NB: Although this volume was published in 2017, the stories contained in it were first published in the 20th Century in different collections. Hence the categorisation of this topic in BGO.
Stories is the short companion volume to the much longer True Stories, the compendium of Helen Garner's short non-fiction work.
Unsurprisingly, then, Stories are the short fiction. Except that Helen Garner's work is notoriously hard to categorise. These are not really stories, they are essays written from the point of view of someone who just happens not to exist. The quality is apparent in that you have to keep reminding yourself that it is not memoir or editorial. And it is not the life of Helen Garner portrayed by actors, in that the characters are so completely different: flighty women, abused women, strong women, a gay man, a nationalist drunk, ... Always Australian, though. Mostly the stories don't have what you'd think of as a narrative arc. They start with no preamble and the reader is required to piece together what it is they are reading, And the ends tend to just peter out rather than reaching any real resolution.
So this is not an easy read. Nor is it what would traditionally be called entertaining. It's not even that thought provoking. But there is a beauty in it when looked at closely, in just how perfectly some moments and some details are captured. Invariably uncomfortable moments.
It's 1684, 17 years after Robert Merivels rise, fall and start to clamber back up again in Restoration. Here he is again, as delightful a character as ever, wonderfully flawed but so human and basically good hearted, looking for a way to entertain himself after his adored daughter goes on an extended visit to friends. Cue a visit to Paris and the court of Louis XIV, where things don't go to plan but Merivel does meet an intellegent and good looking grass widow who makes no secret of her attraction to him. But Merivel has to flee back to England to escape her annoyed husband having acquired a bear on the way...
There is so much that's very good about this book. Rose Tremain's writing is wonderful, her sense of period and scene setting is spot on and her charecterisations are suberb and Merivel himself carries all before him. But, it lacks pace. There's no narrative drive, the plot such as it is ambles along, rather like real life, going off at tangents occasionally but the only real tension is whether the King will commit the ultimate betrayal of his faithful follower Merivel (who is quite realistic enough to know how likely it is). It made the last part of the book rather slow going.
It's still well worth reading though for all the many good things about it.
review of The Things We Don't Do by Andres Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.
The Things We Don't Do is a collection of short stories from Argentinian author Andres Neuman. This is split into 6 sections being love & sex, family, death, crime, art and dodecalogues rules. Being a short story collection, I can't really describe the plots because of time restraints and such. However I will go through the ones I really liked.
My favourite was My False Name in the section subtitled Relatives and Strangers. This was a little family history story, firstly started with how his family acquired the name Neuman or one of the told methods of who they did so. I enjoyed it and the ending of it touched me. Another one I really liked was Juan,Jose, a back and forth diary between two people who think they are the psychiatrist of the other. Which one is the psychiatrist, are either of them actually psychiatrists and both patients?
Also Second Hand was a very good story being about a women who sees a jacket similar to one she had previously bought her husband for christmas. The story titled The things we don't do and A Terribly Perfect Couple both were very good at over a page each.
Overall this was a very good collection, some were better than others. Wasn't too taken by the death section though but that might have been a mindframe thing on my part.
Short stories are not my forte when it comes to reading but I liked this one. Neuman is a superb writer and though better suited to long prose.
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'At the age of five, Gustav Perle was certain of only one thing, he loved his mother.' So starts the story of Gustav, a quiet directionless boy growing up in penury in an unremarkable town in Swtizerland after the war, with his embittered, unloving and widowed mother. He makes friends with Anton, the new kid in town, Jewish, rich and a musical prodigy, destined by his ambitious parents for a glittering career as a concert pianist and they form a bond that lasts through growing up into middle age.
This is a wonderful book. I hestitate to say too much - I picked it up in the library just because I'll automatically get anything by Rose Tremain, and I really enjoyed not having any pre-conceived notions about it all. All I can say is that it's a quiet story and utterly mesmerising, beautifully written ad one to savour.