Lyndsey from Tolstoy is my Cat
and I are now two-thirds of the way through our epic Peirene Press novella read-along. The last three titles we have read Next World Novella, Tomorrow Pamplona
and Maybe This Time
(see below for links to our reviews) have been part of a series entitled Male Voices, and focus on the quest for intimacy from a male perspective. Here are some thoughts of ours on the novellas:
1. Have you enjoyed the series? Did you have a particular favourite? Why?
Lyndsay: I have enjoyed the series, although it hasn't left me swooning like the 'Female Voices' series did, most likely because the female ones were much more like the books I normally gravitate towards and enjoy. The 'Male Voice' series has been wildly illuminating for me for that exact reason though and I think, despite my slightly reduced emotional reaction to the series, that these are fabulous books that stand up on a world-class level and deserve a wide, wide readership.
My favourite, as the regular readers of my blog will know, was 'Maybe This Time' by Alois Hotschnig, which is a novella-length collection of nine short stories that is the final book in the three-book series. I love surrealist, slightly bizarre literary fiction that plays with perception, technique and narrative, as well as featuring some truly 'unique' characters, and these short stories fulfilled that wonderfully - I found them funny and disturbing and utterly refreshing! I also love open-ended, ambiguous structures and endings as I think they are one of the ways to best mimic the uncertainties of life in fiction.
Sam: My emotional reaction was less too, although I think that was perhaps the intention in 'Tomorrow Pamplona', as the author wrote in a style that reminded me of Hemingway. As usual, we haven't agreed on our favourites - I have to admit that 'Maybe This Time' didn't do much for me as I'm not a fan of surrealism. I loved 'Next World Novella' as it's about an everyday topic, the death of intimacy in a marriage. I found I was most emotionally engaged with the sadness in this story.
2. We both loved the Female Voices series - do the Male Voices novellas compare?
Lyndsay: In terms of quality, writing and intuition, most certainly - it's reassuring to know, when you don't know the individual authors, that any Peirene book you pick up will be of the same glowing standard. I think it was important that there was a slight change in focus from the 'Female Voices' series, as of course you can have too much of a good thing and too much immersive inner reality could drive you mad after a while, and it's important that we as readers see the other side of the female/male coin. It did impressed me that the men were no more together and at ease with reality than the woman in the previous series though :)
How about you? What did you think?
Sam: I agree that the quality was up to the same high standard. Even though 'Maybe This Time' didn't work for me, the quality of the writing was obvious to see. I liked the diversity of this series, it seemed to me like the three titles were more different from each other than the three titles in the Female Voices series. I am of course very much looking forward to the Small Epics series, as epics are something I love to read.
3. Have you found it harder to connect to the main characters this time around as the focus was on men?
Lyndsay: Yes, in a way, but I think that was due to the nature of the characters and the story rather than because I'm female and these books are about men: the women we read about in the first series were emotionally articulate and reasonably garrulous, so we knew them quickly, whereas part of the point of these male characters is that they don't know themselves in the same way, and cannot communicate their feelings to those around them, the reader included. So a greater emotional distance is a given, I think.
That said, I saw them just as clearly as characters because quiet, struggling men who can't say what they mean are everywhere you look, particularly in our parents' generation, I think. Never did they feel to me like characters I couldn't get a handle on, so the desired connection was there for me throughout in that regard. These are not men to take to your heart, however, as of course many of them are wildly unsympathetic - I'm thinking of Next World Novella's Hinrich, Danny in Tomorrow Pamplona and most of the characters in Maybe This Time, particularly - which is never a problem for me as it seems to be for some, but it is perhaps a given that your fictional relationship with a character will be different when you'd largely go out of your way to avoid them in real life.
Sam: I do think that 'quiet, struggling' is a stereotype for men and the male voices were different to the female. As a society we expect women to be more emotionally articulate, so the women in the first three novellas were. I would have liked to read about a man who shared emotions in the same way and especially wanted to know more about Danny from 'Tomorrow Pamplona'.
4. The series is about the quest for intimacy the male characters face. In which novella did you see this struggle most clearly and why?
Lyndsay: Oo, good question. Of the three books, I see Next World Novella as the exception on this account, as I think Hinrich lost interest in connecting with his wife but could have improved this if his attention hadn't been elsewhere, whereas Danny in Tomorrow Pamplona and the characters in Maybe This Time (apologies for lumping them together) seem completely unable to either build face-to-face adaptive relationships, or to express emotion through words off their tongue than through their body and or with their hands.
Danny's struggle affected me most in this regard I think, as I don't see how the book could have ended in any other way; I really don't think he possessed the necessary social skills to act in any other fashion. Running seems natural to him, and punching, and even staring down a bull, but to conjure an ending where he attains real emotional intimacy with either Ragna or Robert would require character aspects that I just don't see as feasible. So, he is a prisoner within his 'Quest for Intimacy' in my eyes, and most likely can never escape that. And, as I said in my review, that made me really sad for both him and also the millions of men who are their own worst enemies in this regard.
Sam: I felt for Danny too, especially as I'm not convinced his version of events was accurate - I wanted him to stay and 'face the music', so to speak.
Thanks for the interesting discussion, Lyndsay!
Links to our reviews: