Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011

The long list for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was announced last week, as follows:

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
Fame by Daniel Kehlmann
Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson
Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo
Gargling With Tar by Jachym Topol
The Sickness by Alberto Berrera Tyszka
The Secret History of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
The Journey of Anders Sparrman by Per Wastberg
Lovetown by Michal Witkowski
Villain by Shuichi Yoshida
Dark Matter by Juli Zeh

Three German novels are featured, perhaps marking a resurgence in German writing, which hasn’t made much impact on the English-speaking market since The Reader. Latin American writers are also prominent again.

Last year I attempted to read all the long-listed books and, having already read five of them, it’s tempting to try again, but, given that the short list is announced in three weeks, it’s not going to happen. However, I can’t help but be tempted by a few of them, and I’ll be posting my thoughts over the next month, perhaps adding a few more once the short list is announced.

One I won’t be writing about at length is The Museum of Innocence (it is unlikely to win anyway – the prize does not tend to favour already well known writers). This is because I found it so disappointing when I read it last year, having both enjoyed and admired My Name Is Red and Snow. If you don’t know the book, it’s a love story in which the ‘tension’ is created by the inability of the lovers to make any of the decisions that would allow them to be together. It relies heavily on the cultural milieu of the setting, but whereas this is an enhancement in the work of, say, Jane Austen where it is portrayed with a light irony, here it is a cause of a rather heavy didacticism. Above all, the main character, Kemal, is so weak and foolish that you soon lose any belief that he can feel passionate emotion at all, though he persists in telling you at every opportunity. His wait for Fusun lasts many years, and Pamuk seems to have decided to mimic this with an interminable narrative that feels exactly like sitting in a small room waiting for something to happen. The only interesting idea was that Pamuk apparently actually created the museum, a collection of objects linked to Fusun – but having read the novel, you may feel that, rather than a post-modern masterstroke, this in fact is just an indication of a writer too close to his subject.

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