Ágota Kristóf’s Trilogy

Each book of Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy is entwined on a smaller scale in each of the books, echoing back the whole of the trilogy. Each successive book unbalances its predecessor to the point that its instability opens up an unbounded dialogism. As I read each book back to back I cannot imagine reading first The Notebook, The Proof two years later, and finally waiting a further three years to read The Third Lie. My aesthetic response would be somewhat muted.

By starting the trilogy with the simple, direct language of childhood, Kristóf disrupts our familiar frames of reference, so when the shocks arrive they have the power of a slap in the face, the visceral response precedes the intellectual. Although the language remains clear throughout the three books, its complexity increases as the protagonists mature and the paradoxes become evident. Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth.”

The nature of evil is less absurdly simple than history or psychology suggests. The torturer can also be a loving grandfather. Compassion and immorality can exist side by side, as they do with Kristóf’s protagonists.

As is often the case, Michelle’s post led me to the trilogy, which sat on my shelves for some years. Although I read an edition from Grove Press, I suggest these from CB editions. Though the translators are the same, the Grove Press edition of The Notebook Americanises the language: so and so write one another, and the two protagonists are at one point called ‘you two punks.’  Tim Parks writes so well about the inflexibility of American editors. It jars the reading to the point I almost abandoned the book.

Cold Passion

We answer: ‘We don’t want to work for you, madam. We don’t want to eat your soup or your bread. We are not hungry.’
She asks: ‘Then why are you begging?’
‘To find out what effect it has and to observe people’s reactions.’
She walks off, shouting: ‘Dirty little hooligans! And impertinent too!’
On our way home, we throw the apples, the biscuits, the chocolate, and the coins in the tall grass by the roadside.
It is impossible to throw away the stroking on our hair.

Ágota Kristóf, The Notebook. Grove Press, 1997.

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.’

Library Additions 13th January 2012

To welcome me home this evening, three packages bearing pre-ordered books, all of which are intended for consumption over the next six months. I found the Kristof edition today at the LRB.

An East European Reading List

Unwittingly I’ve been accumulating quite a stack of East European writers to read, so I plan to tackle the following during the first six months of this year. My eastward direction is perhaps a guilty reaction to my failure to head west to pursue my commitment to the Savage Detectives Group Read. I’m consumed with Krasznahorkai at present and don’t wish to read anything else for a few more weeks.

  1. The Melancholy of Resistance – László Krasznahorkai
  2. War & War – László Krasznahorkai
  3. Sátántango – László Krasznahorkai
  4. Embers – Sándor Márai
  5. Parallel Stories – Péter Nádas
  6. Fiasco – Imre Kertész
  7. Dukla – Andrzej Stasiuk
  8. Memories of the Future – Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
  9. Theory of Prose – Viktor Shklovsky
  10. The Book Of Hrabal– Péter Esterházy
  11. The Foundation Pit – Andrei Platonov
  12. Skylark – Dezső Kosztolányi
  13. The Notebook / The Proof / The Third Lie – Ágota Kristóf