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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

Falling somewhere between a novel and a story collection, The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor continues a narrative which began with his earlier novel, Reservoir 13. Though both books revolve around the disappearance of Becky Shaw, here the author takes the reader inside the characters, all of whom are featured in their own chapters. Here they reveal their inner thoughts and memories, their fears, vulnerabilities, quirks, and even suggestions of past violence. Individualized in this way, these chapters create a sense of hidden danger and violence, raising new questions about what really happened to Becky Shaw, and forcing the reader to consider whether someone in the community has hidden knowledge of what happened to her. People who have read and liked the prize-winning Reservoir 13 will have an advantage in reading this book because of their familiarity with the community and many of its characters, but others will find this book so effectively written from a character and suspense standpoint that they may like it even better than that first novel (especially if they keep a character list). Dramatic, insightful, and effective, The Reservoir Tapes makes one wonder if another entry in a Reservoir series might be on its way.

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In this surprising, unusual, and often wickedly ironic novel by Danish author Dorthe Nors, the main character’s struggle to learn to drive a car with a stick shift becomes a symbol of her life, or as much of a life as she has managed to create for herself. Forty-one-year-old Sonja gets most of her excitement second-hand from her work translating into Danish the novels of one of the most popular thriller writers throughout Scandinavia, novels of crime, criminals, rapists, murderers, and evil doers. Sonja, who grew up in Jutland, became the first person in her family to graduate from college and leave the farm, but in many ways she has never really left. Gone from Jutland for almost two decades and now out of touch with many people from that past, including her sister, she is a woman who is still single, still unable to drive, still working in a job in which she has almost no contact with other professionals, and still too reserved and withdrawn to make many friends. This contrast between real life in the outside world and Sonja’s life, most of which is her inner life of imagination (or her lack of it) persists throughout the novel, allowing author Dorthe Nors to entice the reader into drawing his/her own conclusions about all the characters. An unsuitable man who may be contemplating a flirtation with Sonja appears as the novel winds down, and a close reading of that relationship leads the reader to understand Sonja in a new way. The satisfying conclusion brings together all the loose ends and images which repeat throughout the novel, even including one unusual image of a brown sugar sandwich. In this short novel about people, relationships, and what we regard as home, author Dorthe Nors accomplishes wonders.

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In her debut novel, just translated and published in English, Norwegian author Gunnhild Oyehaug explores many facets of love among three different women and their lovers, a novel which led in her own country to her involvement with the acclaimed film “Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts” in 2015, based on a repeating theme throughout this novel. Here men believe that women in oversized men’s shirts – and little else – are inherently attractive, and most of the female characters find themselves in oversize men’s shirts or pajama tops at some point in the novel as they search for the perfect love. Gunnhild Oyehaug does not lack for imagination, literary credentials, or intelligence. The book is great fun as often as it is annoying for its extreme self-consciousness. Ironies abound, even including what constitutes a cliché, as seen in the opening quotation of this review and some of the events and descriptions which follow. The never-ending and problematic love stories, all involving women between twelve and twenty years younger than their lovers (for reasons not even hinted at by the author) are strangely off kilter much of the time, though these “intellectual” characters take great delight in analyzing them to death. The academic and literary worlds and those who take them seriously are presented as serious characters here, but I found that I liked the book and the characters much more when I assumed that the whole novel was a wild satire of those who need to “get a life.”

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Cove, a novella by Welsh author Cynan Jones, so perfectly captures the mind and heart of its main character that many readers will read it in one sitting and then go back and reread all or most of it. An experimental novel in which the narrator’s individual thoughts are set off in separate paragraphs on wide-margined pages, the narrative hovers between a sharp, detailed, almost journalistic depiction of a speaker who goes out to sea in his kayak to scatter his father’s ashes and some equally sharp, detailed pictures of what may be his hallucinations. All observations are the same to the speaker after a sudden storm and a lightning strike at sea leave him seriously injured, hungry and thirsty, and sometimes incoherent. Though he is well trained in the safety procedures which he recognizes may make the difference between his life and death at sea, he has gone out alone in his kayak, without informing the woman he loves, who is pregnant: He had hoped to spend this one last day with his father, in private. What follows is a life or death struggle with a tension rare for such a short work. Though the style is experimental and takes some chances which may take a bit of getting used to, Jones is as aware of his reader as the narrator seems to be, providing clues throughout. Powerful and unforgettable.

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Unusual and perhaps even unique for an American audience, Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter follows three generations of several interconnected families as they move though Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and eventually Israel, following their dreams and their hopes for their families over the course of a century. Narrated in the present by Tom, much of the novel is a metafictional account of his life and his involvement in events surrounding a magnificent blue diamond which has been in the possession of members of his extended family for several generations. The diamond, however intriguing its story, is not the main story here, however. Rather, it is the belief of those who possess it, that the diamond has a mind of its own and that it can affect their lives in unexpected ways. An unusual novel with a casual, almost relaxed attitude toward major issues, The Diamond Setter is, nevertheless, a difficult and challenging study of the places all of us regard as home, especially when others, very different from ourselves, feel just as passionately that the same places are their homes, too.

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