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The Guardian Proclaims SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds to be “Bursting With Transcendence”

Alfabet van die voëlsThe Alphabet of BirdsThe Guardian‘s Richard Lea recently reflected on the last three collections of short stories he read, noting that they were all “full of open narratives, bursting with transcendence”. One of these collections is The Alphabet of Birds, SJ Naudé own translation of his award-winning debut in Afrikaans, Alfabet van die voëls.

“Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds, lays out a recipe for this kind of fiction when the protagonist retires to the garden to write a ‘belated journal’ of a holiday he took two years before,” Lea writes, introducing Naudé’s work to The Guardian readers. Lea relates this approach to that of short story legend Anton Chekhov and modernist Virginia Woolf’s description of Chekhov’s work. “Can you read the current fashion for open endings as an indication of literary progress? Or literary progression, at least,” the literary critic writes.

Lea also spoke to Naudé about these open endings, asking him what it says of modern literature. Naudé said: “Different readers have different temperaments. There will always be readers, perhaps a majority, who are keen to have neat narrative resolution and read in order to experience a certain kind of escape. And there are other readers who are more interested in what is new, and what new modes of being might be explored through new forms, or new modes of writing.”

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There’s no science to the saying that while two things are just a coincidence a third makes a trend, but the last three collections of short stories I happen to have read have all been full of open narratives, bursting with transcendence.

It started with Colin Barrett’s lyrical Young Skins, which won the Guardian first book award last year. Set mostly in County Mayo, these stories follow a cast of bouncers, drifters and drug dealers as they criss-cross the streets of a fictional small town – the threat of violence always at their shoulder. On the night of the award, the judges and his editors lined up to praise not only his striking voice, but also his deft touch with narrative.

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