This week I am wandering around Europe with famous writers, while next week I plan to go a little further afield.
What is lovely about the #EU27Project and its easy-going nature is that it bubbles along nicely even if I somewhat neglect it occasionally. And that is thanks to all of your contributions, dear readers and bloggers. Let me try to summarise, however, what has been added to the bouquet of links over the past 3 months. We now have a total of 70 reviews up there (although I have to exclude 4 which are either duplicates or errors) and, for the stats fiends amongst you:
- France leads the way with 12 reviews
- Austria is punching well above its size with 9
- Germany and The Netherlands have 6 each
- Denmark and Italy are next, with 5 each
- Ireland and Finland have 4
- Poland and Belgium are on 3
- Portugal, Croatia and Czechia are on just 2 each
- And poor Spain only has 1 review – thank you Lizzy!
We have had the good fortune of attracting some new contributors. Marcelle is a Norwegian booklover who blogs at Lesser Known Gems. As the name indicates, she likes finding the less obvious classical authors and books which deserve to be more widely read, and she does so from a very international perspective. She has added some Portuguese, Italian, Austrian Belgian and Dutch gems to our links page. In fact, her puzzled review of Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce made me seek it out to read and make up my own mind.
Emma from Book Around the Corner has also joined us with a review of short stories by 1920s Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. And I’m delighted to say that Maphead has come back after a long absence with a Croatian entry.
Elsewhere, we have plentiful and excellent reviews from Jonathan, Susan Osborne, Lizzy’s Literary Life, The Book Satchel and Booker Talk. Some of our earlier contributors have taken a wee bit of a rest (as I have myself, so who’s to blame them?), but I hope they will remember to link some more of their reviews in the future. In the meantime, there is plenty catch up on here, if you just click on the Mister Linky button at the bottom of the page, you will see all of the countries, books and blogger names. Please feel free to add your own links, even if they are books you’ve read a few months ago. The more the merrier!
So my conscience is now telling me it is high time to pay some attention to previously unreviewed countries. I still have that collection of poetry from Malta. I have recently acquired a Latvian book High Tide by Inga Abele. I’ve kept mentioning Miklos Banffy (Hungary) and Javier Marias (Spain). On my ereader, I’ve got mainly German and French authors, so I will leave that aside for the time being. Above all, I keep meaning to review Romanian authors – and have indeed read quite a few in preparation, but then decided that they weren’t quite right for this project. Maybe I’m being too fussy.
What countries from the EU27 would you like to know more about? What have you read recently which opened your eyes to a whole new culture?
Back from Quais du Polar crime festival in Lyon and it was once again a wonderful experience, one that I would encourage all my crime fiction friends in the UK to consider. The total cost can work out cheaper than attending British crime festivals, even with a weaker pound: flights to Lyon are often cheaper than train tickets, hotels can be cheaper too, all the events are free, and you need to eat and drink in both places (plus the food in Lyon is usually of excellent quality).
So that’s my contribution to the Lyon Tourist Board. I was very lucky to attend the festival with a book-blogging friend in Lyon, Emma from Book Around the Corner, and her far more timely and excellent descriptions of each day at the Quais du Polar are here, here and here, so I am not sure I can add much more to that. But I did attend some different panels than Emma. Incidentally all the conferences available for replay on live.quaisdupolar.com (mostly in French, but also in English and Spanish, depending on what language the authors were using). I will try to include a link to each specific conference I am discussing.
Clare Mackintosh (UK) and Jenny Rogneby (Sweden) both worked with the police before turning their hand to crime fiction, so they had interesting things to say about the capacity of women to be perpetrators of crime. The other writers on the panel (Andrée Michaud from Canada, Dominique Sylvain and Harold Cobert from France) agreed that they were all tired of seeing women in fiction exclusively as disempowered victims, being raped or murdered or tortured for entertainment purposes. Andrée said that kind of writing smacked of voyeurism and she isn’t sure it serves the purpose of the story. Clare wants to give a voice to the victims, and what happens off the page, what is implied, what we all fear is often scarier than a very graphic scene of actual violence. Jenny pointed out that there is still very often a double standard: that when women commit a crime, they are judged far more harshly, as if it’s more understandable or forgivable or to be expected when men commit a crime. Harold thought (based on the example of his own young son) that all of us are born with a capacity for violence – we all feel like killing certain annoying people, for instance – but we don’t act on it because we learn to put on a thin veneer of civilisation as we grow up. Dominique didn’t quite agree with that; she argued that it’s the survival instinct, when we feel attacked or cornered, which can make even the most placid of us react violently at times. She was fascinated with Clare’s account of drunken Friday nights in city centres in the UK, when women are often more aggressive and resort to physical violence even more readily than the men, and commented: ‘It’s interesting that you don’t see that kind of female behaviour in fiction: you see the manipulative/psychological type of feminine violence.’ Indeed!
A journey from East to West and North to South of Europe: Arnaldur Indriđason (Iceland), Victor del Arbol (Spain), Andriy Kokotukha (Ukraine), Zygmunt Miłoszewski (Poland), Olivier Truc (France, but writing about the Reindeer Police in the Arctic Circle).
This was one of those panels where it was very difficult to find a common subject, other than stating that crime fiction is a wonderful way to discover new countries and cultures and that we should enjoy our European diversity without ever taking it for granted. Each author shared a little bit about their specific countries and their experience of ‘occupation’ or ‘oppression’. The most poignant account was of course from the Ukraine, where the ‘Maidan’ (street) movement was not just revolutionary but also a cultural initiative, and the protesters found refuge (and spiritual nourishment) in the Cultural Centre and Library. Yes, even Iceland has known occupation: it only became independent in 1944 and until 2006 had a US military base which practically doubled the population of Reykjavik overnight. They also expressed concern about the recent resurgence of nationalist rhetoric. As Del Arbol said: ‘I thought I was writing about the past – dictatorship, not being able to listen to other points of view, the blaming of others, hatred – but I can see we are in danger of it happening all over again.’
Three male writers – David Young (UK), Ron Rash (US), Caryl Ferey (France) – who have powerful female protagonists in many of their books. Why do they choose to write about women – in either first or third person (and they all agreed that it was much more intimate and difficult to do the first person)? What was fascinating here was the difference in approach: Rash and Ferey talked very much about inspiration, almost divine dictation straight from the source of the story. David Young had a much more down-to-earth, craftsman-like approach.
RR: It’s not that I choose to write women: the story and the characters choose me. When I tried to write one particular story from a man’s perspective, it was as if I was switched onto the wrong frequency, so I had to switch to a woman’s voice and then it all became clear. Besides, women in American fiction often only have power within the family, so I wanted to go beyond the stereotypical. Plus I am such a boring person, I want to write about much more interesting people than myself. Perhaps some other writers – naming no names – should consider doing that too. And I love the challenge of writing about something or someone that I know less – we are all essentially trying to describe what it means to be alive in the world, to be human. After a while, you start to hear the voice so clearly, it’s like being possessed in some ways.
CF: Two women together in a scene are always far more interesting than two men: with two men in a scene in a crime novel, they usually end up fighting or shooting each other, with women it’s a lot more complex. I do admit falling in love with my female character, pathetic though it may sound. And my ideal of manhood is David Bowie, who is that perfect combination of male and female characteristics.
DY: I had a much more cynical reason for using a female heroine: I wanted to write a thriller set in GDR in the 1970s, but that kind of thing usually only appeals to male readers, so I wanted to draw in female readers by creating Karen Müller as the recurring main detective in the series. Plus, it is reflective of East German society at the time: over 90% of women were working, in all sorts of jobs, it was a far more egalitarian society in that respect. I was also lucky that my tutors at City University were women and gave me good feedback if they felt that I was straying too far from a woman’s perspective on things.
This was the first of two panels on Germany: viewed from the inside, by German authors Thomas Willmann, Sebastian Fitzek and Oliver Bottini. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the second session on Germany and Berlin seen from the outside by Maxime Gillio and Romain Slocombe (France), Philip Kerr and David Young (UK), but I will be listening to that recording.
Aside from the huge pleasure of hearing German once more, I also appreciated the opportunity to discover some new authors. I had only read Fitzek before, and his fast-paced psycho-thrillers are not necessarily my cup of tea, but I discovered that Bottini has a series featuring an alcoholic woman detective Louise Boni (makes a change from male alcoholics, I suppose). However, the one that captured my imagination was Willmann’s combination of Heimatroman (translated as: sentimental novel set in a traditional regional background) and Western, with a stranger coming to a snowbound village in the Alps, sounded very much like Dürrenmatt’s play about revenge ‘The Visit’ liberally sprinkled with Scandinoir moodiness. It has been filmed in Austria, directed by Andreas Prochaska. The German language trailer is at the end of this blog post.
What all three writers complained about was that German literature tends to be very earnest, full of educational zeal and purpose, so genre literature, whose sole purpose is entertainment, is regarded with suspicion and quite a bit of derision. Fitzek claimed that he doesn’t care what the critics say about him, or what drawer he gets stuck in, as long as he can tell the kind of story he enjoys reading himself. Bottini, however, was more enraged by the lack of consideration given to crime fiction, and said there are no big crime festivals in Germany which could compare to Quais du Polar or English festivals. In spite of all that, German ‘Krimi’ is remarkably healthy and diverse, and it engages with current affairs, examines social problems, provides a kind of X-ray of society.
Although I want to avoid this becoming a roman fleuve, I also want to avoid a massively long post, so I will write separately about the two political panels which I attended, plus the advance screening of the first episode of the new series of Spiral (Engrenages), as well as my book haul and personal encounters.
All of last week I’ve been catching up with reviews of books that I read in December and over the holidays, but what are my reading plans going forward?
Initially, I was going to take it easy in 2017. I dropped my Goodreads challenge to 120. [Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I’ve been reading between 155-180 for the last few years.]
The physical and electronic TBR piles are intimidating – almost a health hazard! So I’ve joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge of reading only from the books I already own for the first 3 months of the year. After single-handedly subsidising the publishing industry for the past 4 years, I resolve to buy no new ones for several months. Of course, that doesn’t include books I receive for review on Crime Fiction Lover and other sites, but no more novelties or even ARCs on my own blog.
I’ve already cheated slightly, following the death of John Berger. I remembered how much I enjoyed his Pig Earth when it was on my reading list for anthropology, but I didn’t own it, so… Well, it’s not my fault that he died just after the 1st of January, is it?
So those were my only plans, on the vague side of the spectrum. But then some ambition woke up in me. The year that Britain triggers Article 51 would be a good year to read a book from every member country of the EU, I decided. Especially following the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the EU amidst the frankly frightening cries of ‘traitor! pessimist! how dare you tell us that it might be complicated?’ (I’ve heard it all before in another country, but I never thought I would hear it here.)
27 sounds manageable, right? I’m excluding the UK, because obviously I’ll be reading plenty of home-grown authors anyway. A few of these books are sitting on my bookshelves already, while others will require a bit of research. Here is what I have to date, with gaps where I have nought. Also, some suggestions in italics and with question marks, in the hope I might be able to track them down in libraries and keep costs down.
Austria Arthur Schnitzler: Später Ruhm
Belgium Patrick Delperdange: Si tous les dieux nous abandonnent
Bulgaria Ilija Trojanow: Macht und Widerstand
Croatia Miljenko Jergovic: The Walnut Mansion
Czechia [sic?] Ivan Klima: Lovers for a Day
Denmark Inger Christensen: Poetry?
Estonia Sofi Oksanen – she is officially Finnish, but has an Estonian mother and writes about Estonian history?
Finland Kati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled
France Romain Gary: La vie devant soi – or can I get away with claiming that he is Lithuanian (born in Vilnius)?
Germany Sascha Arango: The Truth and Other Lies
Greece Nikos Kazantzakis: The Last Temptation (reread, unless I find something new)
Hungary Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted
Ireland Davy Byrnes Story Awards 2009
Italy Andrea Camilleri: Rounding the Mark
Latvia Inga Abele sounds interesting, not sure if she’s been translated?
Luxembourg Jean Portante?
The Netherlands Gerard Reve: The Evenings?
Poland Andrzej Stasiuk: On the Road to Babadag
Portugal Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet
Romania Ileana Vulpescu: Arta compromisului
Slovenia Goran Vojnovic: Yugoslavia, My Fatherland
Spain Javier Marias: Dance and Dream (Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 2)
Sweden Liza Marklund: Last Will
Any suggestions would be gratefully received! And if you want to join in (with your own selection of books, of course, these are just the ones I happen to have to hand), please let me know in the comments below. If there are enough of us who want to do it, I might set up a separate linky. We have all year to do it, so that’s a leisurely book a fortnight. Or, even better: I see no reason why we might not meander over into 2018, very much like the EU disentanglement process itself.