Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Shipyard

The Shipyard - Juan Carlos Onetti
(Translated by Nick Caistor)

"Many people swear they saw him that lunchtime in the dying days of autumn. Some claim he looked like his old self resurrected in the exaggerated way, almost caricatured, that he was trying to recapture the indolence, the irony, the sparse disdain of the postures and expressions he had employed five years before; they recall how keen he was to be noticed and identified, his two fingers ready to rise jerkily to the brim of his hat at the slightest hint of greeting, at any look which remotely suggested surprise at seeing him again. Others on the contrary remember him as indifferent, hostile, resting his elbows on the table, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, parallel to the drenched Artigas Avenue, as he peered into the faces of those coming in for no other reason than to keep a personal tally of loyalties and betrayals, acknowledging either response with the same easy, fleeting smile, the same involuntary twitch of the mouth."

Larsen, the focus of this novel, is banished from the city and his return is brief. On a journey to a nearby town he meets the "idiot girl" of local industrialist Jeremias Petrus and later gets a job managing the shipyard of the book's title. The shipyard is in an advanced and advancing state of decay and Larsen and the two other staff (Galvez and Kunz) who work there are involved in a sort of self-delusion that alone can give any meaning to turning up to plan for the future of a clearly ruinous and derelict facility. They are not paid, although they have contracts and nominal salaries. Ends are made to meet by selling off a load of the rusting equipment in the sheds to scrap merchants once a month. Galvez and Kunz live in the shipyard, Galvez with his pregnant wife in "an enlarged version of a dog kennel", Kunz in a "doorless, abandoned office, with wooden planks for walls."

Monday, December 8, 2014

The End of a Mission

The End of a Mission - Heinrich Böll
(Translated by Leila Vennewitz)

My second choice for GermanLitMonth allowed me to continue to make my way through the collected works of Heinrich Böll. The End of a Mission is the fourth Böll novel I've reviewed here and there fifth I've read. The Safety Net; Group Portrait with Lady; The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum are all featured on the blog but my first Böll, and my favourite thus far Billiards at Half Past Nine was read before I started blogging.

As with many (all?) of his other books The End of a Mission has, as it's central concern the relationship between post war Germany and what happened during that war. How has it affected community, memory, the relationship with law and the state? How can/is language calibrated to reveal/hide it? It is a satire, or perhaps more accurately a farce in which the blind, remorseless and often senseless needs of bureaucracy collide with individuals and community in the small town of Birglar.

Friday, November 28, 2014


The Faber Academy have started a competition called #Quickfic. Details at this LINK.

You get a prompt and a few hours to come up with a 250 word story based on the prompt. I gave myself fifteen minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Rebellion - Joseph Roth
Translated by - Michael Hofmann
"They were blind or halt. They limped. They had shattered spines. They were waiting to have limbs amputated, or had recently had them amputated. The War was in the dim and distant past." "They had made their own individual peace with the enemy. Now they were readying themselves for the next war: against pain, against artificial limbs, against crippled, against hunchbacks, against sleepless nights, and against the healthy and the hale."
Given that The Radetzky March is one of the best books I've read since I started this blog, I felt it was well past the time when I should read another Roth and GermanLitMonth seemed the perfect opportunity. The introduction to Rebellion is written by the masterful translator Michael Hofmann who informs us that this is the fifteenth and last of Roth's novels to be translated into English, a full sixty years after his death. He also suggests that the reader "might read the whole of that oeuvre", and although I have only read three so far (I read The Legend of the Holy Drinker a few decades back) I hope that I will get to read all fifteen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Memory of Fire: Genesis

Memory of Fire, 1: Genesis - Eduardo Galeano
(Translated by  Cedric Belfrage)

Genesis is the first part of Galeano's ambitious and brilliant retelling of the history and mythstory of the American continent. Short, anecdotal passages jump from location to location, leapfrogging through time to build a picture of the civilisations that existed in pre-Conquistador America. It's a couple of months since I read Genesis and I stopped part way through the second book in order to complete some reading I had committed to. I hope to get back into it soon, as it has lived up to my high expectations so far, expectations raised by my reading of another of his books: Upside Down, A Primer for the Looking-Glass World.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Goat's Are Singing - Long Time, No See

The Goat's Are Singing
Long Time, No See - Dermot Healy

"It's a terror to hear a sound that is not there. Have you ever heard a sound that is not there?"

Long Time, No See, barring an unexpected posthumous work, is Dermot Healy's last published novel. All of his other three novels were set in multiple locations and the characters were often running away from or towards somewhere but here the main characters are all deeply rooted in the small rural enclave of Ballintra on the west coast of Ireland. This time the world comes to the characters, rather than the other way round.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Mysteries - Knut Hamsun
Translated by Gerry Bothmer
"In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A stranger by the name of Nagel appeared, a singular character who shook the town by his eccentric behaviour and then vanished as suddenly as he had come."

I was inspired to read Mysteries by the fact that both Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos and Tom at Wuthering Expectations would be reading it and it seemed like too good an opportunity to read it alongside two of my favourite bloggers. (Indeed Tom has already started splashing ideas about in this post; and there will possibly be more by the time I finish this post). I already wanted to read more Hamsun after reading Hunger and happened to have this one on my shelves. There are sure to be many angles on this book, which, as the title suggests, is hard to pin down.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 15 - Broken English

Top 102 Albums Minus 15
Broken English - Marianne Faithfull

A few weeks back, watching Later with Jools Holland I was delighted to see Marianne Faithfull appear and since then I have been listening regularly to Broken English, her coruscating and quite brilliant album from 1979. It brings together her sixties credentials with songs from John Lennon (Working Class Hero) and a song from underground provocateur Heathcote Williams (Why'd Ya Do It) and a sound that owes more to Giorgio Moroder than the folk and country stylings of her earlier work.

Essay published on the Thresholds International Short Story Forum.

Essay published on the Thresholds International Short Story Forum.

The blog post previously known as Four Stories and Me, which I had written for a competition on the Thresholds International Short Story Forum has been edited to Three Stories and Me and published on Thresholds.

The site is hosted by The University of Chichester and has a number of interesting essays and links for lovers and authors of short stories everywhere.

Pay them a visit - THRESHOLDS

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Sudden Times

The Goats are Singing
Sudden Times - Dermot Healy

"The regrets come with a vengeance. The want of revenge comes with a vengeance."

Sudden Times seems to me to be the most concentrated and controlled of Healy's books. The narrative voice is carefully and shaped and the structure is that of a thriller, with details being drip fed to us to let us know that there will be a revelation by the end. For a long time we are not sure what that revelation will be, and it leaves us feeling unsure as to how to judge the narrator. Is he suffering from grief or guilt? Or both.

The book comprise of a series of very short chapters titled rathered than numbered. Some are no more than a sentence. The titles are sometimes gnomic, often comic and always in dialogue with their respective 'chapters'. Healy's skills as a poet and playwright are in evidence throughout.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fourteenth Floor - The Drays

Fourteenth Floor - The Drays

When I heard that Stephen Ryan (ex Stars of Heaven and The Revenants) was releasing new material I was excited. A year or so after hearing about it I finally heard it when the actor Aidan Gillen played a song on the radio when he was standing in for Tom Dunne. He linked it up with an Alex Chilton cover of a Seeds song - I Can't Seem to Make You Mine.

The Goats are Singing - The Bend for Home

The Goats are Singing
The Bend for Home - Dermot Healy

My enjoyment of re-reading Healy's sparkling and generous memoirs has been enhanced by reading it alongside his other books. It is possible to see how many of the incidents outlined here have metamorphosed into parts of his fiction.

The forces that create the writer are at the very heart of this book, with even Healy's birth connected umbilically to the well of fiction. The book opens with the story of his birth, or at least the story he long believed was of his birth. The mix of humour and contrariness reminded me of Laurence Sterne, and also of Monty Python.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Great Christmas Carve Up! December Readalong.

The Great Christmas Carve Up! 
December Readalong of Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up!

This post on Jonathan Coe's Expo 58 has led to a proposed readalong of Coe's eighties satire What a Carve Up! which has the reputation of being great fun and one of the most successful satires of recent times. (It was published in the US as The Winshaw Legacy)

It seems somehow appropriate following the stir caused by Hilary Mantel's The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher to take another baleful look at the acquisitive and divisive eighties when Thatcher and Reagan did their level best to reintroduce feudalism.

Committed readers already include star bloggers Guy at His Futile Preoccupations or The Years of Reading Aimlessly…; Jacqui at JacquiWine's Journal and Kim at Reading Matters , and me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Goats Are Singing - A Goat's Song

The Goats Are Singing
A Goat's Song - Dermot Healy

They say that character is fate and that that is the key to great tragedy. A Goat's Song has a character damaged by sobriety and one damaged by drink. The real tragedy, though, is not to be found in character but in a country, divided.

If you want to see a character fall you have to walk him over the edge and Jack Ferris, playwright, fisherman, drunk and lover does just that. Healy, who lived where Jack lives, on the western edge of Mayo, seems to have had an instinctive understanding that the marginal sees clearest, and while Jack feels the pull of Belfast and Dublin, it is the sea that hauls hardest and he always returns to the peninsula and the fishing boats.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Fighting with Shadows

The Goats are Singing 
Fighting with Shadows, or Sciamachy - Dermot Healy

Fighting with Shadows, published in 1984, was Dermot Healy's first novel. It would be ten years before his second, A Goat's Song, hit the shelves. In many ways Fighting With Shadows has the mark of a first novel. It covers a huge amount of ground and seems almost overcome by all the things it has to say. However, it does say a lot and Healy's talent, already clear from his short stories, was confirmed by this novel.

The focus of the novel is on the Allen family, three generations of whom are featured. They are from the town of Fanacross, situated on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The influence of the border is referred to on the first page: "The lorry-loads of watchful pigs descending the mountains by night to a slaughter house in the South. How the cattle get dizzy crossing the border for the grants in the North and back again for the grants in the South."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Goats Are Singing - Banished Misfortune (5)

The Goats Are Singing 
Banished Misfortune (5) - Dermot Healy

I've been stumbling slowly through the works of Dermot Healy for the past month, my reading somewhat ahead of my writing, but not too far.

I have been getting very tired, something which may be somewhat down to increasing myopia, which has led me to finally start wearing the glasses which made so little difference when I got them a couple of years back.

Here are some thoughts on the final five stories in Banish Misfortune.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

1984 Playlist

1984 Playlist

I am going to my thirty year school reunion this weekend and I put together this playlist of music from 1984 for atmosphere...

Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (4)

The Goats are Singing
Banished Misfortune (4) - Dermot Healy

Further thoughts on Dermot Healy's debut collection of short stories.

Blake's Column
Mr Blake is a "well known" newspaper columnist who is also a dramatist. He has moved into the country with his wife and son but they have since left and he is isolated and somewhat bitter. It is near the place where he was born but he has been living in Dublin for a long time. In many ways he prefigures the narrator of A Goat's Song, who is similarly a rural dramatist separated from his ex-partner and living in isolation.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (3)

The Goats are Singing 
Banished Misfortune (3) - Dermot Healy

The third story in Banished Misfortune is The Island and the Calves, a story that I found it harder to find my feet in than the first two.

It takes place in England during Easter Week to the soundtrack of Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ and is suffused with religious imagery. The world seems not yet to have solidified, and there is a sense that what is important are the things that can't be pinned down - "History became the studying of disappearing softness, for hardness always remained, the most accessible material of man."

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Ice Age

The Ice Age - Margaret Drabble

"there was no rational explanation for the sense of alarm, panic and despondency which seemed to flow loose in the atmosphere of England.`'

It's a while since I read The Ice Age but with one thing and another I haven't been able to get around to writing anything about it. Not that there isn't a lot to say. It is a very interesting novel and I enjoyed it a lot and will be reading more Drabble. I read this partly to take the temperature of the mid-seventies which the book does very well, integrating big social and economic issues with the character's stories.

The book opens with a scene which reminded me strongly of The Sopranos: "On a Wednesday in the second half of November, a pheasant, flying over Anthony Keating's pond, died of a heart attack, as birds sometimes do.."