Chatto & Windus £12.99, 293pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, By Etgar Keret, trans. Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston & Nathan Englander
Friday 17 February 2012
In the title story of Etgar Keret's fifth collection, a writer is confronted by a series of guests: all armed, each wanting to hear a story. As he tries to satisfy their demands, a gun against his head, the narrator ruefully reflects, "I bet things like this never happen to Amos Oz or David Grossman". It's a slyly comic aside that also serves as a point of differentiation. Keret may have glowing testimonies from the likes of Salman Rushdie, Yann Martel and Oz himself, but is yet to achieve the huge international status afforded his fellow Israelis. While Suddenly, a Knock on the Door is unlikely to raise Keret to such a rarefied field, it remains a maddening, abruptly moving and effortlessly funny collection.
Keret's stories explore the shaded space between joke and fable, between human understanding and the impossibilities of the world. The language is simple, almost brusque; the short narratives often occupy fewer than ten pages. They read as encounters, Keret choosing to leave a story hanging when so much more could have been exposed, or beginning tales so far into the action or emotion that it's almost over before you know where you are. It is a risky strategy, but one that forces the reader to mull on what has gone before. In Keret's hands, it is a winning formula.
Much of the joy in reading Keret comes from his unexpected shifts. Stories may begin as a man pitching a new board game to a multi-national corporation, a childhood lie, a son's anger at a grandmother, a lover's strangely vocal orgasm, but they are unlikely to end up anywhere approaching their obvious trajectory. Underpinning all of these tricks and sleights of hand, however, is a deep concern with the tensions between public and private, with the thoughts we have about ourselves versus other people's perceptions.
In some stories this is expressed via Kafkaesque transformations (into a haemorrhoid, or a beer-guzzling German); in others, just a simple first-person narrative that subtly exposes delusions. The opening to "Bitch" for example – "Widower. He loved the sound of that word so much, loved it but was ashamed that he loved it, but what can you do, love is an uncontrollable emotion" – places us immediately into an uncomfortable male quandary: what is thought against what is considered acceptable.
Keret's great skill is compressing these emotions into flights of absurdist imagination. "What, of this Goldfish, would you ask?" amuses then darkens into something both violent and affectingly sad; "Teamwork" is written with humour laced with a palpable underlying threat. These are stories that repay close reading; that offer more despite their simplicity.
Keret can be infuriating when stopping a story earlier than one would like, and some do feel inconsequential, but "Surprise Party", "Lieland", "September all Year" and "A Good One" are of an emotional innovative and linguistic power that few can match. Clever, relevant and oddly resonant, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door is Keret's best, most mature work and the perfect introduction to his sad, strange and moving fiction.
Stuart Evers's 'Ten Stories about Smoking' is published by Picador
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
scienceThe new development in bio-printing technology could be used in the future to restore lost vision - though years of research still await
architectureThe design collective which has stuck two fingers up at the modernists will call it quits at Venice
... But if you’re one of those poor souls offended by Jennifer Lopez’s choice of leotard, Grace Dent wants you to get a bloody grip
Arts & Ents blogs
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Matthew Perry: He'll be there for you
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
FAT’s all folks: Architecture’s biggest jokers sign off in style
Shia LaBeouf apologises for plagiarising cartoonist's story for Cannes short film
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 Facebook 'self-censorship': study records when you don't post to find more ways to share
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 British prisoner Dr Abbas Khan found dead in Syrian jail days before he was due to be handed over to MP George Galloway
- 4 Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful - study
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >