When you have some time to spare and it’s a cold, dark November afternoon, then the warm interior of a really good book shop is the ideal place for any avid reader. Which was my excuse for popping into Blackwell’s in Oxford while on a visit to the city this week.
I have no excuse for the fact I emerged with three new books to add to the two I’d already picked up in the Oxfam shop (thanks to Ali and Liz for directing me there). It wasn’t as if I was running short of books to read. But it is hard to resist when you’re in the flagship store of a book seller in the heart of academia and faced with an extensive array of authors and titles. So of course I succumbed. But I did something I have not done for a very long time – I didn’t take out my wish list and head straight for those authors. I just browsed. My only ‘rule’ was to find authors I had never read before and, ideally, from countries whose literature I know little about.
I could have come away with a suitcase full but since I didn’t happen to have one with me at the time I had to curtail my enthusiasm.
Four of the new acquisitions will go a long way to helping me venture into more world literature but the fifth is very firmly rooted in England.
Diego Marani: New Finnish Grammar
The title was what caught my eye initially but the synopsis also appealed.
“A wounded sailor is found on a Triest quay. Amesiac, unable to speak and with nothing to identify him except a name tag pointing to Finnish origins. A passing doctor resolves to teach him Finnish to restore his memory.” Apparently this was shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Yukio Mishima: After the Banquet
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by an author from Japan. I picked this one up without knowing that Mishima is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century and was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. After the Banquet is about a middle-age proprietress of a fashionable restaurant that caters to politicians. She falls in love with one of her clients – a retired ambassador – but conflicts arise between them and she is forced to choose between marriage and her independence. The New Yorker called it “the biggest and most profound thing Mishima has done so far.”
Nadeem Aslam: Maps for Lost Lovers
This is set in an unnamed town in England where a close-knit Pakistani community is disturbed by the murder of two lovers and then the arrest of a brother of one of the victims. It’s a portrait of an immigrant family over the course of 12 months during which their culture, nationality and religious beliefs are tested.
And from the Oxfam shop I picked up the first of Angela Thirkell’s novels High Rising. I’ve never read any of her work but there seems to be such a buzz about her on various blog sites that I thought I’d give her a go. I also found The Hour of the Star, a novella by Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian author whose name I came across while researching authors for my Reading the Equator challenge.