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Girls in Their Married Bliss by Edna O’Brien

Penguin, 1982, 158 p.

 Girls in Their Married Bliss cover

Being a further installment of the lives of the two Irish friends introduced to us in The Country Girls and explored again in Girl with Green Eyes.

This book finds both of them married but, as its title sarcastically suggests, not entirely – or at all – happily. Unlike the previous two books in the series which were seen entirely from Kate’s point of view, here there are first person sections narrated by Baba, complete with her idiosyncratic spelling and grammar – in which frustrations with what she sees as Kate’s inadequacies are expressed. The other, third person, sections adopt Kate’s viewpoint. She is married to the Eugene Gaillard she took up with in the previous book and has a five year-old son, Cash. Baba married a “thick builder” who knew almost nothing about women when he met her – and still doesn’t. His money is welcome, though. Their marriage is childless at the start of the book.

Neither of the ‘girls’ acts in what you might call a mature manner even if Baba does have the thought, “People liking you or not liking you is an accident and is to do with them and not you.”

The trilogy could be seen as an illustration of the influences of background on behaviour and the harm a lack of a rounded education can do but this one seems to have devolved into a book about not particularly likeable people acting less than creditably – and muddling through with greater or lesser success.

It is though by modern standards incredibly short.

Pedant’s corner:- Gaeltacth (Gaeltacht,) “less that” (less than,) occasional missing commas before or after a piece of direct speech, a cleaners’ (a cleaner’s,) “Kate slung towards ..” (slunk?) “had looked … and drank from” (and drunk from,) plimsols (plimsolls,) connexion (connection.)

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

Penguin Modern Classics, 1986, 282 p (including vi p Preface by André Maurois and ix p Introduction by James E Irby.) Edited by Donald A Yates and James E Irby. Translated variously from the Spanish in the publications Ficciones (1956,) El Aleph (1957,) Discusíon (1957,) Otras inquisiciones (1960) and El Hacedor (1960) by Donald A Yates, James E Irby, John M Fein, Harriet de Onis, Julian Palley, Dudley Fitts and Anthony Kerrigan. Preface translated by Sherry Mangan.

 Labyrinths cover

As well as the preface and introduction the book contains twenty three works described as FICTIONS, none of which is greater than sixteen pages long, along with ten ESSAYS, mostly short but the last and longest of which is seventeen pages, eight PARABLES, never more than two pages, and a one page Elegy which is laid out as a poem. In his introduction we are told Borges once claimed that “the basic devices of all fantastic literature are only four in number: the work within the work, the contamination of reality by dream, the voyage in time and the double.” All are displayed here among multiple invocations of circularity, of obverse and reverse, mirror images, separateness and wholeness and – a few times – an indication of the significance of fourteen instances of an object or concept. The pieces here show that Borges was formidably well read and he is never afraid to display that learning; indeed defiantly unapologetic about it to the extent that his trust of the reader requires no apology. The reading experience is not straightforward – Irby’s Introduction says the original Spanish texts do not flow smoothly and we should therefore not expect the English translations to do so – the text demands concentration.
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is a tale about an elusive entry in the Encyclopædia Brittanica about the non-existent city of Uqbar and another relating to the orderly world of Tlön which has its own idiosyncratic language and philosophy.
The Garden of Forking Paths has a passage which illustrates the “many worlds” theory of quantum mechanics but prefaced it by decades. A man called Yu Tsun comes to an English estate where he finds the legacy of his ancestor Ts’ui Pên who withdrew from life to write a book and construct a labyrinth. The book is the labyrinth and the labyrinth is the book – the garden of forking paths. All this is wrapped up in a spy story, wherein Yu Tsun has to find a way to communicate his information through the fog of war to the German High Command of the Great War. It’s stunning.
The Lottery in Babylon is an account of how life in that city came to be dominated by chance as mediated through a Company which may or may not exist.
Pierre Menard, Author of the “Quixote” is a list of the written works of that author and an examination of his magnum opus the Quixote, a rewriting of Cervantes’s novel undertaken by immersing himself in seventeenth century Spanish and imagining himself as Cervantes. Nevertheless the story goes on to contend that even though the texts of the two books are identical Menard’s version is “almost infinitely richer.” The story also asserts that “there is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless.”
In The Circular Ruins a man crawls from a river onto land and then into a circular ruined temple where he sets out to dream a man. Eventually he succeeds but the story has more to come.
The Library of Babel is a complete universe made up of hexagonal galleries interconnected by passageways. Its uniformly formatted volumes contain every possible combination of twenty-five orthographical symbols; 22 letters, the comma, the space and the full stop.
Funes the Memorious was a man from Fray Bentos who could remember everything, but was unfortunately an invalid.
The Shape of the Sword is apparently a tale related to Borges by the “Englishman from La Colorada” (who was actually Irish) and concerns how he got his facial scar during the Irish Civil War.
Theme of the Traitor and the Hero is reported rather than told. It is a schematic outline of a story about a revolutionary hero who is in fact a traitor to the cause but whose unmasking would do damage to it.
Death and the Compass is a crime story revolving around revenge, geometry and the Tetragrammaton.
The Secret Miracle tells of the bargain which writer Jaromir Hladik makes with God the day before his execution by the Nazis to allow him to finish his play The Enemies.
Three Versions of Judas elaborates on the theories of one Nils Runeberg regarding Judas Iscariot as being a reflection of Jesus; theories excoriated by orthodox theologians but then revised to being a reflection of God.
The Sect of the Phoenix is a description of one of those secret societies which are so secret – and universal – even its members don’t know they belong to it.
In The Immortal a man hears of the city of the Immortals; both it and immortality itself said to be reached by drinking the waters of a certain river. Somewhere beyond the bounds of Africa he finds the city, a labyrinthine oddity built on the ruins of the one of the ancient Immortals. There he meets a thousand year-old Homer but yearns again for mortality.
The Theologians contrasts the wheel and the cross, the straight path of Jesus against the circular labyrinth followed by the impious, the Histriones and the thoughts of John of Pannonia.
Story of the Warrior and the Captive draws parallels between the story of Droctulft, a barbarian who died defending Rome, and an Englishwoman abducted by South American Indians who had come to accept what Borges calls “a savage life.” The story contains the wonderful phrase “that reluctant blue the English call grey.”
Emma Zunz is the tale of the elaborate revenge of the woman of that name on the man who committed the crime for which her father was exiled.
The House of Asterion is another labyrinth, with all of its parts repeated many times.
Deutsches Requiem is a courageous act of literary ventriloquism in the form of an apologia pro vita sua of a German from a distinguished military family as written the night before his execution for crimes committed as subdirector of Tarnowitz concentration camp. He is proud of his Nazi philosophy, proud of his anti-Judaic (and therefore anti-Jesus) beliefs, proud of destroying the Bible for ever, proud of forcing the Allies into, in order to win, being the Nazis’ image.
Averroes’s Search relates to his difficulty in fathoming Aristotle’s use of the words tragedy and comedy as these did not exist in Arabic. An addendum outlines Borges’s own difficulty in comprehending Averroes.
The Zahir relates the thoughts of the narrator (Borges mentions himself in this context, but these fabular tales are never so straightforward) about the relatively small denomination coin of that name – note obverses and reverses again – he picked up in change and how he could not stop thinking about it. It carries on to description of the effects of other similarly mesmerisingly fascinating objects and whether they are thereby close to God.
In The Waiting a man takes on the identity of his enemy, Alejandro Villari, as a means to avoiding his revenge. Every night he dreams that Villari comes to kill him.
The God’s Script contains the thoughts of an Aztec priest tortured and imprisoned by the Spanish. He sees God as a wheel encompassing everything that was, is, or will be, all things interlinked – including his torturer.

Here Borges considers The Argentine Writer and Tradition and decries calls for such writers to stick to only Argentine themes as these would be less Argentine for it; the Chinese Emperor Shih Huang Ti who built the Great Wall but also ordered all books published prior to his reign be burned so that history would start with him; the history of cosmogony as manifested in the infinite spheres; how Don Quixote is magical precisely for its realistic treatment of the world; Paul Valéry as the symbol of the perfect poet; how each writer creates his (or her, but Borges did not include ‘her’) own precursors by modifying the past and the future; the many ways of illustrating Zeno’s paradox; how attempts to understand the world are undermined by lack of self-knowledge; that Bernard Shaw’s later works educe almost innumerable persons or dramatis personae; and produces A New Refutation of Time a title which, as Borges notes, contains its own contradiction.

The PARABLES are of a piece with the Fictions and the Essays, finely wrought but compressed into at most one and a half pages.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; “Perhaps the most striking characteristics of his writings is their” (either ‘characteristic’, or, ‘are’,) snobbism (what is wrong with the word snobbery?) Otherwise; a missing full stop (x2,) Cervantes’ (x 2, Cervantes’s – used in this form later, twice,) dilacerated (not misshapen teeth. The surrounding text argues for ‘lacerated’,) gradins (gradines,) demiurgi (x2, demiurges,) eucalypti (x3, eucalyptuses,) connexion (connection,) the text could be read as implying that “the armoured vanguard of the Third Reich” first entered Prague in March 1943 (they actually invaded in late 1938,) “military tribute of one of Rome’s legions” (tribune,) Histriones’ (Histriones’s,) strategem (stratagem,) Guzerat (normally ‘Gujarat’ in English.) “Nor is it banal to pretend that the most traditional of races renounce the memory of its past” (renounces,) hexametres (hexameters,) Scopenhauer (Schopenhauer.)

The Journey to the East by Herman Hesse

Peter Owen, 1970, 91 p. Translated from the German Die Morgenlandfahrt by Hilda Rosner.

This is one of those pieces of fiction which tend not to be produced by English language writers. It is an account of a journey through Europe supposedly to the East (though we never in fact get there) but also through time: the narrator (H H) encounters various historical characters, in the Middle Ages and the Golden Age, during his wanderings.

The book begins with H H’s reflections on the Great War, shortly after it ended. (On his journey an interlocutor who has written a book about the war tells H H that no book “‘could convey any real picture of the war to the most serious reader, if he had not himself experienced the war.’”)

H H joins the League, a secret organisation whose makeup and dealings he is constrained by vow not to reveal. Despite this he is attempting to write down just those – without breaking his oath not to do so. His great experience, the journey to the East, was, “a constant pilgrimage towards East, towards the Home of Light. The goal was not only the East, but the home and youth of the soul.”

He describes various aspects of the journey, a stop at Bremgarten, meetings with those people from history, an incident in the Morbio gorge. This last involves an attendant called Leo whose disappearance from there is the central point of the (very short) book. All the League remnants seem to think Leo has taken some of their belongings with him but later H H has access to their written accounts of the time and they remember things differently to him. He becomes separated himself from the League and all its members to the extent that he begins to believe it never existed – till he is rejoined to them and finds his lonely sojourning and despair was a test. At his trial for such apostasy the head of the League tells the court, “despair is the result of each earnest attempt to understand and vindicate human life. Despair is the result of each earnest attempt to go through life with virtue, justice and understanding and to fulfil their requirements.”

This, then, is an allegory; of a spiritual and ethical journey. As a consequence, it has few of the usual consolations of fiction, but makes up for it with gravitas.

Pedant’s corner:- “From the castle’s turrets of Bremgarten” (an inelegant translation? From the castle turrets of Bremgarten? From the turrets of the castle of Bremgarten?) “as if each one endeavoured to conceived as lost” (to conceive as lost,) “the time was not that ripe for that” (another inelegancy, ‘the time was not ripe for that’ would do fine,) dissention (dissension.)

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

riverrun, 2019, 409 p.

This book is an odd mixture of three types of narrative, the first person memoir of Andrew Garvie, a man of small stature (four feet nine inches,) inevitably nicknamed the Dwarf at school, and who has been fascinated by dolls since he was a boy before going on to manage to make a living producing bespoke dolls, interspersed with letters to him from Bramber Winters, an inhabitant of an asylum in the West Country, and five short stories, The Duchess, Amber Furness,The Elephant Girl, Happenstance and The Upstairs Window, as written by one Ewa Chaplin (and supposedly translated from the Polish by Erwin Blacher 2008, as the text notes after each one’s title.) Chaplin, another doll maker, had had to flee Poland for England just before the Nazis took over.

Despite Andrew not being a true achondroplasic – his narrative informs us there are many varieties of dwarfism – he suffers frequent comments on his size and appearance and there are other references to the famous seven dwarfs. His affinity with Bramber comes after he answers an advertisement she placed in a magazine named Ponchinella asking for information on Chaplin’s life and work.

The book veers at times into fantasy but only occasionally. One of the short stories mentions the fae folk and Andrew steals from a museum a doll, ‘The Artist,’ which is able to talk to him – but may of course only be voicing his inner thoughts.

Allan’s writing, whether as Garvie, Winters or ‘Chaplin,’ is superb. It flows, builds up a picture of Garvie and Winters, lays out their lives and, as Chaplin, the characters in ‘her’ stories deftly and economically. Those stories parallel and counterpoint the experiences of Garvie and Winters and most of them either feature or mention a dwarf or someone with a physical deformity – but they do tend to interrupt the flow of Andrew and Bramber’s relationship and require the reader to reset every time they appear. If you were harsh you could say that Allan has found a way to recycle her short stories into a larger whole, fixing them up into a novel. The overall impression though is that this has been extremely well thought out and executed.

My previous reading of Allan had been that there was something skightly askew about her writing, an oddness. The first ‘Chaplin’ story here crystallised that. It was almost as if in her previous books I were reading a translation and something in the background wasn’t coming through. Some of that oddness is apparent in the ‘Chaplin’ stories – but they are supposed to be translations which is why I made the connection. In the Andrew and Bramber sections here though everything is transparent and lucid.

Allan is a talent, of that there is no doubt. Here, her strengths show up in that lucidity.

Pedant’s corner:- “were stood at the bar” (standing,) “a team of detectives were tgrashing” (a team .. was trashing,) sprung (sprang,) vanishment (awkward sounding word. It’s in the dictionary but ‘disappearance’ would do just as well,) stumm (schtum.) “He decision to stay on” (Her decision,) “a ragged reddish-brown ellipsis” (ellipse – Allan seemed to be referring to a shape, not to a truncation, or if so it could only be interpreted that way at a severe push,) “the post office stores” (eight words later referred to as ‘it’, hence, ‘store’,) “the Church of St Ninian’s” (the possessive is already included in ‘Ninian’s’, hence either ‘St Nininan’s Church’, or ‘the Church of St Ninian’,) Andrew buys a return ticket from Bodmin to Tarquin’s Cross but then at the start of the return journey (surely unnecessarily) buys another ticket to Bodmin, “‘the Penzance train normally arrives on to Platform 3’” (trains arrive ‘at’ platforms, not on to them.)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Penguin Classics, 1996, 536 p (including 3 p Preface to the Second Edition, 34p Notes on the Text and 2 p Select Bibliography) plus xix p Introduction by Stevie Davis. Originally published in 1848.

This novel is effectively two different stories in one. The enveloping narrative is a series of letters addressed to J Halford Esq by one Gilbert Markham of Linden-Car. Enclosed within it, but much the most substantial part, is a personal testament via diary entries of the woman he comes to love, telling her life story up till she met him. She is, of course, the tenant of Wildfell Hall of the title, Mrs Helen Graham.

The arrival of this widow at the dilapidated Hall, only part of which is now inhabitable, causes much comment in the village, as do her secretive ways. Gilbert first espies her in the local church where he is more interested in her than the sermon. He eventually sets out to the Hall and meets her via an incident involving her young son Arthur, of whom she seems overly protective but whom Markham soon befriends.

Their relationship builds slowly, mediated through Markham’s friendship with Arthur. Mrs Graham has very few dealings with the locals – she will not go anywhere without Arthur and as he cannot walk far extended trips are impractical – but does visit the Markhams’ house where in one conversation he says to her, “When a lady does consent to listen to an argument against her own opinions, she is always predetermined to withstand it – to listen only with her bodily ears, keeping the mental organs resolutely closed against the strong reasoning.”

Slowly rumour and innuendo grow in the village around Helen’s past until Markham confronts her about the tittle-tattle whereupon she gives him her diary to read so that he can learn the truth about her. She is not a widow, but still married, to an Arthur Huntingdon, to whose attractions she had succumbed against her aunt’s better judgement. Her husband is of course a very bad lot indeed and his behaviour was such that she felt forced to flee taking their son with her to avoid his father contaminating his upbringing, her only recourse since divorce was impossible for a woman and as a wife she was in effect a non-person, with no legal rights.

The novel is implicitly feminist therefore not only in that Helen is portrayed as wronged but that she is a stronger, more moral and upright human being than her husband or any of his cronies. Indeed, she is more morally upstanding than Markham since his treatment of Mr Lawrence – who unbeknown to him till later in the book, is Helen’s brother – is thoroughly reprehensible (as well as criminal.) In fact Helen is almost saintly in her forbearance and her actions towards her husband when she discovers he has fallen ill.

It would not be hard to deduce from this book that the author was a daughter of the parsonage. It is saturated with Biblical allusions and quotations. Helen derives most of her consolations from her religious beliefs.

In human affairs things don’t really change that much. Despite complaints from reviewers at the original time of publication that the upper classes no longer behaved in the debauched manner of Huntingdon’s friends as Brontë portrayed them, their activities reminded me of nothing so much as the Bullingdon Club. The book’s feminism most likely also formed the grounds for the unappreciative nature of the original reviews, though Anne’s sister Charlotte also thought the work reprehensible.

To modern eyes the novel is perhaps overwritten and overwrought but Brontë was exposing an ongoing injustice. A degree of fire and venom is understandable.

Pedant’s corner:- window’s weeds (widow’s weeds,) a missing end quote mark, “‘that he is a sensible sober respectable?’” (needs no ‘a’,) ““till the gentleman come. ‘What gentlemen?’” (it was to be a group of men therefore ‘gentlemen’, for ‘gentleman’,) “‘might seem contradict that opinion’” (might seem to contradict that opinion,) plaguy (plaguey?) “in behalf of” (is this an early nineteenth century usage? – on behalf of,) an extra open quote mark in the middle of a piece of direct speech. In the Notes; Jesus’ (x2, Jesus’s,) paeon (paean,) Dives’ (Dives’s,) Mephistophilis (said to be in Marlowe. He spelled it Mephastophilis.)

The Ballad & the Source by Rosamond Lehmann

Collins, 1978, 316 p. First published 1944.

Narrator Rebecca Landon’s grandmother – long since deceased – was friendly in her youth with the Mrs Jardine who has come to live with her second husband, Harry, in the nearby big house. Mrs Jardine extends an invitation to eleven-year old Rebecca and her sisters to visit her at the house. Later Mrs Jardine’s grandchildren, Malcolm, Maise and Cherry, hitherto estranged from her come to the house to stay since their father is ill. Their mother, Ianthe, had been kept till adulthood from Mrs Jardine after she had left her first husband for another man. This would have been in Victorian times as within the novel’s time span the Great War breaks out and has its doleful effect on some of the characters. Ianthe also is estranged from her husband.

The plot’s motor is Rebecca’s interest in Ianthe and the life she led but the novel’s structure is odd. Most of Ianthe’s life story is told through the medium of three extended conversations Rebecca has. One is with Tilly, an old retainer, but known to both families involved, another with Mrs Jardine herself, and the last, much later in time, with Maisie.

Presumably the source of the title is what Mrs Jardine tells Rebecca is “the fount of life, the quick spring that rises in illimitable depths of darkness and flows through every living thing from generation to generation.” Mrs Jardine also asks her, “‘Do you know what goes to make a tragedy? The pitting of one individual againt the forces of society. Society is cruel and powerful. The one stands no chance against its combined hostilities.’” She also has barbs towards her countrymen, “‘Englishmen dislike women, that is the blunt truth of it..….. Do you not know that in England it is considered immoral to teach a girl the needs of her heart and body?’” adding that women themselves were complicit in this, with mothers feeling, “‘Let her go through what I did .….. She will get used to it. I had to: why should she not,’” then asking, “‘How long I wonder will ignorance spell purity and knowledge shame?’”

One of the characters was brought up among Zulus and, “‘He thinks what white people have done to them is awful: taken away their land and shoved them in the mines and made them lose their human pride … made them sad.’”

The crucial tale-telling conversations are very well rendered by Lehmann but the text surrounding them tends to be overwritten and not at all like the words of an eleven year old (even if she goes on to very early adulthood.) The text also employs some heavy-handed phonetic renderings of the accents of a Scot and of a Cockney.

Note to the sensitive; some usages reflect the book’s time. At one point the word niggers is used but as condemnatory of people who say it. Yet a subsequent sentence is still patronising to “coloured” people and calls them “negroes.”

Pedant’s corner:- a missing quotation mark at the start of a piece of direct speech (x 2,) “A crotcheted crossover” (crocheted,) a missing embedded quotation mark at the end of a piece of direct speech quoting direct speech, “the opaqueness of her flesh” (what’s wrong with opacity?) “lowland Scottish” (Lowland,) unworrdly (unworrldly,) “didn’t use to” (didn’t used to,) jasminc (jasmine.)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Full title: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and Other Stories Fourth Estate, 2014, 252 p.

The ten stories this collection contains are all exquisitely written, in them every word counts. Mantel shows her mastery of the short story is as good as her novel writing.

Sorry to Disturb is narrated by an Englishwoman living in Jeddah as her husband works there. One day a man in import-export rings her doorbell, lost, asking to use her telephone. This is Ijaz, who returns next day to thank her and thereafter calls regularly – nothing untoward but he seems as lonely as she is. Her loneliness is not eased by her female neighbours. Her state of mind is illustrated by the fact that Ijaz may well be a figment of her imagination, though that is not the only possible interpretation of the text.

In Comma a woman remembers her childhood friendship with a girl her mother considered unsuitable and the pair’s clandestine visits to the grounds of the local big house.

The Long QT describes the moment a man starts to dally with another woman and the unexpected effect this has on his wife.

Winter Break describes the taxi journey a woman and her resolutely anti-children husband take from their destination airport to their holiday hotel. What it is about, though, is not seeing what’s in front of you.

Harley Street is narrated by a female receptionist in one of the premises there, where the doctors are all nicknamed for their specialty – and who to a man (and woman) all hold their patients in contempt. It is more concerned however with the relationships between the ancillary staff.

Offences Against the Person tells of the interactions between the daughter of a conveyancing solicitor, taken on as a junior clerk in his office one summer when she is seventeen, with his main secretary, Nicolette, soon to be the cause of her parents’ marriage break-up.

How Shall I Know You? examines the trials and tribulations of a jobbing writer asked to speak to reading clubs – the seedy hotels, the usual questions, the tiresome small talk afterwards – but is more concerned with the employee at the hotel where she stays on one visit, a young woman with a facial deformity but a kindly disposition despite her treatment at the hands of the regulars.

The Heart Fails Without Warning anatomises the relationships within a family where the elder daughter is anorexic.

In Terminus a woman sees her dead father in the carriage of a train on a parallel track. At the terminus she tries to find him, fails, yet nevertheless gains a sort of contentment.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983 is an account of the intrusion by a gunman intent on killing the PM into the home of a woman expecting a plumber to call on the day Margaret Thatcher is to leave the private hospital the back of which the woman’s bedroom overlooks. He seems to be an IRA man. In reply to something the woman says he replies, “‘You’re right. They’re Englishmen,’ he said, sadly. ‘They can’t remember bugger all.’”

Note to the sensitive: at one point a character says, “White nigger, isn’t it?”

Pedant’s corner:- “whether the house is quiet as I left it” (‘quite as I left it’ would be more usual but quiet does make sense in context,) sunk (sank,) typically there are missing commas before pieces of direct speech which begin within a sentence, “computer disks” (I stll rebel at spelling ‘disc’ with a ‘k’,) “against front window of bookshop” (against the front window,) “a row of … were marked out” (a row was marked out,) sat (sitting.)

The New Life by Orhan Pamuk

faber and faber, 1998 (according to the publication page but post 2006 as the cover and author blurb both mention Pamuk’s Nobel Prize,) 300 p. Translated from the Turkish Yeni Hayat (Ilepşim Yaymarlı, 1994,) by Güneli Gün.

 The New Life cover

One day narrator Osman Akif read a book and his whole life changed. He had glimpsed the book in the hand of Janan, a girl at the same college as him, stumbled on a copy in a second-hand bookstall that afternoon and immediately bought it. His obsession with the book spilled over into one with the girl, whom he befriended along with her boyfriend Mehmet (later also known as Nahit, and later still Osman – there are reasons for these name shifts.) Mehmet was apparently shot during a student demonstration but Osman knew he survived and walked away so set out to find him, taking Janan along with him. This involved many bus journeys through the heart of Turkey, many videos of films watched while travelling, and several bus crashes. (There is something of that fixation of J G Ballard about this aspect of the book.)

A flavour of the text is given by Osman’s thought that “it was not right for Janan even to imagine the land of perdition, heartbreak and bloodshed because in that twilight land illuminated by the book, Death, Love, and Terror wandered like hapless ghosts in the guise of downtrodden, heartbroken men with frozen faces who packed guns.”

Reading The New Life is an odd experience at times. Osman addresses some sentences to ‘Angel’ but it is never entirely clear (at least, not to me) who Angel is meant to be. Turkish life is illuminated in the margins; the family who moved in across from Osman the day he first read the book, once more in a Pamuk novel the salience of football (sadly always named soccer by the translator,) the statues of Atatürk in seemingly every town square, the endless cafés and bus stations, the past of Osman’s Uncle Rıfkı, a railwayman who wrote children’s stories which starred Turkish children as the heroes of US Western tales, the redolence of New Life brand caramels, defunct in the narrator’s present. Uncle Rıfkı also wrote an adult book, which was banned, with only a few copies surviving in the wild. That book was also titled The New Life and is that same book which obsessed Osman.

In their final meeting Mehmet tells Osman, “‘A good book is something that reminds us of the whole world ….. a piece of writing that implies things that don’t exist, a kind of absence, or death …. But it is futile to look outside the book for a realm that is located beyond the words.’” As if to underline the literary nature of this endeavour, the niceties of its twists and turns, the narrator at one point asks, has the reader “extended enough attention and intellect at every turn of this book?” and describes himself in these terms; “In people like me whose lives have slipped off the track, sorrow presents itself in the form of rage that wants to pass itself off as cleverness. And it’s the desire to be clever that finally spoils everything.”

The New Life may be clever, but it’s not clever clever. And it’s not spoiled by any of this philosophising.

Pedant’s corner:- In the “by the same author” list, Instanbul (Istanbul,) on the publication page, “Orhan Pumuk” (Pamuk.) Otherwise; “the lay of the land” (it’s ‘lie of the land’,) “there were an odd number of bottle caps” (there was an odd number,) maws (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth,) “life’s mystery will become manifested to me” (‘manifest’ would be more forceful,) djins (djinns,) “Andre Maurois’ novel” (Maurois’s. This must be the correct formulation since the final ‘s’ in Maurois is unsounded and so, in order to make a possessive, the extra ‘s’ after the apostrophe must be added,) exploitive (exploitative,) “had really waked me up” (woken.)

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Book Three of The Neapolitan Novels. Middle Time.

Europa Editions, 2015, 411 p, including vii p Index of Characters and Notes on the Events of the Earlier Volumes. Translated from the Italian Storia di chi fugge e di di chi resta, (Edizioni E/O, 2013,) by Ann Goldstein.

This book carries on the tale of the life of Elena Greco, friend to Lila Cerullo, here following Elena into marriage and motherhood and illuminating Italian life in the late sixties/early seventies. Her husband is Pietro Airota, from a relatively well to do and influential family. The contrast between his background and hers, his atheism (which Elena shares) and her family’s traditionalism is illustrated when they visit Naples pre-marriage. On this visit, an acquaintance in Naples makes references to the dirty pages in her novel, whose publication came in the previous book, as being brave (but also true.) The novel itself, even the fact she left, would be enough to make her different but those pages mark her out, stamp her in the eyes of some of those she left behind as unworthy, tainted, all but a whore. Then a piece on industrial conditions in the sausage factory where Lila works is accepted by the newspaper L’Unità and brings her more attention/notoriety.

Married sex is a revelation for Elena. Though not a virgin, she had not had sex with her husband before the wedding and he is, to say the least, an unsympathetic lover. The birth of her first daughter, Adele, later pet-named Dede, brings the crushing responsibility of motherhood; the baby is unable to feed properly, her husband retreats into his work. Elena’s inability, and his reluctance, to cope requires the employment of a housekeeper/nanny. The novel Elena cobbles together in these circumstances is unpublishable, the lifeless articles she submits to L’Unità rejected. A second baby, another daughter, Elisa, is less trouble.

This was a turbulent time in Italy, with political violence referenced many times here. (As it also was in Europe; Rudi Dutschke and Daniel Cohn-Bendit are given a mention.) I did wonder how the political discussions and attitudes here (not to mention the atheism though that is more skated over) went down with Ferrante’s US readers as the left-wing leanings of most of Elena’s circle are fairly pronounced. Perhaps it is outdone by the feminism she comes to feel – both practical in her marriage situation and theoretical in the discussions she has with other women – especially in her writing, “no-one knew better than I did what it meant to make your own head masculine so that it would be accepted by the culture of men: I had done it, I was doing it,” which would certainly strike a chord.

Ferrrante’s Neapolitan Quartet has been widely discussed as a dissection of female friendship yet for many pages at the start of this instalment Lila is all but unmentioned. However, Elena is called to her side when Lila becomes ill (worn down by working at the sausage factory) and immediately goes to succour her and the blanks in Lila’s life in the interim are filled in. From then on, apart from a crucial incident where a decision by Lila reveals her in her complexity as almost unknowable, certainly unpredictable, they communicate mainly by telephone. Lila and Enzo, the man she lives with, teach themselves computing and begin to make a niche for themselves in the nascent computer industry. The dissolving margins which Lila once mentioned to Elena, when she feels people round her becoming insubstantial (and which may be the key to her personality) are here referred to only once.

As in the foregoing Neapolitan novels there is a density here of apparently lived experience, a proliferation of detail, a fecundity of (re)construction, a layering of a life apparently recollected. As if to comment on this Lila tells Elena after her confusion over that decision of Lila’s, “But when do people ever speak truthfully and when do things ever happen unexpectedly? You know better than I that it’s all a fraud and that one thing follows another and then another.”

The ambiguity of the friendship (of all friendships?) is addressed when Elena herself tells us at the book’s crux, “I had wanted to become something – here was the point – only because I was afraid that Lila would become someone and I would stay behind ….. I had to start again to become, but for myself, as an adult, outside of her.” The relevance of Nino Sattore – with whom Elena has been besotted since her teenage years but who had an affair with Lila in Book Two – to this epiphany is not unravelled by the book’s ending which mercifully has less of the cliffhanger element the first two instalments had but which still leaves Elena’s life situation unresolved.

Pedant’s corner:- Marirosa (elsewhere always Mariarosa,) legitimatized (legitimised,) “and thought, She was once a pretty girl” (context suggests ‘and I thought, She was once a pretty girl’,) missing question marks at the end of sentences which are questions, “rather than aiming Stefano and his money” (aiming at Stefano.) “And at least Enzo in front of him, in the factory, women worn out by the work, by humiliations, by domestic obligations no less than Lila was.” (as a sentence that is missing something which would make it clear what it was meant to be saying,) “secretary of the union local” (in English ‘of the local union’ is more idiomatic,) “as if” three times in four lines, Vesuvio (x 2, usually ‘Vesuvius’,) waked (woken,) insured (ensured,) “men with drooping mustaches [sic] and a cloth cap on their head” (and cloth caps on their heads,) parallelopipeds (my dictionary categorises this variant spelling of parallelepipeds as ‘improper’.)

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez

Picador, 1983, 126 p. Translated from the Spanish, Crónica de una muerte anunciada (La Oveja Negra, Colombia, 1981,) by Gregory Rabasa.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold cover

“On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on,” is the arresting first sentence of this novel. However, I was immediately struck by its resemblance to the first sentence of the same author’s One Hundred Years of Solitude; a sentence I discussed here, as being a form of authorial cheating.

The corresponding cheat in this book, if in fact it is a cheat, is not so pronounced. We already know someone is to die, the title has told us as much, and that the death is inevitable. (Meanwhile I note that Colonel Aureliano Buendía, presumably the same one from One Hundred Years of Solitude, is mentioned some pages later.) This (short, 122 page, large print) book is an account of the events leading up to that death as related by our unnamed narrator – but there are two textual hints that we are intended to believe that it is the author himself – from recollections he solicited from the witnesses many years after.

It was the day after the wedding of Angelo Vicario and Bayardo San Román and the morning after he had returned her to her parent’s house saying she had not been a virgin. Angelo Vicario had not been impressed with him on their first meeting but the advances of Bayardo San Román, son of an influential family, and a charmer of her parents and brothers Pedro and Pablo had not been easy to refuse. On her furnishing the name of Santiago Nasar as her deflowerer (though the narrator expresses doubts as to the truth of this) Pedro and Pablo resolved to kill him. They lay in wait in the store over the road from his house for him to return from seeing the bishop passing by in his boat.

Most of the people in the town seemed to be aware of their intentions but variously passed them off as drunken boasting, thought they would not carry it through, or that Nasar must already know about it and had taken steps to avoid his fate, or else were unable to see how to prevent it.

The catalogue of happenstance and accident by which the chronicle unfolds is like an inexorable, grinding, avalanche, terrible and tragic in its certainty, but bathetic in detail. Márquez delineates it masterfully.

Pedant’s corner:- proprietess (the usual word to denote a female owner is proprietrix,) organdy (organdie,) Cervantes’ (Cervantes’s.)

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