Enjoyable Hours (Answers)

A few days ago I posed three questions. Here are my answers:

1. It depends on what he means by ‘low point’. Turgidovsky’s fiction is deliberately depressing; in one sense, therefore, his novels are as ‘low’ as novels can get. If it is a question of quality, however, one must disagree with the critic in question. Turgidovsky may be an embittered misanthrope with a heart of coal, but he wields a semi-colon with the confidence of a classical master.

For all this, my experience of Andrey Torg suggests that to take him seriously is to wilfully waste the time of the world and oneself. Hyperbole is his plaything: he means not what he says, because he knows not what he means.

2. A title is just a title – or is it? A wise man once said that if a title is the front door of a book, than a clever reader ought to enter via the first-floor window. On top of this, I find that many titles suffer greatly in translation. In Spanish it may seem like a sensible idea to put a fruit in a title of a novel; in English it strikes one as desperate. There was a trend, once; a time in which the sounds chimed brightly. Now I only have to see the word ‘mango’ or ‘apricot’ in a book title to walk the other way.

3. There remains something of a difference of opinion over whether Yevgony Nonik ever existed, let alone when he died. I maintain, nevertheless, that I was either a.) in the bath, b.) reading a book or c.) engaging in a spot of illegal elvering.

Over a Parapet

One’s mind wanders, like a curious kitten, into the realm of those medieval knights, armour-clad, poking helmeted heads over the parapet of their European castles. They had no fear of hammer-grasping giants (a pitifully rare sight, even in those times) but for lesser, though far from ineffective weapons. Arrows were one: arrows of outrageous audacity, cutting through the air like a machete through a watermelon. Those poor soldiers. The lesson is easily learnt. One doesn’t stick one’s head over a parapet unless one is entirely confident that all the bowmen in the district are as adept with their weapons as I was with mine.

(yours truly, in a review of Jean-Paul Xengho’s Yellow, Red)

Zengho’s novel raises the question of surprising punctuation in book-titles. Other examples include: Fernando Aloisi’s On, Xavier!, Lucia Raus’s When I Stepped Out, It Was Then I Saw The Sky, and, of course,  Eusen Eöf’s : ? ; ). A review of the latter will be appearing soon…

Two Translations

Following up on last week’s Y Yippo discussion, I came across the following sentence in Huwam’s review:

This calculation would seem to have been made after the success of Yippo’s third novel, published last year in Turkey, but yet to be translated (the title roughly translates as ‘Why I am Slightly Smaller Than You Think I Am’)…

Which leads us, of course, to the question of whether Yippo’s new novel remains in the giant pile of the un-translated. And the answer? In short, no. To be more exact (god bless exactitude!) there has been some debate over who owns the rights to the English publication, with two rival publishing houses having produced a translation, which neither is confident enough to publish. How did things get so complicated? No one really knows. What we do know is that the original deal was managed by Yippo’s ex-agent, Thomas Bola. The less said about Bola the better (though I should state that, as things stand, the man is ‘missing’).

Result of the above: the book remains un-published. An interesting side-note, however, is that the publishing houses in question have both come up with different translations of the title. One goes for In Which My Size is Explained; the other for My Smallness; Your Tallness. Huwam’s suggestion (noted above) has been strangely overlooked.

Forming a Pattern

Yet another adjunct to the question of book-naming (see here for more). As this review reminds us, Ukrainian novelist Jan Zbigwurt is another one of those writers to have formed a titling habit.

Following the success of his debut novel, Calling the Shots (1989), he named his second Taking the Bullets (1993). There was much chatter as to what would come next: Riding the Waves? Jumping the Fences? Greasing the Pole? Frustrated, perhaps, by all this talk, Zbigwurt took another route entirely, opting instead for the rather cumbersome Well of Course There Isn’t No God (1997). The change of tack in the title seemed to echo problems occuring within the covers: the book was a great disappointment, to readers and critics alike. Zbigwurt’s career hung in the balance, until he re-emerged, in 2001, with the wonderful Smiling at Pylons. Normal service was resumed, but with an added twist. Fans of obscure european literature breathed a collective sigh of relief.


On the subject of one word titles (see below), it is, I think, worth mentioning the late English novelist Henry Green, who frequently went for the short, sharp option. Amongst his various book-titles we find: Doting, Loving, Living, Nothing, Blindness, Caught and Concluding. One imagines that Nothing might have been a hard sell.

‘I’ve just written a book’.

‘Oh yes, what is it called?’

‘Oh, Nothing‘.


(end of conversation).

We might also consider the work of the novelist Chem Kosgey, who names all of his books after animal noises. Quack was published in 1995, followed shortly by Moo (1997) Meow (2001) and, peculiarly, Rfffk (2005).

Treacherous Loses and Thoughtful Dots

Amongst the most recent reviews to have re-appeared over at Underneath the Bunker we may find Sebastien Cheraz’s reaction to Jarni Kolovsky’s …And I Lost: a novel made famous by its rugged simplicity – and by the unbelievable regularity with which reviewers mistype its title. How many times, for instance, have I seen And I Lost…? Too many to count. Also: And, I Lost, And: I Lost, And… I Lost, And I… Lost, ……And I Lost, And.I.Lost, And… I… Lost…. The list could go on: critics have been creative in their idiocy (as critics almost always are).

Lesser writers might shrug off these middling misptints: Kolovsky, however, has never taken kindly to such lapses. Rage is the word that scuttles across the paving stones of one’s mind. Pure rage. ‘It takes him days to recover,’ his literary agent admitted to me once: ‘he simply cannot abide the error in question. Cannot abide it at all‘.

One may wonder why. Is it, perhaps, on account of the time he takes over his titles? Most probably. Kolovsky is one of a large brood of writers for whom naming a book is a deeply serious endeavour – one that times up as much time as writing the book itself. To blithely misquote the title of a Kolovsky novel is, therefore, an act of treachery: it shows a fundamental lack of respect for the writer and his craft. Rest assured – every one of the three dots that precedes the three words in the title of …And I Lost has been put there for a very good reason. These are thoughtful dots.

In a Name

I wrote, below, of book titles that contrast with their content; Jakobi’s The Fake Ape being an obvious example (bearing in mind that it is a translation from the Hungarian). One might spend a merry afternoon compiling a list of further examples: Ramen Roo’s Charmed, for instance, or Lucia Raus’s Fog Falls Faintly, Over the Fields. The difficulty, however, is in weaning out the simply misguided titles from the subtly ironic. Pyetr Turgidovsky’s famous Delicious Air of Life is far too upbeat a name for the type of novel it is; therein lies its brilliance. For those who struggle to grasp the message, our favourite nihilist supplies a sub-title: The Ugly God-damned Wife. Now we see just what boat we’re in (a sinking tugboat).

Whilst we’re on the subject of book-titles – and, indeed, Ramen Roo’s Charmed – a word or two on the fashion for one-word titles. The winds of enthusiasm appear to be blowing around a recent publication by an American writer  (Franzen, I believe his name is) whose latest barrel of literary laughs goes by the name of Freedom. A brave, no-nonsense title, that. Amongst the other examples that spring, disappointingly slowly, to my mind are Roc Quarret’s Hewn, Pieter Herrson’s Righteousness and Simona der Wert’s excellent Lozenge. Surprisingly rare, however, these tight little titles, especially in the field of obscure european literature. I would, of course, welcome any other examples…