Tag: Sam Taylor

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

Posted August 17, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Lullaby by Leïla SlimaniTitle: Lullaby (Goodreads)
Author: Leïla Slimani
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Faber & Faber, 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

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

At the beginning of the year Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (The Perfect Nanny in North America) was getting a lot of attention. It tells the story of Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer who is anxious to get back to work after giving birth to her second child. Before doing so, they must find the perfect nanny to take care of their children. Louise is a polite and quiet woman who goes above and beyond looking after the two children but is she really the perfect nanny?

Leïla Slimani is a French-Moroccan journalist who lives in Paris with her two young children. My interpretation of this novel is that Leïla Slimani let all her insecurities about leaving her children with a nanny play out on the page. There is a constant feeling of fear and jealousy that it explored inside Myriam’s mind. It is this realism that makes Lullaby a novel worth reading.

Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016 which is one of France’s most prestigious literary awards. Winners of this prize include Marcel Proust for In Search of Lost Time, Simone de Beauvoir (The Mandarins), and Marguerite Duras with her amazing novel The Lover. With this type of prestige behind the prize, it is not surprising that Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce was translated so quickly.

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

This is a dark glimpse into the mind of motherhood, something I would pair with Die, My Love. It must have been very therapeutic for Leïla Slimani to write out this novel and explore the feeling of returning to the work force. I do not know if this is autobiographical in any way, I just base my assumption on the similarities of Myriam and Leïla. I understand why North America called this novel The Perfect Nanny but honestly the French title Chanson douce translates to soft song. Sam Taylor is the translator for both, I am just a little wary about the accuracy of the text when the title is vastly different from the original. Lullaby is a quick and thrilling read that will make you feel uncomfortable. This is not for everyone but for fans of dark fiction, it is worth checking out.


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

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

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.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted June 5, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 6 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in May 2018

When I first came to reading I was not sure what I liked and I turned to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list to help me. I saw myself as a literary explorer (hence my previous blog name) and I was willing to try anything and everything. With this in mind I joined a real life book club as a way to explore and practice talking about literature. Fast forward to now, and I have found my niche and I know what I like, so now sometimes book club feels like a chore more than a joy. Having to read The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland for May and The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman for June have been challenging. It feels like they are picking pretty covers but the content has not been that desirable, for me anyway. I want more from my literature than what is provided in these novels. I feel like The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was too similar to so many other stories, like The Choke, Nest and Deep Water; all three were novels read because of the book club. I do love being the one that dislikes the books but at what point does it stop being worth attending? I do not plan to quit, but I have been thinking about this since I have not enjoyed a pick in a very long time.

Besides my contemplations on book clubs, I have been thinking about the Man Booker International prize as well. I am very pleased to see Flights win; I thought it was an amazing book. I was able to complete the entire longlist except two books which I might read later but I feel a little burnt out by the experience. While I loved being part of a community reading these books and it really sparked my passion for blogging again I felt very restricted by the task. I am very much a mood reader and to have assigned books can put me in a reading slump. This is not to say I would not attempt to read the longlist again in the future. I just hope to have read some of the books on the list next time. Out of all the books on the list Die, My Love was the one I still think about but I also loved The 7th Function of Language and Frankenstein in Baghdad.

Mexican literature seems to be the flavour of the month having read both Like Water for Chocolate and Faces in the Crowd. There is something about Latin American magical realism that seems to work for me, something that I have not found in other forms of magical realism. I have not been able to put my finger on why I enjoy it more but I will keep exploring. I absolutely adored Faces in the Crowd, which is a book you might hear me talk about in the near future. I think Valeria Luiselli might be one of those authors I will be watching closely in the future. I did read The Story of My Teeth but it was not until I read Faces in the Crowd that I realised just how brilliant she is.

Also this month I read Cop Hater, an old school police procedural and Lullaby, a novel that felt like the author was letting her own fears play out on the page. The final book I want to talk about is Packing My Library. I loved The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel and I expected that Packing My Library would bring me the same amount of joy. Though one book was able to blend his personal narrative eloquently with the history of the library, the other just felt more like digressions from his topic. To be fair the subtitle to Packing My Library is An Elegy and Ten Digressions, so maybe I should have expected this. I love reading books about books but I tend to enjoy the ones that are able to blend the personal with something more which is normal literary criticism.

I went a little overboard with my book buying this month and I told myself it was mainly for my podcast. I do not know how this works but I will defend myself by saying that yes, some are for my podcast and most of them have been read now as well. I do not think I was distracted by other books this month. This might be because I am currently housesitting and only have a handful of books to choose from. I thought it was a rather slow reading month for me as well, but this turned out to be untrue. I was sure I spent too much time watching Netflix instead of reading but the statistics prove otherwise.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted May 1, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in April 2018

Earlier in the month my wife was suffering from a major headache, so lying in the dark I decided to pick up my kindle to avoid disturbing her. I had The White Book on my Paperwhite and I knew it would not take me that long to read. Reading in the dark I was transfixed by the light of my Kindle. There is a line in the book that really stayed with me, “Certain objects appear white in the darkness. When darkness is imbued with even the faintest light…” There is something to be said about reading a book at the right time, because the experience alone made this book enjoyable. I love sitting in the dark but normally hate reading on my Kindle, the combination of darkness and talking about white just meshed well.

However that experience pales in comparison to reading The 7th Function of Language. Have you ever read a novel that you think has been tailor made for you? This was my experience with The 7th Function of Language. Everything about this book ticked my boxes, from the mystery element, to the literary criticism. I loved every minute reading this one and I cannot wait to re-reading it in the future. This reminds me of my favourite Umberto Eco book, Foucault’s Pendulum. I had to laugh at the fact so many people were calling this novel ‘too pretentious’ but others were comparing it to Dan Brown.

I often wonder if my literary tastes are the direct opposite to the norm, because I tend to love so many books others are regularly dismissed. Not that I mind at all. It helps with my pretentious literary credibility. Although I think The 7th Function of Language is not pretentious and would make for an exciting audiobook. I have not read hhHh but after reading this one, I am keen to find a copy. Although that novel is more war based, I am still very curious. It did get a lot of hype and attention, which might mean I will be disappointed by the novel.

This month marked the start of my very own podcast, Lost in Translations. My wife and I have been planning this for a very long time and by planning I mean procrastinating. But this we finally released the first episode which is an introduction episode. I was very nervous but beyond thrilled with just how well it turned out. I am surprised how much support I got on a project that has just launched. I am looking forward to releasing the first official episode where we discuss a book I loved last year (no spoilers into what it will be). My wife will be my first guest and while we have not recorded the episode yet, I hope to have it release in the middle of May.

I have loved reading the Man Booker International prize longlist and I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially after finishing Like a Fading Shadow and Vernon Subutex 1. It has been a bit of a letdown for me. There are so many books on the list that I thought were so-so but not much I loved, besides The 7th Function of Language, Frankenstein in Baghdad and Die, My Love. I will read the next Vernon Subutex book, and I did have a lot of fun reading it but it was not a standout. I am starting to be distracted by other books and itching to read other things. I am not married to the idea of completing the entire longlist but I thought it was a great opportunity to be part of the community. I am yet to read Go, Went, Gone and Flights, which are on my TBR, so they will get read. I am in the middle of The Imposters and have not brought a copy of The Flying Mountain. So that is four books from the longlist that I would love to complete but the only one I am positive I will read soon is Flights.

The BTBA longlist is looking very tempting.

I re-read Frankenstein again, I received a beautiful edition of the 1818 text and thought it was time to read again. I did use this as an excuse to write a piece on how Frankenstein has impacted my life. Surprisingly I think I learnt a little about myself writing that piece and I am always astounded by what I discover about myself while writing. I think there is something therapeutic about writing and it often unlocks connections I have not thought were there. Writing about Frankenstein helped me understand a little more about my past. That piece will be in the next issue of The Literati which is released very soon.

Finally I picked up The Diving Pool to read, which is the pick for a bookclub I am apart of on Goodreads. I love being a part of a Goodreads group reading books in translation, but not many people are interested in communicating. I love a good forum but I think maybe they have run their course. People join but quickly lose interest. I love the idea of talking about books, especially translations but maybe Goodreads groups are not the right spot. What is the future for the forum format? Is it Discord? Or maybe it is a Facebook group.

I feel like this month has been less productive than other months. Only six books read and hardly any writing getting done. I am happy to see my podcast become a reality so I should not complain. I have The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart on the go, which I need to read for my IRL bookclub but I have not planned what else I will be reading. I like to read on a whim and maybe the Man Booker International prize longlist messed with that and has put me into a little of a slump. Although I hope to break out in May and get back to all the books that keep distracting me throughout the month. We are housesitting so I do not have access to all my books, which might mean a little control but I hope it does not keep my slump going any further.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted April 3, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in March 2018

I live in a city that often does not get much rain. So when we get two weeks of constant rain it is a rare treat. There is nothing better than curling up in bed with a cup of tea and a good book, while thunder and lightning is raging outside. I was able to spend those two glorious weeks reading Frankenstein in Baghdad. Most people know about my obsession with Frankenstein, the book that literally changed my life. Normally I am apprehensive about any take on this classic novel but Ahmed Saadawi was able to deliver something sensational. His take on the classic was able to compare the tale with post-invasion Iraq in a unique way. Since it has been two hundred years since Mary Shelley’s novel, I cannot help but think about revisiting the book once again. Oxford World Classics did send me a beautiful hardback edition, so a reread is in my very near future.

Thinking about Frankenstein got me thinking about other books that have helped shape my life, which obviously leads me to my obsession with Russian literature. The Anna Karenina Fix seemed like the perfect bibliomemoir for me. As someone with a love for Russian lit, I found myself easily drawn to Viv Groskop’s memoir. One day I will write about all those books about books that I love and I have no doubt The Anna Karenina Fix will make that list. It made me want to reread so many of my favourites and then the ones I have missed, then go back to this book and read it again.

I am the type of reader that reads to learn about the world, to experience different cultures and explore new ideas. However there are times when I need to just switch off and read some palette cleansers. For me, this is crime fiction, but I am very particular about what I like. For the most, I will read an entire crime novel even if I was not enjoying it. Luckily there was something about Babylon Berlin that I loved. This is the first book in the Gereon Rath series and what drew me to this book was that it was set in 1929 Berlin. So in the background of this crime investigation we see Berlin as it changes, with the fears of communism and the newly emerging Nazi Party. I cannot help but compare it the Bernie Gunther series. While I have only read March Violets, since Philip Kerr passed way this month, I think I need to return to this detective and read The Pale Criminal. I did also read The Spellman Files at the suggestion of everyone who compared it to Veronica Mars.

The crime fiction I am attracted to the most is the old pulp era, the stuff from the 1920s to the 1940s. There is something about that writing, it is sharp and to the point, but still remains beautiful. Even forgotten classics like The Seven Madmen from Argentina seem to adopt that same style. The Seven Madmen is the kind of book that will remain with me for a long type and I am tempted to reread it, but I will get distracted by other books. After reading this book, I felt like staying with Argentinian literature and I was able to do that with the next book I read, Die, My Love.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced and like many of my fellow book nerds, I was excited to see what would make the list. I had read Frankenstein in Baghdad but it was the only one on the longlist I have actually read. I would love to read the entire longlist but time and availability is always a factor. My library only had four of the thirteen from the longlist but I owned one already. So I thought I would make use of a Kindle Paperwhite to help. I have often struggled to get into ebook reading but the accessibility was my only hope to read the longlist. I will always prefer physical books, but maybe I will be convinced to read more ebooks. My constant distractions with other books and an ereader might be a deadly combination.

Obviously the first book I read was Die, My Love. The fact that it was Argentinian literature, made this an easy choice. This was such an affecting read, I will have to get a physical copy. After completing this novel, all I wanted to do was stay in Argentina forever. I think I could live a happy life only reading Argentinian lit, it has similarities to Russian literature but still feels very unique. I am also pleased to see a strong literary scene of Argentinian women; from Die, My Love, to books like Things We Lost in the Fire, Fever Dream and Savage Theories.

Unfortunately there were a few books that followed that I was not able to connect with, and left me unmotivated to read. Two were Man Booker International Prize longlist picks, The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle, but the third was this month’s bookclub pick. It was a modern take on Don Quixote set in India called Mr Iyer Goes to War and all I could think was about rereading Don Quixote. My problems with The Dinner Guest and The Stolen Bicycle were as followed; the first felt too similar to another book, while the later just went overboard with the one topic and that frustrated me.

The Man Booker International Prize longlist left me pondering translations. I love reading from around the world, to the point where I am considering turning it into a podcast. I discovered I do not know as much about translation theory as I would like. Maybe I need to explore some Walter Benjamin or as I discovered, Edith Grossman (who translated Don Quixote) wrote a book called Why Translation Matters. Do I need to know another language to explore translation theory in great detail? I know Umberto Eco also has a book on translations too, it is called Experiences in Translation. This might be another rabbit hole to go down in the new future.

I managed to have a very productive reading month, I finished it off with my second László Krasznahorkai book, which was his short story collection The World Goes On. This made ten books for March, and I am presently surprised, especially since I had three books that were a struggle. The only thing I currently have on the go is The 7th Function of Language, which is another book from the longlist. At this rate, I may be able to read the entire longlist before the prize is announced in May. However the availability of the last seven books is the major factor. I own two and waiting on one from the library, so it is becoming more of a possibility. I am having a hard time guessing what will make the shortlist, so I have delayed a few that I think might be on the list. That way I can still remain in the conversation.

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A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

Posted February 13, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 2 Comments

A Meal in Winter by Hubert MingarelliTitle: A Meal in Winter (Goodreads)
Author: Hubert Mingarelli
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Portobello Books, 2014
Pages: 138
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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

Three German soldiers set off early one morning through the frozen Polish country side to search for Jews. If they are successful they will be able to do it again, if not they will have to go back to their job as executioners. Having found a man hiding in the woods they settle in an old abandoned house to warm up and share a meal. Tensions increase when an outspoken Polish man joins them to escape the cold. A Meal in Winter is a highly emotional French novella that is worth checking out.

It is hard to talk about this book, it is a very emotional book. It is the type of book that will rip out your heart, punch you a few times in the face and then end abruptly. Leaving you emotionally and physically drained and having to think about all the themes. I love A Meal in Winter because it really explores so many interesting ideas and themes and leaves you thinking well after finishing it.

This is such a quick read and explores the idea of following orders and issues of mortality. The Jewish man has done nothing wrong and these Nazi soldiers know this, but if they take him back as a prisoner then they might be able to go out searching again. Is it better to hunt or kill, both will end the same for the Jew, but which one would make you feel better about your actions?

I truly love what Hubert Mingarelli did with such a small book like A Meal in Winter. I have not been able to stop thinking about the book since I finished it. I love when a piece of literature leaves me contemplating about life and philosophical questions that I had not considered before. A Meal in Winter did just that and I think this short hundred page novella will stick with me for many years to come.


The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas

Posted June 22, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain PuértolasTitle: The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (Goodreads)
Author: Romain Puértolas
Translator: Sam Taylor
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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

“A heart is a little bit like a large wardrobe” — Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe (or L’extraordinaire voyage du fakir qui était resté coincé dans une armoire Ikea) is the debut novel by Romain Puértolas that has been marketed to fans of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (or Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) by Jonas Jonasson. For the purpose of making things easier (and to avoid the insanely long titles) I’ll refer to these two books as The Fakir and The Hundred-Year-Old Man (I hope you can work out which is which. I picked up The Fakir simply because I need to read more translated fiction, with that logic I probably should read The Hundred-Year-Old Man. While the writing styles might not be similar, if you enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man because it was a quirky, fun novel then The Fakir is a book you’ll need to go out and buy.

The novel reminds me of something David Niven (The Pink Panther) or The Marx Brothers would adapt to screen. You know the type of movies I’m talking about; the comedies full of misfortunes and stupidity but everything somehow works out in the end. The novel tells the story of a fakir named Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod flown to Paris for the purpose of visiting Ikea and buying a new bed of nails. Dressed in a fine silk suit to pass himself off as a wealthy Indian business man, the con man had nothing but a counterfeit 100-Euro note (printed on one side only) in his pocket. This trip to Paris sends him off on an adventure that finds him in places like London, Barcelona and Rome and not one sight was seen. No Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Sagrada Família (unfortunately) or Colosseum.

I’m not sure if it is a problem with the translation but I expected a little more from The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe and I can’t tell if it didn’t translate or a deep seeded desire for something more complex. I enjoy that light read but found nothing funny about the novel and thought it was too inconsequential; I wanted more meat to the story. There were opportunities to explore themes of immigration, friendships, celebrities, travel and Europe but all these were just background and the focus remained on trying to write a quirky comedy. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, sometimes a light palate cleanser is all you need, and I was just ready for something with substance. It doesn’t take much effort to read The Fakir and the book did explore the concept of a culture clash but this was to the extent of something like The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Sam Taylor was the translator for this novel and he has worked on a number of great French novels that are all still sitting on my TBR pile. He has translations include A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker and HHhH by Laurent Binet. This leads me to believe that my issues with The Fakir are not with the translation but with the book itself. One other concern I have is not with this book per say but with this need to add real people into the story. I’m not entirely comfortable with basing a novel around a person who is deceased, so it feels a little weird when you have a character named Sophie Marceau in this novel. The Fakir actually refers to Sophie Marceau as the French actress from the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough so we know the author is referring to the celebrity. I often wonder how these people feel about being put into a novel and if they are being portrayed accurately. It doesn’t sit right with me and I’m not sure if I’m the only one that wonders about something as small as using celebrities in a novel; I am sure some novels call for it but it this one didn’t.

I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this novel but I tend to pick out the parts of a book that didn’t work for me. I think it is freeing to express all my problems with a book and it may come across as a little negative, but in all honesty, this was a fun, short read. I normally gravitate to books with more substance but something light is a nice change. In all honesty I would have liked the novel to explore at least one of the issues that it presented rather than use them as plot points. Even going deeper into the concept of culture clash could have improved my enjoyment of the novel but I have come to expect that not everyone likes to read complex novels. I suspect The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe to be a runaway success and to be adapted into a film; I wonder who they would get to play Sophie Marceau.