Thursday, July 22, 2010


21 July 2010… 66 years ago this week, Count Claus von Stauffenberg tried to kill Hitler. A few years ago a good movie VALKYRIE came out and is still watchable.

Of course why would I begin with such a detail?

The dreary time of the summer.


I have been begging the LATimes to review MY LIFE AS A RUSSIAN NOVEL (Metropolitan Books Henry Holt and Company) by Emmanuel Carrere and while I have not given up hope the publication date in early August is a-comin-in and they have a new editor and who knows what direction the section is about to take and again: how to interest anyone in a book about a man who notices a little news item in a French newspaper, digs a bit deeper and then the thought why not go to that small obscure Russian town that was the site of the article and of course the next and very common thought: well, that might make an interesting movie and then on to an intriguing book because since that news item was about something in a Russian town and, you, the author Emmanuel Carrere has a Russian speaking mother who is the leading French expert on Russian matters and is a member of the French Academy, and you Emmanuel Carrere have grown up in that rarefied world of wealth and intellectual privilege with the require grand apartment and summer homes but there is the family secret of your mother’s father who was from Georgia and who was “disappeared” at the end of WW2 by the resistance as he was a translator for the Germans… and your book will be full of sex with a French woman who comes from another class and who… and there will be one incredible terrible act of real violence in that obscure Russian town and its consequences and yet: ::: a book translated from the French about something happening in an obscure Russian town….

And I have the dvd of the resulting movie RETOUR A KOTELNITCH which I am waiting to watch with my daughter who can do the simultaneous translation as I had to order the dvd from French Amazon, since it is not available in the US…
And I can well imagine the sheer jealousy of all who never gave thought to such a great title for a book…


May I suggest that you order ARRIVING IN AVIGNON by Daniel Robberechts to be published by Dalkey Archive in October. This is the most interesting book they are doing so far this season though I have not read the new Julian Rios or a few other books they are doing and everyone knows that Knopf is doing in November Thomas Bernhard’s MY PRIZES which joins PROSE which Seagull Books published this month--- which to many is the highpoint of Knopf’s FALL LIST
(as an aside Seagull is also doing the collected correspondence between Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann and a play by Peter Handke--- Seagull, based in India but distributed by U of Chicago---

But back to ROBBERECHTS: ARRIVING IN AVIGNON is the first of what one hopes will be his collected works. Totally unknown in the US and mostly unknown in his native Belgium… there is a heart breaking moment in the introduction by his publisher, who I assume in John O’Brien, who mentions meeting Robberechts’ daughter , the daughter of a suicide father, who did not have most of her father’s books and all of his books were out of print in Belgium.. but from a selection from another of Robberechts' books published in the Flemish issue of the RCF one knew that this was the real thing and that was the first inclining of what was to come.

ARRIVING IN AVIGNON, refusing to admit to being fiction, non-fiction, biography, autobiography, travel narrative, recite becomes the perfect book, a book that flies all categorization and easy description but is easily readable…the opening, “In the diary that he has kept since he was eighteen… (but we his readers know that he will be a suicide when he is 55)… as if Rimbaud had really returned and not in a parody as represented by Patti Smith’s self-ID but in Rimbaud’s total abjection though invigorated as if possessed by Celine… Robberechts will trace all his connection to this French city… it must be stated that ARRIVING IN AVIGNON was originally published in 1970.. so more strikes against it… giving lie to all those who say there are no undiscovered great writers in the world today because we are all so well informed.. any culture that considers Paul Auster, Ricky Moody, Don DeLillo and they are just the figureheads of the well known bad writers in Edward Dahlberg’s phrase… but now ARRIVING IN AVIGNON is there --- with more to come--- along with that other great and unique book Dalkey published some years ago: CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela and which I think is the best book they have published and the most essential, the most innovative, the most daring…


But at the same time you should not be tempted by another title Dalkey Archive is publishing. The more books a publisher publishes the possibility of some duds creeping in… and this season coming Dalkey Archive has found an Irish dud in the form of SLEEPWALKER by John Toomey which is nothing more than another adolescent coming of age novel set in the present time with a gesture at distancing but for the publisher of Flann O’Brien and Aidan Higgins this is an embarrassing fall into trying to find the equal of a Jay McInerney, one of those books that seeks to explain the so-called contemporary…

Until Dalkey Archive begins to publish and republish the work of Desmond Hogan , the only genuine successor to Joyce, Beckett, O’Brien, Higgins now writing in Ireland they can not be taken seriously when it comes to Irish matters….

Yes, they did do Dorothy Nelson’s IN NIGHT’S CITY at my long ago suggestion and still a sadly over-looked novel to come from Ireland when compared to the trivial exercises of Colm Toibin or the blurb writer for Toomey’s book .

But it is DESMOND HOGAN in books such as A FAREWLEL TO PRAGUE and THE EDGE OF THE CITY that claim his place in that pantheon of Irish writing to which I would also add Francis Stuart via his BLACK LIST SECTION H... there is nothing else in Ireland at the moment…My Life as a Russian Novel: A MemoirMy Life as a Russian Novel: A MemoirMy Life as a Russian Novel: A MemoirArriving in AvignonArriving in Avignon