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Where other novelists fail, Marlon James succeeds
Plus, a crazy Mexican road trip and other literary notes

Jan 17th 2019



Tracker has a great nose. He used to have a name, but he forgot it long ago. Don’t think you’ve stepped into a Jack Reacher novel. The long-awaited new work by Marlon James (above) – his first since winning the Man Booker prize in 2015 with “A Brief History of Seven Killings” – is on an epic, imaginative scale.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first volume of a grand fantasy trilogy set in west Africa. Its hero, Tracker, is trying to find a child who vanished before the novel opens. Who the child is and why he’s missing, no one will say. Tracker prefers to work alone but now he joins forces with a crew of mercenaries that includes a man who can change at will into a leopard and a woman possessed by a lightning bird that makes her appear blue.

Drawing on legend, history and mythology, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” takes Afrofuturism to a new level. James’s inventiveness is wild and crisp. But the biggest surprise is how brilliantly he writes about the two things that fell most other novelists: violence and sex. ~ FIAMMETTA ROCCO

Wheels of fortune
The heroine of Valeria Luiselli’s new novel, Lost Children Archive, met her husband while she was recording a soundscape of New York City. The book opens four years after that encounter, when the couple is on a road trip from New York to Arizona with two children – her daughter, his son – along with their backpacks, a blue cooler with water bottles and snacks, and equipment to record a new story.

As they drive, Luiselli unspools how they became a family and began calling themselves “we”. At the same time, she traces another journey: a Mexican friend in New York is waiting to hear whether her two small children will be given asylum in America. Their grandmother had packed them off, with a Bible, a toy each and their mother’s telephone number sewn into the collars of their dresses, in the company of a smuggler who left them in the desert. They were discovered by American border patrollers and placed in a detention centre for unaccompanied minors. As the two journeys intersect, the novel becomes suffused with a deep sense of fear and anxiety. Donald Trump’s trumpeting about the border “crisis” may make this the year’s most timely novel. ~ FR

Heart of darkness
Leila Slimani’s “Lullaby” was the best selling book in France in 2016 before becoming an international success. Adèle came out in France before “Lullaby”, but this is its first outing in English, in a sharp and nuanced translation from Sam Taylor. It is a short, disturbing novel, written in the present tense and set in a bleak and amoral Paris.

Like Emma Bovary, Adèle is married to a doctor. She also echoes the nihilism of Flaubert’s heroine. Adèle is a successful journalist, but thoroughly bored by her rather proper, borderline-prudish husband Richard. She feels excluded – almost redundant – because of her husband’s fierce love for their child. She is also obsessed by transgressive sex – with her boss, her best friend’s boyfriend, and a pair of male prostitutes. She often asks her partners to brutalise her: she is addicted to breaking the rules.

Slimani’s spare, compulsive prose is once again very much on display here. But the author’s real skill lies in making Adèle’s behaviour taboo and her ennui understandable. ~ ALEX PEAKE-TOMKINSON

What a Charlie
Charlie, a 60-something Irishman, has some grievances. His memory isn’t what it once was, which isn’t too surprising given that he and the wife have “decided not to bother with the fish and the crosswords”. He’s had to abandon his buttoned jeans – too fiddly – and move on to the zipped kind, which are forever flying low. Brexit is a bore, his daughter is trying to make him into an Internet star and he can’t stop thinking about Eileen, a girl he once inexpertly snogged aged 16. His outlook, his nearest and dearest say, is often not only “bleak” but “windswept and desolate”.

Yet Charlie Savage, Roddy Doyle’s collected newspaper columns, is not just another iteration of the “Grumpy Old Men” cliché. This portrait of an ordinary man (and one clearly past his best) is by turns hilarious and heartfelt. The protagonist is passionate about Manchester United – “the football will cling to the insides of our heads long after everything else has slid out” –and his pints of Guinness with his friend. It is in expressing his love for his family that Doyle’s prose is most moving. “I know I have a heart,” Charlie says, “because I can feel it pumping, keeping me alive for them.” ~ RACHEL LLOYD

image: mark seliger




黑豹红狼》借鉴了传说、历史和神话,将非洲未来主义推向了一个新的高度。詹姆斯的创造性是狂野而干脆的。但最大的惊喜是,他对其他大多数小说家都感到失望的两件事写得如此出色:暴力和性。~ 菲亚梅塔-罗科


在他们开车的过程中,Luiselli讲述了他们如何成为一个家庭并开始自称 "我们"。同时,她还追溯了另一段旅程:一位在纽约的墨西哥朋友正在等待她的两个孩子是否能在美国获得庇护的消息。他们的祖母带着一本圣经、一个玩具和缝在衣服领子里的母亲的电话号码,在一个走私者的陪伴下,把他们带到了沙漠里。他们被美国边境巡逻人员发现,并被安置在一个无人陪伴的未成年人拘留中心。随着这两段旅程的交汇,小说充满了深深的恐惧和焦虑感。唐纳德-特朗普对边境 "危机 "的大肆宣扬可能使这本书成为今年最及时的小说。~ FR



斯利马尼的空闲、令人着迷的散文在这里再次得到了很好的展示。但作者真正的技巧在于使阿黛尔的行为成为禁忌,使她的苦闷变得可以理解。~ Alex peak-tomkinson

查理,一个60多岁的爱尔兰人,有一些怨言。他的记忆力大不如前,鉴于他和妻子已经 "决定不再理会鱼和填字游戏",这并不令人惊讶。他不得不放弃他的扣子牛仔裤--太麻烦了--转而穿上拉链的那种,因为它总是飞得很低。英国脱欧是一个无聊的问题,他的女儿正试图把他变成一个网络明星,他无法停止思考艾琳,一个他曾经在16岁时不经意地偷袭过的女孩。他最亲近的人说,他的前景经常不仅是 "暗淡",而且是 "风吹草动的荒凉"。

然而,《查理-萨维奇》,罗迪-道尔的报纸专栏集,不仅仅是 "脾气暴躁的老男人 "陈词滥调的又一次迭代。这部关于一个普通人(而且显然已经过了最佳状态)的描写,既搞笑又感人至深。主人公热衷于曼联--"足球会在其他一切都滑落之后长久地附着在我们的脑袋内部"--以及他与朋友一起喝的吉尼斯啤酒。道尔的散文在表达他对家庭的爱时最令人感动。"我知道我有一颗心,"查理说,"因为我能感觉到它在抽动,使我为他们活着。" ~ RACHEL LLOYD

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