Friday, May 7, 2010

Two down, eight to go

I'm now two books into this year's best translated book short list.

The first book I read was Robert Walser's The Tanners. It follows the Tanner siblings in their everyday lives for a few years.

I really don't know what to make of this book. The characters in it don't have conversations; they make speeches, and they say hateful, long-winded things to each other. The first brother we meet, Simon, is a complete jackass, and yet everyone he meet seems to be charmed by him. I feel like I don't have the tools to evaluate whether Walser expected the reader to be charmed by Simon or to be befuddled. It feels as if Walser has a great deal of control over his prose, but to what end?

And yet Kafka and Hesse both greatly admired his work, and who doesn't like Kafka and Hesse? (Which is code for, "I like Kafka and Hesse.") Maybe it's worth noting that this was the last of his books to be translated into English, even though it was one of his earliest.

The second book didn't fare much better with me. José Manuel Prieto's Rex is, in his words, "magico-scientific realism." I'd call it, harshly, "magico-boring realism." I was a third of the way through before I developed any interest in what happened to the characters. And if a reader doesn't have interest in the story, the reader ought to at least enjoy the language - and I didn't. Maybe it's just because I haven't read In Remembrance of Things Past, which the book revolves around in many ways, but the metaphors and descriptions made me yawn.

My lack of pleasure in these books makes me feel unpleasantly reactionary and Philistine.

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