I’ve made a facetious summary of the reading I have completed in the first quarter of the year and it’s been an interesting exercise. I notice a lot of ‘wounded men stories’ in retrospect, even in the title below that suggests the exact opposite of this. There were two interesting women characters: Marta in Couto’s wonderfully strange tale and Mitsuko in Endo’s Deep River. I don’t choose books based on the gender of the writer, but my attention has been drawn to this in the last year or two because there is an imbalance of attention given to women writers. Of the ten fiction titles I have read, seven were not originally written in English . . . I like that – there’s Japanese, French, Russian and Portuguese – among them. I’m glad they’ve been made accessible . . . one needs to ever expand one’s notion of the universal and be surprised by the spectrum of humanity.
You can skip the next paragraph – it’s an aide-memoir, a note to self, an attempt to discern a pattern . . . There are probably other ways to do this (like, e.g., in lower case 🙂
MAN GOES WALKABOUT. ENCOUNTERS SHADOW OF DEATH. ACTUALLY DIES (SEEMS somehow TO COME BACK . . .). GOES MISSING. LOSES HIS JOB, FINDS A COMPASS. TORTURED & ABANDONED IN C17 NAGASAKI (PARADOXICALLY FINDS LIFE).
CLUELESS, SELFISH, MEAN MEN MAKE WOMEN STRONG.
MAN LEAVES WORLD TO RETURN TO EDEN/INNOCENCE (FOILED. AGAIN). HEADS TO THE GANGES. EXPERIMENTS WITH AGUA VIVA.
Ab./ = abandoned
Opening lines – in blue
I am Pilgrim (Terry Hayes)
There are places I’ll remember all my life . . .
§ … A muscular skop, skiet en’donner. Relentless. Captivating. Exhausting.
Ab./ Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (James Runcie)
Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.
§ … Comparisons made to Mma Ramotswe made this a temptation. Salley Vickers claimed in the blurb that the vicar was good company in bed. Alas, it was a cold dark January morning, in the wee wee hours after we’d spent about a week together that I finally decided he could not stay. Yes, that 32 year old bachelor ‘tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the color of hazelnuts and a reassuringly gentle manner’ was given the heave-ho.
Ab./ The Buddha’s Return (Gaito Gazdanov)
§ … Russian lit belongs in the winter, I’ve often thought. The book, published by Pushkin press, was a physical pleasure to hold and to read. Horrible attitudes to women, and though the stream of consciousness was intriguing and the theme of memory potent I eventually lost patience and tossed this one, too.
Missing Person (Patrick Modiano)
For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past.
§ … Thoroughly engaging and thought provoking. I was thinking about memory a lot early in the year.
Noah’s Compass (Anne Tyler)
In the sixty-first year of his life, Liam Pennywell lost his job.
§ … Again with the memory theme, though in a far more homely, warm, if not exactly happy, register than Modiano’s noir-ish novella.
Silence (Shusaku Endo)
News reached the Church in Rome.
§ … Devastating & brilliant. I imagine I will be absorbing and reflecting on this for a good, long while. Ironically, immediately after I had finished it, I felt compelled to go to the library to pick up another of his–I’d read all his books, by golly!– only to find it was CLOSED FOR TWO WEEKS (STOCK-CHECK). So I was forced to sit with Silence.
Ab./ Three Strong Women (Marie Ndiaye)
And the man waiting for her at the entrance to the big concrete house—or who happened to be standing in the doorway—was bathed in a light suddenly so intense that it seemed for radiate from his whole body and his pale clothing: yet this short, thickset man before her, who had just emerged from his enormous house and was glowing bright as a neon tube, no longer possessed, Norah straightaway realised, the stature, arrogance, and youthfulness one so mysteriously his own as to seem everlasting.
§ … This was beautifully written. I’m all for strong women but do they have to be forced to become so because of rotten men? I don’t like this kind of ‘equation’, don’t believe it and I don’t subscribe to it.
The Tuner of Silences (Mia Couto)
I was eleven years old when I saw a woman for the first time, and I was seized by such a sudden surprise that I burst into tears.
§ … Reading this book, I was interested to note how it taught me the pace it wanted to be read at. This and Agua Viva are both translations from Portuguese. I loved this strange and lyrical tale. Many a sentence and section I have copied into a notebook. Beautiful!
Deep River (Shusaku Endo)
Yaki imo. Yaki imo. Piping hot yaki imo.
§ … Ditto comments above regarding Silence.
Agua Viva (Clarice Lispector)
It is with such profound happiness.
§ … This piece of experimental writing is intense, poetic, amazing, a strong medicine whose effects are difficult to describe. I can only take it in in bits. I understand the words. I kind of understand the paragraphs. I’m interested most of all in the silences within and between the sections and mean to explore this dimension of it. Agua Viva fascinates me and I hope to find more cogent things to say about it as time goes by.
Non-Fiction (On The Go)
Silence: A Users’ Manual (Maggie Ross)
A Philosophy of the Unsayable (William Franke)
The Edge of Words (Rowan Williams)
Christ in Japanese Culture (Emi Mase-Hasegawa)
The Good Story (Arabella Kurtz and J.M Coetzee)
To conclude: advice from Austin Kleon on: