The Made-Up Man (2019): Joseph Scapellato


It has been much too long, hasn’t it? It wasn’t meant to be this way: when the lockdown started in London, back in March, I thought this would be the perfect time for reading and blogging. Yes, I thought I’d finally get round to ploughing through Proust. Instead, I’ve spent seven months in a one-bedroom room flat (save a few days here and there), on furlough, with a steadily dwindling sense of purpose and intellectual capacity. It turns out that, when you have nothing to do, it becomes increasingly hard to do anything at all. And I was one of the lucky ones: having my partner here with me has been a joy throughout. But it has still been immensely hard. This is the longest gap in my blogging since I started writing The Idle Woman in 2011 and I’m sorry for that. I even forgot the blog’s birthday back in July! But things are, hopefully, on the mend now. I’m returning to work in just over a week, and am looking forward to honing my mind again because, quite frankly, it feels like unformed putty at the moment. And I need to write. I’ve been genuinely lost without this blog over the last few months. Feeling unable to focus on reading, unable to write a blog post, has deprived me of some of the most joyous hobbies in my life. Writing this blog brings me contentment, discipline and, crucially at the moment, contact with you lovely people out there in the ether. In an ideal world, I’d be taking up the reins again with a post about a staggeringly brilliant book (for which, see Susannah Clarke’s Piranesi). I have more complex feelings about The Made-Up Man, but come along with me and we’ll see if we can thrash out an opinion about it somewhere on the way.

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The Hideout (1943): Egon Hostovský


A man writes a long overdue letter to his distant wife, from the cellar where he has been hiding in Normandy since the invasion of France by the Nazis. It is a confession, an affirmation and a form of self-analysis. The narrator is by turns ridiculous and profound, confined in his hiding place while war rages above: forced, while great events unfold unseen outside, to retread the well-worn paths of his own memories. Yet, in coming to understand his past, he has more sense of purpose in the present and, finally, begins to see the shape that his own future must take.

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The Last Bell (2017): Johannes Urzidil


Johannes Urzidil was one of the most celebrated Czech writers of the 20th century. Although he spent his last twenty years as an emigre in the United States, he never made the switch to writing in English. His works continued to be published in Europe in German (one of his two mother tongues) and his works were infused with the sensibility of his homeland. Despite his importance in European literature, his works have only rarely been translated into English. Pushkin Press have rectified this omission with a collection of Urzidil’s short stories, none of which have formerly been published in English, and translated now by David Burnett. Lively, moving and gently absurd, these stories focus on outsiders, people whose encounters with ordinary life and emotions leave them thwarted and unmasked as precisely the strange creatures that they are.

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