Ali Smith – Summer

Summer is the final volume of Ali Smith’s Seasonal quartet. By now if anyone has read the previous three books, one will know the themes which have been present:

The Shakespeare play – here it’s A Winter’s Tale

The Dickens Novel – David Copperfield

The event that happened in the past which is similar to events happening in present day Britain. In this case it’s the detainment in the capital city of Isle of man.

Current events – Climate change, The pandemic and George Floyd’s murder.

The female artist – Lorenza Mazzetti

Plus Charlie Charlie Chaplin, internet behaviour, Einstein, the role of art in society and feminism.

As for characters a lot of familiar faces are now present: Daniel Gluck, Elisabeth, Iris, Arthur and Charlotte

However in Summer there is closure. We now understand the story behind, the stone Sophie (from Winter) used to keep, why Daniel Gluck likes Charlie Chaplin, we finally see Gluck’s sister Hannah’s backstory. There are a couple loose ends tied up but it’s more fun if the reader discovers it.

One thing which I thought was particularly clever was how Ali Smith incorporated Einstein’s theories of time and space to what our world is going through today and presciently there are shreds of optimism. A few months after the book was published Trump was out of the White House and the test subjects for the COVID-19 vaccine reacted well.

Unfortunately while I am of high praise of the first three volumes, Summer is not perfect. At times it feels rushed, some parts are overlong and I did feel that some sections were completely unnecessary. I think it’s the weakest volume of the quartet.

Now that I have read the quartet, I have come to the conclusion that the four books are actually one book. Reading them back to back, one sees developments in the plot – yes, when placed together there is a plot. When one reads Summer one can see plot lines being concluded and mysteries unveiled.

Eventually I will write a review of all four books so I’ll keep it a bit short. I’ll conclude saying that taken as a whole, the whole quartet is probably the most inventive document of the last four years of the ’10’s and Summer, despite the flaws, is a fitting conclusion.

Mariana Enriquez, Megan McDowell (translator) – The Dangers of Smoking in Bed

Mariana Enriquez’s The Dangers of Smoking in Bed was published in 2009 and is her first short story collection. In the following year her second short story collection, Things we Lost in the Fire was published but the English translations work differently, thus in 2017 Things… was translated first and Dangers followed 2021.

I am going into this backstory because I am treating The Dangers.. as a debut work. Over the past 11 years Mariana Enriquez has written two novels, two works of non-fiction and a novelette. This collection consist of baby steps.

Mariana Enriquez’s short stories are grotesque but there are different levels. Opener Angelita Unearthed, a little girl rises from the dead and follows the story’s narrator around while decomposing in the process, is kind of gross with cute elements. On the other hand Meat (which was my personal favourite) is pure retch material. Some stories are like the former and some like the latter. The Cart is about a curse, Kids who Come Back is about reminds me of the police report section from Bolaño’s 2666. Bodily functions, curses, and witches populate these stories. Sometimes there’s a nasty twist, sometimes things just play out normally (whatever normal is)

As is the problem with short stories, every reader will find something they will like, It depends on literary taste. As a first collection The Dangers of Smoking in Bed shows potential. One can tell that Mariana Enriquez knows how to make a reader squirm and I have a feeling this comes out more in her other collection and novels (I know next year one of her novels will be published in English).

Many thanks to Granta for providing a copy of The Dangers of Smoking in Bed

Bernardine Evaristo – Mr Loverman

Throughout my reading of Mr Loverman, the Shabba Ranks song of the same name kept going round my head. Then later on in the book the track does crop up.

Anyway, after enjoying Girl, Woman, Other, I was curious to see if I’d like her other books. So I worked backwards and read Mr Loverman. If anyone thought that GWO was a fluke think again. If anything Mr Loverman is equally layered and complex.

The main protagonist is Barry. He’s in his mid 70’s and has been married to his wife, Carmel, for fifty years, he’s a father, grandfather and lives comfortably. The thing is that Barry loves his childhood friend Morris and hasn’t had the courage to tell Carmel that he is a homosexual and wants to live with Morris .To complicate the scenario, Carmel thinks that he’s having flings with other women. The question is will Barry sacrifice comfort for his true love?

Mr Loverman touches upon many pertinent issues, mainly the validity of marriage. Although most of the chapters are about Barry, we do get some glimpses from Carmel (these chapters are written in the one sentence poetry style which featured in GWO) and through her how they met and the beginning of the cracks in their marriage. Barry is carefree, his wife is devoutly religious. His two daughters are polar opposites, one is similar to Carmel, while the other is like Barry. The book questions on trying to love even when you don’t.

Another topic, which was also covered in GWO is the Windrush Generation and the British Jamaican experience. Barry, Carmel and Morris all emigrated to the U.K. and through both Barry and Carmel we readers see how their daughters adapted to UK living and subsequently their grandchild.

Mr Loverman may contain a lot of serious topics but it definitely is not a downer . Barry’s observations are quite funny and I did chuckle quite a bit. The use of patois also accentuates the humour. The book is lively and just crackles with snarky wit and uncomfortable situations.

My only regret with Mr Loverman is that I only heard of Bernardine Evaristo through the Booker longlisting but I will make up for the lost time and invest in more of her novels.

Book Round Up – April 2021

April was a strange reading month. It started out on a high note, then everything went wonky with me DNFing a lot of books then midway in the month I read a ton of great ones. Anyway here’s what I read:

I’m glad that in April, I finally read a book in Maltese, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I’m also happy that I managed to read the majority of the International Booker Longlist, thanks to the many supportive publishers.

The ‘book of the month’ was the first one I read in April and may be the best thing I read all year:

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut , translated by Adrian Nathan

Saying that there were other 10/10 books:

The Sound Mirror by Heidi James

The Actual Whole of Music by Haydn Middleton

Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead

Then I read some very good ones. These are

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

Fittixni by Antoinette Borg

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

At Night, All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated by Anna Moschovakis

Summer Brother – Jaap Robben, translated by David Doherty

As you can see I’m rereading Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. I’ll be writing an individual review of Summer then a collective review of all 4 books.

What’s next.

At the moment I have 13 review copies to read. I will also be reading more books in Maltese for May. So the month will be spent juggling between those. I am hoping to squeeze in some Women’s Prize shortlist books (I doubt it) and I received Rónán Hession’s Panenka, which is a top priority read.

How was your reading month? comment below!

The 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist Prediction

On Wednesday 28th The Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announcing their shortlist. I read exactly half of the longlist and I liked all of the books so far. Like I said in my longlist prediction post. I am looking for books that have distinct voices and yet tell a great story. Here’s the six books I hope will be on the shortlist:

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

No One is Talking about This – Patricia Lockwood

Detransition, Baby – Torrey Peters

What do you think?

Many thanks to The Women’s Prize Foundation for letting me use their logo

Jaap Robben, David Doherty (Translator) – Summer Brother

This year’s International Booker Longlist was quite an interesting one, as it consisted of novels which challenged the idea of what a novel is. Yet Summer Brother is a curveball as it is a novel in the conventional sense, furthermore it is a coming of age story and a bestseller in the book’s native Netherlands.

Thirteen year old Brian lives in a trailer with his divorced, neglectful father, Maurice. When visiting Brian’s disabled brother Lucien they find you out that the home he lives in is going to be refurbished and Lucien has the option to stay with Brian’s father throughout the summer, as Brian’s mother is on her honeymoon.

At first Maurice refuses then when he finds out that he’ll be financially compensated, he accepts (this is an idea of the type of person he is). When Brian and Maurice return to the trailer park we readers find out that Maurice owes a lot of rent to the people who own the trailer park and is involved with quite a few shady dealings. Maurice is not adverse to leaving Brian alone for long periods of time or even selling his possessions to make ends meet. There is a stroke of luck when a tenant called Emile arrives, which means some extra money (we also learn that Brian is not so innocent either)

When Lucien arrives Brian is caught in a web. he has to take care of his brother whom he sees is an inconvenience, defend his father, miss his mother, befriend Emile and there’s a subplot where he fancies a 19 year old who lives in the home. Eventually he learns life lesson and emerges as a more mature person.

I liked Summer Brother. It’s dark in places and will raise eyebrows but it’s not tacky or shocking. Despite that most of the characters are flawed, you can’t help feel sympathetic towards them. The book flows, there’s closure. Summer Brother is a great solid novel.

Many thanks to World Editions for a copy of Summer Brother

The 2021 International Booker Shortlist

I guessed 4 titles correctly! – pretty good. Plus I’ve got two on the way. Here they are:

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell, Granta Books (on the way)

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, Pushkin Press

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken, Lolli Editions

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale, Fitzcarraldo Editions (on the way)

The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from French by Mark Polizzotti, Pan Macmillan, Picador

I’m happy 🙂 – what are your impressions?

Heidi James – The Sound Mirror

In the Sound Mirror, one of the characters, Tamara encounters the titular device on a beach. Up until then I had no idea what one was. When I was doing some research on sound mirrors (they were set up during the 1920’s to reflect sound), I discovered that the only one outside the U.K. is located in Malta. Incidentally Malta also gets a mention in the book. Anyway here’s the Maltese sound mirror (called widna, which means ear in Maltese):

The book is divided into three interlinked narratives. There’s Tamara who is on a mission to get revenge against her mother , Claire whose narrative takes places in post war Britain and is the daughter of Italian emigrants and Ada, a half caste who moves from India to England with her family.

All three characters are related to each other but their connection goes much deeper. All three women are oppressed by men: Ada’s father does not want her to go to university and her husband is a narcissist, Claire’s husband regards her as a device to procreate, Tamara’s ex-husband is a bully.

There are other connections, these characters experience harsh treatment from their mothers, are abused, are treated in an unjust manner by society. It transpires that no matter the era, women will always suffer in some way or another. As a result each of these characters think of ways they can break free. In my opinion I think they manage but in unconventional ways.

The three narratives are split up into two page long chapters and are not in chronological order so it is up to the reader to piece the order of the timelines. However this not confusing in the least as we get the basic storyline in the first few pages. Heidi James also uses different narrative voices so each section is distinct, and yet like a sound mirror these three character’s lives echo each other.

The Sound Mirror is quite a powerful book. I liked the way Heidi James portrayed the treatment of women in different historical contexts. I thought the varied writing styles was done brilliantly. I also had fun seeing all the connections and how each character was linked to each other. I found The Sound Mirror to be a fantastic read and in the process opens one’s eyes to how some attitudes improve but never really disappear.

The 2021 International Booker Prize Shortlist Prediction

On Thursday 22nd April, this year’s International Booker Shortlist will be announced. At this point in time, I have read 7 books, will start my 8th tomorrow andI’ve got 2 more books on the way, which brings the total up to 10. The quality of the books I’ve read is high so choosing 6 was a bit difficult. Here are my choices:

At Night All Blood is Black byDavid Diop, translated from French by Anna Mocschovakis, Pushkin Press

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West, Pushkin Press

he Perfect Nine: The Epic Gikuyu and Mumbi by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, translated from Gikuyu by the author, VINTAGE, Harvill Secker

The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from Danish by Martin Aitken, Lolli Editions

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette, Fitzcarraldo Editions

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from Russian by Sasha Dugdale, Fitzcarraldo Editions

What do you think?

Many thanks to the Booker Foundation for letting me use their logo.