April 12, 2012 by markstani
The shortlist for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has been announced, and as you might expect, it is markedly different from the final six summoned by our ‘Shadow’ Jury (scroll down for post).
In fact, only two of our choices made the cut: Sjon’s bewitching ‘From The Mouth Of The Whale’ and Umberto Eco’s sprawling ‘The Prague Cemetery’. Some of the others caught us by surprise, not least ‘Alice’, which we almost entirely dismissed.
Some good ones failed to make the shortlist, notably, in my opinion, Bernardo Atxaga’s ‘Seven Houses In France’, and ‘Scenes From Village Life’ by Amos Oz, which I defy anyone (except the judges, it seems) to make a case for being an inferior Hebrew option to the shortlisted ‘Blooms Of Darkness’.
Still, there’s a bit of variety on the list, and now both the official judging panel and the ‘Shadow’ team (who will pick a winner from our own, separate shortlist) will set about finding a winner.
Here’s what we thought of the six remaining contenders:
Alice by Judith Hermann (from German; trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo) (The Clerkenwell Press)
I said: ‘It’s hard to see what the author is trying to achieve, or what the reader – even a reader seeking solace for their own grief – could get out of it. It is entirely, perplexingly unremarkable’
ANZLitLovers said: ‘I didn’t feel that this book had very much to offer…It illuminates a human condition, but that’s not enough, in my opinion, to warrant nomination for a major prize’
Blooms Of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld (from Hebrew; trans. Jeffrey M. Green) (Alma Books)
I said: ‘It has flaws – some of Hugo’s dreams seem rather too specific – but the quality of Appelfeld’s authorship cannot be denied. He has crafted a nice, and somehow soul-enriching novel’
Inside Books said: ‘the book lacked depth I was hoping would come.. for the most part the education of Hugo is something almost mundane and it need not have been’
Dream Of Ding Village by Yan Lianke (from Chinese; trans. Cindy Carter) (Constable)
I said: ‘Lianke’s beautiful descriptions of such a desolate landscape sustain the reader through this gut-wrenchingly sad tale, and give a voice to the victims of the hidden tragedy he has brought so brilliantly to light’
Tony’s Reading List said: ‘not for the squeamish.. it is a rather bleak picture of a serious subject, one which doesn’t paint Chinese society in a favourable light’
From The Mouth Of The Whale by Sjon (from Icelandic; trans. Victoria Cribb) (Telegram)
I said: ‘It is a book of stunning originality and profound oddity, such that its flawless translation from its original Icelandic is no mean feat.. a book worthy of winning any prize’
Parrish Lantern said: ‘I could quite happily sit in a bar somewhere with a glass of some fermented herb/ whale blubber etc, listening to his inane or impassioned warbling all night long.. a strange and wonderful book’
New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani (from Finnish; trans. Judith Landry) (Dedalus)
I said: ”New Finnish Grammar’ is a worthy book, which probably deserves shortlisting, and which you would hardly wish to deny were it to win the Prize. It’s just a little tough to love’
Winstonsdad said: ‘one of the truly great books in translation this year.. [Marani] deserves to sit amongst the greats of modern Italian literature like Eco and Calvino’
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (from Italian; trans. Richard Dixon) (Harvill Secker)
I said: ‘certainly not without fault.. but its stunning mix of historical revelation and smears of the blackest of humour sustain this book all the way to its engrossing, pulp-fast finale’
Tony’s Reading List said: ‘The Prague Cemetery is an excellent book.. but the novel is not perfect. At times, it all feels a little too clever, as if Eco is writing more to show his intelligence than to advance the story’