A Beautiful Young Wife – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016)

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Scribe have done a great job this year in bringing the work of Dutch author Wieringa to an English speaking audience with translations of his back catalogue by Sam Garrett.  This is the British publication of his 2014 novella “Een Mooie Jonge Vrouvo”

This is the fourth of Wieringa’s novels I have read, enough evidence to strongly suggest that he is an important contemporary European writer with great depth and range in his published works.  One of his novels republished by Scribe in 2016 “Joe Speedboat” became my reviewsrevues Book Of The Year. In “A Beautiful Young Wife” he exquisitely examines a relationship between a couple with a 14 year age gap.  Edward has buried himself in his career as a microbiologist and has missed out on romance until the day he encounters Ruth cycling past the cafe he is in.  The couple meet, fall in love, get married and plan a family.  Edward finds himself having to face up to commitment, fatherhood, respecting another’s values and beliefs with varying success.

I found the whole thing compelling and beautifully written.  There is an explicitness and openness that I hadn’t really picked up on the previous novels.  This might actually upset a few readers but in the context of the relationships he depicts it is powerful and vibrant.  No Bad Sex Award for Mr Wieringa, I’d hope.

Behind this tale of getting on with another is a study of pain.  Ruth, a vegetarian, believes Edward causes pain in animals used as part of his research.  Edward moves towards her point of view as they begin to increasingly inflict pain upon one another.  This study of a relationship is raw and sparse as well as poetic and thought-provoking and is my second favourite of the four books I have read by this highly talented Dutch author.

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A Beautiful Young Wife was published by Scribe in  August 2016.  Many thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

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Top 10 Books Of The Year -Part 2 (The Top 5)

Without any further ado here are the five books that did it for me in 2015.  To find the full reviews please click on the titles

5. Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (Scribner 2016) (Read and reviewed in September)

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This is the one that should have made the progression from the Booker longlist to the shortlist.  An astonishing debut.  It’s 1920s Alabama and a plan to bring electricity to Roscoe Martin’s farm goes badly wrong.  It’s the second tale of rural survival on my list but is imbued throughout with hope -throughout the darkest moments there’s hope and Reeves conveys this beautifully.

4. His Bloody Project – Graeme  Macrae Burnet  (Saraband 2015) (Read and reviewed in August)

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My pick of the Booker Prize shortlist.  Published by a tiny Scottish independent this was one that would have slipped through my net had it not had the Booker nod.  A historical novel that reads like true crime is an interesting concept but what makes this special is the real feel of the crofting community of the Scottish highlands in 1869 through  a prison journal, witness statements, official documents and court transcripts. Sold well after its Booker recognition but a win would have turned this into one of the year’s big books.  It is certainly a big book in my opinion.

3.Black Narcissus – Rumer Godden (Virago 1939) (Read in June and reviewed in August)

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Love the film but have never actually got round to reading the book.  Neurotic nuns up a mountain – what’s not to love?  I wasn’t sure if Godden would have been able to convey the technicolour lushness of the film but she certainly does.  Hopefully in 2017 I’ll be able to seek out more by her.

2. Life After Life – Kate Atkinson  (Doubleday 2013) (Read in April and reviewed in May)

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2013 Costa Novel award winner. I am the last one around to read this?  Structurally superb, risking accusations of style over substance but producing a novel which is both technically surprising and first class. “Practice makes perfect” is a theme of the novel and Atkinson here gets close to perfection.

Time for the long silence before the winner is announced (oh, can’t do long silences on a blog so I’ll get straight on with it .The reviewsrevues Book Of The Year 2016 is……….

1.  Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016) (Read and reviewed in May)

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In any other year there could have been as many as three Wieringa novels in my Top 10 as the other two I have read are hovering outside the Top 10 and are both very good.  This is also how I felt last year with his “These Are The Names” published by Scribe and which saw them embarking on a programme to of bringing out his earlier Dutch novels translated by Sam Garrett. A 2009 debut this was apparently the biggest ever selling Dutch debut in his homeland and it deserves a huge audience here.  A coming-of-age novel about Frankie, who has survived a horrific accident and becomes swept up by the antics of newcomer Joe Speedboat.  Like all the best books it provokes a myriad of emotions- it is touching, unpredictable, outrageous and laugh out loud funny.  Scribe have been a great support to this blogger this year, but there’s certainly no favouritism.  This book has reached my summit on merit.

This is the second year I have gone for a book in translation for my top pick.  Last year’s Top 5 can be found here.  I have probably read more translated novels this year but that is because of authors such as Tommy Wieringa.  If there is a pattern, and I wouldn’t have said there was, but looking at my ten titles I can see that there may very well be one, it is to make my top 10, authors, set your novels in the past.  I wouldn’t have said I was a great historical novel fan but this list suggests otherwise… We’ll see what 2017 conjures up.  Bring it on!

As I read a lot more books this year than I normally do there are a number of titles that I feel bad about missing out on my Top 10 – so here are a few special mentions for recent publications.  The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale, Hot Milk-Deborah Levy, The Double Life Of Kit Kavanagh- Marina Fiorato, Eileen -Otessa Moshfegh, Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeliene Thien,  Rembrandt’s Mirror- Kim Devereux, Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker ( incidentally a nominee for the newbooks Book Noir book of the year) , Angel Of Highgate – Vaughn Entwistle, Himself- Jess Kidd (the last four authors I have had the great pleasure of interviewing this year- always one of my personal highspots of reviewsrevues.com)

In my next post I’ll honour the re-read that gave me the most pleasure this year.

See my Top 10 Books Part 1 – numbers 10-6 here

Little Caesar – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016)

Day 45 from the date I was told I would have internet access and I have it!! Hallelujah!  It’s a Christmas miracle – not even an apology from BT so far.  Anyway, I’m feeling jubilant, I’ve just been to the panto (“Cinderella” at Shanklin Theatre) and to celebrate here’s a review of a second good book by Tommy Wieringa that I have read this year……….

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Scribe continue their English publications of Dutch author Wieringa’s works with this translation (by Sam Garrett) of his 2007 novel “Caesarion”.  This is the third of his books I have read to date and although it is not quite up there with “Joe Speedboat” it is a fascinating read.  Elizabeth Strout and Deborah Levy have both published highly acclaimed studies of the daughter mother relationship this year but Wieringa here focuses on mother and son.  This relationship is the most dynamic aspect of this novel.

Ludwig Unger returns to Suffolk for a funeral.  He and his mother had settled there some years ago until their cliff-top house collapsed into the sea.  His mother has recently died and all this revisiting of the past sees Ludwig recalling events.  Ludwig is an odd combination of talented pianist and rugby player and is not that sympathetic a character.  His mother lives her life without responsibility or even being able to account for her actions.  His frustration towards her is palpable throughout and totally understandable.  His father, who left when Ludwig was very young is even more morally dubious, an artist who specialises in demolishing natural environments in the name of art.

Wieringa writes beautifully and this is an unpredictable read and I was drawn into this young man’s search for support.  There is throughout a coolness and detachment which was reminiscent of the author’s “These Are The Names” yet in its strength of characterisation it feels closer to “Joe Speedboat”, but the warmth and humour of that novel is replaced with a degree of impassivity with the character’s dealings with one another.  Both this and “Joe Speedboat” can be seen as coming of age novels but the latter faces adulthood with energy and vivacity whilst Ludwig has been aged by parent/child role reversal and faces this part of his life with a wandering listlessness.  Both are valid responses, given their circumstances, but I must confess I found it more rewarding to spend time in Joe’s company.

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Little Caesar is published by Scribe in the UK in January 2016.  Many thanks to Scribe for the review copy.

100 Essential Books – Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016)

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I was introduced to Dutch author Tommy Wieringa by newbooks magazine issue 84 and a five star review for “These Are The Names”, later short-listed for Bookhugger Book of The Year.  This was a chilling, thought-provoking novel of a  search for a modern Promised Land.  Fuelled by its success publishers Scribe have embarked upon a series of reissues of his earlier works.  “Joe Speedboat” was his debut from 2009 and is translated as was the last book by Sam Garrett.  On domestic release it became the best selling debut novel in Dutch but didn’t find that much of a worldwide audience.  I think it’s time to change this with this 2016 reprint.  It is one of the best books I have read this year and surpasses, in my opinion, “These Are The Names”.

Teenager Frankie Hermans awakes after a horrific accident to hear his parents talking about a new arrival to their village, a boy called Joe Speedboat with a predilection for making bombs.  His arrival in Lomark was equally explosive- through the wall of a house in a truck in a crash which killed his father.  Joe is adamant no-one knows his real name as he transforms the lives of those around him.  I felt that “These Are The Names” favoured themes over characterisation but here it is the marvellous characters that take central stage, especially the refreshingly energetic Joe, full of schemes to rock a sleepy village and narrator Frankie, left without speech and with limited movement who is soon incorporated into Joe’s big plans.

This book it touching, eccentric, laugh out loud funny and completely unpredictable.  I found myself hanging onto  every word.  It is a marvellous achievement.  It is a coming of age novel with a difference and has immense vitality and like the very best novels it is life-enhancing.  Other novels by Wieringa are being republished in the same format.  If they are as good as this then we have found ourselves an important European writer.

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Joe Speedboat is republished by Scribe in this new edition in 2016.

These Are The Names- Tommy Wieringa (2015)

wieringaThis is the eleventh publication from this Dutch prize winning author (he has now published twelve in his homeland –three are available as English translations).  Set on and around the steppes of Eastern Europe a Police Commissioner Pontus Beg finds himself forming a bond with the only Rabbi left around.  As he embarks on his own personal odyssey a much crueller one is taking place.

In a parallel narrative a group of refugees who have paid to cross the border are dumped on the steppes and left to make their own way to who knows where .  Without the resources to survive the only options are death, madness or dehumanisation to a basic primitive level where superstition becomes linked to survival.  This is a chilling tale with Beg seeking hope in an age-old faith and and the refugees on a fruitless search to their modern Promised Land.  Not all readers respond well to the parallel narrative structure  (I don’t really have a problem with it).  This is something that Wieringa is aware of.  In an interview with Guy Pringle and Lydia Revett for New Books Magazine (NB 84) the author had this to say;

“You might have noticed that every chapter has the same length of more or less 200 words – I did that to give the book a pounding rhythm and to overcome the problem of the parallel narrative : if the reader favours this or that storyline, he doesn’t have to turn the pages impatiently; because of the steady rhythm he knows when to expect his favourite storyline.”

As a result of this the structure works very well.  The depth of the novel is within its themes rather than characterisation.  We are distanced from the diminishing group of refugees just as they are distanced from one another in an environment where support and care for their fellow humans could be deemed as weakness but this certainly does not diminish the horror of their plight.  Wieringa in this translation by Sam Garrett has produced a very readable, thought provoking novel which has already garnered the Dutch Libris and could be expected to appear on a number of “Best Of 2015” lists at the end of this year.

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These Are The Names was published in 2015 in the UK by Scribe