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Clemens Meyer – All the Lights (English translation by Katy Derbyshire, 2011)

Perhaps it’s no great surprise that these short stories by Clemens Meyer are amongst my favourite reads of the year. I was involved with the foundation of And Other Stories, who published them in translation, and also edited the stories, jumping at the chance to work alongside my friend – and exceptionally talented colleague – Katy Derbyshire. But even without all that, I know they would have made the list anyway.

In his introduction to the translation, Stuart Evers states that ‘for all of Meyer’s evident technical ability, it is his gift for character that sets him apart from writers ploughing similar furrows.’ I agree wholeheartedly; these stories do what short stories do at their best – draw you in to the snapshot of each character’s life so intensely that reaching the end comes as a jolting surprise. They tell of people who have lost out in life but who still retain a gritty determination to muddle through, or who nurture a romantic hope of turning things around, changing their fate.

‘I hear her in the hallway. I haven’t got a light out there and it takes her a while to find the door. I turn to face the wall, but she closes the front door very carefully. The leaving, the goodbye, the hand slipping down a shoulder and an arm into thin air; the lying still. And the dreams. The little death. No, death comes later, when you’re alone and nobody comes any more.’

Clemens Meyer won the Leipzig Book Fair Prize in 2008 for the original German version, Die Nacht, die Lichter. You can find a review of All the Lights online with the Guardian here, along with comments by various translators and readers calling for the translator to be credited. Katy (and I) also compiled a fun ‘playlist’ for the stories, which can be found here, here and here.

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