European curios

Works that comb the farthest reaches of this wide-ranging continent, not just the sun-soaked city break bits.

Moonstone by Sjón

Sjón is a brilliant writer and Moonstone is a great place to start with his work and with Iceland’s literary scene as a whole. Moonstone is a queer, ethereal novel set at the cusp of Icelandic independence, the birth of surrealist cinema and the height of the 1918 pandemic. Serious and playful in equal measure.

The Appointment, by Katharina Volckmer

Caustic and sharply hilarious, this merciless and perfectly formed novelette is one brilliant monologue, the results of a woman’s single appointment with her doctor – expect blazing ruminations on shame, sex and squirrel tails.

Love, by Hanne Ørstavik

In the course of a single evening, a mother and son experience wildly different emotional truths as they go about their separate lives: the son, on the eve of his birthday, is waiting for his mother to return from the shops with birthday cake ingredients, while she takes a turn past the travelling funfair to meet a man. Sparse, dark and tense, this is a relationship in microcosm, a beautiful dissection of bigger themes than its humble pages suggest.

The Discomfort Of Evening, by Marieke Lukas Rijneveld

The stink of the cowshed and the hard bite of the frozen winter ground stalk this utterly unique (and deservedly prizewinning) novel from a Dutch debutant. A young girl and her family suffer a tragedy, and the effects spread deeply into their lives, and in increasingly disturbing ways. Written in that horrid sweet spot between innocence and experience, there’s a surprisingly large amount of humour here, too.

A Luminous Republic, by Andrés Barba

A city is overrun by children, unwashed and speaking their own distinct and invented language. They turn nasty, and there are consequences. This claustrophobic, sweaty and disturbing found-document-style novel from Spanish novelist Andrés Barba gracefully yet mercilessly asks us to consider how powerful children really are, and how powerful adults are willing to be to contain them.

Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk

Flights is less straightforwardly a novel and more a “novel of novels”… or a novel of novelettes? Some chapters are the brief musings of a lone traveller in an airport, while others are deep-dives into a story from a fragmented corner of European history, all brought together into a compelling meditation on bodies in motion, and the human need to travel, cross boundaries, transgress.

A Girl Returned, by Donatella Di Pietrantonio

A young girl is taken away from her family as a baby, and then returned to them as a teenager and – more importantly – a stranger. This tiny blitz of a story (from the translator of Elena Ferrante’s classic novels) is wrought with family tension, class divisions and the intensity of teenage emotion.

The Employees, by Olga Ravn

A fragmentary novel told through unlabeled and uncategorised statements from employees of the Six-Thousand Ship, a spaceship on an unknown task in the far-flung depths of the galaxy. Out of these interviews, Olga Ravn constructs a subtle and beguiling novel, probing questions of intimacy, humanity, and the future of human labour in a non-human future.

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop

This is not your standard war book. At Night All Blood is Black is a blistering confessionary tale of one man’s descent into his own psyche, and a mesmerising but gruesome novel of revenge.

Bonjour Tristesse, by Francois Sagan

To us Bonjour Tristesse is a perfect summer novel. Truly atmospheric, it conjures the shimmering heat and glamour of the Côte d’Azur in the height of summer. Seventeen year old Cécile and her widowed father rent a holiday home with his latest young and beautiful girlfriend to enjoy a summer of bathing, tanning and carefree langour. A masterful study of manipulation, power-plays and guilt, it’s a novel that you can devour in one sun-soaked sitting, but it will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

The Union Of Synchronised Swimmers, by Cristina Sandu

This slight and clever novel from a Finnish-Romanian debutant follows six women who are destined to become Olympic synchronised swimming champions. But as they relentlessly train their bodies in the lake of an unnamed Soviet state, it is freedom that they really hope for. Subtle, moving and simply told.

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