Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Night Train


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Night Train

Title: Night Train
Author: A.L.Snijders
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2021)
Length: 132 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Night Train - US
Night Train - UK
Night Train - Canada
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Lydia Davis
  • Many of these stories and translations were previously published in Grasses and Trees (2016; Afdh Uitgevers)

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : nice little sampler of Snijders' distinctive short fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 9-11/2021 Jennifer Krasinski

  From the Reviews:
  • "Like Davis, Snijders can compose rich, complex life studies in just a handful of sentences, extracting profundity from the absurd, and vice versa. Their sensibilities are so well matched that one can hardly imagine a better translator and interlocutor for him than Davis; that kinship is likely why this collection feels so smartly, exquisitely wrought. (...) (H)is stories mark time -- of days, thoughts, memories, encounters -- yet as he himself believed, it is fiction that renders time immaterial" - Jennifer Krasinski , Bookforum

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       "Everything has a story", A.L.Snijders begins his story 'Story', and even though Night Train only offers a few dozen of the thousands of very short works he wrote one can see how he seems to have indeed made one out of almost everything he considered. As translator Lydia Davis explains in her Introduction, Snijders began writing newspaper columns in the 1980s, and out of these evolved what he called his zeer korte verhalen -- 'very short stories' --, zkv's for short; she notes that: "to date there are eleven collections and a staggering total of over 3,000 stories". (The date of to-date is unclear here: a bilingual version of much of this collection was published in the Netherlands in 2016; it's unclear whether or not the Introduction dates from then/that; there do now appear to be twelve published collections, but since Snijders passed away in the summer of 2021 the final total number of zkv's, whatever it is, has been reached.)
       The zkv's are short pieces, some only a paragraph long, the longest not much more than a page. Snijders mentions always being a poor student (though he became a high school teacher), and that among his chronic failures was his inability to write long sentences. Eventually, however, he made do -- or rather, completely embraced this approach --, writing in 'Shoe':

     Much later I made a virtue out of necessity, I began to write very short stories and noticed that brevity could be 1) technical in nature -- few conjunctions, little explanation, trust in the reader's autonomous cerebration -- and 2) substantive.
     (Inopiam ingenio pensant = to make a virtue of necessity.)
       Many of the pieces read like brief, personal reflections, on experiences and memories -- to the extent that Davis admits: "I was sure, from the beginning of my acquaintance with Snijders's stories, that they were all true, taken with no changes from his life, only shaped in small ways" -- though Snijders himself insisted to her that: "no, in only about two hundred of the stories is there no fiction at all".
       The melding of reality into fiction and vice versa is already introduced in the appropriately-chosen opening piece, 'Story (3)', in which someone recounts a story from his life for the narrator:
I know it, I say, it's a story by Anton Chekhov, you're telling me a story by someone else. I know, he says, I know that story by Chekhov, but I did not read it until my own adventure was in the past. It was a shock that I had lived in a story by someone else. Do you think Chekhov invented it ? With writers you never know, I say.
       The mix and overlap of the real and the invented, and the back and forth between them, is central to much of the writing -- typically, for example, he at one point notes in a story: "I could have invented this, but I did not, I read it in the paper". An explanation is offered in the story 'Notes', in which two of his students tell him they want to visit his house:
I said no. They asked why not. I said that you shouldn't go looking for reality, that as much as possible you should leave room for the imagination.
       So too most of the pieces present a slice of reality, but filtered and refracted through the imagination. (So too, in 'Notes', the students nevertheless come to his home .....)
       Presented matter-of-factly -- a sense the short sentences reïnforce -- there's also a sly, dry humor to much here, as in 'Soup Bowl', when he is with his young grandson:
I lift him up, and, my plan is to talk a little about a poem by Ezra Pound, in order to sway his thoughts. He is just four years old, but with poetry you can't begin too early.
       Appealing, too, is that there's nothing preachy here, as Snijders' pieces are observational rather than judgmental; as he explains in 'Message': "I live without messages".
       All in all, it makes for an enjoyable little collection of quite varied pieces, striking in some of the unusual leaps Snijders makes in and among them.
       Lydia Davis' (relatively) lengthy Introduction is also of considerable interest, as she describes how she came to translate Snijders, and her approach to the translation itself, from a language she originally barely knew. There's a lot about process here, and the Dutch language, as approached by someone previously unfamiliar with it -- quite fascinating in its own right. (Translation comes full circle in the story 'Wool Cap' where a friend writes a haiku on a napkin -- in English, with both Snijders and the friend then translating it into Dutch; in the text, Davis presents the Dutch translations in Dutch, but then also glosses them in the endnotes.)
       The endnotes also helpfully explain many of Snijders' references; presented just as notes (i.e. not marked in the text proper) they are also completely unobtrusive.
       Night Train is a nice little sampler of Snijders' distinctive variation on a kind of 'flash fiction' -- though especially given Davis' discussion of her engagement with the language a bilingual edition, with the Dutch originals facing the English translation, might have been preferable. (Of course, you can always seek out Grasses and Trees, published by Afdh Uitgevers.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 September 2021

- Return to top of the page -


Night Train: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Dutch author A.L.Snijders lived 1937 to 2021.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links