Microviews Vol. 27: A Fine Crop of Cephalopods

on Sunday, March 24, 2013
The Seige In The Room by Miquel Bauca
Well spank me with a paprika-spiced octopus, but I simply couldn't warm to this collection of three novellas from the great rebel of Catalan literature. Starting with the completely impenetrable Carrer Masala, which got a whole heap of awards from people too afraid to admit they didn't understand what the crap was going on, it becomes mildly more readable with The Old Man and The Warden (I was particularly partial to Bauca's inversion of the captor/captive relationship in the latter). Alas, it is all word soup, and not the yummy stuff I found travelling through Spain.
2.5 Out Of 5 Salt Cod Croquettes

Harvest by Jim Crace
Like the Galilean of his amazing early novel Quarantine, Crace has spent a fair while lost in the metaphorical desert. Watching his literary decline was painful for this fanboy, so I was overjoyed to find that Harvest heralds not only a return to form but, arguably, a giant step forward. Crace charts the collapse of a small agrarian town so beautifully, so richly, that I truly felt invested in the plight of the struggling townsfolk. Full of petty rivalries, shifting allegiances, and acts of shameful violence (the treatment of three outsiders is particularly disturbing), Crace lays bare the darkest corners of human existence and shows its ultimate futility in the face of progress. Perhaps only Umberto Eco is capable of similarly immersive prose that perfectly captures time and place. A wonderful book and definite early contender for Book of the Year.
5 Out Of 5 Wild Boars

The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divny
Any book that kicks off with a crotchety diatribe about the Dewey Decimal System is alright by me! From there on it's part history, part eulogy, part call to arms as a lowly librarian (she wanted to be a school teacher but failed the entrance exam) spews her monologue at an unsuspecting patron. Don't expect the sweetness the cover suggests - Divny's novella is bitter and indignant - but there is enough cheeky humour to offset what otherwise might just come across as nasty. A fun, minor amusement.
3 Out Of 5 Overdue Fines

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
There's no Judas, no Last Supper, not even an Immaculate Conception to be found in Toibin's sober retelling of the Jesus story. In a break from apocryphal tradition, Toibin has Mary (Mother, not Magdalene) reflect critically on the events leading up to the crucifixion. Angered by the ragtag bunch of misfits who call themselves Jesus's disciples, she dismisses their glorification of his 'miracles' with quite rational explanations. Ultimately, however, Mary is left to play the role of spectator, watching in despair as her son gets swept up in mass hysteria. To her he wasn't the messiah, nor a very naughty boy. He was just a decent kid who came to believe his own hype. I think I read somewhere what comes after pride...
4 Out Of 1 Loaves of Bread (see what I did there?)

Oh Sweden! Oh Israel! by Stephan Mendel-Enk
Judging from the puffery on the back cover, Mendel-Enk is Sweden's younger, flashier Philip Roth with a dashing of Woody Allen (and, I suppose, a bit less raw liver). Well, Woody need not rack up another neurosis. This tale of a dysfunctional Jewish family in Sweden, told from the perspective of its barmitzvah age nebbish, has moments of grace and pathos, even a couple of laughs, but there is nothing to lift it above the deluge of urban Jewish slice-of-life novels littering the contemporary landscape.
2.5 Out Of 5 Whinging Portnoys


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