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“To write is love unto death” @seagullbooks

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Bergeners by Tomas Espedal
Translated by James Anderson

I’ve been aware of the publishers Seagull Books for some time now; not least because they sent me a copy of their beautiful catalogue, which is a work of art in its own right, but also because of the love shown by a number of esteemed bloggers I follow (most notably Joe at Rough Ghosts, who even spent quite some time interacting with them on a trip to India – check out his fascinating posts on his blog!) Despite wanting to, I’d somehow never actually picked up a copy of any of their books (possibly because the choice is so great I didn’t know where to begin); but Bergeners received so much blogging acclaim that I figured it would be a good place to start and picked up a copy! 🙂

Tomas Espedal is a Norwegian author new to me. and “Bergeners” was originally published in 2013; the Seagull edition, translated by James Anderson, came out last year. It’s a lovely edition, beautifully put together and with a stylish dustjacket; if this is an indication of the quality of Seagull books I can see myself acquiring more… And I see that several of Espedal’s book are available from the publisher – oh, the temptation!

“Bergeners” is one of those book which defies classification; notionally tagged as being about the people of Bergen, “a love letter to a writer’s home town” as the blurb puts it, it’s really much more. After a vivid opening memory, the book switches to New York, with the narrator experiencing the huge strangeness of that city, before being dumped by his girlfriend. And actually, to attempt any linear description of the book’s content after that would be pointless, as the narrative is a fragmentary and heady mixture of memoir, fiction, poetry and meditations on life. Espedal stirs in reminiscence of his young life, his difficulties at home, growing up, hints of a failed marriage and encounters with other Norwegian figures in the arts world (most notably one “Karl Ove” – I wonder who that could be…) He was can also be drily funny at times!

Simen Hagerup pays a visit. His hairstyle seems to indicate that he wants short hair and long hair at the same time.

The book ranges widely in location, from New York to Madrid, Albania, Nicaragua, Paris, Berlin and of course Norway. There are fragments and poems; diary entries; short stories; and sections which read like memoir and meditation. Running through the book is a thread of loss, ageing and melancholy, alongside a constant sense of absence. There is a past wife; a lost girlfriend; parents who are dead or in care; friends who drift apart; and, perhaps most painfully; a grown up daughter who moves away to live her own life.

By Bjørn Erik Pedersen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The blurring of past and present creates an evocative narrative which lingers in the mind; and Espedal seems to be reflecting on the inevitable changes that come in life, time passing, and the effects of age. I could perhaps be trite and say the man’s having a mid-life crisis; but I think we use that term pejoratively nowadays, and actually life is so frantic that we often find that age catches up with us when we pause to take a breath. That happened to me when I went back to work after 15 years of looking after Offspring – it was like coming out of the other end of a tunnel and wondering where my life had gone. But I digress.

From the window of the room at Hotel S. Anselmo, on the second floor, you can see right into a lime tree. It’s as if you’re sitting behind the curtain to expose the tree’s secret. One of its branches grows towards the window and scratches the pane when the wind blows. If the window was kept open, the branch would grow into the hotel room. The line-tree branch would spread inside the room, its leaves would unfurl, it would turn to winter, spring, and there, hidden behind the curtain, you imagine how the tree and the seasons would take over the empty room.

“Bergeners” is full of evocative images, the kind of book where you find yourself wallowing in the beauty of the writing. What is fact and what is fiction is never clear, but to be honest I don’t think that matters here. If you want plot, this is *not* the place to look. But if you want poetry, poetic prose, vivid imagery and the kind of narrative that will set you thinking and keep you thinking for a long time after you finish the book, then Espedal could well be the author for you. My first experience of a Seagull book was a stunning one – and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

*****

I’m not sure that I’ve actually done this book justice, so for further thoughts you could check out Joe’s thoughts here, and also Melissa’s here. Anthony has also written about Espedal’s other works on his excellent blog.

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Some booky and arty digressions! (or; drowning in books….)

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have picked up that I’ve been having a bit of a clear out recently – the pile of books on the landing, known locally as Death Row, has been severely pruned and there are now boxes in the hallway waiting for a local charity shop to collect. Unfortunately, the pruning process wasn’t as rigorous as I might have wished, as I ended up reprieving a fair number of books – but at least the landing is now passable without danger of falling over a pile of volumes…

Needless to say, however, this somehow spurred on a burst of buying (and I’ve managed to pick up a couple of things locally). So in the spirit of sharing gratuitous book pictures with those who love them, here are some lovelies! 🙂

They come from a variety of sources, new and used, and are all tempting me to pick them up straight away to read…

First up, a couple of finds in the local Samaritans Book Cave – and as I mentioned when I posted images of them on social media, I had only popped in to ask about donating…. But the Wharton is one I’ve never seen before and it sounds fascinating. I do of course have the Colette already, but it’s a very old, small Penguin with browning crumbly pages which I’m a bit scared to read again. And I *do* want to re-read the Cheri books, so of course want to start reading both of these at once.

These two are brand new, pay-day treats from an online source (ahem). I basically couldn’t resist Bergeners as I’ve heard such good things about it (and as I posted excitedly on Twitter, I now own a Seagull Books book!) The Patti Smith was essential, as I have just about everything else ever published by her (including old and rare poetry pamphlets from the 1970s). I just discovered she has an Instagram account you can follow – how exciting is that????

Finally in the new arrivals, a recent post by Liz reminded me that I had always wanted to own a book issued by the Left Book Club. A quick online search revealed that Orwells are prohibitively expensive; but I rather liked the look of this one about Rosa Luxemburg and so it was soon winging its way to me.

I could of course start reading any of these straight away (but which one?); though I am rather suffering from lots of books calling for my attention at once. There’s the lovely pile of British Library Crime Classics I featured a photo of recently, as well as other review books. Then there is this enticing pile featuring some books I’m keen on getting to soon:

I’ve already started the Chateaubriand and it’s excellent; long and full of beautiful prose. I want to read more RLS, and I’m very drawn to New Arabian Nights. Then there is poetry – perhaps I should have a couple of weeks of reading only verse???

Finally, here’s an author who’s been getting a lot of online love recently:

I was pretty sure that I’d read Jane Bowles, and I thought it was “Two Serious Ladies” that I’d read – but apparently not… The pretty Virago above is a fairly recently acquisition; the short story collection is a book I’ve had for decades (it has an old book-plate I used to use); and so I’ve obviously never read Bowles’ only novel. So tempting.

And there is, of course, this rather daunting volume – Dr. Richard Clay’s book on “Iconoclasm in revolutionary Paris”, which is currently sitting on my shelf glaring at me as if to say “Well, you went through all that angst to get me, so damn well read me!”

Here it is on the aforesaid shelf, and as you can see it has a new heavyweight companion…

The new arrival is another Big Book on iconoclasm which has just come out in paperback. It’s obvious I need to give up work and find some kind of employment that will pay me just to read…

So, I’m really not quite sure where to commit my reading energies at the moment: do I read review books or follow my whim? Or let myself by swayed by other people’s suggestions or go for a re-read? Or go for Difficult but Fascinating? Decisions, decisions…

The Arty Bit

This post is getting a bit long, but anyway. Ramblings readers will probably have picked up that I love a good art exhibition, but I pretty much always end up travelling to London for them as not much seems to happen locally. However, OH (that great enabler) noticed that the nearest Big Town had an art gallery and it was showing a collection of contemporary Chinese art, so I popped over during the recent half term break.

I confess that I know little about Chinese art (probably more about Japanese art, tbh) but this was fascinating. The works are remarkable varied, some drawing on traditional Chinese methods and others embracing more Western techniques. I took quick snaps of a few favourites (I’m never sure if you’re allowed to take photos in galleries, though phone cameras seem to be acceptable).

It really is an eye-opener of an exhibition, and even had free postcards!

What was disappointing, however, was how quiet the gallery was in the middle of a half term week. I do feel that perhaps they need to give themselves a higher profile; I wasn’t sure I even knew there was a gallery there, although I now find myself questioning that because of a very strange incident. I was on my up the stairs in the gallery to the upper mezzanine level, and halfway up there is a big list on the wall of supporters and past volunteers. I was a bit surprised to notice, therefore, that Middle Child’s name was featured…. Especially as when I quizzed her about it she claimed to have no idea why it’s up there!

She is, however, the arty one of the family, and I suspect may have been involved in something there when she was at college doing art. But obviously having a bad memory run in the family.

Well. I’m sorry – this is a really long post (but then I do like to live up to my name and ramble….) Now I just need to focus and decide what to read next…

Carpe Librum! or, in which I fear for the foundations…

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(of the house, that is….)

Yes. I’m afraid the sorry state of the book piles continues with yet more arrived chez Ramblings… and here is the latest bunch:

Pretty, aren’t they? But not small…  And probably not much I can say in mitigation, although there *are* yet more review books:

All of these are titles I requested and want very much to read – in fact, I’ve just finished “Malacqua” which was quite stunning and it’s going to take me a while to work out what I want to say about it. I’ve started the M. John Harrison and the first few stories have been outstanding, so I’m very excited about that one. And “Locus Solus” just sounds – very intriguing…..

Ahem. As I am prone to say, damn you Verso Books with your money-saving offers! Currently, the publisher has 50% of ALL of their books (so I make no excuse for using shouty capital letters because that’s an offer worth shouting about!). Yes, I know I have the e-book of “October”, but I loved it so much I wanted the tree version. And I’ve wanted “Night Walking” for ages too, and this was the time to buy it. 50% off. With a bundled e-book if one is available. Go check out Verso. Now!

This was a beautiful and unforeseen treat, in the form of the wonderful Seagull Books catalogue. It’s known to be a work of art in its own right and I was over the moon when the publisher kindly offered to send me a copy. It has masses of content including contributions from such blogging luminaries as Melissa, Joe, Anthony and Tony, so I plan to spend happy hours over the Christmas break with it. Plus they publish Eisenstein – how exciting!!!

As for this – well, it came from The Works over the weekend when I was browsing for Christmas gifts. I picked it up because it looked pretty, imagining I would find it a bit sappy or soppy, stuffed with twee verse. Well, there *are* the usual romantic love poems (the classics, which is no bad thing) but there were some powerful pieces I didn’t know, including one by Marina Tsvetaeva. I was hesitating till I looked at the last poem in the book, by Owen Sheers, and it was so stunning I had to buy the book…

And finally – a little bit of madness in the Oxfam:

This weighs a bloody ton, frankly, and I ended up lugging it round town for hours. But – it cost £1.99 and how could I resist pages like this:

and this????

Mayakovsky! A Bulgakov picture I’ve never seen! And so much more! I confess OH looked at it a little askance and sighed, but it was a no-brainer. My shoulder is still recovering, however…

So – I’m definitely still seizing the book – time for another clear out, methinks…. =:o

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