At MacLehose Press, we like trilogies. The Millennium Trilogy leaps to mind, obviously. Jakob Ejersbo’s Africa Trilogy is perhaps a little less well known. I’m not entirely convinced that Jon Kalman Stefansson’s trilogy beginning with Heaven and Hell and ending with The Heart of Man ever had a proper trilogy name, but it was a trilogy. And who could forget Pierre Lemaitre’s Irène, Alex and Camille (honestly, brilliant as these books are there are scenes within that your mind’s eye will never unsee!)?
All of which nostalgic navel-gazing brings us to tidings of two – very different, but equally outstanding – trilogies that will be concluded in English translation this year. In May and June this year to be specific. And, what’s more, the opening novels of both were shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize. And both trilogies have sold truckloads in their countries of origin.
Eyes of The Rigel by Roy Jacobsen continues the story he began with The Unseen and continued in White Shadow. It is the story of a singular family who live a singular life on an island just off the coast of Norway at the beginning of the twentieth century. Our heroine is Ingrid Barrøy, who travels a little further from her home island with each new installment. In Eyes of The Rigel she travels as far as Sweden, searching for the father of her child, a Russian P.O.W. who washed up alive on her shore during the Nazi Occupation. Jacobsen’s prose in this trilogy is spare, blunt and poetic. These are novels about our struggles with our natural environment and with each other. They retain a seductive element of mystery. Not everything is stated plainly. There are gestures and silences that must be interpreted. The reader is encouraged to reach out, meet the writer halfway and sup on the rich rewards.
Vernon Subutex 3 follows on from . . . well, Vernon Subutex 1 and 2. And it’s an entirely different kind of flying altogether. Never has the (tedious?) mantra “show don’t tell” been so joyfully booted out the window. This is an infectious voyeuristic carnival of tell tell tell as Despentes skewers a vast gallery of rogues and misfits, laying bare their every thought. Nominally the main character is the eponymous Vernon Subutex, a homeless ex-record-shop-owner who morphs into some kind of new-age guru, but the fun of the fair is being welcomed into the minds of a string of equally dubious characters. Strictly speaking, these books shouldn’t be page-turners, but they are because the language is so astonishingly vivid and because they are so gossipy and vice-ridden. Has twenty-first-century life ever been unzipped like this in a novel before? It’s a relentless parade of information about fictional people who seem so plausible you can’t help think of them as real.
So there you have it. Choose your fighter. The elemental, poetic historical trilogy or the brash but brilliant contemporary catalogue of iniquitous thoughts and deeds. Though, if you have not begun either trilogy, we recommend, as is traditional, starting at the beginning.