With the Man Booker International Prize longlist announcement fast approaching on Thursday 10th March, here are some short works of translated fiction I’ve enjoyed recently:
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, Out in the Open by Jesús Carrasco has been widely compared to ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. Its unnamed central character is battling to survive in a desolate drought-ridden landscape. Having run away from home for reasons which are revealed towards the end, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a goatherd. The absence of names for places and characters gives the book a timeless quality and although post-apocalyptic fiction has never been my favourite genre, Margaret Jull Costa’s excellent translation adds colour and depth to a very bleak story. Continue reading
Long novels like ‘The Goldfinch‘ by Donna Tartt and ‘The Luminaries‘ by Eleanor Catton received lots of attention last year. But let’s not forget that conciseness in fiction is just as important and effective as the achievements of sprawling epics.
I’ve used the term novella quite loosely here to mean books which are longer than a typical short story but less than two hundred pages or fifty thousand words. Here are four short reviews of short works of fiction I’ve read recently which prove that less can be more:
1. Academy Street by Mary Costello
This is an excellent book which tells the story of Tess Lohan, a shy young woman who emigrates from Ireland to the United States in the 1960s. It has drawn comparisons to ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín due to the similar setting, understated writing and introverted main character. The book spans Tess’s life from childhood to old age in less than 180 pages – it could have been twice as long with more detail about other aspects of her life, yet the devastating impact of the ending was so much more powerful due to its brevity without ever feeling rushed.
‘The Buddha in the Attic’ by Julie Otsuka is a strikingly original book. Written in the first person plural (“we”) , a chorus of voices, told from the point of view of a group of Japanese picture brides who move to the United States shortly after World War One, recount their story through sparse descriptions of the journey to California by boat, their mostly unhappy marriages, their children and their experiences of acclimatising to life in a new country. However, their world is suddenly turned upside down again by the bombing of Pearl Harbour and they find that they have to leave. Continue reading
I have read quite a few of Julian Barnes’ other novels over the last few months and I am a real fan of his work. I think I am now even more in awe of the power of his prose, having finally got hold of a copy of ‘The Sense of an Ending’ and devoured it in a little over two hours. Continue reading