Just as Jérôme Ferrari was awarded the Prix Goncourt a few weeks ago, the Books of the Year round-ups began to appear in the press and his novel Where I Left My Soul (trs. Geoffrey Strachan) kept cropping up.
It was described by Michael Holroyd in the Guardian as “The most powerful novel I have read this year . . . a devastating story that shows how the victims of torture often become torturers themselves”.
He chose it again in the New Statesman: “a novel taking us from Buchenwald and Vietnam to Algeria, and leading to the conclusion that those who suffer most go on to cause most suffering.”
In the Spectator, Allan Massie found Ferrari’s novel “brilliantly and movingly done. The book, a prize-winner in France, has received less attention here than it deserves.”
Ferrari’s star is indeed rising, and a translation of his Goncourt-winning Le Sermon sur la chute de Rome is now in preparation.
In the Financial Times, Angel Gurria Quintana included it in the Fiction in Translation Books of the Year: “a devastating study of the effect of systematic torture on both victims and perpetrators. Though firmly rooted in the savagery of the Algerian struggle for independence, the novel has modern echoes that make it uncomfortable and illuminating.”
Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye (trs. John Fletcher) was selected in the Economist (“Three women whose lives are strung between Africa and Europe find the strength to say no, by the winner of the 2009 Prix Goncourt), a choice echoed across the Atlantic in Kirkus Reviews and the New York Times 100 NotableBooks of 2012.
Nicholas Shakespeare chose Elizabeth Hay’s novel Alone in the Classroom in the Telegraph: “by my favourite living novelist . . . a story of murder and obsessive love in prairie Canada, and better even than Alice Munro”.
In the Independent this last weekend Boyd Tonkin chose Angharad Price’s The Life of Rebecca Jones (trs. Lloyd Jones): “a gem of a short novel . . . The fictional voice Price gives to her great-aunt compels and captivates.”
And of Cees Nooteboom’s perceptive analysis of Germany he wrote “The year’s strongest literary portrait of a city came in Roads to Berlin (trs. Laura Watkinson), the great Dutch writer’s bittersweet tribute to the fateful capital that moulded his upbringing, and his imagination.”
Of our crime novels, Joan Smith has nominated Antonin Varenne’s Bed of Nails (trs. Siân Reynolds) as her Best Crime Title of the Year in the Sunday Times: “The crime novel that has stayed in my mind this year is from France . . . simply superb. It is an unexpected read right from the opening pages. . . Varenne handles dark themes of suicide and sadomasochism with a profound human sympathy.”
In the Independent Barry Forshaw picked out Paulus Hochgatterer’s The Mattress House (trs. Jamie Bulloch), “with dark doings in Austria as psychologically truthful as one might expect from this psychiatrist-cum-writer. Hochgatterer gives ammunition to those already whispering that the next big thing in crime (after Scandinavia) may just be coming from . . . Austria and Germany.”
But what about Italy? Valerio Varesi’s The Dark Valley (trs. Joseph Farrell and shortlisted for this year’s CWA International Dagger) was chosen by Laura Wilson as one of her Crime Books of the Year for the Guardian: “Finally, for those who enjoy foreign locations but are tiring of Scandinavia, Italian author Valerio Varesi’s The Dark Valley, set in the Appenines and featuring the excellent Commissario Soneri, is a rich, rewarding read.”
What was your MacLehose Press Book of the Year? Send us your comments!
I am a fan of translated fiction, my reading having been dominated for so long by English and American writers; and I believe that there are so many interesting voices out there, so brilliantly translated and so enthusiastically championed by certain publishers that it’s the least I can do to try a few of them with little or no knowledge beforehand. Having said all that it was something of a surprise to receive a book from one of those publishers, MacLehose Press, that had been translated from Welsh. A surprise because it is so easy to forget that there are, or used to be, other languages spoken within the British Isles. The Wales Book of the Year Award is one that in part celebrates works written in Welsh. It is one previous winner of the main award, Lloyd Jones, who translated this novel into English after its success in the original Welsh. One thing curiously changed is the title, having been “O! Tyn y Gorchudd” in Welsh, or “O! pull aside the veil” the name of a hymn written by Hugh Jones who came from the area in which this novel is set, the Maesglasau valley. Angharad Price’s family this year celebrate a thousand years living and farming in that valley and this novel is her testament to them. It is a curious mixture of fiction and family history and given that the bulk of what we read is actually true there is a real question as to whether it is really fiction at all. A literary twist at the end is what helps it make its claim as such but for me, as a reading experience, it is far closer to memoir than fiction.
Great piece by William Rycroft about Angharad Price’s stunning The Life of Rebecca Jones. Read it all over at Just William’s Luck…
Our edition of The Life of Rebecca Jones is the third coming of Angharad Price’s exquisite short novel of life in a remote valley in rural Wales.
Price originally wrote the story in Welsh for entry to the National Eisteddfod Prose Medal — the word limit for the competition is 40,000 words, which is why Price’s novel is the length it is. It’s Welsh title was O! Tyn y Gorchudd!, and it tells the story of a generation in Price’s family, who have lived and farmed the land in the same valley for a thousand years.
It was a story that the family had long talked about writing down, and so Price, who did not grow up in the Valley herself, decided to do it herself, but with a surprising twist. Her telling was was announced as the 2002 winner of National Eisteddfod Prose Medal, and in 2003 it was published by Gomer Press. Once it had a cover and spine, there was no stopping it: it was named Welsh Language Book of the Year by the Welsh Arts Council at the Hay Festival in 2003.
Some years later, novelist and translator-from-the-Welsh Lloyd Jones translated the book into English. He was able to work closely with Price on the translation, and The Life of Rebecca Jones/O! Tyn y Gorchudd! was published in a bilingual edition in 2010, once again by Gomer. A copy found its way into the hands of Christopher MacLehose, and last Thursday we travelled to Aberystwyth for the launch of the MacLehose Press edition. Prior to publication we have had some wonderful quotes from Ronald Blythe, the author of that quintessential classic of English rural life, Akenfield, and the travel writer and historian Jan Morris. The Life of Rebecca Jones is, in Morris’ words, “the most fascinating and wonderful book”, and Blythe wrote to tell us that:
“It is not easy to put into the customary admiring words what I felt as I read Angharad Price’s astonishing novel. Perhaps an admiration verging on awe . . . A great addition to rural literature”
And of course the next step is for the rights to be sold in Europe and America and beyond so that Rebecca will be granted a fourth life, and a fifth, a sixth, maybe even a tenth or a seventeenth. All lived in the remote valley where her family have farmed the land for a thousand years.