The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator)

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The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator)

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: You can immediately think of a parallel conceit to this love story, but while this is better it is still not quite as easy to read as it might be.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: June 2016
Publisher: MacLehose Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857059918

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It's not only springtime when a man's fancies turn to thoughts of love – he can also do it in the autumn of his life, as does the man involved here. But being a well-known author, and being beholden to silence, can he really put his thoughts on paper? It happened a long time ago, and he only met the woman concerned a couple of times, but with it being such a powerful event and such a slightly unusual circumstance, what should he do? It takes a notebook of his father's love poems to his mother, that he finds both incomplete and scorched, to give him the green light – the voice from the past that says to him, 'go for it'. And what we read here is a result.

Yes, this book does concern, as the blurb tells you, a middle-aged woman giving a sexual awakening to a tall and sporty-looking teenager, but that's not all that you need to know about it. For one thing, the woman hardly turns up for many a page, and the consummating act is more or less at the halfway mark, way past the cut-off point I'd normally use for discussing plot events. Before that you get to meet several other people – the father and mother involved, the family that does seem to want to impart personal information to each other in unusual ways, and so on. And you also meet this elderly author, with several books under his belt, including one about Captain Nemo and a volcano. Could this author possibly mean Captain Nemo's Library, by a certain PO Enquist? You can see what territory we're in here immediately – the very divisive literature where the author refers to himself obliquely, fictionalising autobiography and leaving you unsure of the truth of anything, yet where the events seem either way to be utterly personal. Yes, we're in Knausgaard land.

And that will be the crux of the matter for anybody thinking of this book. Straight away you feel this is what the Norwegian gets up to, yet different – the fact that the author Enquist writes about is only met in the third person to the Knausgaard first person is not the only difference. The writing is in a slightly different key – seemingly old-fashioned yet contemporary, as befits an elderly man talking in the 2010s about what happened in his youth. But what links the two is the edge to the approach, the creation of faction regarding hidden family secrets, the engaging with what might (or perhaps should) be private with the emotional heft to make it what the public wants to read.

It's a conceit, and I did find Knausgaard conceited. This book tempers it down, but leaves you with a melange of modernism and post-modernism, a look at a fictional (?) author writing a book that both the author in the book and the author of the book have spoken of as of having been produced with reluctance. With that in mind it gives itself an obstacle straight away, to justify itself – if the real author didn't want it to be written, shouldn't we indulge him and leave it unread? Well, here you'd be missing out on a very literary and quite obtuse work, but one that does have some interest. The central pairing is certainly worth the wait, and the feel of the piece, drifting from talk of sin and secrets to that of getting words right can be strongly felt. To counter that is the author on the page talking about his past – ie details of other books of his relevant to this one, and a future that includes a Greek chorus of censorious friends, meaning you do feel you're in the company of someone who has mistaken you for a friend. That, and the layering on of so much onto what the blurb wants to engage you with, means I can see many people turning to something else. Me, well I found myself in the middle ground as usual, feeling reasonably happy to have met such a strange character, but not wanting said friendship to last further.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell is at the other end of the scale for books where people look back at those who touched them, however briefly.

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Buy The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist and Deborah Bragan-Turner (translator) at


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