The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

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The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator)

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: If you're prepared to work with the multiple drifts from story to story and character to character, and not against them, this narrative covering sixty years and more of post-war drama will appeal.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: March 2017
Publisher: MacLehose Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857056085

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Emma has a philosophy – let the dead rest, and love the living. The problem with that, as a 96-year-old, is that there are too few living left, and so while the love remains she will go through her memories, taking a woozy, diaphanous path through all the major events of her life. Starting in wartime Berlin with one husband, who gets snatched from her at work, fleeing to another place to wait for peace, and wait for him in vain, moving to Holland and finding new love, and so on – this wispy journey will show all the impacts of war, from rationing right up to exile, death and survival. The memories are coming strongly here and now, as Emma is waiting for at least one of her two sons to visit, and then she will die…

So just how wispy and diaphanous is this telling? Well, in only two hundred pages, we get 37 short chapters, and very often they're cut up into sections. And equally often we will drift from past to present within one of those sections, or from one story to another, or both. A reasonably large cast hoves into and out of view, and while Emma's carer is worried by her seeming a little addled there is nothing wrong with her recall, just the order in which those memories are revived.

Ultimately, I did think the wispiness was too much. I wanted more of a thunk at times – yes, there are things Emma is shown to learn here that stand out, but it's all very personal to her. The likes of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, on the other hand, even when it's a selection of narratives personal to the author, wins for me in nailing events on to real-life, confirmable dramas, whereas this at times takes a spoonful of the muesli of war and doesn't mind one bit if it's all oats.

Possibly also hindering my appreciation of this volume was the fact that this is a tie-in novel to a series of three previously published in English. A very different author would have made this a set of linked short stories, and while I appreciate the literate care and attention he gives and demands, I did get left wondering if this was too much a labour of love for de Kat – fictionalising what I assume were some real people, and lifting the corks off spirits he'd drunk from before. But let's face it – the number of authors who have a non-thriller series of four books translated into English isn't large, and there is some appeal to some with this kind of book. Emma's varied times certainly hit on enough beats to prove of interest on at least a few occasions.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Julia is a stand-alone part of the initial 'trilogy'. For a great look at a different relationship in a different neutral patch of wartime Europe, we loved The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain.

Buy The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Longest Night by Otto de Kat and Laura Watkinson (translator) at Amazon.com.


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