Oliver Rohe. Vacant Lot.
I'll confess that my eyes rolled a little when I first saw this, "yet another" Beckettian monologue; they're all the rage these days, and rarely done well enough for my taste. (Nor are they as experimental as their authors think they are.) But I cleared my mind of such prejudices and started reading; I'm glad now that I did. Vacant Lot is an artful book that innovates cleverly within its lineage. The narrator, a decrepit middle-aged man, confined to a crumbling tower apartment, looks down upon the city that's changing around him, railing against its inhabitants: "I no longer recognize anything and no one recognizes me: I cross the city as a ghost"; "Amazingly they have ignored me up to now, but my lair won't last.... One of these days they'll bury it under a horrible doll's house and then I won't have any choice but to join the police force. Or the asylum." "I'm not so naive. Balls or not they'll come get me. The last of my friends took off in a boat before all our lives caved in." Slowly we learn that his country's government was recently overthrown in a civil war. And then we realize, with growing horror, the role our seductive narrator played in that former government, and what despicable war crimes he's responsible for (and still relishes his part in). By then, however, of course, it's much too late to look away. What an apt book for this present moment! As I read it and reread it, dictators were being ousted from various Middle Eastern and North African strongholds. Vacant Lot is a fairly short read, but not a quick one, and proves engrossing well beyond its length. The volume also includes an informative interview with Rohe, who's written two other novels, Defaut d'origine (2003) and Un peuple en petit (2009), as well as a fictional biography of David Bowie, Nous autres (2005). Here's fervently hoping they're all translated soon.