notes on dutch literature

My Fellow Skin

In Review on November 18, 2012 at 4:01 PM

My Fellow Skin - Erwin Mortier

There is a sense in which Belgian novelist Erwin Mortier’s My Fellow Skin resembles Proust in his resurrection of lost significant moments. But Proust’s world is wound round in webs of reflection and explanation. Mortier strings those obstinately persisting moments of fear, incomprehension, relief like discrete beads on a string. His first-person narrator does not say he is looking for a pattern of causality or inherent psychological structure. But the linear threading of the beads is itself an ordering.

This is a Bildungsroman which is related to much European literature from Proust and Mann onwards. It is very sparsely populated with things and incidents, but what there are are peculiarly unforgettable, as though the memories of Anton’s body have been acquired by the reader. We are stifled and illuminated with him.

This depends of course on the writing, and the quality of writing is not always easy to discern through the glass of translation. Mortier is fortunate in his brilliant translator, Ina Rilke, who appears to have picked up all the little theological and historical references, all the almost invisible linked motifs, and woven them into an English whose rhythms have an apparently easy clarity and subtlety. Between them they have made a clear and articulate work of art.

Read the full review by A.S Byatt in The Guardian

Two other novels by Mortier, Marcel and Shutterspeed are beautifully translated by Ina Rilke as well, “Mortier writes beautiful metaphorical prose…Marcel is a literary debut of great originality.” The Times Literary Supplement.

Pushkin Press (London, UK) recently bought the foreign rights for Mortier’s award winning novel Godenslaap and Gestameld Liedboek. Pushkin Press will also reprint Marcel, My Fellow Skin and Shutterspeed.

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