Jun 27, 2010

WONDER by Hugo Claus

translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim

In his novels, Hugo Claus lays bare the haunted underbelly of twentieth-century Flanders with portaits of a shattered society and warped psyches rising to a mythic pitch. In Wonder, Victor-Denijs de Rijckel, a bewildered schoolteacher, is led to a distant village in pursuit of a mysterious woman. Tracking her to an underground political conference in a remote castle, he poses as an expert on Crabbe, a messianic Belgian fascist who disappeared in World War II. Drifting into a dense fog as his sanity begins to crumble, de Rijckel soon finds himself trapped among a handful of desperate individuals still living out the consequences of their collaboration with the Nazis decades earlier, all of whom are united by their belief that Crabbe's return is imminent. The subtle cadences of the prose and the dense emotional texture of characters lost in complex moral labyrinths make Wonder a symphony only Claus could have composed.

Fine and ambitious. . . . A work of savage satire intensely engaged with the moral and cultural life of author’s Belgium. . . . Packed with asides, allusions, and fierce juxtapositions, a style created to evoke a world sliding into chaos where contrast and contradictions are so grotesque that we can only ‘wonder’. . . . [Wonder is] a reminder of the energy and experimental verve with which so many writers of the Fifties and Sixties (Malaparte, Bernhard, Grass, Böll, Burgess, Pynchon) conjured up [a] disjointed and rapidly complicating world." —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

While fully aware that such an honorable title can only be used in great exceptions in Flemish literature, I would call Wonder a masterpiece. —Vlaamse Gids

Jun 17, 2010

THE TWIN by Gerbrand Bakker

translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Winner of the IMPAC/Dublin Award
An NPR Best Foreign Fiction Pick
A School Library Journal Best Adult Book for High School Students

When his twin brother dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return from university life to take over his brother’s role on the small family farm, resigning himself to spending the rest of his days with his head under a cow. The novel begins thirty years later with Helmer moving his invalid father upstairs to have him out of the way as he sparsely redecorates the downstairs, finally making it his own. The Riet, the woman who had once been engaged to marry Helmer’s twin, appears and asks whether her troubled eighteen-year-old son could come to live on the farm. Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, The Twin is ultimately about the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one’s own hands. It chronicles a way of life that has resisted modernity, a world culturally apart yet laden with romantic longing.

The charm of Bakker’s book is how finely every element is balanced, how perfectly the story is paced. . . . Bakker shows a fine gift for laconic comedy. . . . The great pleasure of this novel is how it has just enough plot to allow us to relish its beautifully turned observations of birds and beasts, weather and water. —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

Jun 8, 2010

Rudyard Kipling

Is it possible that our reading, if so be we read wisely, may save us to a certain extent from some of the serious forms of trouble; or if we get into trouble, as we most certainly shall, may teach us how to come out of it decently.

Jun 2, 2010

Libraries turn a new page with live gigs

originally posted on guardian.uk

Get it Loud in Libraries is a five-year project that aims to increase access to libraries while developing youth talent.

Diana Vickers, Lancaster library 

A trip to the library can change your life. That is the founding philosophy of the Get it Loud in Libraries project, which challenges the stereotype of whisper only noise levels. The dulcet tones of chart topper Diana Vickers rang out recently, surrounded by books as well as fans, at Lancaster library. Plan B, Adele, Florence and the Machine, Speech Debelle, and the Thrills have also performed for the project.

Winner of an award from the Love Libraries campaign led by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), the five-year project aims to increase access to libraries while developing youth talent and has attracted more than 8,500 visitors, 5,000 of them first-time library users. Lancashire county council backed Get it Loud in Libraries and the MLA has commissioned a UK rollout.

"I think it's absolutely incredible. It's wonderful," Vickers say of the project. "I've been playing in front of big crowds and I'm excited about intimate settings where you can be close to your fans."

As a child, growing up in nearby Blackburn, she says that her school library was a "second home" to her. When she was young she loved Peter Rabbit and Mr Men books, and later her favourites included Little Women and The Lovely Bones. Amber King, 21, a project volunteer who attended the gig, said the crowd was one of the most diverse she'd seen, aged from four to 50. "Libraries can feel inaccessible but this project makes them feel unrestricted and places to explore. The reactions have been positive."

Attracted initially by the lure of the stage, youngsters who would once never have been to a library have been returning to borrow books and CDs. The project's founder, Stewart Parsons, has worked in libraries for 25 years and senses that the gigs have achieved something fresh, making libraries something that the young want to be part of. He shows me a text message he received following the gig from mother Lauren Zawadzki: "Your work is complete!!! Both Izaak and Dom [her sons] have (of their own accord) been reading in the library for the last half hour ... You should be proud. They would never have suggested that before the gigs".

Opportunities have also opened up for youngsters such as Lauren Sobers, a project volunteer who worked on the Plan B show in Rugby library. Her experience has led to an offer of work in the music industry.

Parsons hopes that the scheme is changing the way people view libraries: "My big beef is that libraries trail behind slightly; they shouldn't. This is about bringing libraries up to date. The beautiful thing is that people are reconnecting with the library in a way they hadn't done before."

The next gig at Lancaster library is Professor Green on 7 June. getitloudinlibraries.com