As you may have guessed from the stream of snippets that I have been throwing out on twitter, this week’s ETTO focuses on Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. I picked it up last week from the pile where it had been whimpering, and the next thing I know, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. It just goes to show that sending me your book can do wonderful things.
Flights is a memoirish short story collection interspersed with fragments of philosophy and history all told with characters that recur theme that bob up and down and a sense that it is all very true.
It’s obvious why I like it. It’s a constant roll of self-sufficient references, constantly setting out ideas and then returning to them from a slightly different angle. We move through the body, psychology of travel, and snippets of overheard and directly extracted philosophy. Like this, on copies:
and then moving on through a few short stories of being laid over at an airport voluntarily and meeting a woman collecting an exhaustive list of the world’s infamy’s, the unreality of maps, guidebooks, places that you expunge from reality because inelegancies or trauma occurred (but never telling the people who live there, who might find it upsetting).
Short stories like a missing wife and child on a Croatian island, which the protagonist is constantly reminded that the island is very small and that you cannot be lost here. Or the story of Eyrk who reinvented himself as a sailor and obsessed with Moby Dick who spends time in jail before making an exciting choice of direction for his passengers on a ferry which he crosses between island and mainland 8 times a day. These provide the kind of lyrical backbone to the whole thing.
All the philosophical wanderings are set up for these main short stories — in each part there is a reference to the previous parts in a way that lights up particular parts of my brain. I feel I like it because it is the way I think — the joy of any thought is in connecting two things that should never fit, and finding them universal in some way.
Nothing is left unconnected — and the way that character reappear make it feel less like a collection but a novel or memoir which contains all of these other elements. It’s one of those books that makes you feel very alive and happy about your own writing because it’s clear you’re allowed to do whatever you want.
Not only is all this wonderfully true, but I would also recommend it as an ideal book for travelling, unironically.
Feel free to enter ETTO for this please. I’m probably a reviewer. There are many good things that have become real in the last few months.
Long term buddy of ETTO, Hiromi Suzuki, has a lovely looking book coming out. I have a review copy, so you’ll hear all about it.
This is really good by Jenny Xie — Visual Orders
Sometimes, I feel like this newsletter is only read by very calm trees. If you every have something to say about these terrible newsletters, then please feel free to reply — because your thoughts and feelings will be read and fretted over. I was shown this by our Sam.
Thanks for reading this particular ETTO, I hope you found it as loveable as a pig in a nightgown — or one of great renown. This is what people voted leave for. It’s me. Size of this lad. I am feeling wonderful and full from the sunshine. I wrote this, but I did not proof read it. I saw this cat on my run, who seemed to be claiming that indeed, it was he who fell the tree.