Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

A bit late on linking to these reviews, but I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing two very interesting books in May and June.

The first was All My Friends, a short-story collection by French author Marie NDiaye. (You may know of her from her Goncourt-winning novel Three Powerful Women.) The collection came out in May with Two Lines Press, a new translation-only imprint (hooray – we need more of these!) and it is a really great read.

The five stories that make up All My Friends, a small collection by Frenchwoman (and Prix Goncourt winner) Marie NDiaye, are stories of breakdown. This breakdown is not necessarily the kind of single-character unraveling we expect from good psychological fiction, although there are certainly echoes of that more familiar and intimate falling apart in several of these pieces; instead, NDiaye seems more interested in setting her characters up to hover and worry over the self-disconnecting questions of reality perception and personal narrative—are my world and my person what I perceive them to be? Do others understand my reality, my history, and my memories as I do? The often frustrated desire to answer these questions (either by the character or the reader) is what drives these stories forward, and contained within that unsettling narrative movement is the foreshadowing of imminent collapse.

As I mention in my review, she is exactly the kind of non-English language writer that should have already been translated in full. Her work is stylistically complex and varies thematically – she is not easily placed into any category, and she has a long and steady publishing career already.

Read the entire review at The Rumpus here.

The second book was Courtney Elizabeth Mauk’s Spark. This is another novel from Engine Books – a still-relatively-new independent press that is publishing consistently good work and well worth supporting. (I wrote about another of their books, Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins, and Susan Jupp, one of Necessary Fiction’s regular reviewers also gave a lot of praise to Into This World by Sybil Baker.)

The initial premise of Spark has to do with the return home of a law-breaking brother and the awkwardness and anger that his presence creates in the life of his sister and her live-in boyfriend, but the book is really about the blurry line that runs between desire and obsession.

About Spark, I wrote:

Where Spark becomes gently provocative is that it sets itself up inside a framework of easily understandable psychology—the institutionalized language of “impulse-control disorder,” the built-in guilt of a sister for her wayward brother, the lingering effects of a damaged childhood—but as the story progresses, and as Andrea allows herself to experience and explore this notion of desire, Mauk reminds the reader that desire is as much about satisfaction as it is about control, and that there is nothing so false as the notion of easy psychology. People are messy, humans will do the unexpected. At this point, the narrative itself begins to blur around the edges. Scenes become a little more impressionistic. Andrea’s self-awareness (and therefore her clarity as our narrator) begins to softly break down. It is a wonderful narrative transformation, both surprising and extremely compelling, and it makes the book much more complicated than it first appears to be.

Read the entire review at Necessary Fiction here.


One Response to “New reviews – Marie NDiaye & Courtney Elizabeth Mauk”

  1. smithereens

    I’ve read Three Powerful Women in French this spring (and have been wanting to write a post about it ever since). I believe N’Diaye might be very difficult to translate. How was that collection?

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