Grazyna Plebanek is already a highly successful author in her native Poland, and Illegal Liaisons is the first of her novels to be published in English. The publisher, Stork Press, aim to give a new voice to writers from Central and Eastern Europe. I discovered them by chance earlier this year, and am so glad I did. Illegal Liaisons is an excellent example of great European literature that otherwise wouldn’t have got a chance to be known in the UK – thanks to Stork Press, Plebanek now has legions of British fans, and rightly so.
Plebanek now lives in Brussels, and the novel is set there. Her core group of characters are European immigrants that have come to Brussels to work for the EU Commission. They are the new yuppies, young and powerful, and yearning for more. The main character, however, is Jonathan, a writer; he is married to Megi, and she works for the Commission. Already he is on the sidelines, with less professional and domestic power than his wife. And so through their socialising he meets Andrea, also a partner of a Commission employee, also an immigrant (although while Jonathan and Megi are Polish, Andrea is Swedish). They quickly begin an intense and passionate affair that shakes up everything in their lives.
If I may be so bold as to quote myself (I know, I know), I wrote in my original review that Illegal Liaisons is an
intense and fascinating novel that questions the norm of family life as well the necessity of monogamy and the morality of sex…Plebanek’s writing is unembarrassed about sex and emotions, and is charged with a deep sadness as well as eroticism…thoughtful, unashamed, brave, and ultimately beautiful. (Edited quote taken from storkpress.co.uk)
I still think this now. The characters are of the first generation of Eastern Europeans that are free from Communism, and they are taking advantage of their situation to explore as much of life as they can. For Megi, this means succeeding at work – for Jonathan, it is conducting an illicit affair and pushing the boundaries of morality.
I attended the official launch of Illegal Liaisons at Belgravia Books in October, and you can read my post about it here, and also on the Belgravia Books blog. Hearing Plebanek speak about her work only further confirmed to me that this novel is one of the best of 2012.
Illegal Liaisons was published in the UK by Stork Press in October 2012. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review.