Tag Archives: novella

Faces on the Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano. Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins

Faces on the Tip of my Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano Title: Faces on the Tip of my Tongue
Author: Emmanuelle Pagano
Translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-1908670540
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am glad I reread it because of it being on the 2020 International Booker Longlist, and me being on the shadow panel. This is the first of the 13 that I have read (reread) and 12 more to go, but it has been such an enriching read – both in terms of content and style of writing.

“Faces on the Tip of My Tongue” by Emmanuelle Pagano is a collection of thirteen interlinked short stories set in France, across several decades. It is the third book in the publisher’s 2019 “There Be Monsters” series. As the stories progress, meanings become clearer, like a jigsaw puzzle it all starts making sense. Initially it did feel a little tiresome and maybe I was lost as well, but I am glad I persisted the first time around and even now.

The collection starts off with a story called, “The Lake’s Favourite” which sets the tone of the book. It is a story of an ideal childhood and how things then turn in the life of the narrator. Don’t be fooled by this story alone. The rest of the stories are nothing like this one. They are real, hard-hitting, and make you ponder long after.

One of my favourite stories is “Mum at the Park” – a snapshot of a child’s view about their reading parent and how she gets when she is at the park. How the city doesn’t suit her and so on and so forth. “The Loony and the Bright Spark” is about misfits in society and the ever-eternal question: What does one do with them? Does one do anything with them at all?

The recurring characters, their lives in different times is at the heart of this collection. Pagano’s writing is raw in most places, tender in some, with the sense of place being at the center of the book. The translation by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins never seems choppy throughout the book. There is a balance of sorts – that manages to capture the essence of time, place, and events in the most beautiful manner. Personally, I am rooting for this one to make it to the shortlist.

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini Title: Snow, Dog, Foot
Author: Claudio Morandini
Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden
Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-1908670564
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This for now is the strangest book I’ve read in 2020. I mean it with the utmost admiration for the author, Claudio Morandini to have the capacity to spin such a fantastical tale of a man, a dog, and a human foot that appears poking out of the receding snow.

I don’t know what to make of this novella. It is a thriller (in some sense of the word), it is also a meditation on loneliness and deliriousness, and more than anything else it is about the reality of hunger and survival.

Adelmo Farandola doesn’t like people. He doesn’t like animals. He doesn’t like anyone. At one point in the book, I was certain he didn’t even like himself given how he lives. Till he meets a dog and starts interacting with him (interesting, isn’t it?). The winter that comes upon them is harsh. There is nothing left to eat. The village is in the valley and it’s impossible to go down there. What remains to be seen is who will eat whom first: the dog or the man. In all of his, they chance on a dead body that adds another twist in the tale.

This in short is the plot of the book. Morandini’s prose is exact and full of brevity. There were times I cringed, there were times I also shook in fear, and there were times I found myself smiling at the delirious interaction between man and animal.

Snow, Dog, Foot is a strange book (like I said at the beginning) but it is also very satisfying. It checks all boxes and leaves a lot unsaid. The translation by J Ockenden to me seems exact and not at all out of place. The prose beautifully captures the scene and harshly tells us readers what’s in store for us as well. All of this is very gently and sometimes hastily communicated to us. It is a book that is part humane, part deranged, and part thrilling.

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza

Dangerlok by Eunice De Souza Title: Dangerlok
Author: Eunice De Souza
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143065074
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 166
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

I remember reading Dangerlok a long time ago and being so moved by it. Nothing was different this time around as well. I felt more, if not the same. Eunice De Souza, being the poet, she was makes you see the way sentences can be strung together and how poetically prose can be handled. I think this is true of most writers I have read who are poets first and then writers of prose. Having said that, I think everyone who is from Bombay or not, should read Dangerlok. It encapsulates the city like no other I’ve read set in the city.

Eunice’s Dangerlok is precise, exact, and doesn’t waste time. Its brevity astounds and makes you understand that a book need not be lengthy to say what it has to. So, what is Dangerlok about?

Dangerlok is Mumbai – the swirl, the scum, the acid aftertaste, the lingering, the seductive city who lures you and then enters your head and heart like a disease. And in between all this stands the protagonist, Rina Ferreira (positively modelled after Eunice) who is an English Literature Teacher, who lives in Santacruz East with her two parrots – Totha and Tothi and her hoard of books, writing letters to David (a man who she once loved and may be still does), enjoying a casual cab ride, observing her neighbours, friends, cabwallahs, the existence of them all and the humour and irony behind things that seem so little and normal on an average day. She comes across Dangerlok on a daily basis while smoking her cigarettes and drinking her jungli tea. She observes. She notices and dashes off letters to David about the world that surrounds her.

I cannot put a finger on what I felt while reading this book – I loved it to such a great extent. It was the description of the small things – Totha sitting on her head as she opens the door to a neighbour, the memory of having bought David Copperfield for four bucks, her worry over her parrots and hence she does not leave the city for long, the fact that she does not want to be “involved in life” and yet her heart goes out to the stray pup, nutty clerks at the post office who refuse to acknowledge, and many such instances. De Souza gives Rina her space to play, her canvas to paint and yet it’s sad that the canvas is only a mere 124-page long novella. It makes you yearn for more. There is ennui and there is hope. But you better watch out, because chances of seeing Dangerlok everywhere around you are not that slim.

 

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn Title: Bottled Goods
Author: Sophie Van Llewyn
Publisher: Fairlight Books
ISBN: 978-1912054305
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 190
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read almost more than half of the Women’s Prize longlist of this year, and hands down this is one of the top 3 favourites of mine. Bottled Goods is the kind of book that makes you contemplate and ruminate over life and its dynamics at the end of every chapter almost, which doesn’t happen very often when you read a book. Bottled Goods wrenches you and takes you to a place where you start wondering about good and bad, right and wrong, and the need to want to leave your home and yet stay.

The book is set in communist Romania and at the heart of it is Alina living with her husband, Liviu, quite satisfied, with her head down and going about her life. This is all well and good till her brother-in-law defects to the West and she and her husband come in the eye of secret service. There is torture from the agents – emotional, mental, and physical, eventually taking a toll on their marriage. In all of this enters Alina’s aunt Therese who can help her escape the country through the old folk ways.

Van Llewyn writes brilliantly and with great brevity. No word or sentence is out of place. Whether she is talking about Alina’s rocky relationship with her mother, husband, or country, everything is just perfect. I never thought I needed more to hit home. I have not read any book with Romania as a setting so far, and I am only intrigued to know more about it in the time of Ceausescu and what did normal folk go through, living day by day.

Bottled Goods as the title has so many meanings to it. The yearning to get out – as if you are bottled goods itself, the meaning of not being able to take bottled goods out of the country, or even aspirations when it comes to perfume or bottles of aerated drinks that aren’t accessible. The atmosphere of the book is spot-on. Llewyn manages to create tension and menace right throughout the book, infused with humour, regret, and rumination over what has been lost.

Bottled Goods is the kind of book that opens your world to what was going on in the world and does it delicately, at the same time not sparing any details. The characters are rounded, and communist Romania emerges very strongly as another character. For me, the magical elements were magical, and I did not consider them to be metaphors (though some readers could). Overall, I am hooting for it to win, only because it is something so different, empathetic, real, and more than anything else written with great finesse and style.

Fox 8 by George Saunders. Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal

Fox 8 by George Saunders Title: Fox 8
Author: George Saunders
Illustrated by Chelsea Cardinal
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1526606488
Genre: Satire, Fiction, Fable for Adults
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There are some books that just nestle into your heart and stay there. For me, those have been the likes of An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Capote, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. You get the drift, don’t you? These are the kind of books that can be read to soothe me, when I am feeling down. I am certain we all have these kind of books – the ones that make everything alright, just by opening them and reading – over and over again. Fox 8 by George Saunders is the latest addition to my ever-growing list of “heartwarming” books. (I hate the use of the word heartwarming, my apologies).

I love Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo though is my least favourite book written by him, though it won the Man Booker Prize and all that). His short fiction is par excellence, his essays even better in my opinion, and basically whatever he writes is pure gold. Fox 8 is no less of a book because of its size. If anything, after you are done reading it, you tend to agree that it had to end, where it did, even if you wanted more of it.

Fox 8 - Image 1

Read more: In Appreciation of George Saunders

This 64-page novella/novelette is about a fox – the name is Fox 8 who is curious about humans (poor sad fox. I for one can’t stand most humans) and also learns some of the English language, by watching parents read to their children (I love how the fox also debunks fairy tales for us with reference to the role of the fox in them). Saunders is in his full form with inventiveness of language – writing (phonetically) the way a fox would – yooman and not human, bare and not bear, and the list goes on. At first, you wonder about the writing style and when you give in, you are in love with this fantastical tale of two foxes visiting a mall (that has been built razing most of their forest) and what happens next.

Fox 8 - Image 2Read more: George Saunders’s 10 Favourite Books

Before I forget, kudos and more to Chelsea Cardinal for the illustrations that go so well with the story. The illustrations are all black and white, except the foxes – they are in orange and stunning would perhaps be a lesser adjective to use. Saunders’ story is telling of our times – of the way we inhabit spaces and make of them to how endangered our wild life really is – and all of this is said with the eccentric and almost witty (in this one at least), true blue Saunders style.

Fox 8 is heartwarming, also heart-wrenching, makes you look at the world we have made and why and question almost every decision – which I think we must. At the same time, it makes a spot in your heart and will not go away. I am very happy that it was the first read of the year for me. Read it. It is truly beautifully done.

You can buy Fox 8 by George Saunders here