Austrian State Prize Project

I may already have a few too many of these projects, but in a sense this one has been going longer than most of the others – I just haven’t got around to reading and reviewing so many of the books yet. It has the same sort of origin as my Prix Goncourt Project: a few years ago, I began to realise there were a lot of interesting writers out there I’d never heard of either from the conversations of our insular literary world or from my own random purchasing of books; and one way I approached uncovering them was through (in general, foreign) prize lists: the Goncourt, the Nobel – and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

For the Goncourt (perhaps a little surprisingly because I’ve never been reluctant to read things in translation) I’d actually read none of the authors who’d won it (though even back then I had five of the winning books unread); – but this was hardly true of the Austrian State Prize. I’d already read something by: Calvino, Lessing, Dürrenmatt, Kundera, Rushdie, Aitmatov, Christensen, Eco, Nooteboom, Barnes; – and, with one or two exceptions, I’d enjoyed them.

So I went on Amazon (and perhaps I found a few in second-hand shops) until I now also have: Kohout, Kirsch, Wolf, Lem, Szczypiorski, Duras, Nádas, Tišma, Tabucchi, Ugrešic, Lobo Antunes, Hein, Magris, Semprun and Kennedy.

Perhaps the reason I haven’t really started this project though, as least in terms of reviewing, is because I didn’t really think much of the first two I chose to read: Hein and Szczypiorski. The Hein was as tiresome as anything you’d find recommended in our own literary pages; while the Szczypiorski proved a well-meaning but inherently uninteresting tale. But some of the others I know I’m going to enjoy: I’ve already started on Wolf and Magris, and – from the little I’ve garnered – I can’t believe I won’t like at least Nádas and Lobo Antunes.

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