“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Best European Fiction 2010

Best European Fiction 2010
Edited by Aleksander Hemon, with a preface by Zadie Smith
Published by Dalkey Archive Press

Just in case you’ve ever wondered what’s going on in the Macedonian literary scene, the Dakley Archive’s new collection, Best European Fiction 2010, provides the answer. Thankfully, however, it also provides a wonderful introduction into the contemporary literature of Europe. The vast majority of the stories are translated from other languages, showcasing 35 hugely talented writers, many of whom have work available in English, but aren’t yet household names. Most of the work comprises short stories, but there are a few excerpts from novels and even one poem by the Scottish writer Alastair Gray. The stories inside cover a variety of styles from the realist to the absurdist, and science fiction to historical fiction.
Julian Gough’s ‘The Orphan and the Mob’ is one of the many standout pieces in the collection. Gough has received some internet attention after posting a YouTube video in which he stole Will Self’s pig as retribution for losing out on a literary award to Self. Fittingly, Gough’s story displays his riotous sense of humour, and opens with one of the best lines I’ve read in recent memory: ‘If I had urinated immediately after breakfast, the mob would have never burnt down the orphanage.’ The rest of the story of course, explains how this situation came to pass.
Belgian author Jean Phillipe-Toussaint’s essay/story entitled ‘Zidane’s Melancholy’ is a fictional meditation on Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt in the 110th minute of the final game of the 2006 World Cup. This beautiful, absurd story ultimately argues that it was ‘mathematically impossible’ for the headbutt to have occurred by invoking Xeno’s paradox.
Goce Smilevski’s ‘Fourteen Little Gustavs’, another charming and witty piece of writing, claims that the painter Gustav Klimt had 14 sons all named Gustave, and then proceeds to tell their story.
The collection serves as an excellent entry point for readers who want to learn more about these authors, providing extensive biographies and even statements of artistic intent. Moreover, it offers links to a variety of websites about the national literatures of Europe, enabling readers to learn more about world literature.
Best European Stories 2010 proves that short stories can experiment with language and form and still be both accessible and fun to read. This is ultimately a great collection of 35 ripping yarns, and we can only hope that this series continues in the future.

This review initially aired on Triple R Radio's Breakfasters on March 23, 2010.

Buy this book.

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