“Constellation” is the word that kept popping up in media coverage of Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (trans. Jennifer Croft) earlier this year, especially after the novel won the Man Booker International Prize. Flights is narrated by a middle-aged Polish woman who leads an unashamedly itinerant lifestyle, a wanderer whose “energy derives from movement — from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking” — and her story is interspersed with depictions of other people in similar states of perpetual transit.
There’s a recent strain of literature that I find intriguing, even though its setup is hopelessly dreary. A first-person narrator, in or close to the present day, conducts research into an historical figure, usually someone who lived in the nineteenth century, in such a way that the narrator’s findings reflect on his or her personal dilemmas.
It’s not every day that you come across a novel with a passage like this in its opening pages: Flosi from Svínafell came back from his vehicle; the angle grinder leapt to life and the hotel splattered with red gore…
In Singapore, a Pontianak is a vengeful female vampire, a creature who erupts from banyan leaves to feed on male flesh. Its pristine, innocent shell — an image of virginal purity in a white dress — may at any moment give way to the grotesque.
Consider the poetry of the tarn. Does it even exist? Glaciers, waterfalls, windswept moors: these are the features of landscape typically taken up for romanticisation. Tarns tend to be disregarded, ugly black pools fringed with reeds, or else construed as the dwelling places of demons, hags, Grendel’s mother.
Look for them and you’ll find that there are plenty of cracks in literature. Ruptures, physical and emotional: writers seem to love them.
When the Berlin Wall was closed in August 1961, effectively sealing the final point of exit for East German citizens seeking asylum in the West, Wolfgang Hilbig was just shy of his twentieth birthday. With this action, the GDR became a completely contained state, isolated from the rest of the world.