Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
|Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: An appealing, earthy fairy tale from the heart of Eurovision Song Contest land. Two women fall in love with the widowed village potter... which will he choose?|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: May 2009|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing plc|
This is one of Those books: a quirky one-off that gets talked about on Radio 4 and may just flit to the top of the best-selling list. Unique and appealing. Alternatively, some books in the Quirky genre suffer from Emperor's New Clothes effect. So once I'd admired the splendid (but undeniably quirky) cover of Valeria's Last Stand, I tiptoed onto the streets of this Hungarian hamlet rather warily.
The story is absurd, if not farcical. Valeria, an unpleasant single woman suddenly falls for the widowed local potter who already has a fling going with Ibolya, landlady of the local hostelry. Inspired by Valeria, the local potter starts turning out works of art, such as turnips which feel as comfy to the hand as women's breasts. Meanwhile, a gnome-sized chimney sweep arrives in the village looking to settle down, and tries to charm both Ibolya and Valeria into bed. Naturally, the rivals will fight over at least one woman and the best man will win.
Ah yes, I forgot to mention that the characters are more likely to be beset by hot menopausal flushes than the first flush of youth. I wonder if the author has actually seen a 68 year old's breasts in the altogether …?
Although set in the present day, the story has fairy-tale roots. Some of the characters and sub-plots are traditional stereotypes with a modern twist, like the modest serving girl who loves the commitment-phobic potter's apprentice. The gravy-train Europhile mayor has married a much younger woman, much to the amusement of the villagers. Both get their come-uppance, of course.
The chimney sweep's role is redolent of Eastern European folklore. Yet he doesn't just bring good luck, but casts a spell over women in the village so they throw themselves and their money at him. He becomes a rich man, temporarily, until good triumphs over evil, as in all traditional fairy tales.
It's very earthy and timelessly Hungarian in setting, despite the markers of modernity such as mobile phones and HRT, Post-Communist private enterprise flowers everywhere like weeds. I wasn't sure about the language at first, but it's written in a consistently vernacular-in-translation style that neatly puts the reader in his place as a foreign fly on the wall. Once the (male) author came up with the surprisingly perceptive: Like most men in uncomfortable personal situations, he buried himself in work, I was with him all the way.
Although a fair bit of the book is spent in the Altogether, I don't think anyone will mind.
If you liked Marina Lewycka's Ukrainian tractors, you'll love this one. Also from the Bookbag's Quirky shelves, we liked Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday and The Marriage Proposal by Celestine Hitiura Vaite.
I'd like to thank Bloomsbury for sending this book. I'll look out for more from Marc Fitten.
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