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Friday 23rd Mar 2012

Lucinda Corby

Recent Raves

In between reading group commitments, I do get to lay my hands on some new fiction - and sometimes I happen to chance upon a really interesting read (or in this case two). First up is Pacazo by Roy Kesey. It's a big book - but one of those that you're happy to spend time with. I learnt so much about Peruvian history, food, politics, wildlife and teaching English as a foreign language from the narrator, John Segovia, that it was with some regret that I reached the last page and had to say goodbye to my Peruvian nights. This is a book of great ambition and scope - including in terms of the writing style itself. John comes to life in short, snappy sentences - but before you think this is a light, inconsequential read, I should also point out that there is a realist rendering to his thoughts. It isn't quite 'stream of consciousness' stuff but Kesey's protagonist does have a habit of seamlessly changing subject mid-paragraph. One minute he's describing a dock scene as he sits on a park bench, and then you realise he has drifted into an account of the Spanish conquistadors landing over 400 years previously. It makes for an engaging and original storytelling style that never feels cliched or forced. This isn't the only aspect of the book that is convincing: John's niggling obsession with trying to find his wife's killer and deliver retribution; his ineptness at looking after their infant daughter; the way in which his tragic life events interfere with his teaching - are all subtly interwoven into the story. The level of detail and insight is always fascintating and never dull or slow paced. Ship in a crate of Inca Cola and settle back for a Peruvian adventure.

 

 

Second up is a recently translated work by French writer Pascal Garnier. "The Panda Theory" is a brooding noiresque novella set in a small, nondescript Breton town. The pervading rain sets the tone, but the bleak and unremarkable lives of the inhabitants are about to be shaken up by the arrival of Gabriel, a man of no fixed abode who appears to drift from place to place at random. Gabriel brings a little bit of empathy, compassion and goodness along with him...but his intentions are not entirely selfless. There is a a visual quality to the writing which is vivid and loaded with emotion.The story is told in episodes, with silences in between the hours and I imagined a cinema screen fading to black and changing scene. There are incremental flashbacks where we tantalisingly start to learn a little of Gabriel's past.  His little observations about life and environment are not to be missed. Food features heavily (well, this is Breton) and I have to confess that the descriptions of Gabriel's various meal preparations made me feel hungry. The oddball characters are intriguing and well drawn - I love the way in which Gabriel tries to assess their lives through appearance and belongings. This is a clever, stylish, unsettling book which can be devoured in an afternoon but messes with your sense of right and wrong for a whole lot longer!

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