Fantastic Night by Stefan Zweig ****
I purchased Fantastic Night as part of Oxfam’s wonderful 2016 Scorching Summer Reads campaign. I was already familiar with Zweig’s work, and remember how enraptured I was when reading the excellent The Post Office Girl some years ago. Fantastic Night provides a mixture of novellas and short stories, many of which I hadn’t come across before.
As with all of the Pushkin Press titles which I have had the pleasure of reading thus far, the translation here is seamless. There were a couple of tales I wasn’t that enamoured with, but those which I loved or very much admired greatly outweighed these. Zweig is a masterfully perceptive author, and there was such a difference to every one of the stories here. ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is stunning. Fantastic Night is a real joy to read.
The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni *****
Before gushing uncontrollably about Abby Geni’s masterful The Lightkeepers, I shall just copy the blurb so that you get some context about the story: ‘In The Lightkeepers, we follow Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands, an exotic and dangerous archipelago off the coast of California, for a one-year residency capturing the landscape. Her only companions are the scientists studying there, odd and quirky refugees from the mainland living in rustic conditions; they document the fish populations around the island, the bold trio of sharks called the Sisters that hunt the surrounding waters, and the overwhelming bird population who, at times, create the need to wear hard hats as protection from their attacks. Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted by one of the inhabitants of the islands. A few days later, her assailant is found dead, perhaps the result of an accident. As the novel unfolds, Miranda gives witness to the natural wonders of this special place as she grapples with what has happened to her and deepens her connection (and her suspicions) to her companions, while falling under the thrall of the legends of the place nicknamed “the Islands of the Dead.” And when more violence occurs, each member of this strange community falls under suspicion. The Lightkeepers upends the traditional structure of a mystery novel –an isolated environment, a limited group of characters who might not be trustworthy, a death that may or may not have been accidental, a balance of discovery and action –while also exploring wider themes of the natural world, the power of loss, and the nature of recovery.’
I very much enjoyed Geni’s short story collection, The Last Animal, and couldn’t wait to read her debut novel. My parents scoured The Strand for me on a recent trip to New York, and I couldn’t have been happier when they presented me with it (and three other equally wonderful tomes). Geni’s novel explores similar themes to those in her story collection – nature, humans, and the effects of one upon the other.
Geni’s writing is electric. Such emphasis has been placed upon every single sense that the whole springs to life immediately. You can almost smell the salt on the breeze, taste the stale crackers and tuna macaroni, and, despite living on an isolated island with just a few others, feel their eyes on you as you read. Geni uses both the first and third person perspectives effortlessly, and even the more simplistic or mundane elements of life on the Farallon Islands feel extremely creative due to the way in which she presents them. Everything here feels original. The Lightkeepers has been so well researched, particularly with regard to the nature around Miranda, and the photography techniques which she utilises. The Lightkeepers is exquisite.