This is the joy of reading: that there is such a vast world out there waiting to be discovered… And you find new authors, new books, new genres, new countries to fall in love with.
This is the anguish of reading: that there is such a vast world out there, which you can never hope to explore in its entirety.
It feels at times like the explorers of two-three centuries ago faced with a rather blank map of Africa. Where to go first? What part of this vast continent was truly deserving of your time and attention? Since you could never hope to cover it all.
For the time being, I continue to be somewhat haphazard in my meanderings. I have not completely ruled out any genre, nor any country or time period. But I do try to stick to what is easily accessible at present, hence my discovery of contemporary French literature (I had read mainly the classics, and mostly for schoolwork before).
So here are some of my new favourite things:
1) Veronique Olmi: Beside the Sea
Completely shattered after reading this – and yet I could not set it aside. Not the easiest of reads, especially if you are a mother yourself, but it exerted a powerful fascination. A language at once simple, unadorned, conversational and yet poetic. The back story is merely hinted at, never overtly stated. You are never in any doubt about the outcome, but what is remarkable is how the book shows just how fragile the barriers between ‘normal’ and ‘depressed’, between ‘normal’ and ‘dysfunctional’ families are. There are no easy distinctions and that very dangerous slippery slope is there for any one of us…
2) Pascal Garnier: The Panda Theory
This very dark, yet also quite funny and odd little book is the story of Gabriel, who shows up unexpectedly in a completely nondescript Breton town on a Sunday in October. He seems taciturn yet amiable, maybe a little odd, and he gradually insinuates himself into the lives of disparate members of the local community. He is an excellent listener and he offers to cook for people, with no ulterior motive whatsoever as far as they can tell. While cooking a shoulder of lamb for the Portuguese bar-owner, José, he listens to the latter’s anxieties about his wife, sick in hospital. He gently turns down the flattering attentions of the pretty hotel receptionist, even as he cooks calves’ livers for her. He buys a saxophone off a couple desperate for money, although he does not play the instrument, and becomes involved in their sordid lives as well. He wins a giant cuddly Panda at the funfair and gives it to José for his children.
Yet all is not as it seems. Occasional flashbacks suggest a more troubled past life for Gabriel, who seems less and less cuddly as the story unfolds.
This is also the story of a small group of outsiders, people drifting at the periphery of society. These loners and no-hopers have somehow found each other and created an artificial family, clinging to each other and to some last shred of humanity. Gabriel brings this group together, watches them reach their peak of happiness and knows from experience that life for them can only be a disappointment hereafter.
If I say that this is a novel about ‘existential angst’, it will probably put off any would-be reader. Yet this world-weariness and anxiety are conveyed beautifully through an intriguing storyline, limpid prose and a dialogue of searing sincerity. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
3) And four new crime fiction series that I look forward to reading in more depth. You know me and my love for exotic locations! Alison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew series (set in Cambridge, UK), Adrian Magson’s Inspector Lucas Rocco (set in France) , Jeffrey Siger’s Inspector Kaldis (Greece) and Leighton Gage’s Chief Inspector Mario Silva (Brazil).
What have you recently discovered that made you want to get up and do a jig? What do you want to share with everybody (or – hush! so good you want to keep it all to yourself)?