Article and Correspondence

Lucia Raus’s new novel, Article and Correspondence, comes out later this month, and it promises to be an invigorating read. Raus’s fictions, as you will probably recall, tend to take peculiar forms. Her most famous work, When I Stepped Out, It Was Then I Saw The Sky (reviewed here) purported to be the visitor’s book stolen from a holiday house in Albania, whilst the less popular Papa He Is Still Sick presented itself as a collection of letters written by a bored teenager in the late nineteenth century. Both works were, of course, fabrications – but Raus is a pig-headed soul, and stubbornly refuses to spoil her own party, remaining refreshingly silent on the question of authenticity. She clearly likes the idea that some readers will continue to be ‘taken in’ by her texts. And well they might, for there is (on a first reading at least) little to suggest the hand of a single master storyteller.

As far as I can tell, Article and Correspondence will continue the trend set by earlier works. According to the press release, the novel takes the form – as hinted by its title – of a newspaper article, followed by correspondence relating to that article. Much like Papa He Is Still Sick, the narrative (such as it is) builds up through a series of multi-authored letters. Because these letters are public, rather than private missives, a shift in tone will nonetheless be expected, which should yield interesting results.

I will of course say more as soon as I know more.

Tales of Turds

The title of Pyetr Turgidovsky’s new collection of short stories, This World of Shit, is sadly suggestive of the cheaply made Christmas compendiums that we are all well used to seeing at this time of year: those endless gaudy baubles of charmless prose meanly tossed onto the lifeless tree of cynical consumerism (to put it as gently as I can). We could blame this on the translator, were it not for the fact that Turgidovsky was probably aiming for just such a connection. He has such confidence in his particular brand of high-minded literary nihilism that echoes of low art (and one cannot get much lower than Christmas cash-ins) are merely a source of amusement. To commit a crime against good taste has become, for him, something of a daily necessity.

Needless to say, the new stories are typical in this regard. Composed with stunning care, they are yet crammed with crudity of the very highest order. He claims in his introduction that he wants to create the literary equivalent of a blocked toilet. This, I think, he has achieved. Too many of his sentences refuse, after several days, to flush themselves from my mind. There they remain, ever-festering; emitting a ever-changing, but never-improving odour.

As it is, the title is apt. This World of Shit delivers exactly what it promises: a multiplicity of bowel movements. In one story, a peverse gargoyle sitting on the corner of a building in an Italian piazza spends his lazy days pondering over the toiletry habits of the humans below. He takes particular interest in a group of people who appear to frequent the lavatorial facilities of a small art gallery opposite, leading to an array of philosophical meditations on the relationship between art and shit.

In another story a frustrated husband secretly eats his own shit, keeping a detailed diary of his adventures. One does not even want to consider whether or not Turgidovsky’s recreations of this diary gain their success from personal experiences.

There is more. A lot more. Too much more, perhaps. But then this is Turgidovsky, a writer who does not do things in halves. Poo is his subject, and he is determined to make the most of it. Which is not to say that he isn’t inventive with excrement. There are foul things aplenty in this collection, but few of them are repeated unnecessarily. Turgidovsky’s approach, as ever, is both wide-ranging and unexpected. All the old avenues are explored, but new channels are also opened up. Shit there is, in all shapes and sizes, in all situations and circumstances, in all symbolic and sensual guises. Tales of turds come easily to Turgidovsky, that much was obvious even before the publication of his collection; but it is nonetheless satisfying to see him covering  typical territory with such terrific poise and precision. It may be hard to stomach at times, but one cannot fault the writer – nor, when all is said and done, the title. Taken together, these stories really do examine a world of shit. What’s more, they argue that this world is worth thinking about it, and writing about, at some length.

Absences

Having said I would explain the absence of a review for Henri Ossan-Ossaf’s In Case amongst my Greatest European Novels List, I’m not sure I can. I started commissioning reviews for this list almost six years ago, asking no more than a few thousand words for each novel. You’d have thought someone could have come up with something by now, wouldn’t you?

Ah, but you underestimate the peculiar humour of this world of ours. Strange forces, fuelled by hidden realities, with the close support of metaphysical powers lying behind the mysterious veil of the unknown, have clearly decided that no one should write a review of Ossan-Ossaf’s book. Why I do not know. Suffice it to say that they have made their point clear on more than one occasion.

One could get too hysterical about this whole matter. One could even write a novel about the attempt to write a review of this novel; a novel that would quite possibly be better than the original novel. Yes: one could definitely make more of this if one wanted to.

As editors go, however, I seek an element of reserve. Where others go over the top, I merely peek my head above the parapet for a moment or so. Ultimately, I have better things to do than submit to hysteria.

On which basis, let me keep this explanation brief. The facts are as follows: several writers have agreed to write this review over the last six years. All of them have failed to finish. At first these failures felt like a spooky coincedence. They have since begun to seem like something rather more frightening. I exaggerate, perhaps, but the death of so many critics working on the same project in such a short space of time does strike me as just a little odd. Some of them were quite old, admittedly, but the demise of the others certainly came as something of a shock. Nobody, not even his anxious mother, expected Per Hansen to choke on that satsuma.

The greatest sadness of all, of course, lies in the fact that, amidst all this chaos, the review remains unwritten. God knows that we’ve tried to remedy this, but God clearly has other ideas. What they are exactly is beyond even my critical powers. I guess we’ll have to wait for him/her to write a novel.

The Visual Essay (1)

A note on this ‘new approach’ of his. Once upon a time Thomas Stippel used to write like the rest of us. With words, letters, sentences and whatnot. Now, however, he uses images; scraps of colour and ‘various visual detritus’ built up in ‘blocks’, offering a ‘critical reflection’ on the work in hand. He emphasises the word ‘critical’: for those who think his reviews are simply ‘visual echoes’ he has nothing but scorn. ‘It’s sharper than an echo,’ he says: ‘It’s the first blast of a trumpet, the first cockcrow of the day’. When I talk about ‘capturing a mood’ he gets even more frustrated. His German brow wrinkles with vehemance. The words ‘mood’ and ‘aura’ are, it turns out, pet-hates. His word is ‘essence’. His essays can be read from top to bottom, but not necessarily from ‘right to left’. It depends on the line, apparently – or on the shape of the ‘block’. In fact, it seems to depend on a lot of things.

Thus spake Heidi Kohlenberg a few years ago in her introduction to Thomas Stippel’s review of Donna Devoni’s novel Hotwiring Honolulu. Now the dust has settled on Stippel’s strange little offering (and strange it certainly was) what more can I add?

For a start, it seems clear to me that Stippel’s review is not ‘sharper than an echo’. Nor is their anything ‘essential’ about it. I am all for shifting the boundaries of critical discourse, but this doesn’t even count as a noble failure. An image may say more than a thousand words, but the images Stippel chooses are so small, and so tightly packed together, that they say almost nothing. ‘Detritus’ is the word, indeed. Stippel’s essay is a bad design for a carpet. I can hardly read anything into it, let alone a response to Donna Devoni’s prose.

All of which is a pity, for I’m not against visual essays per se. I simply don’t think that Thomas Stippel knows how to write them.

The question is, who does?

There Were Eggshells

‘There were eggshells in the omelette, so I did what any self-respecting chef would do: I resigned from my job, bought a new car, asked my wife for a divorce, sold my collection of sixteenth-century cookery books, booked a holiday in Croatia, got into a fight with an old friend in a bar at midnight, wrote angry letters to the press, tried to mend my motorcycle, rang my brother for the first time in fifteen years, quit smoking and started again, moved around the furniture in my flat, starting reading a different newspaper, dropped my phone into a public toilet, got fined for speeding twice, went swimming in the sea, broke the little finger on my left hand and started listening to South American folk music.’

According to a source I cannot reveal (because, quite frankly, I can’t remember who it was) this is the opening sentence to a new novel by the Andorran novelist Oa Aayorta. If so, I must confess to being a little confused; maybe even disappointed. I thought, as reported here, that Aayorta wasn’t writing a new novel at all, but was engaged in a spot of rampant marginalia? This sentence suggests, instead, that he has returned to ground covered by previous novels, The Everlasting Evening and The Endless Winter Night, both of which featured the same food-loving protagonist.

For all this, I like the sentence…

Making Light of Death

Ambling through a park this morning I overheard someone employ the phrase ‘making light of death’. My thoughts turned, with inevitable haste, to Koira Jupczek’s excellent novel, Death Charts, one of the funniest books about suicide you’ll ever read (including Victor Pawski’s Two Thousand Tractors).

Jupczek’s novel is set in a private school somewhere in central Europe, the pupils and alumni of which are renowned for ending their lives in mysterious and amusing ways. The whole novel, of course, makes light of death, but it also features a character who aims to literally make light of death. Kisirov, a talented Russian student, is working on a contraption which will ‘turn his death rattle into energy: enough, he hopes, to power a small lightbulb’.

Adhesive Colon Sticker Book

Further to yesterday’s post, I have received an update from Jaymer Veers’s publishers (HalleysCommaPress) announcing their intention to print a ‘adhesive colon’ (i.e. a sticker) for ‘readers who wish to correct the printing error in the title of Mr. Veers’s first novel’. I presume the sticker is intended for the cover of the book only, with instances of the error occurring within the pages of the book to be ignored as before. Or will we perhaps be provided with an adhesive colon sticker book, to cover up all those unwanted commas?

Whilst one praises the efforts of the publishers in this instance, one does wonder how far this sort of behavior could go. After all, some years (more than five, at least) have passed since the original publication of Poppies: Book One. Does this not mean that the mistake has now become part of the book? Try as they might, I doubt they can stop all readers referring to the work in question as Poppies, Book One. Indeed, I am beginning to doubt that I, for one, can be bothered to roll with these particular (and, some might argue, pointless) changes.