Monday, February 23, 2009

António Lobo Antunes: The Fat Man and Infinity and Other Writings

Dwight Garner reviews António Lobo Antunes' The Fat Man and Infinity and Other Writings.

Writing last year in The Nation, Natasha Wimmer, the gifted young translator of Roberto Bolaño's major novels into English, described the rivalry between the Portuguese novelists José Saramago and António Lobo Antunes. When Saramago won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, Ms. Wimmer wrote, "there were those who believed that the wrong writer had been chosen."

One of those people may have been Mr. Antunes. In 1998, when a reporter for The New York Times called him for a comment about Saramago's Nobel, Mr. Antunes said, "This phone doesn't work!" and cut the connection.

Mr. Saramago, born in 1922, and Mr. Antunes, born in 1942, are not easily confused on the page. Mr. Saramago's style is spare and allegorical. His best novels, like "Blindness" (1998), build like ticking cerebral thrillers. Mr. Antunes's work, on the other hand, is chaotic and jagged, in a style that can be reminiscent of Faulkner's.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Luis Sepúlveda

Chilean novelist Luis Sepúlveda won the 13th Edition of the Premio Primavera de Novela (Spain) with a prize value of 200.000 Euro.
More details in El País.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

António Lobo Antunes

Portuguese writer António Lobo Antunes announced in an interview that in two years he will stop writing.
After his new book "Que Cavalos São Aqueles Que Fazem Sombra no Mar?" to be released this year and another one, Lobo Antunes intends to put an end to his career.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roberto Bolaño: 2666

Stephen Abell reviews Roberto Bolaño's 2666

The first temptation might be to dismiss this wondrous novel as no more than cult fiction. It certainly has plenty of those qualities associated with cult status: it is posthumous, unfinished, written in a foreign language, postmodern, ultra-violent, dauntingly long, mysteriously (perhaps even meaninglessly) titled. And Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean author who died in 2003, is a suitably romantic figurehead, having turned to the "dangerous calling" of writing fiction late in life in order to support his family (and avoid penury from his poetry).

But 2666 is a major literary event. It is a supernovel comprising five sections, each capable of standing alone (as was Bolaño's original idea, with one eye on the increased sales that would accrue). The first is the tale of four literary critics, who join together in search of a mysterious German writer called Benno von Archimboldi. Their search leads them to Santa Teresa, a city in northern Mexico, where they are entertained by the local intelligentsia (including a strange professor called Amalfitano, who hangs a geometry book outside his home so the wind could "see whether there was anything in it that might be of use") and learn that hundreds of women have been murdered in the region over the last few years. The second part is an odd account of Amalfitano and his apparent nervous breakdown. The third focuses on an African-American writer called Quincy Williams, known to everyone as "Fate", who is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match.

The fourth section focuses in disturbing detail on the rapes and murders of the women (the effect, a combination of what might be called shock and bore). In pulpish paragraphs, it describes the remains of each victim ("the blows she'd received had destroyed her spleen") and the police's desultory attempts to find the person responsible. One suspect is a giant German named Klaus Haas, who could be, but probably is not, Archimboldi.. In the final part, we learn of Archimboldi's life as a German soldier in the Second World War and then as a writer wandering around the Mediterranean.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bernardo Atxaga: The Accordionist’s Son

Jascha Hoffman reviews Bernardo Atxaga's "The Accordionist's Son"

The Basque novelist Bernardo At­xaga has spent his career moving between fairy tales and terrorism. His early works were set in the mythical Spanish town of Obaba, where birds, squirrels and snakes could speak. Later he turned out gritty novels about men and women backed into corners by their entanglement with the Basque separatist movement. These two worlds converge in "The Accordionist's Son," a sprawling novel about the legacy of civil war in Spain that borrows characters from Atxaga's previous works but does not have quite the same charm and power.

Stretching across most of the 20th century, the novel is framed as the memoir of David Imaz, a Basque exile. Dying on a ranch in Northern California in 1999, he steals away from his American family each night to document his early life in his native language. We learn he was raised in the peaceful town of Obaba, not far from Guernica, with only a dim awareness of the civil war that ended a decade before he was born. As a teenager he discovers a list of Republican sympathizers executed on behalf of the Franco regime in 1937. It is in his father's hand.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Antonio Muñoz Molina: A Manuscript Of Ashes

Colin Fleming reviews Antonio Muñoz Molina's A Manuscript Of Ashes

Riddle, sham, requiem, detective story - Antonio Muñoz Molina's novel "A Manuscript of Ashes" is one nasty revenge tale, bound to trip up readers as mercilessly as it flogs its characters. Simply, this is an exercise in psychological horror, a study of how far one man and his accomplice will go to crush the literary ideals of another - for sport, spite and inspiration.

The story begins in a darkened bedroom, in Mágina, Spain, where an unknown first-person narrator commands his lover, Inés, to leave. We have no idea who this narrator is, nor will we until 300 pages later, after he has made his horrible revelation plain to Minaya, a young man who has come to Mágina to escape the police for his role in the Madrid student protests of 1969. In Mágina, he boards with his uncle, Manuel, under the pretense of writing a dissertation about Jacinto Solana, an agitprop poet who had lived in the house and was later assassinated. Both Solana and Manuel were in love with Mariana, a temptress who married Manuel and was ostensibly killed on her wedding night by a stray bullet from a rooftop exchange of gunfire. Determined to find Solana's lost novel, Minaya instead enters into the role of civilian detective, convincing himself that either his literary hero or his uncle was a murderer.

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