Month: May 2019

A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig

Posted May 28, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo MaurensigTitle: A Devil Comes to Town (Goodreads)
Author: Paolo Maurensig
Translator: Anne Milano Appel
Published: World Editions, May 19, 2019
Pages: 120
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the small village of Dichtersruhe, situated by the Swiss mountains, there is a strong sense of literary kinship. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once visited the village. It feels like everyone wants to be a writer; everyone has a manuscript sitting in a drawer somewhere. One night a mysterious person comes to town, a hotshot working in publishing. In a town full of narcissistic writers, the devil has come to exploit their unsatisfied authorial desires.

Paolo Maurensig has delivered a dark comical Faustian tale in A Devil Comes to Town. What drew me to this novel was the premise and I went in with such a high expectation, I worried that it could not live up to what I expected. This novel screams ‘my type of book’, with its dark humour, literary references and a little theology. Thanks to the work of Anne Milano Appel translating this Italian novel, I was able to experience A Devil Comes to Town.

“Literature is the greatest of the arts,” the priest continued, “but it is also a dangerous endeavor.”
“In what sense, dangerous?”
“Each time we pick up a pen we are preparing to perform a ritual for which two candles should always be lit: one white and one black. Unlike painting and sculpture, which remain anchored to a material subject, and to music, which in contrast transcends matter altogether, literature can dominate both spheres: the concrete and the abstract, the terrestrial and the otherworldly. Moreover, it propagates and multiplies with infinite variations in readers’ minds. Without knowing it, the writer can become a formidable egregore.”

While the premise of the novel is what drew me in, what really stuck to me was the imagery. Outside the village of Dichtersruhe, foxes infected with rabies run rampant on the farmlands. The fog set in and created a dark creepy atmosphere. While this worked really well, it was a little on the nose when reading about foxes in the henhouses and then finding out the devil’s name was Bernard Fox. I never like when a novel explains its metaphors and thankfully it only did this in passing. However, once was all that was needed, it was such an obvious metaphor, that did not need any explanation.

While there is a lot of references to Goethe in the novel, it is obviously inspired by Faust as well. I felt like there was a nod to The Master and Margarita within the pages as well. Most notably was the use of a manuscript inside the novel. This is a great framing device for the plot but in my mind, it was more of a way to include Bulgakov as a literary influence.

A Devil Comes to Town was a joy to read, and it seemed to come at the right time. I had been reading the Man Booker International longlist and was looking forward to picking my own reading. While there was some imagery and literary references to enjoy, it felt like a palette cleanser in comparisons to some of the heavier books I had just read. Not that there is anything wrong with that, the dark humour was exactly what I needed at this point of time, and that made A Devil Comes to Town worth reading.

Sphinx by Anne Garréta

Posted May 4, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Sphinx by Anne GarrétaTitle: Sphinx (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Garréta
Translator: Emma Ramadan
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing, April 21, 2015
Pages: 152
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

I may have read Sphinx by Anne Garréta back in November last year but there has not been a day go by where I have not thought about this amazing book. I had always planned on writing a review for this novel but kept putting it off in favour of reading other books; this feels like the story of my writing habits. Since the details are still burned into my brain, I have no problem talking about this masterpiece.

Anne Garréta joined the Oulipo in 2000, which is an experimental literary group of French speaking writers who like to put constraints to their writing. The idea is to force the writer to create new structures and patterns in their own writing. The Oulipo was founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais. Notable members include Italo Calvino and Georges Perec who wrote the most notable Oulipian novel La Disparition (English title: A Void), which was written without using the letter e. When translating these books, many translators chose to keep the same constraints, in the case of A Void, translator Gilbert Adair kept the same constraint of not using the letter e. The Spanish translation did not use the letter a (since e is used too frequently), Russian contains no о and Japanese does not use  (i).

In the introduction of Sphinx, Daniel Levin Becker talks about the Oulipian constraint found in this book and he is of the opinion that is best not to spoil it for others, allowing them to discover it organically. If you feel it is better not to know, then stop reading here.

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