Adam Roberts reviews Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Aurorama
Better yet, the novel is as well-written as it is well-imagined: full of nice phrases—”the vandalized Bibi Eybat oil wells burned non-stop in the night, in true Zoroastrian fashion” (p. 153); a blizzard “whirls madly like a trapped wolf” (p. 174)—and Valtat handles his cod-nineteenth-century tone sweetly (“he beheld, almost miragenous through the whirling snowflakes, four hooded shapes hurrying away down the back alley” (p. 197)). North Pole politics are “poletics”; people travel around not in taxis but “taxsleighs”; and the prose approaches the business of swearing with a degree of propriety (“. . . they were against the Council then, and now those phoque-in-iceholes work hand in hand” (p. 69)). Although, at the same time, the writing sometimes falls into the uncanny valley between the formal idiom of Victorian prose and the unidiomatic stiffness of a non-native speaker (“‘This is very kind of you. But it happens that one likes to hunt for oneself, even if one is a bad hunter,’ he said” (p. 41)). I don’t mean to be a neat-piquer. That Valtat, a French national, wrote this long, accomplished novel in his second language represents an almost Conradian achievement. So if I gracelessly note that sometimes the style doesn’t quite hit the bull (“It would, Gabriel thought, enlighten his return home . . . provided he would not go alone” (p. 68; “provided he didn’t go home alone” would be more idiomatic); or “as he hurried he could perceive rooms whose open doors revealed the strangest scenes” (p. 160; “perceive” isn’t the right word there, I think)—then I must also declare that Valtat’s command of English is better than many published Anglophone authors I could mention. Overall, this is a very good novel indeed. – read the full review.
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