Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fiction Notes: Two Books

I somehow neglected to include in my list of incoming books Agota Kristof's excellent trilogy of novels, collected in one volume, The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie. Possibly because I'd already read them before writing the post. Kristof is a Hungarian writer, of mostly plays, living in Switzerland, writing in French. The novels came to my attention by way of the list of Eastern European writers compiled earlier this year by Anthony of Time's Flow Stemmed. The Kristof recommendation came from Stephen Mitchelmore in the comments, which, as is usually the case, meant it shot up to the top of my own secret list of books to look into. The first book is a notebook ostensibly kept by twin brothers living with their unpleasant grandmother in wartime. The second is a third-person account of the life apparently led by one of the twins after the other manages to escape their occupied town. The third is a first-person account of the brother who left, after coming back to find his twin. I say "ostensibly" and "apparently" because little is as it seems. Anyway, I'm not going to review them, but I think they are remarkable novels. Simple language, though each book is slightly different given the differing modes of narration (and each book was translated into English by a different person). Worth a look.

One book that I did include on the list was Teju Cole's novel, Open City. Cole first came to my attention a few months ago via his Twitter feed, which primarily consists of "small fates": daily deaths or violences rendered as oddly literary, elliptical mini-stories suitable for the 140-character medium. They gave me pause, and seemed to fit in with my mainly leftwing timeline. Only later did I learn he'd not only written a novel but that it was up for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Awards don't mean much to me, though I confess the NBCC carries a wee bit more cachet for me than the others, for no good reason I can name. Possibly the attention they pay to William H. Gass. But anyway. In this case, it was, perhaps too easily, the comparisons to, and admitted influence of, Sebald that got my attention. Also, I wasn't sorry to have a contemporary non-white writer to look for. In the event, the book is pretty good. Our narrator, Julius, a psychiatric resident, keeps himself at a distance, as he recounts various events and interactions, including a trip to Brussels and brief sketches of his childhood in Nigeria. A disquieting read, at times, including a couple of surprises, about which we are unable to either come to any conclusion or to feel comfortable. The Sebald comparison is appropriate, without his influence being felt too heavily (happily, there are no photographs). The spectre of 9/11 hangs over it a bit, but again, not too much. I'll be looking out for any subsequent novels Cole may write in the future.

1 comment:

AB said...

Your post reminds me to get back to my list, no less the Kristof which I bought on that solid recommendation. I've got caught in a rereading loop, possibly a comfort blanket to calm the upheaval of moving home.