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.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

"Best of European Fiction 2010" by Aleksandar Hemon (ed) (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010)

There's no description of the selection procedure, though the publisher names 15 people who they thank "for their kind assistance in assembling this anthology". So when in the Preface Zadie Smith writes "It's hard not to notice, for example, a strong tendency towards the metafictional ... An epigraphic, disjointed structure" it's unclear whether she's commenting on European literature in general or just this (perhaps very unrepresentative) anthology. On the strength of the authors' personal statements she thinks that "Kafka is literary Europe's primary ghost and heaviest influence". She could have pointed out that quite a few of the characters are writers or artists, and that prostitution appears in several stories. The editor writes "the stories you will find in this volume ... inescapably question and probe and sabotage various national myths, often featuring migrants and vagrants, unabashedly questioning the propriety of the old forms in the new set of historical and political circumstances. These stories not only cross and transgress all kinds of borders, they are, quite literally, generating translation in doing so" (p.xv111). Well, maybe.

I struggled through in places, but with 350+ pages of stories that's to be expected. I though Peter Kristufek's political satire weak, and several pieces (e.g. Julian, Rios') inconsequential even given the aesthetics. The writers have good credentials - there are no discoveries here for those familiar with European literature. But I suspect few readers are familiar. I've read Julian Gough's "The Orphan and the Mob" before. The other stories and nearly all the other authors were new to me. The metafictional features sometimes seemed ornamental.

  • "The sky over Thingvellir" by Steinar Bragi (Iceland) begins and ends thus

    We soar out of a clear, blue spring sky and glide toward the mist rising over a waterfall and what will be, for a while, our destination ... The boy, blond and unremarkable, but with a kind face, spreads a blanket out over the grass, and takes a wicker basket from the girl; then he says something to the girl and she responds, their mouths move but we can't hear what they're talking about yet. In order to get even closer to them - I see no reason for us to announce ourselves - we'll continue on to our destination ... After pacing the branch for a while, we fly to our ultimate goal in this little patch of the world: the minds of the girl and the boy, by turns - as it suits our needs.
    But it seems that on one certain beautiful spring day in a small hollow by a little waterfall, one tiny human being was able to see all this in the palm of his hand, and realize how important it is to express oneself decisively, to try and break free from the chains of the slow, inevitable death that concludes human life. For one fleeting second in the eternity of the cosmos, a girl by the name of Ella demanded truth - and received it. Her efforts exposed her to our scrutiny - but perhaps, in that moment, she understood that this report might one day be written about her. Our story is another kind of confrontation. Also doomed to failure, in all likelihood. As such, we will withhold any further explanations, withdraw, and head straight back up into the sky - not just over Thingvellir, but over the entire globe. We'll let that suffice. There's nothing left to say - except, let us all remember that (as has often bee said during one or another of the pathetic, pretentious errors that we call a human life) even a broken clock is right twice a day.
    In between, the device isn't used.
  • David Albahari's "The Basilica in Lyon" starts with "The story begins in Lyon, but it could end anywhere. There are four men in the story, two policemen, five women, a couple of cameras, a bicycle (not visible), and an old soccer ball. The story has ten parts of differing lengths" then later

    "We're out early this morning, aren't we," said the man.
    "It's a long story," said the girl.
    "Will it take us all the way to Lyon?" asked the man. "Or at least to the city limits?"
    "No problem," said the girl, "it can take even longer than that. My stories are always entirely under my control."

    Then towards the end "One of these days, who knows when, the story would come back this way and pick up the abandoned fragments just as a person picks ripe fruit"

Victor Pelevin's "Friedmann Space" is fun. Wealth is experimentally compared to mass, and superwealth to blackholes - "I can only say that many Russian businessmen have managed to cross the Schwarzenegger threshold./ Our calculations indicate that, after crossing this threshold, it is impossible to acquire any factual information about the inner life of a superrich subject, though an external observer will still think that the subject is capable of initiating contact and, indeed, discussing a broad range of subjects, from soccer to business".

Much my favourite is Giedra Radvilaviciute's "The Allure of the Text" - densely and variously detailed. The scene is a writers' conference, but there's time to use up before the session begins. The writer drifts. "A woman who sews blouses from dried jasmine petals and hair in Vilnus asked me recently if I enjoyed being in nature. Not alone - definitely not alone. I told her that the sound of barking dogs echoing in the distance seems mystical to me, that each blade of grass takes on a separate existence, while the sky above seems to close in like a lavender suitcase with a false bottom in which dangerous, apocalyptic things are hidden". Back at the conference in front of a TV camera the writers says

"These last few days, I have been sitting and thinking about the northern summer, with its endless day ... two years ago, I remember, the time passed quickly - beyond all comparison more quickly than time now. A summer was gone before I knew. Two years ago it was, in 1855. I will write of it just to amuse myself - of something that happened to me, or something I dreamed."
After mentioning the year, I realized that I wasn't speaking my own words. They had come from a passage in the notebooks of Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, which, in turn, came from the first page of Pan - the book Emilia's sister was holding in her hands when she was buried here in this town.

At the end of the book there's a list of resources. The only England magazines mentioned are Stand and Drawbridge. Amongst the Scotland magazines mentioned is "The Dark Horse", a poetry magazine. "Envoi" is in the Welsh section.

No comments:

Post a Comment