Sunday 29 July 2012


Drown - Junot Diaz

The epigram in Drown is a poem by Gustavo Pérez Firmat about linguistic exile:

The fact that I
am writing to you
in English
already falsifies what I 
wanted to tell you.
My subject: how to explain to you that I
don't belong to English
though I belong nowhere else

The last pages of the book include a glossary of the Spanish words with which these stories are liberally strewn. In between are ten stories that bridge the immigrant divide between the Dominican Republic and the United States. (For this reason it could be said to fit in to Spanishlitmonth. What do you think Richard?)

Sunday 22 July 2012

Bartleby & Co

Bartleby & Co - Enrique Vila-Matas

On the evidence of this book and Tony's review of Dublinesque
this is another writer to add to the expanding list of writers I need to explore in depth. Bartleby & Co is an essay thinly disguised as a novel, thinly disguised as a series of footnotes to the ongoing death of literature.

Firstly, my disappointment, just to get it out of the way. That is, a disappointment with regards to the book rather than with the inability of man to assign any kind of adhesive meaning to the ongoing story of our species.

When I realized what this book was about - writers who say NO to writing - I felt that I was sure to meet again the great American writer Joseph Mitchell who is mainly known for his last decades when he still continued to come to his office in the New Yorker but published nothing1. However he remains as elusive as his own copy became.

Friday 20 July 2012

More Verse

Another installment of my intermittent versification.

(for L.X. Chilton)
When the targets line up
and I can smell the sweet, cloying, awful smell of success
I look for the trapdoor

Who can bear the weight of approval
It's always a lie
And so would I be

I prefer the weightless
Shape of Failure

I listen to two raptors cry
For hours outside

I should be sleeping but it fascinates
More a keening
Than a threat

I feel the frogs shiver
And the voles twitch
Even bats
Stay in their roost

And the raptors cry
For the death they must deliver.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

A Brief Life

A Brief Life - Juan Carlos Onetti

I read this for SpanishLitMonth at Richard's Caravana De Recuerdos and Stu's Winstonsdad's Blog. It was not a book that I had any awareness of previous to it being nominated one of the 'set texts' for SpanishLitMonth. Having fallen behind the target of last weekend I will now play more the part of echo than member of the chorus. And an echo is an apt voice in which to discuss the book full of echoes...

It is an interesting book (interesting is one of those words that sounds faintly damning, isn't it?). At first I found it a little difficult to connect to, feeling at times that sentences remained to be translated from awkwardly constructed English.  However this felt less so as the book progressed and I felt more that any obfuscation was deliberate.

There is a dark vision of humanity at play in this book, a disgust which passes itself off as diffidence. The characters, some of whom are nominally real, some of whom are fictional within the fiction, are trapped in an incomplete world, or worlds. Many are impelled to certain acts by a sense of fate, by a sense that they need to arrive at particular points. They are unable to cope with the questions posed by the death latent within them and in all who surround them.

Monday 9 July 2012

Cría Cuervos

Cría Cuervos - a film by Carlos Saura

This film was selected by Richard @ Caravana de Recuerdos as part of Spanish Literature month so I decided that I would try to get my hands on a copy in time to watch it. However, it was not to be. I found that it was to be released in a few months (it dates from 1976). However, having some time to myself last night I decided I would see if I could view it online and lo and behold, it seemed that I could. And so I settled down to watch.

..CONTAINS SPOILERS.. and much frustration.

Friday 6 July 2012

Who was Vernon Fork?

I love when pieces of paper fall out of old books. It feels like you've just won a FREE PRIZE. Here's one of the more interesting pieces I've had fall out. Four small typewritten sheets from an Oxford Don (or pseuDONymous undergraduate?) about the use of idiom in the contemporary novel of the time (late nineteen-forties?). So I guess this is my first guest written (or ghost written) post. If anyone is able to tell me anything about 'Vernon Fork' I would appreciate it. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it wasn't satisfied with that.

A Sense of Idiom
I have been reading some novels by contemporary writers which describe the mind and speech of the younger men, those who have been in the services before and after the war. These writers seem to belong to a school which could be described as hard, or perhaps I might even use the word, tough. The young men of today, as described by them, are not rebels or idealists; they have a cynicism and indifference to ideal values and, surprising in young people, an entire absence of naiveté. But what impresses me most is their language, the use of coarse words to describe all incidents and ideas, coupled with the use of sacred words in a profane sense, what we used to call (I suppose it was rather prudish) swearing. And this mode of speech, I understand from the novelist, is not confined to those who have lacked advantages of breeding and education but is universal; staff officers and sergeant-majors and barges, if that is still the term for employees of the transport board engaged in inland navigation, all talk alike. So the novelists say and, as the reviewers are unanimous in testifying to their realism and their sincerity, one must believe them, for, if a man writes sincerely about what he knows to be real, what he writes must be true.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón
(Translated by Lucia Graves)

 Daniel, our hero, is nine. He is taken by his father, an antiquarian bookseller, to a very secret place. He cannot even tell his best friend. "I followed my father through that narrow lane, more of a scar than a street, until the glimmer of the Ramblas faded behind us. The brightness of dawn filtered down from balconies and cornices in streaks of slanting light that dissolved before touching the ground. At last my father stopped in front of a large door of carved wood, blackened by time and humidity. Before us loomed what to my eyes seemed the carcass of a palace, a place of echoes and shadows."

It is as if he is entering a body rather than a place.  The place is the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labyrinth of books, with 'avenues of exposed spines' and a doorkeeper "somewhere between Charon and the librarian of Alexandria". It is a place where "books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever." As this is Daniel's first visit he must adopt one book and do everything to ensure that it is remembered. As he wanders around, "breathing in the small of old paper and dust" he begins to be aware of the treasure within books - "After a while it occurred to me that between the covers of each of these books lay a boundless universe waiting to be discovered, while beyond those walls, in the outside world, people allowed life to pass by in afternoons of football and radio soaps, content to do little more than gaze at their navels."

Sunday 1 July 2012

Spanish Lit Month - Plans and "Five from the Archive"

 Spanish Lit Month
 Today is the first day of Spanish Literature Month, hosted by Richard @ Caravana de Recuerdos and Stu @ Winstonsdad's Blog. Auspiciously, they have selected the day when Spain could become the first team to win three major international tournaments in a row. They both have myriad suggestions for reading and there are also "three planned group events scheduled: a discussion of Carlos Saura's 1976 film Cría cuervos this coming weekend, a group read of Juan Carlos Onetti's 1950 La vida breve [A Brief Life] the following weekend, and a group read of Enrique Vila-Matas' 2001 Bartleby y compañía [Bartleby & Co.] the weekend after that."