There’s a passage in Agota Kristof’s “The Notebook”, where the twins, the narrators, describe their grandmother.
I have seldom read anything with such raw energy and directness.
Kristof's sentences are short, bare, and in your face.
Kristof may not be to everybody's taste.
She can take you to some very dark places sometimes.
And if you’re in the wrong mood, there’s a danger you may linger there.
But her talent is indisputable.
When you read Kristof, you realize that we are bigger than what happens to us, that our mistakes do not define us, and that, whatever else, we all have a story to tell.
And every word counts.
Grandmother is Mother's mother. Before coming to live in her house, we didn't even know that Mother still had a mother.
We call her Grandmother.
People call her the Witch. She calls us "sons of a bitch."
Grandmother is small and thin. She has a black shawl on her head. Her clothes are dark gray.
She wears old army shoes. When the weather's nice, she goes barefoot. Her face is covered with wrinkles, brown spots, and warts that sprout hairs. She has no teeth left, at least none that can be seen.
Grandmother never washes. She wipes her mouth with the corner of her shawl when she's finished eating or drinking. She doesn't wear underpants. When she wants to urinate, she just stops wherever she happens to be, spreads her legs, and pisses on the ground under her skirt.
Of course, she doesn't do it in the house.
Grandmother never undresses. We have watched her in her room at night. She takes off her skirt and there's another skirt underneath. She takes off her blouse and there's another blouse underneath. She goes to bed like that. She doesn't take off her shawl.
Grandmother doesn't say much. Except in the evening. In the evening, she takes a bottle down from a shelf and drinks straight out of it. Soon she starts to talk in a language we don't know. It's not the language the foreign soldiers speak, it's a quite different language.
In that unknown language, Grandmother asks herself questions and answers them. Sometimes she laughs, sometimes she gets angry and shouts. In the end, almost always, she starts crying, she staggers into her room, she drops onto her bed, and we hear her sobbing far into the night."
from The Notebook by Agotha Kristof (translated by Alan Sheridan)