“He arrived muffled up in a woollen coat.”
ELISA Shua Dusapin is Korean, Swiss and French all of which infuse this short would-be love story, told in staccato English, as if the grammar were Korean hieroglyphics. Out of season, the seaside resort of Sokcho is quiet except for the fish market where her mother works, respected as one of the few allowed to fillet and gut the poisonous blow/fugu fish. Enter the stranger, western style, a manga artist which is sort of fitting in the almost abstract style of the writing.
Here is one the better passages:
“I cast my mind back to Seoul. All the drinking, and partying, the blinding lights, the bone shattering noise, and girls, girls everywhere, and those plastic boys, the city strutting and staggering, rising higher and higher…
She is on a knife edge of repeating her mother’s life …This is all a bit Jean Luc Godard…the guest house where she cooks and cleans, she has issues of her own with food, good and bad, with her own looks reflected in one of the guests who has had plastic surgery, with her mother who wants to marry her off. Short. Concise. Hardly a word out of place. Subtle. Beautiful. A commentary rather than an exploitation of cultural differences.
One of the points of doing this blog in the first place is to report back that the ending is worth the beginning, that there is some payback for the time and effort. Tick, tick. And also to recognise other writers, knowing this is not quite the level playing field it might seem to most readers.
Waterstones sent me a mail purporting to be the best books of the century so far – which is the mission here anyway. However, where I am quite open to the idea that they read and ‘know’ more than I do, it is quite striking how few of the books in this blog have made that list. Last year it was 2/15, and both of those mainly because of the Booker limelight. I am very selective in my choices. In 2015 I read nine of the 15 on the W list and posted reviews on four. Again in 2016 I read and did not post five of them. Do I read all of the books on the W list? No, but I have probably considered them one way or another.
I am suspicious of the marketing departments of the chains, and of Daunt Books going into publishing itself (the above Sokcho is a Daunt book translation from the French original), and of the so called Sunday Times Bestseller List. That said, I always feel indebted to Richard and Judy. They first introduced me to Joseph O’Connor…
The days when a bookseller might actually have read the books he or she is selling are, I suspect, largely gone. The little hand written scripts on the bookshelves purporting to be staff picks are obituaries to a culture we have lost. In the Internet age, this blog has become, I realise, the bookshop. And, for the record, yes I buy my own books.