Browser: Eccentric tales of life in Northern Ireland

Brief reviews of Lifestyle Choice 10mg, by Rosemary Jenkinson; Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, by Norman Lebrecht; and Palinuro of Mexico, by Fernando del Paso

Rosemary Jenkinson’s latest collection of short stories is set in a contemporary Belfast, pervaded by a kind of timelessness that unsettles the reader as well as drawing them in. Photograph: Jim Corr

Rosemary Jenkinson’s latest collection of short stories is set in a contemporary Belfast, pervaded by a kind of timelessness that unsettles the reader as well as drawing them in. Photograph: Jim Corr

 

Lifestyle Choice 10mg
By Rosemary Jenkinson
Doire Press, €14
In a follow-up to her Catholic Boy collection, which was shortlisted for the EU Prize for Literature, Belfast-born author and playwright Rosemary Jenkinson presents twelve diverse and eccentric tales, each offering a vignette of sorts of life in Northern Ireland. Jenkinson has an arresting ability to capture intimacy in domestic spaces; meaning resides in the little gestures exchanged between her characters, in the small words they use to capture the universal emotions we all share. In their own ways, each character experiences a transcendence of sorts, an elevation above the profane, the mundane. Though set in a contemporary Belfast, these stories seem simultaneously removed from life now, pervaded by a kind of timelessness that unsettles the reader as well as drawing them in. – Becky Long

Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World
By Norman Lebrecht
Oneworld, £20
Between 1847 and 1947, a few people “changed the way we see the world”. Some are well known, such as Marx, Freud, Einstein, Proust and Kafka, but other are less so, such as Karl Landsteiner (blood transfusions), Paul Ehrlich (chemotherapy) and Gregory Pincus (contraceptive pill). All were Jewish. Norman Lebrecht doesn’t argue that Jews are genetically gifted above the average but that their achievements are the result of culture and experience. Part of that experience was the anxiety that their rights to citizenship and free speech could be revoked and this conditioned them to rise to an opportunity or emergency in a way that others didn’t or couldn’t. It’s an interesting but debatable theory and while there is much in the book on the genius, there’s too little on the anxiety. – Brian Maye

Palinuro of Mexico
By Fernando del Paso, translated by Elisabeth Plaister
Dalkey Archive Press, $14.95
If you’re happy to agree that humour should produce laughter and uneasiness in equal measure, then Palinuro of Mexico, by Fernando del Paso (brilliantly translated by Elisabeth Plaister) might be a book you’ll enjoy. It’s probably best too if you find sprawling novels with endless, unnecessary diversions appealing. With all that accepted, you can then begin to enjoy the story of Palinuro, a trainee doctor, and his passionate love for his cousin Estefania. Almost everything possible happens somewhere in the novel, including lots of things that should never happen at all. Among the virtuoso moments of invention is the description of the one-for-every-occasion glass eyes a general owns: “I have an emotional and tear-filled eye for when the National Anthem is played, which is the same eye that I sometimes use, most reluctantly, when I am constipated.” For anyone who loves scurrilous, linguistic invention, this book is a gem. As the author declares: “This is a work of fiction. If certain characters resemble people in real life, it is because certain people in real life resemble characters from a novel. Nobody, therefore, is entitled to feel included in this book. Nobody, by the same token, to feel excluded.”

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