Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best of 2019, Part 2: Everything Else



Ellen Cantor, from "Prior Pleasures," 2017


A couple of days ago I wrote about highlights from Italian literature I read in 2019; now for the best of the the rest of my reading from this past year:

Daphnis and Chloe, Longus
George Thornley, Pantheon
Eating my way through Thanksgiving weekend, I also devoured Longus’ 1,800 year old Daphnis and Chloe in George Thornley’s 360-year-old translation, the first into English. The book immediately shot to the top of my best of 2019 list, not least of all thanks to Thornley’s charming, idiosyncratic language. Though I was familiar with Maurice Ravel’s symphony, I did not know the early Greek novel that had inspired such a magnificent piece – a good thing, as my not knowing how things would end made Daphnis and Chloe hold as much teasing suspense for me as the best thrillers. The story of separate foundlings raised by neighboring families on the Greek island of Lesbos, Daphnis and Chloe has a little bit of everything: whimsical gods, pirates, conflicts that end peaceably, intimate details of island traditions, fresh discourses on love, and above all the exquisite pastoral romance between these two innocent young herders. The goats and sheep they tend also play well and charmingly beyond their goatness and sheepdom in this bucolic tour de force. Almost as charming as Longus’ story itself was William E. McCulloh’s book-length study, Longus, a work that certainly belongs on this year’s “Best of” list: scholarly, erudite, warmly conversational, often hilarious, and an assessment that emphatically underscores just what Goethe said of Daphnis and Chloe, that one should revisit it every year “so as to learn from it again and again, and to sense freshly its great beauty.”

Illustration from Daphnis and Chloe, Aristide Maillol

Paul et Virginie, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (in French; many English translations available)
Éditions Garniers Frères
My path to Daphnis and Chloe had come from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s 1787 pastoral tale Paul et Virginie, long on my radar but unread until someone mentioned it offhand one day while talking about Mauritius (formerly Île de France), where the story is set. Paul et Virginie borrows heavily from Longus as well as from Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but Bernardin, a confrère of Rousseau, turns his tale into a paean for the glories of man’s natural state. These two children grow up together in an idyllic mountain refuge in the island’s interior, where their respective mothers, exiles from unfortunate marriages and from France, have taken up residence together with a trio of servants. Much of the book’s first half consists of revels concerning Paul and Virginie’s playful cavorting around the forest and salutes to their sterling virtues, pure as rain. Civilization, melodramatically represented by the evils of France, intrudes, disrupting this state of grace. A roman à l’eau de rose, as the French would call it, but nonetheless entirely captivating, Paul et Virginie has been a staple in French literature since it first appeared. Its influence has served not only to promulgate Rousseauian philosophy, but also to inspire hundreds of artworks, musical compositions, movies (including kitsch 1980’s film The Blue Lagoon), textile designs, and products and services ranging from Mauritian guest houses to a style of men’s board shorts. Something of an institution, the book has also figured into works by Hugo, Dickens, Maupassant, Flaubert, even Jorge Luis Borges and Alejo Carpentier. Bernardin lavishes a good deal of attention on books himself, with passages extolling the instructive and moral qualities of those like his own while decrying the pernicious literature of urban France, where authors seem actually to enjoy their sordid lives. One shudders with mischievous delight to think what Bernardin might have made of Zola or Baudelaire.

Paul et Virginie, by Henri Pierre Léon Pharamond Blanchard, 1844

Sens-Plastique, Malcolm de Chazal
Irving Weiss, translator, Green Integer
In my log-rolling between Daphnis and Chloe and Paul et Virginie, I also stepped inadvertently onto Malcolm de Chazal. Though the author’s name had swum into my ken a few years ago via Ramón Gómez de la Serna, the Spanish writer whose “greguerías” were an aphoristic poetic form much like those that the radically more sensual and imaginative de Chazal uses in his lengthy Sens-Plastique, I’d not been aware at the time that de Chazal was from Mauritius. The link from Paul et Virginie, or perhaps the magic worked by this Indian Ocean island, seems clear in de Chazal’s statement that his work is derived “from the principle that man and nature are entirely continuous.” The book, a world unto itself,  attracted the attention of Andre Bréton, W. H. Auden, François Ponge, Georges Bataille and a legion of other writers. Of the more than 2,000 strikingly poetic aphorisms collected here, a selection just of those referencing light and color (i.e. "Blue catches cold in blue-green and sneezes in gray") were they to be extracted and compiled together, would be of interest to any visual artist.

Alamut, Vladimir Bartol
Michael Biggins, translator, Scala House Press
As the world spun towards World War II, Vladimir Bartol, author of this novel hailed as the pinnacle of Slovenian literature, holed up in a remote mountain village. Ten years later he emerged with this vast, singular work set not in Slovenia, but in 11thcentury Persia. This aspect caused no little bewilderment among the Slovenian literati and reading public; at least one reader stopped the author in the street to ask where he’d managed to find such an old manuscript to translate. But the story is Bartol’s own, based on that of the powerful warlord Hassan-i-Sabbah, notorious for training his fedayin to believe in a total self-sacrifice that would land them in paradise, and developing, through a carefully created, elaborate ruse involving hallucinogenic drugs, the means to give them a taste of what awaited them in the afterlife. As an adventure story Alamut is a masterpiece, featuring an intoxicating atmosphere, tremendous narrative drive and multiple unexpected, even shocking turns. What might easily have developed into an entertaining historical romance keeps spiraling tighter and tighter, carefully coalescing into a powerful, dark, even ominous work about totalitarianism. As a parable of faith and fanaticism, Alamut resonates perhaps more with today’s religious wars than with the events that propelled Bartol to write the book, which he dedicated, sarcastically, to Benito Mussolini. Tremendous. 

Alamut Castle ruins, Iran

Anniversaries: A Year in the Life of Gesine Cressphal, Uwe Johnson
Damion Searls, translator, New York Review Books
At nearly 1,700 carefully-crafted pages, Anniversaries (for short) merits far more attention than the paragraph-long treatment I’ll give it here. I spent months reading Johnson’s opus, one of the more memorable reading experiences of my life. Written in 366 chapters, each covering a single day from August 21, 1967 to August 21, 1968, Anniversaries stars 35-year-old Gesine Cressphal and her 10-year-old daughter Marie, formerly of East Germany and now residents of New York for the past six years. Converging, overlapping narratives look retrospectively to the past – specifically the rise of Nazism in Germany – and to the future as the young Marie begins to leave the cocoon of childhood and question the world about her. A curiosity concerning her absent father and her mother’s origins has suddenly sparked, and Marie daily demands of Gesine, born the day of Hitler’s assumption of the Chancellorship on March 1, 1933, to record her personal history on tape, “for when you are dead.” The book’s vast scope and formal structure give Johnson ample room for experimentation. One chapter, for example, simply features a grocery shopping list, while others spin into a dozen pages of realist narrative detailing some nuance of life under the rise of Nazism in Jerichow, a small town in northeastern Germany. As a work about the daily, lived experience under Nazism, the book is stunning; at the same time, Johnson gives us a terrific New York novel from the perspective of immigrants, and somehow manages (no small thanks to New Yorker Damion Searls’ remarkable translation) to make his long tale immediately fresh and relevant. Anniversaries has as much to say about the U.S. as it does about Germany, featuring, as backdrop, a year that saw the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the growing toll of the Vietnam War, the march of Civil Rights, and the impending election of Richard M. Nixon. The book is a vast collection of mini-essays on just about everything (the New York Times, for example, gets pretty much dismantled in every chapter). The ingenious device Johnson has hit upon to explore the mechanisms and obligations of memory and memorialization is to link generational lived experience - that of Marie, Gesine, and Gesine’s parents - in order to explore the difficulties of transmitting one generation’s history to another, particularly where a trauma as vast as the Shoah is concerned, while the future is busy running off to pursue its own life, those projects of a precocious 10-year-old already adamantly opposed to the Vietnam war and embarked on a personal mission to ride every mile of the New York subway system.


The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra
John Rutherford, translator, Penguin Classics
I’m not about to try to squeeze out a pithy paragraph here concerning Don Quixote. I read Book One in 2018 and returned this year to re-read that and finish Book Two as well, all in the John Rutherford translation, the first time since university that I’d returned to the work in its entirety. I also poked around a bit in the vast literature about the work, at first blown far to leeward by Vladimir Nabokov’s chilly grey provocations, but then finding a propitious, righting breeze in Belgian critic Simon Leys, who called the book “one of the greatest works of fiction of any age, in any language…also, quite literally, a pot-boiler concocted by a hopeless old hack, at the end of his tether.”

The Book of Communities, Maria Gabriela Llansol
Audrey Young, translator, Deep Vellum Publishing
Anthony at the Time’s Flow Stemmed blog has been writing enthusiastically about late 20thcentury Portuguese writer Llansol. I read but one of the three novels that makes up her Geography of Rebels trilogy, finding it challenging, confounding, mesmerizing and unlike anything I’d read before. The narrative disorients right away via fragments and sentences that stop abruptly halfway across the page; text that splits into columns, sometimes parallel, sometimes sequential; quotations and numbered lists; texts like strips of paper cut from paragraphs; shifting points of view and unidentifiable narrator(s); and above all disruption of linear time, with figures from different ages co-existing both simultaneously and anachronistically. Severed heads and hands and headless bodies show up throughout, mirroring the disembodiment of the text. What disorients as well is the ostensible subject matter, so distant from the fiction of our time, a convocation of religious and philosophical rebels: Spanish Golden Age mystic poet St. John of the Cross, German Reformation iconoclast Thomas Müntzer, Frederick Nietzche, Meister Eckhart (as a pig – the work also features a menagerie of other animals including a bear, a dog named Maya, a fish named after a Dominican friar, an insect, a tiger). Much of the narrative seems to slip in and out of a writer’s identification with Ana de Peñalosa, the widowed rich patron to St. John of the Cross, who is sometimes viewed in third person and sometimes (perhaps) identified with a first-person narrator. Concentrated, evocative images create an overarching mood of grief; early on there’s a hint at the loss of a son, and throughout suggestions of distance and separation. References abound to the difficulty of writing, to the nightwork of solitude and contemplation, and to a conception of writing as writ broadly across the universe by the tracks of horses’ hooves, the sinuous lines traced by the swimming of fishes, other natural processes and human efforts, such as the “inverse” writing of embroidery. The “places” in Llansol’s “Geography” are not really identifiable as such, or rather, are encompassed by an extremely broad definition; they might be might be in a room, in front of a mirror, or just there, that place on the page you’re reading right now. I’ll almost certainly return to finish the trilogy this coming year.

Wives and Lovers, Margaret Millar
Syndicate Books
I’ve now read five of Canadian/Californian writer Margaret Millar’s novels and have caught the bug. While I’d already been a fan of the work of her husband Kenneth (a.k.a. Ross MacDonald), Millar takes a more conceptual approach to her mysteries. In Beast in View, my first Millar, she hides the mystery in plain sight, but I still fell right into her trap. In The Listening Walls, she ties up her mystery nicely with a bow, only to have hidden a needle right there in the knot for unsuspecting readers to prick themselves. But I felt the greatest enthusiasm for Wives and Lovers. If one were to take the vast world of noir fiction at face value, the world must be a terribly murderous place, and private detective one of its most common occupations. But Millar appears to have gleefully set for herself the task of writing a noir novel without a noir crime or detective. She pulls it off beautifully, with the potential for crime constantly simmering beneath the surface throughout this classic California tale of an estranged married couple. If the five works I’ve now read are any indication, the corpus of Millar’s literary output, taken together, may also rank among the great literary vivisections of marriage. 

Book spines of the five volume Collected Works of Margaret Millar

The File on H, Ismail Kadare
David Bellos/Jusuf Vrioni, translators, The Harvill Press
This, my first foray with Kadare, whose reputation precedes him, turned me into a fan.  While the book’s title calls to mind Kafka, and its subject is the paranoid surveillance state under Hoxha’s Albania, the “H” of the title surprises: it’s ancient Greek poet Homer. Kadare’s inspiration for this short novel came from his encounter with Alfred Lord, who recounted to the writer the experiences he and fellow scholar Milman Perry had while traveling through Albania in the 1930’s to record oral poets who were the improbable last vestige of the Homeric oral tradition. Kadare’s novel juxtaposes a fascinating exploration of this tradition as carried out by his fictional stand-ins Max Ross and Bill Norton, two Irish scholars from Harvard who hole up in a rural inn with a tape recorder, and the state’s paranoid suspicion that the two are spies. At once hilarious and a serious examination of the roots of Western literature, The File on H is also marked by Kadare’s utter fearlessness; few writers among the many brave souls who have stood up to dictatorship have done so with such intelligence and unmasked derision. A delight and a revelation, one that, with its interest in recording of disappearing cultural production, paired nicely with Antonio Tabucchi’s Et enfin septembre vint

The Swedish Cavalier, Leo Perutz 
John Brownjohn, translator, Arcade Publishing
Another eastern European writer I discovered this year is Leo Perutz, author of superlative novels of adventure and imagination that take place in obscure corners of history. I hadn’t heard of him, but the Czech-Austrian writer had garnered high praise from writers as diverse as Graham Greene and Jorge Luis Borges. I read four of Perutz’s works, starting with the one I most admired, The Swedish Cavalier, a richly atmospheric adventure story of a thief and a nobleman during the 18th century’s First Silesian War, and that includes a concealed identity conceit suggestive of The Count of Monte Cristo and Janet Lewis’ The Wife of Martin Guerre. Yet the insertion of improbable, mystical elements puts Perutz’s work in an entirely different realm, one that certainly explains Borges’ attraction. These are adventure tales of high caliber: intelligent, immersive, surprising.

Götz and Meyer, David Albahari 
Ellen Elias-Bursać, translator, Harcourt
Earlier this year, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau blog featured an invaluable list of selected works concerning the Holocaust. Among them was Götz and Meyer, by Serbian writer David Albahari. Albahari limits his scope to a small dark corner of the Shoah, the use of gas trucks as literal vehicles for extermination. Daringly, he focuses his attention on two drivers of one of these trucks and their terrible daily task of hooking up the tube to recycle exhaust into the back of the truck, into which men, women and children had been crammed, and then having to pull the bodies out once the truck had reached its destination. Grim work and grim reading, unimaginable, yet Albahari is interested in how people could perform such work, how they transform into mere functionaries, the psychological barriers they must erect to treat human beings with such utter disregard. An extremely powerful work, one kept aloft by a steady ironic tone that renders Götz and Meyer as figures at once tragic and comic, monstrous and terribly banal.

Rapport sur moi, Grégoire Bouillier (in French; currently unavailable in English)
Éditions Allia
This exquisitely written slim memoir/bildungsroman recounts the Algerian-born Bouillier’s tumultuous youth in the outskirts of Paris and his attempts to come to grips with the calamities of an extraordinarily, extravagantly outsized family dysfunction. Bouillier’s short, staccato-like paragraphs detailing his emergence from a childhood of violent and ferocious tendencies into his own formation as a writer are rapid-fire, fierce, shocking, at times laugh-out-loud funny. Looking for information on the author after finishing the book, I was startled to learn that he’d been the man behind the break-up-by-email missive sent to French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, who then turned the communication into her highly amusing installation Take Care of Yourself, in which Calle invited 107 women (including “two made of wood and one made of feathers”) to interpret and explain the letter in whatever form they wished. Following up Rapport sur moi with Bouillier’s comic novel The Mystery Guest (read in English translation), I was equally startled to find Calle figuring prominently in the story as the narrator’s former lover, chosen to invite one “mystery guest” (the narrator) to a glamorous annual dinner. I suspect that these two extremely talented artists may be delighting in elaborate and impressive mutual jokes.

Les Ritals, François Cavanna (in French; currently unavailable in English)
Le Livre de Poche
Another childhood memoir, Les Ritals, by Cavanna, co-founder of the notorious French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, came to my attention thanks to an enthusiasm for Fernet Branca by the French-Italian daughter of a friend in Paris who read aloud to me Cavanna’s memorable description of the liqueur. Struck by the language, I asked her about the book, which she kindly gave me to help cultivate my knowledge of French idioms and slang. Les Ritals (1978) proved a coup a lot stronger than Fernet Branca, and if I’d had this book when I was first learning French god knows what I’d be speaking now. In Les Ritals, Cavanna recounts his childhood and adolescence during the 1920’s and 1930’s in the Italian community of Nogent-sur-Marne, just east of Paris’ Parc de Vincennes. A natural raconteur, Cavanna relates his anecdotes in a casual, energetic, irreverent style, displaying a capacious memory that lovingly recalls “all those little annoying details that make one feel right at home.” This is one funny book, but also one that occasionally turns to its darker historical context: the shadow of Mussolini. But for me the book’s chief enjoyment lay in the purpose for which I’d been given it. I found it a treasure trove of invaluable cultural references, such as a discourse on the convoluted conventions for counting ronds and sous and francs and thunes and measures of weight, ending in perhaps the most useful advice I’ve ever been given for approaching the perplexities of France: “Why? Because it was like that…no one was capable of explaining it.” Even more valuable were the idiomatic expressions and - mostly outdated but no less fascinating for that – vernacular terms, not to mention the linguistic delights Cavanna culls from the collision of French, Italian and admixtures of the two within his household. While this might sound like a daunting work for a non-native French speaker, Cavanna is encouraging; in a footnote regarding his father’s “Gvardez-moi ça,” Cavanna comments: “’Regardez-moi ça, obviously. You’ve understood, right? Don’t count on me to translate every little thing. If I, a poor little child, could understand, then you should be able to do as much."



After She Left, Richard Brickner
Henry Holt and Company
Searching for information on The Story of Harold, the cult classic by Terry Andrews (a.k.a George Selden Thompson), I stumbled upon only a single review from the time the book had been published - perhaps because few reviewers in 1974 were willing to touch a novel in which a famous children’s book writer also happens to be a suicidal, bisexual S&M adventurer. Writing in the New York Times, Richard Brickner generously commented that Andrews’ novel was “a work about almost everything important that happens between people,” which was enough to pique my curiosity about Brickner himself. Brickner had been a beloved creative writing teacher and had written a few novels of his own as well as a memoir of living as a paraplegic following a terrible accident at age 20. After She Left (1988) is a beautifully executed psychological novel, a subtle take on Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady transposed into 1970’s New York and to a young woman wrestling with the her mother’s having abandoned husband and child during the war only to perish in China helping Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I can think of few novels I’ve read – including James’ own – that enter so penetratingly into the tensions between independence and relationship/marriage, or that so well dissect the psychological scars that can govern the direction of a life. This is a fine, overlooked American work ripe for re-issue (I’m looking to you, NYRB).

Carnival of Crime: The Best Mystery Stories of Frederic Brown
Southern Illinois University Press
When I was about 10 years old I went nuts over a two-page story entitled “Wide O.” In it a woman at home alone listening to the radio panics when an alert about an escaped murderer in the vicinity is broadcast. Nervously, she goes around making sure the doors and windows are tightly locked up. The story ends with her feeling a draft, wandering into the kitchen, and asking herself, “Now how could I have left that back door wide o-“. This was not, to my knowledge, a Frederic Brown story, but it’s wholly in the vein of the tales collected in Carnival of Crime. I only wish I’d discovered Brown back then; I could just envision the delirious titillation such tales would have provoked in me at such an early age. Even as an adult I still felt sucker-punched by some of Brown’s twisted endings; the mystery stories in Carnival of Crime work almost like long jokes with morbid punch lines, almost always a surprise revelation, a point of shock. Brown’s output ranged from mysteries to horror to fantasy to science fiction (the latter including a story adopted for a “Star Trek” episode). Amazingly, I have Primo Levi to thank for my first encounter with Brown; Levi included  one of the author’s science fiction stories in The Search for Roots. Not long after finishing Carnival of Crime, I heard tittering laughter coming from the next room and poked my head around the corner to find my spouse curled up with Brown’s collection. She looked up and asked, “What is this demented thing?” A carnival indeed.

Honorable mentions: 

Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, by Otto Dov Kulka, one of the most affecting books I’ve read about Auschwitz/Birkenau, from a writer incarcerated there as a boy; 

Holocaust, Charles Reznikoff’s exceptionally raw and direct poems addressing the Shoah;

Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la Nuit, a strange set of prose poems exploring the psychological terrain between Rembrandt’s refinement and Jacques Callot’s depictions of violence, between the elegant and the tenebrous, which led Bertrand’s little book to have a powerful influence on subsequent French writers and artists, particularly Baudelaire and Ravel;

Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House (thanks to Wuthering Expectations’ posts about the book);

Patti Smith’s poet-detective dream rumination Year of the Monkey, which uses dreams, the altarpiece of Ghent and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, among other things, as touchstones for her own wanderings about the west during the year she turns 70;

Fire, by George Stewart, which I started reading just before California’s terrible November fires and which, despite being rather dated, offers some exciting and intense depictions of what it’s like when humans engage natural calamity;

Abundant Beauty, selections from the travel diaries of extraordinary Victorian botanical artist Marianne North; and

A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes, a reread, because I cannot seem to get enough of this audacious, splendid book.


Dear thanks to all who stopped by seraillon in 2019, and felicitous reading in the new year! 

Ellen Cantor, from Prior Pleasures


9 comments:

  1. What a great list of books! I particularly like the sound of the Kadare book. His "Broken April" is one of my favourites, but I haven't read The File on H. It's interesting to hear that it takes on the Hoxha regime, because I saw Kadare speak once in London and he was quite self-critical about the compromises he made with the regime. I wrote about it here: https://andrewblackman.net/2009/03/ismail-kadare-and-dissent/.

    Anyway, thanks for introducing me to some great books, and happy reading in 2020!

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  2. Thanks Andrew, not least for the link to your Kadare post. As Max said about The File on H in his comment to that post, it may take place in the 1930's but its subversion worked in Kadare's present. Some of the comments about the local potentates - thinly veiled stand-ins for Hoxha et al - are so scouring as to be almost shocking in their directly aimed take-downs of the dictatorship. It also amazed me to see Kadare using the same kind of authorial distancing that authors empllyed in works from centuries before in order to evade the (potentially fatal) wrath of authorities and inquisitors.

    Happy reading to you too in 2020!

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  3. I've finally gotten round to reading this blog post and your two previous ones, and I'm glad I have read them. What a treasure trove of authors and titles. I had no idea Sardinian literature is so rich. There was a surge of enthusiasm for Deledda in France last year, but I think she was billed as an Italian writer, not so much as specifically Sardinian. You've definitely got me interested in Italian and Sardinian literature.
    Congratulations on making me think I should perhaps one day consider re-reading Paul et Virginie, which I certainly remembered as quite twee when I read it years ago. I enjoyed the Kadaré too, the Bartol less so (an issue with the French translation, I think), and I have the Albahari on my shelves.
    I haven't read anything by Perutz yet, but I have a feeling it might be a bit similar to Jan Potocki's Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse (which I have to admit I also haven't read yet). Do you know that book?
    Wishing you a pleasant new year of reading and (where time allows) sharing.

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  4. Thanks for your kind comments. Deledda is certainly worth reading and deeply Sardinian. I plan to read a couple more of her novels this year. I recall that you had the Bartol and was curious to know what you thought of it. I worried quite a bit at the beginning about what struck me as a fairly typical Orientalism, but got completely swept up by Bartol's constantly upending expectations and zeroing on on a complex but monstrous (and relevant) central character.

    Paul et Virginie appealed to me partly because of the 250-year-old gap between Bernardin's apparent intentions and how they come across today. I mean some of it just made me laugh out loud. The ship scene towards the end is bathetic and risible at the same time. But I also found it a well-told tale and enormously entertaining both on the merits and on reading it, as a modern reader, aslant. And of course following it up with Daphnis and Chloe (which I highly, highly recommend) was a revelation.

    I have a copy of the Potocki - picked up at a second-hand book sale - but I haven't read it yet either. So maybe I should do that this year.

    Happy reading to you too in 2020!

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  5. Report on Myself is actually available in English. I wanted to read that after reading Bouillier's The Mystery Guest, but never got around to it. In a way the novel became an unintended prequel to Sophie Calle's performance art.

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    1. Thanks, Rise, for the update that Report on Myself is available in English. I see Bouillier has a new trilogy out too, Le Dossier sur M, which is apparently a nearly 900 page dissection of a romantic relationship - and which features a thinly-veiled Sophie Calle.

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  6. A fascinating selection of books, Scott. As wide-ranging and eclectic as I've come to expect from your previous selections!

    I'm glad you found Anniversaries so rewarding. And it's interesting to hear that it has almost as much to say about America as it does about Germany - I don't think I had grasped that from reading other reviews and reflections on the series.

    The Millar catches my eye too. As I think you know, I've read a couple of Millar's mysteries in the last year or two - including The Listening Walls, which you mention here. Wives and Lovers sounds terrific too, so I'm going to make a note of it for future reference. Also, book envy of the highest order - those illustrated spines are so beautiful!

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    1. Dear Jacqui, thanks for your comment from - a month ago! That shows how much I've been paying attention here. Anyway, I am glad you found some things to like in the post. And yes, Anniversaries is among other things a great New York novel and also one of the best depictions of foreigners encountering the U.S. that I've ever read.

      Those Millar books are enticing, aren't they? I have just one volume - a gift - but took that photo in a bookshop that had the whole set. Wives and Lovers is just terrific - thinking about right now I want to read it again - if you can find a first edition, that cover is pretty great too.

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