Tomas Espedal’s Tramp

Reading Tomas Espedal, Tramp (Or The Art of Living a Wild and Poetic Life), always a heartbeat away from stuffing a few items into my worn leather backpack and sneaking silently towards the coast. Feeling the urge to sleep in unfamiliar hotel bedrooms and wander well-trodden footpaths through strange woods.

Tomas Espedal is a fresh discovery, in another beguiling Seagull Books edition. Espedal writes with Denton Welch’s yearning, combined with his acute observation of both people and landscape. But there is also something reminiscent of Robert Walser, perhaps in a narrative stance that avoids emotion and records the episodes of his journeys around Europe and Turkey with little or no commentary. His text only rarely attempts interpretation, a characteristic familiar to any long-distance walker.

Also familiar to the long-distance walker are the meandering digressions. Tramp mirrors the journey that a mind takes when walking fifteen, twenty miles  day, one moment self-reflective, another nostalgic, another moment lost in a train of thought about Giacometti’s mother and the artists’ s nightly visits to Parisian brothels.

I need new stout leather boots. But perhaps it is safer to turn to another of Tomas Espedal’s books than order another pair of boots.

Homesickness. It’s an inevitable part of all journeys, we’re exhausted and wish for home; the homesickness grows, strengthens and permeates every part of the body; the feet want home, the hands, the heart, the thoughts want home. We’ve had enough, seen enough, heard enough, experienced more than we can bear, and the homesickness spreads through our bodies like a lazy indifference, a lethargy that can no longer be bothered to relate to further moves and changes, meetings and places. The journey back has already begun, we think of home and are going home in our thoughts, even though we’ve still got a long journey ahead, we haven’t reached the halfway mark, but it’s as if the road has made a subtle turn, it’s rounded a bend and after that bend the direction is different; it’s treading slowly and imperceptibly back.

American Immigration

We’re building in precisely the same way in the country as we build in the cities, and our first glimpse of a rural community is like the first glimpse of any suburb: a petrol station, a shopping centre. American villas, satellite dishes. Presumably television has taught us how homes should be built. Big garages, new gardens, patios and barbecues; the Norwegian-American family, standing in the garden grilling, disguised as Norwegian. American immigration is greater than Norwegian immigration to the US. But the Americans have arrived in a somewhat unusual way, they have ridden and driven, sailed and flown, shot and broken their way into Norwegian homes, into Norwegian living rooms, right out of the television screen and into Norwegian daily life.

Tomas Espedal, Tramp. trans. James Anderson. Seagull Books, 2010 (2006)

Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2015 (updated)

These are not reading resolutions. Writers promising literary gifts lead me astray too easily for these ideas to be fixed in any way.

This year I read widely covering fifty or so writers, concentrating my reading more deeply only twice on Houellebecq and Anne Carson’s work. In 2015 I’d like to read more deeply into the work of some of my favourite authors: alternative Dante and Homer translations (and Adam Nicholson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters) ,  more Ballard’s short stories, always more Beckett, John Berger, Roberto Calasso, more Anne Carson, the new Tom McCarthy, Robert Musil’s diaries, Hélène Cixous, Coetzee, Jenny Diski, Dostoevsky, Marguerite Duras, Pierre Hadot, Houellebecq’s new one if translated next year, Kafka’s short stories, László Krasznahorkai, Clarice Lispector, Bourdieu, Doris Lessing, Nabokov, Alice Oswald, Robert Macfarlane, Nietzsche, Atiq Rahimi, WG Sebald, Thomas Mann, Christa Wolf and Virginia Woolf.

Beyond these ‘old chestnuts’ (as Beckett called his favourite authors) I’m looking forward to unexpected surprises within the pages of the following new books, either missed in 2014 or due in 2015, by authors I have not read before:

  1. Kirmin Uribe – Bilbao – New York – Bilbao
  2. Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric
  3. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor – Dust
  4. Ceridwen Dovey – Only the Animals
  5. Karin Wieland (trans. Shelley Frisch) – Dietrich & Riefenstahl: The dream of the new woman
  6. Can Xue – The Last Lover
  7. Anna Smaill – The Chimes
  8. Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith) – The Vegetarian
  9. Paul Celan – Breathturn Into Timestead
  10. David Winters – Infinite Fictions: Essays on Literature and Theory

There are several other writers whose older works I’d like to get around to exploring sometime soon including Jens Bjørneboe, Martin Shaw, Ivan Illich, Eva Hoffman, Ivan Goncharov, David Abram, Ágota Kristóf, Rebecca Solnit, Tomas Espedal and Elfriede Jelinek.

As always, distractions are greater than my ambition, but if I manage to take in a decent selection of the above I’m expecting a good year in reading. There are several other titles I have my eye on but I’m mindful of your patience and Molloy’s admission that ‘if you set out to mention everything you would never be done.’