Heartwood 9:5 – The Night Watchman by Simonne Jacquemard

Simonne Jacquemard’s intriguing novel The Night Watchman was published over fifty years ago, and though it won France’s highly regarded Renaudot Prize, it appears to be all but forgotten today. That is unfortunate, as it is an exquisitely written work (at least in L.D. Emmet’s translation) which may bring variably to mind Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, the romans durs of Georges Simenon, the novels of Virginia Woolf, or the Greek drama Antigone. The story revolves around the life and interests of Siméon Leverrier, a night watchman and petty thief who discovers a buried well in his back yard and begins to excavate it.

Leverrier is obsessed with geomorphology and has built his own furnace for smelting purposes. The fact that rocks liquefy beneath the thin crust of the earth seems to both fascinate and nauseate him. His excavation of the well is relayed in prose at once lyrical and scientific, oneiric and archaeological (as to this last trait, his digging, in fact, ends up uncovering Gallo-Roman baths and a carved stela from the era of Julius Caesar). Similar to Camus’s Meursault, the protagonist is socially disconnected, much consumed by his own thoughts and interests, and he is also being investigated for murder. In a scene in which the intent is left unclear, Leverrier abducts a young woman, and locks her in his cellar. We later learn that he has put her to work in assisting him in the excavation, otherwise keeping her imprisoned in her cell. But this is not a thriller; we learn very little about Agathe-Alexandrine, and Leverrier is not fixated on her in any typical way (he even must remind himself not to let her starve to death).

Jacquemard is a stylist of the first order. The book braids several narrative threads and signals changes of direction by alternating between standard and indented columns. She also incorporates italicized parenthetical content and makes effective use of repetition and variation (which to this reader brings Virginia Woolf to mind), an example of which can be found in the book’s opening image in which the leaves of trees begin to be individually distinguishable at dawn (variations of this image recur periodically). We also get some entries from Leverrier’s notebooks, and parts of the book are told in the voice of a next-door neighbor and others from that of the man who is prosecuting him for the death of Agathe.

The novel resists any simple summing up, but delves into such things as placing the individual against the deep background of geologic time and the echoes of history; the admixture of good and evil, life and death, crime and justice; mythological symbolism, dreamlike states of mind, and the collective unconscious; doors and thresholds (crossed and uncrossed); thoughts and sensations vs. the mute material substance of the earth and cosmos; and the iterative, diurnal and nocturnal patterns that underlie so much of human experience. This will be spellbinding reading for those attuned to this kind of thing.

Stay Home for This Challenge

Fall is my most favorite season. We get pumpkin spice, falling leaves, and furnaces kicking on. My sweaters and boots are so happy to see me and I’m whipping up soups and stews every weekend. And we get rain. Months and months of glorious, life-giving rain. I may as well call myself Shirley Manson because I’m only happy when it rains. Just kidding–but I do love a great rain shower and/or thunderstorm.

We also get a new reading challenge. Read the book, post a photo of it with #everettreads, and be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card courtesy of the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Thanks, Friends! This month we’re going to read a book set in Washington State.

That’s right, dear reader. We get to stay home for this challenge.

You may have heard about a little book called Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I reviewed it a few years back and the film adaptation was released in August. While I still wholeheartedly recommend reading Bernie, I also think you should try these books set in our wet and wonderful Evergreen State. Just click the cover and be magically–okay, it’s HTML–taken to the summary and with a few more clicks you can reserve your very own copy.

FYI: some of these look really spooky, so if you are looking for some Halloween mood reading you might be able to check two boxes with one book.

I’m going to curl up with Useless Bay by M.J. Beaufrand. Shocking family secrets and a giant mystery on Whidbey Island? Count me in! What will you read for the October challenge?

Spot-Lit for October 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Spot-Lit for September 2019

Spot-Lit consults the big four book trade journals (along with quite a variety of other sources) while pulling these monthly lists together, and it is pretty rare when all four give a starred review to a title. So imagine our surprise to see Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly all giving stars to: Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, and A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker!  Other stellar releases include new books by Margaret Atwood, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s (his first novel), Man Booker International Prize-winner László Krashnahorkai, and more.

Click here to see all of the titles below in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Heartwood 9:4 – Nocilla Dream by Augustín Fernández Mallo

If it could be said to have one (and it doesn’t), a lone shoe-covered tree standing along the loneliest road in America (US Route 50 in Nevada) would be the polestar of Augustín Fernández Mallo’s Nocilla Dream. If you choose to go down this road, you’ll travel with truckers and prostitutes, artists and veterans, rock climbers and bomb defusers. You’ll check in periodically with a man who has lived for years in the Singapore airport, and a man who designs manhole covers. You’ll read about micronations, Chinese surfers, extreme ironing, transhumanism. You’ll learn that Che Guevara faked his death and was amused to find his own visage on tourist T-shirts in Vietnam.

As the above indicates, the 113 very brief chapters in this globe-hopping novel seem to be about almost everything, and they are remarkable for their fluency and concision.  Some condense a complete story into a page or two, others read like highlights from conference papers, and others indeed do draw from the writings of scientists, critics, journalists, poets, and more which have appeared in a variety of magazine articles, newspaper columns, and books. Elements in particular chapters resurface later on in seemingly unrelated chapters and otherwise intersect or overlap in surprising ways. And Fernández Mallo, like an expert juggler, keeps adding more characters (whose separate-though-sometimes-conjoined story lines are revisited periodically) to the mix.

Given the author’s background in physics, I’ve been trying to identify a physical model that best represents the structure and content of this unusual and addictive piece of writing. Is it the fractal, with its intricate repeating patterns? The atomic detritus scattered by particle accelerators in a Hadron Collider? Or maybe something from the world of art, as the book does dabble in such subjects as Land Art, conceptualism, the Situationists, and surrealism? But maybe I’m trying too hard. The model that best captures what happens in Nocilla Dream is the glowing screen that teases me with an inexhaustible hyperlinked world of connection and distraction as I attempt to write this review (and which will likely seduce you away during your reading of it).

Fernández Mallo, a poet as well as a physicist, began writing this book when he was hospitalized in Thailand after breaking his hip. He completed the novel within a matter of months when he returned to Spain, and went on to write two more in the Nocilla Trilogy (Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Lab) in quick succession (Nocilla is a Spanish knock-off of the popular hazelnut spread, Nutella, and the subject of the song “Nocilla, que Merendilla!” by the 1980s punk band Siniestro Total). The books caused a sensation in Spain when they were published in 2006 and 2007, helping to spawn a literary movement now known as The Nocilla Generation.

If you’re in the mood for a wide-ranging, collagist, ensemble novel that mixes high and low culture, the sensual and the theoretical, the scientific and the aesthetic, this will keep you entertained and perhaps slack-jawed. And it will let you know if you’re a candidate for the rest of the trilogy. It’s likely, anyway, to be more rewarding than the hours you’d spend otherwise clicking around on the internet.

___________

Some more detailed reviews of the Nocilla books can be found at:

The Nation
Los Angeles Review of Books
Music & Literature
Harpers

Spot-Lit for August 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Spot-Lit for July 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts