This post is courtesy of Best Translated Book Award judge, the inimitable George Carroll. Not only is he one hell of a West Coast sales rep for publishing companies large and small, he has an inexhaustible knowledge of translated literature.
I’ve been skulking around in the shadows with The Best Translated Award submissions. Everything I’m reading is bleak. I’m even thinking about designing a t-shirt that says “I Read World Literature: I like it Dark and Depressing.”
This quick wrap-up is specific to the mysteries on that list. To be honest, the chance of a mystery working its way through this year’s submissions would be tough (unless you really think The Infatuations is a mystery) but they are there. Like Cardiff City or Crystal Palace in the EPL- they might get relegated next year, but for now, they’re here and deserve notice.
Massimo Carlotto’s At the End of Dull Day is a sequel to The Goodbye Kiss. To avoid a prison sentence, narrator Giorgio Pellegrini sells out his friends and makes a deal with crooked cops. He ends up with bags of cash and tries to buy his way into respectability. Pellegrini is sadistic, misogynistic, and cruel. In the Richard Stark novels, Parker has a few rules that he follows, one of which is that no one gets hurt or killed unless it’s necessary. Pellegrini maims or kills anyone who gets in his way or can identify him. The day after brutally beating and disfiguring a politician’s maid – just to make a point – he tells the counselor:
“I can promise you that I’ve that I’ve shown considerable restraint and offered no more than a tiny demonstration of the extent of my professional skills in the field of inflicting violence. You can’t even begin to imagine how good I am at the work I do….”
There are three qualifying Maurizio de Giovanni titles, two of them are set in 1930’s fascist Italy and feature the character Commissario Riccardi: I Will Have Vengeance and Blood Curse. Riccardi has terrifying visions of the last few seconds of victims’ violent deaths – blood pumping from knife wounds, enigmatic last words of vengeance and sorrow. For a Commissario in solving homicides, it’s a blessing and a curse.
“The body’s head lay on the tabletop, resting on the left cheek; on the right, a large fragment of mirror jutted out from the throat, reflecting a vitreous eye and a twisted mouth from which a trickle of drool oozed. Riccardi heard singing in a soft voice…”
De Giovanni uses an effective, sometimes frustrating, way of telling the story – he writes part of the narrative identified by the characters’ names but also writes sections with just pronouns. In the first book, it seems that all of the female characters are blonds with blue eyes. You’re never sure which one is contemplating what.
There’s a vulnerable, romantic aspect of Riccardi that eases the incredible sorrow he experiences from the visions he witnesses, which is very well written.
The Bone Man by Wolf Haas is the sequel to Brenner and God. Haas is much lighter than de Giovanni and Carlotto, but you can only measure noir & mysteries by degrees, right? Haas is a bit of fresh air though, a real kick-in-the-pants, very funny.
He has an engaging way of involving the reader by throwing in asides:
“You’ll have to excuse me, but it really gets on my nerves sometimes, how sanctimonious people can be. Now, where did I leave off?”
“And let’s be honest, people make an unbelievable fuss about sleep these days. It’s got to be the best bed, everything organic, and absolutely quiet of course …just because people need to park their asses somewhere.”
The plot of The Bone Man opens with human bones found in a pile of chicken bones at an Austrian chicken shack. Yummy. The plot does involve a goalie from a soccer team, which is always a plus with me. Oh, and, Blood Curse has this: “That would explain the extent of the bloodstain across the floor, a trail nearly a yard wide. We have a center forward on our hands, he thought.”
Looking forward to reading The Fire Witness, which comes with high recommendations. The jacket image has a hammer on it, so I can imagine where this one is going to go.
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .