The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada translated by Chris Andrews
While he waits, he tries a spot of evangelising with the mechanic’s assistant, Tapioca. At sixteen, the boy is the same age as Leni, and also without a mother, having been left at the isolated garage half his lifetime ago. Brauer has treated him well enough, although, given he could already read and write, saw no need to send him to school, or church.
The dogs are the first to sense the coming storm, the fiery wind and torrential rain that will trap the teenagers and the two middle-aged men under the tin roof of a candle-lit shack until it burns itself out. Passions will rise and fall within the people too: a tentative friendship between the teenagers and animosity between the men, sparked by opposing belief systems, and the Reverend’s wish to take Tapioca under his wing.
The surface simplicity of the prose matches the apparently simple lives of the characters, which somehow magnifies the psychological depth. All are quietly – silently – grieving for a loss they can’t articulate, and wouldn’t recognise their right to grieve anyway. The blurb mentions echoes of Carson McCullers and, in the author’s compassion for these flawed and lonely people, I entirely agree. Although I had hoped for just a little more from the ending, overall I found it a delightfully poignant read.
Selva Almada’s fiction has been translated into several European languages but this, her debut, is the first to appear in English. My copy came courtesy of Charco Press, a new Edinburgh-based publisher of Latin American fiction. I certainly hope to read more of their beautifully produced books.
Beastings by Benjamin Myers
It goes without saying she’s never known love. But now, lodged in the Westmorland town with a rough stone-waller and his ailing wife, she comes close to love in caring for their baby. So when she realises what will become of the infant when its mother dies, she takes to the hills with a bundle strapped to her back.
When the father discovers his baby is missing, he goes to the Priest rather than the police. The Priest recruits the Poacher and his dog to track her down. There follows a cat and mouse journey over the wild Cumbrian landscape, the Poacher goading the Priest while, a couple of hours ahead, the Girl struggles to keep herself and the baby alive.
Beautiful descriptions, a battle between innocence and evil and genuine jeopardy fuelling the narrative tension, this is indeed, to quote Robert Macfarlane, “a brilliant, brutal novel” showing a darker side to the Lake District of around a century ago. Having lightly peppered my own possibly third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, with Cumbrian dialect, I appreciated the stronger sprinkling of it here. But, much as I enjoyed being reminded of the traditional system of counting – in which I am as fluent as I am in Arabic (ie I can count to 5) – its place in the novel, when the girl meets a hermit, was a rare false note.
First published by small-press Bluemoose Books in 2014, and it’s now been reissued by Bloomsbury, who provided my review copy. Hopefully this will bring author Benjamin Myers the wider readership he deserves.
No clergymen, wandering or otherwise in my short story collection, Becoming Someone. But there’s Catholic guilt in “Four Hail Marys” and oppressed mediaeval nuns in “The Invention of Harmony”. Here I am reading the openings:
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A flash fiction prompt about high winds has had me time travelling back here from the very different world of September 2020. My response is rather rushed, but it’s based on a friend’s son’s childhood and a famous weather forecasting bloomer.
His family spent summers camping. Idyllic, except the canvas never dried out. Back home, he kept his sleeping bag beside his wellingtons. Rain equalled holidays to him.
He was five in 1987, when the famous hurricane struck England. Old enough to ask why the weatherman said don’t worry. Young enough to fear he’d be yanked from his bed when the wind took the roof from the house. Now, as climate change makes high winds more common, he’s determined he won’t get caught out. A degree in meteorology got him in front of the weather chart on the evening news.