Thursday, 9 May 2013

When is a Peirene Book not a Peirene Book?

As mentioned in my post on Sea of Ink a few weeks back, I have now read (and reread) all ten Peirene books published so far, and I'm waiting eagerly for number eleven, Mr Darwin's Gardener, to appear next month.  However, the ladies over at Peirene HQ (particularly, I suspect, the nymph herself) beg to differ.  You see, of the ten so far, I've only read four in the Peirene version - the other six have been bought and read in the original language...

...which got me thinking.  Is there really a difference between a Peirene book and what Meike Ziervogel (founder of the press) dubs 'Peirene choices'?  Is the Peirene experience different if you don't get the book directly from the nymph?  Well, let's have a little think about that, shall we?

The first difference, of course, is one which is immediately evident - the cover.  One of Peirene's strong points is its individual and identifiable branding, and Sacha Davison Lunt's cover designs are a vital part of this.  The cream background, overlaid with geometric shapes, is instantly recognisable, ensuring that the books stand out, and go together nicely.

The covers create connections not only within the Peirene stable, but also within each series.  Most of you will know that the publisher publishes a different series each year, selecting three books which fit together, and for 2013 ('Turning Point') this is reflected in the cover designs, which are slightly different to previous series.  Of course, this is not the case for the original versions, which come from different publishers - and often different countries...

The original books are also stand-alones in terms of content, each one chosen for individual interest, where Peirene's books are carefully selected in groups of three.  The books are thematically linked, each suiting the banner chosen to represent the selection.  Whether it's 'Turning Point', 'Small Epic' or 'Male Dilemma', the Peirene books have a lot more in common than the cover that surrounds them.  In this sense, I would have to say that the first series, 'Female Voice' is probably the most coherent, a set of three books which really should be read as a trilogy.

Another difference I've been weighing up is one of voice.  I've read all the French- and German-language books in the original, and at times I've felt a difference in the way the language comes across.  They seem to be of a more confessional nature, many of them (for example, Beside the Sea, Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, Next World Novella) consisting of monologues, almost soliloquies.  In contrast, some of the books I've read in English (e.g. Tomorrow Pamplona, The Brothers, The Murder of Halland) are a little more plot based and outward looking.  But then, Stone in a Landslide would fit nicely in the first group, and Sea of Ink wouldn't really... hmm.

Perhaps then we can explain the split with differences in style.  There are some unique writing styles among the Peirene authors, with several experimenting with very long, multi-clause sentences (e.g. Birgit Vanderbeke's The Mussel Feast, Matthias Politycki's Next World Novella), in one case with just one, book-long sentence (take a bow F.C. Delius!).  Again, some of those I've read in English, such as Tomorrow Pamplona and The Murder of Halland, seem to prefer shorter sentences.  So are we getting somewhere?  Probably not - I'd say that Sea of Ink and Maybe Next Time don't really have the same style as the other German-language books...

Perhaps I'm approaching this the wrong way though.  You see, another potential variable in this puzzle is Meike herself.  Perhaps the real difference is whether the books are Meike's personal choices or recommendations from other people, friends or translators.  I mentioned the cohesion of the 'Female Voice' series above, and I suspect that those three (including the Catalan book Stone in a Landslide), plus Next World Novella and The Mussel Feast, are much more personal choices than the others.  Are we perhaps being treated to a glimpse of Meike's own literary preferences?

Before I get too carried away though, it's very possible that I may (!) be reading a little more into this than there is to be read.  Still, it is fascinating to speculate on just what the differences are between the various Peirene books, even if (as you've seen above) it's much easier to pull together similarities.  Whether it's a matter of language or simply personal preferences, I can't help thinking that there is a logic to it somewhere behind the scenes - although that probably says a lot more about me than Peirene...

The main thing is though that while the nymph would undoubtedly prefer readers to pour all their money into her coffers, it's more important that we get to experience great books, whatever language they're in.  In the end, it doesn't really matter whether you're enjoying Peirene books or Peirene choices - just as long as you're enjoying them :)

Anyway, that's my mixture of musings and wild guesses - how about you?  Have you read any of the Peirene books in the original language?  Have you noticed any similarities between any of the books?  Let me know what your thoughts on the matter are!