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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

In the third novel of the Occupation Trilogy, Patrick Modiano, then twenty-six, presents a narrative in which the speaker makes an effort to find and to know his father, who is not really co-operative. Like Modiano’s father during and after the war, this father has also been absent from his son’s life and is also a member of a gang which is taking advantage of the chaos to make money from selling illegal goods on the blackmarket. Modiano’s depiction of their lives and activities is very different from what was common among French writers at that time, as most authors explored new writing styles – surrealism, existentialism, and the absurd, among others – and did not deal with their own possible complicity in the Occupation. Here young Modiano shows his sense of reality as his narrator searches for his father at two different times, ten years apart, getting to know him in unexpected ways, but leaving open questions at the end of the novel. (Those unfamiliar with Modiano would do well to start with SUSPENDED SENTENCES as an introduction.)

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When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2014, only a few of his many books were available in English. Publishers quickly answered the call, and now most of his books are available to English speakers. One of the most recent to be translated is Modiano’s first novel, published when he was twenty-two, LA PLACE de L’ETOILE, a novel which explodes with the pent-up creative energy of an immature but highly sensitive young man. Among other things, he dreams of becoming a teacher and claims that he is six feet, six inches tall. He also claims that he has been put in charge of the procurement (and kidnapping) of high class women to work in the sex trade and that that he has been a longtime lover of Eva Braun, traveling the world – to Poland, Vienna, Istanbul, Egypt, and Palestine – laundering counterfeit money and trafficking in gold. Filled with the kind of imagination which young writers delight in exploring, this is one of the wildest debut novels I’ve ever read, filled with his personal fantasies and an enduring sense of irony and humor.

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Marcus Conway, a sensitive Irish man in his early fifties, hears the Angelus bell, a call to prayer, upon returning to his house in the Mayo village of Louisburgh, where his family has lived for unnumbered generations. He is “pale and breathless” – confused, even – and notes that “There is something strange about all this, some twitchy energy in the ether which has affected me from the moment those bells began to toll, something flitting through me, a giddiness drawing me.” As Marcus muses about his life and family, and his village “blistered with shrines and grottoes and prayer houses and hermitages,” he sees the whole of County Mayo as a “bordered realm of penance and atonement. Author Mike McCormack, winner of the Best Irish Novel of the Year Award for this novel, recreates the life and the memories, of Marcus Conway as one complete sentence, a brilliant way to recreate the shifting thoughts of a man’s memories, and it really works here, drawing in the reader instead of putting him off with its lack of periods. I found it easy to follow after the first few pages, and I became so involved in Marcus Conway’s life and comments about chaos vs. order in his and the world’s universe that I actually forgot that this was only one sentence.

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Though it deals with nothing less than the meaning of existence, the nature of reality, and ultimately, a search for the legendary “City of Dreams,” which has haunted the lives of writers and philosophers for centuries, Found Audio is also great fun. Debut author N. J. Campbell makes his own rules here as he creates a novel which is entertaining and, at times exciting, even as it also deals with philosophical questions which have been the subjects of treatises, novels, plays, and poetry since the beginning of time. Who we are, where we are going, what we see as the nature of reality, how importantly we regard our dreams, and the universal need to give meaning to our lives are questions for most of us, and what Campbell has to say is not new. What is new is his enthusiastic, down-to-earth treatment of these ideas within a novel which is experimental and often charming, drawing the reader into participating in a search for truth through mysterious audio tapes which have been found by an unknown narrator who has traveled the world to exotic places. In a Foreword, which begins the novel, a transcriber has received a manuscript from an unidentified writer in 2006 while working in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The writer has also provided three audio tapes, and he is prepared to pay her a significant sum in cash for two days of work on the tapes in an effort to determine where they came from, how they were produced, and who might have recorded them. Fresh, often charming, and full of insights into the need for a City of Dreams and what these dreams represent for us all.

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In one of the wildest, most creative, and surprising literary novels of the year, French author Camille Laurens plays with reality and virtual reality on all levels and involves the engaged reader in the action as it occurs. The novel opens with a mysterious two-page Prologue, written in stream-of-consciousness style, a deposition from the Police Headquarters archives of a city in France, by a woman claiming to be an academic with a background in women’s issues and history. Her stream of consciousness raving has no context for the reader just beginning the novel (though it makes sense when re-read after the conclusion). The opening chapters of the book, not in stream of consciousness, begin with interviews between Claire Millecam and Dr. Marc B., as she reveals her academic background and her experience in the theatre. Though Dr. Marc B. is new to her, she has been “here” for two and a half years, and she, now almost fifty, tells him that “it’s his job to resuscitate me to rewire my circuits.” The doctor wants her to talk about “Christophe, the corpus delicti or rather the corpus so delectable he broke my heart.” She made Chris her Facebook Friend because he was the roommate of her former lover with whom she thinks she is still in love. Soon, however, she is falling in love with Chris and he with the persona of the 24-year-old girl whose photo she posted online. The reader is soon involved in a complex play of various types of reality: the reader’s reality; the reality of the main character, Claire; the reality of the action as it unfolds, and the virtual reality of Facebook. Surprises galore as the author involves the reader in drawing conclusions.

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