Alina and Liviu’s marriage has begun to disintegrate. It’s the 1970s, and they live in a small Romanian town; Ceaușescu rules the country, which is gripped by suspicion and fear. When Liviu’s brother defects to the West, the couple falls under increasing scrutiny, and Alina finds herself forced to entertain a Secret Services agent every Tuesday afternoon.
...a compelling collection of flash fiction that frames Alina’s life in a range of styles, from straight prose to charts, commentaries to bulleted lists. Some scenes are boiled down to their essence so thoroughly that they manage to convey the merciless claustrophobia of Alina’s existence while occupying only a single line or page ... As van Llewyn shows, nothing can stay bottled up forever, and it is well worth witnessing how Alina’s story boils over.
The charm of Van Llewyn’s writing lies in the simplicity of the language. You’re not expecting anything bad to happen. You’re dancing along in the half-poetic-haze of short sentences, well-chosen words from the less obscure end of the vocabulary range, and a wonderful rhythm of punctuation– highly sophisticated starts and stops ... In this novella everything is squeezed, a country closing in around one’s neck ... Bottled Goods is testament to boundaries of all kinds, to those that should be crossed, those that shouldn’t, those that are crossed without permission, in secret, and those that can never be re-crossed once traversed, the ones that dissolve by the very act of crossing them. Once you smash the bottle, once it rains on the resultant pieces, there is no longer any bottle there.
This short debut novel, by a Romanian writer who lives in Germany, is narrated in even shorter chapters that skip around in time and point of view. The chapters are as brief and intense as flashes of lightning in a storm. So is van Llewyn’s prose ... For the most part, van Llewyn’s experiments with the novel’s form work well. The only moments where she falters are when she dips toward a magical realism that winds up feeling, because it occurs so scarcely, like an afterthought, and not an entirely necessary one. Read as a whole, though, the novel is a strikingly original work ... Taut, searing, and sharp, van Llewyn’s novel is a lyrical jewel.