Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Seven Good Years, Etgar Keret

imagesI’m not generally a fan of satirical writing. It’s a personal thing. I don’t mind a short piece of satire, but for some reason, a long novel or even a short story just doesn’t do it for me. And it’s not because I haven’t tried. I have. Truly. And not just in English but in Hebrew, too. Neither seems to stick and I could never wrap my head around the attraction of this genre. So now you’re asking, well if you don’t like satire, what’s with this review of Etgar Keret’s memoir The Seven Good Years?

Well, the honest truth is that I had the privilege of attending an event hosted by the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival where Etgar Keret read from his memoir, touching on some of the nuances which informed its writing and elucidating the textures of his relationship with his father. There was something magical about hearing Keret read his own work, something real and tangible and true. His reading made me revisit the books that I have of his in Hebrew and they seemed more palatable when I could hear his voice echoing in my head. I loved hearing Keret describe the absurdity of his wife going in to labour against the backdrop of a terrorist attack. The vignette is filled with such palpable wisdom and simultaneously opens a field of sorrow and it’s this attempt to reconcile the two states which is simply a true reflection of living in Israel.

Six hours later, a midget with a cable hanging from his belly-button comes popping out of my wife’s vagina and immediately starts to cry. I try to calm him down, to convince him that there’s nothing to worry about. that by the time he grows up, everything here in the Middle East will be settled: peace will come, there won’t be any more terrorist attacks – and even if once in a blue moon there is one, there will always be someone original, someone with a little vision, around to describe it perfectly. He quiets down and considers his next move. He’s supposed to be naive – seeing how he’s a newborn – be even he doesn’t buy it, and after a second’s hestitation and a small hiccup, he goes back to crying.

While the whole book didn’t sing to me in this fashion, there were enough moments to make it a memorable and worthwhile read. Moments which touched my soul – like his story about the Accident where he juxtaposes a taxi drivers obsession with a scratch to his cab with his emotional distress at his wife’s miscarriage and his father’s cancer.

Alone in the cab, I can feel the tears rising. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I want to be positive, like my dad. My wife is fine now and we already have a wonderful son. My dad survived the Holocaust and has reached the age of eighty-three. That’s not just a half-full glass; it’s an overflowing one. I don’t want to cry. Not in this taxi.

There is something very raw in the simplicity of Keret’s narrative and this trembling honesty appears specifically when he speaks about his family, and at times when he engages in a discussion about Israel.

And no, it’s not that we Israelis long for war or death or grief, but we do long for those ‘old days’the taxi driver talked about. We long for a real war to take the place of all those exhausting years of intifada, when there was no black or white, only grey; when we were confronted not by armed forces but only by resolute young people wearing explosive belts; years when the aura of bravery ceased to exist, replaced by long lines of people waiting at our checkpoints, women about to give birth, and elderly people struggling to endure the stifling heat…. we’re no better than anyone else at resolving moral ambiguities. but we always did know how to win a war.

There have been many reviews of this memoir – the New York Times‘ Adam Wilson posits some interesting notions, specifically about what defines a ‘good year’, and The Guardian calls Keret “a master: bracing, compassionate, so absolutely himself”. Perhaps the essence of the magic of Keret’s writing is that he focuses so intently on life – “so it goes on. Life is lived, in spite of what is happening – and sometimes because of it.”

Am I a convert to satire as a genre? I don’t think so. But I do certainly appreciate the magic of Keret’s writing and his enormous contribution to the political commentary so closely associated with Israel and life there.

Advertisements

The Trap, Melanie Raabe

9781925240870Sue Turnbull at The Sydney Morning Herald classifies The Trap as a work of ‘domestic noir’ fiction along with the likes of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on The Train. Turnbull’s review describes Raabe’s book as classic ‘domestic noir’ complete with the “seemingly interminable self-doubt and self-delusion that characterise the central character’s path to enlightenment” and the twist that inevitably occurs at some point in the narrative.

There is no doubt that Raabe’s debut novel is both psychological thriller and specifically, ‘domestic noir’. It contains all of the elements of a book that would usually grab my attention and keep my gripped until the bitter end. It certainly jumped off the shelf and into my arms when I spied it in the Hot Reads section of the Public Library!

Some of the things that impressed me in this novel:

Raabe’s descriptive powers. Raabe has a wonderful ability to use detail and description in a subtle and artistic way. I found that this skill enhanced that narrative and the character development and gave me a clear insight into some of the book’s thematic concerns.

It is autumn, and as I stand here gazing out, I have the feeling I’m looking in a mirror. The colours are building to a crescendo; the autumn wind makes the trees sway, bending some branches and breaking others. It is a dramatic and beautiful day…

She hasn’t belaboured the image here, the description is simple and concise, yet packed with power – the personification of the colours, as though they have the power to build and create sound is magnificent and enables readers to really experience the scene. And this is just one example of many evocative uses of sensory imagery and intense description.

The concept. I thought the concept for this plot was intriguing. One sister finds the other murdered in her apartment and is convinced she sees the killer. So begins her spiral down into a psychological disorder which prevents her from leaving her home and leaves her a recluse:

The villa is my world. The sitting room with its open fire is my Asia, the library my Europe, the kitchen my Africa. North America is in my study. My bedroom is South America, and Australia and Oceania are out on the terrace. A few steps away, but completely unreachable.

I haven’t left the house for eleven years.

Raabe’s ability to reveal insights into the protagonist’s world is astounding. “It’s not a wide world, my world, but it’s safe. At least, that’s what I thought.”

Narrative structure. Conceptually, I thought the narrative structure was perfect for fleshing out the plot and illustrating for readers how Linda, the protagonist, was trying to unpack her theories about her sister’s death while dealing with the residual psychological trauma of the experience of her loss. Raabe cleverly constructs the foreground narrative of Linda’s present, ‘real’ life which unfolds in her house and revolves around her seeing a photograph of the man she believes killed her sister. The secondary narrative is presented in the form of Linda’s latest book called ‘Blood Sisters’ which she writes as a ploy to illicit a confession from her sister’s killer.

I loved the idea of this structure but in practise it didn’t always work for me and at times in the telling I found myself distracted by the switch of narrative voice and wanting the narrative to ‘hurry up’, so to speak.

Psychological angle. I think it was this that held most potential for me in Raabe’s novel: Linda’s psychological torment, the nature of her illness, the battle she faces to uncover the truth, her self doubt. It is clear from reading Raabe’s book that she attempts to overtly engage with each of these elements and at times she does so brilliantly, but there were moments in my reading where I found Linda’s rising self doubt unconvincing and this made me question the narrative structure and the power of Linda’s voice in this telling.

Nonetheless, my overall experience of Raabe’s book is that it was enjoyable. If you are a reader who likes a bit of a psychological thrill in the domestic noir genre, then this is definitely a book for you!