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…

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…

That indefinitely extended requirement that one human being makes upon another

Dear Iris, “I think it’s terrible to be in danger of writing a philosophical novel”, you said in an interview. And I know you have systematically refused to be called a philosophical novelist. However, may I politely disagree? Anatole Broyard attributes to you the idea that good art is philosophy swimming, or philosophy drowning. I could not trace…

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…

Don’t ever wait for the swallows,

Dear Larissa, Your short story collection Swallow Summer, translated by Lyn Marven (2016. Originally, Schwalbensommer, 2003) made me think of tracks made of air: we might know they have just been travelled by birds, but we cannot trace back the moment immediately before their departure, or the very first movement of their wings. Your stories felt…

Look at the colour of it

Dear Ali, It takes us only a few paragraphs of Autumn (2016) to recognize your characteristic marks: experimental writing; a collage of literary references; a narrative propelled through voice and voice alone; a narrative that mingles past and present, as if they were one thing, happening at once; and, finally, the creative reframing of contemporary…

She sensed a scream beneath the silence,

Review: The Beautiful Bureaucrat, by Helen Phillips

Dear Helen,

It is difficult to pin down your novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat (2015): a dystopia that reads like a thriller with brief incursions into horror, literary modernism and satire? It’s hard to say. But, by trying too much, and rushing to the tidy end, it might have fallen short of being great in any of these categories.

The taste of the fog was at the back of their throats

Dear Elizabeth, Do you know this feeling we have when we quite unexpectedly understand why a particular book is a classic? When we understand what it means; when we suddenly get to know what it feels like. Have you ever felt it? When a book draws from a tradition it so thoroughly understands that it…

Shut the noise out with your own noise

Dear Patricia, WHILE READING your novel Deep Water (1957), I felt as if you had gradually thrust us into the muddy waters of your protagonist’s troubled mind. The book is narrated in third person through the perspective of Vic Van Allen, an inhibited man in his late thirties, who runs a small press in the…