cover image The Fata Morgana Books

The Fata Morgana Books

Jonathan Littell, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell. Two Lines Press (PGW, dist.), $14.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-931883-34-4

This collection of early stories and recent novellas by Littell (The Kindly Ones) seems at first a detached study of alienation. The brief opening pieces, “A Summer Sunday” and “Between Planes,” read like excerpts from wartime diaries, emphasizing a mood of ennui and futility over storytelling. However, the tone grows nightmarish in the final sections, as perversions and vices start to overflow, with “An Old Story,” the longest novella, playing out as a Möbius strip of sexual violence and humiliation. Littell’s characters always remain able to calmly observe details, no matter how disorienting their circumstances. When the narrator of “In Quarters” finds himself with a mysterious woman, rather than wonder about her identity, he instead observes her “Venetian blonde hair” and “apple-green raincoat.” At their best, the stories evoke the fin-de-siècle sensibility of Baudelaire or Schnitzler. However, on a human level, these pieces are cold to the touch; many readers will find them too stylized, arty, and pornographic for casual consumption. Agent: Andrew Nurnberg, Andrew Nurnberg Associates. (Nov.)