Thursday, October 23, 2014
Book Review: SEVEN HOUSES IN FRANCE, by Bernardo Atxaga
Seven Houses in France is not like any book you've read in a while, no matter what you read. Set in the Belgian Congo in 1903 at the height of Belgian colonial presence, it's a satire about a bunch of pretty unlikeable people- racist, violent, ignorant- and the story tells of sex, murder, revenge and greed. Captain Lalande Biran smuggles mahogany and ivory to satisfy his wife Christine's voracious need for money and status; the "seven houses" are hers. Fawning Donatien wants to open a brothel back in Belgium and is haunted by the voices of his possibly non-existent siblings. Coco lusts after the captain's wife after seeing a photo in the captain's quarters and schemes to win her for himself. Livo, their African servant, seethes with hatred and the new guy, Chrystosome Liege, is an uptight and fervently religious sharpshooter from the sticks (Brittany) who throws everything out of whack with his piety and his love for an African girl.
That said, the book is essentially a comic farce in which comeuppance comes in heaping bowlfuls and revenge is a frozen dessert.
I really enjoyed this book for the satire and the character studies. It's like Atxaga threw his characters in a blender, flipped the switch and just tells us what happened. It's more accessible than Obabakoak, the last book of his I read, which was a collection of loosely-related anecdotes and stories, but reading Seven Houses makes me want to give Obabakoak another chance. Atxaga is a Basque writer but doesn't always set his books in the Basque region, although he writes in Basque and either translates to Spanish himself or collaborates on the translation. His books typically come to English from their Spanish translations. Which doesn't mean anything, but it's interesting. Seven Houses isn't a book I'll keep forever, but I'm glad I read it, and I want to read more Atxaga. He's different, and fun.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.