Every so often, I love to include something different, something new and something most definitely edgy With that in mind, today I focus the spotlight onto Lithuanian Noir brought to you by the fabulous people at Nottingham based publishers Noir Press (@PressNoir). I did some extra reading about the author Rasa Askinyte and will include the links at the bottom of this post.
The Easiest by Rasa Askinyte
Blanca lives on the first floor of a wooden house that can only be reached by climbing a painted ladder. She thinks this must be the reason why she never has any visitors. She spends most of her days in France. No, not the real France…
Rasa Askinyte has a degree in philosophy. She is the winner of the Book of the Year in Lithuania. Her novels are characterised by a light, ironical tone; a lightness that belies the darkness that lurks behind.
‘The analytical, scalpel-wielding Aškinytė has no peer in Lithuanian literature. She appeals to scholars as well as hipsters. And I mean that as a compliment.’ Emilija Visockaitė
I tried to remember when I had been happy
From ‘The Easiest’ – Rasa Askinyte
Noir Press 2017
I tried to remember when I had been happy. I could only remember one occasion; that moment when I fell off the bridge and floated in the water with my face down. For a long time I hadn’t breathed.
There was another time I was happy, just not so intensely. I was dreaming of a celebration. There were many guests (everyone was happy, they were dressed to the nines), and dogs. Many dogs of many kinds – large and small, long-haired and practically hairless, dogs with tails and dogs without, purebred and feral. The dogs were running around among the guests as if they were guests of equal stature, but they didn’t help themselves to anything on the tables. Somewhere, in the distance, bells began to ring. It must have been late because the bells kept ringing and ringing.
I don’t know why, but in the dream this fact didn’t bother me in the least. The toll of the bells transformed the behaviour of the dogs. Each dog grabbed a guest and started to devour them, their clothes, jewelry and even their mobile phone. The guests didn’t protest. Those being eaten calmly surrendered to their fate. They didn’t scream and they didn’t try to escape. The remaining guests continued to celebrate as they had been celebrating; they didn’t look around, or try to change anything. The violin trio played up-beat classical melodies, some of which were familiar to me. The violinists tried to harmonize with the bells; they managed to find a complimentary rhythm and mood. While the bells tolled, the dogs enjoyed their spoils. Afterwards, everything returned to normal, only there were fewer people. There was no sign of battle, no blood, no panic. Only here and there a scrap of cloth from a fancy suit, or a piece of jewelry.
After some time, the bells resumed and the dogs rushed off to devour some more guests. This happened over and over again. The celebration lasted a long time. I saw that my turn was finally coming. But the dogs didn’t touch me. When no more guests remained, and the bells began tolling again, the dogs lay down in a circle around me. As far as the eye could see, they spread out like a large fur rug. I was enchanted by the silence and the sense of peace, happy as never before, with no desire to wake.
‘We and our lives are inexplicably magical, like fairy tales.’
Rasa Askinyte is a celebrated novelist in her native Lithuania. In 2014 she won the National Book of the Year, voted best writer by the public. She is one of a new generation of Lithuanian writers who was only a teenager when Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union. She is the author of four novels. ‘The Easiest’ has just been translated into English and published by Noir Press.
‘The Easiest’ is a satirical take on the naivety that can often characterise romance novels, Askinytė’s novel, the story of Blanca, a waitress and her love affairs, has a light-hearted and oftentimes playful tone, but beneath its surface is a world of darkness and deep questions.
Q) Can you tell us something about your background?
A) I was born 43 years ago in Lithuania, deep in the winter, right before Christmas. For the first three years of my life I lived with my grandparents in a lonely house in the middle of nowhere. My best friends were a dog and the frogs. I wanted to be a doctor when I was a child; I ‘healed’ all the frogs I could catch. Of course, they were healthy, and my healing was a torture for them. I feel very sorry for that. But I sincerely wanted to help them. Then I was moved to live in the city. It was a big issue for me to learn to be social. I can be very talkative now, but at the same time I can spend a lot of time alone and don’t miss people at all. Maybe because of this I don’t use Facebook.
Q) Who were your favourite writers when you were growing up and who are you main literary influences?
A) Astrid Lindgren. I liked all of her books, but ‘Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter’ was the best. I still read her books sometimes and cry. ‘The Brothers Lionheart’ is the best book for making you cry.
It’s hard to know what has influenced me and in which direction. I’ve read a lot of novels, studied history, philosophy, psychology, watched hundreds of movies, travelled a lot, and met many people. The constant attempt to understand the world around me has been very important. But I think we overestimate the importance of the rational mind; there are a lot of invisible influences, which we get from our senses or feelings. Every smell, every sound or taste, the sense of fear, of pleasure or coldness, an unusual expression on a face or an interesting gesture may have a stronger influence than rational thought.
I started to write when I was 35, which is late. Before, I wrote only scientific articles and never thought of becoming a novelist. But one day I decided to write, and I sat down and wrote my first novel in few months.
Q) Do you have any rituals around writing?
A) Every January I go to the Visby writer’s residence. In the summer I write in my summer house – a hundred year old cottage, which I inherited from my grandparents.
During the school year I work at the University of Vilnius and the Council of Europe, so I have only three months per year to write, which is a very short time, and so I have to spend it very carefully. I write very slowly. Usually I write from 8 to 10 hours per day, and by the end of the day I have one page. Sometimes a miracle happens and I manage to write two pages, but miracles don’t happen very often.
My only ritual is to sit in front of the computer. Some days are better, some days are worse. Sometimes I feel inspired, sometimes empty. I look at the screen and wait until something comes out. My writing style is more unconscious than rational. I get in to a strange ‘writing mood’, a form of trance, and let the words out without trying to control them. During my writing months I don’t read, or watch movies, and I limit my connection with people and stay in this ‘trance’.
Q) In the novel ‘The Easiest’ the central character, Blanca, seems to doubt her own existence. Though it seems a light novel, is it actually about a woman’s struggle for a firmer sense of self?
A) I think the questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why was I sent into the world?’ are essential for every human being. When I was 20, I hoped that when I was older, I would understand myself better. Now I am 43, and I still have more questions than answers. The struggle to achieve a firm sense of ourselves is endless. We often choose to ‘play’ or to ‘pretend’ instead of living sincerely. After some years of such a life we forget our ‘self’ completely, and it takes a lot of effort to regain it. In the novel Blanca was doing the same as we all do.
Q) Blanca seems to invite, indeed long for abuse. This is a seemingly controversial opinion to be taking. Why did you explore this aspect of her?
A) No, no, she is longing for love. It’s what we all do – all our lives, in every step of it we look for love. But for some reason, in some cases abuse is what we get instead.
We all have a tendency to be abusive and to become victims of abuse. Why does it happen this way? Why do we stay in abusive relationships? Why do we even sometimes take abuse as a proof of love? Why do we became abusive ourselves?
Characters in novels are exaggerated, and the behaviour of Blanca can seem quite strange, but we all have little ‘Blancas’ inside us, even if we tend not to see them.
Q) Fairy tales are an important motif in the novel – why did you use them?
A) The Fairy tale is a magical ‘box’ of wisdom, collected over thousands of years. We are unable to understand the deep layers of that wisdom, but still we feel it exists. This secret which we are unable to understand is magical, but also scary. It’s nice to add some magic to novels.
The surface layer of fairy tales is simple, and it creates an illusion that we can understand them easily. It’s the same with everything in life – we so easily ‘understand’ what happens and why, but this understanding is very tricky. When we start thinking, we see that we don’t understand many things or nothing at all; we don’t understand even ourselves. Our lives and we, ourselves, are the same – inexplicably magical, like fairy tales.
Publishers: http://www.noirpress.co.uk/the-easiest/ Twitter @PressNoir
Articles found online:
YouTube Link to the author reading the novel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvKlM20JVVU#action=share
I hope this blog post has proved to be insightful and I hope more readers and bloggers get a chance to check out some Lithuanian Noir 🙂