Tag Archives: Peirene Press

Does The Imprint Matter?

A few things have been making me ponder the imprints of books over the last few weeks. First up was when I was discussing a book and someone asked me what the imprint was and then if that imprint was very good which was something I wasn’t aware I give much thought to but then realised that I do. A bit like prizes actually thinking about it, you know the ones you really trust the selection of, or not as the case may be.

While in London I bumped into Meike Ziervogel who wrote Magda and also runs Peirene Press, who translate novella’s, which instantly reminded me I hadn’t read as many of their brilliant (they have all been very good so far) books as I have meant to. I also have a friend who has been looking for a new publisher and who asked me if I would recommend any, I instantly reeled off three or four who I would recommend because a) the staff there are lovely b) overall the books I read from their publishing house are just up my street – a publisher to trust on all counts. I also spotted a receptionist in a museum reading a Penguin Modern Classic this weekend, which I instantly recognised from the brand which whenever I see a copy of second hand I snatch up even if I know nothing about it because I trust them on previous experience.

This isn't a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

This isn’t a biased subliminal picture, it just looks pretty.

Mulling it (I like a good mull) all over made me wonder if I am partial to certain publishing houses in particular and where my bias lies. To get a negative out of the way, a certain book won a prize the other day and I looked at the publisher and rolled my eyes as I don’t really like them, not because of their books but because their publicity departments are a nightmare to work with. It shouldn’t matter but then again it does, a lot like one publishing house who has a publicists whose tweets were so up their own bottoms I blocked them and have avoided their books since. Bad, I know. Judgemental? Very. Yet once you have an impression of an imprint it sticks, good or bad. And it isn’t just the publishers you know in reality, it is also just the publishing houses you read regularly simply as a reader. For example Gran used to say she could generally trust Virago’s if she was stuck for a book to read.

Obviously I am working my way through the Persephone Classics (if a little slower than intended) and the reason for this is because through all the ones I have read, which I think is about ten or twelve now in total, maybe more, there is only one which I haven’t like and I have forgiven it everything because it is a Persephone – which is clearly a rather partial leaning isn’t it? I am hoping that when I re-read it (it was The New House by Lettice Cooper) I ‘get’ it the second time around and am 100% proven that all Persephone’s are brimming with wonder. Anyway, I digress…

Another pair of publishers that haven’t gone wrong for me are another two small independents (I need to mull over the bigger imprints more). They are Peirene Press (who I have already mentioned) and And Other Stories. Both feature novels that tend to be short-ish and cover fiction from all over the world and even though every book has something different about it you understand why it fits in the imprints umbrella, a certain je ne sais quoi if you will? I have actually rearranged my shelves recently so that these imprints’ titles all sit together and I can make a beeline for them as I must read more of them. In fact I really must pick one of them up next!

What about all of you? Do you have a certain publisher that you turn to when you need a good read and are pretty much certain any of their books will do the trick? (Feel free to tell me which one publisher it is!) Are there any you’ve had a pretty bad failure rate with? Do you have a classic or independent print you make sure you have the whole collection of and really support? Or does it simply not matter?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Murder of Halland – Pia Juul

It seems odd that my second read of the year should be the first review of the year especially as I only finished The Murder of Halland this morning. However I thought I would do a very, very fresh (as I normally take a while to mull a book) review for a bit of a change. In case you were wondering the first book I read this year was Artful by Ali Smith, which I do need to mull and don’t want to share my thoughts on before Hear Read This goes live on Friday. Anyway back to the book in question, The Murder of Halland

Peirene Press, 2012, paperback, fiction, translated by Martin Aitken, 170 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Everyone loves a cold crime don’t they? Yet the more and more that are translated and come over the more and more, bar a few exceptions like Yrsa Sigurdardottir, they seem the same. The Murder of Halland is a cold crime novel but it one with a difference as the murder at the start of the novel is not really the heart of the novel, in fact as we read on Pia Juul lets the murder fade into the background as the reader follow the deceased’s grieving partner after the horrific event – even then Juul gives us something rather different as Bess, the partner of Halland who has recently been shot by person unknown, is a much more complex character than first meets the eye.

To outside eyes, and indeed rather envious ones like Stine, it would appear that Bess has the perfect life. She is a well known author, her partner Halland is also respected and handsome, if a little older, and they seem to have a very comfortable and fulfilled life together. However we join Bess the night before Halland’s death as they are getting ready for bed and we are inside the house where things are normal yet there seems a slight tension in the air. Next thing Halland is dead and unlike in the police dramas, that Halland and Bess so liked to watch, nothing is solved fast and Bess is left confused and grieving, and looking back on her life – it is this which becomes the real story of The Murder of Halland and not the one that makes all the papers.

All I needed for happiness was a detective series. And there were lots to choose from. Simplicity was a virtue. First a murder, nothing too bestial. Then a police inspector. Insights into his or her personal problems, perhaps. Details about the victim. Puzzles and anomalies. Lines of investigation. Clues. Detours. Breakthrough. Case solved. Nothing like real life. I watched one thriller, then another. But as soon as the penny dropped I lost interest. The puzzle attracted me – the solution left me cold. Nothing like real life.

As Bess grieves, we soon come to learn that Halland and her were completely in love with one another and yet Bess never felt quite at ease with him. It may have something to do with the fact that she left her husband, Troel who isn’t the nicest of men and soon turns up wanting to see if Bess might fancy sleeping with him in her grieving state, and her daughter Abby after meeting Halland in a bookshop and electricity struck. It may be something to do with the neighbour Brandt. Juul is wonderfully ambiguous even to the very end. Whatever the case they were ‘happy’ but not ‘happy’ all at once.

Indeed after Halland dies one of his relatives, Pernille his sisters foster daughter, suddenly turns up heavily pregnant and wanting to know who will pay the rent of the room on her house Halland was using to stay in and to store things in. This is news to Bess and intriguing to us as we keep trying to solve the crime that Juul has tantalisingly led away from us because what she also really wants to talk about is the effect a murder has on those around it.

It isn’t just the closest of the deceased and the police that are affected, though Juul’s main focus point is Bess obviously, it is also those in the houses and town around the murder that get affected. Some point fingers, some act like it didn’t happen, some gossip, some go mad, some see it as a chance to change or reveal other secrets and Juul writes about this all brilliantly. Her best writing though is without a doubt when she is writing of Bess and her grief but also her confusion. Not just how she felt/feels about Halland and what she did or didn’t know of him but also what her life has meant, the questions of mortality that death often brings. It is deftly and all too realistically done, we don’t all just weep and weep and weep after all.

Halland lay alone in a bare room with a sheet over him. He looked the same and yet he didn’t. I both knew him and didn’t know him. I was his and he was mine, only now we weren’t. We were both alone. I laid my hand gently against his cheek, a gesture I made whenever he seemed in pain and I didn’t have the courage to ask him if anything was wrong.

I found The Murder of Halland a very compelling book. I read it in just two sittings, being one of the Peirene Press novels it is chosen for such a reading. It is part of their ‘small epic’ series and I can see why as for such a slight book it raises so many questions, not always answering them, and somehow encapsulates both a town caught up in a drama and the internal drama of a grieving woman all at once. I wouldn’t say it turns crime fiction on its head, which I read somewhere and was one of the reasons that I decided to finally read it on a random whim, but it is one of the most honest portraits (character study doesn’t seem quite right) of grief I have happened across and all done by a very accomplished writer I feel wish we had more of the translated works of here in the UK. I would definitely like to read more from Pia Juul.

You can see more reviews of The Murder of Halland at Reading Matters here, Winstons Dad blog here, Andrew Blackman’s blog here and David H’s blog here. Who else has read it and what did you make of it? Read any of Pia Juul’s other works? Have you read any other ‘cold crime’ works with a very different twist or take on things?

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Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan

I have to admit that if it hadn’t been for the fact that ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by Francoise Sagan had been a book that I managed to rescue, and allowed myself to because it was short, then I am not sure it would have crossed my path. I know since mentioning it that a few of you have since said you read it (some even reviewed it – which I had missed, oops) and had been very impressed. It was also described as a ‘dark little book’ by someone and I have to say those can be my favourite sort of reads.

Penguin Books, 1954, paperback, translated by Irene Ash, 107 pages, saved from pulping

The story of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ (which translated means ‘Hello Sadness’) is initially a simple one. Cecile is a seventeen year old free spirit who is used to a life with her father, one that is lived in relative comfort, without much expected or demanded of her . However things have begun to subtly change in the dynamic as Cecile is starting to embrace her womanhood and sexuality whilst her father has started to take on lots of rather young lovers, none lasting for particularly long.

“He refused categorically all notions of fidelity and serious commitments. He explained that they were arbitrary and sterile. From anyone else such views would have shocked me, but I knew that in his case they did not exclude either tenderness or devotion; feelings which came all the more easily to him since he was determined that they should be transient. This conception of rapid, violent and passing love affairs appealed to my imagination. I was not at the age when fidelity is attractive. I knew very little about love.”

In fact it is shown how often these women are in and out of her fathers life rather quickly for at the start of the book Cecile, her father and his latest fling Elsa all go to a villa on the French Riviera but it isn’t long before Elsa is usurped by the older and more wilful Anna. Only Anna has decided she isn’t going anywhere. Initially we see Anna, who happens to be a friend of Cecile’s dead mother, as a pleasant addition to the world of Cecile and her father. However before long the woman who so helped and guided Cecile so well after her mothers death soon starts to show the smallest signs of control, including banning Cecile from seeing her boyfriend Cyril. Cecile decides that Anna needs to go, it’s just a question of how to go about it.

I admit that when I first heard of the premise of the book I was thinking of the ‘wicked stepmothers in fairytales’, this is no fairytale. What Sagan has done, and I could almost not believe she was eighteen years old when she wrote this, is created a simplistic tale which carries all the complexities of the human psyche and the spectrum of emotions around love, from the first flushes to the darkest jealousy. This isn’t just romantic love either, it’s about platonic and familial love too. It’s about how we react when we become threatened in our routine life by something and how we use people to get what we want.

“Destiny sometimes assumes strange forms. That summer it appeared in the guise of Elsa, a mediocre person, but with a pretty face. She had an extraordinary laugh, sudden and infectious, which only rather stupid people possess.”

I was really impressed with ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ and devoured it in a single sitting, I will admit that it has faded a little bit in the weeks since I have read it. What particularly blew me away though was the insight that Sagan had at such a young age of the awful ways in which we can behave in order to get what we want. She also manages to cleverly describe how even when we have thought of every outcome to a plan we conceive something else can happen to change that chain of events and take it right out of our control. I certainly didn’t think I would get all of that out of this book before I opened the first page. 8/10

You can see Kimbofo’s thoughts here and Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book’s thoughts here. I had missed their reviews previously somehow.

After doing some research I was shocked to learn that Francoise Sagan has written 20 novels. I see that Hesperus Press publish ‘The Unmade Bed’ which sounds like it could have caused as much uproar in France on its release as ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ did, Basic Books (who I had never heard of) publish ‘That Mad Ache’ and ‘A Certain Smile’ comes out in a lovely issue in October from University of Chicago Press. I am wondering if I should be priming myself to purchase any of these, have you any thoughts or tips. Have any of you seen the film of ‘Bonjour Tristesse’? I also had a lovely vision of Persephone Books and Peirene Press coming together to publish some of her other lost and slightly forgotten books, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Filed under Francoise Sagan, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Begging & Reminding

A very quick ‘in between’ post because I have a little beg of you all, a new blog to introduce you too and a worldwide book giveaway to remind you about. Really the post will be that simple.

First up one of my dearest friends, who longs to be a Mills and Boon writer, has entered her very first novel into the Mills and Boon ‘New Voices’ Competition and you can vote for her entry and help her get the attention of the judges. That’s not quite a beg exactly, more a MASSIVE hint.

Secondly she has started a new blog, so if you would like to follow the very funny and delightful written world of Rose Roberts then you can quite easily. I cant think who the friend she is referring too is in her opening post can you????

Thirdly don’t forget you have just under 48 hours to win a copy of the third Peirene Press title ‘The Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman’. Its brilliant so I suggest you pop here and enter your details.

Right that’s me done for now back in a bit with something longer.

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The Prose Practice: Neglected or Forgotten European Fiction

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Peirene Press book ‘Stone in a Landslide’ which I have previously raved about here on Savidge Reads. One of the joys, apart from the wonderful BookHaus book shop in which it was held (picture below – any excuse to share a small independent book shop with you all) was getting to meet Meike Zeirvogel who runs Peirene and getting her feedback on blogs, blogging, publishers and the three combined. It’s Meike who has also come up with the latest Prose Practice Problem…

Dear Savidge Readers,

I am the publisher of Peirene Press, a publishing house specializing in the translation of Contemporary European literature. Part of my job is to liaise with European publishers and assess  if any of their books are worthwhile to be translated into English and published by Peirene. However, the best tips come from passionate readers.

I am continuously on the look out for recommendations of European short novels, novellas and collections of short stories which have not yet been translated into English but really ought to be. The books should be maximum 200 pages, published after 1945 and can be from any European language. Do you read another language and have come across a book that to your amazement hasn’t yet been translated into English? Or has a friend from a European country raved about a book that isn’t available in English? If so, then please let me know. I’d be delighted to hear from you.  

Best wishes Meike

Simon Says: Well I am stumped as actually I read a shockingly poor amount of European fiction. I seem to do well on Canadian, American, Indian, African, Japanese and Chinese authors (and am broadening my Brazilian reading) but I am really not great on European literature which is actually really shoddy on my part and needs addressing. So I will be watching this post with intrigue and looking forward to what gems of fiction I will never have heard of, and hopefully will be new to Meike too, that you put forward. I think I need to look at which countries I read from and will come back to this in a future post. Right then Savidge Readers, get suggesting…

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Beside The Sea – Véronique Olmi

Some books you need to write about quite some time after you have read them to let the settle with you and other times a book hits you so strongly that you want to write about it the instant that you have finished it. I am doing the latter with ‘Beside the Sea’ by Veronique Olmi whilst the emotions which it has so strongly brought out of me are still fresh. 

I can’t really start my bookish thoughts on ‘Beside the Sea’ without stating that it is one of the most intense reads that I have had the fortune (though maybe that’s not quite the right word) of reading recently. It starts as the simple tale of a single mother taking her children on a holiday to see the sea for the first time only as the book develops much darker undertones start to slowly seep out of the narrative and you realise this isn’t going to be quite the picturesque read that you thought it might be.

To give away very much about this books storyline would be to spoil this book for the reader. I will try not to let the cat out of the bag when I describe what an amazing tension Olmi creates in this novel through the narration. The nameless young mother describes to the reader her trip away and as the tale goes on from the coach ride to hotel arrival, café treats to first sightings of the sea you are given small glimpses that something isn’t quite right. Health centres, social workers, Sundays in bed all day and medication start to be mentioned and the further you read on the more you get that gut feeling all is not well and something darker is coming.

“I like songs.They say things I can’t seem to say. If I didn’t have these rotten teeth I’d sing alot more, a lot more often, I’d sing my boys to sleep in the evenings, tales of sailors and magical beds, but there you are, we can’t be good at everything, we can’t know how to do everything, all of it, that’s what I tell the social worker till I’m blue in the face.”

One of the quotes on the books matching bookmark mentions that though not a thriller this book does read as one and that’s a very true statement. I can’t think of many books where the atmosphere and intensity of the novel come off the page so instantly and leave you to read on even if you aren’t sure you want to. I shall say no more but if you have read the book email me as I am desperate to have a chat with someone else who has finished it.

I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.

A compelling book from an author whose entire back catalogue of work I hope will get translated. I would be the first in the queue to read anything of hers that comes out in English in the future, or I will just have to learn fluent French if not, that’s how good this is. It has also made me very keen to see what Peirene Press (a new independent and rather lovely publisher who kindly sent me this) has coming out in the future. This is a Savidge Reads must read book.

P.S I did mean to write more about how this was a wondrous start to ‘Lost in Translation’ and about Peirene Press, but the book has left me so stunned and slightly shaken that I need to go and sit and just be with people and noise for a bit before I can say anymore.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Peirene Press, Review, Véronique Olmi