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THAT TIME OF YEAR by Marie Ndiaye
Translated by Jordan Stump
Few so-called Kafkaesque books ever manage to capture the banal yet hilarious procedural absurdity of the Czech master. Ndiaye’s delightfully unsettling novella is a rare exception. Herman and Rose spend each summer in a holiday house on the outskirts of a French provincial town. Like all the other holidaymakers, they leave on the last day of August. But this year is different. For some reason they choose to stay on a couple of extra days. When Rose and their son fail to return after going to buy groceries, Herman sets off after them only to find everything has changed.
Drawn into the strange workings of the town – it’s full of oddball characters, run by an elusive mayor, and centred around a secretive Chamber of Commerce – Herman soon learns that, whether he wants to or not, there is no leaving. Eventually, his wife appears in the street but she fails to recognise him and he becomes obsessed with observing her from afar. Perhaps they’re all dead. Maybe they live only in his memory. It's hard to really say what’s going on, and the ending sheds no light, but that’s what makes it all the more compelling. And genuinely Kafkaesque.
That Time of Year by Marie Ndiaye (Tr. Jordan Stump)
Two Lines Press, 2020