We just got Ohl’s Mr Dick or The Tenth Book in for review, and after reading this piece in The Guardian I’m pretty sure we’ll be covering it in the near future.
Monsieur Dick, Ohl’s first novel, came out in France four years ago and has won three literary prizes. The English translation has just been published by Dedalus as Mr Dick. “How do you think that title will be received in Britain?” the author asks me, understanding all too well the potential snigger factor. Mr Dick is a character from David Copperfield and Ohl’s book is in many ways a homage to Dickens. It is the story of two young Frenchmen whose lives are consumed by their obsession with Dickens’s life and books and in particular his final, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s a playful and highly literary detective story, like a Gallic mélange of Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes and AS Byatt’s Possession. [. . .]
The one aspect of British life that Ohl doesn’t appreciate, however, is the current state of the nation’s bookshops. “Things are bad in France,” he admits. “It’s difficult for independent booksellers here. But in Britain, the situation is catastrophic.”
Before lunch, I visit the bookshop where Ohl works, Librairie Georges, in Talence, near Bordeaux. It is not, as I expected, an old-fashioned, cave-like place, with books stacked in high, random piles all over the floor; indeed, it looks superficially like many modern bookshops. It is large, well lit and has a cafe at the front. Dig a little deeper, though, and the differences are obvious.
For a start, Ohl, who runs the literature section, has a considerable influence over which books (and how many copies of each) his shop buys in and displays. He chooses them not on the basis of how much the publishers pay him for shelf space (as is the case with certain UK chains) but by actually reading them.
Throughout the shop, you can see books labelled with paper of three different colours: green for “recommended”, orange for “highly recommended” and purple for “coup de coeur” – the books that have most thrilled or moved or made the bookshop’s workers laugh. Ohl and his four assistants also give regular “literary breakfasts”, where readers come to drink coffee and eat croissants and listen while the booksellers tell them about the best books they have read in the past few months. The morning I was there, 30 people turned up – male and female, young and old – and listened for two hours, many asking questions and taking notes. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of thing you’re likely to see in Waterstone’s or Borders these days.
Or in many U.S. bookstores . . . A literary brunch at an indie store (or public library) where readers could get staff recommendations and talk about new books would be frickin’ fantastic . . .
Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .
When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .
“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .
With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .
In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .
You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .
The narrative history of. . .
Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .
Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .
I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .
Throughout his work The Gray Notebook, Josep Pla mentions many different authors, some of whom have inspired him to pick up a pen. One of them is Marcel Proust. Even though Pla normally prefers nonfiction, he lauds the French novelist. . .