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A unique take on the memoir format – over @ShinyNewBooks @BelgraviaB #georgesperec

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If you’re a regular follower of Shiny New Books (and I do hope you are – there are some marvellous book reviews there, and it will be very bad for your TBR…); anyway, if you are, you might have seen my Bookbuzz piece back in April which looked at the playful yet serious work of the Oulipo literary group. Their shining star is most probably the great French author, Georges Perec, and so I was very excited to discover recently that Gallic Books were bringing out a new edition of his “I Remember“; a book only translated in 2014, and not published in the UK until now!

Perec was a prolific author, producing all manner of varied works which took in differing formats and constraints; and by the time of this work he’d already dipped into oblique memoir with his book “W, or The Memory of Childhood“. “I Remember” takes a very unusual angle whilst dealing with memory and the past, and is absolutely fascinating; to find out more, you can check out my review here! 😀

“Humankind is becoming dry and brittle.” #Nagasaki @BelgraviaB #EricFaye

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Nagasaki by Eric Faye
Translated by Emily Boyce

The trouble with following as many book blogs I do is, frankly, the number of recommendations and book ideas you get. On top of this, my memory is shocking and I tend to forget who it was who wrote about a particular book. However, in this case I’ve managed to remember that it was Karen at Booker Talk who wrote about “Nagasaki”; and I was so intrigued that I picked up a copy and read it recently when the need to read something short and actually *finish* it took hold of me!

French author Eric Faye has written numerous novels and short stories; interestingly, he’s also a journalist, and “Nagasaki” draws on a real-life news story. Set in the titular Japanese city, it tells the story of meteorologist Kobo Shimura who lives quietly on his own in an ordinary suburban street. A creature of routine, he lives an isolated life, rarely mixing with his younger colleagues and his life proceeds undisturbed until one day he notices something strange. It appears that food and drink are going missing from his fridge; and as he lives in a neighbourhood where residents don’t lock their doors the natural assumption is that there has been an intruder. However, a locked door doesn’t stop the disappearances, and so Shimura installs a webcam to find out what is going on. The results are unsettling, to say the least, and the consequences fairly explosive for both Shimura and the visitor who’s been helping themself to his supplies.

And here I hit a dilemma of how much to reveal about this book. It’s probably fair to acknowledge that the blurb gives away that someone has been living secretly in Shimura’s house; a homeless woman who’s hidden herself in a spare room cupboard. Her actions, taken out of necessity, have a destabilising effect on Shimura and his sense of security in his own home; and the women herself faces an uncertain future.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, as the book retains surprises up to the end. What I do want to mention is the clever use of point-of-view in the writing. The book is initially told entirely from Shimura’s viewpoint, and we see things only from his perspective and sympathise with his outrage about having his privacy violated. However, midway through the narrative shifts and we have parts told by an omnicient narrator and parts from the woman herself which radically change our view of events. That shift of perspective opens up the story, allowing it to take in much more than just the narrow view of Shimura’s life; and we realise that the woman is just as alienated in relation to the modern world as is Shimura concerning his violated territory.

“Nagasaki” is a short novella of 109 pages yet produces so much food for thought. There’s the worrying subject of a nation’s duty to take care of its population; our individual duty to help our fellow humans; our need for solitude and privacy versus our need for companionship; and oddly enough, our wish for resolution. Without giving anything away, the end of the book *is* unresolved and I wasn’t sure (and still am not) whether that was the ending I wanted and needed to this story. There are hints, too, of Nagasaki’s tragic past woven into the narrative and I perhaps would have liked this element to be drawn out more.

Nevertheless, this *is* a novella and such as it is very effective and moving. Despite the ambiguous and perhaps unfinished nature of the ending, I kept thinking about the story long after I’d finished it; and I certainly think in this modern world we need to do more to look after the lonely and the homeless, as well as trying to get back some sense of community and compassion. “Nagasaki” was a thoughtful read and I do recommend you give it a look if you come across it.

Jacqui has also reviewed the book here!

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