European fiction at its most experimental and strange

Best European Fiction 2014

European fiction at its most experimental and strange

This is the fifth annual collection of cutting-edge European fiction to be published by Dalkey Archive Press, and is now an eagerly awaited annual event. While initially there were reservations about the strangeness and broadly experimental nature of the selections, this is now seen as a strength, as is the broad definition of ‘European’ — from Belarus to Wales, as the cover puts it.

Since 2010, when the first anthology appeared, the short story has gone from being seen as a poor relation to the novel to being recognised as a major literary form in its own right. Canadian short story writer, Alice Munro, received this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature and Lydia Davis, some of whose stories only run to two sentences, carried off the Man Booker International Prize. This year’s €100,000 Impac Award was won by Kevin Barry, who made his name as a writer of short stories before publishing the winning novel, while the Cork International Short Story Festival, which awards €25,000 to the best collection of the year, has a growing international following.

Previous volumes had introductions by well-known English language writers including John Banville, Zadie Smith and Colum McCann, while this year it is the turn of the Slovenian writer Drago Jancar, (who gave a memorable reading at the Cork World Book Festival in 2013). It is a lively piece, contrasting the American and European view of culture, bristling with barbs and high irony. The first thing that parochial-minded readers will notice is that, while Belarus and Wales are represented, Ireland is not. Could it be that there is not an Irish writer sufficiently excellent to be included among the “Best” Europeans?

A query to the publisher, John O’Brien, made it clear that it was not so much a question of leaving Ireland out, as one of making more room for foreign authors who get less exposure than Irish writers.

Even without Ireland, the usual widely varied collection of stories by both emerging and established writers has been assembled. In ‘Oestrogen’ by Susana Medina, Eureka, a worker at the Sleep Research Institute, explores the erotic dream life of her subjects and herself. Medina, born in England in 1966 to a German mother of Czech origin and a Spanish father, is perhaps the ideal contributor to this project

Swiss novelist Christoph Simon’s ‘Fairytales from the World of Publishing’ is a delightful fantasy sequence, featuring poets, critics, booksellers and translators on impossible quests. Iceland’s Óskar Magnússon (b,1954), in ‘Dr Amplatz’, tells a compelling story about a heart specialist, while ‘Scavenger’ by Robert Minnhinnick (b. 1952) of Wales, one of the founders of Friends of the Earth, is written in the voice of a survivor of an environmental catastrophe known only as “the inundation”. ‘Hipppotamus’ by Eric Chevillard (b. France, 1964) is a dig at the vanity of travel writers, while in ‘Adios Cowboy’, Olja Savicevic Ivancevic (b. Split, 1974) writes a heartbreaking story of lives wrecked by the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

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