Clfisha's Endless European Excursion

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Clfisha's Endless European Excursion

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Dez 26, 2011, 8:51 am

Hi. I have been on LT for a while and usually can be found loitering in the 11 in 11 Challenge group (or next year the 12 in 12). I have been toying joining this group for a while but have decided to take the plunge .. I do like challenges after all.. well I like starting them.

I read mostly dark, odd speculative fiction but I do branch out sometimes.. hopefully I shall find some weird Albanian fiction.

-No deadline as it will take me ages.
-Reviews will be cross posted in my other threads (100 book challenge for everything)
-Taking the country list on the next map and counting author nationality and setting. Oh but I am so adding England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island (but not Kernow, Isle of man or the Channel Islands) ;-) Unless I want to, I reserve the right to change my mind.
-Shorts, comics and epics are all allowed.
-Oh and I don't do star ratings just: Bad, Average, Good, Excellant and Amazing

Editado: Mar 15, 2013, 6:13 am

Editado: Jun 12, 2013, 5:15 am

Country List

Belgium - Bruges-la-morte by Georges Rodenbach
Czech Republic
England - Ghost Milk by Iain Sinclair
Estonia - Purge by Sofi Oksanen
Faroe Islands
France - Pure by Andrew Miller
Germany - The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
Italy - Death's Dark Abyss by Massimo Carlotto (bad 22/6)
Montenegro - The Coming by Andrej Nikolaidis
The Netherlands: The Vanishing or Het Gouden Ei by Tim Krabbe (excellent 30/9)
Northern Ireland
Norway - The Isle of 100,000 Graves by Jason
Russia - Metro 2033 by Dmitrij Gluchovskil (Good)
Serbia - The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht (Average 4/12)
Spain - Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist) (good 9/12)
Sweden - The Circle: The Engelsfors Trilogy--Book 1 by Elgren & Strandberg
The Vatican
Wales - The Dark Philosophers by Gywn Thomas (Good 4/12)

Dez 26, 2011, 9:00 am

Ok so I read this earlier in the year but I am not going to read many Estonian books so I kick of my challenge of with...

Purge by Sofi Okansen
Chilling drama

Aliide wakes one morning to find a dishevelled girl in her garden. Seemingly destitute, terrified and barely talking in outdated Estonian she is a mystery. Why is she here, what does she want and what trouble is following hard on her heels?

I have been having trouble writing this review because one word repeats in my head like a mantra obliterating all consideration of character or plot, of craft or pacing. That word is claustrophobic. From the plot to the characters to even me, all trapped and itching to escape. The story winds itself around you like an unwelcome Boa Constrictor. It's maddening even if addictive.

Don't get me wrong the writing is good. The two characters are well drawn (although you could argue Zara is just a future echo of Aliide). What could be pretty bad pacing because of lurching between characters and time is instead brilliant and the plot goes from mildly interesting to gripping.

There's more here than a family mystery hidden in the past, of a tale at how life traps us and we survive. There are the horrors of totalitarianism and free market capitalism, tales of love, hope and hatred. A hard hitting look at abuse, slavery and torture (strong but not gratuitous and I thought well done). Themes and lives mirror each other throughout and strengthen and deepen the book.

It does have it's bad points, although really disliking a main character but still wanting to know what happens isn't one of them. The ending is a bit abrupt and Zara gets somewhat overshadowed because of this. I also thought the beginning was tad slow too but to honest it's not really a problem.

All in all a strong, fascinating read I would recommend to anyone with the stomach to take it.

Dez 26, 2011, 9:26 am

Welcome to the Challenge, Claire. Glad to have you here. I may have to add that one as an option for my Estonia book. I am certain I've got one already identified, but when I draw "Estonia" out of my hat, I'll probably request via ILL the book that strikes my fancy most at the time. I think the other book I have identified is a travel narrative.

Dez 26, 2011, 12:04 pm

One of the best things about this challenge is that you can take as long as you want to discover where your reading has taken you. Enjoy your travels!

Glad you enjoyed Purge as it's one I added to my own tbr pile fairly recently.

Dez 27, 2011, 6:09 am

Hi guys and thanks. Purge was a great recommendation from GingerbreadMan. Hope you both enjoy it.

My next read is from Belguim and it's the very tiny Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach

Dez 29, 2011, 7:44 am

Starring yet another Claire thread. Great to see you here!

Editado: Dez 31, 2011, 1:22 pm

Spending a lovely (albeit wet) break in the beautiful city of Bruges I spent my favoutite pastime of book buying and since I was carrying all the damn luggage (broken boyfriend) this slim volume seemed perfect

Belgium: Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach
Overwrought Romantic Symbolism (but still good)

A novella, published in 1892, dripping in symbolism and highly atmospheric. Hughes Viane, spend his days in mourning for his dead wife, living amoungst her things, venerating her dead hair, leaving his house to walk amongst the deathly, well preserved, religious city: Bruges. That is until he spots her likeness wandering the streets and becomes tragically obsessed.

It's a short, very readable book full of heavy handed symbolism (to modern eyes) It doesn't bring the city alive but takes its parts (the constant bells, the silent canals etc..) to underline his grief. Interesting but not something I recommend until I realised that it was 1st published illustrated by many haunting photographs like the one above. Now that would be an edition to seek out, the images and text feeding off each other a joy to behold.

So I recommend that edition unless you a lover of symbolism or the opera Die tote Stadt which is based on the book.

Happy New Year!

Editado: Fev 3, 2012, 4:28 am

Also in 1212 & 100 Book Challenge

England: Ghost Milk by Iain Sinclair
Chewy, choatic, mesmering.

"When did it begin, this intimate liaison between developetrs and government, to reconstruct the body of London, to their mutual advantage? Dr Frankenstein with a Google Earth programme and a laser scapel."

Iain Sinclair is an utterly fascinating man but one that can't stick to the point for long. Compared to W G Sebald, beautifully decsribed by a reviewer as a 'gonzo Samual Pepys' he is an experience in itself. The book will not be to everyones tastes, but it's easy to read if nearly unclassifiable. At once a polemic against the grand project (the soulless, spin of commercial architecture) and in another part memoir, part mediation of relationship of poetry and geography, part eulogy of J G Ballard, part walkers diary. This is a mesmerising, chaotic, unfocused wander through the mind of Iain Sinclair.

"You have a name for your book?" Mimi said.
"Ghost Milk."
"What does this mean?
"CGI smears on a blue fence. Real juice from a virtual host. Embalming fluid.
A Soup of photographc negatives. Soul food for the dead. The universal element in which we sink and swim"
"Crazy, Mr Sinclair" Mimi said, "Crazy again"

He is a walker, deeply connected to his surroundings through art and history, walking through a multi-layered landscape and it is a joy to walk with him. He is self-deprecating, amusing, poetic, passionate, sometimes over the top and whether you agree with his politics there is some food for thought here; corruption and waste on a grand scale, erosions of freedom, ecological disaster, a dearth of future and a destruction of history.

"Dominent colours: dirt-rose, morbid soot, pigeon shit. The railway stations have been around so long they have become accepted natural features. Like cliffs or mountains. London grows its fossils by accretions of indifference"

He doesnt just wander Londons and look on horror at the olympic site, he visits other grand projects: millennium museums and coporate works of art, Manchester's old Trafford stadium, travels up the M62 to muse on the idea of Supercity ("Post-industrial muddle extended, in the London architect bloodshot eyes, into a single hallucinatory city"). He interviews artists and their fascinating interview excerpts and diaries dot the text. It's a pure melting pot, a maelstrom of ideas.

"The Trafford Centre has its own microclimate and it smells like dead television. Like the after-sweat of an Oscar ceremony; hope dashed, lust curtailed, fear tasted."

I do recommend it although perhaps start with his more famous works like London Orbital. Still it's an experience like no other.

Fev 9, 2012, 7:58 am

Also in 1212 Challenge

Netherlands: The Cave by Tim Krabbe
Brilliantly crafted, jigsaw thriller.

It starts off so average too, a guy whose lost everything making a play for small time riches, a geology teacher turned drug mule. We start by following him as he gears up for the drop, his fears of how bad it could get, his amateur plans and then BAM, we switch to another narrator, a different time and the nature of the story starts to become clear. This is not your average thriller, it’s an artfully and carefully constructed musing on fate, of the tragedy of what might have been, of the soul destroying aspect of 'doing your duty'. Gripping and powerful as we start to burrow down in time we see glimpses of story, until near it becomes clear and you read it desperately wishing that it wasn't the truth. Don't get me wrong this is not about 1 mans fall into crime, it's …. well that would be rather too large a spoiler wouldn’t it?

It's a short book, more novella but well worth seeking out. Highly recommended, especially to anyone interested in thrillers or story craft will lap this up.

Fev 9, 2012, 8:58 am

Wow. Consider me interested!

Fev 9, 2012, 10:18 am

Abd me. Again.

Fev 11, 2012, 4:55 am

Fast becoming an author I need to read his entire canon and his books, so far, are more novella in length. Nice and refreshing :)

Fev 11, 2012, 9:26 am

I was actually required to read The Cave in high school. It was a reasonably good book, but I didn't love it. I didn't like the constant jumps in time.

Tim Krabbe is a very famous author here in the Netherlands and almost every high school student reads at least 1 book from him for Dutch literature. His books have never really held any appeal to me, for some reason.

Fev 12, 2012, 5:12 am

Always a problem being forced to read a book! Its a book that centres on technique more than anything else so I can see why you might not like it.

I got into Krabbe through The Rider which is completely different but still sparse and carefully constructed.

Editado: Fev 21, 2012, 10:39 am

France: Pure by Andrew Miller
So so historical fiction

A few years before French Revolution, Les Innocents stews in a miasma of rubbish and the dead, an old unloved church and cemetery containing millions of dead. An outdated place that no longer fits with modern France, it all must be tidied away. Barratte is the ambitious engineer brought in to oversee it, a dark, fetid task that is going to change his life.

With an intriguing plot, slap bang in a fascinating period this book didn’t quite deliver for me; a slow moving tale with sporadic flashes of drama. Atmospheric to a point, but probably too much of horrid undercurrent, I like my light with dark, a rose amongst the manure so to speak. I found it a little tiresome and sometimes overblown. I suspect however it is a homage to a certain type of fiction I have never read (well I have listened to a Les Miserable’s CD once) and if you are familiar with that and with French history the story will be much richer. For everyone else it depends on your patience level. To be honest another reason I didn’t much care for it was the basic plot was just not to my taste. I find the character of innocent young man, surrounded by odd and exuberant characters maturing under life’s hardships, well a bit too dull. A personal thing definitely but one which sours the book for me, especially if there is not much action to balance it.

It is a fascinating period in history and is well written and lauded by others. Lovers of historical fiction, French 18th century fiction will probably heartily enjoy it, however I cannot recommend it. Instead I urge you to visit the Paris Catacombs.. at night..with a guttering candle :)

Abr 27, 2012, 3:59 am

Looks around thread.. blows dust off..

Wales: The Dark Philosophers by Gwen Thomas
3 Dark, bleak, funny novellas

Newly republished by the Library of Wales this is a dark, grim and sometimes humorous collection 3 novellas by Gwyn Thomas an author and playwright who was described as 'the true voice of the English-speaking valleys'. Born in 1913 the youngest son of a coalminer and struggling to find work during the 30s depression he is writing here, what he knows. This will do nothing to shift old welsh stereotypes of poverty stricken, downtrodden miners and huge numbers of unemployed living in tiny, cold damp houses amidst the much rained upon slag heaps but that doesn’t lessen its interest or value.

The longest story (The Dark Philosophers itself) is by far the best. The initial description of bunch of guys sitting around an Italian cafe discussing politics may not sell it. It is really a delicious tale of religion, politics, love and revenge with a very amusing, sarcastic narrator and populated with some real and interesting characters. A story to chew and relish in the up and coming ending. Thomas really shines here and it’s worth seeking the book out for this story alone.

The other two tales are shorter and less memorable. Oscar I read long ago and barely remember apart from the unremitting bleakness and downbeat ending, the flashes of humour passing me by as my modern sensibilities were overwhelmed. The last is the most shocking but suffers from the plot being obvious to a modern reader, still it’s an err.. entertaining tale of incest and murder in the valleys, rich in description and characters.

Recommended but I am not sure who to.

Abr 27, 2012, 4:13 am

Me, perhaps? I think it sounds really interesting. Don't really need a welsh book for this challenge, but I've read and enjoyed Dylan Thomas' Portrait of the artist as a young dog and Adventures in the skin trade (even if it was a long time ago) and wouldn't mind more coal-dusted misery in the future.

Abr 28, 2012, 7:40 am

Hope you find a copy, it's recently been republished to hopefully easier to find.

There's a very amusing interview with him here:
Got to love parky

Maio 1, 2012, 11:20 am

Serbia The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht
Slow, distant magical realism

I am not usually a fan of magical realism and this book didn't change that opinion at all.

Beautifully written we meet Natalia a doctor in former Balkan state (unnamed) who has just lost her deeply loved grandfather and as she remembers narrates their lives and the two tales he told her; the tigers wife and the deathless man. So we get 3 deftly woven strands weaving in and of one man’s life and the themes of our relationship with death, of superstition, of mourning. The effects of war echo gently the setting, as does her coming of age tale, adding depth and layering meaning as does the historical changes that affect one man’s life.

So why didn't I like it? Well I simply found it dull, particularly the tale of the tigers wife and though there were flashes of interest they were severely overshadowed. Whilst I liked the narrator, others just felt too distant: the deathless man designed to be passive became merely boring, her ghostly grandfather too distant and there were far too many asides of background of minor characters. Of course if it matches your tastes than the miniature stories will add depth and resonance to a multi-layered book, personally the whole thing segmented like torn patchwork and yet its story pathways relatively straight with ending displayed, the magic overshadowed by more imaginative genre tales.

It is what it is; a slow, multi layered tale of a life, well written with many reflections on its themes. I can't recommend it but I suspect you know whether it might be your cup of tea.

Jun 27, 2012, 9:32 am

Italy Death's dark abyss by Massimo Carlotto
Woeful Noir

An unpleasant tale of revenge and redemption from one of Italian's reputed masters. Silvano Contin’s wife and son were murdered in a botched robbery, only one guy (Raffaello Beggiato) went to jail and of course though guilty he blames his accomplice. Contin has never recovered and is living a tiny, lonely existence of banality to block out the pain but then the criminal gets cancer and wants to die outside. Can he forgive Baggiato finally or is it a chance for revenge?

Contin and Beggiato both narrate in their own short chapters, a technique that lends itself well to a faced past and gripping story. I admit this does flow well, the juxtaposition is very effective demonstrating the extreme opposites... and shocking similarities? thats the point after all. Now I rarely loathe a book because of its characters but that combined with slightly lifeless writing (maybe just translation?) I really didn’t see anything to recommend it, it meant I had no empathy/interest and no engagement with the plot. Of course characters which start out to be loathsome and stay that way are hard to take but what moved the this book from bad to "throw against the wall" was the misogyny.

Spoilers.. Yes this is a book where the criminals wife is blackmailed into sex and then brutally murdered (and yes then her husband), he sleeps with and then psychologically abuses a posh charity worker because he doesn’t like her politics and oh yes and has regular dehumanising sex with Beggiato’s ex-favourite whore (who is now ugly.. the crime). There may be in-character reasons for this but I don’t want to read about them, quite frankly I just feel dirty.

Not recommend unless you are cold and need a fire.

Set 5, 2012, 6:33 am

..starts magic ritual to raise thread from the dead.. realises I haven't actually read anything that fits for ages and quietly puts goat down..

Still I just remembered I read a Russian book ages ago. Woo hoo. Note also reviewed in 12 in 12 & 100 Book Challenge.

Russia Metro 2033 by Dmitrij Gluchovskij
Superb dystopian world building, average boys own adventure

Nuclear war has left the last dregs of humanity huddling in the Moscow metro, penned in by rats, radiation and strange mutations. Artoym lives at isolated VNKDh, but the station is under threat from the "dark ones", the undead seeping in from outside and so he must get the warning out but in a place with many warring political factions and constant dangers that's no easy task

Dripping in atmosphere, we are immersed in a world not fully understood by its protagonists. We follow stories told around fires, old news spread by merchants and refugees and slowly, through experience, we begin to understand ourselves. The books main strength is this fabulous dystopian creation, detailed yet engaging, full of mystery and promise.

The plot, however is uneven, or rather it depends what you like. After a perfect start it settles into an adventure tale, really an exploration of the world through a series of interlinked adventures as we follow Artoym on his travels flitting from one drama to the next. There is nothing wrong with this: ideas are exploding all over the place, the action's exciting, the characters good and really the world is so damn fine. However it's such a long book I found the pacing started to drag..

I loved the delicate walk between supernatural and science. The psychological problems and walking through a dank, dark tunnel with unknown dangers. I loved the small, claustrophobic world slowly expanding and the mental effect it has. I became a tad irritated by Artoym’s passivity and, good reason or not, all that luck he had. I was bemused by misogyny, no female characters? eh what? If the odd crying child, topless prostitute or hysterical mother hadn’t appeared I would have thought they had all died out.

Recommended. Well worth seeking out for just for the setting but dystopian & horror fans (don’t worry it’s not gory) will lap this up.

Editado: Out 8, 2012, 7:24 am

oops forgot I read this.. this was part of my 12 in 12 Category challenge:

The Netherlands: The Vanishing or Het Gouden Ei by Tim Krabbe

What happens when someone you love vanishes into thin air? What would you give to know what happened?

This is a short, truly disturbing thriller. A pared novella that hones events into sharp focus ramping up the impact. The obsession of having to know, the shocking evil someone can commit. The mystery is of course is what exactly happened and Krabbe keeps this under wraps until the end. The mystery centres a story that flits through time and points of view, it’s not complex; more carefully disjointed. I cannot really fault it, although it’s hard to like poor Rex (the guy who is left behind).

Highly recommended to thriller/horror fans. It has been made into a very good Dutch(?) movie and an OK American one, that though different from the book are still worth seeking out.

Out 9, 2012, 6:29 am

Spanish: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist) Beautifully drawn noir tales

I have to say the main draw of this is the artwork. Blacksad anthropomorphises its characters, in fact the animal is a clue to character and it's this depiction that makes Blacksad so delightful. The art is lovely but the expressions and movement are in a class of its own, Blacksad goes from rueful handsomeness to angry, fangs and teeth and it seems so natural.

The stories? Well it’s a collection of 3 noirish tales. The first a pretty standard crime tale of murdered femme fatale, revenge and obsession. The other two branch out.. a tale of McCarthyism and one of a child kidnapping caught between race wars of the Whites and the Blacks. All good fun, and nailing the 50s era even though this slims down the choice of female characters and doesn't seem to suffer from translation (originally written in French.. although it’s a Spanish comic!)

Recommend to comic fans and crime lovers. This is the 1st collection, another Blacksad: Silent Hell has just been released.

Out 9, 2012, 8:23 am

Looks like I will have to find a place on my wishlist for Blacksad.

Jan 23, 2013, 7:38 am

These reviews have appeared in 2013 category challenge & 100 book challenge!

Germany: The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
Addictive and utterly original German classic

A lyrical and captivating, humorous, beautiful and grotesque German classic with a new English translation (2010 see below) that makes the original shine.

Oskar, our unreliable narrator, recounts his life from his bed in the mental hospital. And oh what a life. A life where he decided to stop growing at 3 and only ever to drum. A life where he could singshatter glass. A life of love, death, blasphemy and sex. Where he was a stone cutter, a jazz musician, a nude model, the head of a deviant gang.

It is a book that encompasses life, a book that gently takes you by the hand and wraps its beautiful language, its musical beat around you and never lets go. It could be seen to be shocking but it is never dull. Political and allegorical it maybe, a social commentary on Germany during and after the war (WWII) but it's also a superb story and I enjoyed it as such. Theme's hover gently, connections draw together the text, long sentences flow and crash into short ones. The characters dance in Oskar's story too, fully alive. There is never a dull moment, even for the tiny degenerations into insanity.

I've also been told it makes a good impression to begin modestly by asserting that novels no longer have heroes because individuals have ceased to exist, that individualism is a thing of the past, that all human beings are lonely, all equally lonely, with no claim to individual loneliness, that they all form some nameless mass devoid of heroes. All that may be true. But as far as I and my keeper Bruno are concerned, I beg to state that we are both heroes, quite different heroes, he behind his peep hole, I in front of it; and that when he opens the door, the two of us, for all our friendship and loneliness, are still far from being some nameless mass devoid of heroes.

One of the better books I have read and if your are in the mood for long immersement in deep waters may I highly
recommend this but please go for the new English translation.

Comment on the new translation
The translators afterword is fascinating on the trade of a translator but also sheds to light the difference they can make, on the aims of a translator: "Do we owe our allegiance to the reader or to the author?" I.e. do they make it more accessible in language or culture to target audience. I know my preference but it's an interesting point.

Here he has worked very closely with the author to bring the text in line with the original. Long sentences, originally were broken up for easy digestion and these were restored, as was the rhythm and certain themes (i.e. left handiness). I really can't imagine this book being as good with an earlier translation so I urge you to seek it out.

Jan 23, 2013, 7:48 am

Motenegero: The Coming by Andrej Nikolaidis
Eclectic, wonderfully odd noir

Snow falls in Summer, a library burns and a gruesome murder takes place. A PI who keeps the clients satisfied with lies, is on the case but then his long lost insane son, starts helping from afar with tales of blasphemy and religion.

Its a rich, fulfilling and refreshingly different story. The medieval history of cults and false messiahs is fascinating itself yet weaves itself against unreliable unfurling of his sons life story. The detectives cynical thoughts ooze off the page, with environmental apocalypse and shocking case as his background.Backgrounds that add tensions and also a sense of unreality to the plot. No part overwhelms the other, everything only adds the whole and its amazing what has been achieved in this short (126 page) novella.

A word of warning though don't expect firm resolution, take the truth you want. There are no gripping car chases or complicated whodunnits, more a dreamy open ended inevitability that hits hard against its Noir roots. The mystery is the book itself. That it comes from Montenegro a different culture and view which I have never tried is just the sprinkles on the icing of this bite sized cake.

Highly recommended. A truly delicious mix and if you want something different and like Noir this is for you.

Note on the publisher
This might be of interest to those completing the European challenge... Istros Books are a publishing house concentrating getting great South-East European books into English for a wider audience. I am eyeing up Seven Terror's

Jun 12, 2013, 5:15 am

Sweden: The Circle: The Engelsfors Trilogy--Book 1 by Elgren & Strandberg

A derelict fairground and an ancient prophecy, a shocking and suspicious suicide at school and six girls drawn together one dark and stormy night.

Such a familiar (if enticing) setup means it's all down to the execution and rest assured that's all good. It's not a quick, fast paced flash bang of a story though. It’s meaty and rich, with multiple flawed characters you will need to get to grips with and then fall for. A slow burner of a story that gently draws you then builds and builds until tension oozes off the page. It's dark enough for teenagers to lap this up but may give some adults pause. Ok I didn't love it (not a fan of YA) but I still had a lot of fun reading it.

It does have some faults, I think the translation Americanised it so to my (UK) ears I struggled for a while to get a sense of place and one of the girls (Ida the bully) barely makes it to two dimensions as do some of the adults but the rest is all good. It is the 1st in an unfinished trilogy too but it manages to have a great plot and be cool piece of world building. Plus I think the 3rd is due out Sweden this year.

Strongly recommended for YA lovers and anyone else who wants an engaging fantastical read.