A post largely made up of other people’s words. Review coverage in the past couple of weeks of CBe’s new titles includes:
In Bare Fiction (issue 2) Lucy Jeynes reviews May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break:
‘These are bold, sensual stories of love and loss … Tan plays with form and convention in a confident, interesting way: “Candy Glass”, about a Hollywood actress, is written in a form where the dialogue is presented as a script, raising a question mark over the authenticity of self in a world where a girl who was once a boy drives a driverless car and crashes through a windscreen made of sugar into a new life.
We dive headlong into a Technicolor world populated with a lapdancer; two triplets (with a dead third brother) sleeping with the same woman; a boy and girl with the same name; a stunt double. There is sex, and drugs, and rock’n’roll – as well as murder and quite the nastiest game of hide and seek … There is an unshrinking nakedness in the depiction of self-destructive behaviour that is almost painfully honest. This is not a book to be read with a cool, objective view. Gulp it down, smear yourself with the luscious prose, inhale it.
The narrative voices of each of these eleven pieces are distinctively characterised, wonderfully subjective and opinionated in their self-reflection, telling their own self in the telling of their stories; sassy, witty, modern, international … There is a lot of sex in this book: straight, gay, loving, nasty, sensual, strange and all very explicit … But the sexiest writing in this book is not the sex, it’s the writing itself.’
– and Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist:
‘It is always a joy to find a book that demands an intelligent engagement of the reader, and there is no spoon-feeding here … There is no obvious narrative thread or arc and the stories are all the more pleasing for that. Instead there is a drawing out of themes and motifs as each new personality arrives on the page … This collection would be a superb desert island choice – you would not get lonely with all those people to keep you company. Small enough to fit in your pocket, with enough food for thought to sustain you for weeks, and filled with the seeds of stories that you could grow into your very own forest.’
In the Times Literary Supplement, Eimear McBride reviews Agota Kristof’s The Notebook:
‘Louring over Agota Kristof’s entire narrative is the shadow of war, occupoation and the ambivalent experience of liberation for the “liberated”. The twins survive by rejecting traditional notions of identity and social order. Like a pair of self-realised Nietzchean Supermen, they make themselves of the earth, driven by the need to preserve rather than service the flesh, uninterested in abstract or unquantifiable concepts such as love or the divine. With survival as their guiding principle, they become monsters of distilled, unsentimental humanity and, by the shocking climax, invulnerable even to what has hitherto seemed their own impregnable bond.’
– and The Illiterate:
‘The security and relative material comfort of her new life cannot make up for the glaring absences inherent in the refugee experience. Her descriptions – of those with whom she escaped and whose sense of isolation eventually leads them back to Hungary even at the cost of their lives, as well as those whose sense of despair brings them to suicide – offers an uncomfortable insight into the extreme vulnerability of those obliged to seek asylum abroad. Fortunately this experience did not prevent Kristof from creating works of uncompromising intensity, which forbid the reader to overlook the terrible price her liberty to do so paid.’
Another review of Kristof's The Notebook and The Illiterate will be in the New Statesman in May.
Meanwhile, Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist has reached New Zealand – first, from the blog Off the Tracks: ‘I’ve never read a book like it … the accumulative power of this book – of taking it all in, seeing not a hair out of place, sensing a strange and powerful madness within and around the writing and selecting of these pieces, the placement – is when you really see the magic. The writing is technically flawless, vivid, cruel and wonderful. It’s so often as good as it gets.
Whatever this is – whether novel/anti-novel or just a twisted stop-start journey of nearly short-stories – it’s a mini-masterpiece. And it contains – or is barely able to contain and control – multitudes.’
And from Page Blackmore Booksellers: ‘… a kaleidophone of voices, first-person narrative fragments, tiny stories bearing the impress of larger, untold stories; wry observations unknowingly made by unobservant people, anecdotes with perfectly deflating punch-lines, almost-jokes that meticulously leave off at being almost-jokes without aspiring to be jokes; gauche quips, mundane miseries treated with both sympathy and humour; small lives writ small and at once satirised and celebrated for their smallness; an encyclopedic accumulation of human experiences of the kind that usually evanesce without being recorded even in the experiencers’ memories let alone on paper. All these thousands of voices are captured pitch-perfectly by Eaves … with a cold eye and a warm heart, and with an unbelievably sensitive ear for what all sorts of people say and how they say it (or, what they think and how they think it)’
And Francis Ponge’s Unfinished Ode to Mud in Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation gets to the US – from LunaLuna: ‘No one before or since has managed Francis Ponge’s quintessentially French style, balancing documentary narration with classic encyclopedistism with bemused koans with grandfatherly humor. “The Crate” (page 9 in Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation) we get his special brand of Objectivism with such a pleasurable command of diction/telling: “…it is not used twice. Which makes it even less durable than the melting or cloudlike produce within.” I have no compunction about calling him magic.’