Palace of the Peacock by Wilson Harris
When offered a review copy of this short novel first published by Faber in 1960, my greed for elegy to victims of colonial conquest blinded me to modernist fever dream and hallucinatory prose. While it’s lovely language to be lost in, I felt too far from home to enjoy being lost.
If you can read, like the narrator, with one dead seeing eye and one living closed eye, you might appreciate this modern classic more than I did. Thanks to the publishers for trusting me with a beautiful copy of this reissued book.
In recognition of this author’s pedigree, if not my reading of his work, I’ve decided it can replace Beautiful Revolutionary in the slot for Guyana on my reading the world web page. Click on image to see the other countries to which I’ve paid a literary visit.
The Bureau of Past Management by Iris Hanika translated by Abigail Wender
His only friend, Graziela, used to share his depression. Like him, she found travel on the Underground unbearably reminiscent of the cattle trucks to the death camps. But she’s since found a version of happiness in an affair with a married man.
More a novel of ideas than story, The Bureau of Past Management explores the challenge of reconciliation to a horrific history. How do we acknowledge the atrocities while appreciating our present lives?
While the framing is political, the novel also addresses the question from a psychological perspective, consistent with the object relations school of psychoanalysis. While Hans stays stuck in despair until he can mourn his loss, or lack, of a country he can be proud of, Graziela bypasses the pain in a manic immersion in a relationship that has no future.
When I read translated novels, I’m not always conscious of the translator’s task. But one of Hans’s quirks that made me smile also made me think of the numerous decisions Abigail Wender must have faced in translating from the original German. Hans obsessively divides the letters of words by three, and struggles with relationships where he can’t do so with a person’s name. I didn’t check, but I imagined she might have had to choose different words to illustrate this in English.
Thanks to publishers V&Q Books for my review copy, my first from this imprint. Extra kudos to them for naming the translator on the cover and the editor and copy editor inside.
There’s a personal horrific history, long buried through collective denial, in my latest novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. Watch the trailer for hints of what happens:
While November means drafting new novels for many, I had no intention of starting anything new this month. For me, it’s meant to be a month of tweaking and editing to other novel projects: the follow-up to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, which is very much about hidden histories, currently going by the maybe-pretentious title The Age of Staggered Breathing, and my maybe-YA dystopian coming-of-age novel Snowflake.
But, you know how it is, sometimes a writer can’t help herself. I had a new idea about a project I’ve been toying with for decades. Also about hidden histories, I’ve enjoyed drafting a couple of scenes this week, but had no plans to share anything about it in the near future.
Then came the flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story featuring tools. As it happens, I’d been researching a particular kind of toolset yesterday. If I believed in such things, as my character does, I might take it as a ‘sign’. So I took part of the scene, excised half the words, and came up with this. I’ve no idea whether or not it works as a story, but it’s my ‘offering’ for this week.
As his hand disappears into his tool bag, I recall my boys’ toys: Joe had a carpentry set, Jim a doctor’s boxy case. Did they fight over the stethoscope and spirit level? Was there a rubber hammer in both?
My visitor spreads a white cloth across the table. Do nuns do his washing and ironing? Or is it outsourced to a laundry to be tumble-dried with a fornicator’s?
The priest drapes a tasselled purple stole across his shoulders and arranges his utensils on the cloth. A chalice and plate in shiny silver. A small round tin for the host.
Now I’ve got your attention, I should also remind you today is World Toilet Day: click on the image to see how I’ve marked that (totally serious) event in the past through fiction. Plus I’m celebrating another book birthday next week: my short story collection, Becoming Someone, is three years old! Subscribers to my newsletter will have the opportunity to enter a competition to win a signed copy; if you want to be in with a chance, join the list before next Tuesday.