Lost in Translations by Scott Cumming — A Punk Noir Book Review

Punk Noir Magazine

One criticism I could perhaps level at myself, among others, is that I am not the worldliest of readers tending to stick with natural English authors for the most part. Coincidentally, I’ve read a couple of South American authors in short order and found myself mesmerised by both.

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez is a book of stories set in and around Buenos Aires. Parts of my misspent youth were used on reading copious amounts of music magazines and this rears its head in my penchant for the use of snappy labels in order to identify pieces of art. For these, I’d describe them as Supernatural Realism owing to a writing style reminiscent of Haruki Murakami in which our protagonists find ordinary lives invaded by supernatural phenomena for which they are never given definitive or conclusive answers to.

Angelita Unearthed really sets the tone for the collection as a young woman recounts growing up with her Grandmother and the body of her Gran’s baby sister that is buried in her garden. Meat adds some bones to modern day fanaticism as the death of an emerging rock star sets off his teenage fanbase into ever more disturbing behaviour.

Kids Who Came Back sits as the crown jewel of the collection detailing the return of missing children to the parks of Buenos Aires, but many of those returning were confirmed as dead.

Each of the 12 stories offers an ordinary life upended by some form of supernatural going on. The tales are told succinctly and almost conversationally without a hint of melodrama.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut may sound like an intimidating prospect as it dives into the lives of physicists across the 20th and 21st Century, but its ultimately a very human book, both clever and resonant.

The names of our most eminent physicists are either not as well known or synonymous with cats (dead or alive), drug dealers and sleeping with Marilyn Monroe. Labatut takes us back to their discoveries and the importance they continue to hold. In part, the book is like a giant wheel of coincidence or cause and effect reminiscent of the work of Paul Auster.

Labatut hints at the way the discoveries continue to form what we know as modern life, while delving into the the thin line (be that particle or wave) separating the genius from madness. Heisenberg, Schwarzchild, Schrodinger, Grothendieck, Mochizuki, et al. have all found themselves in a state of pulling away from societal constructs and relationships either in the chase of physics-based enlightenment or because of it. 

Labatut’s work is fictional in terms of who these people were/are, but how they have shaped how we live is certainly not and provides a feast full of food for thought.