Today, August 22nd, is the publication day for the French edition of The Tempest by Steve Sem-Sandberg. Lettres de la pluie is a part of La Rentrée Littéraire for the publisher Robert Laffont.
Steve Sem-Sandberg’s The Tempest is a hypnotic tale of an island, overrun with stories and myths. The Tempest portrays a hatefulness that is inherited generation after generation and a love that will conquer all.
This is a novel about the way historical crimes are written on a landscape, about the manner in which moral decay takes on physical form. What makes The Tempest truly special, though, is the risks that Sem-Sandberg takes with narrative conventions, the way that his prose seems to break every rule in the creative writing handbook, and yet does so joyfully, recklessly and utterly convincingly. That such stylistic complexity is rendered in a manner that feels entirely natural is testimony to the great skill of the translator, Anna Paterson. The prose leaps wilfully between past and present tenses, the voice suddenly breaks into the second person and at one point Johannes takes over Andreas’s first-person narrative. Perspectives telescope in and out, giving us sweeping passages of history or wide-angle landscapes followed by intimately observed and close-up moments in time. It’s as if the book’s most significant borrowing from Shakespeare’s play is not the island setting, but rather Prospero’s total control of narrative, the omnipotence of the author-magician.