IFFP 2014 Round Up – Reviews 1 & 2

Well, we’re off and running in the search for a champion of translated fiction, and I’m about to crack open my first new read of this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist.  However, before I get on to those books I haven’t yet tried, I’ll be looking back at the ones I’ve already enjoyed – and this year that means seven of the fifteen chosen.  Sit back, and enjoy the show as I wander down memory lane, rating and slating a few books and musing as to their chances of moving on to the next stage of the competition.  As always click on the links for my full reviews of the longlisted titles.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then let’s begin…

*****
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke – Peirene Press
(translated by Jamie Bulloch )
What’s it all about?
A family sits around a seafood dinner, waiting for the pater familias to arrive home.  The later it becomes, the more they all get to talking about life under the shadow of a domestic dictator.  Once you’ve heard what’s been going on at home, you’ll agree that it’s time for a coup – father has had things his own way for far too long…

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
Quite possibly.  This is one I predicted for the shortlist right at the start of 2013, and though there are some great books on the longlist, The Mussel Feast can hold its own with any of them.  It’s a biting, bitter tale of domestic psychological manipulation, written in a mesmerisingly gripping style.  One caveat – I read it in German, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for views on Bulloch’s translation 🙂

Will it make the shortlist?
I’m going to go with a yes here.  After three consecutive longlistings, Peirene have established themselves as consistent contenders, and I feel that this will be rewarded by the judges this year, with one of their strongest books so far making the shortlist.  One thing I will say though is that if Julia Franck’s Back to Back is good, I do wonder if there’s room for two German women on a carefully curated shortlist 😉

*****
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami – Portobello Books
(translated by Allison Markin Powell)
What’s it all about?

A beautiful story of a May-to-December romance, Kawakami’s novel appeared in the States as The Briefcase a while back before being repackaged for a UK audience last year.  A woman bumps into a former high school teacher in a bar and gradually falls for him, despite his eccentricities.  Imagine Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor, but better 🙂

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
Probably not.  I liked this book a lot, and I’m glad it made the longlist, but I can’t really see it barging its way into the top six (it’s far too delicate for that).  I’m also of the opinion that the makeover job on both the title and the cover was hideous in the extreme, and that has cost it any chance it had of progressing.  Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

Will it make the shortlist?
Nope.  There are too many good books up against it.  This is a book many will enjoy, but it’s not one to stand out in the crowd, especially when there’s another, more well-known, female Japanese writer in the mix…

*****
That’s the first couple of mini-reviews done – come back soon to see some more longlisted titles under the Malone microscope 😉

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12 thoughts on “IFFP 2014 Round Up – Reviews 1 & 2

  1. I agree with you about The Briefcase/Strange Weather in Tokyo. It was lovely, but “not one to stand out in the crowd”.

    I've just finished The Infatuations, my third in the list. Next will be The Mussel Feast.

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  2. Biblibio – It used to be the American publishers that went with tacky pop art covers for Japanese books (see Murakami's US editions); now it seems that the UK publishers want in on the act…

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  3. I agree with you on both I maybe say mussel feast had shown its longevity already I mean it is a set text in german schools ,I just wish it had been out earlier here near the time it is set ,all the best stu

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  4. I'm really looking forward to The Mussel Feast, but have not felt particularly compelled by Strange Weather in Tokyo, and your reviews reinforce my opinions. Thanks for writing–I'll be following the rest with interest.

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  5. More agreement from me, Tony. Much as I enjoyed 'Strange Weather…' at the time, it's probably too delicate and nuanced to make the shortlist. It's a beautiful dreamlike narrative but I'm not sure it'll stand up to some of the more powerful books on the list. I do like the UK cover, though…even if it doesn't match my mental image of Tsukiko!

    Stu's right to say that The Mussel Feast has already demonstrated its longevity. Good point about there being two German author's on the longlist. It'll be interesting to see how 'Back to Back' compares – I've got that one on order with the library so we'll see.

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  6. Jacqui – No!!! Awful cover!!! 😉

    'Back to Back (along with 'Revenge') is one of the books I'm most looking forward to (although the other Tony has just started it and isn't impressed so far…).

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