A Fool, Free is the extraordinary story (allegedly fiction, but suspiciously similar to the authors own life) of Swedish/Norwegian Eli, a filmmaker and author, as she battles the many personas inhabiting her mind, medication (too much or too little) and nurses and doctors with a varying degree of understanding of how best to treat her. Four male voices, Espen, Emil, Prince Eugen and the rebellious Erik, the instigator of Eli’s most violent outbursts, controls Eli’s life. She wants to go through a sex change but doesn’t know which sex to choose. She oscillates from being forcibly hospitalised and heavily medicated to being a productive and successful filmmaker and author. A hugely enlightening look at a mental illness shrouded in myths and fear.
A Fool, Free by Beate Grimsrud is published by Head of Zeus, 496 pages.
Although first published in 1992, this English translation was only published 18 years later. It was worth the wait. Such a wonderfully translated piece, it zings and bounces with satisfying accuracy, which alone makes this book a ‘must read’. It centres primarily around an interview of the cantankerous and pernicious Nobel Laureate, Prétextat Tach, by the female journalist, Nina. After a slew of failed (male) attempts, Nina manages to match this obese and postulating intellectual in a war of thought and a battle of rhetoric. I found the philosophising duel of wits wonderfully unique, immensely clever, and absurdly humorous. Although I was a tad lukewarm about the ending, the first half is worth reading twice over and I would urge it on anyone looking for a light, funny, intelligent read.
Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb is published by Europa Editions and translated by Alison Anderson, 167 pages.
‘Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her.’ Thus starts the most unusual book I’ve read in a while, and stranger it gets. The Vegetarian by South Korean author Han Kang, is the tragic story of Yeong-hye, told by her husband, the cold Mr Cheong, her brother-in-law, an unsuccessful, manipulative artist and her selfless sister, In-hye.
A treat for you on Women’s Day! Austrian author Stefan Zweig (The Post Office Girl, Beware of Pity and many novellas) was once the world’s most translated author. No wonder. This steaming hot novella about a woman and her whirlwind 24 hour affair with a much younger man is absolutely spellbinding, even more so when you know it was written by a man and almost 90 years ago!
I was left speechless by this astounding novel, the story of a young man’s death and the dilemmas around organ donation. It reads like a thriller and had me pinned to the chair. Maylis de Kerangal fast-paced prose is intense and unusual, and, admittedly, took a few pages getting used to, but once you find the rhythm of her writing you’ll be unable to stop. An absolute must-read!
If you’re at all disgusted by bodily fluids, don’t even think about reading this book. If you’re not, prepare yourself for a firework of a novel by a master storyteller set in a part of the world which I’m willing to bet you’ve never read anything about before. Kim Leine’s novel The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, set in Greenland during Danish colonial rule, won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013 and is finally out in English.
Over Christmas I’ve been enjoying this very unusual and utterly absorbing (thinly veiled, true) story about a Hungarian writer (the narrator and Magda Szabó herself) and her housekeeper Emerence. It’s a novel about a precarious relationship, mutual respect (and some disrespect), balance of power and the secrets of a remarkable life, all under the magnifying glass.
An absolutely perfect little story about Austrian ‘mountain goat’ Andreas Egger, a salt-of-the-earth type of character whose quiet, lonely alpine village life turns out surprisingly satisfactory. His contentedness is of the old-fashioned kind, derived from a closeness to nature, work and acceptance of one’s destiny. A lesson in living and a heart-warming (but far from syrupy!) read which fans of John Williams’ Stoner will love.