notes on dutch literature

Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian’

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is fortunate in his brilliant translator, Ina Rilke, who appears to have picked up all the little theological and historical references, all the almost invisible linked motifs, and woven them into an English whose rhythms have an apparently easy clarity and subtlety.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.


The Forbidden Kingdom

In Masters on November 7, 2012 at 9:51 AM

The Forbidden Kingdom - Slauerhoff

Jan Jacob Slauerhoff’s novel The Forbidden Kingdom, first published in 1932, is regarded as an important example of Dutch modernism. Translated from the Dutch by the award-winning Paul Vincent and published by Pushkin Press last August.

Review by the Guardian:

The Forbidden Kingdom is a romantic tale of adventure, seafaring and colonialism, told through an experimental narrative. Vincent’s translation presents a sophisticated form of double Dutch, as two parallel narratives slip back and forth, one concerning the 16th-century Portuguese poet Luis Camoes, the other a nameless 20th-century ship’s radio operator who describes himself as “the most rootless and raceless person alive”. Gradually, their trajectories are set on a collision course whereby Slauerhoff drops heavy hints they may be the same person.

It’s a confounding read, full of false starts, chronological quirks and unreliable narrators. The radio operator passes the time “constantly reading a book on the history of the three empires, which had the advantage that you never finished it, since by the end you had forgotten the beginning”. You lay this one aside understanding how he feels.

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