What I’ve Been Reading Recently – Callum
The last few weeks of reading has been fairly random. I am currently reading On The Black Hill, this book has been knocking around the apartment for a while, and as I continue my grimly predictable descent down the Werner Herzog rabbit hole, Chatwin is a name that comes up again and again. I am really enjoying the novel, so far. It reminds me of Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo but without all of the intense descriptions of animal slaughter and peasantry. At times, On the Black Hill, almost feels like a novel that Raymond Williams would have written and not just owing to its Welsh setting. It highlights, convincingly, culture as an arena of contestation in which the meeting of the arts and ways of life hold combative as well as collaborative potential.
The attentive may notice not one but two Charco Press titles on this list – Havana Year Zero and A Perfect Cemetery. Two very different but equally brilliant books.
Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez and translated by Christina MacSweeney: Set in Havana during 1993, a Havana which has been propelled into an economic depression by the fall of the Soviet Union. It is against this unstable and dark landscape – a recurring theme in the novel is the absence of light and more generally electricity – that Karla Suárez expertly weaves a genuinely gripping mystery out of the everyday webs of communications we spin with those around us. Compared to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Suárez’s rich host of characters – made up of mathematicians, novelists, and journalists – pursue an elusive document. A document which holds the potential to re-write the history of the telephone, by relocating its birthplace to Havana at the hands of Antonio Meucci; a Florentine inventor who emigrated to Cuba, and whose name has been swallowed by history, lost in patent documents, and replaced by Graham Bell’s. The novel highlights how often the objects and objectives we pursue are arbitrary, yet the act of doing so constitutes a meaningful life; it is clear early on in the novel that the symbolic value of the document is as elusive as the document itself, varying, from person to person, wanting and not wanting to be found.
A Perfect Cemetery by Federico Falco and translated by Jennifer Croft: Those of you who have read the English edition of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk would have read Jennifer’s work before. A Perfect Cemetery is a collection of short stories which feels very connected thematically. The opening story begins almost fablelike, it is a story of a feral king, this king is a king of hares. The description is effortlessly rich, never feels overly descriptive, yet the reader still feels the sun on their own eyelids as they read passages in which the feral king sleeps in meadows under the sun’s golden ray. The second part of this story sees the king return to the nearby town to gather supplies at which point he is pursued with hostility by the town’s folk, people he at one time may have been friends with. There are many potential readings available of these stories, and that’s what makes them so fantastic. The second story focuses on the daughter of a Catholic family who renounces her faith and pursues the love of a Mormon. This highlights the rich variety of the stories, however for me the binding theme was: wilderness, retreat, and pursuit. Throughout the stories, characters retreat from communities, expectations, and norms into a kind of wilderness. Whether it is the golden meadows of the feral hare king or the wild interiority of a daughter withdrawing from a shared faith, they are characters which are not simply allowed to do so, they are pursued and when pursued one often looks for escape in frantic, chaotic, dangerous, and extreme ways.
All books on this list