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The Fata Morgana Booksby Jonathan Littell
Synopses & Reviews
"This collection of early stories and recent novellas by Littell (The Kindly Ones) seems at first a detached study of alienation. The brief opening pieces, 'A Summer Sunday' and 'Between Planes,' read like excerpts from wartime diaries, emphasizing a mood of ennui and futility over storytelling. However, the tone grows nightmarish in the final sections, as perversions and vices start to overflow, with 'An Old Story,' the longest novella, playing out as a MÃ¶bius strip of sexual violence and humiliation. Littell's characters always remain able to calmly observe details, no matter how disorienting their circumstances. When the narrator of 'In Quarters' finds himself with a mysterious woman, rather than wonder about her identity, he instead observes her 'Venetian blonde hair' and 'apple-green raincoat.' At their best, the stories evoke the fin-de-siÃ¨cle sensibility of Baudelaire or Schnitzler. However, on a human level, these pieces are cold to the touch; many readers will find them too stylized, arty, and pornographic for casual consumption. Agent: Andrew Nurnberg, Andrew Nurnberg Associates. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The Prix Goncourtwinning author of the scandalous The Kindly Ones returns with four new novellas that offer startlingly fresh depictions of age-old obsessions: sex and love, desiring and gazing, and the memories that take a lifetime to process. In The Fata Morgana Books, Littell crafts unique narrative voices by letting sensual feelings take the fore, whether the slippery promise of silk underwear, the dizzy intensity of abstract art, the languid torpor of a French beach, the shock of a bulls goring horn, or the warmth of a fondled breast. The connections between events are left obscure, yet these novellas are as striking as a gust of frigid air, presenting a skewed reality in which the reader is drawn forward to figure out who, or what, is telling the story, and why. Narrated by what may be hermaphrodites or ghosts, wanders or wonders, Littells masterful, effortless sentences carry these stories that illuminate the shadowy depths of solitude, reflection, longing, and lust.
"In Quarters" is a Proustian ghost story, or maybe a memory, or a dream. Narrated by a man who may or may not exist, it follows him through a sprawling mansion where he cares for a sick child, though he has forgotten whether or not the boy is his, while stealing food from other's plates and having sex with a beautiful young woman. When he travels to a provincial city, the young woman reappears—or does she? Repeated brushes with shadowy men with umbrellas offer a hint of menace that forms the backbone of this strange tale.
"Story About Nothing" follows a man who cannot remember his birthday "or even the sign under which I was born" as he experiences transgenderism, a pornographic tape given to him by a mysterious stranger, and a Hemingway-esque series of bullfights under the hot Spanish sun. As Littell takes his narrator through a series of affairs, each more ephemeral then the last, it becomes clear that this is a story about the transience of sex, the way that desire evaporates in satiation and then reappears when two strangers share a long look over a strong drink. Anchored by striking images—a lime sorbet, children diving off of high rocks—Littell's tale becomes a trip through desire that is not soon forgotten.
Commanding in spite of their vagueness, beguilingly easy to read but full of depth and mystery, these novellas explore the in-between spaces: between thoughts, between bodies, between hungers and their satisfactions, between eyes and the things they look at.
About the Author
Jonathan Littell received the Prix Goncourt for his 2006 novel The Kindly Ones, called by Time magazine unmistakably the work of a profoundly gifted writer.” A former worker for Action Against Hunger in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, and Afghanistan, he is the author of more than ten works in French. He lives in Paris.
Charlotte Mandell is the translator of numerous award-winning works of innovative French literature, among them The Kindly Ones, Zone by Mathias Enard, Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong by Pierre Bayard, and works by Proust, Blanchot, and Jacques Rancière. She lives in New York City.
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