Beautiful flying things

Dear Carole, In Ava (1993), you throw us inside the mind of a dying woman. We are there, minute by minute, while it all happens. However, we cannot see anything very clearly – we can only follow its rhythm. Rather than a linear collection of images flashing before our eyes, the novel reads more like…

Trust is fine, but control is better

Dear Elfriede, Your novel The Piano Teacher, tr. Joachim Neugroschel (1988. Die Klavierspielerin, 1983) is vile and uncompromising: it dwells on the grotesque, crossed by an undercurrent of violence that, by striping everything of fineries and superficial niceties, almost acts as a cleansing element. The novel centres around Erika Kohut (Erika K.), a piano teacher…

The various crimes of sadness

Dear Fleur, Most of the twenty-one stories in your collection I Am the Brother of XX, tr. Gini Alhadeff (2017. Original: Sono il fratello di XX, 2014) have a claustrophobic feel to them: like when we are aware that we are dreaming, but we cannot wake up, no matter how much we try. The stories are set…

To disentangle true from false

Dear Delphine, Based on a True Story (2017, tr. George Miller. Original: D’aprés une histoire vraie, 2015) is an atmospheric book that revolves around a woman who may or may not have been taken hostage by another – and by her readers. The narrator is a middle-aged woman who lives in Paris with her two…

Memories lie slumbering within us

Dear Winfried, The Rings of Saturn (tr. Michael Hulse, 1998. Original: Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt, 1995) is beautiful, and melancholy, and strange. It is this paradox: a journey that can only be made in solitude; but, at the same time, one that can only happen in a relation between author and reader. The…

All we see is a haze

Dear Carol, As if under the muffled atmosphere of a tense game, the storyline of Sinuca embaixo d’água (2009, ‘Underwater snooker’, not translated yet) circumscribes an absence: the white ball that moves the others and drives the game forward. Antonia, the main character, is at the heart of the story but never directly shows up…

I was giving the glad-eye like blazes

Dear Connie, The Laws (1993, tr. Richard Huijing. De Wetten, 1991) reads like a draft of a draft: the shadow of an idea, hovering over the page without ever really taking off. The novel is set in the 1980’s and centres around Marie Deniet, an Amsterdam-based student who sets out in search of ‘the laws’…

One gets the criminals one deserves

Dear Amélie, The Enemy’s Cosmetique (Cosmétique de l’ennemi, 2001, not translated into English yet) reads like an ouroboros, a snail swallowing its own tail: in a sequence of increasing macabre tales, the two characters are brought into their innermost self, caught in a sadistic kind of seduction game: the interplay between guilt and punishment. The story…

You know I was not born to tread in the beaten track

Dear infamous Mary, I had never read a book about you, and I confess I wasn’t even planning to. But, last month, a hefty tome came my way: somewhat unexpectedly, the blank was to be filled with Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon (2015). Gordon’s dual…

A small tear in the fabric of reality

Dear Nicole, Most of the time, we tend to think of fiction as a mirror held up, facing reality. Never mind if this is a clear mirror, a cloudy or an openly distorted one – our gaze rarely changes direction. Some books, however, attempt to cross through the looking-glass: they direct our gaze away from…

The point is not to negate reality, but to peel back its scrim,

Dear Chloe, Your novel The Immortalists (2018) seems to be cursed by the very premise it seeks to explore: the interplay between chance and destiny is not an easy subject to tackle. Your somewhat tamed approach to it, however, is a bad omen. The book is a decades-spanning story of a Jewish immigrant family. It…

Strange can be quite normal

Dear Samanta, Your novel Fever Dream (2017), translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Distanca de Rescate, 2014) takes the form of a conversation between a woman and a boy, going back and forth between past and present, in a fragmented series of flashbacks. It also reads like a confession of guilt, and a nightmare….