Category Archives: Translated Fiction

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐

(Mild spoilers)

lullaby
ˈlʌləbʌɪ/
noun
1. a quiet, gentle song sung to send a child to sleep.

Lullaby is one of the most creepiest novel I’ve ever read. “The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” After this banging beginning, the novel takes a detour and sets up the lives of our main characters who live in Paris. Myriam, a French-Morrocan woman, and her husband Paul have two young kids: lively Mila and baby Adam. Myriam loses her sense of self after motherhood and yearns for her dreams of being a successful lawyer to come true. Paul is a musician and is very busy. Myriam runs into her old friend from law school who offers her a job to work with him.

Enter: the nanny. I knew how this story was going to end, but I couldn’t stop reading. Leïla Slimani doesn’t offer a concrete plot but a series of incidents and scenes that are gradually more unsettling and disturbing. Louise seems to be the “perfect” nanny. She is friendly with the children, caring, and is content to cook and clean for the busy couple every day. As Louise’s personal life is slowly revealed, we catch a glimpse of who she is and what her intentions are. The novel subtly conveys themes relevant to us now:

The world of nannies who are predominantly a group of immigrants, legal or otherwise. They make the lives of white families easier.

The sense of fear in motherhood. Of having to choose between home and work.

The children who die everyday from neglect or violence.

Lullaby isn’t a mystery in the strictest sense, nor is it a thriller. We, the readers, know where the story is going exactly. And that’s the scariest part of it all.

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Three Creepy Novellas (Book Reviews)

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba (Translated by Lisa Dillman): ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This is quite an unsettling little read! Life-like dolls and creepy orphan girls? Sign me up. Such Small Hands is actually based off a real life incident that happened in Brazil during the 1960s which is a complete spoiler so I’ll avoid mentioning those details for this review. The story follows seven year old Marina who loses her parents in a car accident and is put in an orphanage. She is bullied incessantly by the other girls, out of fear and envy (or both). The writing is very atmospheric and well done but confusing at times and I wished for a longer or a more fleshed out story from Barba.

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann (Translated by Ross Benjamin): ⭐⭐

Did I miss something? I’m sure that a re-read would help me understand the plot more but I’d rather not. From what I remember, You Should Have Left is about a writer and his family who are renting a house up in the mountains. And it was supposed to be Lynchian. The way this novella is set up is confusing – there are snippets about the writers life that read like a diary, and then the snippets about his screenplay with characters and scenarios that make zero sense.

He’s trying to salvage his marriage and has super weird dreams at night. He experiences some House of Leaves-esque things and shit hits the fan. Again, I wish this was longer!

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Queer vampire classic set during the Victorian times? All the yes’s. I remember reading the “steamy” bits when I was younger and now years later, I’d say its hella cute 😂 Carmilla is set in Styria and is about Laura, a young woman, who meets and forms a romantic bond with Carmilla. Laura’s steadily declining health and vigour combined with Carmilla’s strange sleep routine raise some eyebrows. The novella peters out into a below-average horror film production but it was super entertaining nonetheless.

Audiobook link: https://tinyurl.com/y8vun397

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated by Annie Tucker (Review)

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[Mild spoilers. Also: Trigger warnings for just about everything.]

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

It is difficult to categorise Beauty Is a Wound into one genre. It is a historical and literary satire with elements of magical realism. I know. This is quite a chunky read too, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Eka Kurniawan’s tale is highly entertaining (if you can look past all the trigger warnings), engrossing to almighty hell, and a short lesson in Indonesian colonial history. Also, there’s a lot of shit talk – literally.

Beauty Is a Wound is dirty and messy just like the business of colonialism and it merely replicates that atmosphere. It tells the story of Dewi Ayu, a prostitute, and her four daughters through who the history of Indonesia is analysed. The county is anthropomorphised into the figure of Dewi Ayu, a mixed race (half Dutch and half Indo) woman. Her daughters represent the different stages in Indonesian history:

“She had the kind of allure that made people want to have relations with her, whether in a nice and proper way or not.”

Alamanda – she is the result of a rape during the Japanese occupation (Second World War); Adinda – most probably fathered by an Indo guerrilla, represents the native civil war between the communists and anti communists; Maya Dewi – who looks the most Indonesian of all, she represents the post colonial era and Indonesian independence; Beauty – ironically, she is born hideous and ugly when it all goes to shit during the despotism of Suharto.

Whilst enjoying this crazy & freaky novel I couldn’t help but notice how horrendous/grotesque things happen only to female characters and male characters make miraculous escapes (most of them, anyway). Like in traditional history where men are the protagonists and women are sidelined, Beauty Is a Wound’s narrative of ‘men doing stuff and women having stuff done to them’ is debatable. Is the (fictional) mistreatment of women in service to a story, set during a particular historical context, a bad thing? 

I’d recommend Beauty Is a Wound to readers who are desensitised to disturbing literature. It’s definitely not for everyone!

Reviews for Books I Read Recently (August) 📚

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell⭐⭐⭐

This was a super short and quick read. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty elements galore. Gave me flashbacks to Kissing the Witch as it is a female dominated story with queer aspects, which I don’t mind usually but it sort of felt like literary click bait. The illustrations are gorgeous though. Exhibit A

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Exhibit B:

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There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Translated by Keith Gessen, Anna Summers): ⭐⭐ (2.5 stars)

As you can tell, I’ve been on a fairytale kick lately. I wanted something that was like Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber but more creepy and sinister. ‘There Once Lived a Woman…’ is definitely those things but it’s also disgusting and depressing. Sometimes I do enjoy the odd twisted and dark novel but man, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya made me test my boundaries. The first few stories in ‘Songs of the Eastern Slavs’ are tamer, and deal with revenge. I enjoyed the final section called ‘Fairy Tales’ too, particularly the last story called The Black Coat. The middle section was pretty meh.

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent⭐⭐⭐⭐

I really loved Lying In Wait and wanted to check out her debut novel. This did not disappoint at all. Nugent has great opening lines: “I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.” This is not a domestic thriller though. I would categorise it as a psychological crime. Oliver Ryan, our protagonist, is an author of children’s books and is married to Alice who illustrates his stories. They lead a pretty normal life… or do they?

Liz Nugent has an ability to craft masterful plot-lines that take me by surprise. She weaves multiple characters, multiple storylines and multiple twists with ease. I’m really impressed with her writing and will read everything that she writes. Forever.

——

Mini TBR for the rest of August:

  1. Geekerella by Ashley Poston
  2. Red As Blood by Tanith Lee

Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha (Review)

⭐⭐⭐

Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a Bengali author and so far, Arunava Sinha has translated two of her works into English – Panty and Abandon. I can’t wait to get my hands on the latter. I find it problematic that Panty is categorised as “erotic romance” as it is neither of those things. Unsurprisingly, Bandyopadhyay’s writing caused a massive controversy in India. Sinha, guilty of being complicit with her crimes, has also felt the ire of the nation. Panty is a collection of two magical realist novellas, the first being Hypnosis and the second being Panty.

Hypnosis follows Ilona Kuhu Mitra, a 30-something woman who works as a journalist. Recently divorced, Illona spends her life in limbo. She meets Meghdoot a famous musician and they have a strange relationship. In Panty, an unnamed woman moves into her lover’s house. It is late at night and she gets her period and with no fresh underwear, is forced to put on the panties she found in the wardrobe earlier. When she slips on the panties, she slips on the memories of her lover’s ex. Needless to say, both the novellas are very surreal and strange.

Bandyopadhyay’s stories aren’t erotic, but her characters are liberated and sexual women. The stories explore identity, modern urban loneliness, midlife crises, poverty, and religion among other things. Ilona mixes up dreams and reality – an outer manifestation of her internal conflict. She suffers silently. In Panty, the chapter numbers are erratic – there’s a sense of disorientation. Cons: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay tries to fit too many themes into what are essentially long short stories. Hypnosis and Panty had endings that I didn’t  completely understand. Or maybe that was the point…

Read an extract from Panty here: http://tinyurl.com/he4vkdw