Genre: Literary Fiction

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Posted November 1, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 8 Comments

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy EllmannTitle: Ducks, Newburyport (Goodreads)
Author: Lucy Ellmann
Published: Text, July 4, 2019
Pages: 1040
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Having spent the good part of a month reading Ducks, Newburyport might shock many of the readers here, the fact that I spend most of my time reading books in translation, the fact that I often have reservations about reading a 1000+ page book, not willingly but mainly because I can’t stop myself from fixating on numbers, and the fact that it is rare for me to pick up a hyped book like this one, but in my defence I wanted to read this before the Booker Prize, I had actually heard about it from the Three Percent Podcast and knew that I had to get my hands on this novel. I think many people are put off by the style, Ducks, Newburyport has been promoted as a single sentence stream of consciousness novel which might make people feel hesitant. However, I think this is a surprisingly easy novel to read, and once you are in the groove of things, you will really enjoy the journey. The book focuses on the inner thoughts of an Ohioan wife as she is backing pies.

I have always been fascinated with the stream of consciousness but sometimes it feels like a gimmick, with Ducks, Newburyport it feels natural. This woman has a lot on her mind, from her own health worries, her family and the state of America. The books length is designed to be intimidating, to simulate that crushing feeling of thoughts and emotions. What impressed me most was the way Ducks, Newburyport blended pop-culture, personal experiences, memories and even synonyms to progress her inner thoughts, then sometimes they are just random tangents.

I can’t stop thinking about the way this woman censors her own thoughts, there are many times where she censors phrases like Trump’s ‘grab ‘em by the p____’ or using words like derriere. I think it speaks volumes about her character, this need to act a certain way, even in her own thoughts. She really freaks out when the thought of anal sex pops into her head. I feel like Lucy Ellmann wants to explore these feelings surrounded acting the way the patriarchy wants her to act, those feeling of shame or surprise, and the need to censor her own mind. The glossary of anagrams at the back of the book have also been sanitised, so FFS means For Pete’s Sake.

Having the book set in Ohio was an interesting choice, admittedly I did have to look up the state’s politics. Ohio seems like a real melting pot of political viewpoints, there is a very close divide between Republicans and Democrats. This really allows Lucy Ellmann to explore the volatile political landscape of America at the moment. Looking at major issues like climate change, gun control, mass shootings, and so much more.

The structure of Ducks, Newburyport is something that needs to be addressed. I have seen many people freak out about the idea of a single sentence, stream of conscious narrative but I found it really easy to read. The repetitive phrase ‘the fact that’ quickly gets drowned out and I tend to use the phrase as the start of the next sentence. Having said that, I like that Ellman gave a middle finger to writing rules like ‘avoiding repetition’ or punctuation and really did her own thing, and it worked.

Lucy Ellmann has published seven books in the past, but her regular publishing house, Bloomsbury rejected Ducks, Newburyport. Leaving the book to be published by small indie presses, Galley Beggar Press in the UK, Canadian publisher Biblioasis for North America and Text Publishing here in Australia. Ellmann is the daughter of two literary critics, her father Richard has written a biography on James Joyce author of Ulysses which Ducks, Newburyport continuously gets compared to. However, her mother, Mary Ellmann often wrote about the representation of femininity in British and American literature, and I think that maybe she had just as much of an influence on Lucy’s writing and worth mentioning. The book focuses heavily on feminism, motherhood and female representation in pop culture.

As most people know, I love pop culture and really appreciated the content references throughout the novel. Not only recent references but also exploring classics like The Odd Couple and a favourite of mine, The Apartment. All through the novel the narrator burst into random songs, and thinks about film and television, as well as literature. Without these references, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed Ducks, Newburyport as much as I did.

Having said all that, while there are so many serious issues being explored within the novel, Ducks, Newburyport is extremely funny. I enjoyed every moment I spent with the novel. I loved the way the book advanced the narrative through memories. I found it to be a great way to develop the characters within the novel. Could a non-translated book be my favourite read for 2019? At this point, it is too close to tell.  I highly recommend Ducks, Newburyport and think this book will require multiple reads in the future. It is the type of novel with mainly layers to unpack, and I look forward to reading it again. Also, I think this would make an amazing audiobook.

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

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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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Disoriental by Négar Djavadi

Posted October 19, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 8 Comments

Disoriental by Négar DjavadiTitle: Disoriental (Goodreads)
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translator: Tina Kover
Published: Europa Edition, 2018
Pages: 338
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018
Longlisted for the BTBA 2019

Normally I am not a fan of multi-generational stories but there is always an exception to the rule and Disoriental is just that. My major problem is that there is never enough time spent with the characters. In this novel we follow Kimiâ Sadr who fled Iran with her mother and sisters at the age of ten. They join their father in France in the hopes for a better life. Now fifteen years later Kimiâ is overwhelmed with the memories of her ancestors.

What I loved about this novel is the way Négar Djavadi focuses specifically on one person but uses her as the foundation to look at the ancestry of her family. The constant waves of memories and stories are the driving force of Disoriental which allows the reader to explore the cultural history of Iran. From her great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, who had a harem of fifty-two wives, to Kimiâ, a queer woman sitting in a Parisian fertility clinic.

The inner flap refers to this novel as a kaleidoscopic story and I cannot think of a better way to describe Disoriental. We experience many key moments in Iranian history from the perspective of the Sadr family. We look at the cultural changes, the politics and the family throughout. The difference between Kimiâ and her great-grandfather are vastly different. A key element I found fascinating was the treatment of the LGBTQI community. A place where losing your virginity before marriage, having an affair, or abortion, or even a drug addiction is better than being a homosexual. I was surprised to learn that sex changes are legal in Iran, it is better to change your entire gender identity than be same sex attracted.

This whole history makes up the struggle for Kimiâ in the fertility clinic. She is torn between family traditions and her own ‘disorientalisation’ as a modern woman. While this might sound like a bleak novel and in many ways it really is, Négar Djavadi offers so much tenderness to the whole experience as well. We look at the history, we see the family dramas but we also see the triumphs as well. Living in Paris where Kimiâ has more freedom than she may have had in an alternate life. There is so much more to explore within Disoriental but for me this was a novel of identity. Her family’s past defines Kimiâ Sadr as much as her own identity.

I found so much tenderness within such an important book. It was the little moments in their lives that really helped along the way. For example at the beginning of the novel Kimiâ’s father Dirius never took the elevator. He say they were for ‘them’ and by ‘them’ he meant the citizens of France. In this little anecdote we see so much about the attitude he had as an immigrant. Without going into the bleak backstory we know Dirius Sadr sees himself as a second-class citizen not wanting to do anything that might offend the people around him. This small tale says so much without going into specifics. It is this kind of storytelling that allows Négar Djavadi to write about so much about the world without adding to the bleakness.

I am very impressed with Disoriental. I love a novel that can explore important subjects and deal with the current start of the world without making the whole reading experience feel like a chore. I assume that this novel is semi-biographical but I am only speculating. Négar Djavadi has done an amazing job and it is important to have novels like Disoriental in the world. Tina Kover did a wonderful job translating this book which allows me to understand a little more about the world I live in. I highly recommend Disoriental, and it is my pick to win the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018.

Love by Hanne Ørstavik

Posted October 11, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Love by Hanne ØrstavikTitle: Love (Goodreads)
Author: Hanne Ørstavik
Translator: Martin Aitken
Published: Archipelago Books, 2018
Pages: 180
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018

There is something hypnotic about Love by Hanne Ørstavik that has really stayed with me. Set over a cold night in Norway the novel follows Vibeke and Jon, a mother and son living in a small town. It is the night before Jon’s birthday and we follow them throughout the night. They may be a family but they are on separate journeys.

What really drew me to this book is the uneasy feeling I constantly had around these two different characters. They lived together but they felt separated. There was a tension in the air the entire time and I was never sure if I should trust any characters in the novel. This tension is what made Hanne Ørstavik’s Love a compelling read. The mother/son relationship is not what you expect and feels odd but that is what is driving the novel.

“The sound of the car. When he’s waiting he can never quite recall it. I’ve forgotten, he tells himself. But then it comes back to him, often in pauses between the waiting, after he’s stopped thinking about it. And then she comes, and he recognizes the sound in an instant; he hears it with his tummy, it’s my tummy that remembers the sound, not me, he thinks to himself. And no sooner has he heard the car than he sees it too, from the corner of the window, her blue car coming round the bend behind the banks of snow, and she turns in at the house and drives up the little slope to the front door.”

It is rare to read a novel where the mundane feels so thrilling. Love is a novel of the everyday life but written almost in a way a thriller would be written. The shifting narrative helps keep the two connected while the plot is showing the disconnection between the two. It really was a brilliant way to have two characters remain connected and disconnected at the same time.

The emotional tension Hanne Ørstavik created in Love is what makes this a standout read. Martin Aitken was able to provide a brilliant translation from the Norwegian and I can see myself dipping into this one again and again. I have not been able to stop thinking about this one and I feel like the way Ørstavik was able to manipulate the reader, but in a good way. It her ability to make the everyday feel eerie, mixed with her masterful storytelling. It is hard to keep that tension at the best of times but Love makes it look easy.

Aracoeli by Elsa Morante

Posted September 29, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 1 Comment

Aracoeli by Elsa MoranteTitle: Aracoeli (Goodreads)
Author: Elsa Morante
Translator: William Weaver
Published: Open Letter, 2009
Pages: 311
My Copy: Paperback

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When an Italian booktuber (Bruno) offers some recommendations for great Italian authors to check out, I am going to pay attention. In his video, he recommended Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, who were married for twenty years. Comparing Elsa Morante to Elena Ferrante peaked my interest and the recommendation given was her last novel Aracoeli. A melancholic novel about an aging man attempting to recover his past and get his life on track. Stuck in a dead-end job for a small publishing house, 43 year old Manuel travels to the home town of his mother Aracoeli, to try and understand her.

People that have a deep understanding of psychology would get more from Aracoeli than I did but what struck me is his obsession with his mother. I do believe that Manuel is a very unreliable narrator so all his thoughts and feelings have to be considered before discovering the truth. His self-loathing I could handle but I was often frustrated with his short-sightedness. It was difficult to like this character because I found myself constantly trying to analyse him, never sure if I was understanding who he truly was.

Aracoeli was an enigma as well, mainly because we are constantly inside Manuel’s had. I never felt like I was fully understanding this character, and when the novel talks about how she contracts an incurable disease (syphilis is implied) or how she was a nymphomaniac I spent more time wondering about her situation. She was a victim of her circumstances and the way women were treated. Reading Aracoeli felt more like sifting through all that is going on to find the truth, but that is part of its appeal.

If I am to compare Elena Ferrante to Elsa Morante, it would be in relation to the way both wrote about the treatment of women. Both wrote incredibly complex Neapolitan women trying to navigate their way through life. I think Ferrante is a much easier read but I might consider Morante a much more rewarding experience.

I do not begin to understand the complexity of Aracoeli and I know it will be many read throughs before I even scratch the surface. I love novels like this because they make you work for a much more rewarding experience. I may not understand Aracoeli now but I hope to in the future. There is so much despair and destruction in the book, but I find myself pondering it weeks after I finished it. I have to return to Aracoeli, it is the type of book that leaves you no other choice.

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marías

Posted September 28, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Thriller / 3 Comments

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier MaríasTitle: Fever and Spear (Goodreads)
Author: Javier Marías
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
Series: Your Face Tomorrow #1
Published: Chatto & Windus, May 5, 2005
Pages: 384
Genres: Literary Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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There is something almost genre bending about Javier Marías’ Fever and Spear. To call it a spy novel would do it a huge disservice. The best way I could describe this novel is to call it a character study. Our narrator, Jacques Deza has recently separated with his wife and, to put some distance between the two, has moved from Madrid to London where he meets an old friend, Sir Peter Wheeler. Deza is recruited into Her Majesty’s secret service where he starts investigating the shady underbelly of international business.

“How can I not know today your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing, and which you will only show me when I am least expecting it?”

Look, the plot to this is not really important, and this makes it rather difficult to write about this novel. Fever and Spear is the first book in the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, and it appears to be some kind of metaphysical thriller, meaning it explores the philosophical notions of metaphysics in the form of a thriller. I talked about literary thrillers in my review of Purge and how difficult it is to find good examples of the genre. I mentioned The 7th Function of Language and In the First Circle as great examples and I seem to have stumbled across another one with Fever and Spear.

“One should never tell anyone anything or give information or pass on stories or make people remember beings who have never existed or trodden the earth or traversed the world or who, having done so, are now almost safe in uncertain, one-eyed oblivion. Telling is almost always done as a gift, even when the story contains and injects some poison, it is also a bond, a granting of trust, and rare is the trust or confidence that is not sooner or later betrayed, rare is the close bond that does not grow twisted or knotted and, in the end become so tangled that a razor or knife is needed to cut it.”

I struggle to find the words to describe how much I enjoyed this novel. There is something about the way Javier Marías explored the past, present and the future that makes it difficult to write about. I had such an amazing experience here and I want to tout this book out but I lack the words. Needless to say, I would have picked up Dance and Dream (book two) right away if I had access to it, and I did not have a huge reading pile.

I might attempt to review Fever and Spear again in the future, I know I will reread it many times. I need to read the entire trilogy to see if I can get my thoughts straight. I know this is no way to review something you connected with, but my thoughts about this novel do not seem to fall into place. I write this mainly to try and make sense of my opinion. I do not think it helped. I hope I have said enough to at least convince someone to give Javier Marías a go, if not Fever and Spear.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Posted September 26, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Thriller / 2 Comments

Purge by Sofi OksanenTitle: Purge (Goodreads)
Author: Sofi Oksanen
Translator: Lola Rogers
Published: Grove Press, 2008
Pages: 390
Genres: Literary Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Audiobook

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I love a good literary thriller but I rarely find one that really impresses me. There is something about taking genre fiction and using it to explore social issues. If done right it provides us with a fast paced narrative full of thrills but will also leave the reader with plenty to think about. A recent example that comes to my mind is The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet. Then there is Purge. The 7th Function of Language was able to blend literary theory in a fast paced plot, while Purge takes more an approach to explore the complex social and political issues facing Estonia after the Soviet collapse.

Aliide Truu is an elderly woman living in the Estonian countryside which keeps her isolated from the outside world and all the tragic events happening around her. One day she discovers another woman looking into her kitchen window, who turns out to be Zara, the granddaughter of her sister Ingel. Zara is on the run from the Russian mafia, after they forced her into the sex trade. Purge is an unflinching novel that explores the obstacles women face in this rapidly changing society.

“Those who poke around in the past will get a stick in the eye.”

Both women have their past and secrets which they rather not discuss. For Aliide, an escape from the current political issues felt like only answer. A feeling that feels all too familiar with the current state of the world. However what we truly know about Aliide is still surrounded in mystery. It is rather Zara’s life that is the major focus, exploring the corruption and the sickening world of human trafficking. All of which feels like a direct result of that power vacuum in the country.

“She found it hard to believe that there would be any bold moves, because too many people had dirty flour in their bags, and people with filthy fingers are hardly enthusiastic about digging up the past.”

Setting the novel in 1992 allows the reader to explore an Estonia that was going through many recent political changes. In the late 1980s Estonia saw many political arrests for crimes against humanity. This brought great resistance against the Russification of Estonia, especially with the collapsing Soviet Union, which lead to their eventual independence in 1991. The country’s social and political values were changing, for better or for worse, this lead to the emerging Russian mafia.

The bleak exploration into Estonian life from the perspective of two women with different pasts tends to remind me of the Soviet novels I have read in the past. Novels that look at both political and social issues that a country faces. For Sofi Oksanen, it allowed her to focus on the hardships facing women of the country as well.  The style and fast paced narrative of Purge reminds me specifically of the ‎Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn novel In the First Circle. Both exploring the effects of the Soviet era on the people within the narratives. In the First Circle focuses on life during the Soviet era while Purge is looking more at the after effects.

I have read Sofi Oksanen before and found her to be very bleak. The novel When the Doves Disappeared just felt dense and I found myself struggling to get through it. It is a novel I would love to dip into again at some point, but I think Purge offered me much more. With Purge, I have a new found appreciation for Sofi Oksanen and the novel motivates me to read more from her. Purge is a novel I highly recommend, but be warned, Baltic literature tends to be very bleak.

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

Posted August 21, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The True Deceiver by Tove JanssonTitle: The True Deceiver (Goodreads)
Author: Tove Jansson
Translator: Thomas Teal
Published: Sort Of Books, 1982
Pages: 201
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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My first experience with Tove Jansson was reading Fair Play last year, but for some reason I never wrote a review. I enjoyed the book thoroughly, particularly the relationship between Mari and Jonna. I believe that the novel was autobiographical as it share similarities with the life she shared with Tuulikki Pietilä. I mention Fair Play because The True Deceiver shares similarities but portrays a vastly different relationship between the two women. In the deep winter snow, a young woman fakes a break-in of an elderly artist in order to persuade her that she needs companionship. A novel of both deception and friendship, The True Deceiver is a chilling tale of an unorthodox friendship.

This is a quiet little novel of two social outcasts who develop a relationship in the most unconventional way. The book explores the idea of finding truth behind deception. Katri convinces the rich illustrator Anna to take her and her brother in so they could care for the house. While the plot is not that interesting in the grand scheme of things, it is the character development that makes this a brilliant book. There are similarities between Katri and Anna, both social outcasts, both lonelier than they would want people to believe and it is their relationship that drives this novel.

I admit that Katri’s deception made me dislike her, but it was hard to keep that attitude towards her. Katri was witty and sharp tongued, and I quickly fell in love with her for those qualities. I admit I love characters that rail against social norms and once I got past her deception to Anna, I appreciated her brutal honest attitude. Then there is Anna, who I identified with as an eccentric recluse. The chilliness of the weather and the coldness of the deception combined with the relationship between Katri and Anna brought everything together wonderfully.

It is often hard to review a novel like The True Deceiver or even Fair Play. I feel like these types of novels need to be experienced firsthand. It is a character driven novel that will stay with you for a long time. As much as I enjoyed Fair Play, I do think The True Deceiver is a stronger book, and I would recommend starting with it, if you have never tried Tove Jansson’s adult novels. The next Jansson pick would have to be The Summer Book, it seems to be the one everyone talks about.

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Posted August 14, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 2 Comments

Soviet Milk by Nora IkstenaTitle: Soviet Milk (Goodreads)
Author: Nora Ikstena
Translator: Margita Gailitis
Published: Peirene Press, 2015
Pages: 192
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Most people are aware that I am a fan of Soviet literature, reading about people living through political turmoil fascinates me. So I knew I had to pick up Soviet Milk. This novel explores the effects of Soviet rule on one person. This nameless woman attempts to live her life in Soviet Latvia and pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor. However the state has other plans for her. Soviet Milk chronicles her journey as the state deprives her of her profession, her identity, and her family.

This is my first Latvian novel, and I will admit to having a very limited understanding of the Baltics. However I have read my fair share of Soviet literature so I was prepared. While this is a novel very focused on one individual, it does spend a lot of time exploring the mother/daughter relationship. This nameless woman has to struggle through so much, due to an unfortunate incident with a soldier in St. Petersburg. Reflective in tone, the novel is constantly searching for the answers. Switching between the bitter tone of the mother to a more curious tone with her daughter. It is a constant struggle between trying to hide the suffering from her daughter and her daughter trying to understand the depression of her mother.

Motherhood and milk are a constant theme throughout this novel. As a reader we are in this constant fragile state as we witness attempts of protection, anger, curiosity and sadness between the two women. This is a complex look into a mother/daughter relationship that says far more about Soviet and Latvian life that we might realise. Having conversations about this novel with Latvian blogger Agnese from Beyond the Epilogue, I know there is so much more to explore with Soviet Milk. I hope with many re-reads that I am able to start to understand more and more.

I believe this is autobiographical in many ways, giving us a little insight into Nora Ikstena’s own life. Margita Gailitis did a brilliant job translating this complex novel into English. I read this during a particularly stressful time at work and this lead me to struggle through this novel. I have a great appreciation for Soviet Milk but I review this knowing full well that I need to revisit this novel. I think it is worth checking out and I have continually been thinking about what Nora Ikstena was trying to do with Soviet Milk but I had to add a disclaimer as I struggled through the reading of this one. Not the book’s fault, just picked up at the wrong time.

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

Posted August 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 5 Comments

The 7th Function of Language by Laurent BinetTitle: The 7th Function of Language (Goodreads)
Author: Laurent Binet
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Harvill Secker, 2015
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

Every now and then you find a premise that sounds perfect. For me, The 7th Function of Language was just that novel. For a long time I have been struggling to review this book, it felt tailor-made for me but I wanted to do something more than gush. Centred around the death of literary critic Roland Barthes who was struck down by a laundry van. But was it an accident? The 7th Function of Language dives into the world of the French intelligentsia, as police detective Jacques Bayard tries to navigate the world of linguistics and literary theory in order to understand what really happened.

The way this novel works famous literary theorists like Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva into the plot is entertainingly comical without detracting from the importance of these people. The novel essentially needs to give a brief introduction to everyone and their theories and does so by deploying a detective unfamiliar with their world that requires explanations. Which allowed me to grasp a little more about people like Derrida and Foucault. It also made me want to pull out my copy of A Lover’s Discourse.

“As Umberto Eco might say: for communicating, language is perfect; there could be nothing better. And yet, language doesn’t say everything. The body speaks, objects speak, history speaks, individual or collective destinies speak, life and death speak to us constantly in a thousand different ways. Man is an interpreting machine and, with a little imagination, he sees signs everywhere”

When this was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, I saw a few people calling this novel pretentious, while others were comparing it to Dan Brown. A contradiction that never seemed to sit right with me. I never found it to be either, I would prefer to compare the novel with something like Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, which is a novel about three members of the press that decided to make up their own conspiracy theories. This allowed Eco to teach the reader about secret societies and conspiracies all within the plot. Laurent Binet takes a similar approach in exploring literary theories within the confines of the plot without it feeling like non-fiction or making the novel clunky.

This is a perfect blend of a satirical novel and a thriller. These are the types of books I love, I learn something while reading a fast paced crime novel. I normally pick up a crime novel as palette cleanser but if it is able to teach me something, I love them more. This is why I enjoy the writing of Umberto Eco and now I think Laurent Binet will make this list, once I read HHhH. I wish this was available as an audiobook because I think it would work really well in that medium. This never felt like a hard read, there was plenty of comedic moments and the literary references scattered throughout were a pure delight to discover.

“Eco listens with interest to the story of a lost manuscript for which people are being killed. He sees a man walk past holding a bouquet of roses. His mind wanders for a second, and a vision of a poisoned monk flashes through it.”

If you are a fan of literary theory or philosophy, then this is the book for you. This is a new favourite and next time I read this, I will have to read A Lover’s Discourse simultaneously. I am the kind of person that is slowly trying to read through The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, so this quickly became a new favourite. It is hard to be critical about a novel that I enjoyed so much, I loved this book, but I understand it is not for everyone.