Crumbs by Miha Mazzini

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Crumbs by Miha Mazzini

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that successfully evokes the hard-drinking, listless chancer character of European tradition, without saying too much about anything.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Freight Books
ISBN: 9781908754394

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We are in a hell of man's own making – a town that is basically one huge foundry, whose men go from working there to a bar then to (someone's) bed in three eight hour shifts, or so it seems. Egon isn't one of those men, or isn't any more, for he works at other things than the foundry – namely churning out trashy low-brow fiction, and a lot of wheeling and a lot more dealing. He still keeps his shift in at the bar and in people's beds, though, all the while looking out for number one. He has several friendships on the go, and several sexual partners at the same time, yet drinks so much it's hard to say he exactly cherishes himself above all – if anything he doesn't care that much about anyone. He certainly cares for something however – his beloved stash of Cartier cologne has run out, and he'll as like as not do anything for more…

The first person narrative adds an immediacy to some of the writing here, and the pages move briskly. I dare say that's mostly because of the bullet-point long paragraphs and concision the author's foreword provides a very individual excuse for. I dare say it's also quite necessary, for at times the contents are as bleak as the surroundings, in what has since become the ex-Yugoslavia, and as bleak as some of the characters.

The writing isn't all one-note, however, and certainly has some appeal. I fully engaged with Egon's temporary ambitions, whether it be to seduce a poet at a literary soiree, or to successfully ransack a paper yard for culture in among the recycling – that scene alone proves our author can write. But beyond that there is a sense that this book didn't hit its target audience with me, and considering its history that's a bit of a surprise. When launched it became a huge domestic success – it sold 54,000 copies in a language spoken by fewer than two million people. It certainly resonated at the time, and even now (it's 27 years old, this translation is ten) it should strike a chord.

But beyond the drive of the main character, and the direct emphasis the book hits at times in portraying his obstinate intention to live the way he wants to the ends he wants, surfing and bartering his way through shit to get it, there was always the feeling that it didn't gel with me fully. I dislike referring to the blurb to fuel my critique, but the word hilarious on the back was news to me – I found the book and character more earnest and sincere than that suggests, and as for it being a commentary on the pathology of self-determination – well, I'll get back to you once I've had that translated.

I don't think it's a flawed book because it's a metaphor for a country long gone – I don't think it's that flawed at all really, for I liked its capacity for dreariness and despair – but I didn't find myself liking the book nearly as much as the author's fellow Yugoslavs once did. As such I can only really give it a designation of curio – it does capture the dreariness of low-brow, high-alcohol life, but it doesn't inspire nearly as much mood-altering as a fraction of Egon's beer intake would.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Trieste by Dasa Drndic and Ellen Elias-Bursac (translator) is one of only a few novels from that corner of Europe to have come our way.

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