Review of The Consequences by Niña Weijers, trans. by Hester Velmans

I’m delighted to have this review up on The Common. It took longer to write than I had anticipated, in part, because every time I returned to this book, there was more to say about it. So many fascinating layers!

Outstanding books often have a way of catching the reader by surprise, one insight, one unexpected narrative shift at a time. Niña Weijers, a debut novelist from the Netherlands, begins her book as a character study of her protagonist, Minnie Panis. Minnie is a conceptual artist of growing international reputation, whose career has been built on acts of public self-abnegation.  With each turn of the page, Weijers extends her subject and thematic reach, keeping her protagonist in focus while exploring contemporary art, mysticism, Mayan beliefs, and early childhood development (among other themes) to enrich our understanding of Minnie’s character and the forces that govern her life.

Minnie’s story is told by an omniscient narrator who documents Minnie’s history of “disappearances”: moments of near death and of extreme out of body experiences, all of which Hester Velmans, an NEA fellowship recipient for translation, has rendered to strong effect in plain and unpretentious language. The prologue introduces us to Minnie in February, 2012 when she falls through a frozen lake in Amsterdam. This is described as a deliberate gesture—not a suicide attempt, but rather a Houdini-like disappearing act, Minnie’s third. But why such a radical performance? The ensuing narrative leads us on an investigation. . . .

Read the rest of this review here.

 

Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs, Constructing Panic

In this pioneering books, researches Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs look at the narrative on a woman suffering from agoraphobia and study the way she authors her narrative and the way her narrative comes to form her reality.

The linguistic shaping of sufferers’ narratives has been generally glossed over, with the result that the therapeutic effect of telling one’s life stories with another person remains largely a mystery. Psychoanalysts tend to look through narrative rather than at narrative to identify underlying emotional dynamics and formative experiences. How a teller sculpts her tale–the grammatical form and the sequencing and intertwining of pieces of setting, enigmatic experiences, and outcomes–is not a focal point but rather a medium for exposing a deeper story.

We share the view that stories can offer a powerful medium for gaining insights not fully accessible to the narrator. Indeed we endorse the perspective, held by a number of philosophers and literary critics, that narrative creates stepping stones to self-understanding. To borrow the words of Vaclav Havel, narrative allows us to confront ourselves, “to return in full seriousness to the ‘core of things,’ to pose the primordial questions again and again, and from the beginning, constantly, to examine the direction [we are] going.”

Annie Ernaux’s Shame

A powerful little book that begins with an analysis of a single episode from the writer’s past, an incident that happened when she was twelve. This book breaks so many writerly rules — in such a satisfying, rewarding way. The translation is by Tanya Leslie.

The quote is from the end of the first section.

Naturally I shall not opt for narrative, which would mean inventing reality instead of searching for it. Neither shall I content myself with merely picking out and transcribing the images I remember; I shall process them  like documents, examining them from different angles to give them meaning. In other words, I shall carry out an ethnological study of myself.

(It may not be necessary to commit such observations to paper, but I won’t be able to start writing properly until I have some idea of the shape this writing will take.)

I may have chosen to be impartial because I thought the indescribable events I witness in my twelfth year would fate away, lost in the universal context of laws and language. Or maybe I succumbed  to a mad and deadly impulse suggested by the words of a missal which I now find impossible to read, a ritual which my mind associates with some Voodoo ceremony–take this, all of you, and read it, this is my body, this is the cup of my blood, it will be shed for you and for all men.

Strange Weather in Tokyo

From Hiromi Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo, translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell,

He was my Japanese teacher at secondary school. He wasn’t my form teacher, and Japanese didn’t interest me much, so I didn’t really remember him. Since I finished school, I hadn’t seen him for quite a while.

Several years ago, we sat beside each other at a crowded bar near the train station, and after that, our paths would cross every now and then. that night, he was sitting at the counter, his back so straight it was almost concave.

Taking my seat at the counter, I ordered “Tuna with fermented soybeans, fried lotus root, and salted shallots,” while the old man next to me requested “Salted shallots, lotus root fries, and tuna with fermented soybeans” almost simultaneously. when I glanced over, I saw he was staring straight back at me.

This delightful book can be found through the publisher’s website.