Thursday, April 12, 2012

Independent Foreign Fiction prize shortlist

Over the past few weeks I've been reading a selection of books that were longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Along with other bloggers we assembl;ed a shadow jury that would come up with a shortlist of six.

The final list we came up with was revealed by most of my fellow bloggers yesterday ahead of the announcement this morning of the official shortlist.

There are differences, as you would hope there would be with different readers and opinions being expressed, and some of the books that made the official cut were not as popular with us as they clearly were with the other official panel.

As with these things there is always debate about choices and the merits of the individual works. Usually I'm just watching from the sidelines but it has been a priviledge running along in parallel with the process.

Here is the shadow IFFP jury shortlist:

Seven Houses in France by Bernardo Atxaga (translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Richard Dixon)
Parallel Stories by Péter Nádas (Imre Goldstein)
Scenes From Village Life by Amos Oz (Nicholas de Lange)
Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (Anthea Bell)
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón (Victoria Cribb)

Here is the official IFFP shortlist:

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld (Translated by Jeffrey M. Green)
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Richard Dixon)
Alice by Judith Hermann (Margaret Bettauer Dembo)
New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (Judith Landry)
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón (Victoria Cribb)
Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke (Cindy Carter)

Please read comments made by the other bloggers taking part in the shadow jury. They have read much more widely than me and have some very interesting views on the shortlist selections:

Winston's Dad

Tony's Reading list


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

book review: The Names by Don DeLillo

Language, specifically the names of things, is a theme from all angles in this book which manages to unsettle the reader until the last word.

In a nutshell the story follows an American former journalist, now risk analyst, who is living in Greece. James is separated from his wife but they start the story in close proximity working at an architectural dig on a nearby island. The dig is looked after by Owen Brademas a figure who is central to the plot although rarely takes centre stage.

Language comes into the tale straight away because it is a barrier. James is learning Greek but ends up telling lies to the doorman in his building because he doesn't know the right words to describe what he is really doing.

Likewise the communication breakdown in his marriage is exacerbated by his habit in the past of listing his faults and then reciting some of them in strange voices.

What words stand for is something that obsesses Owen and starts to run off on James and then in turn on his film making friend who hears of a cult that kills people that are named in the locations they are murdered. For instance Maud Kolo in Milton Keynes. For a while I thought that the main character James was destined to be dragged somewhere that matched his initials and killed but you come to understand he is more of an observer.

He is trying to read the language, both written and in signs and body language, and come to conclusions rather than becoming the story himself.

As a result he is in an ideal position to watch the ex-pat community, breeze through Greece, Turkey, India and beyond as he gathers risk data and even meet and talk to the cult about their activities.

The book is not always easy to get through and there were times you felt that the hunt for the cult was one that might not be worth the effort. As James heads for India and collects more stories of random deaths you start to suspect that there is no great mystery behind it after all.

Perhaps that is the real lasting impression here, that you can look for meanings too hard in things and sometimes language and words can not really be used to justify base acts of brutality.