10 April 2021

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada (trans. David Boyd)

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada
translated by David Boyd
available from New Directions
Three seemingly unrelated characters perform mind-numbing tasks at an overwhelmingly large factory in this outstanding novella. One person shreds documents, one studies moss, and one proofreads documents. In each case the never-ending work has no clear goal, causing each of them to question their role at the factory and eventually the factory itself, with its sprawling grounds and odd internal ecosystem. Told in alternating first-person narratives, The Factory speaks to our estrangement from work with absurd, dark humor, and is recommended for anyone who's ever questioned the value or meaning of a job.

The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada (trans. David Boyd) is available from New Directions.

05 April 2021

Too Late Now: You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann (trans. Ross Benjamin)

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
translated by Ross Benjamin
available at your local library

A family trip to a remote house in the shadow of an imposing mountain goes awry in this slim novella. Our narrator is a screenwriter under pressure to produce a sequel to his hit film and the book is a chronicle of those halting efforts and a diary of what transpires over a few days.
At first he mostly records familiar marital and familial frustrations -- he and his wife have a four-year-old daughter and there are tensions -- but soon he begins to note inexplicable and unsettling phenomena. His reflection disappears from a window. The layout of the house seems confusing and odd. Photographs seem to appear and disappear from the walls. And soon the entire family begins to have strange nightmares...

If this sounds like the set-up to a comfortably familiar horror movie, it basically is. Kehlmann does a fine job of hitting the usual tropes of the genre -- locals warn him to "get away" before something bad happens but is it already too late? -- and he is generally successful in elevating the book above strictly genre fare. His narrator is a screenwriter, after all, and he's able to offer some commentary on life and art, and there are some genuinely thrilling moments.

If the novella ultimately fails to completely satisfy, well, there are only so many ways a horror movie can end. Still, You Should Have Left is a great book to gulp down in a single sitting some dark night when you can't sleep.