Jeanette Winterson “The Gap of Time”

“Then a plague plagued the city and some meddling oracle announced that the plague would never end, ever end unless the killer of the dead old king was found. They had no idea about viruses in those days. Plagues were sent from the gods.”
“They said that about AIDS. Even I knew it was a stupid thing to say and I’m no doctor.”
“One thing you notice about progress, kid, is that it doesn’t happen to everyone.”

Winterson’s book read for the “Roman De Rochefort” is a version of “The Winter’s Tale” set in the modern day but keeping the main drivers which are jealousy, pride, remorse and finally forgiveness. The two central characters in the initial actions of the book, Leontes, King of Sicilia and his childhood friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia are replaced by Leo Kaiser, a successful investment banker, an alpha male, “Men in Leo’s position had personal assistants who could moonlight as super models in their celery and cottage cheese lunch breaks”and by Xeno, a sensitive computer games writer who at school had had a homosexual relationship with Leo and to whom women were attracted:

Leo was playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and shouting at the console when Xeno came in and threw a banana skin at the screen.
“Hey!” said Leo. “What’s with you?”
“Gaming is the best technology mated with prehistoric levels of human development,” said Xeno. “It’s all cars, fights, theft, risk, girls and reward.”
Leo couldn’t see the problem. That was his real life exactly. Why should a game be any different?
“Women don’t play because it bores them,” said Xeno. “So that’s half your potential market gone”

Hermione, Leonte’s wife is replaced by Mimi a French American singer, songwriter who feels comfortable in the company of Xeno. The story follows closely the original with some interesting finds, Leonte spies on his wife and Xeno using webcams, Xeno goes far away to New Bohemia, a former French colony, and as everyone’s life is torn to pieces by the jealousy of Leo, jealousy for both Mimi and for Xeno, the baby, Perdita, is sent by Leo to New Bohemia where to save her life as the man bringing her is about to be robbed she is put in a hospital baby hatch with the money Leo had sent and, there, discovered by Shep, a black widower who then brings her up.

I’ll not bore you with a blow by blow description of the book, it follows the original story, just to say that redemption is reached through forgiveness as in the original and that there are some great one liners as in the original quote as Autolycus explains the story of Oedipus to Perdita’s stepbrother, Clo.

If you haven’t read or seen the Winter’s Tale, well then this is an easy modern telling, including some explanations about the transposition.

First Published in English as “The Gap of Time” in 2016 by Hogarth.
Translated into French by Céline Leroy and published as “La Faille du temps” in 2019 by Buchet-Chastel

The quotes in French

“Et voilà qu’un fléau s’abat sur la ville et qu’un oracle confus annonce que ça ne s’arrangera pas tant qu’on n’aura pas retrouvé le meurtrier du vieux roi.
Ils ne connaissaient rien aux virus à l’époque. Pour eux, la peste était une punition des dieux.”
“Ils ont aussi dit ça du SIDA. Même moi je sais que c’est débile, et pourtant je suis pas médecin”
“Le truc avec le progrès, gamin, c’est qu’il n’arrive pas à tout le monde”.

Les hommes de la stature de Leo avaient des assistantes personnelles qui travaillaient au noir comme top-modèles pendant leur pause déjeuner à base de céleri et de fromage zéro pour-cent.

Leo jouait à ‘Grand Theft Auto’ et hurlait après la console quand eno entra dans la pièce et envoya une peau de banane sur l’écran.
“Hého! Qu’est-ce qui te prend?”fit Leo.
“Le gaming, c’est le meilleur de la technologie allié à un stade préhistorique du développement humain”, rétorqua Xeno. “On n’y trouve que des voitures, de la violence, du vol, du risque, des filles et des récompenses.”
Leo ne voyait pas de problème. C’était la copie conforme de sa vie. Pourquoi un jeu vidéo devrait-il être différent?
“Les femmes ne jouent pas parce qu’elles s’ennuient. On perd donc une moitié du marché potentiel.”

Blake Morrison ‘The Executor’

To a cuckold:

Miles mate, you don’t know me and if you did you wouldn’t like me and if you knew what I get up to with your misses you’d like me even less. But honest, I’m doing you a favour, haven’t you noticed how sweet and attentive she’s become? How she sings when cooking supper and never complains when you spend Sundays at the golf course? She’s lost weight too and looks younger, why be jealous? It’s me who endures her guilt and remorse whereas with you she’s happily luxurious. The key to a good marriage is adultery you see, every husband needs a louse to warm the bed for him every Union a bastard like me. So when you find out and come looking for me, don’t bring a knife bring a thank you present. The day she stops betraying you is the day your problems begin.

Matt Holmes, à journalist on the book pages has his annual lunch with his friend and twenty years his senior, the Poet Robert Pope, “the bow-tied poet”. Pope asks him to be his executor in the event of his death to which Holmes, without giving it too much thought agrees. Soon after Pope dies unexpectedly and the story unfolds in two timelines, as the narrator, Holmes relates the present day and also his relationship with Robert Pope. Holmes’ first surprise comes at the funeral when Louis, Popes literary agent tells Matt that Pope had asked him to be his executor a few months after he had made the request to Matt who is left feeling unwanted, but things are soon cleared up:

I got the call at the office a couple of weeks after the funeral, only Marie phones my extension everyone else e-mails so it took me a moment to grasp who the caller was, “What do you mean both of us?” I said.
“It’s common enough” Louis said “after we talked at the wake I realised that’s what he’d probably done, I tried to find you to say so but you’d rushed off. I spoke with his solicitor yesterday the will was straight forward, he left everything to Jill the codicil concerns his literary remains, nice phrase eh? he named us as joint executors, officially I’m general executor and you’re literary executor, but in effect we’ll be acting together.”
“You sound dubious?”
“I’m just surprised, I assumed he’d dropped me.”
“Well I’m glad he didn’t, my role is to sell his work, I’ve not the expertise to sort through the manuscripts”.
“I’m no scholar either.”
“Well he trusted you, he knew you’d do it well. There might not be much to do, he told me he’d written nothing since his last collection.”

In the present day, Matt advances then slowly as Popes office is at Jill, his frosty and wary widow’s home where Matt is ill equipped emotionally to deal with Jill but where Matt’s wife Marie seems to understand her and enables Matt to slowly find the right tone, but initially finds no new material. In the past he relates how they met when Pope was a lecturer an Brandon, an american university, and Holmes was studying there, they hit if off, with Pope telling him of a girl Corrine, he had fallen for but who had left him and of the late age he had lost his virginity. Soon after Holmes comes back to London, he tells us of the return of the energetic, city loving Pope, a contrast to the older suburbs living Pope:

His poems began to appear in journals and within months to my amazement and envy he got some reviewing work too, editors liked his fearlessness, he was the new kid on the block, cudgel in hand ready to take on the old guys.
“It helps that I don’t know anyone.” he said “once you’re friends with other writers you’re sunk.”
I was unpublished and didn’t count, but writers can’t make a living without contacts, and though he continued claiming not to know anyone, people got to know him, editors, publishers, radio producers.
“I’m enjoying my fifteen minutes” he said, stressing his lack of credentials failed PhD student, second rate academic, wannabe poet.

As the story then progresses, Holmes slowly discovers unpublished poems hidden away in other documents that cast his friend in another and as yet unforeseen light, as a misogynist and a predator of women, illustrated by the opening poem. Was he serially unfaithful to Jill, was it possible to write these poems with such apparent feeling without having lived these events?

The conflict within the story is then centred around Jill, fiercely fighting to keep the exiting vision of Robert Pope, and Matt trying to as best as possible carry out the will of his friend and to publish his works, and what if there were more to these poems than we imagined?

A clever story that keeps the readers interest and an ending in keeping with the mood of the book.

First Published in English as “The Executor” in 2018 by Vintage.

Jonathan Coe ‘Middle England’

‘She couldn’t stand politicians,’ Colin said, bringing some subterranean train of thought to the surface, and not needing to specify who he meant by ‘she’. He spoke in a low voice, thick with regret and repressed emotion. ‘Thought they were all as bad as each other. All on the fiddle, every one of them. Fiddling their expenses, not declaring their interests, holding down half a dozen jobs on the side …’ Benjamin nodded, while remembering that in fact it was Colin himself, not his late wife, who was obsessed with the venality of politicians.

Jonathan Coe has chosen the Trotter Family and their Birmingham base from his previous books, The Rotters Club and The Closed Circle, as the medium to study Pre and early Post Brexit Britain, the latent differences between the Leavers and the Remainers, that were waiting to be cleaved open. The opening quote from Colin Trotter, Benjamin Trotters father, maybe in his eighties, is of course something you can hear in any democracy in the world, squeaky clean is rare and of course this sort of resentment is like dry tinder.

Basically the fifty somethings in this book were not too interested or informed, typified by Benjamin who was too interested in his own navel and too timid to even have an opinion or his friend Doug, a freelance journalist who writes articles under severe time pressure, even his 16 year old daughter Coriander can see he is out of touch with what is happening in the country. But amongst all of the strands in this book, The Brexit story and its strife is carried by Sophie Trotter, Benjamin’s niece, in her early thirties and the man she chooses to marry, Ian who she meets on a driving training course after being caught speeding. This was never going to be a straightforward marriage. After Ian is injured in the Birmingham riots and Sophie drives his mother to the hospital, the tooothpaste is let out of the tube. Yes there is rascism, and resentment but maybe only that:

“Where will it end Sophie where will it all end this dreadful business end”?
Of course Sophie knew what she meant by this dreadful business but it was the middle of a quiet Saturday afternoon in august they were driving along the A435 not far from the Wivel roundabout and the sun shone placidly on the roofs of cars, the traffic signs, the petrol stations, the hedgerows, the pubs, the garden centres, the convenience stores, all the familiar landmarks of modern England. It was hard at that moment to see the world as a dreadful place or a very inspiring one for that matter, she was about to formulate some bland response, oh you know, life goes on , these things blow over after a while, when Helena added
“He was quite tight you know rivers of blood, he was the only one brave enough to say it”.
Sophie froze when she heard these words and the platitudes died on her lips. The silence that opened up between her and Helena was fathomless now, here it was after all the subject that wouldn’t, couldn’t be discussed the subject that provided people more than any other, mortified people more than any other, because to bring it up was to strip off your own clothes, and tear off the other persons clothes and to be forced to stare at each other naked, unprotected with no way of averting your eyes any reply she made to Helena at this moment, any reply that showed her own differing views would immediately mean confronting the unspeakable truth that sophie and everyone like her, and Helena and everyone like her, might be living cheek by jowl in the same country but they also lived in different universes and these universies were separated by a wall infinitely high, impermeable, a wall built out of fear and suspicion and even perhaps those most English of all qualities shame and embarrassment. Impossible to face this, the only practical thing to do was to ignore it, but for how long was that practical in fact?

Both Sophie and Ian suffer career setbacks, Ian, an alpha male loses out on a promotion to a woman, an Asian woman and he fosters resentment, a feeling of having had something that should have been his taken away by the PC crowd. Sophie is called out on Twitter by Coriander for something seemingly innocent telling a transgender student who had dithered on an essay between two choices, that she couldn’t make her mind up. Sophie was suspended pending an investigation, as Ian says Guilty until proven innocent. Ian and his mother cannot understand that Sophie is not bitter about this. And the added pressure of The Brexit debate tears their marriage apart, or was it always going to end this way:

Their relationship councillor Lorna told them that many of the couples she was seeing at the moment had mentioned Brexit as a key factor in their growing estrangement. Now I usually start by asking each of you the same question. Sophie, why are you so angry that Ian voted leave and Ian why are you so angry that Sophie voted remain? Sophie had thought for a long time before answering, I suppose because it makes me think that as a person he’s not as open as I thought he was, that his basic model for a relationship comes down to antagonism and competition not cooperation. Lorna had nodded and turned to Ian who said it makes me think that she’s very naive that she lives in a bubble and can’t see how other people around her might have a different opinion to hers and this gives a certain attitude an attitude of moral superiority. To which Lorna had said, what’s interesting about both those answers is that neither of you mentioned politics.

A long and relatively verbiose book, but you know what you’re getting when you buy a Coe. This book is maybe the analysis needed to begin the slow process of being able to live together, having different opinions and who knows, respecting opposite points of view. But don’t hold your breath.

First Published in English as “Middle England” in 2019 by Penguin Books Ltd.

Blake Crouch ‘Recursion’

“One morning, about a month ago, instead of my home in Middlebury, Vermont, I was suddenly in an apartment here in the city, with a stabbing pain in my head and a terrible nosebleed. At first, I had no idea where I was. Then I remembered . . . this life too. Here and now, I’m single, an investment banker, I live under my maiden name. But I have . . .”—she visibly braces herself against the emotion—“ memories of my other life in Vermont. I was a mother to a nine-year-old boy named Sam. I ran a landscaping business with my husband, Joe Behrman. I was Ann Behrman. We were as happy as anyone has a right to be.”

Blake Crouch’s near future fiction is a study of human reactions to the question; if I could go back in time and take different options that would change my life by my actions, but also the lives of others in uncontrolled ways, would I? This is no digital experience with a fast forward, if you go back then you have to actually live all of that time again. And finally what happens when you reach the present day and the two time lines coincide? And of course who would want to obtain the method of time travel and to what ends would they be prepared to go to, to obtain it?

As the story begins, Barry, a cop in homicide is first on the scene at a potential suicide and tries, unsuccessfully, to talk a jumper down from the Manhattan rooftop, a woman as illustrated in the opening quote, amongst a growing number that seem to be suffering from a new condition, False Memory Syndrome, where people suddenly seem to awake with particularly clear and emotionally deep memories of lives they have never lived. Détective Barry Sutton’s life, a wreck, has been going downhill since the death of his daughter, hit by a car, years earlier.:

The second thread of the story concerns a neuroscientist, Helena Smith, who has been working on an underfunded project to work on memory to specifically help dementia sufferers and who is contacted by a mysterious extremely rich benefactor that seems to know a great deal about her work:

Day 79 Living on Slade’s decommissioned oil rig is like getting paid to stay at a five-star resort that also happens to be your office. She wakes each morning on the superstructure’s top level, where all the crew quarters are located. Hers is a spacious corner apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows made of rain-repellant glass. They atomize water droplets so that even in the worst weather, her view of the endless sea remains unobstructed. Once a week, housekeepers clean her apartment and take out her laundry. A Michelin-starred chef prepares most meals, often using fresh-caught fish, and fruit and vegetables harvested from the greenhouse. Marcus insists that she exercise five days a week to keep her spirits up and her mind sharp. There’s a gym on the first level, which she uses when the weather is bad, and on the rare calm days of winter, she goes running on the track that circumnavigates the platform. She loves those runs the most, because it feels like she’s doing laps at the top of the world. Her research lab is 10,000 square feet—the entire third floor of the Fawkes Station superstructure—and she has made more progress in the last ten weeks than during her entire five-year stint at Stanford. Anything she needs, she gets. There are no bills to pay, no relationships to maintain. Nothing to do but single-mindedly pursue her research.

As the two threads come together and Helena and Barry meet, so begins a sort of “Groundhog day” as Helena with Barry’s help try to regain control of her work which, unbeknown to her, she had lost before the story began.

A “pleasant” story.

First Published in English as “Recursion” in 2019 by Macmillan.

Paul Lynch ‘Grace’

They stand in the yard of an abandoned farmhouse that shapes its gloom over a barren garden, a feeling of emptiness like presence. She wonders why an elm has had its bark stripped to head height and sees another just like it. Colly says, this was a house of tree eaters, I told you this was going on.

Grace, a story of the famine as if you were, there tells the story of Grace’s survival, read for the Roman De Rochefort. This book covers several themes, why was there a famine, who starved and why, and what are people capable of when faced with hunger. As the story begins, Grace, a young, girl of twelve, is living with her subsistence farming mother and siblings in a hut in The Black Mountains in Donegal. The potato harvest has failed and Grace doesn’t fully grasp what is to come as the landlord’s rent collector will want a rent that cannot be payed. Her mother Sarah with her daughter’s survival in mind, and a mouth less to feed at home, dresses her as a boy and sends her to do whatever work a friend of her ex-husband can find for her:

Sarah…produces cloth to bind Grace’s chest, stops and says, you’ve no need of it. Hands her a man’s shirt that swallows her. It smells like rocks pulled from a river. She holds the breeches in front of her and studies them. The fawn fabric is patched tan at the knees. She thinks, they look like a dog has had them for slumber. From whom did they come? Into the first leg she steps and then the other and she looks down at herself—such a sight, wishbone legs snapped loose into two gunnysacks. The breeches go past her ankles. Sarah rolls the ends up, stands behind her and loops the waist with string. A jacket that stinks of rained-on moss. A frieze coat ravelly about the neck and yawning at the elbow. I might as well be wearing jute. Sarah whispers. Here. Put on your boots. And try this cap. Your brother’s cap is too small for you. Pull it lower. Plenty of boys go about dressed in a father’s old clothing. Grace stands staring past the door at the world held starless by a flat dark. Leg-skin strange in these breeches and the cold whittling her head. Sarah hands her a candle and the light falls from her mother’s face so that it seems she is not herself, stands masked to her own daughter. She fusses over Grace, puts a satchel over her shoulder, rolls up the sleeves of the jacket. Then she looks towards the sleeping children, holds Grace with a long look, and whispers. Get to the town and don’t dally on the mountain road. Ask for Dinny Doherty and tell him you are your brother. He has always been kind to us.

As Grace leaves in the quiet of early morning, to avoid the rent collector, her younger brother, Colly, runs after her and whilst fishing with his hands falls in the river and drowns. As she then moves on from situation to situation, Colly’s voice follows with her as a counterpoint to her own survival decisions, telling her about the characters of the people she meets and helping her to survive.

At one job, Grace finds an abandoned hut where she tries to create a normality of life but is saved from a man, that has recognised her as a girl and followed her to her hut, by Bart, a small one armed man from the same work group who has learned to survive by his skill with knives. Grace and Bart then take to the road:

Of a sudden she knows what he is and what he is not. He turns without word and starts for the path without her. She stares at the path and stares at the dying man, another body left lying about and you’ll be the one who has to take care of it and maybe you’d be safer with this knife fighter. Wait! she shouts. She goes into the cabin and bundles her blanket and belongings. When she steps out of the house the dead man has gone. She says, what did you do with him? He says, I did nothing with him. So where is he gone? He got up and ran off. I thought he was dying.

The themes of who and why are examined as two separate worlds seem to coexist as Grace and Bart walk south along the roads, of the rich landowners in their protected estates who grow varied cash crops and corn, and of the poor, for whom potatoes is the only crop capable of producing enough calories to survive on their small plots, whose crops have failed, like Grace taken to the roads in search of food, work or charity:

Every flour cart on the road has been accompanied by soldiers. And in these great vales of Tipperary, the farming estates are sometimes as big as a town. They meet villages where the gardens are tended, the houses fashioned and slated. The great fields of corn giving to the world their color. How they crane their necks towards the flashing scythes. And yet there are the townlands you must go through with shut eyes, where grass grows over the doorways, where the fields learn color only from the sun. The have-it-alls and the have-nothings, Bart says. I give it a year before the country splits apart.

As winter turns to spring, somehow Bart and Grace have survived when so many about them have died, often in ditches at the sides of the roads as the people have become too weak to fight or resist:

They have tunneled through dark into this town called Ennis. Scavengers on the streets like stunned crows. The town watched over by buildings that might be flour mills. She thinks she will always remember the look of the fever hospital, the fright-shapes in the dark by the gates waiting to get in. Bart stops and leans out of breath against a wall. They find a place to sleep on the edge of town, some old forge, she thinks, though it might have been a baker’s once. There are other rough sleepers who speak in coughs.

Grace, Bart and a friend of Bart’s, McNutt, take to robbing the speeding coaches of the rich rushing up and down the same roads where the poor are dying in the ditches, or some of the less well protected houses, to survive whilst living in the hills. And then one day, thirteen long months from the start of the ordeal it happens, harvest comes and the potatoes are once again rotten, another year like the last is ahead of them, except that people are now already starving. Huts, farms and whole villages are now empty with people often lying dead in their huts with no one left to discover them, illustrated by the opening quote.

Slowly now the strong and the survivors weaken and die, including Bart and McNutt, and progressively Colly entirely takes over Grace as the survival instinct causes her to do the unimaginable:

that’s another dead-cart gone past and see what is on it—you will be on it soon no I will not yes you will—and do you know why those men are digging they are digging at meat that grows in the ground—you are not dead yet—yes you are—no you are not—soon unless you do something you must—hee! Tell no one—tell no one who is to know, wait until night like those others you saw in the dark and now it is dark and crawl so yes I will—not crawling walking crawling careful careful in case somebody sees—hee!—shovel hands—hee!—shoveling hands—who is that laughing sounds like Grace—Grace is dead—no she is not she is waiting in the house—it is a dog, a dog laughing—the dog is here for the meat also—how to bring this meat to Grace—it is not meat—it is meat—meat does not grow in the ground—is meat—isn’t—who will know anyhow—you won’t even know if you don’t think about it—dark and nobody is watching—to live is to die and to die is to live who said that—what silliness. Digging fingers meet the meat that lies under cloth—rip cloth—meat on the bone is meat in your hand will taste of mud and dead will it not and so what—the body won’t know what it’s eating, the body won’t care—nobody will know—

Grace is however found in the bottom of a pit of dead bodies and saved but no longer speaks. This is a harrowing story of deprivation, with whole villages of the poorer people being wiped from the map.

First Published in English as “Grace” in 2017 by Little, Brown and company.

The quotes in French

Ils s’arrêtent dans la cour d’une ferme à l’abandon dont la silhouette sombre domine un jardin désolé. La sensation de vide a la force d’une présence. Grace s’étonne de voir un orme dont l’écorce a été arrachée à hauteur d’homme, et en voit une deuxième un peu plus loin, exactement pareil. Les gens de cette maison étaient des mangeurs d’arbres, lui dit Colly, je t’avais que ça existait.

Sarah…lui présente un morceau de toile pour se bander la poitrine, constate aussitôt qu’elle n’en a pas besoin et lui fait enfiler une chemise d’homme qui engloutit son corps. Il s’en dégage une odeur de galet tiré de l’eau. Grace prend ensuite la culotte, qu’elle tient un moment devant elle pour mieux la détailler. Le tissu fauve porte aux genoux des empiècements brun foncé. On croirait qu’un chien a dormi dessus D’où peut-elle venir? Elle passe une jambe, puis l’autre, baisse les yeux pour considérer le résultat. Quelle horreur, ces deux brindilles qui semblent flotter dans des sacs de jute. Debout derrière sa fille, Sarah fait des revers à la culotte trop longue et resserre la taille avec une longueur de ficelle. Une veste aux relents de mousse imbibée de pluie. Un manteau qui arbore un col effrangé et bâille au niveau des coudes.
“Autant m’empaqueter dans de la toile à sac”.
“Mets ces bottes lui souffle Sarah, et essaie cette casquette celle de ton frère est trop petite pour toi. Baisse-la un peu sur le front Après tout, on voit des tas de garçons qui se promènent dans les vieilles frusques de leur père”.
Par la porte ouverte, Grâce regarde le monde plongé dans une obscurité unie, les étoiles effacées. Le frottement du pantalon agace la peau de ses jambes, le froid lui cisaille le crâne. Lorsque Sarah lui donne sa bougie, la clarté en s’éloignant d’elle semble poser sur ses traits un masque qui la dérobe à sa fille, la transforme en une autre. Elle s’empresse après Grace, ajuste la sangle de la besace à son épaule, retrousse les manches de la veste. Son regard embrasse les garçons assoupis, s’attarde un long moment sur sa fille. “Marche jusqu’à la ville”, dit-t-elle, “et ne lambine pas en route. Là-bas, tu demanderas Dinny Doherty, et tu te feras passer pour ton frère. Il a toujours été bon avec nous”.

Devant le regard sidéré qu’il lui lance, elle comprend instantanément ce qu’il est et ce qu’il n’est pas. Se détournant sans un mot, il se dirige tout seul vers le sentier. Grace fixe un moment le chemin, puis l’homme a l’agonie, encore un corps abandonné dont elle sera obligée de s’occuper, peut-être serait-elle plus tranquille avec ce champion du couteau.
Attends-moi! Elle rentre rassembler ses affaires, improvise un balluchon avec sa couverture. Quand elle ressort, le mort a disparu.
Qu’est-ce que tu en a fait?
Rien du tout, je n’y ai pas touché.
Où il est passé, alors?
Il s’est relevé et il est parti en courant.
J’ai cru qu’il était à l’article de la mort.

Les charrettes chargées de farine étaient toutes accompagnées de soldats. Dans le comté de Tipperary, on trouve des propriétés de la taille d’une ville, et certains villages ont des jardins bien tenus et des maisons de belles dimensions, coiffées de toitures en ardoises. Les immenses champs de maïs donnent des couleurs au paysage, courbant l’échine sous les lames étincelantes des faux. Mais il existe aussi des villages que l’on préfère traverser les yeux fermés, avec leurs maisons aux seuils envahis d’herbes folles et leur champs qui ne connaissent pas d’autre couleur que la clarté du soleil. Ceux qui ont tout et ceux qui ont rien, résume Bart. Je parie que d’ici un an, le pays se sera déchiré.

Ils sont entrés dans la petite ville d’Ennis par un tunnel d’obscurité. Les rues y sont peuplées d’écumeurs qui ressemblent à des corbeaux hébétés. Grace est persuadée qu’elle n’oubliera jamais l’hôpital des contagieux, les silhouettes d’épouvante massées devant la grille, attendant d’être admises. À bout de souffle, Bart s’appuie contre un mur. À la sortie de la ville, ils trouvent un endroit où dormir – une forge à l’abandon, croit-elle reconnaître, mais peut-être est-ce une ancienne boulangerie. D’autres vagabonds couchent là, toussant au lieu de parler.

– encore une charrette des morts et vois ce qu’elle transporte – bientôt ce sera toi non pas moi mais je te dis que oui – tu sais pourquoi ces gens se sont mis à creuser ils cherchent la viande qui pousse sous terre – tu n’es pas encore morte – si tu l’es – non tu ne l’es pas – mais ça va venir si tu ne fais rien – hé! – mains pelles – hé! – pelles entre les mains – qui est ce qui rit on dirait Grace – ce n’est pas de la viande – non je te dis – personne n’en saura rien de toute façon – même toi tu n’en sauras rien il suffit de ne pas y penser – il fait noir et personne ne regarde – vivre c’est mourir et mourir c’est vivre qui a dit ça – quelle bêtise. Les doigts fouillent la terre et trouvent la viande sous le drap – drap déchiré – viande sur l’os et viande dans ta main elle va avoir un goût de boue et de mort tu ne crois pas et puis après – le corps ne saura pas ce qu’il mange? Le corps ça lui est bien égal – personne n’en saura rien

Peter Hannington ‘A Single Source’

Nawal tried to remember when she’d stopped being scared. A few weeks ago she would have turned tail at the sight of a police van–the smallest hint of trouble. 2B6816D8-026B-40D9-B167-8AC87892C425Now, when she heard sirens and the swell of noise coming from the other side of Tahrir, from close to the governing party headquarters, she shouldered her rucksack and practically ran in that direction.

In this story centred around the Arab spring in Tahrir Square, the second book by Peter Hannington, with the reporter William Carver at the centre, Hannington, an ex-BBC reporter himself tells us how big stories and scoops come together in the modern age where anyone with a smartphone can monitor events or report them. There are four themes  to this story, firstly the events in Tahrir Square where Carver, arriving ahead of the field, makes contact through a young girl on the hotel staff who helps him unofficially with translations with Nawal, an active participant in the events unfolding in the square, see the opening quote, but also a Twitter source:

@tsquarelawan New Cairo Hospital needs help. Anyone with blood type O please go. Big shortage of type O!

The second theme playing out in parallel is the story of Gabriel and Gebre, two Eritreans trying to join Europe where we meet them as they are talking with the first link in the chain of human smugglers who will cheat them along the way:

I told old Gabriel that I would treat you well; that the price he has paid will be the total price. I promised him this.’ Gebre studied Mr Adam. He wondered what this man’s promise was worth. ‘So, you two will not get the normal trip … you will get the VIP trip, you understand?

The third theme plays out in London between the permanent secretary to the defence minister and his press officer, Robert Mariscal, an ex-journalist and colleague of Carvers gone over to the dark side, payed to put spin on information for the press. And finally the fourth theme is Carver himself, the newshound, known for losing interest in any story that becomes mainstream.

When Nawal inadvertently tips off Carver to a story within the story concerning supplying the regime with a capability to fight the demonstrators, how much danger will this place her in? Just how far will The permanent secretary back the wealthy and influential  defence contractors through his press officer? Is Robert Mariscal now totally engaged in his role as a press officer despite his journalistic background.

In the modern day version of the slave trade that is people smuggling, some things don’t change and when the brothers learn that the smugglers are making money on more than one leg of their triangular trade, from Eritrea to Libya, from Libya to Egypt and from Egypt to Eritrea, what would it take for them to want to tell anyone?

And finally, how far is Carver prepared to go for a story risking not only his life but the lives of those associated to his scoop?

This story kept a realistic feel to it throughout, a readable thriller.

First Published in English as “A Single Source” in 2019 by Two Roads.
*** my translation

Idra Novey ‘Ways to Disappear’

When she finally emerged from Rio’s Galeão International Airport, she took in the familiar stink of armpits, car exhaust, and guavas that assaulted her as she stepped out of the baggage claim and the outside air pressed in…Already she could feel her dress adhering to her arms and lower back. After so much winter, the sticky sensation, the rising odours were glorious. To arrive in Rio was to remember that one had a body and brought it everywhere. Her cab driver had a body as well, much of it on display beneath his pink muscle shirt, all of it glistening with sweat.

The famous Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda is seen climbing into an almond tree with a suitcase and then dissapears at the beginning of this book by Idris Nova about the author and her young English translator, Emma Neufeld, which although written in English, is set in Brazil and so I am proposing this for the Spanish And Portuguese lit month. Emma having translated all of Beatriz’s works and remembers a prison warden climbing a tree in one of them decides to travel to Brazil and look for her. As always when she arrives the shock to her senses awakens her body as illustrated in the opening quote.

When she comes to Brazil, Emma always stays with Beatriz and this time as she arrives she finds Beatriz’s grown children Raquel and Marcus. Raquel is exasperated to see her and cannot understand why someone who has read everything she has written should presume to know her mother better than her, thinking that it was more important to know what she hadn’t written down. They quickly discover that Beatriz is persued by a loanshark due to an on line gambling habit.

As Emma meets up with the loanshark, quickly painted in a few brush strokes by Idra Novey, she quickly learns that he doesn’t quite understand the meager amount of money in play in translated literature:

Listen, he said to her breasts, fuck the story. You know what I want? I want the six hundred thousand fucking dollars she owes me. Okay? I know she’s broke. So you need to get the damn book from her. Whatever you get for it in your country, half a million is mine, and then I won’t have to kill her.

To underline the translating theme, the book is interspersed with definitions and dry humour examples from the text, such as the one below inspired by the previous quote:

PROMISE: From the late Middle English prom-is. First known use 15th century. 1. A declaration of what a person intends to do, which may correspond to what a person actually does, or may not. 2. A verb used to assure of a certain outcome, as in: With time, a translator gets used to promising the impossible the way a loan shark gets used to promising carnage.

We meet many other characters, including Beatriz’s Brazilian publisher in this successfully humorous book as Emma follows successive leads searching for Beatriz, who cannot afford to be found. A fun book that lived up to its hype (Oh, and Emma and the good looking Marcus….).

First Published in English as “Ways to Dissapear” in 2016 by Daunt Books