Books in brief: A hypnotic Czech tale and a nasty virus

Plus: Relationships form the central theme of Seymour Cresswell’s memoir-stories

Yelena Moskovich: in her novel Virtuoso, the newly widowed Aimée suspects she’s being followed by the colour blue

Yelena Moskovich: in her novel Virtuoso, the newly widowed Aimée suspects she’s being followed by the colour blue

 

Virtuoso

By Yelena Moskovich

Serpent’s Tail, £14.99

Reading Virtuoso is an evocative and encompassing experience – you feel the novel in the recess of your mind, sitting there and taunting you with its beguiling timeline, its array of robust female characters who wield dialogue as weapons and its surreal character studies. Here is a story about the people who change us, for better and for worse and life outside of the post-communist Czech Republic. Zorka and Jana meet in Prague in the 1980s as young children. The newly widowed Aimée suspects she is being followed by the colour blue. A teenage American girl tries to free an imprisoned Czech housewife whom she meets on a lesbian internet chatroom. All of these narratives convene in a bar on Rue de Prague in Paris. Although the novel is written in flawless English, evidence of other languages lurks under the surface, which only enhance descriptions and dialogue, bending words and phrases in vivid and hypnotic ways. This is Moskovich’s second novel following The Natashas (2016).

Mia Colleran

Tentacle

By Rita Indiana

And Other Stories, £8.99

By the second paragraph of Tentacle, a man has dropped dead from a virus, his body collected by a machine outside the house where Acilde Figueroa works as a maid, in a post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo. This sets the pace for a story that careens through time and space but keeps you holding on. Acilde has been chosen to save the world and must go back in time if she is to stop the destruction of marine life, and the extinction of humanity. Crucial to the story is her transformation into a man with the help of a modern drug, Rainbow Brite, and the ancient power of a sea anemone – part science, part Yoruba ritual. Visual art is an engine in the book, adding to a psychedelic quality, which is perhaps enriched by being translated from Spanish by Achy Obejas. Indiana covers much ground at speed in this novel, from the terrors of climate change to explorations of gender, power and poverty. It’s a joyride of speculative fiction, folklore and odyssey – writing that comes at you fast, with sharp corners.

Ruth McKee

A Present of an Orange

By Seymour Cresswell

Coquette, €10

Relationships form the central theme of these memoir-stories. The author writes of his relationships with his parents, his wife, his children and his friends. The son-father relationship stories stand out. The title story captures a tender moment as the nine-year-old son spends his first night on a boat with his father. In Right of Way, the adolescent son resents crewing for his father but admires his sailing ability and the equanimity with which he accepts disqualification from a race he was about to win. Mending a Rib, about the author’s complex relationship with his father, is the most tender and revealing story. A Dog at Christmas, Batteries Included and The Slippery Slopes will certainly make you laugh. This Is Hell nicely mixes the narrator’s role in an amateur production of Dr Faustus with his awful job as a conveyancing solicitor. Billy’s Will is a shocking and sad story and very unlike the rest. Keen description, telling images and lively storytelling make this a memorable read.

Brian Maye

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