“In the office, I took out my notebook and cigarettes and knocked off a story in a couple of hours. The endings were the easiest part for me. They’d hit the reader on the head like a hammer. Then, like any writer I needed to share with someone the miracle of creation.”
If the aim of this book of short stories, almost excerpts of daily life both real and imaginary, is meant to summarise the state of life in Bulgaria then a few words are conjured up in your mind including harsh, cruel, strange, magical, comical and hopeful.
There are plenty of stories that cover the harsh consequences of living in a country that has such a wide disparity between the poor and the wealthy. A boxer is hired by a mafia type boss to become one of his thugs and is shot when he refuses to hurt his own brother but at the graveside a bundle of notes is offered to clear any sense of debt to the grieving sibling.
The longest story about a film producer who arrives from England looking to tell the story of the woman who was kept living with pigs and raped by the farmer ends with a bitter twist that leaves the producer desperate to get out of the country.
There are moments where this is like reading a collection of dark fairy tales about boys who thought they could fly, ghosts who pass on watches to pawn brokers and mutes who believe that a miracle will restore their speech.
But what weaves through even the darkest tale is a sense that those involved want to change their lives and futures and as a country perhaps this is the post communist ambition. There is a strangeness about some of the customs and traditions held by the people described in this book. But there is also a sense that the strangeness and fear of change is a very real one that is felt by everyone from the poorest right up to the other end of the scale.
Enev displays a blackest of humours, which is how some of his characters handle the brickbats that life throws at them. The writing here is sharp, delivers the endings that hit the reader on the head like a hammer and is almost cinematic in the ability to conjure up images in your head that you know will stay for a long time. Some are welcome but the majority are going to be challenging for some time to come.
Not quite at the halfway point but as this book is a collection of stories wanted to capture the thoughts before getting too much further into it.
There must be a tradition in Eastern Europe of writing short stories that contain humour, sadness and the down right disturbing because this is the second book I’ve read that fits that description and comes from that part of the world.
The first one, The Elephant by Slawomir Mrozek, was a collection of stories that had the power to make you laugh out loud and at other points were incredibly moving. This is the same starting with the tale of the lion tamer from Circus Bulgaria being forced to sell his lion to make ends meet. As he drinks in the bar with the windfall he has not just lost his best friend but the meaning to his life.
Then there are other stories that stick in the memory like the boy who having lived in a single room for seven years believes he has found out the secret of flying grabbing pidgeon wings and attaching them to his arms. As he launches himself out of the tower block window that ends as you might expect.
But there are quirky stories about a ghostly figure sitting on a bench in the park able to send rays of good feeling to those other wanderers sitting on the benches.
Looking forward to the second half and a bit.
A review will follow next week…