Is this novel a masterpiece? Plenty of the reviews it has received will try to convince you that it is, and both the book itself and its publication history make bids for high esteem. It is suitably epic in scope, with a narrative sweep that extends from Nazi Germany to present-day Iceland and incorporates elements of Biblical lore as well as Norse mythology.
Bragi Ólafsson is the master of making mountains out of molehills. Here is how a typical Bragi novel unfolds: he kickstarts a narrative with a situation that looks like it has virtually zero potential for complex development, and then he digs deeper into it, and deeper still, and even deeper, mining the situation for its subterranean minutiae, until he reaches a point at which it erupts into something much more elaborate than seemed possible at first.
Sam Thompson is the author of two novels, the Booker-longlisted Communion Town (2012) and, most recently, Jott (2018). Jott depicts a friendship between two men finding their places in the world, in the socially conservative Britain of the 1930s. One of them is a psychiatrist with his own deep anxieties; the other is a writer of highly stylised Modernist fiction.
What is Jott, exactly? It’s the title of the new novel by Sam Thompson, of course, but it’s also the title of a novel within the novel and an all-purpose allusion to the spirit of “the Beckettian”: the double consonants at the end of the word call to mind some of Samuel Beckett’s best-known characters — Hamm, Krapp — and the whole word is an echo of the names of both Watt, from Watt (1953), and his demanding employer Mr. Knott. Open the novel and you’ll find Beckett there between the covers, too.
While she was writing her novel Crudo, Olivia Laing was reviewing Chris Kraus’ After Kathy Acker (2017), a biography of the experimental postmodernist. One passage caught her attention: it described an exercise in which David Antin told a young Acker in San Diego to head to the library, take out a biography, and rework it in the first person.
There’s no escape in Amparo Dávila’s fiction. None. Even when characters do escape physically, well, events shatter them mentally. Characters are trapped with demonic children, confronted by doppelgangers, stalked by murderous creatures, and, most insidiously, warped by their own ginned-up, misguided beliefs: those unsettling beliefs that assert, menacingly, You’re in danger.
Marc Nash is the author of five collections of flash fiction and four novels, all of which, according to his bio, “look to push narrative form and language”. His latest novel, Three Dreams in the Key of G, certainly fits the bill.