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ISBN 978-0-9573266-9-9
First published March 2014; 174 pp
paperback; 198 x 129 mm

£8.99
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
Agota Kristof, born in Csikvánd, Hungary, in 1935, became an exile in French-speaking Switzerland in 1956. Working in a factory, she slowly learned the language of her adopted country. Her first novel, Le Grand Cahier (1986; The Notebook), gained international recognition and was translated into more than thirty languages. She wrote plays as well as further ­novels. She died in 2011.

Alan Sheridan has translated over fifty books, including works by Sartre, Lacan, Foucault and Robbe-Grillet. In 2004 he was awarded the Prix du rayonnement de la langue française by the Académie Française, for services to the French language and its literature.

Slavoj Zizek is a Slovene cultural critic and philosopher who has written widely on politics and cultural studies.

Also available:







 
 
Agota Kristof  The Notebook
translated from the French by Alan Sheridan
afterword by Slavoj
Zizek

 
Chosen as a 2014 ‘Book of the Year’ in the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian and The Australian.

Reissued in 2016 with new cover

Unavailable in the UK for over twenty years, Agota Kristof’s modern European classic The Notebook is re-issued by CBe alongside the first English translation of The Illiterate, Kristof’s memoir of how she escaped from Hungary in 1956 and began to write The Notebook. The Proof and The Third Lie, which conclude the trilogy of which The Notebook is the first part, are available from CBe in a single volume.

‘A stunning, brutal and beautifully written (and translated) book’ – George Szirtes

‘There is a book through which I discovered what kind of a person I really want to be: The Notebook, the first volume of Agota Kristof’s trilogy’ – Slavoj Zizek

Sent to a remote village for the duration of the war, two children devise physical and mental exercises to render themselves invulnerable to pain and sentiment. They steal, kill, blackmail and survive; others – the cobbler, the harelipped girl who craves love, the children’s parents – are sucked into war’s brutal maelstrom. The Notebook distils the experience of Nazi occupation and Soviet ‘liberation’ during World War II into a stark fable of timeless relevance.

‘In its odd, memorable, unique way, The Notebook is a masterpiece.’
     – John Self, Asylum (full review here)

The Notebook is a great book, in the absolute.’
     – Beverley Bie Brahic, TLS ‘Books of the year’

‘Every now and again you read a book by an unknown author and you know immediately that you are in the company of greatness. That is a rare and precious feeling. It happened to me when, a few years ago, a friend sent me a copy of Agota Kristof’s first novel, Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook). The utter simplicity of the style, the clarity, the unflinching gaze at a world far removed from any I had experienced and yet curiously familiar – that of a peasant culture on the border of what we take to be Hungary and Germany in the dying moments of World War II – and the deep humanity underlying it all, took my breath away.’
     – Gabriel Josipovici
 

‘Nothing I’ve read this year has affected or disturbed me as greatly as CB editions’ timely reissue of  The Notebook by Agota Kristof … Kristof’s chilling indictment of totalitarianism in all its forms reads like an alternative – and equally dread-inducing – eastern European Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both stylistically inventive and politically incisive, this is a book to worry readers for years.’

     – Eimear McBride, Financial Times (June 2014)

‘Louring over Agota Kristof’s entire narrative is the shadow of war, occupoation and the ambivalent experience of liberation for the “liberated”. The twins survive by rejecting traditional notions of identity and social order. Like a pair of self-realised Nietzchean Supermen, they make themsleves of the earth, driven by the need to preserve rather than service the flsh, uninterested in abstract or unquantifiable concepts such as love or the divine. With survivial as their guiding principle, they become monsters of distilled, unsentimental humanity and, by the shocking climax, invulnerable even to what has hitherto seemed their own impregnable bond.’
     – Eimear McBride, Times Literary Supplement


‘The title alludes to the “Big Notebook” of secret diary entries kept by young twins during the tail end of an unnamed war in an unspecified country. Their mother evacuates them from the Big Town, which is under siege, and deposits them at their grandmother’s house on the edge of the Little Town …The boys have their own set of skewed values but just when the reader believes they have displayed some sign of humanity, they jolt you with new heights of pathological cruelty. In this land devoid of moral agency, riven by nameless foreign armies, deportations, forced disappearances, air raids and “liberators”, they clinically record their exploits in the Big Notebook kept hidden in the attic. The aim of these strict “composition exercises” is to set down a record unadorned by opinion or information superfluous to a straight record of fact. It is the spare nature of the narrative that sets up The Notebook’s most grimly humorous moments and makes it such a compelling read.

     Most shocking are the accounts of the twins’ hare-lipped young neighbour, who is so starved of intimacy that she indulges in bestiality, later to die “happy, fucked to death” by a gang of foreign soldiers. When the twins’ mother is killed by a shell blast, they bury her in the garden where she fell but later dig her up, polish her bones, re-articulate the skeleton with wire and hang it from a beam in the attic. The Notebook is a transfixing house of horrors.

     – James Tennant, New Statesman

‘Agota Kristof’s exact, bare writing reads like a prose analogue of the minimalist anti-poetry that arose in eastern Europe in the wake of World War II. Although born a generation later, her formative experiences – a childhood in Hungary during the war, a refugee as a young mother from the communist tanks in 1956 – were not dissimilar to those poets. Her slim memoir, The Illiterate, has now been translated into English for the first time, and the nearest thing to a poetic effect in the entire book is a simile in the second line: ‘‘I read. It is like a disease. I read everything …’’ Nor are there many adjectives. Hard nouns, very active verbs, and clipped speech predominate. Partly this comes from her attempts to conquer French, her language in exile, which she describes as an ‘‘enemy language’’; mostly it comes from a devotion to truth-telling, unadorned. If her astonishing first novel, The Notebook, contains even a single metaphor, I must have missed it. This seems as difficult a feat as writing an entire novel without, say, the letter E, but The Notebook is driven by deep, psychological necessity, not the rules of a literary game. Alan Sheridan’s 1989 translation has been reissued by CB editions. All masterpieces are unique – but perhaps some (with apologies to Kristof, who would disallow any poetic softening of the hard meaning of the word) are more unique than others.
     – Peter Goldsworthy, The Australian


The Notebook was first published in France in 1986. From reviews of the first UK edition (1989):

‘Kristof seems to be writing on the edge of anxiety, surrounded by pleasure and terror. The reader swings by his heels until the book rushes to his head. It’s that good.’
     – Blitz

‘Closing this chillingly unsentimental novel, I felt that it had contrived to say absolutely everything about the Second World War and its aftermath in Central Europe.’
     – Sunday Times

‘Just, harsh, strangely moving.’ – Observer