What a treat!
In a meeting with a sales rep recently, he gave me a letter to read from a debut author. It’s not an uncommon marketing tool for authors to address booksellers in this way. The author wrote that she had been working in an advertising agency and was dating the boss. He offered her a promotion which she rejected as she wanted to write her book, so he ‘kindly’ fired her, meaning she could get unemployment benefits for 12 months. Presumably if she had resigned she would get nothing. I found this bald admission of cheating her (US) government refreshingly honest. The same rep also showed me a photographic book of the Black Summer fires, a book I suggested, was basically arsonist’s porn. I didn’t order it in.
I read two gorgeous books this month, one after the other, by two of my favourite writers. What a treat. Second Place by Rachel Cusk is a short, simple story about a women who invites a famous painter to come and stay in the ‘second place’ she and her husband have on their property somewhere on the coast of England. Cusk’s writing is superb and her insights into the human condition I find uncannily deep. She writes of one of the characters, ‘She was like one of those climbing plants that has to grow over things and be held up by them, rather than possessing an integral support of her own.’
Jhumpa Lahiri originally wrote her novel Whereabouts in Italian, then translated it into English herself. In her memoir, In Other Words, which appeared a few years ago, Lahiri recounted how she learnt Italian, then took her family (from America) to live in Italy for a year where she only spoke and wrote in Italian. Then this Bengali-American wrote a novel in Italian. It is a beautiful book told in small vignettes, about a prickly middle-aged, single woman academic. Nothing much happens and though we know the setting is a town in Italy, we are never told where exactly, and this sense of being neither here nor there, is what makes this book utterly beguiling.
I have started reading Fault Lines, a debut novel by a Emily Itami, a Japanese writer who lives in England. It’s a contemporary novel about a Tokyo housewife who embarks on an affair. It seems Itami has written this book in English as no translator is credited. I mention this because the very modern, colloquial style Itami uses is oddly jarring in the Japanese setting, but it kind of works as well and I’m enjoying this short, funny book very much.
Having heard so many people raving about it, I finally got around to reading Apeirogon by Colum McCann—an Irishman writing about the Middle East. It’s so outstandingly brilliant I won’t even attempt to review it. As I write, the Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other again. It seems so far away, so abstract, until you read this book—and weep.
See you on D’Hill, Morgan