Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Portrait of the mother as a young woman (Delius)

I have to apologise to Periene Press for being so dilatory with the review of this wonderful book that they sent me; especially as I frequently end up chatting to them on twitter (what lovely people!). Part of the problem was that although they sent it to me at the beginning of August, and I read it then, the title was embargoed until its release at the end of August (fair enough, you don't want everyone getting excited about a book that is not yet out). I then mislaid the book - it turned out to be in my secret-under-one-of-my-desks-at-work bookshelves (an overflow of books read at lunchtimes and emergency supply of books), but because of building work, I'd not been at that desk very much. I was very relieved when it turned up as I couldn't think where it was!

First of all, a word about Peirene Press. Probably regular blog readers will already be familiar with them, as they are extremely kind to bloggers, passing out books for review quite extensively, which creates a vibe around each title (and it's nice to be able to discuss a book with fellow bloggers, as often we don't read books at the same time). They are a publishing house printing translations of contemporary European literature, predominantly short books, and in a way, they are doing what Persephone books have done for another often overlooked genre, promoting it more widely. I have to say that whilst I was already reading the sort of literature that Persephone publish, I would not be reading that published by Peirene - it is a little beyond my immediate radar, so I thank them for this. I have not spotted any of their titles in bookshops as yet, probably not looking hard enough, but I hope that they are there as it may encourage other people to read wonderful books that may be beyond their usual reading sphere.

Onto Portrait of the mother as a young woman. It's difficult to add much to the excellent reviews I've already seen of the book, which describe its lyrical language and the amazing construction whereby the narrative is a single sentence, lasting for 117 pages. Set in Germany in 1943, it's the story of a young woman coming to terms with the reality of the war and the fact that her husband may not return, and describing her experiences of living under the Nazi regime. What is wonderful about it is that it is essential a stream of consciousness of her thought which gives far more insight into her world than any other form of narrative could. I am sure a large part of this is due to the excellent translation which did not feel at all clunky.

I've been lucky enough to borrow and enjoy the other two Peirene titles, Stone in a Landslide, and Beside the Sea, the latter which I found hugely compelling, and I am looking forward to seeing what they will bring out next.


  1. What a brilliant sounding read! And so interesting to hear about this publisher. Thanks for sharing, Verity.

  2. I found this book really moving and very personal. I think it might just go into my list of top ten books of the year depending on how I feel about it in a month or so. Glad you liked it too. Also interested to see what Peirene bring out next as so far it's all very promising.

  3. Meike and Maddy are so kind, I agree. And like you, I always look for their titles in bookshops, but they're never there. I guess you must have a better chance of finding them in the UK?

  4. Well you are doing better than me - I haven't got round to reading yet it either! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it and I hope that I like it as much as you did.

  5. I keep seeing such wonderful reviews for all the Periene Press titles... need to get hold of these books!!

  6. I ahve this and will be taking it on holiday to enjoy, so thanks for the lovely write up about it as I'm anticipating it even more now. Love Periene, the blog is so entertaining and they've really worked out how to run an individual, but effective marketing system. More good things to come in 2011 judging from the catalogue.


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