Publisher: MacLehose Press

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano

Posted January 16, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick ModianoTitle: In the Café of Lost Youth (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Modiano
Translator: Euan Cameron
Published: MacLehose Press, 2007
Pages: 160
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Recently I read my first Patrick Modiano novel, Missing Person which I enjoyed immensely. So much so, that I picked up In the Café of Lost Youth soon after. This book follows three different narrators talking about their memories of a woman named Louki. The four different perspectives (one being Louki herself) paints a detailed portrait of this one woman, Jacqueline ‘Louki’ Delanque. A woman that grew up in poverty, the daughter of a single mother working in the Moulin Rouge, and someone that comes across as well liked and popular.

In the Café of Lost Youth is a wonderful character portrayal, exploring someone that has had a hard life but appears to have it together. However, this novel explores the idea of loneliness while also looking at that perception we put to others. I think Patrick Modiano has this unique ability to capture the feeling of loneliness, especially while surrounded by people. The aggrieved husband, a private investigator hired by said husband and a student in a café all show different sides of this woman and piecing it all together allows you to see the complete picture (or is it?).

I said this in my review of Missing Person as well, Patrick Madiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014. The committee awarded him this prestigious prize “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable of human destinies”. This is also used as a blurb (or a stripped-down version of this quote) for this novel, and with good reason. The way that In the Café of Lost Youth explores the idea of memory is what drew me to Missing Person as well and one of the reasons Modiano is worth exploring.

One major concern I have about reading In the Café of Lost Youth so close to Missing Person is the fact that they do draw on similar themes. While the plot is very different it still felt the same. I am not saying I did not enjoy In the Café of Lost Youth, rather that I will need to allow some time to elapse before dipping into Modiano again. I still think he is an excellent writer and one worth exploring. The way he explores loneliness and memory are worth checking out.

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

Posted November 20, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Humour / 4 Comments

Look Who’s Back by Timur VermesTitle: Look Who’s Back (Goodreads)
Author: Timur Vermes
Translator: Jamie Bulloch
Published: MacLehose Press, 2012
Pages: 375
Genres: Humour
My Copy: Library Book

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Adolf Hitler wakes up in the summer of 2011, lying on a patch of open ground in Berlin. However this isn’t the Germany he remembers; he calls over a nearby group of Hitler Youth but they appear to be unhelpful. He quickly discovers he is no longer the chancellor of the German Reich, in fact Angela Merkel held that role. The Kanzlei des Führers was no more and his home, The Reich Chancellery was no longer liveable. For the rest of Germany, Hitler was just a method actor who refused to break character.

Er ist wieder da (English title Look Who’s Back) is Timur Vermes first novel after working as a ghostwriter. The book is a biting satire of what might happen if Adolf Hitler was alive in the 21st Century. Of course, if he we was alive today he would be on television, spitting his ideology to the influential masses. While many thought of him as a method actor and a comedian, the novel centres on a return to power and politics with his lack of political correctness.

Interestingly enough Look Who’s Back plays on the ideas around satire; while most people within the novel believe Adolf Hitler is just a satirist, the whole notion is that there is a fine line between satire and venomous ideology. One thing I found particularly interesting within the novel is the way Timur Vermes plays with the idea that satire is meant to be funny and I want to stop and give these people a lesson on the differences between Horatian and Juvenalian satire. There are a lot of comedic values within Look Who’s Back (Horatian satire) however the satire within the novel was Juvenalian.

The way Hitler was portrayed within the book, kept reminding me of Bruno Ganz’s performance in Downfall for some weird reason.  While Vermes put a lot of effort and thought into how Hitler would react to a modern Germany, this book soon became a one trick pony. The different scenarios Hitler found himself in started off as humorous but soon the jokes got a little old. Despite this fact, I have to be impressed with the amount of thought that went into the ideas Hitler would have towards Germany today.

I do however suspect there is something lost on a reader who doesn’t live within Germany. While there is a lot of entertainment to be had with the novel the subject matter wouldn’t have the same effect. The fact remains that Adolf Hitler was very damaging to Germany and the subject matter would remain a controversial topic. While Timur Vermes depicted Hitler as a man (rather than a monster) in an effort to examine how National Socialism rose to power, Germany remains wary of the effects of this ideology. Hitler’s ideas towards Judaism and immigration have left a bad taste in the mouth of every German person and the results have led to an overly politically correct society. The damage is still visible, but despite the controversial nature of Look Who’s Back, the book sold over 1.4 million copies within Germany and has been translated into twenty eight languages (Jamie Bulloch being the English translator).

I found myself getting a little bored by the jokes within this novel and the moral message was easily recognisable half way through. While there is plenty of interesting ideas within Look Who’s Back, I believe this book might have been more enjoyable if it was cut down about half its size. Hitler comes across as an uncompromising, charismatic but deeply flawed human and while this is needed for this story, it is hard not to see him as anything but a monster.


I read this book for German Literature Month

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Posted May 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Alex by Pierre LemaitreTitle: Alex (Goodreads)
Author: Pierre Lemaitre
Translator: Frank Wynne
Series: Verhoeven Trilogy #2
Published: MacLehose Press, 2011
Pages: 368
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

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When someone is kidnapped, the first few hours are critical; the chances of finding the victim alive drastically decrease after that. The beautiful and tough Alex Prévost is no ordinary victim but can she escape? Her time is running out. Commandant Camille Verhoeven has nothing to go on, no suspects, no leads and no hope. All they know is the girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and shoved into a van. The mystery of the fate of Alex will keep Verhoeven guessing until the bitter end.

This is the second book in the Verhoeven trilogy but the only one that has been translated into English so far. While it is very much a standalone novel, I got a feeling that some critical information about Commandant Camille Verhoeven was missing in the development of this character. This could be the simple fact that this is the standard and over done thriller formula. I picked up this book because I’ve heard it being compared to Gone Girl a few times and thought it was a good excuse to read some translated crime.

Alex does have an unreliable victim, like Gone Girl but comparing this book to that one is a big stretch. The whole style and feel to Alex was nothing like the psychological thriller that is Gone Girl. This novel does try to be psychological but comparing the two is pointless, this novel takes a whole different route and the only real similarities are the genre and the unreliable victim. I tend to think marketing people look for connections between books as a way to promote books and this can be destructive.

Alex is a thriller told from a third person narrative that follows both the victim, Alex and Commandant Camille Verhoeven as he tries to piece together this enigma of a case. While this tends to work well in exploring the two sides of this case as victim and investigator, I sometimes wished I could get into the mindset of both characters. Without spoiling any of this novel, there are parts of the book that could have been interesting to explore the psychology of the characters. I think Alex was a complex character that could have been used better within the book to improve both plot and the overall novel.

Now, there are so many plot holes within this novel that really got to me, from the very first few chapters I got that feeling everyone was attractive, despite their age. It seems like Pierre Lemaitre knew of no other way to describe someone. I don’t want to spoil anything for people that want to read this book so I won’t mention the biggest plot hole I found (if you have read this book I’d love to discuss it with you). There is also a lot of repetitiveness within this novel, I don’t know how many times Lamaitre can mention she wasn’t average and when she was a teen Alex blossomed into a bombshell with large breasts but it was too many. Then you mix the generic thriller formula to the mix and you are left with a novel that could have done great things but took the safe road.

I think the unreliable victim narrative could have been executed a whole lot better and we could have had a decent novel with twists and turns. I’m a little disappointed that the author decided to play it safe and go with the cliché plot that is known to sell books. Books like Gone Girl that take risks and surprise the reader are the ones that are remembered and respected by readers. Sure sometimes we want something that we know will be enjoyable and doesn’t require much effort for a cosy winter (or summer read) but when you set up a book like Pierre Lemaitre did in Alex and chose not to take full advantage of the situation I feel let down and disappointed.