Hello! Nicky here with an update on shadowing the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP).
Our group has been selected to read two titles; The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker and Trieste by Dasa Drndic. I've made up packs for each group member and sent them out. I'm getting very excited now and I think all the preparation I need to do for the big London trip is complete - train and tube tickets are booked and dietary requirements have been given. The only thing I need to do now is read the books!
After scanning the two titles I decided to start with Trieste. It looks interesting and I have added reassurance it’s good enough to reach the prize short list!
My first initial impression was how much it looked like a non-fiction book. The book was originally published in Croatia in 2007 and has just been translated into English in time for the 2013 IFFP. There are lots of figures and lists, pictures are mixed in with the text and some of the pages are set up in columns such as seen with newspaper articles. After further investigation of the author, it appears all her novels are written in this style - a mix of letters, newspaper reports with heavy uses of transcripts and archives. This is not my usual style of writing and not a genre I’m familiar with. So here goes……
Kate from our reading group is a much faster reader than me and has already read - and reviewed - The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker (translated from the Dutch by David Colmer). Here's what she thought:
Wow, what a beautiful novel, the book actually flowed like a piece of poetry, it was very moving and had a profound affect on me. The story centres on a married woman Agnes, who has had an affair and decides to leave her home, once the affair becomes public knowledge. Her journey takes her to a remote part of North Wales, where she rents an old stone cottage. The previous owner having passed away. Whilst living in the cottage she makes the acquaintance of a few locals in the village, the baker and his wife, the local doctor and hairdresser. Apart from that she keeps herself to herself, until one day a young man Bradwen appears injured on the land she is renting and he stays the night, and a little while longer too.
Agnes has changed her first name to that of her favourite author Emily Dickinson, probably in an attempt to create a new identity, leaving Agnes’ issues in Holland and starting afresh as Emily in a new environment. Agnes’ husband decides to search for her and engages the help of a police officer, he happens to come into contact with following an outburst he has in relation to his wife’s disappearance. You can’t help but like these two and I got the feeling that perhaps the husband Rutger wasn’t happily married and perhaps this led to his wife embarking on an affair with a student at the University where she was employed.
The subject matter is that which a lot of people can relate to, an unfulfilled marriage, infidelity and the ultimate aftermath. Following an appointment with a doctor in Holland, the husband inadvertently discovers that his wife is ill, a fact he was not previously aware of. The husband doesn’t seem to be angry with his wife, or if he was, this information seems to take precedence; he’s more concerned for her wellbeing, as too, are her parents. They support his decision to go and look for her.
Agnes has travelled from her homeland to a new place, which makes the book international for me, it doesn’t really belong to any specific genre as such, and the story is timeless, as old as the hills.
I believe the author must be a person who appreciates beauty, in relationships, landscapes and literature. The book was incredibly beautiful and I identified hugely with not only the subject matter, but the landscape of North Wales. My parents took me and my siblings to North Wales for many years in our childhood for our annual holiday. I think it reminded my dad of his homeland Ireland, but it was too expensive to travel with a family of 7 children to and from Ireland, so Wales became our first home from home. The book evoked many happy childhood memories for me and made me incredibly restless too and I couldn’t understand why. After completing the book it became apparent to me, that when something that’s hard to face happens, my tendency is to go into denial and try to escape from it. Death being a prime example, you can run, but you can’t hide. The book helped me to come to terms with the loss of a sibling through an illness that was beyond my control and it released a huge emotional blockage that was causing pain in my life. When Emily decided her own fate and lay down with the geese on the mattress, I just wanted to be there to hold her hand, so she was alone. But she wasn’t alone, she had the geese to keep her company and her favourite music and she just drifted off, on the comfort of her mattress. I felt relief for her, in the same way; I felt relief for my sister. I'm glad my sister had a comfortable clean mattress to lay her weary broken body on and I was able to hold her hand as she left and the tears just flowed out of me when I let them come and I didn’t have to run from it and I felt better.
I am extremely grateful to the author of this book Gerbrand Bakker and the translator David Colmer for the honesty in his writing and the sense of release it gave, it was therapeutic for me. I was on a detour and it got me back on track, but it made me appreciate the value of the detour and the respite it gave. The book did not read like a translation, it was so well interpreted, apart from a few unfamiliar words like bitter Allen, I still don’t know what that means, but I am curious to find out and ach; Isa Grist sounds like Jesus Christ, if I'm correct that makes me bi-lingual too! And no disrespect to any of the other nominated authors for the foreign fiction prize 2013 but this is the winner for me. If I never read another book, I'm so glad I read this one. I will even go back to North Wales and look to feed those geese.
Thank you to Kate for this beautiful and personal review. It's inspired me and made me even more excited about reading this book. There will be more reviews and news about our IFFP adventures coming soon!