Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn


Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn
Published in the UK by Fairlight Books today, the 11th July 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £7.99 (PB)
Wordery : from £7.65 (PB)
Waterstones : from £7.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $6.76 / £4.99 (ebook)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

When Alina's brother-in-law defects to the West, she and her husband become persons of interest to the secret services, causing both of their careers to come grinding to a halt. As the strain takes its toll on their marriage, Alina turns to her aunt for help - the wife of a communist leader and a secret practitioner of the old folk ways. Set in 1970's communist Romania, this novella-in-flash draws upon magic realism to weave a tale of everyday troubles, that can't be put down.

Fairlight Moderns is a collection of short modern fictions from around the world. I was attracted by their interesting cover designs and chose Bottled Goods as my first Fairlight Modern because I haven't, I don't think, read any other books with a 1970s Romanian setting . Sophie Van Llewyn's style is unusual, but it works perfectly within the context of this novella. She writes flash fiction vignettes and scenes which are beautifully evocative and detailed and, here, they link together to tell Alina and Liviu's story. I understand that some of the flashes have been published as individual pieces and I can see that they would independently although I did like having the longer complete tale here.

Van Llewyn combines magical realism elements with all-too-real scenes to portray the stifling oppression and poverty experienced under Ceausescu's regime in Romania. Alina, as her mother repeatedly reminds her, has married beneath herself but this allows us as readers to learn about ordinary lives as well as those of the former elite. The 'bottled goods' theme recurs throughout the novella both in the context of aspirations - bottles of imported perfumes or soda drinks are only available in the restricted Western shops - and emotionally - any dissent must be bottled up to avoid attracting security police attention. Bottling also occurs magically and I do encourage you to read the novella to discover this!

Bottled Goods has dark scenes of sexual assault and torture which, while brief, are distressing to read so be aware of this content. I loved the ever-present sense of menace which steadily grows after Liviu's brother defects from Romania. Despite having had no idea of his plans, Alina and Liviu find themselves effectively being punished in his stead and the psychological strain slowly begins to destroy their marriage. I empathised strongly with these characters. Van Llewyn's prose is rich with detail without having a single unnecessary word and I felt this novella, despite its unsettling moments of course, was an absolute joy to read.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Sophie Van Llewyn / Novellas / Books from Romania

9 comments:

  1. I think I would be mad while reading this, and maybe do a bit of fist shaking

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    1. The characters certainly have to cultivate a very different mindset to that which I am used too

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  2. 1970s Romania, I have definitely never read anything set there. It does sound like there's some dark and unsettling stuff here, but I'm glad you enjoyed this one :-)

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    1. The writing itself is quite light so the dark moments are even more powerful in contrast

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  3. Oh wow, I'm actually a bit curious about the dark scenes now! I definitely haven't read anything set in Romania before.

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    1. This is an amazing book. Short, but powerful :-)

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  4. great find Stephanie! I love the cover too and DID YOU SAY Magical Realism?? Yes! mixed with crude historical facts??? YES YES! I'm so reading this one!

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    1. I think you'll like Bottled Goods! And thank you for featuring this review on Nocturnal Devices :-)

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  5. I have to be honest, I don't usually read magical realism but I kind of want to try it combined with historical fiction because I don't think I've seen that before. I can appreciate an unusual writing style because it is unique and can pull me in. This one sounds so unique and well done too! A great gem :D

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