Friday, July 1, 2016

Summer Reading List (European Scribbler)

It's been a disquieting and stressful recent time in British politics and Europe in general. With violence in football and horror in Istanbul, and a narrowly-won yet regressive, small-minded result (I'm trying not to use swearwords here so will stick to my name-change to show my feeling) in the deceitful Tory plot of the UK referendum, I yearn for a mental escape even as I find it near-impossible to not flick to refresh the headlines on my phone every few minutes...
Solace in fiction is a long-admired element of reading, as well as its ability to hold a mirror to our world, so my Summer Reading List reflects this, along with a open desire to find the ties that bind Europeans across language, racial genetics and culture, and an additional and depressing influence of the grey, grey, drizzly June my patch of this continent has been 'enjoying'....


1. The Trial. Kafka, Frank (1914, penguin modern classics)
"Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., because he had done nothing wrong, but one day he was arrested." One of the more famous opening lines in European literature, this century-plus old masterpiece of unease sprang to mind as the EU storm began brewing earlier in the Spring, and its brief hit of paranoia and confusion is perhaps more a mirror than an escape to another world right now. A fantasy and dystopia, Kafta nevertheless makes such clear parellels to his times and ours that to suggest it as such is perhaps straining the barriers of genre. One of those few 'required reading' novels that actually is such, it is also with my current re-reading of it a humbling reminder of how law and control in society can be a disease more than a medicine. The propaganda that British people could somehow 'take back control' was powerful yet as empty and bleak as Josef's fate. On a brighter note, it reminds me how wonderful such literature can be, even in translation, to bring us together as humans across borders and less physical divides.

 

2. Europe In Autumn, Hutchinson, David (Solaris, 2014)

Hutchinson's Twitter feed is a recommended read in itself (@HutchinsonDave), with its mix of political anger and surreal and pun-ridden humour (basically all my favourite human traits), and of late he has noted how his nightmare vision of a near-future Europe fracturing into smaller and smaller states feels more fact than the wild fiction he no doubt intended. Rudi the chef-turned-spy is our fascinatingly-drawn protagonist across this bizarre yet increasingly-familiar landscape. The sci-fi elements blend seamlessly with the future-reality and the thriller framework bolts along toward the (to my mind) superior sequel, so will be rapid and comforting mind fuel in anticipation of the third part in the series, due for publication in the Autumn- sorry, Fall... sorry, l'automne... sorry, Jesień...


3. The Troubled Man. Mankell, Henning (2011, Knopf)

Having just watched the English-language television version of this final story by perhaps the godfather of scandi-noir, and bowled over emotional and stylistically by its dignified and beautiful depiction of Wallender's (spoiler....) affliction with early on-set Alzheimers as he races to solve the mystery of his son-in-law's father, I'm very keen to go back to the novels which I struggled to get through. I hope I can shake Branagh's amazingly warm yet distant face from my mind however. An odd choice perhaps to start at the end, yet these slate-grey skies push me to such sombre codas, perhaps with James Blake or Radiohead on the headphones...


4. La Planète Des Signes. Boulle, Pierre (1963, France)

In search of some foreign (to Britain) sci-fi to defy this country's power elite's nationalism, I was reminded by my good friend Dr Wiki of the fact that one of my all time favourite films was first a French novel, and given my French needs a polish (in the same way you might say David Cameron needs a personality transplant) I thought I'd attempt to read it dans la langue original, innit, mate. Wish me bonne chance.. It can't be harder than sitting through Burton's remake, at least...


5. Belshazzar's Daughter. Nadel, Barbara (1999, Felony and Mayhem)

This is the first in the near-annually published detective series English author Nadel wrote set in Istanbul, a city I like very much. The first thing I did after hearing the referendum result was go into my nearby Turkish deli, buy some groceries and baklava, and ask to be retaught 'hello' and 'thank you' by the old lady behind the counter who spoke almost no English. It revitalised my belief that showing friendly interest in our differences brings us together and that much can be said with a smile and hand gestures, just as so much damage can be done through lies drawing on fear. Anyway, the plot seems ripe with cross-cultural intrigue for these fraught times : "When a brutal murder shocks Istanbul's rundown Jewish quarter, the Turkish police force unleashes their best weapon - the chain-smoking, brandy-swilling Inspector Cetin Ikmen, husband to a strict Muslim woman". Sign me up, hopefully when the sun is warm enough to make me feel I could be by the Bosphorus...


6. Excessiom. Banks, Iain M. (1996, Orbit)
As Scotland seems to represent all I like about the UK at the moment, as England Wales seem to have taken bad acid, and being a generally massive fan of Scottish culture in general and Banks (both genres) in particular, I'm going to attempt after all the above and as Autumn approaches his fifth Culture novel, which I stumbled on starting years back. Like a good haggis, the dense and uncompromising nature of his texts requires the consume too be in right mood. And to have a smooth Scotch to hand.

Posted By: European Scribbler, nervously-English writer and contributed to Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

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