Sunday, 1 May 2022

Introducing Kafka

 Over at the Scratch Books website, I attempt the impossible task of briefly introducing Franz Kafka through his brilliant short story Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor.




As a suggestion, if you're looking for an attractive edition of the story, try the one illustrated by David Musgrave, published as part of the Four Corners Familiars series.






Thursday, 28 April 2022

Ditlevsen & Lewis

A couple more recent appearances on the mighty Shawn's Youtube channel recently, discussing the brilliant Danish writer and suicide Tove Ditlevsen, plus a certain recovered classic :




Click through for actually not-tiny full-screen versions!

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

50 MORE Short Excellent Books You Can Read in One Hit in Isolation

(A follow-up to this post, derived from this thread...)

51. AN OBSCURE MAN: Marguerite Yourcenar
Astonishingly convincing novella about a 17th-Century Dutchman, his travels, his loves and his failures. Found in this collection (also available as 'Two Stories and a Dream'), with its equally successful sequel novella, A LOVELY MORNING.
Image

52. SICKLE: Ruth Lillegraven
Verse novel encapsulating the whole life of a Norwegian man in the 1800s, and the life of the woman who is unlucky enough to marry him. Big themes, done with a delicately light touch.
Image

53. AN UNTOUCHED HOUSE: W F Hermans
It's the arse-end of WW2, you're an exhausted partisan fighting in the wreckage of Germany, and you find a beautiful, empty untouched house, an oasis of peace. What would you do to keep it for yourself?
Image

54. BLIND HUBER: Nick Flynn
Blind beekeeper, beekeeper's assistant, the hives of bees: all have their own voices in this wonderful connected collection of poems
Image

55. BRUGES-LA-MORTE: Georges Rodenbach
A creepy, decaying city hosts a creepy, decaying man in mourning as he sinks into sexual obsession and murderousness. What's not to like?
Image

56. HIGHWAY WITH GREEN APPLES: Bae Suah
A novella about a near-affectless young artist adrift in Seoul, switching seamlessly through different times of her life. Perhaps more straightforward than Suah's longer works, but showing most of her preoccupations and strengths.
Image

57. ADDRESS UNKNOWN: Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
A very effective and nastily stinging brief novella of betrayal and revenge, told entirely through letters. One of the books which warned of the dangers of the Nazis and was inevitably ignored by the people who should have listened.
Image

58: THE MEMOIR OF AN ANTI-HERO: Kornel Filipowicz
Passivity, resistance and collaboration in WW2 Poland; what is your life worth?
Image

59. THE STRANGE CASE OF EDWARD GOREY: Alexander Theroux
A perfect argument for why there should be more brief biographies of eccentric people by masterful novelists.
Image

60. NESS: Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood
Rich and strange and incantatory and ominous and Bomb-shadowed. A terrible Black Mass is brewing, and five THINGS are coming across the sea to stop it.
Image

61. MRS CALIBAN: Rachel Ingalls
Just a perfect little novel about a neglected suburban housewife who falls in love with a swampy sea monster.
Image

62. BOX HILL: Adam Mars-Jones
Incredibly uncomfortable, weirdly comic novella about love, sex, and being used and abused. Alarming and excellent.
Image

63. PEREIRA DECLARES: Antonio Tabbucchi
(also published as PEREIRA MAINTAINS) Salazar's Portugal, a man trying to stand above the fray, a politicised encounter, a wonderful voice
Image

64. THE BEAUTY OF THE HUSBAND: Anne Carson
Jealousy and sex and beauty and love filtered through the prism of Keats, in the form of a verse novella

Image
65. RED SHIFT: Alan Garner
Dialogue-driven linked stories of people on the run in three widely separated timezones (Roman Britain, English Civil War, 1970s) near the hill/castle/town of Mow Cop; strange and mad and wonderful
Image

66. PLEASE, SIR!: Frigyes Karinthy
Genuinely hilarious Hungarian satire on school life from the pupils' point of view. Impossible to find copies, but available online here.
Image

67. THE UNION JACK: Imre Kertész
Another Hungarian, much less funny, but still wonderful: a man glimpses the Union Jack in the midst of the 1956 uprising, and it unleashes a contemplative mental spiral as the Soviet army prepares to invade.
Image

68. AUGUST: Christa Wolf
An orphaned young boy in a TB sanatorium in the winter of 1946, written in a single day. An absolute gem, perfectly polished.
Image

69. NOMADS: Dave Hutchinson
A group of people secretly living among us who are refugees from... something. A witty and clever example of why novellas are often the ideal length for science-fiction.
Image

70. SEVERINA: Rodrigo Rey Rosa
A bored bookseller falls in love/lust/obsession with a sexy young book thief. AND WHY WOULDN'T YOU?
Image

71. BULLFIGHT: Yasushi Inoue
American-occupied postwar Japan, and the editor of a relatively sophisticated Osaka newspaper gets mixed up in a scheme by a crime figure to organise a bullfight tournament.
Image

72. FAUST: Ivan Turgenev
How things can go wrong when trying to seduce a married woman by reading her Goethe's 'Faust' when that's one of the things her husband JUST WON'T DO. Books will ruin your life.
Image

73. THE RED SOFA: Michèle Lesbre
A woman on the way to Siberia, caught in a web of memories and emotions involving two old loves (one dead, one incommunicado), an old lady in her Parisian apartment, and the Russian landscape.
Image

74. ON A RED STATION, DRIFTING: Aliette de Bodard
There aren't many extremely subtle novels of manners set on a space station in an alternative future where Vietname and China established Confucian galactic empires, and on this evidence that is a real shame.
Image

75. THAT SMELL: Sonallah Ibrahim
Modernist, semi-existentialist goodness about a recently released political prisoner roaming Cairo, lost in the changing Egypt, and spying on his neighbours while under house arrest.
Image

76. THE EMBALMER: Anne-Renée Caillé
Fragmented, oddly sweet story of someone interviewing her funeral worker father to capture all of his weird stories and strange workplace advice.
Image

77. AMPHIBIAN: Christina Neuwirth
The old story: you come to work; management slowly floods the workplace to improve productivity (improve sales or drown)
Image

78. GREAT GRANNY WEBSTER: Caroline Blackwood
An absolutely monstrous matriarch rules over her house and her family in this pitch-perfect black comedy of nastiness in an Anglo-Irish Big House.
Image

79. WITTGENSTEIN'S NEPHEW: Thomas Bernhard
Strange and sometimes almost sweet fictionalised memoir of the time a young Bernhard shared a hospital with his friend Paul, a nephew of Wittgenstein; Bernhard for his endlessly knackered lungs, Paul for mental illness
Image

80. MINE-HAHA: Frank Wedekind
Pleasingly mental tale of a deeply weird boarding school for girls that focuses entirely on bodily movement before releasing its charges entirely ill-equipped into the adult world
Image

81. THE NIGHTMARE OF A VICTORIAN BESTSELLER: Brian Thompson
Funny, scathing brief biography of the first book of self-help pablum and its faintly ridiculous author


Image
82. LOIS THE WITCH: Elizabeth Gaskell
Gaskell goes full-on Gothic in a bleak novella based on the Salem Witch Trials
Image

83. THE TIDINGS OF THE TREES: Wolfgang Hilbig
The narrator surveys the ashy wasteland, haunted by the grisly "garbagemen", in this bleak novella of repressed history and the permanence of decay
Image

84. HIS MOTHER'S HOUSE: Marta Morazzoni
A garden in Norway, the love and life's work of Haakon's mother. But now she has a young assistant, Felice, and Haakon is being pushed aside. The quietest power struggle in literature ensues.
Image

85. ADVENTURES IN IMMEDIATE IRREALITY: Max Blecher
One of Blecher's several small masterpieces, a fictionalisation of his youth full of terrifying, visionary premonitions
Image

86. THE LIFECYCLE OF SOFTWARE OBJECTS: Ted Chiang
Weirdly touching novella about consciousness, a sort of parenthood, AI and independence; available in the excellent EXHALATION collection.
Image

87. CADAVER DOG: Luke Best
Grim as grim verse novel about a massive flood and its psychological toll on a woman who stays put in her mostly submerged house
Image

88. RIPENING SEED: Colette
The ultimate young-love-going-sour-but-also-French novel, one of her many compact masterpieces, almost all of which are shamefully out of print in English because we are unworthy
Image

89. NOSTALGIA HAS RUINED MY LIFE: Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle
Extremely funny, extremely uncomfortable fragmented diary-like tale of a year in a NZ woman's ill-considered life


Image
90. THE FISH GIRL: Mirandi Riwoe
Riwoe fleshes out a minor Malay character from one of Somerset Maugham's 'Far Eastern Tales', giving her a richly textured history and tragic life story
Image

91. THE SERVANT: Robin Maugham
See a man thoroughly manipulated, debased and destroyed! Lots of dark, seedy fun about power plays and switching roles.
Image

92. LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK: Nikolai Leskov
A servant embarks and what to him is just another affair with a married woman, not realising the emotional storm and violence he's about to unleash. The title will give you some hints.
Image

93. THE BROTHER: Rein Raud
A stranger comes to town. All hell breaks loose.
(A deliberate attempt to do an Estonia "spaghetti Western", this succeeds in every way.)
Image

94. TODAY: David Miller
Forster-channelling novella about the death of Joseph Conrad; beautifully observed only book by a writer who then sadly died himself.
Image

95. JILLIAN: Halle Butler
Deeply grim and funny workplace comedy about a terrible employee in a terrible workplace and her obsession with/loathing of her even more terrible office-mate.
Image

96. THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER: Joseph Roth
Strange, wondrous story of transcendence about a man drinking himself to death, written by a genius in the process of drinking himself to death
Image

97. EVERY EYE: Isobel English
A woman on a train unravels the mystery of her life; a compact masterpiece admired by Muriel Spark, who was no stranger to compact masterpieces
Image

98. TRAVEL LIGHT: Naomi Mitchison
Weird, vivid fairy-story-ish fantasy of exiled children, talking shapeshifting animals and the language of dragons.
Image

99. THALIAD: Marly Youmans
An origin story--a verse saga--of some future civilisation, drawn from the story of a group of children who (mostly) survive the fiery catastrophe that destroys ours.
Image

100. THE DUEL: Giacomo Casanova
Ending this list with a second duel, this time in an autobiographical novella about two men (exiled Venetian, polish aristocrat) who end up in a battle of honour over a woman neither of them actually likes
Image
Image

• • •