Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Friday, 2 December 2011

"True North" by Andre Mangeot (Salt, 2010)

7 stories of 9 to 30 pages.

The first story, "Rain", has symbolic counterpointing - snow, water, steam. The prose is largely transparent, in the service of character and scene depiction. It begins with

He'd spent the morning deep in the Capathian forests, feeling like a god. The air was pure, so clear it felt eternal; and this was his kingdom.

and ends with

Blood thudding in his temple and chest he lay and listened to the rain, hard as hail against the glass. It was all he could do. Wait for daybreak to come, the first sounds from the corridors, other rooms. The eventual knock of the housemaid, click of her pass-key.
All that would follow.

At the start he's in control, in the open, with thoughts of eternity. At the end he's tied to his bed, waiting for things to happen. The story begins in Hungary. He's on a business visit, hoping to impress enough to take over the family business though as a youth he'd been rebellious. He phones his fiancee after a good day, saves a women from attack in a bar, goes to a nightclub, escapes a police raid. Earlier there were strategically-timed lightning flashes. Now the rain's pouring, the streets are flooded calf-high. He invites her to his hotel room to dry off. His fidelity weakens - "There was a pause in which new sheets of rain hit the glass, peppered it like grapeshot. Steam drifted in from the bathroom" (p.27). When he wakes he discovers he's been robbed and is likely to miss an important business meeting.

It's strong story-telling with a clear central character and moral trajectory. Scene evocation is especially strong. "Monkey Knife fight" shares some features (attention to atmosphere, flashback, love interest) but the storyline's less clear, suiting the characters. "Tajine with Madonna" is more like "Rain". It works well. I'm not so sure about "Borderline" though.

By now, some trends are emerging - stories begin with an arrival at a new (or rarely visited) location, with teasing hints about the plot, then there's some flashback (sometimes a page, sometimes several). There's usually a love interest and parents are involved one way or another. Relationships come to an end or are re-evaluated in the light of new evidence leading to feelings of betrayal, guilt or revenge. A flash of violence (usually involving knives) is common. The proportions of these ingredients vary. "The Wood Yard" has little flashback but involves a murder. I didn't find the murder well-motivated. Once the murderer's intention was announced, the last 3 paragraphs had little point. Even then the scenes and characters are convincingly depicted. "The Never-Still and the Stars" is the story that's closest to sacrificing narrative for atmosphere, entering the life of a child selling matches and gum on a multi-lane road, ending with the boy looking at the stars, thinking about death and myths. I presume the final story, "True North", is based on Glenn Gould, though I don't know how closely. Well written of course, but less gripping (more formulaic) than the other pieces.

There are typos - "burst from it's one straining button" (p.15); the header on p.51 is "ANDRE MANGEOT" rather than the story title; "That accent of your's" (p.96); "dissapate" (p.132).

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