Marie Darrieussecq’s novel White received its first print run in France in 2003, and is set in what was then the future, 2015. As a result there’s a curious sense of being in a recognisable but slightly adrift parallel world, where a manned rocket is on its way to Mars, and phone calls take the form of holograms. It’s not far out, but just enough to add to the sense of being elsewhere – on Earth but not quite as we know it. Very appropriate given the novel’s frozen landscape.
The story opens with our two protagonists, Peter Tomson and Edmée Blanco travelling to one of the most inhospitable and hazardous places on Earth – Antarctica. Each has a role to play in keeping their colleagues safe; telecommunications engineer Edmée by providing the sanity of a link to home, and heating engineer Peter by ensuring the generator that keeps them from freezing to death doesn’t quite give up the ghost.
Talking of ghosts, Darrieussecq has taken the concept of an omniscient voice and given it new life by having the story told by the ghosts who populated the whitest of white places, from Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his ill-fated team, to the ancient echoes of our planets earliest elements. As a result, it’s as though we’re eavesdropping on our romantic leads’ thoughts, dropping from one tangent to another, and always with the backdrop of whiteness, blankness, where the separation between ice, sea and sky is barely discernable.
Dreams slew into consciousness, seeming as significant as waking ponderings, and at times it isn’t entirely clear when an impulse is being acted on, or merely mulled over. It is as though Darrieussecq is drawing a line beneath contemplation and deed, stating that each of these has equal value, and equal insignificance, in the grand scale of things.
Opening with an unsettling, misidentified smell, Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki immerses you deep in the moment, making use of every sense to evoke a tale that is at times sublime, at others disturbing.
It begins as a story of love and loss, and unfolds into something far more complex, where the life lived by Hinrich Schepp, a scholar of ancient Chinese languages, seems revealed to be almost utterly at odds with the one he remembers. A study in perception and the fallibility of memory, the novel examines of the way we rewrite our experiences as we go along, so that our past may be completely different to the past known even by our closest companions. Continue reading
This beautiful little book turned up in my Christmas stocking this year. As slim as it is, with wood engravings by Harry Brockway and an illuminating afterword by the author’s daughter, it really is a book to be savoured.
The story tells of a chance encounter the narrator has in a desolate, mostly treeless, landscape with a solitary shepherd. He watches the gentle man sort a pile of acorns. “As he did so he discarded those that were too small or had a tiny split; he examined them minutely.”
He then took his chosen acorns, dipped them in water and set out into the wilderness.
And so begins a slow, unfurling tale of a man who plants trees in their hundreds over the span of a lifetime. As the narrator gazes on in wonder, the man covers acres of arid land with seedlings that become saplings that gradually become a forest, altering the landscape, the climate and the temperament of the people who reside there.
Yes, a fable, and one to warm the heart, but, as the author’s daughter Aline reveals in her afterword, one that also gained life of its own. Apparently, readers of this story all over the world have believed it to the extent that wooded areas in countries from Finland to New Zealand have been attributed to a lone shepherd with a quiet, but steadfast, ambition. Continue reading
Writing the first paragraph of a novel is an artform in itself. At the very least it must intrigue the reader sufficiently to make them hunger for the remainder of the story, while setting the tone for the pages that follow.
Mr Darwin’s Gardener achieves this with unwavering audacity, opening with the sentence: ‘Edwin lopes along the road, picking his nose’, before spilling into the degenerate mockery of the jackdaws surveying the scene.
It’s an unconventional start that makes what follows – a drifting narrative that alights in the minds and thoughts of the residents of the Kent village of Downe – easier than you might expect to absorb and devour. Continue reading