INQUISITOR’S NIECE -- A TREAT
FOR HISTORICAL FICTION READERS.
The second edition of The
Inquisitor's Niece has just come out. This review appeared in the Midwest
opens in Seville, Spain, in 1514, just after the deaths of King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella. The Inquisitor General, a cardinal and bitter enemy of the
Jews, has issued a decree that all Jews must convert to Christianity or face
exile. In this world, "A Jew has no friends among
Christians." It's not the kind of atmosphere which would
encourage a Jew and a Christian to fall in love.
But Alonso and Luisa, the Inquisitor’s niece, prove the adage “Love
Spain comes to life through the thoughts and perceptions of this couple and
those who surround them…
of historical fiction will find this story absorbing and packed with historical
facts and insights that well represent the atmosphere, politics, and religious
and social concerns of 16th century Spain. Daily life under the darkness of the
Spanish Inquisition is well detailed and teaches much about the era while
supporting a compelling tale that involves readers in matters of the heart…
moves beyond the story of two frustrated would-be lovers separated by forces
beyond their control, and into a world that offers hope in the face of
fiction readers are in for a real treat with The Inquisitor's Niece.
#NOBEL – THE NOVEL! JUST
OUT: THREE WOMEN AND ALFRED NOBEL.
My new novel, based
on the correspondence between Nobel and his Viennese mistress (A NOBEL AFFAIR,
published 2017) has just appeared from Endeavour.
Three women are after
Nobel: Ida wants revenge for the death of her lover, who has been killed in an
accident at Nobel’s dynamite factory. Sophiewants compensation for the abuse
she suffered as Nobel’s mistress. Bertie wants Nobel to atone for his lethal
invention and spend the profit on a Peace Prize.
Set in fin-de-siècle
Vienna, THREE WOMEN AND ALFRED NOBEL exploresthe social constraints placed on
women, the traumatic effects of war on soldiers, and the ethnic tensions that
lead to the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
an incident happens in a library, the librarian must fill out a report.
Baillie’s novel is a collection of reports that strays into memoir territory.
Report 5, for example, is about morning anxiety. Every morning in the warmth of my bed, as I surface from sleep, fear
–small as a cherry stone, cracks open behind my breastbone.
Report 45 is about meeting a young man in the park, reading a children’s novel.
If somebody had asked me, I would have
said that a young man with a gentle expression and missing a finger, reading a
children’s novel, resting before his next shift driving a taxi, was as good a
person to fall in love with as anyone, but that I was not interested in more
suffering. Yet she falls in love and suffers.
Man, one of the regulars at the library, makes his appearance in several
Incident Reports: He never borrows
books, CDs or DVDs, never surfs the net or nervously taps messages, hunching
over the keyboard, as the others do…He comes with one purpose only: to make
multiple copies of the documents riding in his suitcase.
he leaves behind notes. They all concern one subject: Verdi’s Rigoletto and the
death of the hunchback’s daughter. She’s
too young to know danger, one of his notes says. Ah, poor hunchback, with no right to happiness. But this time I won’t
let any harm come to her. If one of those men should so much as touch a hair on
her head, my gorgeous daughter with the freckled hands…I dropped the paper. I
closed myself in the bathroom and stared at my hands. They were as they had
always been – slim, pale and covered in freckles.
don’t normally write about short stories, but this one (NYer August 20) got to
me. The language is exquisite – ironic since the protagonist is a writer who is having a hard time writing.
aid the process, he goes
cross-country skiing, his skis
chattering over the grooves of a snowmobile track. He meets a musher with
his team of dogs resting, ears back,
with wry grins on their lean faces. Then they range out, zigzagging, negotiating a scent stream. Sometime he goes
running. His pounding feet set off the
mergansers at the water’s edge, a thrashing mass of windmilling legs and
timeless observations are disrupted by social science cant that jerks you back
into the present: cognitive dissonance,
people drawn together by trauma, talk about the refugee crisis with a woman
friend who has worked in the camps. They have sex rather coolly, in the no-nonsense way it’s done today or at least
the way in which it is depicted in contemporary writing. I kissed her only once, he says, and didn’t really want to kiss her anyway, but I was born in the
Midwest, and they teach us there to try to be good people, and to kiss during
sex. Is that so?
why bother to ask that question? After all, fiction is the most shameless genre. It makes no attempt to avert its
is the coming-of-age story of a boy living through the Rwandan civil war, but
also of his personal memories and musing about the marriage of his parents, a
French father married to Hutu mother.
happy couple on their wedding day. What
music! On their wedding day, a careless rumba escaped some out-of-tune guitars
as happiness crooned cha-cha-cha numbers beneath a sky pricked with starts.
But twelve years later the reality of everyday life sets in and their carefree beginnings transformed into
a rhythm as tyrannical as the relentless ticking of a clock. Now they had
to cope with children, taxes, …growing
uncertainty, rampant banditry, dictators and military coups and, the
cruelest blow: it turned out they hadn’t
shared dreams, merely illusions. True, each of them had nurtured a dream, but
it amounted to nothing more than their own selfish hopes, with neither of them
ready to fulfill the other’s expectations.
couple fight. Raw emotion transformed
Maman’s voice into a torrent of mud and gravel. A flood of words, a roar of
insults filled the night. The noises were moving about our property: I could
hear Maman howling below my window, then destroying the car windscreen. After
that, silence, until the violence began rumbling again, all around. I could no
longer tell what was French and what Kirundi, what was shouting and what were
tears, whether these were my parents battling or the neighborhood dogs fighting
to the death.
a party is still a party and makes you forget your troubles: The trumpet was doing its breathless best
to follow the rhythm set by the percussion. Prothe and Innocent were hitting
the stretched drum skins in unison, their faces strained, a thick sweat sliding
down their gleaming foreheads. The guests’ hands marked the beat as their feet
hammered out the counter-rhythm, kicking up the heavy dust in the years. The
music was as quick as our throbbing temples. The banging and beating swelled as
one. The wind swayed the garden treetops, making leaves quiver and branches
rustle. There was electricity in the atmosphere, as the smell of damp earth
filled the air.
is a “nonfiction novel” describing the author’s experience of rape and
attempted murder, or rather describing the victim’s thoughts and actions in the
aftermath of the ordeal:
holding back the story for some time, I felt I had earned the right to talk, even monopolize conversation. I told and
retold the story even to people who were not close, but bristled if they tried to respond, to empathize or give me their
analysis of what happened. At the same time I felt that there was something
staged about my telling. Not that the
tears were put on. The pain was real. But I also knew I’d have to act the part,
or no one would believe me. Telling the story created a distance. I no longer recognized my own memories,
when I spoke them out loud…I no longer recognized the outlines of my own
I found myself sympathizing with the attacker, a refugee from North Africa, who
described his life in a hostel to me as soul-destroying. It was not the authoritarianism of the manager, the cramped rooms...the
lack of place to put your things, or the stench that spews from those toilets
as if from the center of the earth (he said), not the insects, the roaches hidden in every crack, every fissure,
under the rickety furniture, or the fires that punctuate life in the kitchens
because of the faulty wiring. It wasn’t even the sexual deprivation, or the
resulting dreams, the obsession with women (or in some cases men) and the
erections, hard and damp under the sheets. What made life unbearable for
him above all, he said, was the noise
which penetrates the body by way of the ear and reverberates in every cell, the
noise troubles the silence of the inner organs…the creaking doors, the snores,
the shouting in the sleep, the groaning beds, all the misery that comes out in
that why he attacked me not only physically but also assailed me with noise? I tried to escape the sound of his
shouting, as if there were shouting scattered all around, ready to spring up,
as if shouting existed before there were human beings and humans were merely
tools invented to give it an outlet. In defense, he whispers to his
attacker, trying to calm him down.
my ordeal, I can no longer stand seeing anyone smile or be happy. I want to
slap them, to shake them and spit in
their faces, scratch them until I drew blood, scratch their faces off till all
the faces around me disappeared. Their laughter pierced my eardrums and stuck in my ears, it echoed inside my skull for
the rest of the day, it stuck in my skull, in my eyes, in my lips – it was as
if their laughter existed to hurt me.
love Rachel Cusk’s long sentences. How come my editor never lets me get away
man seated next to her on the plane:
He was somewhere in
his forties, with a face that was both handsome and unexceptional, and his tall
frame was clad with the clean, well-pressed neutrality of a businessman’s
weekend attire. He wore a heavy silver watch on his wrist and new-looking
leather shoes on his feet; he exuded an air of anonymous and slightly provisional
manliness, like a soldier in uniform.
You could the bells that
rang unendingly from the town’s many churches, striking not just the hours but
the quarter and half hours, so that each segment of time became a seed of
silence that then blossomed, filling the air with what almost seemed a kind of
self-description. The conversation of these bells, held back and forth across
the rooftops was continued night and day: its cadences of observation and agreement,
its passages of debate, its longer narratives – at matins and evensong, for
instance, and most of all on Sundays, the repeating summons building and
building until it was followed at last by the joyous, deafening exposition.
and literary critic:
He couldn’t ever
imagine writing as the author had written, or indeed, in some cases, wanting
to; even thinking about it exhausted him, and he sometimes found himself
wishing these prodigies had a little less energy, because every time they wrote
something new they also created his obligation to respond to it. The tremendous
effort to conjure something out of nothing, to create this great structure of
language where before there had been only blankness, was something of which he
personally felt himself incapable: it usually rendered him, in fact, quite
passive and left him feeling relieved to return to the trivial details of his
Krauss tells us two life stories in alternating chapters, of a novelist by the name of Nicole and of a philanthropist,
Jules Epstein, who has recently disappeared. Nicole hopes to find herself (and
possibly Jules), who has last been seen at the hotel in Tel Aviv where
she herself is staying. It’s a building in the brutalist style. Its unrelenting grid seems to be a message
nearly a mysterious as the Stonehenge.
Nicole believes in a
multiverse, possibly created by her own mind. The idea of being in two places at once goes back a long time with her.
Perhaps all children have this feeling because their sense of self is still porous, an oceanic feeling. Most
people grow out of that. They want to
create form out of formlessness and map meaning onto the world through the
structure of language.
But doubt remains,
especially about our memory, which will
always be irreconcilable with history. Maybe literature can provide a more
coherent narrative. Novels have to make sense. The character always needs a reason for the things she
does. Even when there appears to be no motive, the plot reveals its existence
in the denouement. Nicole at any rate wants to escape into that world. She didn't want to see things as they were. I had grown tired of that.
#Amreading Kureshi, Dermansky,
and Nguyen. Am pondering sex in novels.
I just finished reading
Kureshi’s The Nothing. The
protagonist sits on his wife’s face. Or else, he reams out her arsehole. My
sense of smell would not allow me to participate in either scene, and I would
certainly not get off on it. Maybe the wife didn’t either – Kureshi doesn’t say
if she did. Perhaps she (that is, the woman he imagined) was a masochist and in
need of degradation, and those acts had nothing to do with sexual gratification.
Now I’m reading Dermansky’s The Red Car, and her protagonist provides
blow jobs and does sixty-nine, on the beach, on a couch, in the backseat of a
car, and in some bushes in a park. Maybe that didn’t have anything to do with
sexual gratification either. The author describes it as being an essential
effort, like trying to do well on SATs.
Doesn’t anyone have sex for
pleasure anymore? Or because they are attracted to their partner? No, that
question is incidental.
“Please don’t break up with me,” he said. “I need you.”
And, according to Dermansky, she
obliged and didn’t.
I wonder if Kureshi’s
protagonist would have gotten off his wife’s face if he had asked him nicely.
But really, I think Viet
Thanh Nguyen got it right: Dating in America isn’t about sex. It’s business, he
says in The Sympathizer. “A male and
a female set a mutually agreeable time to meet, as if to negotiate a potentially
profitable business venture.” It’s about investment and gain, whereas old-fashioned
romantics see it as courting loss.