Long Overdue Reviews

I read these books such a long time ago (July, August and September). Initially, I wanted to spend time writing a detailed review for each one: each one of them deserves it. But the more time passes, the more I risk not being able to write anything about them anymore. So here are some jumbled and brief impressions of each one.

truedeceiverTove Jansson: The True Deceiver (transl. Thomas Teal)

This was a book I read for Women in Translation Month in August. Jansson is one of my favourite authors and this story of two women circling each other like bloodhounds in a snowy Northern village does not disappoint. It reminded me of another Scandinavian book I read recently, Gøhril Gabrielsen’s The Looking Glass Sisters. The style is spare, sombre, almost transparent in its simplicity – yet with so many hidden layers. Nothing is quite what it seems and there is no one we can fully believe, but are the characters also deceiving themselves, as well as each other? At first I was firmly on Anna’s side – the artist who likes to think well of everybody and stay a little aloof from things happening in the village – but I found myself sympathising more with the ‘intruder’ Katri by the end. There are no easy allegiances or answers to be had in this book.

blecherMax Blecher: Scarred Hearts (transl. Henry Howard)

A book that sucks you in, rather like the sanatorium sucking in its patients. A real Hotel California: you can never leave, or at least not without profound scars. The story is deceptively simple: a young man with spinal tuberculosis enters a sanatorium somewhere on the French coast, and discovers that he and his fellow patients have to make the most of their short lives, while bits and pieces of their body (and their full-body cast) fall off. This is not for the squeamish or hypocritical: description of love-making attempts in full-body casts, anyone? Or the dirt and grime that can seep into your cast when you get it wet? It is a real burst of candour and poignancy, a pulsating, urgent love of life, from a character (and an author) doomed to die. Such a modern feel to this one: Blecher does not shy away from the good, the bad, the ugly, the things we would rather not acknowledge.  I now want to read it in the original Romanian, because although the translation is quite poetic, I feel there is a rhythm to the prose which I am missing in English.

barracudaChristos Tsiolkas: Barracuda

A very different style here, much more deliberate about shocking and forcing issues out into the open (as opposed to the more veiled, allusive style of the other two authors). Danny the would-be swimming champion is a self-absorbed, obsessive hero with a huge chip on his shoulder about class, money and ethnic origin. But he is typical perhaps of a teenager, and even of his generation, so it becomes forgivable, if a little annoying at times. But the main question of the book is: is it possible to be ‘a good man’ and what exactly does it mean nowadays? Danny’s journey of self-discovery and redemption, of coming to terms with his own background, is ambitious and poignant, if a little overlong.





29 thoughts on “Long Overdue Reviews”

  1. Great reviews 🙂 I have some overdue reviews. I think I need to try to write them straight away, or at least make the notes I always intend to read.

    1. Pretty vague reviews, sadly. I find that if I don’t make notes as I read, I am unable to be more than ‘impressionistic’, ‘this is how the book made me feel’ about something. If I have some notes, then I can write up a review even much, much later. Sadly, with these books I was not close to a notebook or something at the time.

  2. I agree with your summary of Barracuda. It is also one novel I just had to force myself of write a review for as otherwise no review would ever be written! I’m Australian and felt there was just so much covered in the novel, where to begin with a review? What to include and leave out?
    I like the sound of Tove Jansson’s novel. I am also part Finnish so love my Scandi fiction yet never read as much as I would like to.

    1. As an Australian, do you find his portrayal of class realistic? I have to admit I thought, given Australia’s history, that it would be more of an egalitarian society, but I guess money always talks, right.

      1. I am not Australian (Canadian we have some distinct similarities) but I believe that Tsiolkas writes very much from his perspective as the son of immigrant working class parents. A view that is not always appreciated. He talks about this in interviews (and he is a not-to-be-missed live interview whether you like his work or not… he is absolutely dynamic and passionate about literature and much nicer than many of his characters). I also enjoyed Barracuda in spite of the fact that big family novels are not my thing. I was not blogging about books per se at the time so, like you, I gave it a paragraph at year end.

        1. I was fortunate enough to meet him at a local book festival (funnily enough, he was part of the ‘Greek’ contingent) and he was absolutely delightful and very thoughtful and considered on his panel too.

      2. Unfortunately I have to say that I think he is spot on with regard to class. However, I didn’t really realise this until I moved abroad. I have lived in London for 8 years now and don’t find the same class distinctions but that may be because I am an ‘outsider’ and probably always will be.
        My first memory of Barracuda is the story of the house being remodelled so the owner could change the street address – I have always assumed that is a real story the author once heard!
        The other thing that stands out to me is the now famous (I guess) rant about Australians claiming to be anti-authoritarian yet there are rules everywhere. I remember being amazed when I first arrived in London that people could not only eat on public transport but also take their pets on with them! Wow! (I came from a city where people would call the council if their neighbours were using too much water during the drought…)
        A UK colleague once said Australia is sometimes thought of as Britain in the 1950s. Perhaps that is true? Or perhaps I am over thinking it!

  3. Such different sorts of book, Marina Sofia; yet all sound powerful. I know what you mean, by the way, about losing some subtleties when a book is translated. I hope you can find Scarred Hearts in Romanian. And The True Deceiver sounds especially appealing to me.

  4. Thank you for giving us s flavour of these three Marina – I don’t tend to make notes either and yet, reviews that I wait longer to write often capture the way I feel about a book much better… Maybe because I remember more of what I like/don’t like rather than the specifics.

    1. There’s an interesting debate to be had there. I agree with you that sometimes it takes a while for impressions to settle and so later reviews can show what really struck you/stayed with you. On the other hand, I want to include enough information about a book so that others can make up their mind whether they might be interested in it or not – and so I feel I may not do the book enough justice if it’s all about ‘I felt’ or ‘I remembered’.

  5. B-b-b-but they’re quite short overdue reviews . . .

    The Jansson in particular sounds wonderful. I must try to hunt that one down. Off to the library’s online catalogue we go . . .

  6. I’m intrigued by your comparison between the Jansson and The Looking Glass Sisters. The Peirene novella is nearing the top of my ‘to read’ pile, so I hope to get to it fairly soon.

  7. I felt the same as your between Anna and Katri in the book by Tove Jansson. I liked the story overall but felt at the end that I wasn’t too sure to understand all the subtleties of the book.

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