Dalkey Archive Press: Dying and Joking About It, Followed by Elegant Sleeping, with René Belletto, Momus, and a Viscount
On the heels of the welcome news from AmazonCrossing earlier this week, it makes sense to also put the spotlight on Dalkey Archive Press, which has been doing a stellar job of making available primarily brilliant European, Latin American, and Japanese fiction in translation. It's hard to pin down Dalkey's focus, but if I had to try I'd say they don't shy away from philosophically complex works, from existentialism, from absurdity, from surrealism. Sometimes they'll publish some out-and-out fabulism and decadence as well. In other words, these are works of incredible ambition, some serious and some funny, but all of them thought-provoking. Many of these novels would not otherwise reach an English-reading audience.
I've covered some titles for Omni before, but a few have gotten overlooked. For this reason, I'm happy that Larry Nolen at his Of Blog, has begun to cover quite a few Dalkey titles. Nolen's contributed to Omni in the past, including advance reviews of books first published in Spanish (Nolen reads fluently in Spanish).
Recently, Nolen covered the recently released Dying by René Belletto and Elegance While Sleeping by Viscount Lascano Tegui, as well as an overlooked title from last year, The Book of Jokes by Momus--all three definitely on my to-read pile. Here, meanwhile, are excerpts from Nolen's reviews that make me even more eager to pick them up.
On Dying: "[The] back cover blurb describes it as a "metaphysical thriller about the lengths to which men will go to escape the inevitable - be it love or death..." and to a very large degree, this is true. It is a composite tale of two seemingly independent subplots that manage to interweave themselves, thematically at least, into a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. There is a mystery surrounding an expectant father and his conflicted feelings about his mistress and their unborn child and there is a mystery revolving around the apparent death of another. Who "lives" and who is "dying" in these cases is much more than just the matter of events and situations, but rather is a set-up for so many of those central questions people ask themselves each day about the nature of their lives and the actions done and undone daily." You can read his full review here.
On Elegance While Sleeping: "It is a pseudo-personal diary; it is a macabre novel. It has similarities with fellow South American Comte de Lautréamont; it may have some with Oscar Wilde. Yet it ultimately is little like any of these and it is in that tension between the apparent and the actual where the adventuresome reader might discover some discomforting truths which might excite them even as they might feel repelled. That is the genius on display here and it is long past time that this contemporary of Oliverio Girondo, Roberto Arlt, and Jorge Luis Borges receives his own translation into English." You can read his full review here.
On The Book of Jokes: "The Book of Jokes is by its very nature a very atypical novel. There is barely anything that could be called a coherent plot; it is, on both the surface and deeper within, a story predicated on jokes and how such jokes are played out. There is a natural choppiness to this narrative, as the short, punchy chapters set up and execute various jokes. Sometimes the narrator is a son on the receiving end of a rapacious father's hunger. Other times, there are some darkly humorous tales revolving around Scots, sheep, goats, incest, and cheesemaking." You can read his full review here.