Slightly off-topic here — the subject is neither translated nor published by MacLehose Press — but it seems worth mentioning that London poet Niall O’Sullivan’s epic series The Mundane Comedy comes to an end this week. A few days short of a year ago, he set himself the challenge of writing a poem in day in Terza Rima — a form most commonly associated with Dante’s The Divine Comedy (the link!):
Named with affection after The Divine Comedy, The Mundane Comedy uses the terza rima form of Dante’s epic to document a year of my life—detailing big current events, intimate everyday happenings and the tired rope bridge of opinion that naturally forms between the two. As the subject matter partially relates to the coming of my first child, I have had to keep it under wraps leading up to the magic twelve week hump where most expecting parents choose to tell the world. While most of the poems will deal with the time leading up to his/her arrival, other poems may be political, philosophical, deep, shallow, scientific, spiritual or perhaps a bit daft.
It’s quite an undertaking, and one of its great pleasures is the marrying of a strict and exacting form (though not applied with New Formalist strictness) with the poet’s conversational style and a willingness to engage with all manner of everyday concerns. O’Sullivan complained last week at the irony that writer’s block should strike as he entered the final straight, but today’s poem is perhaps one of the finest yet. Well worth exploring, and it would be nice to see it published in book form before too long.
An extremely thoughtful review of Marcello Fois’ Memory of the Abyss by Thomas Jones in Sunday’s Observer prompts this roundup of sparkling notices. Jones, who read the Italian edition in parallel writes:
Fois combines a remarkable number of different ways of seeing the world, different forms of storytelling, different kinds of language and different narrative voices in this short novel: Memory of the Abyss is by turns epic, fable, love story and thriller; the point of view moves between an omniscient narrator, free indirect style, village gossip, official dispatches and first-person stream of consciousness.
The blood-letting is convincingly Homeric (or at least, reads like many English translations of Homer), and the jokes are funny in the best tradition of blackly comic war novels.
In June, the reviewer for The National, a paper based in the United Arab Emirates, concluded:
As far as legends go, the tale of Samuele Stocchino is one that is likely to make the blood run cold. Hailed as a military hero at the tender age of 16, the shepherd’s son goes on to become one of Sardinia’s most feared bandits.
Bold and deft, it is quite clear that the awards lavished on Fois’ work are well-deserved. Memory of the Abyss will ensure Stocchino’s legacy will survive for some time to come.
In May, Mark Staniforth reviewed in on his (unpronounceable!) ELEUTHEROPHOBIA blog:
Such is Stocchino’s legendary status that a bare factual biography would probably be as impossible as it would be inappropriate. While remaining loosely loyal to Stocchino’s real-life story, Fois makes no apologies for diverting into fiction: ’What you have read’, he admits candidly in his afterword, ’is not the truth’.
It’s a fascinating novel, all the better for deeply embedding intself in the unique culture and history of its region, and it really comes into its own in the final third, when Stocchino lives a bloodthirsty fugitive existence, and for all his slaughtering ways, you still find yourself secretly cheering him on from the sidelines.
And Victorian supermodel Lizzy Siddall wasn’t entirely convinced by the novel’s ending, but at least she loved the cover:
Not only is the cover beautiful but the impressionistic tree with its Pan-like figure at the base is an perfect fit to the tone of this fable-like history of Samuele Stocchino.
Canadian author Jane Urquhart came to the UK this year to promote her latest novel, Sanctuary Line. In this interview, recorded in her hotel between media events, she talks about the ways in which her visual imagination drives and interacts with her writing, and how Sanctuary Line differs from her previous novels, being both more personal and more contemporary.
Marie NDiaye’s astounding Goncourt-winning Three Strong Women (translated by John Fletcher) is being published by in America by Alfred A. Knopf, and this Sunday it has been reviewed in the New York Time Book Review. It was quite an in-depth review, but here are a few choice snippets:
Publishers in the United States [are introducing] American readers to a new generation of hugely gifted French writers who are reworking the boundaries of fiction, memoir and history . . . Among the recent crop of writers just reaching the top of their game, Marie NDiaye, born in 1967 and now living in Berlin, is pre-eminent.
A writer of the highest caliber . . . NDiaye is a hypnotic storyteller with an unflinching understanding of the rock-bottom reality of most people’s lives. This clear sightedness – combined with her subtle narrative sleights of hand and her willingness to broach essential subjects like the fate of would-be migrants to the rich North – gives her fiction a rare integrity that shines through the sinuous prose . . . NDiaye manages nonetheless to convey a redemptive realism about how the world works, and what makes people tick . . . Three Strong Women is the poised creation of a novelist unafraid to explore the extremes of human suffering.
And now is probably a sensible time to mention that Three Strong Women was also recently review in the Guardian by Maya Jaggi, who was similarly impressed:
A tenuously linked tripartite novel that is more than the sum of its parts is a hard act to pull off. Marie NDiaye, one of France’s most exciting prose stylists and playwrights, succeeds with elegance, grit and some painful comedy in Three Strong Women, which won the Prix Goncourt in 2009. Moving mainly between France and Senegal, this novel explores survival, inheritance and the feared repetition of history – within families, as between peoples. Its three heroines have an unassailable sense of their own self-worth, while their psychological battles have an almost mythic resonance.
It can take a while to acclimatise to NDiaye’s style, which incorporates a thread of hallucinatory symbolism about flowers and flight. John Fletcher’s translation rightly preserves long sentences that can, at times, verge on awkwardness. But the prose compels with its astonishing range and precision.