By Niamh Cullen
At the moment, I’m working my way through three books; two novels and a sort of history book.
Last week, I started reading Portugese novelist Jose Saramago’s Seeing. I had already read two of his novels a few years ago; Blindness and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. The first a fable about the effect a plague of blindness has on an unnamed modern city and the second a melancholic wander through the streets of 1930s Lisbon in the lead up to war, they both impressed me in different ways. On hearing of the death of Saramago – winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998 – late last month, I set out to read Seeing, his 2004 sequel to Blindness. More about that should hopefully follow soon.
Since I left my copy of Seeing in work over the weekend, I’ve also started to read Joseph O’Connor’s new novel, Ghost Light. Set in Dublin at the turn of the century, the novel explores playwright J.M. Synge’s affair with actress Molly Allgood, who was apparently the inspiration behind the character of Pegeen Mike in the Playboy of the Western World. Offering an irreverent and colourful look at the world of the Abbey Theatre – whose founders and early writers Yeats, Lady Gregory, Synge and others are usually treated with too much reverence – it’s proving to be very good so far.
The sort-of-history-book I’m reading is a volume of oral histories, collected by Italian historian Nuto Revelli in the 1970s. After conducting hundreds of interviews with Italian peasants of all ages based in rural Piedmont, in the north-west of Italy, Revelli pieced them together to form the excellent ‘The World of the Defeated’ (Il Mondo dei vinti; unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an English translation). Collectively, the many stories gathered here narrate the transformation of this remote and rural region from an area characterised by poverty, lack of education and endless heavy labour, but with a strong sense of tradition and community, to one which is severely depopulated – it is only the elderly who still live in many of the remote mountain villages, as the younger generations are no longer willing to endure the poverty and hardship of subsistence farming and have sought work in the nearby factories instead. Beautifully compiled and introduced by Revelli, it makes for a slightly depressing read, as it is hard to tell whether life was worse for the rural Piedmontese before or after the industrial take off of the late 1950s offered the young people a way out of their poverty trap. Since the book was published in the 1970s, I also wonder what has changed; has tourism, possibly skiing for example, been able to revitalise any of these mountain villages?
Well, this is my reading for the week; the list a little more crowded than usual. What are you reading at the moment? Please share your suggestions below, so that we can create our own Little Review database of book recommendations. The books can be about anything of course, and of any genre; just as long as you found them interesting…