Tag Archives: Small Stations Press

His Excellency

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His Excellency
By Carlos Casares
Small Stations Press –

So far as novels go – which I admittedly don’t read that many of – one has to essentially relate to what’s being said. And of course, how it’s being said, which in far too many instances, is a near miss. The mind invariably wanders, the words don’t add up, and before you know it, there’s no connection.

I unfortunately found this being the case with Carlos Casares’ His Excellency; a book where religiosity and the semi-suppression of ”the new newfangled cinematograph to the city of Ourense” are the prime subjects of a rather dense and occasionally dark story of foreboding.

With the exception of a couple of intrinsically interesting lines:

”Passing in front of a bakery, the smell of octopus pasties reminded him of the tragedy of a faraway appetite which still hadn’t come back […].”
”The editor’s words flew around in front of his eyes like monstrous, headless birds.”

And the altogether delightful, following description:

”His Excellency’s laugh began under his breath as a prayer. Then he remained stuck in breathless respiration for a few moments, and finally exploded like a rowdy line of cannons. He had to hold his stomach with his hands, to throw back his head, and wasn’t at ease until a flood of sobs and tears dragged out a dark and murky river of many days, possibly of many years.”

I have to admit to this short novel having passed me by without having made much of an impression. Upon reflection, (perhaps) not so much the story being told, but rather, the way in which it’s being told.

Can’t win ’em all…

David Marx

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Brother of the Wind

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Brother of the Wind
By Manuel Lourenzo Gonzalez
Small Stations Press 

[…] because now I must live out my existence with the shame of belonging to a civilisation and a country whose political representatives were capable of declaring a war of plunder to be just so they could continue to make the high costs of their  rhythm of life fall on the misery of others.

Equally powerful and poignant, Brother of the Wind is unremittingly charming; as if plucked from a long-forgotten well of all too good intentions. It’s a story of unbelievably, inspired bravery; set within the fraught and uncertain parameters of the initial Gulf War of 1991.

As succinctly regaled by a young teenage boy by the name of Khaled, these 172 pages are a shimmering combination of grit’n’guts and power’n’poetry. Each one follows on from the other in such a way that profound literature was always meant to be – but very rarely is.

As such, within the turning of the pages, one is quintessentially reminded of what was like to have once been young. And innocent. And in love.

And in love…
Now wasn’t that/isn’t that something to truly behold?
The sort of love that simply transcends; whether it’s love for one’s father, love for one’s partner, or indeed, love one’s country. All three of which are wonderfully combined and traversed herein:

Take me to the warmth of my beloved,
take me to my new home in the forest,
where everything can start again,
take me to where the wounds of the past heal
but don’t disappear

A wonderful eye-opener of a book that I absolutely cannot recommend highly enough.

David Marx

The Potato Eaters

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The Potato Eaters
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press – £7.99

When did her teeth start falling out? Has she always had the inklings of a moustache?

Having read most of Manuel Rivas’ books, I still have to say, if not fully maintain, that the brilliant Books Burn Badly is still my favourite. That’s not to say his books published since (The Low Voices, One Million Cows, From Unknown to Unknown) do not make for intrinsically interesting and occasionally captivating reading.

They absolutely do and The Potato Eaters is no exception.

From the opening gambit that evolves around drug addiction with a sense of humour – in which the protagonist is more than attracted to what sounds like a well-stacked nurse by the name of Miss Cowbutt (great name, somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Izzard’s Mrs Badcrumble) – the reader instinctively knows s/he is in for a quintessentially robust ride of a journey. The sort of which, one has come to expect from Rivas, of which the opening quote above is a most pristine example.

From a short piece simply entitled ‘The Umbrella,’ it is preceded by the altogether hooky, kooky summerisation of an endemically bonkers game show: ”Recordman today, it has been announced, is going to be more intellectual. It’s a question of using your head. The contestants, a couple of men who look like primates in their Sunday best, have to knock down a wall of breeze blocks with their heads. The first one to do so will get a million. The gong goes, and they all rush to the wall. From the initial impact, one them, the one who looked most hard-headed, falls flat on his face and is looked after by two recordwomen, who today are wearing tight, discreet dresses, though they do have a hole right over their nipples, The audience claps. Unbelievable! This is great.”

Indeed!

Blankety Blank it most clearly isn’t – which is what essentially accounts for The Potato Eaters being the sort of book it (most provocatively) is: witty, satirical, and like a lot of the Galician author’s writing, prone to going off on totally terrific tangents.

David Marx

Los Ninos Tontos

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Los Ninos Tontos/The Foolish Children
By Ana Maria Matute
Small Stations Press – £7.99

With the discerning eye of an artist, Ana Maria Matute employs bright, bold tones or sometimes soft, impressionistic tints to express her profound pessimism with the Spain that Franco ruled. Possibly she hoped her stories would serve as a catalyst for change.

Throughout this angular, alternative book, lies an undercurrent of childlike, yet political darkness. The sort of which really is a prime preponderance to be reckoned with; reason being, it comes at you when you least expect it. That said, by the time one has reached the end of Los Ninos Tontos/The Foolish Children, authoress Ana Maria Matute’s literary moves remain just as equally foreboding and fraught with daring as at the outset.

In and of itself, this should come as no surprise, especially when one comes to terms with just how and where, many of these micro-fiction stories eventually pan out.

There are twenty-one in all (written in both Spanish and English), many of which are occasionally lyric in tonality (”The child turned to ashes. He was just a little pile of thirst” – ‘Thirst and the Boy’) while simultaneously anchored in poetic imagery (”The dog, lying at the child’s feel all night, shed two tears. They clinked like little bells” – ‘The Little Blue-Eyed Black Boy’).

As noted in the Translators’ Introduction: ”Many critics have noted that Ana Maria Matute’s fiction represents an ”immediately recognisable blend of lyricism and stark realism, sombre intuition and determined sociopolitical engagement” […]. Throughout her life, Ana Maria Matute criticised the injustices of the Franco regime and referred to the dictator as ”la momia” (the mummy). Early on she developed this ”solidaridad con ‘los otros, con los silenciados (solidarity with ‘the others,” with the silenced ones).”

For this alone, Matute is to be roundly applauded and this fine publication, roundly embraced.

David Marx

The Painter With The Hat Of Mallows

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The Painter With The Hat Of Mallows
By Marcos Calveiro
Small Stations Press – £7.99

This very sunny, evocative book has been carefully, yet most deliberately written within the rather poignant parameters of being told through the inquisitive, innocent eyes of a teenage boy; purposefully sent by his mother to spend a few days in the country as a way of keeping him out of trouble.

The Painter With The Hat Of Mallows (cool title) is set in the town of Auvers-sur-Oisee, one hour north of Paris, where the boy finds life with his horribly sounding great-aunt unbearable; that is until the arrival of the Dutch master painter, Vincent van Gogh!

There’s love, along with a touch of both temptation and violence – yet is as far removed from the trajectory of the bible as one could possibly imagine. Although personally speaking, it’s the consistent, utterly toptastic, many one-liners that make this book such a joy to read.

Among many others, these include: ”She smiled, revealing a row of white teeth like cherry blossom..” ”Beauty resides in truth, in life just as it presents itself to us. All I do is try to reflect it with humility.,” ”the sadness will last forever.,” ”My soul is covered in the soot of scepticism. I’m an unbeliever and don’t expect anything any more.,” and of course, author Marcos Calveiro, quoting Van Gogh himself: ”Let’s not forget that small emotions are the great captains of our lives.”

The writing as a whole is captivating in a story-telling sort of way, whereby the reader can put the book down at any moment, and simply carry on from where one has left off without the slightest of hesitation nor need to go back re-read.

Declaring style of writing, which, at the end of the day, is what good fiction is all about isn’t it?

Interspersed with a number of black and white etchings, these 155 pages shed light on a terrific writer whose ability to inadvertently intoxicate, is as natural as sunshine itself: ”[…] they didn’t miss one ounce of his fervent discourse. It was happening again, before my very eyes: the apostle of absinthe haranguing a disbelieving public that slowly turned into a devoted congregation, captivated by his passion and sentiment.”

Great stuff.

David Marx

Soundcheck

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Soundcheck
By Miguel-Anxo Murado
Small Stations Press – £7.99

In the early nineties, I undertook a number of humanitarian aid trips to the Balkans, so I can relate to a number of the places mentioned throughout Soundcheck – such as Karlovac, Sisak and Zadar. And like the Galician, journalist, author, Miguel-Anxo Murado, I too remember the sight(s) and the sound(s) of an incredulously emaciated society – hopelessly ravaged by the nigh impossible xenophobic vision of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic.

And just as each of these thirteen short-stories underlie a seething humanity that’s impossible to argue with, they are also written in such a way as to suggest that mankind continues to get it horribly wrong.

”As if in accusation” (from ‘Shoes’), there is indeed a tempestuously, translucent thin line between one man’s right and another man’s wrong; which, so far as pain and suffering goes, really is neither here nor there. It just is: ”They were mainly English, French, and Italian, seventeen-year-olds who had surfaced out of the violence of Europe, from the wretched slums of Paris and London, ambitious for money, brutality or some outrageous dream. A few hours of combat had been enough to drain most of them, turning them into creatures sickened by that curious mixture of fear and self-sufficiency from which armies are fashioned” (‘A Day at the Zoo’).

Just as ”the end of the world takes places every day” – whether by way of nineteen-nineties Serb nationalism (high on moronic expansionism) or the current day Islamic State (high on equally moronic stupidity), Murado captures all the pointless, futility of war amid these 117 pages.

And then some.

Perhaps part of the reason being: it’s the unspoken which shouts the loudest.

There again: ”Each man has his own religion because each man has his own sins and his own penances (‘Scrap’).

David Marx

One Million Cows

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One Million Cows
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press – £5.69

”Like an irate prophet” (‘The Sons of Luc & Fer’), the one and only Manuel Rivas writes of a great many issues throughout these eighteen, short snappy stories. And in so doing, transports the reader unto many a place of kaleidoscopic (mis)adventure.

Indeed, amid much virtuous and virulent metaphor, One Million Crows finds Galicia’s most renowned, international writer (whose previous books include The Carpenter’s Pencil, In The Wilderness, All Is Silence and perhaps one of my all time favourite books ever written, Books Burn Badly), addressing everything from the mud-flats of childhood to the redolent aftermath of suicide.

But from within this ”bell of memory” (‘Madonna (Christmas Story)’), the one story that essentially strikes home is ‘The Provincial Artist;’ which, by way of well-considered angst and periodic play on capital letters, the author writes: ”’There is in Spain,’ declared the critic Bernabe Candela, ‘nature and metaphysics, passion and biology, reflection and outbursts, and it is well known there is no beauty without rebellion, even if that convulsion is contained by the prudent nets of reason.”

There has to be an abundance of gravitas in the line: ”there is no beauty without rebellion,” which, if you really think about it, transports the rebellious etiquette of someone like Che Guevara to within striking distance a whole new tenet of thinking. Not to mention understanding; or ”the prudent nets of reason,” from where Rivas continues: ”Espina may be a wonderful symbiosis, that of the monster awaiting the end of the century.’ He read this article in the old slaughterhouse while peeling open a tin of mussels. His first reaction of complacent vanity was followed by a sense of disquiet and unease. Up until then, hardly anybody had paid him any attention.”

The above is so compact and colourful, so dense and at times, disparaging; that I found myself increasingly caught up or should I say, intrinsically lost within the actual essence of the writing itself, as opposed to that of the story being told.

Like so much of his work, the stories Manuel Rivas tells, could, for many, be construed as something of an added bonus. It’s the actual writing that’s so alluring. So attractive.

David Marx