Wabi-Sabi by Francesc Miralles translated by Julie Wark
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term for celebrating the fact that nothing is perfect, everything changes and everything dies, as in nature. Although “only idiots go a long way to try to find what is nearby”, it seems that Samuel has to go to Japan, and meet a woman in a far worse state than he is, to accept Wabi-Sabi for himself. Translated by Julie Wark from Catalan (I believe a first for me), and possibly a sequel to his earlier novel Love in Small Letters, the author brings a light touch to a tale of love, cultural divides and embracing life as it is. In its simplicity and optimism it reminds me of self-help books, which the author just so happens to write. Thanks to Alma books for my review copy
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
The relationship continues beyond that first summer, beyond Paul’s graduation, when they set up home together in south-east London courtesy of Susan’s running-away fund. Unfortunately, that’s when the cracks in Susan’s psyche begin to show. Childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence have taken their toll and she turns, not to Paul, but to the bottle. In the sense of a younger man discovering his liaison with an older married woman brings more complications than he imagined, I was reminded of Stronger Than Skin.
My appreciation of Julian Barnes’ thirteenth novel was tempered somewhat by my lack of sympathy for the narrator, despite our cultural commonalities as English baby boomers benefiting from state-funded further education. Perhaps it was a gender thing, as I was certainly irritated by his sense of entitlement as a young man and enduring narcissism. Perhaps it was the narrative voice: a preponderance of telling over showing; a fair amount of philosophising which, while no doubt relevant to a character looking back on his youth, I couldn’t help reading as authorial intrusion; signposted withholding (okay, he doesn’t want to describe the weather, but no need to tell me he’s not going to, so I can prepare myself for the disappointment?). Like his previous novel, The Noise of Time, published two years ago, The Only Story is divided into three parts within which there are scenes/sections of varying lengths, some as short as a paragraph. While I readily accepted the thirty-year age difference, I was sceptical about the practicalities of the thickening friendship. (The nineteen-year-old Paul, without an income, has a car to offer Susan a lift home from the tennis club? How did she get there with her heavy racket and tennis dress? Bored in the long summer vacation, he doesn’t consider getting a job or linking up with old school friends?)
The Only Story is a meditation on memory, formative experiences and the conundrum of how – and whether – to measure love. Thanks to Jonathan Cape for my review copy.