Pioneer stories

Amos Oz’s linked short stories grow from a placid opening into an unexpected encounter

Scenes from Village Life, by Amos Oz, translated by Nicholas de Lange, Vintage, RRP£8.99, 272 pages

With titles such as “Strangers”, “Waiting” and “Lost”, it’s no surprise that these linked short fictions from one of Israel’s most celebrated novelists collectively generate a sense of unease. Set in the “pioneer village” of Tel Ilan, each story grows from a placid opening into an unexpected encounter that warps normality.

In the first tale, a stranger claiming to be a relative insinuates his way into Zelnik’s house; both men end up lying enraptured in bed with Zelnik’s decrepit mother. This sets a tone of surreality that later stories sustain. An old man complains of digging noises beneath his house; a real estate agent is chastely seduced in the dark cellar of a ruined property; the mayor’s wife simply disappears and the doctor’s nephew never arrives.

Oz’s cool, measured prose accumulates into a sense of uncertainty in a collection whose portentous ambience is resonant of the unnerving, fabular fiction of Magnus Mills or Haruki Murakami.

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