In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

March 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, February 26, 2019
There’s nothing like a short, sharp book to wake one up from a stupor induced by wordy, overlong books. I’ve recently read two wonderfully succinct books, and so engaging were they that I was able to finish each in one sitting. The first was Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss—an extraordinary book. Set in an inhospitable camp site in Northumberland, Silvie, the narrator,  is there with her mother and father, as part of an archaeological, pre-Roman life re-enactment. The family are there with a group of university students and their professor. From the very beginning a sense of dread pervades the story, although how that dread will manifest is kept just out of sight by the author. Silvie’s father is a piece of work—an extremely abusive man who has managed to persuade his family to submit to his bizarre wishes, but someone with enough credibility to team up with professional archaeologists who actually listen to him. The expression ‘the banality of evil’ came to mind the whole time I was reading this, but Sarah Moss created enough suspense to keep me reading—her spare but vivid descriptions making the story come alive in a really compelling way. 

My next short sharp book, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, was a world apart from Ghost Wall. Or was it? Ostensibly it seems so, with the narrator Keiko working in an apparently soulless convenience store in Japan. Keiko is not ‘normal’—she relishes her mundane job, she has found a rhythm anda reason in her work, and a way to present herself to the world, with some help from the worker’s manual she is given when she first starts her job. Where Silvie from Ghost Wall has been isolated from her peers and contemporary life by her manipulative father and spineless mother, Keiko is apart, and genuinely ‘other’ by her own nature. She is considerably odd, and is vulnerable because of this. Into her sterile world steps a really unsatisfactory man, and it seems his very presence in her life makes her more acceptable to both her fellow workers and her family. Translated from Japanese, and written in a rhythmic almost pulsing way, you get taken into another world that seems to be mainly devoid of time or place. This is a disconcerting, but very endearing book, and Keiko is a most unlikely hero.   


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