Unpicking worlds

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 23.06.2017

First there were two of them: Anne-Marie Reuter and Jeff Thill, both teachers of English who wanted to launch their own publishing house. For literature in English, of course. His own experience had taught Jeff that established Luxembourg editors were reluctant to accept texts that were not in Luxembourgish, French or German.

They were soon joined by Nathalie Jacoby and Laurent Fels, colleagues and friends from school who had valuable experience in the area. While Nathalie had been working as a producer and writer for an international audioguide company in London for ten years, Laurent was editing a poetry magazine and had published his own poetry in French. They were to offer their technical expertise and help with strategy.

The gang of four became unstoppable, and so Black Fountain Press was launched on March 28th, named rather poetically after Su-Mei Tse’s baroque ink fountain, which you can see at Mudam. Entitled Many spoken words, it is the artist’s homage to literature.

Three to four books per year are planned for the time being – original texts in English as well as English translations of works by established Luxembourg authors. “We publish prose, poetry and drama”, it says on the sober jacket of their first volume, a collection of short stories and sketches by Anne-Marie Reuter herself. It is a beautifully sleek paperback with a perfect lay-out. Aesthetic and simple at the same time.

The Vidale-Gloesener team do deserve praise for the visual identity they have given the new venture. Too often local editors have gone for rather staid formulae: big, bulky hardbacks and glossy covers drowning in information. This is new and fresh – pleasing to the eye as well as to the hand.

As you delve into the fifteen texts, you soon realise how varied they are. Some are quiet and sad, others are funny or grotesque and slightly absurd. If you look for continuity or the famous red thread, you might find it in the structure or the build-up since many of the stories will take you by surprise in the last few sentences. Suddenly situations are reversed or puzzles solved.

Often desire is at the heart of the sharply observed pieces. Individual lives are trapped in painful, transitional stages. And each time you are offered a glimpse into someone’s mind – a father, a husband, a wife… and once even a piece of chewing gum. We see characters forging identities for themselves beyond their jobs. They start musing on memories, while diffidence and disappointments loom large. Some are propelled towards an epiphany, others towards an outcome that is surreal.

The stories that work really well both in terms of structure and atmosphere are “Miss Gina”, “Stalking”, “Change of Heart” and the playful “Worst-Case Scenario”. Straightforward, bare and full of longing. Depicting brittle realities, lives without certainty. There is empathy and compassion, but nowhere do the tales veer towards sentimentality. A-M Reuter is too disciplined a writer for that. She merely singles out occasions when individuals are most alone. There are instants of perception, sudden momentous intuitions or painful flashes of self-awareness once the inward meaning of events unfolds. Invariably, her stories also trigger strong visual associations. Again and again, you will be reminded of Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo as well as of Paula Rego.

The only text that works less well in terms of structure is “Ray for Raymond”. Here too much seems to be happening at the same time. Too many hints move into different directions in the interwoven segments. Still, what draws you in is the local colour. It is the one story that tries to unpick the Luxembourg mindset stitch by stitch. Family, identity and class. Mapping the state of a nation in which blind consumerism has taken hold and seems to provide a pleasant fantasy life. “Ray for Raymond” depicts the tribal behaviour that has become key among the Knokke set. There is a deep sense of dullness, of small-mindedness and spite.

So, make no mistake: Once you meet the estate agent in the opening story, you will be swept along by these darkish tales that are full of incidental delights. English in print it will be from now on, thanks to Black Fountain Press. Just make room on your bedside table for this quirky volume. A story a day will keep the boredom away!

Anne-Marie Reuter: On the edge, Black Fountain Press, 2017 (ISBN 978-99959-998-0-3)

Janine Goedert
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