READS OF THE YEAR 2015: Laura Waddell
This year I’ve found myself reading more translation, more books by women, and more from independent publishers.
The most significant reading experience I’ve had in 2015 has been Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series translated by Ann Goldstein, the last of which, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), was published in English in September. Ferrante depicts what it is to be a working class woman from a Neopolitan village in this story spanning the lifetime of two friends. Although these parallel lives take different paths, and their relationship is at times abrasive, Lenu and Lila are both inescapably impacted by the class and gender situation of their births in ways both immediate and subtly illuminating. The story of the two friends is set to the backdrop of violent Italian politics in the mid-twentieth century, an epic chain of continuity in the vein of Proust. Essentially, the novels are an exploration of pervasive systems of power told through the domestic, romantic and working lives of two characters who utterly got under my skin. Having finished the series I’m still grieving it being over.
Another standout read this year was Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi translated by Adriana Hunter (Peirene Press). This story of a mother suffering from mental health problems taking her two children for a trip to the seaside, walking miles through the rain and counting every single penny to do so but still coming up short, is nothing but excruciating to read. Olmi renders the settings of a pub, a hotel, and a seaside fairground sinister and hostile, sharply depicting a clash between intimidating, life-limiting poverty and societal expectations of family leisure and love. Hope is metered out and reeled back in throughout this short and intimate novella full of familial guilt and despair. Eroding any lingering detachment, I was left shocked by its climatic bleakness, and I’m very interested to see what is translated into English next by Olmi.
My third pick is Jellyfish by Janice Galloway (Freight Books). As a long-time fan of Galloway, I’ve been excited by this collection (her first publication in several years) for some time. It didn’t disappoint. 2015 has been an excellent year for short stories (a notable mention must go to Saltire Society winning On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory) and Galloway is both a master and a vocal champion of the form. Jellyfish runs the gamut of emotional and sensual human experience – some stories are quick sketches of whirlwind desire, such as my favourite story in the collection, ‘Looking At You,’ which builds people-watching and observation of sexual tension to a perfectly pitched crescendo with the barrier breaking punch to the gut of, “and he’s looking at you.” There are also stories on motherhood, midnight feasts, book-burning, Mozart, singing in the bath, a rural car accident, phenomenons of the earth and more. It’s a collection harnessing the weirdness of everyday life and dredging up feelings from the depths, instilled with Janice’s peculiar, particular turn of phrase and way of perceiving the world.