Duck and Cover
Fowl Play in Argentina, Penelope Unbound in Spain, And Birdsell’s Back in Canada
Argentina’s “official historians” are quacking away over the latest provocation from historical novelist María Esther de Miguel, titled The Palace of the Ducks. The book carries forward the author’s “generally transgressive” history of Buenos Aires and adapts a detective novel’s suspenseful structure to explore a “dark network of complicities” that unfurls behind the majestic 19th-century palace façade. The plot follows a succession of families who inhabit the structure over the course of a century, among them an alcoholic writer who angles for inspiration in the life stories he finds among the city’s watering holes, while a whole rogues’ gallery of suspects prowls the palace in the wake of a murder. The author’s Planeta-winning work of 1996, The General, The Painter and the Lady, has now sold over 150,000 copies in 21 editions, and delves into a love triangle forged amid Argentina’s wars of state formation, ultimately wringing from the tale a roiling mix of “flesh, blood, incertitude, and the doubts that are part of life.” As for the new book, publisher Alfaguara printed a first run of over 12,000 copies in November, and all rights outside of Latin America are available. See agent Mónica Herrero at the Guillermo Schavelzon agency.
Meanwhile, historical revisionism gets sassy in Spain, where Ángela Vallvey has won this year’s Nadal Prize with State of Deprivation, a hilarious homage to The Odyssey that updates Homer while satirizing the nation’s booming self-help genre. In Vallvey’s version of the classic Greek tale, top fashion designer Penelope strikes out on the wandering journey, while her once philandering hubby Ulysses hangs up his painting career for the domestic thrills of diapers and baby food as he nurses two-year-old Telemachus. Throw in a Socratic dialogue or two, and you’ve got the literary equivalent of the lotus flower. Vallvey’s 1999 work Hunting the Last Wild Man was her first novel for adults, and has been sold to France (Lattès), Germany (Krüger), Italy (Feltrinelli), the UK (Penguin), and the US (Seven Stories), among others. About 50,000 copies of the new one are now in print following the book’s launch in February, with rights sold thus far to France (Lattès). Contact Anna Vilà at the MB agency in Barcelona.
Antiquity’s also on the plate in Spain this month with Terenci Moix’s The Blind Harpist, set in mythical Thebes and pondering the friendship of three young men during the reign of Tutankhamun. The book contrasts religious chastity with erotic fetishism as it shows how King Tut “returned the gods to their rightful place after the iron grip of Akhenaten’s monotheism.” Deemed “a splendid description” of ancient Egypt by reviewers, the book has been said to paint “a melancholic frieze of the extinction” of Akhenaten’s doomed dynasty. Journalist and essayist Moix won the Planeta Prize in 1986 with Don’t Say It Was a Dream, which has sold over a million copies in 40 editions. Rights in the US and UK are available for the new one from Carmen Pinilla at the Balcells agency in Barcelona. And finally in Spain, Antonio Muñoz Molina surveys “the enigma of passion” with his latest work, Missing Blanca. The book portrays the romantic travails of Mario and his vivacious love interest, Blanca, as Mario obsessively worries that he’ll lose his gal. The 46-year-old Molina won the Crítica Prize in 1987 for A Winter in Lisbon, and took home the Planeta in 1992 for The Polish Rider. Though the book has slipped off the list this month, some 30,000 copies of the new one were sold in two months, and rights have been sold to Germany, France, Portugal, and Italy, among other nations. See agent Raquel de la Concha for rights.
In France, literary darling Alexandre Jardin gets fresh with his latest novel, Miss Liberty, wherein the married college headmaster Horace meets up with the vixenish 18-year-old Liberty Byron, and leaps at the chance to indulge her “prodigious taste for pleasure.” Liberty quickly teaches the old dog a thing or two about romantic exaltation — “the infinite is her measure, the absolute is her oxygen” — and together they traipse off to forge a perfect love, a creation that will be “a masterpiece or nothing at all.” Jardin’s 1999 novel Autobiography of a Love looked at the troubled marriage of a teacher in New Hebrides whose twin brother gallantly steps in to save the day (indeed, marriage is “the bête noir of Alexandre Jardin,” one reviewer writes), and his work The Zebra won the Femina Prize in 1988. Critics declared the new book “a cry of revolt against numbness,” and, for what it’s worth, the thirtysomething author is said to be so devoted to joie de vivre that he putts around Paris on a scooter, so as to avoid the moping faces on the subway. All rights are available from Anne-Solange Noble at Gallimard.
We’re happy to bring you the list from Denmark this month, where well-known journalist Gretelise Holm has inspired Paranoia throughout the Nordic nation with her new crime novel. The story opens on a shocking note as ace reporter Karin Sommer discovers her dead cat hanging on her front door, and soon all hell breaks loose as a “self-proclaimed superman” wreaks havoc on a small Danish town. One charged-up reviewer called the book “an excellent run for one’s money,” while another said simply: “Crème de la crème.” In addition to her journalism, Holm has written several books for children. Her crime fiction, however, is speedily gaining notice, winning the Kriminalakademis prize for the turbocharged 1998 thriller, Mercedes-Benz Syndrome. Rights to Paranoia have been sold to Sweden (Piratförlaget), Germany (List), and Norway (Cappelen). Talk to Editor-in-Chief Charlotte Jorgensen at Aschehoug.
And in Canada, Sandra Birdsell is back with her long-awaited third novel The Rüsslander, about the life of a tightly-knit Mennonite community in pre-Revolution Russia, as seen through the eyes of the teenaged Katya. Said to be “decadent with detail but frugal with sentimentality,” the book was inspired by stories Birdsell had heard about her Russian grandparents, who along with thousands of other fleeing Russian Mennonites landed in the Canadian prairies. Now an old woman in Manitoba, Katya looks back on the anarchic time after the Revolution when the pacifist Mennonites were sitting ducks for roving bands of thieves. The book was nominated for Canada’s Giller Prize, and is currently on submission in a number of markets, with buzz said to be strong in Germany. We’re told film rights are a hot item, too. See agent Bruce Westwood at Westwood Creative Artists for rights.