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Latest Review: "A Life on Paper: Stories" by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Catherine Bailey on A Life on Paper: Stories by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin, and available from Small Beer Press.

Catherine Bailey is an English grad student here at the University of Rochester. (Or maybe was . . . I think she just graduated. And if so, congrats!) She reviewed Alina Bronsky’s Broken Glass Park for us last fall.

Chateaureynaud’s A Life on Paper: Stories is absolutely brilliant. It was also a finalist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award and is translated by one of the coolest & smartest translators out there. Edward has quite a fanbase . . . If you listen carefully to the video of the BTBA Award Ceremony you will hear a screams of support from the audience when his name is read.

Here’s the opening of Catherine’s review:

In reading this marvelous selection of Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s short fiction, I could not help but reminisce about childhood nights spent huddled near a campfire, seated at the feet of an elder and listening, enraptured, to ghost stories. Like those master storytellers whose haunting tales were exaggerated by the play of their hands over the flame, Châteaureynaud makes expert thematic use of both light and shadow to reveal his fantastical realms of wonder and fear. His unassuming prose startles as it entrances, holding readers on the edge of elegantly rendered, fantastical dream-worlds while all at once alluding to their more nightmarish qualities. In the style of Kafka and Poe, Châteaureynaud makes the supernatural seem not only present, but ubiquitous, inclined to encroach at any moment on the humdrum lives of unsuspecting mortals. More sinister than fairy tales, yet not quite definable as horror stories, Châteaureynaud’s whimsical writings leave one unsettled and alert, appreciating anew the possibilities of the chilly night air while simultaneously feeling the urge to draw nearer to the fire—just in case.

There are no consequential clashes in Châteaureynaud’s stories, nor heroic exploits. These are Everyman stories, brushes of ordinary individuals with forces beyond their control and explanation. Protagonists may be shaken, inspired, perplexed, and disturbed by these encounters, but they are rarely surprised. This is one of the distinguishing and most enjoyable marks of Châteaureynaud’s prose—in a recurring device akin to magical realism, the author abruptly introduces a maverick element into an otherwise banal scenario, but the arrival of this supernatural intervention is accommodated by characters without much shock or disbelief. In “La Tête,” a doctor is visited by a patient who carries a still-cognizant talking head around in a sack. More

Click here to read the entire piece.



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