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Book Title: Mejillones para cenar|
The author of the book: Birgit Vanderbeke
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF, Epub, DOCx, TXT
The size of the: 988 KB
Edition: La Galera
Date of issue: February 2009
Reader ratings: 4.3
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Read full description of the books Mejillones para cenar:
Many of the UK book blogs I read love certain boutique presses, though until now I'd viewed these publishers as a bit too precious. (The blogs are nice to read because they're usually more good-natured than, er, Goodreads, it's just that I have a misanthopic side too and am hardly ever bothered about fancy editions.) On actually looking at Peirene Press' website for the first time - in the run up to the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize I wanted to find out more about their recent titles - I saw how very well their books suit my taste: they specialise in newly translated European fiction, with plenty from Northern and Eastern Europe, serious but not so heavyweight as, say, Krasznahorkai; all books are under 200 pages (yay); they print paperbacks which don't have excessively twee designs or separate dustjackets, and the company even supports a cause I particularly like (a charity providing counselling for people on low incomes). And as Peirene only releases three new titles a year - organised around a theme - it's not a tall order to read them all.
The 2013 theme was "turning points"; The Mussel Feast (only 105 pages) was written in Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the now-shaky Communist state it uses the allegory of a nuclear family with a tyrannical father who is unexpectedly late home one evening; the titular meal, his favourite, has been prepared; his wife, son and daughter don't much like it. In its transparency the allegory reminded me of the Czechoslovak New Wave film A Report on the Party and the Guests, or The Garden Party and other plays by Vaclav Havel, a collection I read a couple of years ago - however The Mussel Feast works better than these as its own story, not only as symbolism, and because of this I found it more involving.
Narrated by the eldest child, the 18-year-old daughter, it conveys terribly well, yet simply, the constricting atmosphere of a family with rigid rules in which you're usually frightened, and the obvious similarity of this with a political dictatorship. The thought pattern of difficult parent being late home, glad about it, freedom to breathe for a few more minutes but tension as they could be there any minute, have they had a car crash, hope they won't be coming back, but is that them now, was terribly familiar from numerous childhood days. (German Wikipedia implies the book is semi-autobiographical, which I can well believe. The absence of 1980s cultural references must relate to this - the writer is about 15 years older than the narrator - but this does give a sense of claustrophobia and being cut off that suits the subject.) The nameless girl's account of their family life is easy to read yet characterised by repetition, action related with little emotion, nasty things elided with phrases at once ominous and innocuous - "then my Sunday was over" after father was displeased about something - these and a style simpler than her implied intelligence all give the sense of a life during which branches of thought and feeling had to be cauterised as part of larger adaptation and survival. In some ways the expression is quite ordered: most of it is straightforward to understand, reflecting the predictability of the tyranny the narrator grew up in; yet trauma, secretly unmanaged terror and suppressed life force bubble underneath, the narrative's events and ideas sometimes blur into one another, and paragraphs are very long. In a speaker with more freedom of expression, the tone would be breathless, but here that headlong rush is disguised by someone who has mathematical and logical rather than artistic strengths, and who has had to learn over many years how to make things sound presentable to a person with particularly unrelenting standards.
The author later commented about writing the book, "I wanted to understand how revolutions start". I haven't actually studied the history of any modern revolutions in depth beyond school level, though what she shows rings true with the fall of Eastern Bloc Communism as seen on the news: the father's absence, signifying "gradual reform" or the earlier toleration of Solidarity, makes it possible for people who hadn't previously spoken up to share their thoughts more and to begin to act.
A number of positive reviews mention finding the book funny; for me it was literally too close to home and too well-realised for that but if you have the detachment to laugh at the absurdity of dictatorial people and their expectations, you may be amused. It's a shame The Mussel Feast wasn't translated earlier as it would have been of great interest in the early 90s when the political events were still fresh in everyone's minds.
Read information about the authorBirgit Vanderbeke (born 8 August 1956 in Dahme, Brandenburg) is a German writer. Vanderbeke grew up in Frankfurt am Main after her family moved to West Germany in 1961. She studied Law, Germanic and Romance languages. The English translation of her debut novel, Das Muschelessen, by Jamie Bulloch was published in 2013 by Peirene Press as The Mussel Feast. Since 1993 she has been living in southern France.
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