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Monday, 16 June 2014

Anton Mallick Wants To Be Happy - Nicolas Casariego (Translated by Thomas Bunstead)

Righteo, my least favourite task when running a blog – reviewing a work I didn’t like!! I’ve agonised over this one for a week now, and have finally decided that I do need to post my thoughts as it is unfair on potential readers/buyers of books if I only highlight the good ones. Having said that, this is probably not a “bad” book, it is more a case of a book that I didn’t enjoy. Only a short review this time, purely because I didn’t read enough of the book to give it a full review.

Basically our novel is a series of vignettes, a diary by Anton Mallick, who is writing to his great-great-great grandfather about wanting to move out of the world of pessimism and become happy. Simple premise, nice idea too, intermingle a diary with a few emails, a few book reviews, even the occasional quote – great idea.

I’m writing this to cheer myself up, because really all it was was an anecdote, and if life consisted of a series of anecdotes, it would be cause for uncorking the bubbly, for getting happily drunk, for laughing until you fall down.

This novel does contain a number of laughs, the concept of somebody hating self-help books for their smugness, or scathingly reviewing them for their content is a novel approach to a tale of a person suffering deep depression.

On the Happy Life and Consolations by Seneca (4-65 BC)
The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (121-180BC)
What a pleasure (and what a disappointment) to read the Ancients. I owe my discovery of them to Bela (my discovery, that is; their works are probably among the most well-read of all time). Theirs is a moral philosophy, tackling personal issues and giving advice, which makes them the precursors to monstrosities of self-help. But you can hardly blame people for have degenerate descendants, generations down the line – wouldn’t you say, Vidor? What happened to them? What are they all so unhappy, why don’t they leave any margin for hope? Did they think too much? The Epicurean, feigning playfulness, flees, shuts himself up in his comfortable golden cage; the Stoic, proud, severe and resigned, tries to stay on his feet as the blows reign down. Both of these are jaded men. Full of fear of feelings. Fear of facing life as it really is. I don’t want to be Epicurus, nor Seneca, not Marcus Aurelius, much as I admire them.  They’re pessimists, the poor bastards, in spite of doing everything humanely possible to mitigate our suffering and achieve a state of quietude. I don’t want to die in life, Vidor. I want to live, LIVE, to look, even if i don’t like everything i see. I want to fall in love again, to care for someone, I want the cells in my body to leap for joy, what do i LIVE!! Is it so hard?

Despite the poor factual checking, Seneca was 4BC – 65AD and Marcus Aurelius was 121 – 180 AD (or more specifically C.E) this is quite an amusing reflection on the classics. My problem is the errors or poor language throughout distracted me from actually enjoying our protagonists’ thoughts.

Another distraction was the, at times, diary style, where Anton is writing to his long gone great-great-great grandfather and at other times it was a reflection on his own life years ago – either he’s writing real time or he’s not??? And the errors:

I was standing in line behind a young woman wearing a tweed jacket. I stood very close to her, to try and make her hurry up. I noticed she had all four Lethal Weapon DVD’s and thought how oversubscribed this world is when it comes to intellectuals. When she’d paid and was leaving the shop, just as I was handing my card to the girl at the checkout counter, this woman turned around, called me by my name and said she was going to have my baby.

Sixty six pages later:

You don’t find out you’re going to be a father in a queue in a bookshop, from a stranger’s mouth. Or you shouldn’t , at least.

DVD shop? Bookshop? Which one?

Apologies to Hispabooks, who kindly sent me a review copy of this work, I only made it to page 157 and finally gave up in despair. I can understand some who would like the self deprecating style, the sad refection on humanity, however once we had the slapstick scene with a few drunken friends pretending they are undercover police, I finally put it to one side. I wish the publishers well with this work, purely because we do need more independent publishers and we do need more exposure to works in translation.

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