Friday, 27 January 2023

Book Review: And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson, Björg Árnadóttir (translator), Shai Sendik (Translator)

And the Wind Sees All And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read that the title of the English translation has been changed from the original Icelandic The Waltz of the Valeyri which for me would have described this book better. The Valeyri village choir will perform this evening in the village hall, Currently Kata is cycling there and all around her people are preparing and reading themselves for the evenings performance. Everyone different, everyone's life different, everyone with their own story. And each is told for the reader. In many ways the reader feels like a voyeur, eves dropping into each home with each turn of Kata's cycles wheels.

I particularly liked Sveni's story entitled Off sick. He lives with Grimur his "one eyed , yellow striped cat" who is "so old that all you can hear is an occasional creak", rather than a sympathetic purr. And Sveni needs his cat and his telephone call to his sister on days when he goes on a bender and the past comes back to haunt him. I thought this story was really well told - a whole life and its effects in 11 pages - that takes some writing skill. The way Kata's own story is just dropped into the book, as if in passing conversation, but it cuts like a knife.

Later there is a passage which describes the proliferation of houses that has come as the village has expanded beyond the traditional homes - "some of them are comically lopsided but inspired by beautiful thoughts; others are beautiful because of their history. Some or ugly because oft heir lack of maintenance testifies to sloth and apathy; and some are ugly because of something that has happened there. Some of them have been renovated by younger generation, others are derelict or have been demolished and replaced with box-like non-houses." When I read this it seemed to sum up the book for me, as if the passage referred not to houses but to the village's residents. Happy moments,sad moments, dark secrets kept, secrets told, families gone, love stories, wistful memories, and horrors that still haunt the derelict souls they created.

Peirene Press have definitely found a niche in the market with their short, under 200 page, novels in translation, and if you want to try them out and perhaps explore something other than Nordic Noir thrillers then this one may well be a good one to start with. Take a 'Waltz with the Valyeri' and see a whole world of life experiences. I just wish they'd do audiobooks!

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Book Review: Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith

Girl Meets Boy

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another short novel between longer reads - at 164 pages it can be read in 1-2 sittings. I loved the Ali Smith's use of language, how she seamlessly slipped in words and phrases from old Scots songs, poems and everyday life bringing back memories of my youth. It is a reworking of Ovid but also uses other myths/legends/stories such as Burning Lily Lenton to tackles issues family, gender, commercial values, human rights and needs, eco-wars. Well crafted, intelligent, witty, corny in the right places - Eau Caledonia :) - and with a Shakespearean ending . Loved it.

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Book Review: The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth

The Prague Orgy The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I clearly am having a spell of Kafka themed reading (see also my review of Ian McEwan's The Cockroach

This is a short book in Philip Roth's Zuckerman series sees his novelist Nathan Zuckerman off to Prague to recover a handwritten unpublished Yiddish manuscript of stories by the dead father of an exiled writer. Set in the time of the Soviet occupation this is part adventure yarn, part serious commentary on writing and politics. I liked this better than McEwan's Brexit fiasco.