Three more Novellas for Nov, well Dec now

As I love novellas, I kept on reading them after the end of Novellas in November (hosted by by Cathy and Rebecca). So here are quick reviews of three more, all of which were superb: one each from Irish, French and Italian authors.

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Costello’s 2014 novella follows in the vein of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, in which a young woman travels from Ireland to New York to make a new life there, but Costello’s goes further and longer in its 177 pages, spanning nearly sixty years in the life of Tess Lohan. It begins in the west of Ireland in the 1940s with Tess as a child on the day before her mother’s funeral, she is watching the men coming down the stairs…

At the exact moment she sees the coffin, she understands. It turns the corner and the sun hits it. The sun flows all over the coffin, turning the wood yellow and red and orange like the window, lighting it up, making it beautiful. The gold handles are shining/ It is so beautiful, her heart swells and floods with the light. She closes her eyes. She can feel her mother near. Her mother is reaching out a hand, smiling at her. She can feel the touch of her mother’s fingers on her face. Her mother is all hers–her face, her long hair, her mouth, they are all hers. Then someone coughs and she opens her eyes.

Tess grows up and trains as a nurse, before joining her sister in 1960s New York, where she will experience intense love and loss, and find a friend for life in the warm and kindly Willa, who also lives in the house on Academy Street.

Academy Street is a quiet and thoughtful novella for the most part, often profoundly melancholy, for Tess has many burdens and hurdles to overcome. Costello’s writing flows lyrically in that slightly pared down style that so many Irish authors do so well. A sad but beautiful tale that touches all who read it. (Rebecca described it as a ‘near perfect novella’, and see Susan’s review here and Kim’s here.)

Source: Own copy. BUY at Blackwell’s via affiliate link (free UK P&P)

Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

I’ve acquired copies of all three Manchette novellas that have been translated into English and must read the others, for Fatale is so interesting, not least for the foreword by David Peace in this 2015 edition of the 2011 translation. Peace discusses, complete with quotes from Manchette’s correspondence, the author’s personal politics – he was a communist – and how it affected his writing. Manchette’s romans noirs, written in the 1970s, were known as ‘néo-polars’ reflecting their political nature. Interestingly, with Fatale, his penultimate novel, he decided to do something a little different, taking the politics out, paring it back totally, simply following the money – his publishers reacted by rejecting it at first!

Fatale begins with murder – of hunters in the woods. Cut to a young woman on the night train, who transforms herself, stuffs her face with choucroute and champagne while laughing with glee, rubbing handfuls of bank notes against her body!

When she got off the train at Bléville, the young woman was blonde and her hair was a frizzy as a lamb’s. She was wearing high boots in fawn leather with very high heels, a brown tweed skirt, a beige silk blouse, and a fawn suede car coat. […]

For her stay in Bléville, the young woman had chosen to call herself Aimée Joubert, and that is what I shall call her from now on.

She sets about getting to know the town’s bourgeoisie, she says she wants to buy a property there. Ere long, she’s worked out everyone’s secrets and how she is going to exploit them all to make a killing – in both senses of the word, just one inhabitant, Baron Jules, whom everyone thinks is mad gets any empathy from her. As she sets her plans in motion, it gets very gory and dark before this 91 page novella ends – I couldn’t possibly say more!

Move over Villanelle! Manchette got there way before, with his femme fatale hit-woman (who follows the money). She is very strongly written, and this was a hugely enjoyable and bloodthirsty short read indeed. Loved it. I shall definitely read the other two I have now.

Source: Own copy. BUY at Blackwell’s via affiliate link (free UK P&P)

Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini

Translated by J Ockenden

This story of a cantankerous old loner, who lives in his valley up in the Alpine meadows, is a wonderful black comedy. Adelmo’s memory is beginning to fail and at the beginning, when he makes his seasonal trip down the mountain to stock up for winter, he is rather non-plussed by the store owner telling him he did his trip the other week already. He buys more and retreats back up the mountain where he is found by an old stray dog. Adelmo decides to let him stay (he could be food one day), and they settle in to wait for winter. Their only visitor is the young ranger, whom Adelmo is convinced is spying on him.

Adelmo Farandola hasn’t washed in months, letting his stench create a cloud of warmth around him. Sweat and grim have been allowed to build up on his skin in peace, alongside wind-blown dirt, dust from the stable, the various pollens that colour the air at certain times of year, and clumps of dead skin. With the passing months he has developed a delightful sticky coating all over his body, which he only notices from time to time when a little itch awakens him from a daze and obliges him to bend and contort himself to reach the spot he needs to scratch. His skin has turned brown, the colour of sun-baked dust and mud.

Winter is severe, they’re snowed in and man and dog go through all the supplies he laid in. They’re surviving on crumbs and melted snow, getting thinner and thinner. But the thaw arrives and both survive: Adelmo has forgotten about eating the dog. The thaw brings a discovery with it though – a rotting foot appears jutting from the snow.

The next day, as they are stocking up on meat from the animals torn apart by avalanches. Adelmo Farandola stumbles across a foot sticking out of the front of a snowdrift.
‘Look,’ he says to the dog in bemusement.
‘It’s the foot from yesterday,’ says the dog.
‘Don’t you remember?’
‘It’s the foot from yesterday, I’m telling you.’
‘And what should we do? What did we decide to do yesterday?’
‘Nothing. Wait for the thaw.’
‘Yes. To be honest, I didn’t really agree, but you…’

A few days later, the old man discovers the foot again.
‘A foot!’
‘Will you stop that! It’s still the same foot as before!’ shouts the dog exasperatedly.

I couldn’t resist that second extended quote, which highlights both the novella’s black humour and Adelmo’s increasing senility. As the days continue, I read on, totally gripped by the body in the ice and the predicament that Adelmo (and particularly the dog) find themselves in.

Translation of this novella was part of a recent prize partly run by publisher Peirene for new translators, and J Ockenden has done a mighty fine job here with the humour and pathos for the characters. In Adelmo’s state, we can totally believe that the dog can talk. First published in 2015, this novella was an Italian bestseller, and I hope we can see more of his work in the future in translation. (See also: Rebecca’s review).

Source: Own copy. BUY at Blackwell’s via affiliate link (free UK P&P)

21 thoughts on “Three more Novellas for Nov, well Dec now

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Thanks so much for the link, Annabel. Lovely to be reminded of Costello’s gem. I like the sound of the Manchette although I’m a tad squeamish so perhaps it’ll be too gory for me. Could I skip that bit and not lose too much?

  2. Calmgrove says:

    As ever, if I saw this selection on a book shop’s display I’d be tempted! By the way, what’s with titles consisting of commas separating three words? I blame political slogans like ‘Hands, Face, Space’ or Liz, er, Lynne Truss’s break-out grammar rant.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      In this case, they’re the three key words to the story. A simple list, just like that! :D. All three books are totally fab.

  3. kimbofo says:

    Snow, Dog, Foot sounds wonderful! The Costello is one of my all-time favourite novellas. I bang on about it every chance I get. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  4. JacquiWine says:

    So glad to see that you loved Fatale. I think it’s my favourite of the Manchettes I’ve read so far. And you’re right about Academy Street; it’s beautifully written. A great selection of novellas for November and beyond!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Manchette sounds a fascinating man, I certainly want to read the others by him, even if I started with the best perhaps.

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