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Peter Terrin Wins The “Dutch Booker”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a book from another country wins a prize from another country the sales team of the publisher of the UK edition will ask: “Can we say the prize is the ‘[insert country here] Booker’?”

And in this case they certainly can. Belgian writer Peter Terrin (who writes in Flemish, or Dutch as we note on the copyright page) has won the A.K.O. Literatuurprijs 2012 for his novel Post Mortem. The A.K.O. is sponsored by the Netherlands’ leading bookselling chain, is awarded on live television and is worth €50,000.

Peter Terrin’s previous novel, The Guard, was the winner of a European Literature Prize, and has recently been published in English by MacLehose Press. Eileen Battersby wrote of the novel in the Irish Times:

This is a tremendous novel, often horrifically funny and always unsettling. Most emphatically, though, it is a European novel, articulating the cultural situation of a Flanders-born writer looking to Dutch literature while retaining a powerful awareness of Belgium’s surrealist traditions. Kafka is an obvious influence, as are Camus, Ionesco’s absurdist theatre and, at times, the American Robert Coover, but most magnificently of all, suspended over The Guard as a presiding talisman, is the presence of Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995) and his dazzling odyssey, The Darkroom of Damocles (1958), a wartime thriller set in the Netherlands that balances truth and delusion. Hermans looked to Gogol – as does Terrin, who creates the impression that his short, vivid chapters have been tossed into the air and arranged in the order in which they fell

So, congratulations Peter Terrin, and many happy returns!

The Guard is available in hardback

MacLehose Press Prize News

At MacLehose Press we love prizes. Not so much your common or garden prizes like the Booker or the Samuel Johnson. More your Premio Campiellos or Golden Owls – the most prestigious literary prize in Flanders . . . as if you didn’t know.

And the thing about having authors on the list from so many countries is that at any given moment a MacLehose author is – somewhere in the world – accepting a prize. An exaggeration? Well, perhaps, but at this given moment there are a number of MacLehose authors on various long- and shortlists around the world.

Anuradha Roy’s second novel, The Folded Earth, is on the shortlist for the India’s Economist Crossword Prize, which gave her a sense of deja vu because An Atlas of Impossible Longing, her first novel, was also shortlisted. Today we hear that it is also on longlist for the DCS Prize for South Asian Literature.

Meanwhile, French author Jérôme Ferrari is still in the running for The Prix Goncourt with his novel Le sermon sur la chute de Rome (Sermon on the Fall of Rome). He has made the second selection and will find out at the end of the month whether he is on the shortlist. His first book in English translation, Where I Left My Soul, is out this month in Geoffrey Strachan’s translation.

Meanwhile, Peter Terrin’s latest book, Post Mortem, is on a six-book shortlist for the Netherlands’ A.K.O. Literatuurprijs (even though Terrin is Belgian – but he writes in Dutch). His first book in English translation, The Guard, has also just been published by MacLehose Press.

And finally, Evelio Rosero, author of The Armies and Good Offices in English translation, was recently presented with the award naming him the winner of the ninth “Libros y Letras“ National Literature Prize awarded by this prestigious literary magazine. The winner is chosen by the readers of the publication and the news agency of the same name, directed by journalist Jorge Consuegra. ”This is the best prize I have received in my life, as it is chosen by people who read my books and buy them and by not a small jury. Thanks to all the readers,” he said upon receiving the award.

So congratulations to Senor Rosero and the very best of luck to Anuradha Roy, Jérôme Ferrari and Peter Terrin.

The Guard: Is It Science Fiction?

It is a question that vexes many, not least on the annual “Why aren’t science fiction novels eligible for Booker Prize?” comment threads on the Guardian. Where there are apocalypses and the like, where do you draw the line between genre and literary fiction?

Peter Terrin does not think of himself as a science fiction author, and is not considered to be one in his native Belgium. He started to write after reading a novel by the great (great, great, great – a serious must-read author) W.F. Hermans (I think it was the Darkroom of Damocles); he was Belgium’s winner of the last European Union Prize for Literature and The Guard was nominated for the Libris Prize.

But he was very happy to be see the amazing reviews that his first novel in English translation has received from the dedicated SciFi press – and who wouldn’t be?

The Guard received 4 1/2 stars from SFX magazine:

If the author of this book was a murderer he’d neatly roll his victims in sheets of clear plastic and stack them in a row beneath his own floorboards. And should he ever be arrested, which would be most unlikely, his neighbours would express surprise and say how polite and gentle he seemed, and then go inside to their own houses and shiver, as they thought back, and wondered if he’d ever looked at the world with the same eyes as them.

There’s a cold and beautiful precision to Peter Terrin’s writing, and a remorseless and finally terrifying accretion of detail that begins by seeming fussy and ends by being unsettling. Everything is suggestion, his words flow with a cold finality, and it works. In a Europe where the gap between the rich and the rest of us is getting wider and politicians work for corporate masters, this parable is enough to send a shiver down your spine

And 4 stars from SciFiNow:

Told only through the eyes of Michel, The Guard is a superbly written – translated from the Dutch – descent into the ever-lighter confines of a mind falling inexorably into a dark, bottomless and inescapable pit of paranoid delusion.

Terrin refuses to give any kind of timescale to the short, staccato sentences that make up the whole; a mechanic that accentuates Michel’s rattling psyche and which leads us to the draw our own conclusions as to what is happening, when it’s happening and how much of it is real. It this sounds like some kind of reader purgatory, that’s because it sort of is.

But The Guard is a dazzling work. Paranoid fiction is rather more like horror than any other genre in that it concerns itself with a primary chemical emotion. While most of us enjoy feeling a little scared from time to time, we can’t say the same for the discomfiture of profound paranoia. The Guard is so good, its world so minutely described and Michel so undeniably compelling that to suggest anything other than to pick this up and read it immediately would be to do it a disservice.

And 8 stars in Starburst:

The Guard is the first of Peter Terrin’s books translated for an English audience and, boy, is it a good one.

Terrin wastes no time sucking the audience into the narrative, giving you enough dialogue and character to keep your interest yet still keeping his cards close to his chest. This is even more impressive when you consider that around four fifths of the novel takes place in the same semi-confined location. Dure to restricted nature of the location and plot and the steady drip feed of questions, The Guard is certainly a book to be read in one sitting. But believe us when we say that this won’t be problem, as when you get past the first few pages you simply won’t want to put the book down until you find out exactly what’s going on.”

The Guard is available in hardback . . .

European Literature Night

Wednesday 16 May, 6.30 — 8.30 p.m.
British Library, Conference Centre

We have two authors at this year’s European Literature Night: Anne Swärd, author of Breathless, which we published in April, and Paulus Hochgatter, author of The Sweetness of Life and The Mattress House.

The event is a great way of introducing European writers to a British audience — and similar events take place on the same night all over Europe. Last year, Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar was launched there, and has gone on to be shortlisted and hotly tipped for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Our own participant, Peter Terrin, will make his English-language debut in September with The Guard.

Tickets are available from the British Library: http://boxoffice.bl.uk; 01937546546

Peter Terrin at European Literature Night III

This evening saw European Literature Night 2011 taking place in a score of cities across the continent, from Munich to Prague to Wien. The London event was hosted by the British Library and saw six writers from six different European countries talking about their work and reading from translated extracts of their latest publications. It was the third such annual event, all chaired by Rosie Goldsmith, the BBC presenter and champion of European literature, and the first to host an equal number of male and female writers. (Curiously, all the men stood at the lectern to read and all the women stayed seated.)

It was also a chance for us to meet Flemish author Peter Terrin, who recently won a European Union Prize for Literature for his novel De bewaker, which we will publish in 2012 as The Guard. Terrin’s work has often been compared to Kafka’s, something that he explained tonight he “couldn’t take as an insult”, even though such comparisons can be frustrating for a writer trying to forge a unique literary identity.

The Guard is an intensely original novel about dislocation, ambition and paranoia, exploring the lives of two security guards restricted to the basement of an opulent and exclusive apartment building. Living in straightened circumstances, relying on infrequent deliveries of supplies, they are nonetheless fully absorbed by their task, convinced that through diligence they can gain entry into an elite cadre of security officers. Their assumption that the outside world has been hit by major disaster or a war is strengthened when all residents save one flee the building, and when a third guard arrives to fill a vacancy they did not know existed, their grip on reality is fatally compromised.

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The Guard has firmly established Terrin as one of Europe’s most intriguing talents, and, with whispers of Hollywood interest in the film rights, it’s vying for top spot in our long list of eagerly awaited translations. (Incidentally, Terrin also said tonight that he was inspired to become a writer by reading W.F. Hermans’ Darkroom of Damocles – what else needs to be said?)