernaux’s own description of her work, which she referrers to as a personal ethnography. Both descriptions can be used to describe Ernaux’s literary work with equal application, yet both represent two very different components of her work. The intrapersonal ethnographic excavation and examination of personal history, private life, and subsequent consequences, are the foundational base of all of Ernaux’s work. Personal experience and memory are the pools of genesis which spawn her literary works. It is here, Ernaux can combine both autobiography and fictional elements to study with laser intensity the elements of a major event or foundational altering experience. For Ernaux this has often be attributed to a couple of events, the first being her devasting illegal abortion at the age of 23, which almost killed her as she ends up in the hospital. This event is a catalyst which explodes and ricochets leading into further explorations into topics of socially instituted shame; societal perspectives on pre-marital sex and sex in general; the subjugation of the woman’s body through a social and political context, which in itself has influenced, caricaturized, even mythologized a woman’s body through a variety of different lens, including biblical, political, and aesthetically; then there is the nature of sex, infatuation, and desire, a dissertation on the natures of desire and infatuation, the intoxicating loss of oneself in the thralls of physical and emotional obsession. Ernaux’s personal experience is the first excavation site from which with nova intensity her narratives and books begin the change to examine, in a greater context the social and societal implication of the collective’s governance and influence over the individual. In another book, Ernaux traces her first sexual experience and awakening into the realms of the physical pleasures and the carnal consequences. As gossip circulates about the teenaged Annie Ernaux, the social ramifications are immediately presented and felt. She is categorized as that kind of girl; then there are the slurs; then comes the social ostracization. Ernaux viciously vivisects the scenario with a clinical coldness, avoiding the pitfalls of melodramatic sentimentality and tabloid sensationalism, Ernaux instead employee’s sterile scrutiny to provide a nuanced portrait of reality, which ensures her social criticism maintains a scienced and scholarly approach and casting off the unnecessary histrionics.

Annie Ernaux’s break through, which Anders Olsson recommends and points out in his sermon, is her condescended social examination of her father’s life. It should be noted, Annie Ernaux’s upbring was provincial and working class. Her parents in particular were hardworking individuals, who came from extraordinary working-class background themselves, and though they forged a decent life, by owning and operating a grocer and café, all the while escaping the proletariat realities of working in a factory as basic labour, they maintain bourgeois ambitions (or so I read) and prepare the ground for their daughter, Annie to fashion and even better life for herself. In her book “A Man’s Place,” Annie Ernaux sketches and condenses her father’s life with both impressionistic shadowing and colour, along with exacting accuracy, providing the personal details required to understand her fathers desire for a different life; a more refined life, which within the context of the early 20th Century carried the airs of respectability and genteel virtue, from his otherwise humble working-class background. These virtues are the undercurrents of Ernaux’s childhood, the invisible driving force propelling her father from continuing the legacy of the proletariat and in turn be able to run a grocery store and café within a small northern France community. Through stoic and uncompromising observation, Annie Ernaux becomes an exacting sociological examiner, dissecting the life and social pursuits of her father. The examination of her father, evolves into a critical social analysis of the social trends of French society, the changing airs, the changing guard, the progressing realities, as the lower and working classes began their climb for material comfort and social understanding. This would be a life completely different from the one their parents had experienced or enjoyed, and even more alien than the ones their grandparents had endured.

Annie Ernaux’s greatest success and even talent is her ability to fixate with microscopic intensity on the intrapersonal and otherwise immediately private experience of herself or observations conducted exclusively as her own. With a swift and graceful touch, Ernaux moves beyond the confines of exclusive solipsism and take on a greater more breathtaking social panoramic view of the greater social issues and complications of the era and perspectives. How the criminality of an abortion not only almost killed her, but what of all the others who did not make it? Why must sex be attributed to shame? Furthermore, why does the man or boy get absolution—borderline praised—whereby they can walk away with the prideful airs of conquest and sated appetite; while the woman or girl is nothing more than a tramp, a mongrel, a trollop? It’s this analysis and critique within the sociological realm, and the clinical acuity (to quote the Nobel citation) which makes Annie Ernaux such a striking and worthy Nobel Laureate. Ernaux’s ability to include the personal and private in relation to the public and external. Personally, I think Ernaux is by far more successful when surveying and analyzing the social changes from the anchored point of view of the personal, which is why perhaps I enjoyed “The Years,” is its veiled anonymous intimacy with the impersonal narrator, who provides a personal guided tour of the progress and rapidly changing world of the 20th Century French society. When the book opens, the shadow of the Second World War still lingers even though celebrations are had. Memories of fighting, resistance, rationing, are all discussed around the dinner table. After the war there is another societal shift: the prominent role of education. Children are no longer excused from school to assist their rural agricultural working families with the harvest or other chores. They stay and they study. Despite its readily availability and mandated requirement for attendance with no exceptions, the distribution of education is meager. As aforementioned, students who have been found academically incapable are rerouted to alternative directions in which to make of their life. This creates a new notion of social systems, a replica hierarchy of previous established social principles. It is always Annie Ernaux’s ability to encompass the competing realities and perspectives of the individual and the collective, examining with uncompromising and stoic firmness the often, bitter truths and consequences that exist behind them.

As a Nobel Laureate, Annie Ernaux will be reviewed in a multifaceted context be it literary, political and sociological in nature. Where Svetlana Alexievich became the cartographer of the Soviet and Post-Soviet heart and soul through interviews and collecting the oral history of the Soviet and Post-Soviet landscape and individual; Ernaux has exercised a more intrapersonal review of French society’s evolution after the Second World War, turning herself into the canary entering the mine, rather then interviewing the miners themselves. Herta Müller pulled extensively from her own experiences and those within her immediate orbit, to write about the landscape of the disposed within Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania, depicting it as a land of cruel absurdity, of grey shadows and rampant corruption; yet Müller’s greatest renown is her style of ‘living in details,’ thriving within the acute metaphors and Kafkaesque world of distrustful language; Ernaux in turn, built the foundations of her literary career from both personal and interpersonal relationships, but her language is by far more clinical and blanched in style. Doris Lessing is often described as the great social critic and epicist of the 20th Century, whose literary work, opinions, and personal life ebbed and flowed with a variety of political and social causes, which are equally reflected and refracted within her monumental novels. Her famous novel “The Golden Notebook,” is a psychological exploration of the fragmented realities and facets of a woman, both her political life, emotional life, creative outlet, and personal life. Annie Ernaux in turn exhumes and explores the complexities of memory, emotional realities, sexual awakenings and yearnings with equal frankness. Of course, who can forget the controversial and unapologetic Elfriede Jelinek, whose work are psychosexual and politically vitriolic, exploring the subjugation of women within a capitalist society commodifying them further in part and parcel with consumerist tendencies. Yet, Jelinek is renowned for her strictly gallows humour and linguistic acrobatics; Ernaux in similar fashion will encompass the realms of political discourse and discussion, which the author herself has recognized, and even the Swedish Academy has commented on, referencing the inherent political dimensions of her work as they explore matters of social inequality. In a fashion similar to Louise Glück, who turned the personal into the universal by writing her intensely austere poetry through a diverse colour spectrum of voices and motifs; Ernaux carves out the personal within the collective, and in this juxtaposition between these facets provides commentary on the universal experience of the human condition, which become accessible and available for others through exposure and empathy.

In reference to the political discourse of Annie Ernaux, there is a curiosity of whether or not the Swedish Academy has decided to engage in political message with this years award. Ernaux’s win comes during the shifting social context of women’s rights in various parts of the world, with the Supreme Court of the United States of America, overturning ‘Roe v. Wade,’ and the recent suspicious death of Mahsa Amini who was being detained by the Iranian morality police on grounds her hijab was being worn too loosely. What has resulted is an extensive and persistent protest against Iran’s clerical theocratic oppression. Even though, Ernaux’s work aligns itself within the context of feminism (which Ernaux has vocally confirmed support for), it is important to limit the conjecture of an explicit political decision regarding Annie Ernaux’s Nobel within the mercurial and shifting realities of the political context. There is certainly a political dimension to Annie Ernaux’s Nobel, but it is not the inspiration for the award. The Swedish Academy did not base its decision on the United States of America’s repeal of ‘Roe v. Wade,’ or the current protests within Iran. Then again, for the sake of contrary perspective, Annie Ernaux herself (from what I am reading and gathering) views writing as a act of great responsibility, be that responsibility is social in nature or political. Though if the award is to be framed within the context of the political as in the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the literary quality in itself must surely exceed the political dimensions. 

Congratulations are in order for Annie Ernaux, a truly deserving and remarkable writer!

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


M. Mary

Thursday, 6 October 2022

Nobel Prize in Literature 2022

  Hello Gentle Reader, 

The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to the French author: Annie Ernaux.

 "for the courage and clinical acuity with the which she uncover the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory." 

Congratulations are in order Annie Ernaux!

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

M. Mary 

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Remaining & Final Thoughts for the Nobel Prize in Literature 2022

Thank you to all of you Gentle Readers who had previously read my Nobel Speculation List.
There are a couple notes to make clear with the list, I do work extremely hard to fixate on less represented or unknown writers from regions who are interesting and I think are equally of deserving of the Nobel Prize for Literature, which means I try to limit English language writers from the list, which is why you do not see writers from the United States of America, United Kingdom, Ireland, or Canada on the list. However, there are minor instances to round out the numbers or provide more geographical area, which means I include Australia with Gerald Murnane, who is a singular visionary writer in his own right, who also has the literary merit and credentials to be seen as a Nobel worthy contender. Patricia Grace from New Zealand occupies that unique position of once again rounding out the numbers and geographical area, but Grace is also an indigenous author, and her novels are infused with this unique Māori perspective, but also showcases with startling starlight brilliance Patricia Grace’s writing capabilities, nuanced thought process, and commentary on the indigenous perspective in a postcolonial world. Furthermore, there is no denying that Indigenous literary voices are growing as important perspectives, who provide another viewpoint of colonialism and postcolonialism, while also employing traditional narrative components of oral storytelling, and cementing cultural legacies for future reference. There are many writers who are currently at work in this regard, such as Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, Thomas King, and Simon J. Ortiz, to name but a few.
My knowledge of Indian literature is very limited. India being a massive country with a diverse palate of cultures and languages. My limited understanding inevitably means that English language writers are always spotted first and foremost, and my research confirms, that English language writers are recognized and have great appeal due to the language. Though I do my best to advocate or bring to light less known writers (as the greatest fun with the Nobel Prize for Literature is expanding the reading purview), even I recognize there needs to be some semblance of reality, in how great of chance does a writer have at receiving the award, given the Swedish Academy’s current structure, which is why two English language Indian writers: Amitav Ghosh and Ranjit Hoskote, appear on the list.
Lorna Goodison, however, was more of a serendipitous accident. When initially compiling and organizing both of this year’s posts, I had begun to write about Lorna Goodison with the expectation she was going on the “Honourable Mentions,” Section of the initial list. Yet, as I was completing the finishing touches on this year’s speculation list, I happened to notice Lorna Goodison made her way onto this year’s speculation list, and rather than making an edit or excluding her from the list, I decided to keep the famous Jamaican poet on this year’s list, viewing Goodison as more then worthy and capable of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Therefore a few exceptions are made, but truly, I do not wish to saturate my Nobel Speculation List with the usual suspects for the Nobel Prize for Literature, who will inevitably flood and engulf the list. If readers or others are seeking companions for the usual suspects then as always, they should look elsewhere for other lists to find the usual continued perennial favourites being listed.
This year’s speculation list introduced 17 new writers. Of these 17 writers, 7 were female, while the remaining 10 were male. These 17 writers were spread out across the geographical areas, with three new writers to the African Continent; two writers to the North-Africa & Middle East; eight writers from Europe; 1 writer from Asia & the Indo-Subcontinent; and three writers from South America & Latin America with the Caribbean. Those writers are as follows:
Ananda Devi – Mauritius
Ayi Kwei Armah – Ghana
Breyten Breytenbach – South Africa
Sahar Khalifeh – Palestine
Ghassan Zagtan – Palestine
Pascal Quignard – France
Sylvie Germain – France
Eeva Tikka – Finland
Tomas Venclova – Lithuania
Vénus Khoury-Ghata – France
Amin Maalouf – France
Ivan Wernish – Czechia
Miljenko Jergovic – Bosnia
K. Satchidanandan – India
Patrick Chamoisseau - Martinique
Maryse Condé – Guadeloupe
Lorna Goodison – Jamaica
All writers included on the list are always by personal choice and interest. I maintain the thought process that every writer has equal opportunity to be considered as contention for the award. Though obviously, some writers, have better chances to take the award then others. Though when it comes to the Nobel Prize for Literature, there is no guarantee or certainty. The Swedish Academy has proven year after year that they are a fickle breed, whose tastes eb and flow with the moon, and as the internal Nobel Committees members begin to be shuffled out and replaced with a new member, their recommendations, personalities, and perspectives will inevitably influence and colour the Swedish Academy’s direction when it comes to their deliberations and decisions. Some writers are objective. Their reputation, their literary merit, their influential weight cannot be argued or ignored, and they just happen to charm enough members to agree to acknowledging them with the award. Previous laureates of that caliber include Doris Lessing (2007), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Alice Munro (2013), Mario Vargas Llosa (2010), J.M. Coetzee (2003). Then there are more obscure writers, such as Patrick Modiano (2014), Herta Müller (2009), Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021), Elfriede Jelinek (2004), and Imre Kertész (2002) who are brilliant in their obsessions, their absolute attention to deal and linguistic precision, and their relevance in the humanistic spirit.

—Maintaining ‘Literary,’ Objectivity—

After the events of August 12th, it is important to give comment to the atrocious stabbing of Salman Rushdie. I like everyone else, had thought that the business of the fatwa had reached its inevitable conclusion, having pissed itself out of its invigorated indignant fuel, and becoming nothing more than rhetoric of a toothless barking mad dog, or a declawed cat posturing. Rushdie himself had grown comfortable with the idea of getting on with the business of living a normal life, complete with the engaging in writing and teaching. The attack, however, shattered these notions, while also confirming the deepening reality of how freedom of speech, expression and thought are now routinely under attack, but not just limited to authoritarian states or dictatorships, but is increasingly under threat in countries who have strong and established democratic institutions. Rushdie’s stabbing is a reality check that writers across the world, including the otherwise free or intellectually sober, are increasingly under the attack both physical and rhetorically. For example, agreeing or disagreeing with J.K. Rowling’s views on certain subjects, does not warrant that a civil society should devolve and digress into a state of death threats. As Rushdie’s stabbing proves the fatwa which had finally been laid to rest as nothing more than a baseless empty threat, turned out to be a still smoldering point of contention with many indignant and depraved individuals willing to pick up the mantel and commit attempted murder.

The aftermath of the Salman Rushdie attack has placed many institutions in an otherwise uncomfortable position. Suddenly this crazed cancel culture and censorship promoting movement can see what exactly censorship looks like. What denying or circumventing the most elementary principle and cornerstone of freedom of thought looks like. The truth is, there is no cherry picking what views or perspectives are voiced or published. Censorship—selective censorship or self-censorship—is not compatible with any notion or idea of freedom of thought, expression, speech, or conscience. Any institution that promotes any form of censorship is one which has forsaken its principles for some new breed of ideological movement that supports totalitarian constraints and promotes a culture of stagnation and castration. A passive caricature lacking thought, ingenuity, creativity, or genius. What remains is a wasteland of falsified niceties and the disturbed belief that taking offense is equivalent to moral superiority, and provocation is a crime worthy of exile, or in the case of Rushdie, an eternal death. The attack of Salman Rushdie is more than just a heinous act, and cannot be limited to the perspective that its been ongoing for 30 years, it’s a harbinger and reminder of the fragile nature of the agency an individual has against the collective; the ability to dissent against the collective; the capability to form opinions, thoughts, and wonder without retaliation or retribution; to challenge established institutions and critically assess their merit; and in turn create, enrich, enliven the world with language and stories, for that is what writers do. As a teacher, individual, and writer, Salman Rushdie has been one of the most defining and influential speakers on the importance of freedom of speech and expression, but more importantly, the freedom to read, without undue influence by an external entity be it political, religious, social et cetera. As the world attempts to establish—or re-establish some institutional notion of truth—while grasping with the propagation of alternative facts in a post-truth environment riddled with disbelief as opposition is referred to as fake news—Salman Rushdie, has been a stalwart cornerstone of sober reminder that the basic democratic principles and dignity of these vandalized institutions, will be restored. Not by any statement or lecture or speech, but by the steadfast faith in which he continued to support these institutions, without faltering or failing to think they will return and overcome these challenges, as can be seen when Rushdie was due to give a lecture Chautauqua Institution on the topic of violence against writers.

The response to the attack has been powerful, complete with writers reading passages of Rushdie’s novels in public, as they once did in support and solidarity when Rushdie was forced into hiding in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Nobel Laureates, world renowned writers, and organizations such as PEN America, have been steadfast in their support of Rushdie and condemnation of the attack. The Académie Goncourt in turn released a statement supporting Salman Rushdie. Sadly, the Swedish Academy has so far, has remained silence on the attack, in a manner similar to their code of silence during the 1980’s, when it failed to condemn or speak out against the fatwa leveraged against Rushdie. It was only in 2016 did the Swedish Academy finally condemn the death sentence. In turn, some have seen the recent attack as confirmation and resounding reason as to why Salman Rushdie should receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Rushdie has been an active proponent for freedom of speech, expression, and reading since the controversial “Satanic Verses,” were first published. Rusdhie’s affirmation that when external forces that are either political, religious, or social in nature, demean or censor or ban or burn books or hide them from individuals or the public, they deny and deprive the individual and the public the right to read; the ability to engage; the capacity to learn; the agency to think. Rushdie’s defense of what should be viewed as a simple concept, suddenly took on profound moralist and existential dimensions. These defenses and Rushdie’s resilience in promoting these fundamental human rights can never be underestimated or undervalued. Yet, to advocate for Salman Rushdie to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, because of his defense of freedom of thought, expression, speech, conscience, and reading, diminishes the Nobel Prize for Literature, but more importantly, it cheapens the award for Salman Rushdie. If Salman Rushdie is to be considered for the Nobel Prize for Literature, it should be based on Rushdie’s literary work, which is rich and expansive. Rushdie’s reputation rests on his magnificent novels: “Midnights Children,” “Shame,” are modern classics of postmodernism, magical realism, and postcolonialism. Sadly, since the attack, “The Satanic Verses,” has once again become a novel of scandalous intrigue, though Rushdie commented of being proud of the text, and its complex structure, which have been eclipsed due to the fatwa. All literary criticism and evaluation are lost within the thicket of scandal and controversy.

If the Swedish Academy were to bestow the award on Salman Rushdie, it should be on the basis of his literary qualifications, which Rushdie has. Rushdie’s irrefutable defense of freedom of speech, expression, though and the democratic institution of equal reading, is not only honourable, its chivalrous and gallant. Yet, the goal of the Nobel Prize for Literature, should retain some sense of literary objectivity, where the award is based on literary qualifications first and foremost. Everything else is secondary.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Ukrainian writers have taken on new roles, as both recorders of the events and atrocities; cultural and language custodians, seeking to preserve Ukrainian identity; then they must also be beacons of hope, capsules to remind and inspire soldiers and citizens what they are fighting for. the Ukrainian writer and poet Serhiy Zhadan, has been thrust into the spotlight as of late. A well-known agitator and resistor, Zhadan has been assaulted by Russian supporters for his opposition and criticism of the Crimean annexation in 2014 and has been an active dissenting voice against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, while organizing humanitarian aid for the Eastern Regions of Ukraine which have been hardest hit by Russia’s invasion. Of course, Zhadan’s political engagements and activism go beyond opposing Russia and its Soviet era nostalgia and aggressive tactics, but also include criticism and participation in protests at home in Ukraine, which includes the Orange Revolution in 2004. This inevitably means for Serhiy Zhadan literary pursuits and political engagement are not entirely separate engagements or activities. Yet, what is defining of Serhiy Zhadan’s literary work is his ability to capture and encapsulate the palpability of a region of Europe that is complex, divisive, and still engaging with its own complex past and often corruptible present.

Independence, for example, is an uncomfortable state to be in. Its jarring when social order, the norms, and everyday conventionality, are all usurped and uprooted. Suddenly there is no foundation, and the world takes an otherwise askew view of itself. In the rush of disruption and dismantlement, the foundation collapses in unison with everything else. The eastern sections of Ukraine are heavily industrialized, and often seen as the industrial spine and heartland of the former Soviet Union. The Luhanask region of Ukraine, was a Soviet stronghold within the country, throughout the 20th Century, and is salt and peppered with monuments of this past. This region in turn was the industrial heart and backbone of the Soviet system in turn, a place of economic prosperity and purpose. Now, however, it is a place of abandonment, displacement and disenfranchisement, an atmosphere Serhiy Zhadan captures within his novels. Serhiy Zhadan is able to provide an empathetic, though brutally honest understanding of the region and how it fits in within Ukraine, but also is weighted down by its Soviet affiliation and prosperity, and how the people within the region relate to their Ukrainian national identity in comparison to their Soviet past.

Yet, once again to advocate for Serhiy Zhadan to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature due to the events taking place in Ukraine with Russia’s invasion, again cheapens the award for Zhadan. If Serhiy Zhadan is to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, he should receive it on the grounds of his literary work. His novels which survey a complex, complicated region, which has been abandoned in the wake of independence, and suffers at the machinations of external forces, often with violent repercussions. His poetry of raw intensity, extraordinary palpability, and ability to excavate the past to scry the realities of the present cannot be overlooked. At the age of 45, I also think that Serhiy Zhadan is a bit young for the Nobel Prize for Literature. There is an expectation of further greatness when it comes to Serhiy Zhadan. 


—A Guessing Game of Personal Preference—

When it comes to speculating for the Nobel Prize for Literature, the greatest joy is always the discovery of new writers, whereby one can expand their reading. This is partly the greatest enjoyment of the Nobel Prize for Literature, when they move to awarding more obscure or unknown writers, who happen to be dazzling, daring, and just otherwise enjoyable. Which is what influences many of the personal decisions for my own speculation list, whereby I dredge and scour for unique writers, whose work I find interesting and are sadly under represented or unappreciated in the English language. Many of these writers, I fear, have very minimal chances winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but that does not diminish either their work or the quality of it.

When I learned that the Finnish poet, Sirkka Turkka had died last October, I knew I wanted to find a new Finnish writer to include on this year’s list, as I had to omit the great Finnish (Swedish language) poet Tua Forsström, who was rightfully elected to the Swedish Academy of Chair No. 18. As a nation, Finland continues to fascinate me. Quiet and unassuming, scarcely populated, all the while being covered in primeval forests, lakes, and tundra. It’s a distinctly proud Nordic nation, with a unique culture and literature that is relatively unknown outside of its borders. Sofi Oksanen is perhaps the nation’s most famous literary export. Yet at the age of 45, Oksanen is still relatively young for the Nobel, and her works focus heavily on the recent history of Estonia and its Soviet Era oppression. Therefore, I decided to include a truly obscure (by English language standards) Finnish writer to the list. Eeva Tikka has no novel, short story collection, or poetry collection translated into English. A few of Tikka’s short stories have been translated into English via online publications (the now defunct Books From Finland), and they so far have been my only introduction into Tiika’s work as a writer.

Eeva Tikka writes with a light and gentle hand. Her prose is graceful and delicate, reminiscent of the finest watercolour paintings. The deepest colours bleeding forth and feathering out, gradually fading into the abstract of insinuation and silhouette. The slow burn of interior lives carefully blooming to showcase the complex and conflicting conundrum of the individual experience and reality, reflecting the divisions between established social constructs of moral acceptability, and the individuals resentment harbored towards facilitating them. A harvesters wisdom preaches patience, and when enacted with stoic resolve, reveals hesitation, and missed opportunities. Of course, Tikka is not without irony either, slyly mocking the cruelty of time, as in the case of a client confronting his psychologist as his childhood bully. Eeva Tikka’s literary language, however, has always been its foundation. The lyricism and pointillistic impressionism are always utilized to her advantage, with light sketching, Tikka is able to shadow enough nuance into a scene, to provide an understanding that something is amiss. Her characters are fully realized, with complexities and contradictions, and are treated with objective kindness. Eeva Tikka abandons sentimentality but does capture compassionate sense of rounded completeness of her characters, probing their interior lives and exterior relationships with a gardener’s attentive and affectionate care. Yet, a lack of international presence plays against Eeva Tikka, whose work has barely been exposed to English language readers; and Finnish is a complex language difficult to translate. Still, what little I have been able to read of Eeva Tikka has endeared me to her. Her prose is crystalline and lyrical, with a graceful sleight of hand, reminiscent of the slow transition of the seasons. Those few weeks or couple of days, of twilight time, that threshold and crossroads of seasonal changes. In the case of Tikka, one can’t help but feel the crispness of winter while sensing the budding pulse of spring beating beneath the frost. 

All of this being said, its doubtful Eeva Tikka may be in contention for the award. Her literary work has so far had limited reach and translation beyond Finland (to my knowledge), so it maybe difficult for the Swedish Academy to properly assess her work, even with Tua Forsström in their ranks having an understanding or overview of the Finnish literary scene. Regardless, Eeva Tikka remains a writer of personal preference and interest, regardless of her speculated chances. Furthermore, if she is nominated in some instance or another, be it by an invited qualified professor or institution, Laurate, or member of the Swedish Academy, the opportunity exists within the possible.  

Single out Eeva Tikka, only showcases that my speculation list provides proof of just how personal preference and interest is exercised when crafting the list. Of course, in addition to these otherwise personal eccentricities, there are otherwise more objective writers, who have been deemed by public opinion irrefutable and unimpeachable in their likeliness to win. Of course, the Swedish Academy doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about public opinion, having established a lengthy track of record of award obscure writers, exceptionally talented writers, in addition to internationally applauded and recognized writers, all the while having a lengthy history of neglecting enduring and historically acclaimed writers. Despite this, the Swedish Academy silent, shrugging their shoulders with indifference. They’ll continue in their procession, awarding great writers, making questionable decisions, and missing the mark entirely. Perhaps out of all the Nobel Prize’s Literature and Peace, make the biggest and recognizable guffaws; but to be fair the science awards are free from impeachment. As in the case of the 1949 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, when the awarded was given to Antonio Egas Moniz, who was pioneering developer of the misguided psychosurgery: the lobotomy; though his admirer, William Freeman II was the one who evangelized and galvanized the procedure. So even though Bob Dylan did receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, at least he was not promoting and advocating for the mutilation of frontal lobes or other areas of the brain, which would go on to be described as the most misguided and barbaric practices of modern medicine.

As for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, its difficult to form a clear picture or opinion of what direction the Swedish Academy may move in. For example, from 2016 – 2021, over the past six years four of the winners were English language winners: Bob Dylan (2016), Kazuo Ishigruo (2017), Louise Glück (2020), Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021); while Olga Tokarczuk (2018) and Peter Handke (2019) wrote in Polish and German. This English language dominance has become disconcerting and disheartening. Though the Swedish Academy has often been viewed of taking a ‘Eurocentric,’ perspective with regards to literary tastes and laureates, yet the current trend shows great support towards the English language writers and authors. This years betting sites have remained quiet reading placing bets for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Only realizing an uneven list halfway through September. Last year, however, the favourite to win the Nobel Prize for Literature—at least according to the Bookies—was the French writer, Annie Ernaux.

Annie Ernaux is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts within the English language, with much of her prolific memoirs and testaments being published. Her book “Happening,” gained further testimonial relevance when Roe v. Wade was turned over by the U.S Supreme Court. Her magnum opus “The Years,” was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2019. Annie Ernaux is regarded as one of the most expert practitioners of ‘Autofiction.’ The term is somewhat misapplied to Ernaux, who despite utilizing her own personal experiences within a narrative format, does not give way to self-indulgence. There’s measured calculation with Ernaux’s work, which does not censor or gentrify the subject matter, but rather puts into a frameable context to diminish gross sensationalism or misconstrued histrionics. The frank and even graphic depictions of sex and sexual relationships were Ernaux’s first literary discussions, but the way sexual relationships are viewed within a social, societal, and personal context is what separated Ernaux from the run of the mill sensationalist memoirist, who was out right their tell-all book. Annie Ernaux applies critical analysis to engage with outdated or at the time commonly held perspectives towards sexual relationships, abortion, pre-marital pregnancies, and how the female body was viewed within this social context. Ernaux proved herself to be not just scandalous in her handling of sensitive subjects, but a consummate social critic and scientist, tracing with palpable empathy moments of personal crisis. Her debut “Cleaned Out,” recounts the story of an unwanted pregnancy of a fictional girl, whose current situation is juxtaposed against her middleclass upbring. This immediate work catapulted Ernaux to the forefront of French literary scene, whereby the writer had begun a serious conversation regarding the social attitudes towards the women’s bodies and sexual relationships. “Do What They Say or Else,” another novel recounts the social changes of the 20th French society, through Anne who through her maturation from Middle School to High School, looses her innocence, but also finds her worldview changing from that of her parents, hardworking and decent working-class people, but their daughter in part to education moves to a different social standing, which becomes a bittersweet and alienating experience.

These early works, showcases Ernaux’s critical eye to the changing realities of French society during the 20th Century. Her masterpiece “The Years,” is exemplary in its ability to grasp the chorus of ‘we,’ cast adrift through all these extraordinary changes taking place throughout the 20th Century, from the victory of the World War II to the rise of consumerism. Her intimate works “A Man’s Place,” “A Woman’s Story,” “I Remain in Darkness,” are some of her most empathetically profound, tracing the personal and social biographies of her father and mother, their working-class backgrounds, and their bourgeois aspirations, but also her mother being lost to Alzheimer’s. Through intimate subject matter, Annie Ernaux traces the social inadequacies, consequences, and progression. Ernaux’s ability to maintain both a personal perspective and objective understanding allows her critically to assess the social realities of the day, and trace their gradual progression through the decades, where continued advancement both in medicine and technology brought on a whirl wind of changing social attitudes and realities. Ernaux’s ability to find and measure the pulse of social realities and changes provides a palpable study of the times, through observed and personal experience, Ernaux is able to empathetically gain an intimate understanding and relationship of the subject matter (even assessing it from a personal perspective in retrospect) without becoming clinical and cold but is able to maintain an objective overview of the experiences reviewed. Annie Ernaux remains palpable, empathetic, clinically scrutinizing of social developments, changes, and attitudes, providing an encapsulated sociological overture of the developments over the past century, both progressive hallmarks and the continued neglect.

This year the betting sites have listed the following writers of having the greatest chances of receiving this years Nobel Prize for Literature.

Michel Houellebecq                                                        Javier Marias
Salman Rushdie                                                              Mia Couto 
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o                                                         Nuruddin Farah
Stephen King                                                                   Can Xue
Annie Ernaux                                                                  Edna O'Brien
Garielle Lutz                                                                   Gerland Murnane
Pierre Michon                                                                  Homero Aridjis
Robert Coover                                                                 Karl Ove Knausgaard
Murakami Haruki                                                            Scholastique Mukasonga
Anne Carson                                                                    Yan Lianke 
Hélène Cixous                                                                  Boroth Stauss
Jamaica Kincaid                                                               Charles Simic      
Jon Fosse                                                                          Cormac McCarthy
Lyudmila Ulitskaya                                                          Hilary Mantel
Margaret Atwood                                                              Ko Un
Maryse Conde                                                                  Lionton Kwesi Johnson
Mircea Cărtărescu                                                            Marilynne Robinson
Nadas Peter                                                                      Xi Xi
Don DeLillo                                                                     Yu Hua
Dubravka Ugrešić                                                            Zoe Wicomb

With Abulrazak Gurnah receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, it appears unlikely for the Kenyan epicist and reconciliatory master Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will receive the award this year, and now entering his mid-eighties it is concerning of whether or not Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will receive the award in future, or will be one of the eternal Nobel understudies, waiting for call that will never come. The same can be said for Murakami Haruki, whose relevance and reputation now resides on previous outputs, as his most recent work has become caricature laden of his previous thematic concerns and preoccupations, showing no evolution or fermentation beyond what has become cliché. With the continued English language dominance over the past six years, it may not be Margaret Atwood’s years or Anne Carsons; further complications interrupt Jamaica Kincaid’s appeal, as Abulrazak Gurnah deal with themes of colonialism within a postcolonial context. This same context can be applied to Maryse Condé, whose work equally falls into the ‘postcolonial school,’ though from a new language lens of French. Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine with Russia’s invasion, Lyudmila Ulitskaya may be considered out of the question. Despite being a merit able writer, the Swedish Academy may wish to avoid political discourse and criticism by awarding either a Russian language writer or a Ukrainian writer. The American postmodern novelist Don DeLillo and the French critic and philosopher Hélène Cixous are both in their mid-80’s, which may rule them out of contention.

In turn, I do think that Mia Couto’s Nobel chances are raising year by year. There can be no denying that Mia Couto is one of the most original and important contemporary African writers currently working. In turn, the Norwegian Jon Fosse, may have retired from writing plays, he is still one of the Europe’s most prolific and beloved playwrights, whose work is still being on stages across the globe. In lieu of dramatic writings, Fosse has turned his attention to prose, publishing at a prolific pace and furthering his international reputation while cementing it. When it comes to Fosse and the Nobel Prize for Literature, I suspect it’s a matter of when, not if. In the case of Mircea Cărtărescu is a true master of articulating the surreal in lucid and flowing prose. Truly a contemporary master of prose, whose work of the profoundly dreamscape grapples with the inherent strangeness of the world. Mircea Cărtărescu is a modern master of vibrant, lush, and explosive prose, all engulfing and delirious in turn. Unfortunately, Javier Marías is out of the running having died earlier in September. Marias’s was a seismic shockwave in the literary world. Marias’s was an a truly singular writer, whose work was lush with language and its duplicity, which perhaps explains why espionage becomes a notable trope within his work. Yet it’s the absurd of the everyday, the baffling, and odd which truly enticed Javier Marías and who expertly crafted it, within his languishing and lengthy sentences, gently lapping further and further from the nexus of thought into far off contemplation and investigation. As with any great masterful practitioner of fiction, the readers castaway with these runoff ruminations with equal enjoyment and ease.

Yet the positioning of Michel Houellebecq and Pierre Michon is interesting, with a strong emphasis and interest in a French language writer being the most likely candidate for this year’s prize. Annie Ernaux and Hélène Cixous in turn are further down the list. As for the fore fronted French writers, Michel Houellebecq and Pierre Michon, could not be more distinct and oppositional in their styles. Michon’s literary work is complex, complicated, and explicitly dense; with archaeological curiosity unearths and inspects antiquated and esoteric stories, refining them into his fiction, without being an explicit historical writer. In turn, Michel Houellebecq is masterclass of the sardonic sting, whose work cause divisive opinions. Houellebecq is the writer who sails perilously to the abyss’s edge and pisses at it with vitriolic glee. Michel Houellebecq is renowned for writing about the ironic meaninglessness of contemporary society, grappling with the loneliness, alienation, social abandonment, and existential disaffectedness of the modern individual.

In addition to the betting sites, poet and twitterer Luis Panini, has shared numerous writers he thinks are deserving of the Nobel Prize for Literature. a smorgasbord of eclectic tastes, Panini’s concise citation and rationale for each writer is captivating. Some of the writers, Panini has named are:

The Spanish Poet, Olvido Garcia Valdes.
The Mexican novelists and essayist, Margo Glantz
The French novelists, Éric Chevillard
The postmodern Spanish Joycean writer, Julián Ríos
The French poet, Claire Malroux

Yet one of the writers who I found most touching that was mentioned by Luis Panini was the Quebecois Canadian writer, Jacques Poulin, whose novels are always a tonic. Poulin’s style is crystalline like a winter pond frozen and translucent but revealing previously unapproachable depths. As a writer, Poulin celebrates the everyday and commonplace by recounting characters habits and routines, but also probing their rich interior lives with matter-of-fact certainty. Cats and women slip into his novels with casual grace and charm, as do unpretentious conversations on books, damaged and abandoned individuals also find themselves tugged into the orbit, creating a strange motley crew of happenstance, which gradually becomes a patchwork quilt of a surrogate family (here’s to thinking about “Wild Cat,” and “Mister Blue.”). The recipes for Poulin’s success appear to be the calm, deliberate and natural pace of his novels, his characters realism, their habitual lives, and eccentricities, and of course that wry sense of humour can charm and lull all readers, like a cat purring contently while contemplating when to strike back. All of that said, Poulin is not a lightweight sentimentalist. Through daily rituals and their celebrations, the author provides rhetoric and ruminations on the nature of writing, the inherent human need to tell stories, the beauty and nuance of language, and the requirement of solitude; while delving into the nature of human connections, and our enduring capacity for attraction, love, and kinship. “Spring Tides,” by Poulin is a marvelous example of Poulin being a philosophical parabolist, who wrote with the lightest of touches only to devastate in the final pages. Jacques Poulin is an unimposing writer, which seems to be a rarity, a writer whose mark is invisible, but whose narratives of quiet reality, personal pains, and empathetic touching’s are not sentimental, but luminous of the ordinary features of the human condition, as the individual sails through life. To see that Luis Panini mentioned Jacques Poulin was endearing, and I personally found it rather heartwarming.

—The End—

As October 6th approaches its truly a blind man’s shell game as to who will receive the Nobel prize for Literature. Currently there is great confidence that a French language writer will be this years Nobel Laureate. Those suspicions and inclinations can only be confirmed on October 6th, when Mats Malm the current Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy comes forward announces the winner and the following citation, and then scuttling back, while (at least according to precedence) members of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee (which Anders Olsson is chair) come forward to read from the lectern and take some questions from journalists.

Since the 2018 Scandal and Crisis, which was further complicated by the Pandemic in the previous two years, there has been a noticeable change in how the Swedish Academy delivers the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the subsequent atmosphere. The previous Permanent Secretaries (Horace Engdhal, Peter Englund and Sara Danius) delivered the announcement with statesmen chivalry, contained excitement, and regal grace. Each Permanent Secretary exited those grand white doors with the gold trim, into a small barricaded square where they were greeted by a room full of journalists, cameras and microphones, chandeliers of crystal hanging raining down. The scene is truly grand in scope and spectacle, and rightfully so. This set up is partially what grants the Nobel Prize for Literature such distinction. It’s framed within the realms of ‘exclusivity,’ based on our sociological and cultural conditioning of what grandeur looks like. When Horace Engdahl, Peter Englund, and Sara Danius read out the year’s Laureate, the room would either remain silent or erupt in jovial glee. There was often a palpable sense of welcomed surprise and delight, as seen in 2007 with Doris Lessing, 2011 with Tomas Tranströmer, 2013 with Alice Munro, 2015 with Svetlana Alexievich; while other writers such as 2014 Patrick Modiano, where silence reigned but curiosity was piqued. Despite each Permanent Secretary attending to their responsibilities of announcement differently, they each understood within the moment that the room orbited around them, but there is a sense of enjoyment in how they held court. Peter Englund practically bouncing up and down with excitement eager to answer questions and discuss; Horace Engdahl politely answering the questions with a measure pace ensuring sufficient answers were provided; and Sara Danius always poised and professional answering questions with a grace and charm, and never flustered as in the case when she found herself finding it difficult to pronounce Svetlana Alexievich’s name in English. Rather then getting frustrated Danius paused and rehearsed in her head before continuing. As 2015 was then Permanent Secretary Sara Danius’s debut, I found her handling of the entire affair professional and admirable.

Yet now Mats Malm skulks to a scantly populated room (I’m sure the Pandemic played a role in the few attendees), recites the laureates name, and then bows out into the shadow for Anders Olsson to climb to the pulpit like a discount preacher to deliver a lengthy sermon and then take questions from the few journalists in the room. It’s a god-awful affair. I am not sure if in the wake of the 2018 Scandal and Crisis that the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy took the ensuring power vacuum to usurp the previous public relations role of the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, or if by decree of the Nobel Foundation vested more authority into the Nobel Committee within the operations of the Swedish Academy, though I doubt it, as the Nobel Foundation always seemed more hands-off in approach, though they did express concerns to the Swedish Academy’s conduct during the crisis. No, the current power move by the Nobel Committee seems to be more an internal coup spearheaded Anders Olsson, who also happens to be Chair of the Nobel Committee and was the former pro-tempo Permanent Secretary. Ultimately, the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature appears to be an otherwise muted—even boring—affair, reminiscent of those tiresome and exhaustive childhood marathons where one is forced to endure the sermons of the legendarily dull, who continue to drone on and on with their endless decrees, peppered with pontifications of half-ass piety. Where Horace Engdal, Peter Englund, and Sara Danius enjoyed the affairs, moving with improvisation and spontaneous answering of the questions being posed to them; this dry lectureship delivery fails to inspire. Here’s hoping this current method of delivery and post-announcement interview and discussion will recede away and bring forth a few more dynamic and exciting procedure again.

With only a week away now, there is a sense of anticipation and growing excitement. since the 2018 Scandal and Crisis, there have been fewer and fewer leaks regarding who will win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which is evident in the betting sites produced odds, often going after regular writers who are seen as likely potential candidates, though some of them have since died (Javier Marias and Hilary Mantel) which disqualifies them from consideration as the award cannot be granted posthumously; exceptions have been applied in rare circumstances, when Laureates have died within days of the announcement or after the laureate has been announced.

As for expectations for next week’s announcement, it is recommended to take a tempered approach with no preconceived notion. There are, of course, great writers who have been deemed perennial candidates (Jon Fosse, Anne Carson, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Krasznahorkai László, Bei Dao), but as Adunis, Ivan Klima, and Milan Kundera provide exemplary testimony to, being a perennial candidate, even international literary sensation and genius, does not necessarily tip the scales in their favour, with Javier Marias, Amos Oz, and Antonio Tabucchi reminding us that death calls faster then the Swedish Academy. This all being said of course does not detract the awards delights, when the Swedish Academy decides to operate eccentrically and interesting, they often award truly unspoken and unknown writers of great intrigue (Herta Müller and Patrick Modiano), which always makes for an enjoyable new writer to discover and read. While other times, the Swedish Academy makes otherwise questionable choices or less compelling decisions. Yet, if I had to pick only five writers that I would be excited about receiving this year’s award—I would of course first argue that that is a difficult decision, which has so man variables involved in deciding who to pick, let alone change on a daily (even hourly) basis—yet that being said, I think the five writers that I would enjoy seeing receiving this years award are as follows (at least by today’s thinking):

Ogawa Yōko
Ersi Sotiropolous
Agi Mishol
Doris Kareva
Gyrðir Elíasson

Then of course, I want to add Fleur Jaeggy, which reminds me of Magdalena Tulli—truly marvelous writers!—then I am reminded of the elegant and eloquent Olga Sedakova who reminds me of the bewitchingly dark and fantastic Lyudmila Petrushevskaya; and then of course, I wonder about the exclusion on Jon Fosse and Annie Ernaux, I’ve enjoyed both of their works for very different reasons, Fosse always reminds me of a winter coastline with its low hanging overcast skies and foreboding though calm grey waters; while Annie Ernaux’s social cartograph via the personal context has truly mapped the ethnographic evolution of western (or more precisely French society) through the 20th Century; few writers are able to capture the ephemeral sensation of the passage of time quite like Ernaux.

As for Gyrðir Elíasson and Ogawa Yōko, they are truly interesting writers. Gyrðir Elíasson is a prolific writer in Iceland, with one collection of his renowned stories translated into English. Elíasson considers himself as a poet first and foremost, can easily be gleamed within his prose, his short stories showcase Elíasson masterful craftsmanship for condensed language and ability to provide tension through effective shading, colouring, and detail, which shadows the narratives with alien unease, the continual dread of the unknown. Ogawa Yōko, in turn has had limited appeal and exposure in the English language, which has only provided a scant overview of her diverse oeuvre; while in French, however, Ogawa has been widely translated and appreciated, providing an extensive understanding and overview of her bibliography. In English, Ogawa has been mistakenly marketed by misguided publishers as the female Murakami. Ogawa Yōko, is by far more grotesquely subtle and diverse in her thematic concerns and preoccupations. Whereas Murakami Haruki wrote about the alienation, isolation, of the solitary man in the modern post-capitalist society; Ogawa tackled themes of absence, memory, amnesia, dissociation, and the transient nature of existence, the grotesque macabre void of madness lurking just beneath the thin cellophane idea of reality. I suspect the Nobel Prize for literature would increase interest and translation of both of these writers into English, which would be a welcomed treat, as both are quite prolific.

Yet, when it comes to the Nobel Prize for Literature, there is always hope and a personal selfish desire for a surprise, an unknown, unaccounted for writer, who emerges from obscurity while the press and the world goes: “Who?” in unison. Nothing is more delightful than the Swedish Academy throwing caution to the wind and flipping the bird to external expectations.

Until October 6th Gentle Reader.

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

For Further Reading & Consideration—

David Remnick – “It’s Time For Salman Rushdie’s Nobel Prize,”
DW – "Salman Rushdie - Writing Under Death Threats," (Documentary)

Jeff Simon: "Restore the luster of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Give it to Salman Rushdie," 

Betting Sites: Betting Sites Odds 

Luis Paini on Twitter: