Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dark Ladies In Translation

I read these reviews with interest.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/books/review/Agee.t.html?_r=1&ref=books&o

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/books/review/Harrison2.t.html?ref=books

Both are pans, especially the first, reviewing Elfriede Jelinek's latest book, which finally sees the light of day in English.

Reviewer Joel Agee rakes Jelinek over the coals for her former Communist Party membership and extreme feminist views. He excoriates the new book, Greed, as a lifeless and mordant exploration into Austrian society. Interestingly, as he makes his dislike of both book and author plain, he neglects to mention Jelinek's crippling agoraphobia: Jelinek so fears travel she could not attend the ceremony to receive her contested Nobel Prize. Her mother, immortalized in The Piano Teacher, was a monster. Her father died in a mental hospital.

I read The Piano Teacher. While brutal, it is a compelling exploration of the impossibly competitive classical music world and the sometimes crazed parents inhabiting it. The book is also provides a fascinating glimpse into Viennese musical culture. The characters are unpleasant; the novel lacks a happy ending. It appears Greed follows suit. Perhaps it is a bad novel, but if Mr. Agee must skewer Jelinek's character along with her book, he might be a bit more even-handed.

Sophie Harrison doesn't sharpen her knives on Natsuo Kirino, which is nice. Even nicer is looking forward to Grotesque, the second Kirino book apeearing in English. I picked up the first, Out, on a lark, caught cold, and read the book in one sitting, tissues piling up about me. Kirino's work is smooth, cool, her characters sharply ruthless. The world depicted in Out is an unrelentingly ugly reality of necessary, mindless work coupled with barren relationships. Like Jelinek's writing, Kirino's sheds light into a part of the world American readers might otherwise never see, in this case, Japanese working-class women. Even better, it shows these women quietly revolting. And getting away with it.

Both Agee and Harrison take issue with the darkness of their respective authors' themes. Jelinek is especially black-humored, but given the current state of affairs, can we blame her? Neither writer offers escapist panacea: look elsewhere. Read Danielle Steel if you want soft lighting and happy endings. I am content to find these dark ladies available in English, and look forward to both, if only for outside verification of the darkness I see all around me.

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