Eat Only When You’re Hungry – Lindsay Hunter 3/5
This is a weird and gross book and also a sad and a touching book. Ostensibly, it’s a story about the divorced and remarried father of an addict who has gone missing looking for him in his old haunts. In addition, we are treated to a history of the failed first marriage and various other kinds of stories related to a life lived and now reflected upon. That’s why it’s sad and touching and sweet at times, and fragile and vulnerable too.
But also, he’s a food addict who plays around with some gross and sad sex stuff along the way. It’s not that he’s into anything too terribly bad, but when the descriptions of greasy hamburgers and fries and moonpies and cookies and sodas and all the other terrible road food he eats while looking for his son gets conflated to fluid-filled descriptions of trips to strip clubs in Kentucky or similar places, it feels a little gross.
This book has the general feel of one too many cookies and beers on a night sitting in your gullet while you’re trying to sleep. Or one too many times pleasuring yourself in a stale hotel room and you’re stuck in gloaming after. So you feel a little in the moment. Add all the sadness and nostalgia and wistfulness into the mix and you’re dealing with the gross and too real parts of your own life, but it’s someone else’s. It’s a lot to take.
The Black Notebook – Patrick Modiano 3/5 Stars
This is a strange little book. The reason I picked it up is that we’re about to get Nobel Week, which is one of my favorite times of the year. I usually get really excited to see someone I respect to be awarded or be treated to someone I’ve never heard of. This year, I don’t feel like my favorite pick has a chance because of the Bob Dylan situation last year, so likely Louise Erdrich won’t win, Marilynne Robinson won’t win, and so who knows.
So I read a winner from a few years back. Patrick Modiano is a French writer who won a few years back. His novels are short and are small in their own way. I wasn’t convinced that I should read much of him, but I made it one sentence in and I was convinced of his skill. The very first paragraph of this novel did something so clearly skilled I couldn’t deny it. In speaking about memory, he wrote with such clarity and such directness. He basically said, I remember something and I often wonder if no one else saw it. As opposed to any kind of dissembling about if it happened or anything like that. It was clear and precise and good.
The story is just ok. It’s about an older writer looking at his old notebooks and revisiting his old haunts contained in the notebooks. He thinks about a girl he was with and runs into an old police detective investigating the radical group he knew. It’s well worn territory to be sure, but the writing elevates it. The story was fine, the writing was strong.
Charlotte by David Foenikos: 4/5
This is a novel that won the big French prize the Goncourt a few years back. It’s by the novelist who wrote “Delicatessen” made into the film by the same director as Amelie. You should see it. It’s bizarre and wonderful. This is not a bizarre novel at all, and in fact is really strong, really touching, and really affecting. I was pacing as I finished it because of how tense and sad it was getting at the end.
The story here follow Charlotte Saloman, a Jewish German painter who evades the Nazis in the early 1930s by going to France during that time, as France comes under control of the Nazis, she flees to Italy just in time for it to fall directly under control too. So of course she dies in a concentration camp and her story is only known after she’s already dead. It’s based on her autobiography, and the picture I post with it is an example of her work.
This is a strange novel I wasn’t sure I was going to like when I started because it’s written as a lyric poem. But it’s not a rhyming type poem, but instead is written as a series of lines about her life. It becomes clear throughout that we are reading an elegiac remembrance of her life. And it’s quite beautiful.
Little Nothing – Marisa Silver – 3/5
This is a weird little dirty novel. It feels a lot like a Lydia Millet or Dana Spiotta type novel where a weird and kind of unpleasant protagonist lives her life irrespective of my feelings about her. But it also folds over with a kind of Russian novel ala Tatiana Tolstaya or even Naomi Novik’s Polish fantasy novel Uprooted.
All of this is to say that you’re dealing with a novel without a strong connection to the real world, a novel heavy in narration and light on conversation, and a novel that is directly influenced and directly styled after fables.
It’s not so much that it’s magical or magical realism, because it’s not exactly that. Instead, there’s a folk quality to the story, and it’s supported by the fable like structure of the writing and the storytelling.
The story itself comes straight out of a 20th century Russian novel. A couple who was not supposed to have a child has a child. She grows up as a dwarf, and then as she gets older they seek out folk remedies for her issues. She ends up tall but grotesque and covered in hair, so she joins a carnival.
It’s a weird novel. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. And honestly I am not super neutral about it. I dunno. Hard to tell. So oddly I don’t 100% know what to tell you about this one. I think you’ll be interested and confused and who knows!
The Confessions of the Lioness 4 out of 5
Speaking of writers who could win the Nobel. Mia Couto is a white writer from Mozambique, and here he provides a really poignant and really tense story of a man and a woman who find themselves are opposites ends of a story in the regional Mozambique. One story is from the perspective of a woman from a more rural village who identifies heavily with a female lion stalking the countryside. She is under the overly strong control of her mother and father. She recalls with anticipation and anxiety the time in her life where she was associated with a hunter, who has recently returned to the area to hunt the lion.
We also get this hunter’s perspective too. He has brought a writer along, a regional politician and his wife, and his various notebooks as he’s trying to become a writer on his own, but of course he also is dealing with his own past family traumas.
I wasn’t sure about this one at first. Perhaps this is a bad translation, perhaps this is an older writer losing his form. But then I reached very very strong passage late in the novel related to how trauma permeates a life and erases consciousness. I am left really wanting to read more of his writing, but I am fascinated by Portuguese language writing, I am deeply fascinated by this writer who lives in a seriously dangerous country who writes with such sensitivity and care.