Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret

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Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A good collection of stories from Israel, if you gel with the author's open-endedness and sense of humour.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 9780701186678

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In the opening, titular story, Keret is forced by several people to create, and alter, a short short story. It's a plain metaphor for the history of Israel, but it proves that this modern Scheherazade is not too far removed geographically from the original. And what follows are probably the sort of short, tantalising, open-ended, rough-round-the-edges and surreal results of being compelled to carry on telling tall tales on a nightly basis.

The second is about the consequences of dreams, the third a one-paragraph loop around the world. Elsewhere, breakfasting in a cafe allows a man to be whomsoever other people want him to be, a woman finds the real man inside the one she takes to her bed, and a man finds his wife again in a most unexpected way. These could also be a new volume of Tales of the Unexpected.

They're not ideal tales for my taste, however. Even on the fourth work you get the sense that Keret is quite happy to end his stories mid-flow, and leave things hanging without resolution. One tale is built of off-cut possibilities, and provides several starts without firm endings. You could also make a claim that there are too few strong females in the balance.

What I did find a strong comparison was with While the Women are Sleeping by Javier Marias. It cropped up with a work here, 'Mystique', which had a time-bending doppelganger type of scenario, just as Marias does. Later on there's a mirror too in a dead person being the narrator (and I give little away in that), and reincarnation.

Final wishes, strangest circumstances, and the oddest end to a killer's life ever, all wrap up a good collection of several dozen stories. You could argue either way that the abrupt endings, almost bringing some of the pieces into the realm of flash fiction, allow the reader to ration the book more and leaves her with more to think about, or are just niggling flaws to what could be great(er) works. But there's a sense here of a writer who does know what he wants and how to get it. The Israeli flavour of the surreal - again perhaps a hindrance to some readers - is certainly strong, whether it is set in Israel or elsewhere in the modern Diaspora. Only one work seems to be a joke that does fail to travel.

So this, combining a welter of depth in variety, a great opportunity to think your own way to finishing the pieces contained here, and a brilliant calling card for a very singular author's quirky sense of absurdist humour, can certainly be recommended for fans of brief, unusual works. If it gets too surreal, too bitty or too oddball, please don't blame me - I wasn't one of the ones forcing him to write these.

We also have a review of Long-Haired Cat-Boy Cub by Etgar Keret, Aviel Basil and Sondra Silverston (translator).

If you did enjoy this, there is little reason not to take a Spanish flavour of fiction, with that aforementioned Marias book.

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Buy Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret at


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