Home

“….the shadows moved, and nothing fitted together any more…” #fitzcarraldofortnight @FitzcarraldoEds

16 Comments

Dark Satellites by Clemens Meyers
Translated by Katy Derbyshire

On to my second new read for our Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight and it’s back to blue cover fiction; this time in the form of a rather wonderful translated collection of short works by Clemens Meyers. Meyers is an author new to me; born in Germany, he held a variety of jobs before turning to writing, and his most recent novel “Bricks and Mortar” has been longlisted, shortlisted and won a number of prizes. I’ve seen that novel described as “hallucinatory” and “modernist” and I think those are words that could definitely be applied to “Dark Satellites”.

Set in contemporary Germany, Meyers’ stories are loosely gathered into three sections, each with a short, fragmentary opening piece. His works tell the tales of maginalised characters; from a lonely train cleaner making friends with a hairdresser, through a man unable to cope with his house being burgled to the casual friendship between a retired jockey and a railway company clerk, these are people who live on the margins. This is a Germany reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but there are echoes of the past on both sides of the Wall, and the new world which has been built is not necessarily a good place for all. The settings are often a kind of edgeland, peripheral to any new centre, and many of the protagonists are struggling to make sense of the changes which have taken place around them and our modern multi-cultural world.

They came from a realm of shadows that had formed over decades in the rear yards of the Coal Quarter, small factories with round, soot-blackened chimneys where pigeons perched when no smoke rose from the outlets, workshops, coal merchants, dilapidated buildings with small birch forests growing on their roofs, empty, decaying factories, passageways to the road and to the light, but the light outside was murky too; shadows lay over these yards where I’d met them many years ago, and as I returned to them now the sun was shining, and nothing fitted together any more.

The writing in these stories is extraordinary; Meyers favours long sinuous sentences, sometimes a paragraph in length, which are often quite beautiful and almost have a hypnotic effect while you’re reading. Time is a fluid concept in Meyers’ stories and the narratives slip back and forth between past and present, different settings and varying points of the lives of his protagonists. This fluidity adds to the sense of dislocation his characters are experiencing and the collection title is apt; these characters are satellites of the modern world, rather than direct participants.

Clemens Meyers by Enno Seifried via Wikimedia Commons

I can see why the description “hallucinatory” was used for Meyers’ writing, as you *do* have to pay attention while the narrative regularly shifts time and place, blurring any chronological continuity. Nevertheless, that attention will bring great rewards as these are stories that most definitely deserve the word haunting – the moving characters and their lives stay with you, and the world which Meyers conjures is at times like dream-like and always vivid.

So “Dark Satellites” is another wonderful release from Fitzcarraldo which really does live up to their ethos of focusing on “ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing”. Meyers’ book is all of those things, peopled with memorable characters, and I highly recommend it!

#fitzcarraldofortnight – a look back at some previous reads during my Fitzcarraldo journey! @FitzcarraldoEds

23 Comments

As we make our way through #fitzcarraldofortnight, I thought it might be nice to take a look back at the books I’ve read from the publisher. As I shared earlier, this is my collection of their books:

There are of course two ways of looking at my collection; firstly, in terms of subject matter, blue cover are fiction, and white covers are non-fiction! However, with Fitzcarraldo that divide is often blurred, which is fine by me!

So here are my blue covers:

And here are my white:

They all look and sound delicious, as far as I’m concerned!

The other split is, of course, read, and unread! Here is my ‘read’ pile:

Fortunately (phew!) it’s the majority of the books and there are some really wonderful titles there.

The first Fitzcarraldo I read, back in 2018, was “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk, which is probably the book which is most responsible for bringing the publisher to a wider audience (for obvious reasons…) I said at the time that it was “an extraordinary work, a real tour de force with soaring prose and unforgettable stories. Tokarczuk weaves a wonderful tapestry of travellers’ tales whilst all the while digging down into the human psyche to see what it is that motivates us and what it means to be human. Reading “Flights” is like taking a wide-ranging and thought-provoking journey.” I still stand by that – fabulous book….

My next Fitzcarraldo, somewhat inevitably, was Tokarczuk’s “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” which was very different to “Flights”, but just as powerful and affecting. I concluded that ““Plow” is another deeply moving, completely involving and thoroughly original book by Olga Tokarczuk, and I could have pulled out so many more quotes than I actually have… I reckon that this one will also end up in my books of the year round up in December. Tokarczuk is an author of originality and stature, and “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” is a masterly work.” I really do want to read more Tokarczuk!

Next up on my Fitzcarraldo journey was another blue cover, “Ash Before Oak” by Jeremy Cooper. Taking the format of a diary or journal, it follows the life of an unnamed male narrator, who may or may not be the author. The book takes in his life in the country, the world around him and his fragile emotional state. It’s an immersive read, covering big topics including breakdown and suicide attempts, as well as the effect of the natural world on humans. Despite the potential blurring of the lines between fiction and fact, I concluded that that element really didn’t matter; “It’s a book I found myself reading compulsively, drawn in by the imagery of the natural world around the narrator and the wish to follow his journey to whatever end it reached. In many ways, the book reads as an act of catharsis, of writing out of one’s pain, and the result is really stunning.”

By the time I got to my next Fitzcarraldo, I had really developed a taste for these lovely, thought-provoking books. As part of #WITmonth I read “Vivian” by Christina Hesselholdt, a fictionalised life of the iconic photographer Vivian Maier. This was a brilliantly written work, blurring the lines again and even allowing the narrator a snarky voice of their own, letting them insert themself into the narrative! I opined ““Vivian” … with its clever structure, wonderful writing, playful yet thought-provoking narrative, and all-round fascinating story, is a real winner. It’s such a deep, complex and provocative book that I could say a lot more about it.. “Vivian” is … a wonderful read, highly recommended.”

So far, I had only read Fitzcarraldo blue covers, but the release of a new collection of writing from Ian Penman, an author I’ve read since my teens, drew me towards reading a white cover – the marvellous anthology “It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track”. Penman is one of those authors who can make any topic he writes about fascinating and enlightening, and this book did not let me down! This is writing about music which draws in all manner of erudite references, as well as social commentary, and makes you look at things in a new light. As I said at the time, “Even if you think you don’t like the artists covered or writings about music, I would recommend you read this marvellous selection of pieces; Ian Penman was one of the first writers I read who made me realise that you could push the cultural boundaries and that it was a good thing to do so – and he’s still doing it!”

Emboldened by my first successful white cover Fitzcarraldo, I invested in several more non-fiction works when they had an amazing sale on. The first I read from this selection was a slim, intriguing and though-provoking work from philosopher Simon Critchley – “Notes on Suicide”. Critchley’s book takes on an emotive and difficult subject to discuss; and his measured look at why some might choose to end their lives is an important contribution to that dialogue. I said at the time, “However, I feel that what Critchley brings to his essay on the subject is a calm and rational look at why we might choose to end our lives, a kind of history of the subject, as well as a personal viewpoint of how the subject affects him. His philosophical training gives him the necessary expertise to discuss suicide as a concept and I feel his book is definitely adds much to our understanding of the human condition.” That’s a judgement I stand by and I’ve gone on to read another book of his, which featured on the blog earlier this week.

That book was “Memory Theatre”, a different kind of book from “Notes” and yet one which was just as absorbing and thought-provoking. Critchley explores the ancient concepts of the memory palace and memory theatre, creating in the mind a structure filled with visual mnemonics to aid memory and knowledge. It was a fascinating book which most definitely blurred the lines between genres – most interesting and you can read my thoughts here!

Well – that’s my Fitzcarraldo journey so far. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed there’s one book on the ‘read’ pile I haven’t mentioned – “Dark Satellites” by Clemens Meyer. My thoughts on that will appear on the Ramblings next week – but suffice to say it’s another thought-provoking read!

So, after going through the Fitzcarraldos I’ve read, I’m left with my unread pile which looks like this:

Interestingly, they’re all white cover non fiction! And all sound wonderful and all need to be read as soon as I can get to them. Will I read any before the end of our fortnight? That will be revealed later… ;D

%d bloggers like this: