I planned to do a monthly round up of everything I’ve been reading but the weeks since the end of January kind of got away from me. However here it is, better late than never.
Through something like coincidence I’ve been on a bit of a Scandinavian deep dive in the first month of the year. In part this was because I bought six books from Nordisk, a UK independent publisher of Scandinavian fiction in translation. I saw a tweet of theirs bemoaning the impact of Brexit on their sales to EU. As many of you know, indie publishers have a special place in my heart, and Brexit very much doesn’t, so this tweet was tailor made for me. I checked out their website and when I saw there was a bundle of novellas, I was sold. Fiction in translation, novellas, indie publishing, this is the sweet spot for me. I bought two of their bundles and got them shipped out. No regrets.
In January I got stuck into Kenneth Moe’s Restless, translated by Alison McCullough, Termin by Henrique Nor-Hansen, translated by Matt Bagguley, Transfer Window by Maria Gerhasrdt, translated by Lindy Falk Van Rooyen, and Zero by Gine Cornelia Pederson, translated by Rosie Hedger. All very different, all very excellent. Formally, often very experimental. I’ve got two more of the original six to go but I’m already planning my next raid on their online shop.
My other Scandinavian obsession has been Per Olov Enquist, the Swedish playwright and novelist. I read The Visit of the Royal Physician and The Story of Blanche and Marie, both translated by Tina Nunnally. The former won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2003. I only learned about the existence of Enquist last year (I’m going to write a lot more about him in the future, he’s become something of an obsession) but he’s quickly become a very important and inspirational writer to me. He writes what some call documentary fiction, novels based on historical people and events, but written in a clear, almost objective style. It is historical fiction, but not what you usually expect from the genre. His books are hard to find, as most of the translations are out of print, but I’ve got one more on the shelf which I’m keen to wallow in, and then it’s back to hunting among secondhand shops online.
My usual hit of Japanese fiction included the forthcoming Scattered all Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani, brilliant speculative fiction set in Scandinavia (!), Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Paul St. John Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama, and Life for Sale by Yukio Mishima, translated by Stephen Dodd. I also thoroughly enjoyed the new issue of Monkey: New Writing from Japan, issue 2, which has stories by Hideo Furukawa, Mieko Kawakami, Hiromi Ito and a bunch of others.
From the homeland I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Philip Miller’s The Goldenacre, coming out soon on Polygon in the UK and Soho in the US. Crime in the art world is Phil’s MO, or, as I like to say, he puts the art in tartan noir. Harry Josephine Giles’s sci-if poetry novel Deep Wheel Orcadia was like nothing I’ve ever read before, in a good way. Poetry pamphlets by Rebecca Sharp (Rough Currency), AC Clarke (Wedding Grief), Stewart Sanderson (The Sleep Road) and various Hungarian writers in translation (Hunger like Starlings) all published by Tapsalteerie very much hit the spot. Donald S Murray’s book For the Safety of All: The Story for Scotland’s Lighthouses was research for a project I’m working on as well as a pleasure in itself. Such gorgeous photos.
Talking of lighthouses, Emma Stonex’s The Lamplighters more than lived up to the hype and is crying out for a film/TV version Netflix bods. The Hiroshima Pilot by William Bradford Huie less so. It was interesting but not overly – one of those things I’m happy to know about but wouldn’t run around telling people to read.
Now I look back at it, I got through quite a lot but my TBR shelf doesn’t seem to have been reduced in the slightest. Fortunately I’m more or less on holiday and it’s minus five out at the moment so there’s little else for it but to curl up with a good book.