Posts tagged peirene press

Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda

Peirene Press is known for publishing contemporary European literature in translation, but its latest offering takes us a little further afield, to Tripoli in the 1960s. Author Kamal Ben Hameda lives in Holland and writes in French, but this novella is set squarely in the Libya of his youth. As a child growing up in England in the 1980s, the only time I ever heard about Libya was in news stories about Colonel Gaddafi. These days the news stories are different, but still it’s a country I know very little about beyond… Read More

The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik

I cannot get out. Something must have happened to the lock. That’s the first line of Hanne Ørstavik’s novel The Blue Room. Are you feeling claustrophobic yet? If I tell you that the entire novel takes place with the protagonist locked in the same small bedroom, you may feel yourself starting to hyperventilate. Don’t worry, though. Johanne may be locked in her bedroom, but as readers we are free to roam. As Johanne sits in the room alone, her mind begins to wander, taking us back through the set of circumstances that led to… Read More

Choices and consequences: Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall

This beautiful tale of love and survival in the Holocaust had me hooked from the very first line: She buys shoelaces for a pair of men’s shoes – such a trivial purchase. The last four words suggest, of course, that it will prove to be anything but trivial, and this proves to be the case as Izolda meets her husband Shayek while stopping at her friend’s house to thread the new laces. It starts a pattern which continues throughout the book, of apparently trivial decisions having major consequences. The trouble is,… Read More

Tyranny and liberation: Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast

There’s a reason why oppressive societies have images of their leader on every wall and statues in every town square. For the tyrant to maintain power, he must be everywhere, or at least give that appearance. In this gripping portrait of a dysfunctional family, it’s only when the father returns home late from work one night that his absolute rule over his wife and children begins to slip. Freed of the need to perform and appease, the three of them begin to make startling admissions: the children both fantasise about… Read More

Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson

I don’t normally quote cover blurbs in my reviews, but in this case it’s a pretty good description of the book: A postmodern Victorian novel about faith, knowledge and our inner needs. A “postmodern Victorian novel”, it turns out, is a novel set in a rural Kentish village inhabited by Charles Darwin, but told in a very innovative way. This is not a novel about a gardener so much as about a village, and the narrative voice slips seamlessly from one villager to another, even including jackdaws, chickens and the… Read More

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

The premise of this book is delightful: a novella in 51 short chapters, describing the life of famous 17th-century Chinese painter Bada Shanren, partly through his paintings themselves, which are reproduced in the book. The writing in places was quite beautiful, but as a novella it didn’t really work for me. I’ll attempt to explain why. Part of it, I think, is the difficulty of describing art in words. I had a similar problem with the descriptions of jazz in the Booker-shortlisted Half Blood Blues last year – I wrote then, “No… Read More

“The Brothers” by Asko Sahlberg

The Brothers, by Finnish writer Asko Sahlberg, is the first in Peirene Press’s series of the “Small Epic”. The publisher also draws comparisons with Shakespeare and William Faulkner. No pressure, then. Surprisingly the book did not disappoint. It’s only 122 pages but does pack in a lot of story, including among other things warring brothers, family betrayal, sexual tension, death, illness, gambling debts, bankruptcy, attempted fratricide, blackmail, prostitution and the 1809 war between Sweden and Russia. And yet it never feels like a very dramatic book. The elements of the story… Read More

“Tomorrow Pamplona” by Jan van Mersbergen

A road trip taken by two men across Europe to the bull-running at Pamplona. The set-up appealed to me: it’s quite similar to my own novel, with two men on a road trip, exploring the strange relationship between them and the mutual search for something more than what they have. The characters are quite different from mine, though. They start as strangers: Robert picks up Danny outside a service station and offers him a lift. Despite Robert’s best attempts to get inside Danny’s head, they really remain strangers right to… Read More

“Beside the Sea” by Véronique Olmi

A mother takes her two young sons on a trip to the seaside.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it? There’s even a bucket and spade on the cover. You can almost feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, hear the brass band playing a cheery tune. But this is not a nice little feel-good story about a trip to the sea. There’s no sunshine, no brass bands, no sandcastles and laugher and sticks of rock. To get an idea of what this book is like, imagine that idyllic seaside trip… Read More