Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Translated shortlist, part III

A few months back, on my way out of Vanderbilt's Central Library, I stopped to check the sale shelf. The library sells used books, mostly donated, for $1/paperbacks and $2/hardbacks. One paperback with that '70s look had an author's name that sounded vaguely familiar, although I wasn't sure why. The book was Zero by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao, and it promised bleak, near-future, authoritarian-state black comedy, plus the sex and drugs that were forcibly bundled with all literary fiction of the era. Naturally, I bought it.

The book completely lived up to its promise, and I figured out where I had seen Brandao's name before; his more recent Anonymous Celebrity was on this year's translation shortlist. AC isn't as radical in form, although it's a long way from a traditional narrative. It's the notes of a man who is almost a famous actor, but for whom fame is denied because he looks exactly like another famous actor. The narrator's thirst for celebrity makes Paris Hilton seem shy and retiring. But what is really going on? Details start to not add up. In the end, as one review said, things are slightly overexplained. But it's a fun ride to get there. I've put Brandao's other major translated book, Teeth Under the Sun, on my wishlist.


So there's an Austrian author, Wolf Haas, who is best known for a series of detective novels. He wrote a book called The Weather Fifteen Years Ago (based on a true story) about a young man who falls in love with a girl in the village his family spends their summer vacation in. After a tragedy, he doesn't see her for 15 years but can tell you the weather in that village for every one of those 15 years. Then he returns - and this is where the novel opens, with their first kiss after all that time apart.

This is not that novel.

This novel is the record of an interview between Haas and a book reviewer about that novel.

Except the original novel doesn't exist. Nor does the true story.

I'm a sucker for non-traditional narrative formats, so I loved this from the outset. It's a quick read, in spite of the ungainly conceit of the novel. (It takes longer to explain than it does to understand.) It's also amusing, and probably the closest thing you'll get to beach reading out of the short list.

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