December 2, 2023
Here is a selection of work from writers around the world that reminds us, as Virginia Woolf wrote, “Literature is open to everybody. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” From a French Goncourt Prize-winner, to a Cambodian American’s posthumous publication, a mélange of characters from all over globe (literally) circle the planet. We also have two rather different works of fiction from Ireland, one a recent prize-winner.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Paul Lynch
Published by Grove Press
Lynch has just won the 2023 Booker Prize. This astonishing piece of speculative fiction is experimental in form (no paragraphs or quote marks) adding to the book’s feeling of menace. Lynch creates a chilling ‘it could happen here’ atmosphere. “I wrote…to articulate the message that the things that are happening in this book are occurring timelessly throughout the ages, and maybe we need to deepen our own responses to that kind of idea.” Ireland is on the verge of collapse. The Dublin government is disassembling, people are disappearing, and a mother whose husband has been detained tries desperately to protect her children. A harrowing must-read.
The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers' Guild
By Mathias Énard
Published by New Directions
Énard’s highly anticipated new novel introduces a young anthropology scholar who arrives in a small town in Western France. There he eagerly researches the local traditions for his thesis, in particular, the frequency of deaths—animal, human, insect—that haunt the town. There is a strange recycling of life, as in each death becomes a rebirth in another form. This mysterious activity gives the marshland village an air of ghostliness. But once a year the gravediggers get a respite due to a three-day moratorium on death, celebrated with an enormous grand bouffe. This is a bawdy tale, full of ribald humor, and glittering prose..
Songs on Endless Repest
By Anthony Veasna So
Published by Ecco
We are fortunate to have this mixture of essays and fiction by the wildly talented So (Afterparties). These funny, poignant observations of Cambodian American life in the Stockton, CA community include portions of an unfinished novel, Straight Thru Cambotown, and pieces published in magazines like n+1 (“Journey to a Land Free of White People”) that contain his philosophy of life and his feelings about race, queerness, and the various deaths in his own experience. What a loss to literature—he died in 2020 before his story collection was published—but such a gift to have these ‘outtakes’ to remind us of his extraordinary contribution.
The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac
By Louise Kennedy
Published by Riverhead
With a title that echoes the theme of this week’s selection, Kennedy offers fifteen riveting, gut-punching stories that focus on women’s hardscrabble lives in Ireland. They juxtapose the extremes of their struggles with their fierce desires and search for redemption. In “Powder” an American woman (“It was as if Nancy Reagan had been cast in an am-dram production of a Tennessee Williams play”) brings her son’s ashes to Ireland to see his ex-fiancé in an excruciating but comically observed weeklong tour around Dublin’s hot spots. And Kennedy’s first appearance in the U.S. last year is now in paperback. She should be on your radar!.
By Samantha Harvey
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
Six international astronauts from America, Britain, Japan, Italy, and Russia are circling the Earth sixteen times each day in a spacecraft. “Nine months of this sardine living, nine months of this earthward gaping, then back to the patient planet below.” In one day, including interstitial backstories, they conduct their experiments, and we are privy to their private thoughts. The author was inspired not to write a sci-fi version of the experience but “thought of it as space pastoral—a kind of nature writing about the beauty of space, with a slightly nostalgic sense of what’s disappearing.” The result is a brief but deeply reflective fictional meditation.