Visiting Lyon for a week, I took with me The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola [Oxford: OUP, 2014]; a good choice as it turned out. Never short of ambition and seemingly able to write to a band playing, Émile Zola completed this fourth volume of the twenty book Rougon-Macquart novels in 1874. The two connected but opposing families have their roles in this volume. The two central characters are Marthe, a Rougon, and the Abbé Faujas, a zealous and, it seems, cunning supporter of the Imperialist government after the coup d’état. Marthe’s husband, François Mouret is a semi-retired businessman who does not consult his family about important decisions which is why, in the first chapter, Marthe finds out that he has rented their rather decrepit second floor to a newly arriving priest and his mother. The Mourets are not practising Catholics although one of their sons seems to have chosen the priesthood. Marthe is unhappy with the prospect of any strangers, not least such strangers in her house. The story unfolds as the Abbé gradually takes over the house, the local church hierarchy, the town and, finally, Marthe herself as he sets out to conquer the too republican Plassans as a covert agent for the government in Paris.
Like many other Anglophones, I only learned about Patrick Modiano last year when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and this has prompted me to start reading his Occupation Trilogy beginning with La Place de l’Étoile, his sensational debut novel, published when the writer was only twenty-two! Critics called these first three novels dazzling and angry. This is certainly true of La Place de l’Étoile in which the improbable, but alas not impossible, protagonist is a Jewish collaborator with the occupying Germans during the Second World War.
Haroldo Conti wrote Southeaster in 1962 and went on to write more novels which led to Gabriel García Márquez describing the author as one of the great Argentinian writers. Conti knew the Paraná Delta of which he writes in this book and knew the way a south-easterly wind could pile up the waters in the delta, flooding the low-lying islands. The translator, Jon Lindsay Miles has worked hard to try and convey the rhythmic pulse of the original Spanish and, working from English only, I feel he has achieved a great deal.
This is Moriera Marques’s first book; a slim volume with not a syllable wasted (London: & Other Stories, 2015. Translated by Julia Sanchez). Now and at the hour of our death comes from this award-winning journalist’s visits, over a period of five months in 2011, to northern Portugal, to an out of the way part of an already remote region known as Trás-os-Montes; in other words, over the hills and far away. She went there to observe the work of a team of healthcare professionals as they worked to bring palliative care to dying patients in that otherwise forgotten part of the country. The aim of the team was to help their patients live out the end of their lives in as much comfort and with as much dignity as possible; dying in company and at home.
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez, who died last year, knew how to grab your attention from the very first sentence, as in his Chronicle of a Death Foretold (London: Penguin, 2007).