Books in anther language


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Books in anther language

tammikuu 4, 2020, 8:33 am

Novecento : pianiste by Alessandro Baricco
Un monologue
This is a French translation of an Italian novella by Alessandro Baricco originally published in 1994. Barrico is a well known writer and film director in his native Italy and many of his books have been translated into French. Currently his monologue of Novecento is being performed on stage by a famous french actor André Dussollier with the backing of several jazz musicians.

The story is told by a trumpet player Tim Tooney who gets a job on board The Virginian a large ship that criss crosses the Atlantic. The year is 1927 and he has a strange story to tell of the pianist in the ship's band who becomes his best friend. Novecento (the pianist) was born in the year 1900 and he was born on the Virginian and left behind by one of the third class steerage passengers. He was found by a sailor in an empty fruit box with the following stamped on the outside Danny Boodman T.D Lemon Novecento which became his name. The sailor brought up Novecento and when he died Novecento remained on board with no papers to say he existed. The Captain decided he must get Novecento registered the next time the boat docked in Southampton for a refit, but they could not find Novecento, only when the ship was back on the high seas did Novecento reappear and he was found in the ballroom playing the piano. He learnt to play the songs he heard from the immigrants on their way to America and he became a legend being able to improvise and play in the band.

Jelly Roll Morton self styled KIng of Jazz booked a passage so he could challenge Novecento to a cutting competition. Novecento made a fool of him without realising what it was all about. Another part of the legend was that Novecento had never set foot on dry land, he continued to live his life on board the ship, a prodigy of sorts who did not exist through lack of registration. Apart from his music all that he knew came from the people who travelled on the boat, the first class passengers down to those in steerage, his life in some respects was lived through others.

Baricco spins the legend of Novecento to a brief 80 odd pages, but it is full of music with a main theme of the limitations of ones existence. Novecento says why should he leave the boat, he has everything he needs, more of anything would just lead to confusion. Baricco writes in lively style interplaying with the music that serves as a background to this rather sad little tale. 3.5 stars

(I have booked to see André Dussollier performing this monologue at my local theatre next month)

tammikuu 4, 2020, 9:09 am


I've never read anything by Baricco but coincidentally someone wanted to discuss his work with me yesterday. He's turned into a big fan. So I guess I'm going to have to check him out too.

tammikuu 4, 2020, 10:02 am


tammikuu 4, 2020, 12:51 pm

I have read two Barrico's : The Barbarians and The Game. Both are popular philosophic treatises about the changing of the world because of technology. It reads easily, bit he is a bit confusing in his reasoning.
My mother read "Silk" and absolutely loved it.

tammikuu 4, 2020, 12:52 pm

>1 baswood: Love this story

tammikuu 27, 2020, 4:22 pm

tammikuu 27, 2020, 4:23 pm

François Mauriac - Le Sagouin
François Mauriac was a French novelist, dramatist, poet and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize in literature (1952) 'for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels which penetrated the drama of human life" Le Sagouin was published a year earlier in 1951 and is a novella of 140 pages.

Le Sagouin means a dirty slob and poor Guillou the thirteen year old only son of the Baron Galéas de Cernès has earned this title for his appearance and behaviour. Baron Galéas is a representative of the old nobility and lives in a chateau which is falling around his ears. He is married to Paule a woman from the bourgeoise and what might have once been a love match is certainly not now. Paule finds herself in a depressing position, her husband has seen better days and is now little more than an idiotic old man, his mother has to all intents and purposes kept the title of a Baroness and runs the household and Paule cannot stand the sight of her son le Sagouin. The difficult situation for Paule comes to a head when it is time to choose a new school for le Sagouin. The Baroness supported by the head of the serving staff wants le Sagouin educated at home but Paule puts up a spirited fight and drags her unwilling son off to the local school.

The teacher at the small village school has just returned from the first world war with a slight wound and is known in the area for his left wing views. Paule persuades him to take le Sagouin just for a couple of hours to see if he will fit in. The teacher is surprised by Le Sagouin's love of reading, but in the end decides he wants nothing to do with the people from the chateau. His decision leads to some tragic events,

Mauriac was an intelligent and sensitive writer and in this short novel he puts the reader right in amongst the troubled people in the chateau. The contrast between them and the teacher and his wife is well drawn, as is a lack of human feeling on both sides. This 1951 novel does not break any new ground, but it is a sensitive snapshot of a small village in South West France 4 stars.

tammikuu 27, 2020, 4:29 pm

Meanwhile, I am reading Celine's North...somehow the Nobel committee overlooked him (hence Handke?)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 27, 2020, 11:23 pm

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 22, 2020, 4:53 am

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 22, 2020, 4:54 am

Peter Handke - La Femme Gauchère
Peter Handke an Austrian by birth won the 2019 Nobel prize for literature. It was a controversial choice because of the Authors pro-Serbian attitudes particularly his support for Slobodan Milošević. Die linkshädige Frau (The Left Handed Woman) was published in 1977. It is a novella with a style very much it's own, perhaps this is because it started out life as a movie script for a film Handke directed in 1978 and he adapted the script for his book.

It has a flat style of storytelling with the author keeping his characters at arms length. They say things and they do things and it is left to the reader to fill in the the thoughts of the inner person. The themes of the book are isolation and loneliness which Handke emphasises by his descriptions of the environment in which they live. The central character is Marianne whom the author refers to throughout as "the woman" who has a small son Stephan referred to as "the child". She is married to Bruno who spends some time away from home travelling because of his work. He returns from a longish trip to say that he will not be travelling much more for his job and suggests they go out to celebrate in a restaurant. They eat and drink and decide to spend the night in a hotel, they return home the next day and "the woman" tells Bruno that she wants him to leave. She is aware of a relationship with a female friend of theirs and he moves in with this other woman (Franziska) Marianne settles down to life on her own with her son, she takes up her old career as a translator a job that allows her to work from home. She has visits from the editor of the publishing house who always brings a bottle of champagne, but she does not enter into any sort of relationship with him.

Marianne's life settles into a new pattern of working or not working, talking to her son and watching the world go by from her picture window at the front of the house. She lives on a housing estate where many of the houses look alike, it is winter and often there are flakes of snow falling from the cold air. She occasionally sees Bruno and Franziska in the commercial centre of the town, but apart from Franziska suggesting she joins a local women's group for support, their conversations are perfunctory. Marian's thoughts and moods are more in tune with the winter landscape; the forest that almost intrudes into her back garden. She takes Stephan for a walk in the snow up onto a forested hill behind their house, they are alone, they collect some kindling and make a fire, then return to the house. However much a person wishes to be alone it is not always possible, there must be some human contact and Marianne cannot avoid all of the life that passes around her and her son.

The omnipresent author tells his story of the small group of people living their lives almost in isolation. The landscape, the housing estate seems to put a distance between them that is captured well by Handke. The book is all about an atmosphere, a cold way of living, almost alien in its coldness. It is a short book that strikes me as a commentary on life in the new towns that were a feature in Europe after the second world war. It does all it needs to do in it's short length. It was originally published in German and I read a French translation. In my opinion its worth a look if you are in the right mood and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 24, 2020, 4:34 am

La Petite Bijou
My Folio edition of La Petite Bijou has an atmospheric black and white photograph of an old fashioned Tabac/café at night, lit from inside and with a large lamp in the half enclosed terrace. The book was published in 2001, but it has the feel of Paris a few decades earlier, a Paris tucked away from the touristy zing of the commercial world that is more familiar today. This was the second novel I have read by Modiano (the first was Dora Bruder) and again one of the main characters of this book was the streets of Paris and its banlieues. I felt as though having a street plan of the city on my desk would enhance the reading experience.

La Petite Bijou is Thérèse, a nineteen year old girl living in one of the Parisian suburbs as a casual worker not having passed any of her school exams. One afternoon when travelling on the metro she sees an older woman wearing a yellow coat: scruffy and worn, who looks just like her, she is fascinated and stays on the train until the end of the line and when the woman gets off, she follows her home. Thérèse thinks about her mother who she has not seen for twelve years and is half convinced that it is her. Modiano tells Thérèse's story mainly in the first person and so we are witnesses to the scattered thoughts of this nineteen year old woman who tries to piece together her childhood memories. She has a box of memento's in her bedsit and searches it for clues of her mothers identity. She knows that her mother sent her away to a relation in the country as she was going to Morocco in search of work. Thérèse has an image of herself with a label tied round her neck being put on a train and from other pieces of paper in the box she finds names of men her mother knew.

She believed her mother had died in Morocco, but the sighting of the woman in the yellow coat causes memories of her childhood to resurface and she follows trails set off by the threads of information in the memento box. Thérèse finds a job looking after a young girl who is referred to as La petite, her parents seem to be involved in some sort of criminal activity and La petite clings to Thérèse in a kinship that echoes her own childhood. Thérèse suffering from ill health befriends a female chemist after visiting the shop one evening and the chemist becomes something like a maternal figure and so there are more echoes of a mother and child relationship. All this is set against the mystery of Thérèse's early life as events in her current life trigger other thoughts and emotions. These themes are typical of Modiano's oeuvre, the search for identity, perhaps a shameful history that is never fully recovered; an obsession that leaves characters on a seemingly endless journey through the streets of Paris searching for clues that may kick start more memories. Scraps of paper containing information, shadowy characters from the past with something to hide.

In this short novel Thérèse's search for her own identity endangers her current identity as her character seems at times perilously close to merging with the people she meets. A mysterious atmosphere enhanced by wintry Parisian evenings permeates the book as Thérèse moves towards some sort of crisis caused partly by her obsession with her own past. Modiano is noted for returning again and again to characters haunted by a half forgotten memories and this novel fits very well into his oeuvre. It works for me and 4 stars.

maaliskuu 24, 2020, 2:12 am

I want to send you Kramberger z opico...great cover...might push your slovene beyond comfortable bounds...

huhtikuu 18, 2020, 9:08 am

En Attendant Bojangles - Olivier Bourdeut
This is a first novel by french writer Olivier Bourdeaut, which won a 'Prix du Roman Des Étudiants and so could be considered a novel for young adults. It also won the Grand Prix RTL-Lire (2016) which is an award for a French language novel chosen by a jury of readers and so it has wide appeal. It is the story of a family of three: the two parents and their young son, who act out a fairly bizarre life style. It is told from the POV of the son, but also from notes for an unpublished novel written by his father.

It starts with the son describing a typical day in the life of the family. His father has retired early from a position in the French Government and his wife and he seem to be acting out a sort of fantasy life. Every day his father invents a new name for his wife to whom he is devoted. She loves the attention and plays along, she is addicted to the dance and to a lesser extent to alcohol. Every day the couple dance to the NIna Simone recording of Mr Bojangles which is a focal point of their day. The father is spending his free time writing a novel and their son fits himself into their life which is also shared with a large African bird of the parrot family. They have a chateau across the border in Spain where they spend some holiday time and a senator from the fathers old working life attaches himself to the crazy family life style. The son of course is doing badly in school, but the parents are so wrapped up in themselves they hardly notice. They seem oblivious to the world outside and although they have a circle of oddball friends we realise that things are not quite right: they hardly ever open any post and leave their mail in a heap in their hall, their alcohol consumption is on the increase and they are starting to alienate some of their friends with their behaviour. The tax man arrives with an enormous bill that they cannot pay.........,

The bizarre behaviour points to some sort of mental illness and it is no surprise when this becomes an issue. However it is a romance first and foremost: a mad love affair that takes two people and their son (and a parrot) down a road that is never going to end well. There is nothing new here in the story telling, the novel starts off as a comedy and then becomes more of a bizarre fantasy acted out by a family seemingly bent on destruction. The tone of the novel is melancholic rather than tragic and a suspension of belief is required from the reader. By having the son tell the majority of the story enhances the mystery through his naive approach to his family. The notes of his father's unpublished writing are cleverly interwoven to provide some background. The comedy, the romance all tinged with a certain melancholy as the novel progresses, supplies the charm and probably the popularity of this first novel. 3 stars.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 23, 2020, 11:38 am

I can recommend Édouard Louis:

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule

Histoire de la violence

Qui a tué mon père

The first two are autobiographical fiction of the author's childhood in a remote village near Amiens (first title) and his escape to Paris where he is raped and nearly murdered by a trick (second title). The end of Eddy is probably best tackled in translation because of the amount of working class slang. The challenge of Histoire de la violence is the narrative distance; I started it in French but began to think my French wasn't good enough and switched to the translation. Without going into a complex explanation, the challenge lies with something like the unreliable narrator problem.

The third is Louis' response to the death of his father at fifty, a man broken by exploitation and an uncaring public system. Louis looses a scathing denunciation of France's contempt for and neglect of the working class and combines it with a tender reconciliation with the man he rejected as a boy in En finir avec Eddie.

In November, 2019, I was fortunate to also see the first two books dramatized and, as an unexpected bonus, a lengthy on-stage interview with Louis. His is an articulate and insightful mind. I hope we hear a lot more from him.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 22, 2020, 9:16 pm

>15 librorumamans: Interesting post
>14 baswood: Interesting post

huhtikuu 23, 2020, 12:27 am

very interesting

huhtikuu 23, 2020, 3:40 am

>15 librorumamans: thanks for that recommendation

huhtikuu 23, 2020, 3:53 pm

You can find an interview with Louis in The New York Times from his visit there last November, as well as a number of interviews (several in English) on YouTube.

toukokuu 4, 2020, 5:56 pm

toukokuu 4, 2020, 5:57 pm

Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers - Jules Verne
The french equivalent of the great American novel Moby-Dick? There are some striking similarities and reading through 20,000 leagues under the sea it was hard to get the idea of Moby-Dick out of my head. Moby-Dick was published in 1851 and 20,000 leagues appeared in serial form in 1869 and there is evidence that Verne had read Moby-Dick by his reference to the whale ship Essex and it's destruction which inspired Melville's novel. For French language readers 20,000 leagues had always been a literary masterpiece, but English readers had to wait until 1962 for a translation that did Verne's novel any justice. The original translation and the one that you are likely to read free on the internet, cut out over a quarter of Verne's novel and bowdlerised other sections and so for English readers Vernes novel had some catching up to do.

First of all the similarities: like Moby-Dick there are pages and sometimes chapters that read more like scientific research than an adventure novel, which has lead to shortened versions and films that leave out the boring stuff. Captain Nemo like Captain Ahab is a driven man that no one understands; exercising control by force of character as well as a knowledge that other people do not posses, also like Ahab he starts off by being mildly crazy, but ends up being completely insane. Most of the action takes place on the high seas or under the high seas. All of the protagonists are men, not a woman or love story anywhere. There are references to literature, to history and mythology strewn throughout the book. Verne like Melville as an author seems to be on a quest for knowledge. The protagonists are on a ship/submarine an enclosed space and are actual prisoners on the Nuatilus very similar to the crew signed up to serve on the Pequod. However it is the way the story is told that made this reader think he was reading such a similar book: interspersed with an adventure story are pages and sometimes chapters that focus on zoological or technical aspects of life in and under the oceans and on board the submarine. Much of this has little direct relevance to the storyline.

The big difference is that Jules Verne's is a science fiction story which has things to say about the future, whereas Melvilles book is mainly concerned with the here and now, (1850's) but also could be said to be looking backwards at an industry, the whaling industry which was looking at an uncertain future. A simple outline to the story in 20,000 leagues... is that Professor Arronax and his domestic servant (Conseil) are on board a frigate that has been sent to search out a mysterious animal that is believed to be doing damage to shipping. The frigate attacks what it believes to be a monster and in the battle Arronax, Conseil and the harpooner Ned Land are swept overboard. they manage to swim to what turns out to be the submarine Nautilus and reluctantly captain Nemo takes them on board. The terms of their rescue is that they must remain as captives of the captain because they become party to some of the secrets of the Nautilus and Nemo is interested in Professor Arronax knowledge of marine life. The Nautilus travels around the oceans of the world with a purpose that remains obscure, and on the voyages there are some notable events, which have become famous through more popular extracts from the novel. There are fights with various sea monsters, giant sharks, giant sea spiders and a kraken (giant octopus). The battle with the savages near an island in the south seas when the Nautilus is grounded. The discovery of the underground passage linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The rescue of a pearl diver off the coast of India, the visit to the lost world of Atlantis beneath the waves. Nemo and Arronax reaching the South Pole and the Nautilus stuck below the ice. The journeys on the ocean beds in full metal diving gear and oxygen equipment are some of my favourite sections of the book, because of Vernes descriptions of the world beneath the waves.

The tension in the story apart from the life threatening adventures is the relationship between the four men, Nemo remains a mystery, but Arronax is full of admiration for the man he recognises as a genius and is perfectly happy to carry out his own exploratory work as a marine biologist. Ned Land is hell bent on escape but realises he jeopardises the safety of the other two and Conseils hovers between his loyalty to Arronax and his friendship with Ned Land. Opportunities for escape are rare as Nemo has a hatred for landfall, preferring to have nothing to do with the race of men that inhabit the land. His crew remain a mystery speaking in a language that is foreign to Arronax and there are few clues as to where they come from and how they got to be part of Nemo's loyal entourage.

Science fiction in my opinion is all about a sense of wonder, and there is much of this in the novel, but there is also plenty of what could be termed as hard science fiction and then again there is much that is just plain descriptions of fauna and flora, perhaps the best parts of the book are when Verne manages to combine all three. His love and respect for the natural world is evident throughout his book, however a total lack of anything approaching a sense of humour is a drawback.

Embarking on a reading of either of these two classics calls for some determination to get to the end, there are highs and lows in both novels, perhaps the highs in Verne's book outweighs those of Melvilles, but the lows are certainly lower; the descriptions of marine life, the outlines of historical events can be little more than list making and some of them seem to be repeated. Some of Melvilles best writing is contained in the more technical chapters, but this is not always the case with Verne, although there is evidence of scholarly work to put it all together. His knowledge of geography, meteorology and chemistry is impressive, but this reader wonders if some of it is little more than a demonstration of knowledge, I do not get the same feeling with Moby-Dick. The fact that I am able to compare both books in the same review says much for their value as important books in the literary canon. If I was a member of the crew of the Pequod or the crew of the Nautilus and was given an ultimatum by their respective captains of re-reading one of the books or else! I know which one I would choose, but I also know which one I would prefer to read again. 5 stars of course.

toukokuu 4, 2020, 11:42 pm

of course

toukokuu 4, 2020, 11:50 pm

Nice post Bas. Interesting to read how you compare both leviathan's of literature !

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 24, 2020, 5:17 pm

André Malraux - La Voie Royale
Described on publication in 1930 as an adventure novel set in the romantic landscape of the temples of Angkor Watt. It must have been a puzzle to many readers at the time to have in their hands an existential tract written in feverish french with an overlay of erotisme. It was not an immediate success. Sure the main bones of the novel are that a young frenchman hooks up with an older more experienced explorer (Perken) in a search for a hidden temple on the royal way leading into the forest from Angkor Wat. Perken is also looking for another white man lost in the jungle and he has connections with hostile insurgents. They become trapped in a hostile village deep in the forest and are deserted by their guides. Death, disease and degradation dog their footsteps throughout their journey and these are the real subjects of the novel.

André Malraux had visited the temples of Angkor Wat in 1923 and in fact was charged by the French Colonial authorities for unlawfully removing bas-reliefs from one of the temples. He recovered from this early set back to become a successful author, a figure in the French resistance during the second world war, a recipient of the Croix de guerre and Minister of Information in General De Gaul's post war government. He was highly respected by the succeeding generation of french writers and philosophers with two major novels written either side of La Voie Royale; Les Conquerants in 1928 and La Condition humaine in 1933. La Voie Royale seems to be the less well thought of book in the trilogy of books set in Asia.

There is nothing uplifting in this soul destroying trudge through the scarcely explored forests on the edge of Cambodia. The Young Claude Vannec is driven by desire to find his fortune by robbing treasure from temples hidden in the forests. Perken is in league with insurgents and is looking to raise money to buy military hardware. The french legation while allowing Vannec to prospect in the forest warn him about Perken. Vannec seizes on the opportunities that come his way with prostitutes on the journey out to meet up with Perken and their initial conversations are full of allusions to local native women. Their trek through the jungle is hard, laborious, and full of biting insects, but a bond develops between the two men who talk about their fear of death. They find a temple deep in the forest, but they struggle to prise away three of the bas-reliefs and then have problems in loading them on to carriers, meanwhile Perken tells Vannec of his wish to follow any leads to find Grabot a white adventurer who has never reappeared after an expedition deep in the forests. There is much more talk about the meaning of life and the possibilities of dying in the forests as the insects become a constant pest and they are deserted by their guides. They stumble into a poor tribal village where they find Grabot as a slave in a pitiful condition. Perken negotiates a way out but becomes injured in the process; His knee gets infected and gangrene is a result. A local doctor says he must prepare himself to die a painful death as the only cure is amputation and there are no reachable facilities. Perken becomes feverish as the pain comes upon him in waves during an agonising final two weeks, his plans to help the insurgents have melted away and his search for Grabot has ended in his own death and the discovery of an emasculated wreck of a man who had been something of a hero to him.

There is nothing romantic about life in the Cambodian forests, it is a place where white men enter at their peril: the climate, the insects, the threat of injury is with them every step of the way. They are intruders in a hostile environment. Malraux emphasises this aspect of the story and then goes on to describe an experience that is degrading in every way. The feeling of being trapped becomes a living nightmare for the two men and their conversations and fears become disjointed in prose that effectively relates their overwhelming feeling that there is no escape. One can have little sympathy for the men who have gotten themselves into this situation and really by the end of the book I just wanted the forest to swallow them up.

This is not a particularly long novel, but reading is a little bit of an endurance test, I admired the atmosphere and setting that Malraux had created to rehearse some existential ideas, but it was a setting that had a morbid fascination that I was happy enough to put down at the end. 4 stars.

toukokuu 25, 2020, 12:30 am

Well done Bas. This book was my inspiration to visit Angkor What twice.

elokuu 30, 2020, 10:06 am

Annemarie Schwarzenbach - Les Amis de Bernhard
Les Amis de Bernhard was published in 1931, it was Schwarzenbach's first novel and it tells the story of a group of young artists trying to make a living in Paris and Berlin and coming to terms with their sexuality. It's main focus is Berlin where some young people enjoyed a bohemian lifestyle just before the Nazi takeover in 1933. Annemarie Schwarzenbach was born in Switzerland in 1908 and after completing her doctorate in history she spent some years in Berlin and moved in a circle that included Erika and Klaus Mann (daughter and son of Thomas Mann). Annemarie had from an early age dressed herself as a boy and set her cap at Erika, but she was to be disappointed. Her first novel reflects the artistic community that she was so anxious to be included within.

Bernhard is a young musician that is recognised by some critics to posses a special talent but he lacks the drive and ambition that might push him onwards :

Tout le monde aime Bernhard, dit-elle, c’est un garçon vraiment gentil et d’un charme rare”

He settles to make a living by giving music lessons, not even having the confidence to try his hand at playing in cafes. He has two special friends Gert and Innes whom he met at the conservatoire and they form a sort of threesome while all the time Gert and Innes talk of Bernhard's child like characteristics and Gert falls in love with the prospect of making a perfect drawing of Bernhard's features. Christina, a successful artist falls into their circle and she has a younger brother Leon a fiercely talented artist. Gert begs to meet up with him and travels to Berlin to meet him and soon moves in to his apartment where he shares his bed and they work together. Leon has perhaps the selfishness needed to succeed and Gert becomes bitterly disappointed when he realises that he is not the centre of Leon's world: Christina warned him that this would be the case. The story moves away from Bernhard in Paris and onto Berlin with Gert and Leon who have left Innes trailing in their wake.

The book's themes are the difficulties of carving a place for yourself in an artistic milieu while at the same time not losing confidence in yourself and your abilities. There are other characters involved: Gerald is a successful surgeon and also a patron of the arts, he has an interest in young girls, but sees in Bernhard with his waif like qualities someone he is prepared to nurture, but again this is a one way relationship. Bernhard meets Betsy a wealthy young American woman to whom he gives singing lessons, but when she moves back to America it causes the start of a crisis for Bernhard and then there is the precocious thirteen year old Mica under the protection of Gerald. The need to earn money only affects some of the characters, these are largely privileged young people drifting around trying to find meaning to their lives. Although the epoch is lightly sketched is gives enough background to the story: Hitler is only mentioned once when Gert asks someone what they think of Hitler and does not receive much of a reply.

This is a book is a Libretto edition which is a French publishing house that seems to specialise in early 20th century literature. This book was translated from the German. There are other books published by Libretto from the same author who led an interesting life in the arts, in travel and in drug taking - she died young. I enjoyed this short excursion into Mitteleuropa and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 30, 2020, 3:30 am

The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas - Rick Harsch
The great American novel, let us not be presumptuous; a great American novel.

Who best to write about his country than an American in exile. Exiles have a view both from the inside and from the outside; who better to come to a conclusion about what is wrong or right about their country of origin. One loses count of how many exiles come back to seize power in their country of their birth. Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini known as the Ayatollah springs to mind an anathema to many Americans. Will Rick Harsch exiled in Slovenia writing The Manifest Destiny of Eddie Vegas be a railhead, a clarion call to fire up the semi-moribund state of literature in the U.S A.? The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (which deserves it's own acronym (TMDOEV)) could be the hot pick for every library in America if Rick Harsch could win his battle with the mighty Amazon(onians) but that's a story for another book. says that Manifold Destiny is a belief or doctrine, held chiefly in the middle and later part of the 19th century, that it was the destiny of the U.S. to expand its territory over the whole of North America and to extend and enhance its political, social and economic influences: in the 21st century one could substitute the World for North America. Nuclear bomb (testing and usage) in the 20th century and drone strikes in the 21st century are the outward signs of this process and feature in the central story of TMDOEV. Manifold Destiny can also refer to a pure mathematical problem known as Poincaré's conjecture (a century old conundrum about the characteristics of three-dimensional spheres) which was claimed to have been solved in 2003 by Chineses mathematicians and has now morphed into Chineses expansionism. Manifold Destiny is also the title of a book subtitled: The One The Only Guide to Cooking on your car Engine, (but we won't go into that) therefore Manifold Destiny can mean different things to different people and this brings me to the second big theme of Rick Harsch's book: language and the way we use it.

Through the Garvin family Harsch tells the story of America from its pioneering mountain men days fighting the indians to its surgical strikes on muslim leaders. Eddie Vegas is a Garvin who changed his name after breaking out of prison, he is searching for his son Donnie (no-one wants to be called Donald these days) who has travelled to Brussels with a super rich American named Drake. Along the way there are lively stories about Garvins ancestors, interspersed with Donnie and Drake marking time in Brussels. Drake is summoned back to America after the murder of his parents who were in the business of clandestine terrorism around the world. They are followed back by "Picasso Tits" who has become Drakes lover in Brussels and the mysterious 22b. The story reaches its conclusion in the desert outside Las Vegas and while the central story is a good one, involving family connections and loyalties, the real meat of the book is the getting there. The story of the original Tom Garvin and Hector Robitaille who survived a bear attack is a brilliant evocation of American wild lands before civilization: the struggle to survive, the reliance on or the menace of the indigenous Indian peoples and the bridge of a mixed language of words as a means of communication: Harsch makes up his own language to give an authenticity to this section of the book. One could say that much of the book is written in a language that is familiarly English but twisted, bent out of shape as the story demands. The book is full of good stories, wild characters and American landscapes, but it is also full of something else and that is Harsch's use of language.

Readers of Rick Harsch's work will not be surprised by his use of alliteration, striking metaphors and word changing: nouns become adjectives or adverbs, words are invented to assist in the flow of the writing. The cleverness of some of this language goes way beyond the tired old wisecracks that litter much of modern writing. Rick is a master of a style that will be familiar as stream of consciousness, but when Harsch uses it there is a feeling of really being inside the head of his characters. There are passages when the author interjects into his own story and then the reader feels he inside the head of Rick Harsch, not always a comfortable place; but then this is not a comfortable book. The character can find themselves arguing about language; the meaning of words: this is a short section where Drake and Donnie and 'Picasso Tits' are talking about stochastic inertia:

"You don't understand the meaning at all do you?"
" No less than before you asked. But as far as that goes we really have to admit we've been pretty gullible when it comes to presuming to understand meanings at all. We manage by refusing gravidity of meaning to mystifying objects"
"I have no idea what the fuck you are talking about"

A word of advice to readers of this book: don't refuse gravidity of meaning, You could be missing much.

A book that reaches to portray the soul of America, through a history of stories and in a language that brings those stories alive must be considered as an important event in these days of some facile modern writing. Rick Harsch is not afraid to take risks, his lengthy tome of over 700 pages has most things including some pages of lists of random (maybe) phrases. The fact that it is all bound up in a story that bubbles along seemingly of its own accord makes the journey worthwhile. I found my experience of being in Rick Harsch's world both exciting and entertaining and for readers who might want to try something a little different then I would recommend getting a copy sooner rather than later (my copy comes from a limited edition of 100 copies) A five star read.

PS I had to get my copy direct from the author himself as it is not available though Amazon or it's subsidiaries.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 29, 2020, 8:20 pm

syyskuu 29, 2020, 8:23 pm

#27--it is pretty fantastic.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 30, 2020, 2:56 pm

# 27 -it is pretty damn fantastic!
# 29 Iriley, thumb that review !

tammikuu 4, 2021, 5:57 am

L'écume des Jours - Boris Vian
I have never read a book quite like L'écume des jours, but then again I have never read a book quite like Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery and so reading these two in parallel was quite a strange experience, because in some aspects they are similar. Le Petit Prince was published in 1943 and Boris Vian's first novel hit the streets in 1947, both scenario's take place in a sort of parallel universe and its easy to believe that Vian was thoroughly familiar with The Petit Prince when he wrote L'écume des jours which takes his parallel world out of the reach of children and into a world of tragedy and satire.

L'écume des Jours tells the story of Colin a wealthy young man who loves jazz and has no need to work, he lives in an apartment with Chick his best friend. Chick is obsessed with the literature of Jean Sol-Patre (Jean-Paul Satre in the real world) and has little money himself. The apartment is also home to Nicholas who is both chef and chauffeur to Colin and a couple of mice who all live happily together. Nicholas introduces Colin to his cousin Chloé and Chick meets her friend Alise. Both men fall in love with the two girls and Colin marries Chloé who moves into the apartment. He lends some money to Chick who instead of marrying Alise spends his dublazons (it is an alternative world) on the works of Sol-Patre who seems to be publishing books and articles almost every week. Chloé becomes ill with a growth in her lung and Colin finds a doctor who treats her with new techniques. The treatment is expensive and Colin spends all his money on treatments and flowers, believing that cut flowers in Chloé's sick room will help her recovery (cut flowers are an expensive item in France). Chloe does not recover, Colin is impoverished and searches for work and Chick spends the last of his money on a pair of old trousers previously owned by Sol-Patre.

This is a tragi-comedy love story shot through with satire, magic realism and naivety. It is told in short chapters that have a certain grip on the real world then lurch into parody, this reader was continually wrong footed when at the start of the novel, but quickly learn't to go with the flow. The first chapter introduces us to Colin and describes his toilette in some detail and we meet Chick and Nicholas and then rather bizarrely in the cuisine are the mice who are dancing happily in the rays of the sunshine and Colin in passing by to see what is cooking caresses them lovingly. There is much talk about food and jazz as the first chapter comes to the end. From then on the chapters increasingly become a little more surreal until we are in another world which seems an awful parody of this one. There are some great moments (or little chapters) in the book: Nicholas takes Colin and Chloe for a drive and to avoid traffic they take a short cut on unmade roads through a copper mining area with open foundries and Chloe is frightened by the workers and the destroyed landscape, there is the strange hospital of Professor Mangemanche, there are the efforts of Colin to raise money by selling his pianococktail and invention that mixes drinks when a tune is played on the keyboard, the burning of the libraries and the murder of Sol-Patre and finally the tragedy of Chloés sick room

In this surreal world which becomes more tragic Boris Vian takes aim and satirises religion, celebrity status, fine dining, the medical profession, discrimination and it seems many other aspects of contemporary life. The frothy good natured approach that Vian takes in his writing only starts to slip a little in the final chapters, but it is a book with its own unique style and as such succeeds wonderfully. Funny and sad at the same time and a five star read.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 4, 2021, 3:10 pm

Ah bian, bian Voris Bian !

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 3, 2021, 7:04 am

La familia grande - Camille Kouchner
La Liberté for one person can be a prison for another. La "liberté" or freedom that enables a person to do just what he/she wants is one of the main themes of La familia grande, however this autobiography by Camille Kouchner published in January this year is more famous for its sensational revelations of paedophilia and incest, in the top echelons of French society. Camille Kouchner claims that her twin brother was raped and she was the victim of incest when they were both 14 years old. An experience that traumatised her, not only because of the act itself, but also for her culpability in not raising her concerns for her brother's psychological health and well being.

La familia grande is the name given to the extended family and acolytes that centred around the celebrated couple of Olivier Duhamel and Évelyne Pisier. Duhamel is a constitutionalist, professor and more importantly a political adviser, boasting that he was a telephone call away from the President of France in the 1980's. Evelyne Pisier was previously married to Bernard Kouchner, who held ministerial posts in french governments and in her own right was a professor, essayist and political commentator. The extended family included Evelyn's sister Marie-France Pisier; actress and film director and they usually met together for the holiday seasons at the big house at Sanary-sur-mer, on the mediterranean coast. It was during one of these summer holidays that Olivier Duhamel, allegedly committed the sexual offences against the twins, when Evelyne was absent from the company.

The book starts with the funeral of Évelyne which took place in 2017 and the difficulties of the family, which was under stress because of the knowledge of the accusations amongst family members. It is significant because of the role played by Evelyne, her upbringing of the children and her refusal to acknowledge the actions committed by her husband (always referred to as the step-father in the book). Although she had been absent at the time the rape took place she must have known of Duhamel's predilection for paedophilia, because there had previously been a complaint raised by parents of a youngster after one of the summer parties. Evelyne had leapt to her husbands defence claiming it was all an exaggeration. Evelyn's passion for la liberté along with her sisters similar viewpoint created an unhealthy atmosphere for the children in the grande familial, it left them open to a sexual predator like Duhamel: an example is Camille remembering a discussion about her virginity when she was 11 years old. There was also the general laissez faire attitude around the swimming pool where family members would often be naked. In my opinion there needs to be boundaries for very young adolescents in their education on sexual behaviour and the atmosphere at the family gatherings left the children open to being groomed for sex.

Another big issue raised by the book is the power that can be wielded by a person of influence. Duhamel could do exactly as he wished, without fear of repercussion. His friends and colleagues were only too eager to brush any transgressions or perversions under the carpet. The fact that Duhamel enjoyed a position of considerable influence in the political world helped rather than hindered his actions. The book is not overtly a condemnation of high society, but cannot fail to make the impression on readers, that people in privileged positions can and do take advantage, when they see an opportunity.

The effect on Camille's health and mental wellbeing was devastating; she refers to the serpent in her stomach, that would not go away and led to physical sickness. She continued to go on vacation to Sanary, but the memories were very painful and she had to distance herself from the family. Matters came to a head when she and her brother started families of their own and were expected to take their partners and children to Sanary. Camille feared for her children's safety and persuaded her brother, who had been in denial, to come forward with his version of events. Shortly after the revelations Marie-france was found dead at the bottom of her swimming pool, she had been more sympathetic than her sister Evelyne, who would not listen to her children's complaints.

The victims of this whole affair were undoubtedly the children and it never ended for them, they carried with them a feeling of guilt in that they were somehow to blame for what happened and then further guilt for keeping everything a secret. Camille makes this point very well in her book; she loved her mother, she was in some ways proud of her precocious education, but it led her into a danger with which she was not equipped to prevent. She paces her book well; jumping from the past to the present and various stages in between, to express the tension that built up in her life and her relations with the family. One suspects she is a reliable witness.

Her autobiography concerns her life and her families, but the book has much to say about the wider issues of incest and exploitation. While some readers might not have too much sympathy for the angst of very rich people, who can afford doctors, psychologists and even retail therapy to get over their problems, predatory male behaviour is not confined to the super rich and can have life threatening consequences for many people lower down the social ladder, many of whom cannot escape from the exploitation and who are never afforded the opportunity to reveal their secrets. This is a sensational tell-all story, which has shipped shed loads of books and while it might be part of Camille Kouchner's legal portfolio, it has far wider implications for social interaction and behaviour for those that wish to see it.

La brigade de protection des miners has launched an enquiry on behalf of other potential victims and Duhamel has resigned from his position at the Foundation nationale des sciences politiques. This is a topical and thought provoking read and so 4 stars.

maaliskuu 4, 2021, 1:42 pm

>33 baswood:

I agree that Kouchner's book is important beyond a French readership because of her focus on showing how much damage Duhamel's assaults did to the extended family. It's worth mentioning that the book's bombshell appearance in January this year provoked an examination of incest in broader French society by encouraging a number of victims to come out of hiding using the hashtag #metooincest.

I did not see a claim by Kouchner that Duhamel assaulted her. What did I miss? As I read her account, the enormous damage to her resulted from her twin brother's insistence that she keep the secret he shared with her; the internal conflict this raised because she adored her stepfather and the enchanted lives she and her brothers lived both in Paris and at Sanary, each of which became poisoned; the complicity forced on her by the secret she unwillingly became part of; and from the necessity of lying to her mother year after year.

The family history that Kouchner provides is astonishing and fascinating. It's also important to the context of what follows. The adults in Kouchner's life were the leftist radicals of the sixties (for several years in her early twenties, Évelyne Pisier, Koucher's mother, was Fidel Castro's mistress). The broader value and interest of the book, then, is the insight it offers into the values and ethic that these people carried in to their later lives that, through their prominence, coloured the political and legal life of the nation.

I also found in the eloquence and poetry of Kouchner's writing much pleasure.

A good pairing for this book is Edouard Louis's Qui a tue mon pere — a look a late twentieth-century French society from the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum.

maaliskuu 4, 2021, 3:58 pm

>34 librorumamans:
After Camille heard Olivier Duhamel in the next room with her bother one night she says this:

"Il entrait dans ma chambre, et par sa tendresse et notre intimité, par la confiance que j’avais pour lui, tout doucement, sans violence, en moi, enracinait le silence. "*

Kouchner, Camille. La familia grande (French Edition) (p. 107). Editions du Seuil. Kindle Edition.

Perhaps I read too much into this.

>34 librorumamans: The family history that Kouchner provides is astonishing and fascinating. It's also important to the context of what follows. The adults in Kouchner's life were the leftist radicals of the sixties (for several years in her early twenties, Évelyne Pisier, Koucher's mother, was Fidel Castro's mistress). The broader value and interest of the book, then, is the insight it offers into the values and ethic that these people carried in to their later lives that, through their prominence, coloured the political and legal life of the nation.

That is very interesting. There are many cases of people in the higher echelons of society whose private lives may have had an effect on the action or advice given in their political work. (One has only to think of the British Royal Family). However in Duhamel case it really does depend on how much influence he had on the people who gathered round him. Did they know he was a paedophile? Did they approve if they knew, probably not as more likely it would have suited them to ignore the fact.

If the left-wing radicals are behaving like the Duhamels it does not bear thinking about what the right-wing radicals might be doing.

I agree that the book is more than a straightforward re-telling of events. Kouchners writing is certainly touching and she paces her story really well. Let's hope the book continues to have repercussions. Thanks for the heads up on the Édouard Louis book - that looks interesting.

maaliskuu 4, 2021, 4:11 pm

I can recommend all three of Édouard Louis' books, ideally in the order of their initial appearance.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 4, 2021, 4:31 pm

>35 baswood: "Il entrait dans ma chambre, et par sa tendresse et notre intimité, par la confiance que j’avais pour lui, tout doucement, sans violence, en moi, enracinait le silence.

Yes, I remember that passage, now that you quote it. I understood it as Duhamel's a) indicating that he knew that Camille must be aware of what had just happened in her brother's room; b) that he wasn't ashamed or hiding it from her; c) making her complicit in the incest by turning it into a kind of triangle; and d) signalling that in his view this altered nothing in his love for both of them — that although he was a step-father he still considered them his own children, as he had made so clear from the start. "Enracinait le silence" is the key phrase, to me.

This, to me, makes the situation even more tragic and his insensitivity the more outrageous. I was appalled, as the book continued, by just how self-involved these brilliant, well-read and well-connected people are or were.

maaliskuu 4, 2021, 5:22 pm

>37 librorumamans: Interesting, I get what you have teased out. There was however that strange conversation just beforehand about taking off Camille's panties and Duhamel referred to the fact that Evelyn never wore them. "Laissez-moi faire. On va y arriver" sexual rather than fatherly intimacy?

maaliskuu 4, 2021, 9:27 pm

>38 baswood:

Yes, that turned up more than once, I think. Didn't the mother or grandmother also comment about not wearing panties as a kind of class thing? I wasn't sure what to make of it.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 4, 2021, 9:40 pm

>36 librorumamans:

Concerning Édouard Louis, I read The End of Eddy in English. The amount of colloquial lower working class regional French puts the original far beyond my reach. Somewhat like a native French speaker tackling Trainspotting in English, I expect.

maaliskuu 14, 2021, 7:00 pm

Le Rivage des Syrtes - Julien Gracq
Civilisations rise and inevitably fall, especially if they do not change or at least adapt to new situations: they become at risk to the barbarian outside the gates. Gracq's book retitled in its English translation as The Opposing Shore imagines a country which has been ruled by a coterie of Aristocratic families for generations from its capital Orsenna in the north. It had received a bloody nose in a war with a country from the opposing shore which lies the other side of a sea on its southern border. The war was three hundred years ago and ever since that time Orsenna has strived to have no communication with Farghestan. Gracq's novel looks at the tipping point; the time when pressures arising from this oppositional stalemate forces Orsenna into some kind of reaction. There are rumours of widespread infiltration in the southern border town of Maremma, soothsayers are predicting a catastrophe and Aldo a young aristocrat has been sent to the southern district of Syrtes as L'Observateur at a naval establishment on the coast.

Gracq's novel won the prix Goncourt in 1951. France's most prestigious literary prize for a book that is "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year" and so one can be sure that this novel is something more than a political thriller: in fact thriller would be absolutely the wrong genre with which to label the book: it is a book of mysteries and possibilities. The young Aldo tells his story in the first person: he is on his own voyage of discovery, and anchors the story, because the reader sees him as a reliable witness, coming to terms with the characters around him as the novel proceeds. The novel is full of atmosphere created by the desert like landscape that dominates almost every chapter. Characters appear to be sleepwalking to their fate, but Aldo injects life into the proceedings, he feels the somnambulism, but fights against it. The desert here is one of marshlands and waterways, mudflats, fog and mist, that seeps into the fabric of the story.

Aldo travels down to Syrtes from Orsenna and installs himself in the Amirauté. He shares the fortified base with Captain Marino and his lieutenants: Robert, Fabrizio and Giovanni, who are the crew to the warship: the "Redoubtable" Aldo's duties are to report back to Orsenna, but he becomes fascinated by the history of the war with Farghestan and discovers the map room full of naval charts. At the town of Maremma further along the coast he is seduced by Vanessa the daughter of a rival family of aristocrats based in Orsenna. She lives in a castle outside of the run down town and is hostess to some grand balls, where Aldo meets Belsenza, who is carrying out a spying mission and is becoming nervous of the strange people circulating in the town. Aldo visits the strange overgrow ruins of Sagra and comes across a suspicious character who has a boat docked in one of the hidden waterways. Aldo's fascination with the map room, and his own observations make him burn with curiosity about Farghestan and its people. The suspicion is that they have infiltrated Maremma and Vanessa's role comes under suspicion. Captain Marino travels back to Orsenna leaving the Redoubtable and crew ready for Aldo to take command of the regular coastal patrols and Farghestan is only one days crossing on the other side of the sea. The mystery deepens and Aldo's precipitous action starts a chain of events that will determine the fate of Orsenna.

Gracq's writing is dense and full of smilies and some fairly old fashioned syntax, some of which I believe is alluding to French classically inspired literature of two centuries earlier. I enjoyed the sound of the words in my head even if I had to puzzle out the meaning, which was at times as mysterious and dark as the story. This is certainly a book to linger over and one where once you know how the story ends, would bear re-reading to find out what had been missed along the way. Aldo does find out much of what is happening even if he does not understand it, but characters such as Vanessa and Belsenza remain shrouded in their own secrets. A dose of realpolitick closes out the novel nicely and the reader feels that this is a novel which has substance and integrity and reflects on Europe's position in the world in the early 1950's. A four star read for me at this time, but I suspect I will rate it more highly in the future.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 15, 2021, 4:00 pm

>41 baswood: Great review !
Le rivage has been on my reading list for many years, but your piece has sent me to abebooks to purchase it ASAP.

Well done Bas.

maaliskuu 15, 2021, 8:28 pm

Enjoy Mac

maaliskuu 30, 2021, 7:25 am

Le Dit Du Mistral - Olivier Mak-Bouchard
Olivier Mak-Bouchard's first novel published last year (2020) treads heavily in the footsteps of Jean Giono and Henri Bosco authors of a previous generation who works were centred on the flora fauna and people of the Provence region of South East France. Mak-Bouchard adds something else to the mix; apart from bringing his story up to date there is also a fascination with legends associated with the area; particularly those surrounding the Mistral wind and the desert like scenario atop of Mount Ventoux.

He tells his story in the first person, but it starts with a legend; a legend of how the four elements shaped the land of Provence, particularly around the Valley of the River Calavon; a dry parched area surrounded by the vegetation of the garrigue: low shrub-lands famous for its herbs that cling to the limestone soils. The area suffers cold winters and hot summers and now increasingly from the bush fires that rage during the driest summer months. The story-teller is an administrator in one of the local schools living in a hamlet outside of town and after a particularly strong Mistral goes outside to inspect the damage. His older neighbour M. Sécaillat is doing the same thing and they notice a drystone wall partially destroyed, the speaker notices some shards of pottery and the two neighbours decide to explore further. They may have uncovered an archeological find, but it is on M Sécaillat's land and he does not want to inform the authorities and have his orchard turned into an archeological dig. The speaker proposes that they do a clandestine dig; he will take a two month sabbatical from work and they will do it properly. The first part of the book describes the excitement of the two neighbours as they uncover a mystery. They do not find any treasure but something perhaps even more valuable: a spring, which seems to be dated from Roman times it has a large limestone base and a relief of a female face from whose open mouth the water trickles.

The speakers sabbatical comes to an end and his wife returns from a business trip to Japan. M. Sécaillat continues with the work and constructs a series of steps down into the cistern which has now filled with tepid water. His wife suffers from Alzheimers, but drinking the iron inflected water from the cistern is improving her condition. The speaker becomes fascinated by the relief of the femme-calcaire in the base of the cistern and bathing in the water starts a series of visions that he cannot shake from his head. Time is running out for the clandestine dig and the authorities have arranged to inspect what they believe to be a small pool (which would attract higher local taxes). The second part of the book tells the story of a falling out between the neighbours M. Sécaillat is frightened of being fined or sent to prison and plans to fill in the cistern, while the speaker cannot resist the pull of the femme-calcaire. The visions are personal to him and he discovers that what he is seeing relates to the landscape and the people around him and he takes himself off on missions, that seem to be at the behest of the femme-calcaire. The missions become associated with legends and stories from the Roman era particularly Hannibal crossing the Alps and lead to the speaker exploring the desolate summit of Mount Ventoux on a desperate search for the source of the Mistral wind.

Mak-Bouchard skilfully weaves elements of magic realism into his story of a contemporary man battling against the sometimes hostile environment in which he lives. The author has a feel for the landscape and an intimate relationship with the characters that inhabit his story. Nothing seems out of place, rural modern french life is well captured and being french the story is interrupted for a detailed description of the Christmas eve revillion where the two neighbour's households sit down to eat their way through the eve to Christmas day. There is also Hussard the cat who prances regally through the two houses calling the neighbours attention to his wants and needs. There is so much to enjoy in this story of Provençal life and the occasional lapse into Provençal argot, is translated into modern french.

I bought my paperback book in my new local bookstore which managed to open for business just in time for the 2020 rentrée. I am not usually attracted by the book cover by this was an exception with its striking design and fold out back and front covers with sketch maps of the area by the author. The design and feel of the book shows some love from the publishing house of Le Tripode. A four star reading experience.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 31, 2021, 2:57 pm

Once more a fine review Master Bas !
Just received my 1953 copy of le rivage des Syrtes. Nice hard cover copy !
Looking forward to the read.


kesäkuu 19, 2021, 6:36 pm

Olivier Norek - Entre Deux Mondes, Olivier Norek
Olivier Norek is an interesting author and personality: a Captaine in the judicial Police of the Seine-Saint-Denis who has taken an unpaid sabbatical to further a career as a screen writer and novelist. His work features the police force as one might expect and he brings to the table experience and inside knowledge. Before joining the police he volunteered to work with the Pharmaciens sans Frontiers and participated in the provision of materials used in refugee camps in theatres of war and later spent two years in the French army. Between 2013 and 2016 he wrote three successful crime thrillers, before collecting critical acclaim for his 2017 novel: Entre Deux Mondes.

The Jungle is the name used for the refugee camp just outside the town of Calais on the north coast of France. It was an unofficial camp (but tolerated by the French Government) filled with refugees who were waiting to get across to England. The vast majority were dependent on the people smugglers or their own efforts to get across to the promised land of the Youké. These were the people who lived between the two worlds; stateless, fantoms almost, not quite of the earth and not quite of the heavens. The Jungle was in existence for an 18 month period between 2015 and 2016 and at its peak it was home to 10,000 people. It was a no-go area for the police and various communities: Afghans, Syriens, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Sudanese and others, fought to gain the upper hand. Conditions in the camp were poor and it was only the various aid agencies, who could get a foothold inside to provide some relief. Norek has based his story around life in the Jungle. A Syrian member of the rebel secret police (Adam) is waiting for the arrival of his wife and child who are in the hands of the people smugglers. Bastien is a new lieutenant in the Calais precinct who strives to make inroads into the lawlessness of Jungle. There is a mute Egyptian boy used as a sex object by the Afghan community who may have information on Adam's family and there is a wanted Daesh recruiting officer who is of interest to the French secret service. Norek makes a good job of weaving these strands together into a police thriller. It is fast moving and the characters are sympathetically drawn.

If the story sometimes stretches credibility then the descriptions of life in the jungle makes brutal sense. The Calais police while not wanting to enter the jungle have to uphold the law outside of it and so the nightly battle to stop the migrants getting onto the lorries heading for the ferry terminals, is played out as a tactical match between the migrants and the police. Violence erupts at flash point moments and the running battles are vividly described. Norek gives his characters good back stories and so there is plenty of room for strong female characters, both as family members of the police officers and also as aid workers in the Jungle. The desperation of the migrants some of whom face impossible odds to get across to England is never far from the storyline and the transient life in the Jungle which is ruled by the largest communities is a battle for survival. Nobody wants the Jungle, nobody wants the refugee camp, the town of Calais is facing financial ruin because of the destruction of its tourist trade, the police force are hopelessly undermanned and cannot get to grips with the life in the camp. An impossible situation which sweeps up many innocent victims and an air of desperation hovers over this novel making it a riveting read. Norek does not overdo the violence and his sympathies are with the victims. This novel provides a birds-eye view of another world that most of us would be thankful that we are not a part of, but the reality is sometimes too close for comfort. A four star read.

heinäkuu 9, 2021, 6:23 pm

La Maison des Anges - Pascal Bruckner
Pascal Bruckner has been identified with a new group of philosophers who broke away from Marxist thinking in the early 1970's. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's writing, particularly The Gulag Archipelago had an effect on what they described as the worship of the master thinkers of the left. They came to believe that these comprehensive systems of thought led to oppression, be it of the left or the right. It is no surprise then that Bruckner's novel published in 2013 is to some extent a critique of western society grounded in the streets of Paris France.

Antonin Dampierre comes from a bourgeois family and two events in his early young life have left scars that cannot be healed. The first and most important of these was as a young man of twenty travelling across an alpine pass alone in his car in mid winter. The car breaks down and he must find shelter from the cold. He finds an inn; closed for the winter, but manages to persuade the ancient female proprietor to let him stay. He is shown a room upstairs and soon falls asleep. He is awakened by the old woman coming into his room; she gets into his bed and lays on top of him, he is pinned down and does not know what to do. He falls asleep again only to find that the old woman has died and he crawls out from underneath and makes his escape. The second incident occurs when he is working as an estate agent in Paris. He is awaiting the arrival of some very rich clients outside a luxurious apartment that he hopes to sell. Just as their chauffeur driven car pulls up at the kerb side, two very drunk homeless men come barrelling down the road. One of them stops outside of the street entrance to the apartment and vomits over the doorstep. His clients agree to look at the apartment but they no longer have an interest and soon leave. As a furious Antonin leaves the apartment the tramp is lying propped up in the doorway and he grabs Antonin's leg. Antonin kicks him and keeps on kicking him until he is dead. He hastily flees the scene waiting then for a call from the police. Nothing happens; he has got away with it. Two things are thus revealed about Antonin: he has a hatred of old or destitute people and has a violent temper. He hatches plans to rid Paris of the homeless destitute people littering the streets and finds himself volunteering to work in a refuge for the homeless, so that he can carry out his murderous schemes.

Antonin's close association with the destitute brings forth all sorts of emotions, on the one hand he bitterly despises them, but on the other hand he comes to grudgingly admire their ability to look after themselves. Pascal Bruckner's novel takes the readers down amongst the homeless and their bitter struggle to survive. We see them through Antonin's eyes and so the worst aspects of their existence are brought to life. It is no surprise that Antonin finds himself sinking down among them and for him it becomes a question of sinking to the bottom, before he can get some sort of redemption.
The novel literally takes the reader through the streets of Paris and the catacombs and sewers that run beneath it: to another world barely glimpsed by most people. Bruckner is careful not to make this seem a fantasy world and real personalities like Bono of the group U2 and Christopher Hitchings: the American critic, find themselves included in the general debate about homeless people. Another theme straddling this novel is the tribal nature of the destitute, the groupings into nationalities that were a feature of the last french novel I read, which was Olivier Noreks's Entre Deux Mondes.

The central story about the fate of Antonin Dampier is a good one and holds the book together. I found the descent into the world of the misery on the streets of Paris pretty good for my soul, but Bruckner's point that some can survive, albeit usually at the expense of others is a fairly hard dose of reality. Of course the question of homeless people in the big cities and what if anything can be done, is outside the scope of this novel, but Bruckner sets the background for such a debate. A four star read.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 17, 2021, 12:23 pm

Nuit d'ivresse en Castille - Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen
This one is from the series: Le sang de la vigne (the blood of the wine).There have been 25 books published and this was number 18. It would appear that they are part detective story, part food and drink and part patrimoine de france. A winning combination for me although this story takes place in the Rioja wine district of Spain.

Benjamin Cooker born half English and half French is every inch a fastidious frenchman: a wine maker and expert adviser from the Bordeaux region. He and his assistant Virgilie have travelled down to Las Espadas Cruzadas to advise the owner on french wine stock that could be successfully grown in the Rioja region of Spain. Also present on the estate is Christophe Coussou another wine expert who specialises in Marketing. Poor Christophe loses his head in the electric gates and a murder enquiry gets under way. Benjamin was suspicious of the role of Christophe and undertakes his own enquiry with Virgilie doing the legwork. All is resolved at the end of the day with Benjamin able to provide some useful information to the police.

The novel is more detective story than anything else, but like Donna Leon's books on Venice the food and drink is described in loving detail. I have spent a little time in the Rioja region of Spain and this book does not quite capture anything like the essence of the area, perhaps the other books in the series which concentrate on wine regions of France are better in this respect. I did enjoy the more technical details of wine making that are sprinkled throughout the book and the characters love of food and wine. There are a few historical details to give the book a little substance, but if the characters are anything like me, then when I visit a chateau I am more concerned with getting to the taste the wine. I would get itchy feet if someone like Benjamin launched into a long story when I hadn't got to the wine room. There is a time and place for everything.

There is a time and place for this book, preferably when a bottle of wine is to hand. Light entertainment it might be, but I was hooked and so 3.5 stars. I will try some of the others in the series.

heinäkuu 19, 2021, 5:30 pm

L'homme promenade - Jean Broustra
Jean Broustra is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who stopped working his medical practice in 2007 and his book L'homme promenade was published the year before. It may well have come from one of his patients dossiers (although I am sure it did not) because it deals with a man who suffers a breakdown and is both paranoid and suffering from depression. The book takes the form of diary entries, letters and doctors notes, and charts the story of Maxime Duroc who suffers a mental breakdown and is treated in hospital by Doctor B Antarev a member of the society de Psychopathologie.

We meet Maxime in hospital and discover that after a period of delirium he has lost his memory of some key events, leading up to his hospitalisation. He has kept diaries and we learn about him from his journal entries, but there is a gap of a number of days and his doctor suggests that he concentrate on trying to complete his diary for those days. The doctors idea is that reading and thinking about the entries before those missing days could help the process. The doctor even suggests that he could help by transcribing some of the entries, a method that pushes the boundaries between patient and doctor, also between story teller and ghost writer. Maxime definitely has issues. He lost his left arm in a road traffic accident and now works as a parking meter attendant. He has an idea of being a writer and has a lifelong grudge against his parents who stopped him from going to college. He has become more reclusive, still living at home he has recently moved into the loft for more privacy. He cannot stand the sight of his mother, his father died some years earlier and Maxime was late for the funeral.

For most of the book we see the world through Maxime's eyes through his journal entries, but perhaps tidied up by doctor Antarev. Once his character is firmly established his story lurches into those crucial four days before his breakdown and it is a world of delirium, he appears to be stalked by a woman in black stockings, his new girlfriend Brigitte wants to go to Venice and after a night of love making, he finds himself driving towards the coast perhaps on his way to Venice. The novel then takes up a story of mysterious meetings, attacks on the beach: Maximes delirium causes him to mix reality with nightmares from his own paranoia and sometimes he repeats himself, changing the story.

Following the journal entries which takes up the majority of this short novel, there are notes on the case from Doctor Antarev and also a letter to his professional society where he raises questions on his own part in the story. He asks himself if his interventions were justified. Seeing the story from different sides, raises issues that might trouble professionals and patients involved in psychiatry, but the story pretty well stands on its own anyway. The novel consisting of shortish diary entries and changes pace for the period of Maxime's delirium, which I enjoyed. An intelligent thoughtful book which works on different levels. A four star read.

heinäkuu 31, 2021, 6:10 am

Jean Carrière - Un Jardin pour L'Éternel
Jean Carrière was a french author who won the Prix Goncourt back in 1972 after the publication of his novel L'Épervier de Maheux which was translated into 14 languages, but apparently not English. He had published more than 20 books many of them novels and Un Jardin pour L'Éternel appeared in 1999 towards the end of his life. After the fame that goes with winning France's greatest literary prize and a family tragedy, he suffered from depression and took himself out of Paris to spend the later part of his life in a small village in the hilly region of Cévennes. He was a friend and secretary of Jean Giono and it is unsurprising that the real character in his novels is the french countryside.

The novel's setting is in the commune of Saint-Laurent in the Cévennes during the first world war. Pierre-Ézechiel has just returned from the horrors of the trench warfare missing the lower part of one of his legs. He has survived an operation in a field hospital, and has discharged himself as soon as possible to return home, where he intends to make himself a wooden stump. His faith in God has been shaken by the war and he is anxious to find his peace and get back to his roots in the countryside. His wife and daughter had died before the war and his son looks after the farm; he cannot settle to anything and his friend the mayor of the commune suggests that he use a strip of land on the other side of a hill, now almost forgotten. When Pierre-Ézechiel sees the valley he is astounded by the beauty and discovers a micro-climate and also some stone walled paths now overgrown. His faith in God restored he sets about clearing the site and finds that his energy and strength have returned. He will dedicate his work to the Éternel his word for God. Pierre-Ezechiel begins to see the Éternal in everything he does and together with the discovery that the valley was the scene of a massacre of protestants during the religious wars fires him to accomplish work that astounds the few people who witness it. He becomes obsessed with the valley looking for more projects and distances himself from his family, just finding time to make the two hours journey on foot to get back for his sons wedding. As the years pass he becomes ascetic, withdrawing from the life of the commune and builds himself a shack in his valley, surviving the harsh winters that keep him snowbound. However it is impossible for him to live his life without interference from others and his physical and mental powers begin to fail.

Jean Carrière is at his best when describing the harsh beauty of the landscape and also his portrait a man whose obsession with carving out his own path through life, with an unshakeable faith in what he is doing. The picture that emerges of the rural commune and the changing of the seasons is keenly sensitive. In my opinion he also manages to enlist the readers sympathies for a man whose severe lifestyle is of his own making. The success of this novel depends on the author being able to summon the power in his language to plunge his readers into the rurality of the life and times of an ascetic, escaping from the horrors of war and to a large extent he does this. It is a book that took this reader to another place and one that I could understand. A four star read.

elokuu 5, 2021, 7:46 am

C'est pour ton bien, Delperdange - Patrick Delperdange
C'est pour ton bien can be translated as 'for your own good' and when Pierre smacks his wife Camille in the mouth with a clenched fist at the start of this novel, the irony of the title is not lost. They have been married for a couple of years and Camille has just fallen pregnant and it is the first time that Pierre has been violent. When it happens again she packs her bag and walks out, but Pierre is able to force her to return home when he cuts off her money supply. This year in France there have been a number of headline cases in the news of extreme violence against women in the conjugal home. It has reached the proportions of a national scandal, but like other national scandals it is soon subsumed by other news items; for example France's Olympic team are winning medals in Japan. Delperdange is not concerned with Pierre's violence, after all he is going through a difficult period at work and so who can blame him for hitting his wife.

The story involves a jewellery robbery that went wrong; the owner of the store; Camille's father was shot. Camille then a young adolescent was the primary witness and her evidence sent the perpetrator to jail for 20 years. Her brother who is in dispute with her, over the family inheritance and a down and out man, who believes he is responsible for the botched robbery have stirred Pierre's interest in a possible scheme to make some money. Camille is the victim of all this male aggression, which comes as no surprise. The plot works itself out in a reasonable fashion and Camille manages to escape from her husband and her brother, but maybe only temporarily.

Delperdange is a Belgian author who specialises in crime fiction, he has also written for the young adult, and graphic novel market. I was not expecting anything wonderful when I took this off the library shelf and I wasn't disappointed. This is nothing more than an average crime fiction novel and so 2 stars.

elokuu 8, 2021, 7:30 am

Marcia Burnier - Les Orageuses, Burnier

"Meuf, meuf, MEUF respire................"

This short but dense novel tells the story of a small number of young Parisian women who have been raped and who band together as an ad-hoc support group, who then take matters into their own hands. Although they take action against the men who have violated them, this is in no way a vigilante/revenge comic book of violent reprisals. It is a novel that steers well clear of any voyeurism and concentrates on the hurt, fear and powerlessness of women who have no resort to official justice.

The novel focuses mainly on two women in a group of severn: Mia is the organiser, she has the dossiers of the women who have been violated, she has attempted to go through official channels, but the difficulty of finding any path through the legal system has turned her towards a support group. She has not recovered from her own trauma and her journey from Grenoble to Paris is described as a voyage of fear, fear of eye contact, fear of her feelings of shame, fear of being approached, with the Paris metro being the worst part of the journey. It is an effort almost a trial to endure the daily life of going about ones business, which so many people take for granted. She meets with and leads her band of women, who have rucksacks filled with cans of spray paint on a visit to one of the men who have violated one of their number. It is a carefully thought out expedition and when the man opens the door of his apartment the girls put a foot in the door and burst past him. They restrain him and then set about spray painting his apartment and possessions, making sure he knows why they are there. They commit no violence against him and are soon back outside in the street making their escape. As an act of reprisal it briefly curtails the rage that all the women feel and the euphoria of fighting back satisfies the individuals, some more than others.

Lucie from her behaviour is perhaps the most damaged of the group. Like all of them her violation preys on her mind and in her case she can hardly function, she is suicidal and it is only when Mia reaches out to her and takes her for a weekend to the seaside that she finds some stability. This finding ones place after the trauma of rape is one of the main themes of the novel. It effects all the women in the group, they are not the same people as they were before the event, they have lost their compass and they are angry. It is an anger against the perpetrators, but also an anger against the system that allows them no justice.

The ad-hoc nature of the group is reflected in the writing of the author. The short chapters bring in some details or some references to the lives of the women, they also act as flies on the wall of the meeting places, where issues are discussed: political, social and personal. It is a loose grouping held together by the expeditions undertaken, although only a couple of these are described. This is the first novel by the author and sits in the publishing house directed by Isabelle Cambourakis, which she has named Sorcières. Burnier's book published last year is contemporary in style and content and the 33 year old author has raised issues that may point to some support for the estimated 94,000 women in France in a similar position while making uncomfortable reading for some men who might get to the book. I was glad I picked this one off the library shelf and so five stars.

elokuu 24, 2021, 4:46 pm

Je m'en vais (I'm gone) - Jean Echenoz.
Jean Echenoz post modernist novel published in 1999 won the prestigious prix Goncourt and so I expected to read something a little different at least. The story felt like a mixture of an adventure, mystery, mid life crisis ( man's mid life crisis of course) a crime story with some black humour thrown in and so everything but the kitchen sink ( I have checked and there was no kitchen sink mentioned). What was different was the style in which it was written.

It is the story of Felix Ferrer an art dealer and sometime artist with a gallery and studio in Paris. He walks out on his wife and family and moves into the studio part of his gallery. He has an eye for the ladies and is soon involved with his mistress and a neighbour, but he needs something more. His assistant in the gallery feeds him some information about a ship carrying works of art lost in the ice pack of the North Pole. Ferrer is interested and when he discovers the location he sets off to find the ship. Obviously no experience of travelling in the artic is required and Ferrer's trip is a success, he even manages to sleep with the female nurse on the boat that takes him to the Arctic circle and an eskimo woman inside the artic circle. When he gets back to Paris his treasure is stolen and the creditors are moving in on his gallery. The story moves along at a fair pace and there are a couple of twists in the storyline that hold the interest.

Jean Echenoz tells his story in an omni-present style. It is as though he is telling his story orally. There is no room for conversations between the characters, the charm of the book is in the sheer delight of story telling. This oral style means that the author can go off on a tangent just as he remembers some detail or other, or he can question his characters motives, or he can wonder what the results of any actions might be. It is not a matter of intruding into the story: a technique used a century and a half ago by William Thackeray in Vanity fair, but of making the authors views seem part of the story. It can be confusing to read, because it is not always clear immediately who would have said or thought the thing that is expressed, but Echenoz pulls it off most of the time. He writes as though he is seeing things through the eyes of his characters and so we get details of life aboard an ice breaking boat or the dilapidation of the border post between France and Spain. Of course as in many French novels that I have read recently, it helps to have a street plan of Paris.

This is an entertaining novel that probably tries to be too many things at once, but I enjoyed the ride and there was always something of interest. I rate it as 3.5 stars.

elokuu 29, 2021, 4:16 pm

Marguerite Duras - Des Journées Entières dans les arbres
This is a collection of short stories published in 1954 fairly early in the long writing career of Marguerite Duras. The title story of nearly one hundred pages could be classed as a novella. In each of these works Duras is stretching herself to create something a little different and she succeeds in creating an atmosphere, although the shortest story Boa is the leat successful because while the longer stories develop and build the stories with their different styles build, Boa is over all too quickly.

Des Journées dans les Arbres tells of an elderly woman journeying to visit her son. She arrives by aeroplane and is met by her son and his partner at the airport. The son hardly recognises his mother and this is because she has aged tremendously in the long time that they have not seen each other. The story is written as a conversation mainly between the three protagonists, and it quickly becomes apparent that the relationship is a difficult one. Jacques has been the black sheep of the family the only son who has not made money and been successful, he feels resentful and his relationship with a prostitute Marcelle is on thin ice. They live in a small three roomed apartment and the mother has to cope with fairly squalid conditions while trying to recover her health after the flight. The conversation is not easy and the visit to a nightclub where Jacques and Marcelle work as dancers/hosts becomes an ordeal for all three of them. The story was adapted and made into a film which Duras directed and it also enjoyed a run as a stage play.

Madame Dodin takes us back to between the wars and perhaps a popular subject of some writing in France; a Parisian concièrge. Madame Dodin is in her sixties and is indulging in a war with the tenants of the apartment block over the collection of refuse. It is her job to wheel out the communal bins every day, but she complains bitterly because the tenants do not throw away their rubbish everyday, saving it up so that the bins become very heavy. Madame Dodin makes sure she wakes them all up when she drags out the bins in the early morning. She has a confident in the concierge next door but also with the roadsweeper Gaston, who stops by every day on his rounds. The story turns towards Gaston who at first takes pride in his job, but becomes increasingly disenchanted. Madam Dodin an equally unhappy person confides in him and it becomes evident that there is something between them. This story develops from a fairly lengthy description of Madame Dodin's situation and gets right under the skin of the protagonists, building in confidence as it moves along.

The final story: Les Chantiers is the most experimental. A young man on holiday in a hotel notices a girl leaving to go into some woods. He misses dinner to meet her when she returns to stare at a building construction site across from the hotel. They speak briefly and for the remainder of the holiday the young man watches the young woman. Confident that she will eventually come to him. The story is told from the young man's perspective and his inner belief that the young woman will eventually notice him.

The stories have a climax to them of sorts, but the resolutions if there are any are open. There is an undeniable power, almost mystic in a couple of them; sexual attraction is an underlying theme of the final two and they are worth reading. Difficult to grasp at times as Duras searches for inner motivation, but the stories unfold and stay in the memory 4 stars.

elokuu 31, 2021, 5:00 pm

À l'abri du sirocco - Domenico Campana
This short novel was translated from the Italian into French by Claude Bonnafont and was to hand at my local library. I could not help thinking back to stories by Boccaccio as I read through this tale of love and lust. It is set in Sicily during the second world war when Il Duce was still ridding high as leader of the Fascists, but this is not a political novel. It is a love story with a bit of intrigue and nicely put together.

Rosalia and her young husband who live in the poorer district of Palermo receive a letter from an advocate. When they get around to open it they discover that they have been left a Palace in the will of a member of the aristocracy. There are few strings attached and the palace comes complete with staff, neither Rosalia or Vicenzo have any knowledge of their benefactor Prince d'Acquafurata. At first they think it is a joke, but the advocate persuades them that it is for real and they move in. The haughty Salvatore is the head of staff and he immediately makes Rosalia uncomfortable. He discourages her friends and family from visiting and makes Vicenzo so jealous he tries to strangle him. The police interview Vicenzo, but do not take the enquiry much further especially as Vicenzo has joined the army and has been posted to Africa. Rosalia is left alone with the elderly Salvatore in the large palace, and he has designs on her....................

The novel ends with the allied assault on Sicily, but there are still two short chapters of explanation following the discovery of a journal after a suicide. While the explanation ties up the loose ends, it would have been better incorporated into the action. The narrative could have been developed further, but it is what it is and I enjoyed the story with its underlying theme of sexual desire. 3 stars.

syyskuu 7, 2021, 1:44 pm

Hervé Le Corre - Derniers Retranchements.
Searching for a book by a french crime writer in my local library, certainly restricts the choice, as most of the crime/thriller novels seem to be translations of American or English authors. The library is not very big, but there are four or five shelves given over to "policiers". I was pleased however to find something by Hervé le Corre who is a genuine french crime writer with a number of books in the genre published under his name. He was born in Bordeaux in South West France and Derniers Retranchements is a collection of ten short stories which all have a provincial town feel about them. You do not need a street plan of Paris to be able to follow the action.

I do not know if Le Corre's usual style is to write in the first person, but he uses this point of view for the majority of these stories, which vary in length from a few pages to a couple which are of novella length. He takes the point of view of the criminal and many of the protagonists are ordinary people who are pushed or fall into criminal activity due to circumstances. There are no professional criminals and the police if they appear at all take secondary roles. Typically the protagonists are people forced out of work, or those in reduced circumstances who must do menial tasks. Le Corre has sympathy for these unfortunate souls who not only have to deal with difficulties in making ends meet, but also have to deal with family and/or partnership issues as well.

In "Se taire" a parent discovers that his adolescent son has been involved in a horrendous crime which involved the the torture of an elderly woman. He attempts to confront the older men involved, to try and understand how his son got involved, but only succeeds in alerting the police which leads to problems in his own family. In L'arrestation qui vient a factory worker becomes involved in a plan to occupy his place of work which leads to locking in the managers, who are planning redundancies. A chance word alerts him to the fact that one of these managers may have had an affair with his wife. He leaves the factory to discover the truth and violence inevitably follows. "Dernier jour" is quite different from the other stories in that it takes place in the countryside where two elderly people are struggling to survive after some unnamed catastrophe has stricken the world. Two young people arrive at their house only too pleased to commit the barbarous acts that are needed to survive. The other stories are shorter, but again are concerned with the circumstances of people pushed to commit acts that seem the only way to resolve impossible situations.

I enjoyed these stories that mostly have the qualities of a real 'slice of life' feel to them, they are almost like extended reports of criminal activities that you might read in the local paper. Le Corre manages to humanise the situation without losing the gritty feel of his stories. I will be interested to read one of his full length novels and so four stars.

syyskuu 26, 2021, 7:01 pm

Emmanuel Carrière - Un roman russe.
I have never read a book quite like Carrière's Un roman russe, the book's title leads the reader into thinking it is a novel when in fact it is an autobiography of a three year period in the life of the author. Sometimes written in the first person sometimes in the second person, with extracts from other works that Carriere had published; a letter to his mother rounds off the enterprise which also includes attempts to learn the Russian language and a lullaby to someone else's baby. The book can certainly play with the readers head and all the time this reader was wondering about how reliable a witness, is Carrière: especially when talking about the size of his cock. A well renowned author writing about himself may try and disguise the egoist in the process: Carrière cannot be accused of hiding his light under a bushel, as the most important person in Carrière's world is Carriere himself. This may be difficult to avoid if much of what you are writing about is an analysis of your feelings, however some readers may find this so annoying, that they cannot engage with the book, I found my patience stretched at some points, but in the end I enjoyed the journey.

There are a number of things going on in Carriere's life (if there were not the book would be a little boring). He is in a new and erotic relationship with the girl of his dreams, he is trying to come to terms with the unspoken shame in the family of his maternal grandfather, who was probably shot for collaboration with the Germans in 1944: his mother a successful politician seems to avoid any discussion on the subject. He has become interested in an Hungarian patriot who was captured by the Russians (again in 1944) and spent over 50 years in captivity before being repatriated. He travels to the village of Koltelnitch to find out more with a small team and involves himself in the life of the village, with a view of writing a book or making a film; he makes three or four trips. He has also been commissioned by the newspaper Le Monde to write a novella and he chooses to write an erotic piece based on his own experiences with his girlfriend. This unsurprisingly does not bode well with Sophie his new partner who says to him.

"It is the fault in you because you have never been capable of seeing anything, but your own point of view"

Carrière does not flinch from putting across his own point of view, which more often than not is based on his own selfish needs. He does not ask for the reader's sympathy, as he explains the way he feels during his tempestuous relationship with his partner and his difficult relationship with his family.

The sections of the book are interweaved skilfully to form a coherent narrative. I particularly liked the descriptions of life in the poor Russian village, the fear of the people living under a regime where people can disappear, and the struggles of the author's team in making headway with their investigation. The characters that emerge are drawn from real life and there is another story to be told that makes the journey worthwhile. The difficulties and emotional drain suffered by Carriére in his relationship with Sophie, which seems to be based on sexual attraction and not much else is also well drawn. The extract from his erotic novel, which caused some criticism from the newspaper's own critics, would have been better left out of this book in my opinion and did not encourage me to seek it out.

It may be difficult to look beyond the ego-trip that is undoubtedly part of this book. Carriére is not self effacing and Sophie's criticism of him is strikingly apt. The raw information and evidence of his thoughts and actions are there for all to see and the fragility of his wants and needs can be gleaned from his prose, which never lets him down. He tells it all like he thinks it is and as readers we can piece together a fascinating exercise in autobiographical writing. He does not ask us to like him, but I get the impression this book may have served some sort of purpose for the author and it dragged me along with it - 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 3, 2021, 5:33 pm

Sandrine Collette - Et Toujours les Forêts
Dystopia, Post-apocalyptic call it what you will, but novels of this kind must portray a world that the reader can understand, or even better to feel, to be successful. Although I struggled to believe in the world before the cataclysmic event, that changed everything in Sandrine Collets book, I had no problem with the world that she created afterwards. In addition her focus on a particular isolated families' situation had an intensity rarely found in novels of this type.

We first meet Corentin hanging from his mothers stomach and when he is finally born he is an unwanted child. He is dumped onto his grandmother who lives in a small hamlet surrounded by forests. She raises him in the ways of the forests and when he is old enough he moves on to a large town where he goes to college. During the time of his upbringing the world is suffering from climate change; getting hotter. He becomes a member of a loose society of students who make a home for themselves underground to avoid the heated climate. This saves them from the fire that destroys the planet and which lasts for days. Only those students who wait patiently for the fire above them to burn itself out survive and when they finally emerge they separate immediately to search for their families. Corentin goes back to the forests to find his grandmother and her latest charge - the young woman Mathilde. They had been working in their cave under the house and had survived. Everything on the surface of the planet had been burnt in the inferno, including all the people. The dust from the ashes had obscured the sun and the world had plunged into a near permanent winter. Nothing would grow.

Corentin moves in with the two women and explores the local village in search of food and they start to wait out the catastrophe. However two years on and nothing has changed, they live in a grey/blackened world only alleviated by the snowfall. Mathilde has no love or feelings for Corentin, but they drift together with the need to create something: a family, Mathilde gets pregnant and then suffers horribly in bringing twins into the world. Grandmother Augustine dies after this horrendous confinement, but Mathilde recovers and the two young people are left to make their way in the new world.

Sandrine Collett tells her story in splashes of short prose. It is all about survival in an inhospitable world. Corentine and Mathilde's family get bigger, until Mathilde cries enough, there will be no more children. Her descriptions of the burnt forest and the humans anxious search for signs of new life, new growth; form the backbone to this novel. Collet's concentration on the nucleus of the family and its loveless central relationship provides an atmosphere of isolation and seclusion. The will to survive struggles to break through the enforced claustrophobia. A cold, depressing read, it may be, but with an undeniable atmosphere all of its own. I was pleased to look up from my reading to see the greenery outside my window. It felt good to keep ensuring myself that the planet had not burned. The novel won the 2020 Grand Prix RTL-Lire in France and I was convinced and so 4.5 stars.

lokakuu 11, 2021, 5:25 pm

Daniel Pennac - Au Bonheur des Ogres
Daniel Pennac is a french author who earned the respect of the critics with his 2007 publication Chagrin d'ecole (sorrows of school), which is an autobiographical account of the early school days of the author. We have been studying his book in our french class and so when we next visited the library I found one of his novels; Le Cas Malaussène. However when I got it home and read the blurb on the back cover, I discovered it was a revisitation of an earlier novel: Au bonheur des ogres. I thought it a good idea to read the earlier novel first and so I downloaded it on my kindle.

The earlier novel features the family Malaussène and the main protagonist is Benjamin, who is the head of the family in the absence of his mother, who is away on an extended holiday and who will come back pregnant as usual. There are six children and all have different fathers. Benjamin works in a Parisian departmental store as a "Bouc Emissaire and anyone who has tried to return faulty goods to a big Paris department store may have some indication of what this entails: quality control, but with a difference. When a customer returns faulty goods to the reclaims office, Benjamin is summoned to the office and the manager says to the customer that the faulty goods are entirely the result of Benjamin's shoddy work. The manager then launches into into a tirade against Benjamin threatening him with the sack and reducing him to tears. It is at this point that the customers generally withdraw their complaint. When bombs start going off in the store then Benjamin is soon targeted as the scapegoat and is interviewed by the police. The novel then turns into a sort of detective story, with Benjamin's family, helping and hindering him to clear his name. It has many funny moments with Benjamin himself proving to be a good teller of stories.

Pennac is a good enough writer to include situations that show the downside of Paris society and the workings of the department store. References to Emile Zola's novel; Au Bonheur des Dames are not accidental. The humour is fairly black and the book certainly has a darker side. The situations are well worked through and Pennac avoids making the obvious wisecracks. The french is colloquial and there are instances of the author developing his own verlan, but this did not stop me being amused. (there is an English translation) 3.5 stars.

lokakuu 13, 2021, 2:50 pm

bravo Bas ! excellente critique !

lokakuu 18, 2021, 1:23 pm

Oh..., Philippe Djian
Oh, but not in a good way. Djian's book reads like something that begs to be made into a film. It has all the crash, bang wallop of a film script, with more side stories than enough. It builds towards a set piece climax which afterwards gives a brief time for reflection, as all the jigsaw pieces that have been thrown in the air come down in some sort of order. It is almost a relief when the action finally stops and the credits roll up and ......... ah I was forgetting for a moment that it is not a film. There is no doubt that Djian tells a good story and if it heads towards more excitement than is really necessary then the skilled prose and dialogue makes it acceptable. I can understand why his book is well thought of, so well thought of that it won the author le Prix Interallié of 2012.

So why do I think it is Oh..., but not in a good way? apart from being populist nonsense - no I didn't really mean to say that. It is Djian's presumption of being able to tell the story in the first person from the point of view of Michéle; his female protagonist, who in the story suffers a number of violations. She is a wealthy, attractive, and successful business woman, who as a talent spotter in a publishing company must tell the many male, hopeful authors (including her ex-husband) that they are just not good enough. A prime target one might think for male rape fantasies, and in my opinion that is just what this books boils down to: Michéle (as told by Djian) although troubled by the violations quite enjoys it: the sexual frisson has her coming back for more. For all I know many women might have rape fantasies that are at various depths in their psyche, but here we have a character who gives the writer the excuse to titillate his readers with the idea that women like Michéle can enjoy being violated.

Michéle leads a complicated life. She is a partner in a publishing firm, she has been estranged from her husband for a couple of years and is having an affair with her female business partner's husband. She wants to end it, but he doesn't. Her son Victor who is in debt has recently moved in with a pregnant woman. Victor is not the father, but seems to be involved in raising money for the real father who is in prison for drug running in Thailand. He is tapping his mother and father for more money, but his father (MIchéles ex) has just hooked up with a pretty younger girl and has no money to spare. Michéle's mother Irene has recently taken in a much younger man, her husband is serving a life sentence in prison for a mass murder of young children. The notoriety had plagued her early life with her daughter, but now she is pressing Michéle to visit her father in prison for the first time. Michéle is attracted to a new neighbour, a younger successful banker (Patrick) living across the road; he is of course married, but his wife is going away on a religious retreat. Patrick tells Michéle to watch out for a predatory man lurking in their smart neighbourhood. The publishing company has financial worries of its own after the 2008 crash and Michéle must work hard to keep clients, mainly TV film makers interested in her cache of authors. Michéle in her efforts to keep all her balls in the air invites all these characters over with their problems, to her place for a pre Christmas lunch: the only characters not able to come are the drug runner and the mass murderer who are in prison. What can possibly go wrong?

The Prix Interallie is announced each year in November following the publishing houses big release of new titles that coincide with students going back to school after the summer holidays. The panel is made up of authors and journalists who only consider french authors. This was not a great choice, even if the story telling is of a very high standard 3 stars.

lokakuu 18, 2021, 2:26 pm

Mon Dieu, the things you read nowadays.

lokakuu 24, 2021, 4:23 pm

Emmanuel Carrère - La Classe de neige
Emmanuel Carrères short novel was published in 1995 and made into a film Class Trip (English title) in 1998. It is an atmospheric mystery story of a pre-teen schoolboy's disastrous school trip for a week of ski-ing lessons. Nicholas the small and overprotected boy knows he will not fit in and dreads the week ahead. The mystery story tinged with horror works well enough, but it is the authors pertinent depiction of a nervous boy that is the real star of this book.

Nicholas is a compulsive collector of free gifts from petrol stations when we meet him, probably immature for his age and frightened that his occasional bed-wetting will cause him acute embarrassment when he has to undergo his school trip. He compensates for his immaturity with a vivid sense of imagination, he is learning how the adult world works and knows enough to manipulate issues to his own advantage, but comes horribly unstuck when he misjudges events in the ski resort. His sensitive nature elicits care from some adults around him, but opens him up to ridicule from his peer group.

His school trip gets off to a bad start when his father insists on making a 400km round trip to save him travelling on the school bus and then driving off without unloading his suitcase. He immediately becomes the odd boy out and it is only when Hodkann the largest boy in the group and something of a loner himself, offers to lend him nightclothes that Nicholas is saved further embarrassment. Nicholas has his first wet dream that night and wakes up thinking he has wet the bed. In his shame and anxiety he wanders outside in the snow where he would have frozen to death if he had not been able to get inside the parked car of Patrick, one of the teachers. Nicholas immediately develops a fever and is separated from the rest of the group with a camp bed made up in the head teachers office. Nicholas loves the attention from the adults and when he overhears that his diagnosis might be somnambulism he acts up his symptoms. From this point on Nicholas can do what he does best and that is to invent a slightly imaginary world with himself at the centre. A horrible murder of a young boy in the ski resort fires his fantasies and his exaggeration of the events leads him to invent stories that involves Hodkann.

The closeted warmth of Nicholas' world in the cafe, where he can watch the other boys sk-ing and the office contrasts with the first snows that blanket the world outside. Nicholas' vivid imagination fires the mystery and the reader searches for clues as to what has happened. Much of what is happening comes from Nicholas' point of view, where adult conversations, huddled shapes merge with Nicholas' fears and obsessions. One short chapter three quarters of the way through the book has Nicolas meeting up with Hodkann by accident in Paris some twenty years later. Nicolas fears for his life. This sharpens the mystery as to what is happening in the ski-resort.

This is a well written story of a sensitive boy's first real experience in an adult world. Nicolas will learn much of what has happened, but the reader must work a little, to piece it together. I enjoyed the hot-house atmosphere created, the insight into the thoughts and actions of young Nicholas and the mystery story and so 4 stars.

lokakuu 31, 2021, 5:46 am

Françoise Chandernagor - Couleur du temps
Françoise Chandernagor is a member of the Académie Goncourt (it says so on the cover of her novel) a French literary organisation based in Paris. It was originally set up in 1900 as a challenge to the more conservative Académie Française. It is responsible for the annual award of the prix Goncourt. It would seem to be an elite group of French language writers and according to Wiki:

The ten members of the academy are usually called les Dix (the Ten). They meet the first Tuesday of each month, except in summer. Since 1914, they have convened in an oval room, the salon Goncourt, on the second floor of the Restaurant Drouant,2 place Gaillon, in the heart of Paris. The cutlery which they use while dining there constitutes the main physical continuity of the academy. Each new member receives the fork and knife of the member whom he (or she) is replacing, and the member's name is engraved on the knife and the fork.

In her short novel: Couleur du Temps, Chandernagor has chosen to depict the world of a French painter/artist in the 18th century. She has imagined an artist and set him down in the real milieu of the time. Baptiste V..... specialises in portraiture which goes against the subject matter of the top artists of the time. In accordance with the hierarchy of subject matter as laid down by the Royal Academy; history painting was at the top of the list with portraiture some way below. Baptiste V.... however becomes the leading artist in his genre and is appointed artist to King Louis 15th. He is a man who knows his own worth; from humble beginnings he has worked hard in artists studios to achieve the right to start his own company of artists. We meet him first of all at the end of his life when he has again passed out of fashion, but has one painting on show at the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy. It is a portrait of his own family group, a painting that he has worked on ever since his marriage adding his children to the picture as they came along. Chandernagor uses the picture to describe the life of the artist; a life full of family tragedies.

The clever use of the family portrait is the signpost that leads the reader through the novel. We are told of Babtiste V...s early struggles, his marriage to a younger woman who brings with her a dowry that allows him to strike out on his own and set up his studio. He is a man dedicated to his work a supreme technician who knows how to please the people who commission his work. He rails against the history painters whose search for the sublime is something beyond Baptiste's comprehension. The strength of the novel is the depiction of an artists studio in 18th century Paris. The huge studio room where the artist's workforce share their space with Baptiste's family. His wife Sophie who pays the clavecin in one part of the room, the three easels set up in another part, the mentally challenged daughter sitting in one corner facing the wall and his other children and pets also sharing the space. Baptiste wants his son to follow in his footsteps, but Jean-Nicholas has not the talent and struggles with his tuition. The tragedy is that Baptiste outlives his family and regrets the fact that his work for the king took him away from the family group, he also becomes bitter when his own paintings lose their popularity with his patrons, he is not reduced to poverty, but is left a fairly lonely figure.

Chandernagor tells a good story with a central motif and creates the atmosphere of the life and times of a successful artists. Some readers might see this as too much of an intellectual exercise; for example there are the tragedies in Baptiste's life, but they happen with little drama. It is in the end a biography of an imaginary character, cleverly done, but rather strait-laced. I enjoyed the reading experience and so 3.5 stars.

marraskuu 19, 2021, 4:21 pm

La tête de l'emploi - David Foenkinos
David Foenkinos is a French author who had a best selling novel La délicatesse published in 2009 and has since gone on to be successful with his screenwriting. He wrote the screenplay for le Mystère Henri Pick, which was an adaption from his novel published in 2016. La tête de l'emploi published in 2014 was not one of his biggest sellers and I picked it up languishing on the shelves of my local library.

It is told in the first person in autobiographical style and tells of Bernard's struggles, when his wife of twenty years asks him to leave just at the time of the banking crisis in 2008, Unfortunately Bernard is a banker selling dodgy credit issues and he loses his job a couple of weeks after he starts his sojourn in a hotel. Soon running out of liquid money he is forced to move back to his parents house and cannot shake himself out of a lassitude that descends on him. Just before the tumultuous events that have changed his life his only daughter and probably his only friend has moved to Brazil. He starts the book by reflecting on two big mistakes in his life. The first was keeping his birth name of Bernard a name associated with friendship and softness, but not a name associated with success or celebrity. The second was falling in love and marrying his psychoanalyst, a woman who knew all his secrets. This hangdog attitude of feeling sorry for himself is a feature of much of the book. It is wistful and a little sad, the story of perhaps of a number of people who suffered because of the economic crisis.

The novel is easy to read and there are many amusing moments, but the novel cannot really make up it's mind whether it should be a critique of social mores or a comedy. It plays one against the other and generally the comedy wins. Bernard is presented as a sympathetic character, knocked out of his stride by the vicissitudes of life and it all makes for an entertaining, but light read. Its a romcom. 3 stars.

marraskuu 23, 2021, 5:45 am

La Liste de Mes Envies - Gregoire Delacourt
What would you do if you won the lottery big style? Perhaps the euro lottery, where it is possible to win more money than you could possibly need This is the situation for Jocelyne. She is a woman approaching fifty who has a settled life in Arras; a fairly non-descript town (according to Delacourt) in Northern France. She is in love with her longstanding partner, she has two children, she is the owner of a haberdashery shop in the centre of town which is doing well. She has recently started a personal blog on all things to do with the materials she sells in her shop, which has attracted a large following and so she is leading a happy life with new interests. Her son who plays the lottery every week cajoles her into buying a ticket for the first time and she wins over 18 million euros. Fortunately she has ticked the non publicity box and so she secretly collects her cheque to give herself time to consider what to do. Who should she tell? what should she buy?. She has received advice and counselling from the managers of the lottery company.

Grégoire Delacourt who went to the same school as Emmanuel Macron was a publicist and manager of an advertising company, he published his first novel when he was fifty and has written five other novels since then. It is not surprising that an ex-publicist with his educational background has managed to become a best selling novelist. In La Liste de Mes Envies he has chosen a popular situation on which to base his second novel. The title refers to Jocelyne's secret list of the things that come to mind, that she can buy after she has collected her winnings. It is no surprise that she does not live 'happy ever after' after collecting her winnings. This short novel is in the realms of a beach read. Well enough written as you would expect considering Delacourt's education and background, but instantly forgettable. The principal character in the novel is Joceleyne and Delacourt brings no starling insights into the wants or needs of a working class women in a town like Arras. This little moral tale is so light that when the wind blows on the beach you would have to hold it down firmly to stop it blowing away. 3 stars.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 5, 2021, 4:27 pm

Alice Zeniter - Juste avant L'oubli
So I turn up at my local library with a short list of possible authors that I want to read, however I do not find anything suitable; this is not really surprising as its not a big library being in a town with only 1,500 people on the electoral role. What to do next, how to choose some books, with only a limited amount of time before the library closes for lunch: everything closes for lunch; its France and usually for a good two hours. My natural inclination is to start with the first letter of the alphabet and snaffle up anything worthwhile of authors whose surnames begin with A. Horror of horrors there were no books at all in that section. I could not bring myself to move onto the letter B and so in a light bulb moment, I decided to start at the other end of the alphabet. I had it in mind to choose only French authors and so after passing over a couple of Polish writers I came upon Alice Zeniter's: Juste avant L'oubli. The front cover had no illustrations or photographs just the name of the author and the title of the book and the word roman (novel) in small type just underneath. No time to read any blurb on the back cover and so opening the book was like entering a new room for the first time.

The preface contained a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's: The Lost World, but the story soon settled down to describe the feelings of Franck, whose relationship with his girlfriend Emilie was going through a bad patch. Franck seemed to be blaming his parents for giving him the name Franck. Apart from two contemporary famous Franks; Zappa and Sinatra (spelt differently and both American) he points out that the name in France is steeped in mediocrity, it is barely better than Kevin (perhaps the most unfashionable christian name in the country). The reader soon becomes aware that Franck's only real talent is to feel sorry for himself: he could not cope with the study necessary to become a doctor and so he became a nurse. Frank's girlfriend Emilie; the love of his life has been away from home for three months setting up a symposium on a remote Scottish Island for a best selling author who died on the Island in mysterious circumstances some ten years ago. Franck is about to travel over from Paris to meet up with Emilie who will be leading the final days of the symposium. If this doesn't sound like a good idea, then the difficult travel arrangements that Franck faces getting across to the Island, should have been the final warning bell. Things on the Island do not go well.

The Symposium is for Galwin Donnell the imaginary best selling author of crime novels. His star detective Adrian Dickson Carr apart from not having much talent for detecting is obsessed by sex. Alice Zeniter intersperses her story with quotes and longer passages from the novels of Galwin Donnell as the literary professors and their eager students pick over the bones of Donnell's oeuvre. All of this goes over the head of Franck who spends his time on the island getting drunk with the caretaker, who lives alone when the symposiums are not in operation. There are many threads to Zeniter's writing; there is the mystery of what happened to Donnell, his body was never found, there is the relationship between Frank and Emilie complicated by one of the professors in the symposium, there is the pastiche of the symposium in operation and there are thoughts on the successes and failures of the dead authors literary heritage. Zeniter manages to create plenty of atmosphere of the remote Scottish Island and even does well with the lacklustre character of Franck. The story is a bit predictable, but there are some moments of black humour and insights into a relationship that might have run its course. Zeniter juggles a few balls in the air at the same time, but the bits that I found less interesting were extracts from the literature of Galwin Donnell. I enjoyed the read and so 3.5 stars.

joulukuu 13, 2021, 7:16 pm

Albert Cohen - Le livre de ma mère
Albert Cohen was a Jewish Swiss novelist who wrote in french. His novels took the form of autobiography and this one deals with his relationship with his mother. The novel was published in its current form in 1954 and collects together texts written under the title of Chants de mort. His mother died in Marseilles in 1943. The book takes the form of an hommage to his mother, he speaks of his love and his admiration for the woman who seems to have shaped his life. She is ever present in his thoughts after her death and becomes a ghost like figure that haunts him while he is writing his book.

Cohen starts by introducing himself as a lonely figure who is punctilious in his preparations for writing his texts. He imagines his pen asking him what he is doing "who sleeps" it asks and the author replies it is his mother who sleeps in the cemetery and who is the subject of his pain. He describes his parents early life in France as Jews fleeing to Marseilles, struggling to fit in with a new culture and having to work hard to earn a living. He says his mother never really fitted in, devoting herself to looking after her husband and her children. He sketches in this early life with a series of flashbacks which are memories of his special relations with his mother. He tells of them going to a fashionable cafe where his mother would be unable or unwilling to speak to the other customers, her attention and conversation solely concerned with her son. She stressed his jewish upbringing and wanted to see him remain faithful to the religion. She became a lonely figure, more so when her husband died and her family moved away. She seemed to worship her son Albert, sacrificing herself for him; selling her jewellery when his expensive lifestyle needed to be supported by more money. In return Cohen paints an idealistic portrait of his mother, but it is tinged with guilt.

He talks of his mothers yearly visits when he was following his career in the diplomatic service in Geneva. How her whole year was centred on the two or three weeks that she stayed with him. How she dressed to please him, how she saved her money to buy him small presents, how she never interfered in his lifestyle. The guilt shines through when he tells how he had arranged to meet her in the local park, but dallied with his latest girlfriend (a blond woman) and arrived three hours late to find his mother shivering with cold, but so pleased to see him and not a word of reproach. The memories start to peter out as the book progresses and becomes an agonised calling to his mother beyond the grave, he never actually asks for her forgiveness, but this is clearly his intent as he has become a lonely solitary figure just like her. He imagines her in her grave, he imagines her next to him while he is writing. He keeps reminding himself and his readers that his mother, his saintly mother is dead. The book becomes a paean to mothers everywhere.

Cohen's writing is intense, almost a plea. There is much repetition, maybe because of the origins of the book as previous texts, but the repetition has a cumulative effect. In many ways this is an extraordinary book, it will not be to everyones taste, but I found it powerful enough. This is written by a man who feels that he should have dedicated more of his life to his mother as she had dedicated hers to him, all that is left for him to do is write a panegyric and bemoan her absence and confess his love. One wonders if he ever escaped her presence. A five star read.

joulukuu 15, 2021, 12:34 am

Great reviews! ( as always )

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 24, 2021, 5:50 am

Dominique Fernandez - L'Aube
Dominique Fernandez is a french author, essayist and critic with over 30 novels published. He won the Prix Goncourt in 1982 with Dans la main de L'ange. LAube was his second novel originally published in 1962, but was revised revised by the Author in 2003. It is a short novel of 126 pages in fairly large type and so almost of novella length, which is fitting for the subject matter of the book.

Jean a young man of 27 years is taking a break with his girlfriend Agatha. They have decided to spend the night at an old mill surrounded by willow trees. Jean is reluctant from the start, he has forebodings about the situation and his relationship with Agatha has become strained. During the night after they have made love there is a storm and a branch of one of the trees strikes the shutters waking them up. Jean is on edge anyway and gets out of bed. Agatha is also restless and from their stilted conversation it appears they are going over old ground about their relationship, but Jean opens up more and talks about his childhood. He was brought up by an aunt who was herself living alone. Her husband had left her and she has become a misandrist, she is over protective of Jean and tries to stop him growing up. Jean admits to being a sensitive and sickly boy with few friends of his own age. He does not start growing up until he leaves home, but then drifts from one relationship to the next. He is suspicious and afraid of committing to Agatha and this confession of sorts is dragged out of him by the more mature female figure: Agatha.

A stormy night and a psychological examination of the tortured adolescence of Jean, makes for a sensitive and interesting read. 3.5 stars.

joulukuu 30, 2021, 12:58 pm

Soif - Amelie Nothomb
Amelie Nothomb is a Belgian author who writes in the french language. Since her first novel was published in 1992 she has published a novel every year since then. It is almost a racing certainty that you will find one of her books in your local library. There were three on offer in mine and I chose Soif. There was nothing on the book covers to give a clue as to the subject matter apart from a quote:

"Pour éprouver la soif il faut être vivant"

It took me a few pages to realise that it was an interior monologue of Jesus Christ, just after his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. He is hauled before Pontious Pilot and sentence to be crucified the next day. Jesus was rather hoping it would be later that day because now he would have to spend a night alone in his cell with the fear of the crucifixion the next day. Nothomb imagines his thoughts during that fearful night and the next day while the sentence is being carried out. It is the passion of Jesus that takes up much of this short novel, however it ends with his reflections following his resurrection.

Nothomb imagines Jesus with the mind of an ordinary man, but a man who believes he is the son of God. He knows he will die in agony the next day and his first thoughts alone in his cell are whether he will be allowed the blessed peace of being able to sleep. Of course events in his life flash through his mind. He thinks of his mother and the man whom he refers to as Joseph, what good kind people they are, he thinks of how his life might have been if he was not an incarnation of the son of God. He thinks about his love affair with Mary Magdalene whom he calls Madeleine and the power of human love, but the next day is on his mind and he refuses the bowl of water offered to him. He believes that water is life giving and to deny himself a drink of the life giving liquid will prepare him for the agony of the next day.

Northomb imagines his thoughts and observations as he struggles to carry his cross up to Golgotha. She presents his jagged thoughts alongside the pain of getting to the top of the hill. She does a good job of putting the reader into the mind of Jesus at the start of his agony. I felt the harrowing experience. The scene at the crucifixion site, the desolation, the numbing agony of Jesus is well described, as is the crucifixion itself. There are moments of kindness which makes Jesus think about humanity and stops his disdain for how he is being treated. This works very well. There are no deep psychological or religious insights, but the events are not lightly treated. There are themes and phrases running through the book that hold it all together. I think it is a moving experience. I am not so sure about the last few pages where Jesus is a disembodied spirit, however it is in keeping with the idea that the human body defines humanity: God as a bodiless spirit does not understand the human beings he has created.

There is much to think about in this original story of the passion of Jesus. It is told with love and affection and I rate is as a 4 star read. I will certainly try other books by this author.

tammikuu 1, 2022, 8:06 pm

>71 baswood:

I was unaware of Nothomb, so thank you for drawing her to our attention!

tammikuu 7, 2022, 1:39 pm

Adeline Yzac - Le Jardin de Jeanne
Le Jardine de Jeanne was published in 2005 and it garnered some good reviews, but it appears to have been forgotten or not read by the general public. This was my latest selection from my local library and because it has been little read, I felt that in a curious way the book had been written just for me to read. The book is taken up for the most part with an interior monologue of Jeanne Jeanette which added to the feeling of a personal story.

We first see Jeanne as she arrives at a small station to catch a train. She is a small thin woman of 60 years of age and she is flustered and she is late. She is unsure of herself and hesitant in everything that she does. It takes her several pages of the book just to get onto the train. When she eventually gets into the empty compartment she searches around for the seat in which she feels more comfortable and then her story starts. She is worried, fussed and scared about her train journey, she constantly plays and rearranges her large handbag in which she keeps three dolls and her life story is slowly revealed by flashbacks set off by the journey. She is a woman who has rarely left the house in which she grew up, unmarried with her only friends being the family with whom she lives. She spends most of her time working in the garden and she is worried about leaving it uncared for while she spends the day away from the house. Apart from shopping trips she has only ventured further away on two other occasions in her life. More information is revealed as she struggle to make herself comfortable; constantly fidgeting. She was adopted by the family when she was three, this was 1944 and she is Jewish. She did not realise that she had been adopted until 1968 when a researcher from Amsterdam looking into displaced Jewish people after the war visited her family and told them all about Jeanne (real name Judith) and the story of her family during the Shoah.

Jeanne has reluctantly taken the train journey to visit a solicitor who has papers for her to sign as a result of a legacy left to her. When the man from Amsterdam visited the family back in 1968 Jeanne was horrified, because she wanted nothing to disturb her quiet life looking after her extensive garden. The train journey reveals more memories for Jeanne to process, memories that she has buried in order to keep her sanity. They flit in and out of her head as the train slowly rolls to its destination

This is a story that slowly reveals itself, a story of trauma in the past that has completely dictated the life that Jeanne has been able to lead. Readers of modern literature will be used to the stream of conscious technique that works very well here in solving some of the mystery of Jeanne's life. I was thoroughly convinced in what turned out to be a powerful piece of story telling with a style of its own and so 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 26, 2022, 7:57 am

Une poignée de gens - Anne Wiazemsky
Anne Wiazemsky was an actress and starred in films made by the new wave film makers in France during the 1960-70's. She was married for a time to Jean-Luc Goddard and appeared in several of his films: Week-end, Le Chinoise, Sympathy for the Devil. She also worked with Robert Bresson, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jean Aurel. She started writing novels in 1989 and won several literary prizes. There were autobiographies and children books as well; she died in 2017. Une poignée de gens ( A handful of people) was published in 1998; there has not been an English translation. It won Le Grand prix de L'Academie française et le Prix Renaudot des lycéens.

Anne Wiazemsky uses her ancestral Russian background (her father was a member of the nobility and emigrated to france in 1917) to write her novel which tells the story of a member of the Russian nobility's, attempts to adapt to life during the early years of the revolution. Marie Belgorodsky is french, but of Russian extraction and is 40 years old. Out of the blue she receives a letter from a Russian man a distant cousin who says he has photographs and a diary of the family in Russia. The diary belonged to Wladimir Belgorodsky who was assassinated in 1917. She agrees to meet Vassiliev the distant cousin out of curiosity, because she has no real desire to research her family history. However at the meeting she is charmed by the elderly Vassiliev and becomes interested in the diary and photographs. The major part of the novel is the story that has been pieced together by Vassiliev told from the point of view of Nathalie Belgorodsky who at the time (1917) was a very young woman betrothed to prince Belgorodsky. Vassiliev is an historian and was a friend of Nathalie before her death in the United Sates.

The book tells the story of how the young Nathalie soon settled into the life of the nobility, won the love of her husband the prince and was instrumental in the decisions taken during the time of the revolution. The prince and his family owned a large estate and the rumour of the land reforms and then the actual regulations pitted the family against the local population and their own large work force. The prince although well liked by his family and workers was soon overwhelmed by the disruption caused by the revolution. Violence was inevitable and the book builds towards the eventual assassination of the prince and the dissolution of the family. In a small final section of the book Marie travels to Russia with Vassilev to search for remains of the ancestral manor house.

Anne Wiazemsky uses extracts from the prince's diary as a way of moving the story along and this works well. The comfortable family life in the weeks before the revolution is well described as is the difficulties the family have in adapting to a new situation. There are of course tensions in the family and this being a french novel there is much concern over the cellar containing expensive bottles of vintage french wine. Perhaps the loss of this is almost as big a tragedy as the assassination of the prince. The novel flows along well and although we know the bare bones of the story from almost the first page, it still held my interest. An easy and entertaining read and so 3 stars.

tammikuu 29, 2022, 12:25 pm

Thanks Bas. Once more an interesting read. I am curious about her bio. Partner of Goddard, working with Bresson and Pasolini; I guess she has a few stories to tell.

I understand the concern about the wine cellar.
My great grandfather did not much care that at the end of WW1 retreating Germans entered his house and wine-cave. Neither that the soldiers drunk a few bottles... But he never forgave them that they smashed all the other bottles before they left again.
Savages !

helmikuu 4, 2022, 4:56 am

Laurent Carpentier - Les Bannis, Laurent Carpentier
Laurent Carpentier is a free lance journalist and has participated in the creation of the first French information agency on the Environment (AIE). He writes regularly for Le Monde Magazine. Les Bannis (the banished or exiled) is a novel published in 2015 and I was attracted to picking it off the library shelf by its classy looking front cover.

The subject chosen by Carpentier for his novel is his family. He makes a fiction out of a biography of his family, writing stories about individual members in no particular order, but well enough structured so that the reader can follow the storyline and gradually get the impression of the family as a whole. A jewish family; some of whom were politically active in the communist party, which did not bode well for various family members during the German invasion of France in the second world war. The book covers five generations of the family and on reflection it would have been useful to have a family tree, but I can understand why this was not considered appropriate because of the fictional structure of the novel. I got a little lost with who was who, but this did not prevent my enjoyment of the individual stories, and anyway I got the impression they were not a close knit family, no grand family reunions.

There is the story of Jaques: scientist and communist party member who was arrested and shot by the Nazis. Carpentier glides smoothly between first and third person story telling, so giving his characters a modicum of life of their own. André; Jaques brother fled to Spain and his sister Arlette hunkered down in Nice taking the name Carpentier. Jaque's mother Alice is rounded up by the representatives of the Vichy government, she feels too old and set in her ways to attempt to flee, even though she is warned that they will be coming for her. She is one of many that takes the fateful train journey to the concentration camps. Jean nicknamed Jeannot is the next generation, he studies medicine and meets his future wife Raymonde selling copies of L'humanitée (left wing journal) outside the medical school. He joins the communist party working his way up to a position of leadership, but a putsch in the Party after the Soviet coup d'état in Czechoslovakia sees him banished from the party. He is an old man when we meet him again beginning to suffer from Alzheimers, he is welcomed back into the fold with a ceremony to give him back his Party card.There is Mathis who in a way banishes himself, by becoming a shepherd in a remote part of the South of France. He and his partner scrape together a living in a run down hamlet. One day Mathis finds a red balloon in the woods on his way to the pastures attached to it is an invitation to spend a night in a luxury hotel. What to do?

The book starts with Maurice who is living in poverty, he has not long to live and after visiting the grave of his own dead daughter has a car accident; he is in hospital and reflects on members of his family that starts a train of thought that threads the novel together. His partner is Fine and she lives to be a hundred years old. A presence in the family, but one that never gets to express her point of view. Laurent Carpentier expresses his story largely through the male members of the family and in a final chapter neatly brings the story to a full circle when he himself searches in a dream like expedition to find something in the snowy wastes of a wood near where he is staying, a memorial stone perhaps.

The Carpentier family is an interesting subject for a novel, certainly individual members of the family have interesting histories and Laurent Carpentier tells them well. His own emotional involvement is held back until the final chapter, letting his characters tell their own stories. There are perhaps not quite enough stories for the length of the novel, I found the story of his own grandfather: Henri's life in the Marais district of Paris showing some strain. Overall, however there was enough here to keep me interested and I am glad I was seduced by the front cover to pick this one off the shelf and so 3.5 stars.

helmikuu 22, 2022, 7:34 am

Vernon Subutex Tome 1 - Virginie Despentes.
I think the clue is in the surname Subutex. There is certainly a lot going on in the subtext of this novel. I have just resurfaced after spending a week in the world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll and the homeless (SDF) of Paris. I am familiar with the the world of rock 'n' roll and can pick up most of the references to groups and singers in the 1970's-80's sub culture. I used to be more familiar with the world of sex, but this all seems far away from my quiet existence in rural France. Drugs are a world I have never been in tune with and so reading this novel has taken me further out of my comfort zone than I usually venture, especially as I do not read that much contemporary literature. I have also had to frequently google as the author uses acronyms and verlan. It has been a bit of a roller coaster with some lows, but mostly highs.

Virginie Despentes is a French writer, novelist, and filmmaker. She is known for her work exploring gender, sexuality and people who live in poverty or other marginalised conditions. In her writing her characters deal with misery and injustice, self violence or violence towards others such as rape or terrorism. The world she depicts is laced with realism, her political stance is uncertain, she is more concerned in providing a social critique. From wiki there is a quote from Despentes talking about her life and work.

"I became a prostitute and walked the streets in low-cut tops and high-heeled shoes owing no one an explanation, and I kept and spent every penny I earned. I hitchhiked, I was raped, I hitchhiked again. I wrote a first novel and published it under my own, clearly female first name, not imagining for a second that when it came out I’d be continually lectured to about all the boundaries that should never be crossed. . . . I wanted to live like a man, so I lived like a man."

In her novel Vernon Subutex has just retired from making a living selling records from his shop, where various people hung out to chat, and probably sell drugs. Vernon was well liked and he had a connection with a rockstar (Alex Bleach) to whom he provided some services. Bleach has been recently found dead after an illness and Vernon has been left three cassettes by Bleach, unfortunately this has come at a time when Vernon has been evicted from his apartment and in his haste to get out from under the bailiffs most of his personal belongings have been left behind. Vernon is homeless and after a couple of nights on the streets he makes contacts with people in his address book, but short stays with them do not work out and Vernon is back on the streets again. There are people interested in the death of Alex Bleach searching for Vernon, thinking that he has information which can be used.

As this is Tome 1 of a three tome series; Despentes spends much of the time introducing the characters. They all have interesting back stories mostly concerned with living on the edges of society and have known Vernon while he was working. There are porn stars still aware of being recognised on the streets, a friend who has been left by his partner because of too many violent assaults, girlfriends who have tried to turn around their life after the drugs and prostitution of their earlier existence, a trans person who is intent on changing to become male, a film maker whose family is falling apart. All these peoples lives have touched on Vernon, but Vernon now finds all his energies and resources are needed just to stay alive in the hostile environment of the streets of Paris. The death of Alex Bleach is a connecting tissue that hovers in the background and it is only towards the very end of this novel that the story starts to move along.

Despentes is adapt at letting her characters tell their stories, mostly in the third person, but the author changes her writing style to reflect their world.
This is edgy writing, with the author taking the reader in a 'no holds barred' explanation of the lives of her characters. Not so much their own struggles with their sexuality, but the struggles they have with a society that does not approve of their chosen/forced life styles, but is willing to pay with money or violence for their services. Towards the end of the novel Vernon has become one of the faceless people who live on the streets. One of his former acquaintances hurrying to catch the metro sees a cat sprawled out on the lap of a young homeless person and he remarks:

"C'est plus facile de droguer son chat que d'apprendre à jouer de la guitar."

The novel was published in 2015 and has won several prizes. There is an English translation and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International prize 2018. I borrowed this from my library and noticed that tomes 2 and 3 are still on the shelves. Once I have started something I usually finish and so I can see my reading schedule being interrupted for a time. This was a 4 star read.

helmikuu 23, 2022, 2:59 pm

Ben mon vieux...
Made me laugh, nice review.

maaliskuu 15, 2022, 1:34 pm

Blaise Cendrars - Moravagine - Edition 1956
Reading Moravagine, I was immediately reminded of Voltaire's Candide. However Moravagine is much much darker and if you read it with all the apparent seriousness in which it is written, not funny at all.

Blaise Cendrars was a Swiss naturalised French citizen; a poet and novelist who was influential in the European modernist movement. Moravagine was originally published in 1926, but republished in 1956 with an explanation by the author on how and perhaps why he wrote the novel. It is a dark ride through the human (male) psyche. Warning misogyne is rife.

The narrator is Raymond la Science who as a young man of medical science sees an opportunity to release the madman and murderer Moravagine from an asylum in order to carry out further study. Moravagine is a very rich, last in line member of a noble family. He shows early signs of instability and is kept secured on a large estate. As a young boy he is betrothed to Rita, but is only allowed to see her once a year. When she arrives as a late adolescent woman, Moravagine murders her and he spends ten years locked away in a small cell, He keeps some sanity by focusing on his situation. Released by Raymond they move to London, but have to leave after Moravagine commits a number of brutal murders on women. Thy travel to Russia where Moravagine and Raymond become involved with the revolutionaries in 1907. Moravagine with his fortune and his ability to organise others, soon becomes a leader of the abortive 1907 coup in June. They are forced to flee and take ship to America, On the ship they befriend an Orang-u-tang (yes it starts to enter a world slightly touched by magic realism). Travels in America lead them to adventures on the frontier and needing to escape again they end up stranded on the Amazon river, where Morvagine becomes a god-like figure to a primitive tribe of Indians. They finally make it back to Paris where Moravagine becomes a pilot in the first world war.

It is a book on which I have hardly formed much of an opinion. As an exercise in modernist literature it can be admired, but there were only two parts that really grabbed my attention. The first was Moravagine's method of keeping his sanity while being locked up for years and the second was Raymond's experience with the Amazon tribe where he is a virtual prisoner in conditions where most Europeans would find it difficult to survive. The dream like states that both characters achieve pointed to a consideration as whether Moragavine was just the darker side of Raymond. It is a book that might benefit from a second reading, but I am not sure I can be bothered and so three stars.

maaliskuu 20, 2022, 3:58 pm

Good review Bas
I couldn't finish it, so happy that you told me how it went.
The mysoginistic tone put me off. Mort - à - Vagine

maaliskuu 23, 2022, 8:32 am

Éric Vuillard - La Guerre des Pauvres
This is an essay published in book form, covering 68 pages of text. Vuillard studied under the influence of the french philosopher Jacques Derrida which may account for this history of Thomas Müntzer staying close to known facts. He for the most part leaves it for the reader to make his/her own interpretations.

Thomas Müntzer 1489-1525 was a German preacher and theologian who became the leader of a popular uprising now known as the German Peasants' war. He was captured after the battle of Frankenhausen 1525 tortured and executed. Vuillard links this with earlier peasants revolts in England: Wat Tyler led the revolt in 1381 with his associate John Ball. There are similarities in that the revolt of the poor and oppressed took the nobility by surprise. However once the powerful men at arms realised that their very existence was under threat they reorganised and easily thwarted the revolt and showed little mercy to the defeated peasants. Another similarity was that John Ball was a fiery orator, a preacher in the mould of Müntzer who stirred up religious zeal which was a factor in leading the revolt. Jack Cade's revolt in 1450 which was again perceived as a reflection of social, political and economic issues is also described.

Vuillard tells of Müntzer's early life as a radical theologian and his allegiance with Martin Luther. His vehement preaching from the pulpit, which found favour locally, but led to a series of enforced moves. His break from the influence of Luther who he claimed had lost his way and become complaisant with the powerful magnates, led him to forge his own path. Müntzer's zeal was based on his idea that God about to overturn the natural order of things and when he preached this to the nobility he found little favour. There is no direct evidence that Müntzer was the leader at the battle of Frankenhausen, but Vuillard describes the battle as though he was there.

Vuillard matter of factly tells of Müntzers imprisonment and final beheading. He wonders what the local tradesmen saw who attended the execution. They saw the little man (Münzer was small in stature) who carried the burdens of the world on his shoulder, whose head became separated from his body. Vuillard does not ask himself what they thought only tells us what they saw. He concludes his essay with:

"Martyrdom is a trap for those who are oppressed, only victory is desirable. I will tell it."

Vuillard links events to a certain extent to re-emphasise the issues raised in his essay, but leaves the reader to do the thinking. 3 stars.

huhtikuu 12, 2022, 11:07 am

Antoine Volodine - Terminus Radieux
I have suffered a reading slump recently which I can only blame on Volodine's Terminus Radieux, not because it is a bad novel, but because it is the most depressing novel that I have read in a long time. So here are some bullet points as to why I found it such a struggle to get through:

It is a dystopian novel, where even staying alive seems to be a pointless exercise.

It takes place in Russia - a post nuclear Russia.

Characters seem to be neither dead nor alive, but something in between.

The prose is circular with very few events and when something does happen it is liable to be described again.

It is a novel of over 600 pages (I read the french original and so I might have lost something in the translation) where the situation seemingly, gets worse and worse.

Kronauer; a soldier and two colleagues have escaped from the Orbise a collective that was functioning as a capital of the region. It had been attacked by barbarians. Everybody is suffering from radiation sickness. The three have been on the run for about a month, have run out of water and collapsed within sight of some railway tracks. The woman Vassilissa Marachvili has been carried on Kronauer's back for some time and she is nearly dead, slipping in and out of consciousness. A train consisting of four wagons containing soldiers comes down the track and stops nearby. It is manned by soldiers half of whom are very dead, some are almost alive and all are sick. The three comrades remain hidden, but Kronauer decides to make for some nearby woods in a search for water. He eventually makes it to a Kolkhoze (an agricultural collective) and becomes a semi prisoner of the President.

The President Solovièï practises some kind of mind control and has become immune and possibly immortal due to radiation poisoning. His partner Mémé Oudgoul has become notorious as one of the few people who also survives the radiation. They are encamped on a nuclear rector/outlet and have three daughters with whom Solvieï has incestuous relationships. He exercises control over the few inhabitants by nightmarish dreamscapes and is jealous of any unwelcome approaches to his daughters. Everybody is sick. Time passes, no one is really sure if they are alive or dead, the sun is almost blotted out, everything is grey and cold, daylight is decreasing and the creatures that seem to be benefiting are the carrion crows.

If ever a book celebrates the idea that darkness is coming then it is Terminus Radieux. Reading dystopian novels at a time when we are on the doorstep of a climate catastrophe is not everybody's idea of fun reading, but added to that the distinct possibility of nuclear war in Europe and one can easily for-see the future of our planet in the world that is described by Volodine. The novel is effective because it creates a powerful atmospheric force that destroys all hope of a return to lighter times. Is our future on this planet as bleak as Volodine claims, well if so I suggest you read his novel on a bright sunny day when the birds are singing. It should be banned as winter reading in Scandinavia or anywhere north of Alaska.

A difficult novel to rate, as an exercise in dystopian fiction then possibly a five star read. It is however a struggle and my enjoyment limits it to 3.5.

huhtikuu 16, 2022, 3:34 am

Even your review of this book is depressing.
The morning news is scary, with an official warning from Putin to the States to stop delivering weapons to Ukraine. Nobody seems to realize that we are nearing a "Cuban missile"-level crisis fast.

huhtikuu 20, 2022, 5:55 am

Je vous écris comme je vous aime - Elisabeth Brami
A brief meeting leads to a love affair, but this one develops through an exchange of letters between two women; one who is 50 years old and the other who is 80 years old. To enjoy the book you have got to sign up to the premise that love can be felt and reciprocated over distance and age is no barrier. I had no trouble and enjoyed the read.

Elisabeth Brami is a clinical psychologist as well as being an author of novels, essays and children's books. This was her first adult novel published in 2005 and as she has chosen to write much of her book as an exchange of letters between the two women, much of it is in the first person.

I think the story is skilfully told; starting with Gabriel the 80 year old woman resting at home. She has been a hard headed businesswoman still heavily involved in her families business. A mother of seven children who lives some 9000 kms distance from Paris. Emily lives in Paris and is a writer who has visited Gabriels house; the Bois-Rougue on an island in the tropics, as part of a film crew and has stayed overnight. At the dinner table the two women felt a connection and Gabriel left a message for Emily, placed on her pillow of the guest room. Emily sends a note back to Gabriel on her way to the airport and the correspondence starts. It soon develops into a passionate exchange of letters with each woman counting the days and hours before they receive the next letter. More details of Emilys overnight stay slowly emerge, but much of the letter writing is about the love and the connection that Emily and Gabriel feel for each other: their surprise and wonder as what has happened to them.

The epistolary love affair lasts a matter of months and then events beyond their control overtake them. Love of course is the main theme, but also illness and death, as both women feel their mortality. The author writes in the third person to fill in some of the background, but it is the letters that hold all the charm, the hope, the sadness and the missed opportunities. It is sympathetically done, without plunging too deeply into the psychological issues of an affair of this kind, but on reflection perhaps perhaps the book would have benefited from a little more depth. I was moved by the letters and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 30, 2022, 9:01 am

Maxime Vivas - Rouges, Les collines de Caracas
Caracas capital city of Venezuela is currently a city that has this warning about safety and security for tourists on the UK Governments website:

There is a high threat from violent crime and kidnapping throughout Venezuela, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Armed robbery, mugging, carjacking, and burglary are all common and are often accompanied by extreme levels of violence – do not resist an attacker. These crimes can occur on the street or the beach, in supermarket queues or when travelling in private vehicles or public transport, or indoors. Remain alert and avoid using your mobile phone or displaying other electronic equipment or valuables on the street or in a vehicle.

This novel is written in the form of an investigation by a French free-lance journalist (Gaya) who is both attractive and has a back belt in Aikido. She is employed to spend two weeks in Caracas to write articles on the freedom of the press, and she takes a commission to search for one of the "disparados". She soon finds herself caught up in a political coup to topple president Hugo Chavez. It is May 2007 and she is lured into a barrio where a kidnapping attempt is made, she escapes and her contacts in the press and TV stations soon piece together; from arrests made, that there is a plot to assassinate Chavez at the Theatre Teresa Carreño. Arrangements are made for Gaya to be minded by Ricardo a Cuban during her eventful two weeks. There are CIA agents involved as well as agents from the TV stations owned by Oligarchs. Gaya feels herself under surveillance and does not know who to trust, every appointment or contact involves perilous journeys across the city.

The novel which weaves a story around the volatile situation in Caracas in 2007 is fascinating for the portrayal of a city where violence always seems to be just around the corner. People disappear, demonstrations can quickly turn violent as supporters and opponents of Hugo Chavez turn events for their own advantage. A world very different from the streets of Paris where Gaya lives. Of course the political situation takes centre stage, including all the ramifications of hostile agents from outside the country, but also a major theme in the book is the freedom of the press. In 2007 Chavez banned the television channel RCTV which was owned by fabulously rich Oligarchs that were hostile to Chavez popular movement and had been implicated in a plot to overthrow him some five years earlier.

I found the novel a little overwritten in places, attempting to tie up all the loose ends in such a complicated scenario can be exhausting to read. It is obviously a french novel because of the detail included about food and drink in Caracas. At the denouement of the story where recent events are discussed in a bar between Gaya and the Venezuelan journalists we are told about the bottle of wine that is ordered:

" The grape was Cabernet Sauvignon. A very explosive fruit with blackcurrant and raspberry notes. After agitation, sandalwood and smoke notes appear. A firm attack with ripe tannins. A very present and persistent woodiness. A finish with notes of nut kernels"

I was thinking, thank you for that, now can we get on with the story. Maxime Vivas is a french writer essayist and cyber-journalist, he has written detective novels and thrillers and this one was published in 2015 by Les éditions Arcane 17. It proved to be informative on a country for which I had only some vague knowledge and so 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 21, 2022, 10:13 am

Frédéric Viguier - Ressources inhumaines
Frédéric Viguier is a french author and Ressources inhumaines published in 2015 was his first novel, he has also written plays for the theatre. He takes as his subject matter the working of a large Hypermarket and the title of his novel is a play on words of the profession of Human Resources.

I worked in Human Resources for the latter part of my working life and at the time it had suffered a name change; from Personnel or Personnel Management to Human Resource Management to make it sound more business like and more integrated into the production side of the work being performed. This change in focus was also of course aimed to remove the idea of individuality amongst the work force; it was no longer personal, everybody was a resource that could be moved around at will and this is a feature of the staff that work in a Hypermarket as envisaged by Viguier. Hypermarkets have been a feature of french life since the 1960's and feature both grocery lines and general merchandise. All the shopping you wish to do under one huge roof. These huge stores tend to discourage a personal approach to shopping and in Viguier's account discourage any personal approach in staffing arrangements.

The novel describes the career of a woman (she is never named) who starts her working life as a trainee in one of these big stores. She is ambitious and motivated and buys into the work-life world of a big enterprise. She is an attractive young woman and she stumbles across an error in the procedures that she is being shown. She does not take the advice offered of keeping her head down and not being noticed and reports the error to the head of a section. This head of section uses this as an excuse to transfer a member of staff whom he wants to move out of his section and as an added bonus sleeps with the trainee. A favourable report on the trainee's work is made to the Human Resource Manager and she secures a contract for full employment in record time. She works hard and by the time she is twenty five she has become "responsable du rayon textile femme'' and she is sleeping with the Head of the Clothing Section. She is prevented from moving further up the hierarchy because of a lack of formal qualifications and so when the Head of Clothing Section resigns to set up his own business she cannot apply for his job. She continues to be his mistress and he continues to help her in the running of her section and they work together unofficially.

Part two of the book catches the woman still 'responsable du rayon textile femme' twenty years later. Now a young male employee (Him) is transferred to her section, he has some big ideas about how he can increase sales in the shoe department. She becomes fascinated by (Him) and lets him have his head in what he wants to do. He makes a big success .................,however the manipulation by higher management and suspicion of employees succeeding outside of the designated rules of the game arouses jealousies.

The books main subject is the impersonality of work in a big enterprise and this is linked with the un-named heroine who recognises that she is empty inside. She only has her work there is nothing else; her affair with Gilbert (he can be named when he resigns from the Hypermarket) is going nowhere, he does not want to marry her even when his wife dies. She claims to be perfectly happy with her life, but she cannot escape the emptiness that she feels. She makes the most of her personality and she is careful to dress attractively, but "Him" has made her reflect on a life that remains unfulfilled.

I thought the juxtaposition of the management of a big enterprise and the effects on the young trainee's life was well done, even if one suspects that she has something of a personality disorder, perhaps alexithymia. The workings of a Hypermarket will not be a surprise to many people and Viguier handles this well. Being critical: in my opinion it is pretty transparent that the novel is written by a man; even if he is portraying a woman who has difficulty in describing her emotions; the character presented seems more hollow than necessary. However all in all, an interesting read and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 22, 2022, 12:03 pm

Bravo ! Good review as always.
Dehumanization of personnel keeps evolving. A human resource is now an FTE. A full time equivalent.
Letting go 5 FTE's no longer raises heads.

toukokuu 30, 2022, 6:51 am

Le Black Note - Tanguy Viel.
The next book on the library shelf was Le Black Note, that is if you start from the end of the novel section and work backwards. My system of selection has only one prerequisite and that is it cannot be a translation from the English language. Le Black Note therefore was highly suspicious, but I checked that the author was french and that the title of the book referred to a notice on the door of the practice room for a jazz group. Reading the blurb on the cover it mentioned that the jazz group was led by Paul who referred to himself as John after John Coltrane and played the tenor saxophone . Paul wanted to model his group on what he considered be the best jazz quartet in the world: the famous John Coltrane quartet featuring Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. I was intrigued because it is my favourite jazz group, but hang on a minute I only count three; where was the pianist McCoy Tyner. They did not have a pianist, they had a trumpet player instead, so they had a Jimmy and an Elvin, but no McCoy.

We never learn the name of the trumpet player, but he is the unreliable witness (the speaker) who tells the story of the would be famous jazz group. Two of the members; the speaker himself and Elvin (real name Christian) are in some sort of medical institution, probably a psychological ward after the traumatic events leading up to the death of Paul. He was burnt to death in a fire in the practice room which was probably started deliberately. Jimmy (real name Georges) is also there, but he will soon be released. The speaker spins his tale of what happened, careful not to reveal too much to the head of the institution. The group had rented a house on a small island that had a basement cave that they used as a practice room. The four of them had been practicing for seven years under the tutelage of their charismatic leader Paul. They were well down the road of using both drugs and alcohol, but the speaker's story focuses on the traumatic night of the fire. He starts by saying he had nothing to do with it as his job was to navigate the boat that took the islanders to the mainland every day and he was out at sea when the fire started. His story changes as he thinks back to his stormy relationship with Paul and more details emerge. He confesses to driving the boat out to sea to dump the remains of Paul in a lead lined box, but there is more to come. Finally the whole sorry story, according to the speaker is told in the final pages of the novel.

The novel uses a stream of consciousness technique that is well suited to the subject matter. The speaker talks to Georges and to Rudolph (Head of the institution?), Christian is suffering from amnesia and so he cannot add anything. The speakers story starts and stops with some improvisation along the way: there are no paragraphs, but four sections and so one could think of it as a jazz tune which finally states the whole story at the end. If this was the authors intention it works to some extent, because the reader is never clear where it is actually heading, or if it is heading anywhere at all, but the final pages do give some sense to the whole thing. It is not a long read just 125 pages from the Les Èditions de Minuit publishing house and so not too long for the reader to stay with it.

I did stay with the book until the end, but felt it was not completely successful in what it was trying to achieve. A book that perhaps falls between two stalls, not quite a murder mystery and yet also not a great piece of imaginative fiction. I put it down to the fact that everything would have been better if the group had a pianist rather than a trumpet player: never trust the odd man out. An interesting read and so 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 30, 2022, 10:36 am

Interesting. Even the title confuses me. Not(t)e or Note ?
Sounds like a "nouveau roman" - experiment. When was it written ?

kesäkuu 6, 2022, 10:13 am

Gary Victor - Quand le jour cède à la nuit
This was the latest book plucked from the shelves of my local library. Gary Victor is Haitian, born in Port au Prince in 1958. He has written novels, scenarios for television and theatre and has worked as a journalist and newspaper editor. He was also Secretary General of the Haitian Senate. Quand le jour cède à la nuit is a collection of sketches and stories that would have been published in newspapers between 1977-87. They range from stories drawn from contemporary life in Haiti to science fiction stories in the far future. All have an element of the fantastic and most feature violence or aggressive behaviour.

The book opens with 'Quand la planète t'appartiendra' which is a story about two Haitian men stuck in a huge traffic jam on the outskirts of the capital. They have been in their old American car for six hours and are stuck on a two lane road, although their is a line separating them from a new road that they cannot use. It is burning hot and many people have got out of their cars, but nobody dares cross over onto the new road. Finally the helicopters arrive to clear away the twisted metal that lies ahead, with loudspeakers blaring out that everybody should keep calm. In the second story a man sits on his terrace, watching a horrendous storm sweep away part of the town and he dreams that his beautiful wife is still with him. There is a story about a ruthless business man/politician who has finally achieved control of all the worlds food resources. His assassination is a foregone conclusion. My favourite story takes place during the Mardi Gras. A group of revellers tightly controlled by a charismatic individual enters the pageant and wins the applaud-its of fellow revellers and the audience with his throbbing music and wild dancing. He is dressed like the devil and heads towards the cemetery

There are eleven stories in all and they all make points about human behaviour in difficult situations. There is no time for character development as the stories move swiftly on. Dystopia is ever present with a feeling of coming doom; only the story based far in the future when space travel has taken humans out into the asteroid belt is their some sort of relief. There is plenty of evidence of Haitian culture in the stories, magic and voodoo feature as well as crumbling city states: Detritus Ballet features a struggle against an insect enemy that has colonised fields full of city waste. Politicians are ruthless and greedy and the differences between the rich minority and the miserable poverty all around them permeates many of these sketches.

A collection of stories based on Haitian life that do not break any new ground, but would give relief perhaps from the hard news in Haitian newspapers. I enjoyed the fantasy elements and so overall 3 stars.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2022, 7:11 pm

Étienne Kern - Les Envolés
This first novel by Étienne Kern could be translated as The flyers. It tells the story of one would be flyer; Franz Reichelt who jumped from the first stage of the Eiffel Tower wearing a home made parachute on 4 February 1912. It is a mixture of documentary and fiction based on the life of Franz Reichelt who made his living as a tailor. It is a sensitive portrait of a man obsessed by the need to prove to himself and others that he could fabricate the first commercial parachute.

The novel sketches in the early life of Franz before focusing on his small workshop in the centre of Paris. He is Austrian by birth and he speaks french quite poorly and struggles to make a good living. He is supported by his sister and a couple of itinerant workers, He has few friends; preferring to earn his living before thinking of marrying. Kern focuses on the period 1909-1912 - la belle epoch when Paris was in the grip of a craze for aviation and the brave men who dreamt of conquering the skies. The Wright brothers had first got off the ground in 1903 and in 1909 Louis Bliérot had flown across the English channel. Antonio who had previously worked with Franz was successful in the world of haute couture and became obsessed with designing and building his own aeroplane. Like others before him he died in the wreckage of his own contraption. Franz had caught the aviation fever, but he became intent on making a commercial parachute, partly as homage to his friend. The Aero-Club de France was offering a prize of 10,000 francs to the first inventor of a safety parachute for aviators. Franz saw the prize money as a gateway to a new start in life.

The biography of Reichfelt is interspersed with the authors repeated viewing of the surviving short newsreel footage of the unsuccessful attempt in February 1912, when Reichfelt jumped from the Eiffel Tower. Kern thinks about tragedies in his own life. His fathers suicide and the suicide of a friend who jumped from her Parisian apartment: unable to cope with a diagnosis of a terminal illness. These suicides lead the reader to consider if Franz knew he was going to fail? Franz had put himself under incredible pressure to make his parachute, he was a driven man. In addition he had drifted into a love affair with the widow of his friend Antonio, and she had broken off the romance when she discovered that Franz was trying to make a parachute. The climax of the book is Frank Reichelt's last moments before his jump, followed by the authors need to once again examine that old newsreel footage.

It was a cold grey day on 4th February 1912 and the video of the jump is available to view on youtube. Before the jump we see Franz parading with the contraption on his back and later we see him standing on a chair on top of a table so that he can place his foot on the balustrade of the Eiffel tower before he jumps. He seems to have a moment of concern when he lets loose his fabrication and his two helpers encourage him to ensure it is completely unfolded. Kern catches the moment well, but there is more to the book than a simple biography and I rate this short novel of 150 pages as a four star read.

kesäkuu 19, 2022, 11:39 pm

I wonder how many people died trying all kind of new ideas in these first years of the aeronautic era. Well done Bas.

kesäkuu 24, 2022, 10:11 am

Les Réputations - Juan Gabriel Vasquez.
I read a french translation of Vasquez's novel which was originally written in Spanish (Columbian). I have previously read two previous books by Vasquez, which were English translations: The Informers and The shape of the Ruins and although I liked both these books I thought that Les Réputations was a better, more thoughtful novel. On reflection I wondered if the more time I have need of spending, reading a book in a language that is not my first language, helps me to appreciate underlying themes, because the slower pace of reading and referencing new words gives me more time to think. I suppose that reading this novel in the original Spanish, a language in which I know only a few words would have slowed me down even more, but there is a limit to what I can do.

Les Reputations does not carry the weight of the history of recent Columbian politics that feature in Vasquez's other novels and so it is more limited in scope, but this makes it an altogether tighter novel and the themes are more readily translatable to similar situations in other countries. Javier Mallarino has been working for 40 years as a caricaturist for a leading paper in Bogotâ. We meet him as he is having his shoes shinned before attending a celebration in honour of his work. He enjoys the evening where he is fêted and celebrated. He thinks about his accomplishments as he waits backstage to be presented and his relationship with his ex-wife, who is in the audience. After the event he is approached by a young woman (Samanta) claiming to be a journalist wanting an interview. He finds her attractive and invites her to his house up in the mountains the following day. After spending the night with his ex-wife he meets the woman and as he is showing her around the house she reveals that she was there 28 years ago as a friend of his seven year old daughter and quizzes him if he remembers the events of that night, where there was a party to celebrate his divorce. Javier does remember and the following day he had published a caricature based on those events that had led to the suicide of a politician. The woman who was seven at the time has been haunted by those events, but remembers little of them and is seeking some sort of closure.

Javiers methods of working are antiquated. He does not have a computer, does not use email and sends his weekly caricature to the journal's headquarters in Bogotá by special courier. He also has a sense of honour and politeness and although he has made some enemies with his cartoons, he has never feared for his safety. Political life in Bogota can be dangerous, it runs under the surface of events, but Javier seems to have kept clear of retribution, however after Samanta confronts him with the events at his house and his subsequent cartoon, he realises that his work has deeply affected the lives of other people. He asks himself what can he do to make things right with those he has hurt and what dangers will he face.

The story is told in three parts, with the second part particularly going back in time as Javier tries to piece together what has happened and relate this to his current situation. The major themes are of course the responsibilities of an author to his subjects and in this case a cartoonist, the reflections of a successful man and his worth to society and the dangers of a public life. These are themes that Vasquez has explored before, but this time it seems more personal more interior. I rate this as a 4 star read.

kesäkuu 25, 2022, 4:13 am

interesting subject considering the execution of caricaturists at Charliehebdo

kesäkuu 27, 2022, 9:20 am

La Fabrique du Monde - Sophie van der Linden
This is a first novel by french author Sophie Van der Linden published in 2013. It was the next book on the shelves of my local library and proved to be a quick read of 140 pages. I would imagine it is aimed at the youth market, but I found it an interesting and thoughtful read. It takes place in China, but could probably be in any country where young girls are employed in fashion industry sweat shops. Mei at 17 years is one of a number of girls who are sold into employment by their families and work in a factory environment almost chained to their sewing machines. The are fed three times a day and sleep in a dormitory. They have no free time and the relentless pace of the work leaves them too tired to concentrate on anything else. The overseer on their factory floor keeps them all working to a certain rhythm, the speed of which, will depend on the urgency of the order for the work. The book does offer a glimpse into another world and a world that many of us might choose to ignore, as we select our next T shirt from the high street shop counters.

Mei dares to look her overseer in the eye when he criticises her work speed and from that moment on she is marked as a troublemaker, but a stoppage of her meagre wages does not allow her to travel home for the four day New Years holiday. She embarks upon an unexpected adventure during those precious four days. The book conjures up an atmosphere of a temporary freedom for Mei as she enjoys all the sights, sounds and smells of a release into another, more hopeful world. 3 stars.

heinäkuu 15, 2022, 6:13 am

La douleur du dollar - Zoé Valdes
I had to grit my teeth to get through this book, which was the next one from the shelves of my local library. There were many things about it which I did not like and yet is held a fascination for me and that fascination was the immersion in downtown Havana Cuba. Zoé Valdes is a Cuban author living in self exile in Paris since 1995. She was born in Havana in 1959 the year when the corrupt Baptista regime was overthrown and Fidel Castro established his communist government. Her family would therefore have been used to the cultural norms of the old regime. Her novel tells the story of Cuca Perez who was in her late teens living in Havana at the time of the communist insurrection and I was surprised how the perspective of the book was towards the right. So extreme in fact that the author cannot bring herself to name Castro; she calls him Taille Extra (french translation).

Cuca Perez lives with an aunt in a rumbustious household that also contains two slightly older girls who get by living off the men and women that they pick up in the club scene in Havana. Cuca shares a room with these two and has to spend many nights out on the landing while they entertain their clients. Most nights they are taken downtown by Ivo, who runs a car and they take Cuca with them to introduce her to the nightlife. Cuca meets Ouane who teaches her how to dance and takes her virginity. He has money, but he appears and disappears blaming his business interests, Cuca is head over heels in love with him. She becomes pregnant and one night he visits her at home and gives her a dollar bill, which he says she must guard with her life as he has to go away for some time. Thirty six years later Cuca is still dreaming of L'Ouane, she like many poor people in Havana is scraping by trying to feed herself, always glancing round in case she see's L'Ouane and one day she does see him. He is anxious to see her and wants to meet his daughter, now of course a grown up woman working as a journalist. He also is desperate to trace that dollar bill that he left with Cuca.

The story is an interesting one covering the political divide that happened in Cuba during the late 1950's and which led to a change in life style's when the Cuban regime was ostracised by the West. The embargo placed on it by the USA and the regimes dependence on Russian support led to difficult times for a population stuck on "prison island" (Zoe Valdez). Cuca unwittingly becomes peripherally involved in the politics through her connection with L'Ouane. There is a marked contrast to life in old Havana when it was full of American tourists and the clubs and bars were doing tremendous business, to the desperate struggle for existence under the communist regime. Valdez has a love for the old Havana and her passion for the city pours out of these pages. She combines the sights with the sounds of Cuban popular music, frequently quoting from popular songs and popular works of art. The dance and rhythm of the city make this novel come alive at times.

However apart from the right wing perspective which does not sit well with me, there are other difficulties. The novel sprawls and if this was meant to portray life in Havana, then it is a fine artistic achievement, but I doubt this very much. Apart from the popular culture, which is all pervading there are also recipes, idle thoughts of the characters and reflections that seem to come from elsewhere. The novel dwells on the filth and degradation of the city and at times on the sexual predilections of the characters. It does seem at times to wallow in its own disgust. However in my opinion its worst fault is a continual conversation with the would be reader. I never though I would find a novelist who would "get in my face" so much, even offering to rewrite the ending if it was not to my taste.

The novel was originally written in Spanish (Te Di La Vida Entera) and translated into french by Liliane Hasson and could not have been an easy task as she must have run out of words or phrases describing male and female sexual parts. Just taking the next book along the shelf as a way of selecting a library book is obviously going to throw up some curve balls and I haven't found one yet that was a waste of time. This one perhaps took up too much of my time, but it did lead me to refresh myself on Cuban history and learn a little about Cuban popular culture. 3 stars.

elokuu 12, 2022, 9:39 am

Désobéir - Gérard Valbert
It has been over two weeks since I visited this thread and the books have been pilling up on my desk unread. It has not quite got to the stage where I can't see over the top of them, but the piles have become precarious. The reasons for this is has been the return of the Marciac Jazz festival which ran for two weeks and has taken up most of my time: not that I am involved in the organising or anything like that, but just because I have been listening to lots of music and generally staying out very late.

The festival has not quite regained the majesty of its pre-covid days; in 2019 there was no festival at all and in 2021 it was like entering into a giant cage or as someone said a prison exercise yard. In 2022 The 6000 seater temporary Chapiteau was erected and most of the paraphernalia (bars, restaurants, gift shops, toilets) were back in place. However this was the first year that I did not go to any of the big events and this was because of the program. It would seem that it is moving away from being a jazz festival and moving towards more popular entertainment. The headline acts were Jeff Beck with Johnny Depp in tow, James Blunt, Nile Rogers and Chic, Gregory Porter, Beth Hart etc. There were of course some jazz regulars at the festival: Herbie Hancock, Avisa Cohen, Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall, but I have seen all of these acts at least three times in the last ten years. The compensations were that there is plenty of music around town and you are able to see and hear quite well the concerts outside of the Chapiteau.

Another reason for not posting on this thread was Désobeir (Disobedience), which took a great effort on my part to get into, but once I did it was a very interesting read. Philippe Lavenne a writer visits a farm in the Jura (France) where there is supposed to be some papers and articles left by his uncle Friedrich-Wilhelm Walter who was a philosopher and political adviser who fled to the USA in 1940 to escape retribution from the Nazi invaders. Whilst searching through a box of papers Philipe comes across his own old diaries written during the years 1938-1941, when he was a young teenager (13-15). The novel then turns around from being a search for lost papers to being a reworking of Philips diary entries with added comments from Philip as a mature man and his own acts of disobedience.

The diary entries describe the family living in a very smart address in the centre of Paris. Philips father was a business man, his sister was an actress and Friedrich-Wilhelm Walter was a government adviser. At the fall of Paris the family hastily leave Paris to return to their native Switzerland, but cannot avoid the horrors of the refugees struggle to leave the capital. Walter is in fear of his life, but they manage to get to Neufchatel. Once there Walter is intent on escaping to the USA while Philipe and his father try to pick up a life in Switzerland. Philipe is very much left to his own devices and must cope with the horrors of the flight from Paris, his hatred of the Germans and the French Vichy government and his own developing manhood.

The novels effort to place the reader in the context of the times of the start of the second world war is handled with some detail, especially the detail relating to the family, It succeeds by and large but takes some effort from the reader. The reader has to wait to the final 50 pages of novel (total 315 pages) to learn about Philips act of disobedience, which then succeeds in being a bicycle powered road book. For me the story line of the novel was not as important as the description of life just before German occupation in Paris and then the portrait of Switzerland during the early years of the war. This was fascinating and reads like an autobiography. It has an authentic feel and places the reader securely in the context of the times.

This novel was the next one off the shelf of my local library. It was published in 1998 and does not seem to have made any great waves. Gérard Valbert was a journalist and author of four other books and I think he had an excellent story to tell here; 4 stars.

elokuu 16, 2022, 2:04 pm

Thanks for the review.

elokuu 30, 2022, 6:42 am

Métamorphoses, François Vallejo- François Vallejo
What would your reaction be if your half brother, with whom you had a close relationship in your teenage years converted to Islam? It might be a shrug of the shoulders in typical french fashion, but if you knew that your half brother was obsessional and that he had distanced himself from you recently then you might be a little more concerned. This is the situation in which Alix finds herself when she hears from a close friend that Alban has converted and changed his name to Abdelkrim Yousef and is no longer taking her calls. Their parents are far too busy running a travel agency business in Paris to be concerned with Alix and Alban and Alix who has acted as a parental figure to her younger brother feels responsible. She remembers Alban being obsessed with the thrilling rides in Disneyland Parks when they were teenagers; their parents happy to dish out complementary tickets and pack their children off to various cities in France where there were amusement parks. Since those days Alban had studied chemistry and was at the point of writing a thesis when suddenly he dropped out of college.

Françoise Vallejo writes his novel from the p.o.v. of Alix as she struggles to gain more information on her estranged brother, she has carved out a career for herself in art restoration and has a contract to restore some early frescoes in a romanesque church deep in the countryside. She writes a journal on her laptop of her attempts to contact Alban and when she starts to make some progress, she is warned off by acquaintances that she may be causing trouble for Alban/Abdelkrim within his new community. One wonders if Alix is as obsessional as her brother, especially when she visits a doctor with whom she has heard there may be a connection with her brother, pretending she has a stomach complaint. Her concerns seem to be realised when she finds evidence of Alban travelling to the Maghreb and then to Waziristan followed by a terrorist attack at Orly airport some time after.

Vallejo's novels main theme is the indoctrination of a young Parisian susceptible to involvement in terrorist activities, but this is not explored in any great depth, because he is more concerned with the relationship with his sister. We only hear snippets of Abdelkrims new life and his reasons for being a Jihadist are as shadowy as the community in which he serves. The book becomes a sort of mystery thriller with Alix determined to find a way to save her half brother. There are some interesting juxtapositions, Alix is an atheist, but finds herself intimately involved in religious art, while her brother has embraced a new religion, but finds difficulty in being accepted, because of his nationality and catholic upbringing. Alix working partner betrays her, when she reveals the contents of Alix's laptop journal to the DCRI an agency gathering information for the Secret Service.

Françoise Vallejo is a professor of literature and has published several novels. His expertise is probably not in radicalisation or the secret service, but his writing skills carry along this novel: published in 2012 well enough and it succeeds in being a thoughtful psychological mystery. After a slow start I found it an entertaining read and so 4 stars.

syyskuu 7, 2022, 7:06 am

Anne-Gaëlle Huon - Les Demoiselles, Anne-Gaëlle Huon
A book recommended to me by a French friend while we were sitting outside of the main concert hall drinking a glass of champagne during the Marciac Jazz festival. In the book the heroine Rosa is told that:

Il n'y a que trois règles ici Rosa:
la première: ne jamais tomber amoureuse.
le deuxième: ne jamais voler l'homme d'une autre.
La dernière: ne boire que du champagne millésimé.

Well I think the last of the three rules is much harder to follow in these difficult times, certainly the Taittinger we were drinking was not vintage. However on a balmy evening it seemed better to be sitting outside the concert hall sipping champagne and talking about books. The music in the background was best ignored.

Rosa a fifteen year old Spanish girl joins the annual expedition to cross the Pyrenees in search of work. It is winter time and her sister dies during a hazardous journey, Rosa is mortified, but is encouraged to buck herself up and get to work in a factory that make espadrilles. In the town of Mauleon (home of the espadrilles) she meets a teacher who offers to teach her French and when Rosa falls out with her Spanish friends she finds her way to Mlle Thérèse's house, where she is taken in. She finds herself surrounded by books and music in a household fantastique, but settles down with the grand dame Vera, the beautiful Colette, Bernadette, Marcel the Chauffeur and Lupin a man mountain who once worked in a circus. There is a history to this household and there are secrets and lies. Rosa is telling her story as an eighty year old woman looking back on an eventful life to a certain Liz.

The book is a work of popular fiction, which outside of its story of a young woman's struggle to make a success of her life, has no axe to grind. The setting of the book was in South West France where I live and so was interesting for me, as was the historical events that affected the area. The story starts in 1923 and so takes in the war years, it also encompasses some famous people who dip in and out of the story: Charlie Chaplin, who has an affair with Colette, Christian Dior who orders espadrilles from the factory for a fashion show and others who hide under pseudonyms. The book kept me interested until the end with its lively narrative.

Anne-Gaëlle Huon is an author who is very active on social media and this is the sort of book that I would not have come across, unless it was recommended to me and was available in my local library. Published in 2020 and a bit of light relief perhaps, but a good 3.5 rating.

syyskuu 7, 2022, 12:50 pm

A whirl of French air brought by Bas
Très bien, but I cannot agree with the millésimé. Mais chacun son gout !
Thanks for another fine review

syyskuu 12, 2022, 5:47 am

Aurélie Valognes - Le Tourbillon de la vie.
Bring on that feel-good factor with Aurélie Valognes and Le Tourbillon de la vie. The whirlwind in this instance is Louis an eight year old boy who is spending the summer with his grandfather. A loving relationship develops between the two. Papy finds himself living alone, he has been diagnosed with an illness that will lead to memory loss, but has kept this to himself wishing to enjoy perhaps one last summer with his grandchild. He has been a stage actor and like some in that profession his ego and his pride have carried him away from his wife and his daughter. He realises that he has been selfish and perhaps stubborn and the love that remains with him is for Louis.

Valognes tells the story from an omnipresent point of view with short interjections from Papy at the start of each short chapter. He sometimes reflects on his past, but also tells us how he is thinking at the moment, he has always kept a diary. He comes to depend on Louis and the relationship changes from adult to child and back again for the two of them. To make the story work, the eight year old boy is wise well beyond his age, growing up remarkable quickly during an idyllic summer holiday.

Valognes tells her story simply and well creating an atmosphere that is a pleasure to read. She muses on feelings of empathy, of time passing and reflections on a full life now coming towards its end. Papy says he does not regret anything, but this last summer exposes a more gentle heart in a man coping with his coming demise. A gentle quiet book that does not challenge the idea that love will conquer all. Reading it is a bit like taking a warm bath, relaxing and enjoyable, but it does not last for long and you must get out, get dressed and face the world. 3 stars.

syyskuu 12, 2022, 10:52 am

Seeing the picture, I suppose la belle Aurelie signed your copie of le Tourbillon ?

syyskuu 13, 2022, 6:39 pm

No unfortunately it was merely a library book

syyskuu 25, 2022, 1:59 pm

Karine Tuil - Les choses humaines, Karine Tuil
I found this is a difficult book to like and a difficult book with which to come to terms. The subject is the violation of a young woman by the affluent son of a famous Television broadcaster. It is set in Paris at the height of the MeToo movement in America and the similar balancetonporc movement in France. Alexandre is the 21 year old son of Jean Farel. Jean is 70 years old and fighting to keep his position as a celebrity, political interviewer on National Television. He is on the point of getting divorced from his wife Claire who is a journalist, she has recently been in the news for criticising her feminists colleagues approach to the harassment of women in Cologne (Germany) by muslim men, at New years eve celebrations. This ties the story to a real event: the 2015-16 New Years Eve celebrations where 1,200 women were reportedly sexually assaulted by groups of non-European men. However this becomes a side issue that has little bearing on the central story.

Alexandre has returned from Stanford University in America and is living with his mother who has found a new Partner Adam Wiseman. She has set up house with Adam and his 18 year old daughter Mila. Alexandre offers to take Mila to a party organised by a group of old school friends, much drinking goes on and Alexandre accepts a challenge/bet to seduce Mila. He buys her drinks, he scores some coke and he has sex with her in an area where there are waste disposal bins for a block of flats. He stuffs Mila's knickers in his pocket as proof of his success. After the event Mila goes to her mother and claims that Alexandre raped her. They report the violation to the police and want to press charges. The majority of the second half of the book deals with the highly publicised trial of Alexandre Farel.

There are many issues involved: Jean Farel has been ruthless in carving out his career and has not always been a good parent. His view: stated publicly is that it would be disgraceful if his son's career and future life would be destroyed for a careless 20 minute episode with Mila. He is also concerned for his own reputation. Mila's mother Valery is a strict religious Jewish woman and Mila has been brought up in a fairly closeted environment. She is un-worldly and claims she was petrified/frozen when Alexandre forced her to have sex. The arguments of the barristers at the trial boils down to whether Mila gave her consent to sex. As it is her word against Alexandre's then psychological reports, witnesses character assessments and other background issue are used to come to a decision. This gives the legal representatives full scope to make their case. Mila's representative gives a good account of events and widens it to demonstrate how difficult it is for a woman like Mila to obtain justice, however............

I have some criticism of Tuil's book. In my opinion she overcomplicates the family connections, and then does not explore them in any depth; for example we never learn how much pressure if any Mila's mother put on her daughter. Mila herself breaks down in tears whenever she is forced to describe the events. The justice system makes it difficult for her to make a case, all Alexandre has to do is to keep saying "she did not say no" and this leads to a further criticism: Tuil takes us through the events again and again and it has the feel of voyeurism. The question is "who is the victim here" and Tuil in my opinion does not come off the fence, she leaves it for the reader to decide, it is though she is interested in a mere reportage of the facts and I think her novel demands something stronger than that. One could argue that although Alexandre and his father protest that the incident could have serious repercussions for their future lives, there is little doubt that Mila's life has already been destroyed.

Karine Tuil is a french author with eleven other novels to her credit. She is noted for writing about subjects that point to contradictions in the human condition and hypocrisy in contemporary life. This novel was published in 2019 and although she has thrown her hat in the ring on a controversial subject, in my opinion she really has brought nothing new to the table. It is well written and raises many issued intelligently, however I was not entirely convinced and so 3.5 stars.

It has been made into a film, which I have not seen.

lokakuu 5, 2022, 5:08 pm

Tokyo Décibels - Hitonari Tsuji (french translation by Corinne Atlan)
This was the next novel on the library shelf which was published in Japan in 1996 and translated into french in 2005. The decibels the sounds of Tokyo street life drive this story. Arata's job is to measure the decibles in and around certain districts in Tokyo 80-85 decibels and above are considered harmful. Arata is into heavy rock music which he listens to on headphones and wanders around Tokyo seemingly in some sort of daze. His girlfriend Fumi is starting to keep her distance from him and he consoles himself by sleeping with Mariko who makes a living doing telephone sex. Arata is in love with Fumi and Mariko shows him how he can spy on her by installing a listening device in her flat. Arata on his travels bumps into Ikuo an old school friend who was a member of the same student rock group. Ikuo has troubles of his own, he makes a living as a piano tuner as he has perfect pitch, but his marriage to a professional pianist is breaking up and they are fighting over the custody of their child. Ikuo and Arata spend evenings getting drunk together.

Arata enjoys his work and when he discovers the bells of a Japanese temple that briefly out decibel the traffic noise, he makes further studies. He involves Ikuo in his project making maps of the sound patterns in the districts that house one of the temples. He makes a presentation at work and his boss and his team run with the project in an effort to publicise that there are other sounds in the city centre that people can relate to. However Arata loses sight of his project which might have been an anchor for both him and Ikuo. The two men drift again failing to understand their place in city life. Trying to solve their relationship problems and getting themselves further into intrigue and incomprehension, with the sounds of city life intruding into their very being.

The idea of city sounds as background to people struggling to make human connections is a good one, the haze and noise that intrudes; making difficulties, even when the protagonists hold onto the sounds as a way of connecting; either as a way of earning a living or at play in a rock group. The book has been made into a film which does not seem to have had much of a release outside of Japan. I enjoyed the story and the atmosphere of Tokyo city peeped through at times and so 3 stars.

lokakuu 14, 2022, 7:06 pm

Ahlam, Marc Trévidic - Marc Trévidic
Marc Trévidic is a Parisian magistrate and has been one of nine judges specialising in anti terrorism enquiries. He acted in this role from 2006-2015. Ahlam was published in 2016 and is a novel which focuses on terrorism in Tunisia at the time of the fall of Ben Ali's government in 2011. Trévidic had published several essays on the struggles against terrorism, but Ahlam is a novel that tells the story of a family torn apart by division when a young man becomes a Mujahideen.

The story begins in 2001 when Paul Arezzo; Parisien and world famous artists arrives in Kerkennah an archipelago off the coast of Tunisia. He is seeking a retreat from the professional art world of Paris and plans to stay on Kerkennah an island that he remembers from childhood. He is still a young man in his twenties, but is rich and he thinks of buying a house to rest a recuperate. He befriends a local fisherman Farhat and employs him to take him around the coastline. Farhat invites him to meet his family, his wife Nora and two children; the boy Issam and the girl Ahlam. Paul becomes infatuated with the beautiful and educated wife of the fisherman and takes the two children under his wing; they are all fascinated by the famous man from Paris with seemingly unlimited wealth. Paul's retreat becomes idyllic and when he buys a large house on the coast it becomes a play ground for the two children. With the approval of Nora he teaches Issam to paint and encourages Ahlam in her piano studies. He discovers that the two children are incredibly talented and Paul has grandiose dreams of supporting them both while they pursue their art in Paris.

Tragedy strikes the family and Issam becomes involved with his childhood friend Nourdine, who has become a fervent Muslim. He is seduced into the world of Islam, realising that it speaks to him as an Arab youth and he becomes drawn into the world of the Mujahideem as they put themselves on a war footing intent on filling the vacuum when Ben Ali's corrupt government falls from power. This puts him at odds with his family and particularly with the Christian Paul and he abruptly leaves his family to join a cell of jihadists.

Issam's conversion to a jihadist is well described and sets the scene for an inevitable clash with his sister Ahlam who becomes involved in the women's movement against the Charia laws, when the fundamentalists attempt to seize power. As a novel I do not think it works particularly well as the reader can guess where it is going almost from the start. The clash between the artistic world of Paul and the political realities of Tunisia is interesting and the juxtaposition of the two cultures is well described; it is sensitively done, as is the telling of the love story. Trévidic's experience in dealing with Islamic terrorism enables him to set up a convincing back story, however he is less convincing when depicting the artistic cultural world of Paul Arezzo. The description of the sea and coastline of Kerkennah does much to take this book into a world that the reader can see and visualise, however the family life of the islands inhabitants does not ring quite so true. As a story of star crossed lovers against a topical background it has its moments and so 3.5 stars.

lokakuu 18, 2022, 2:24 pm

Nice review Bas
Enjoyed reading it

marraskuu 7, 2022, 6:33 am

Irène Némirovsky - Suite française
There are 333 reviews listed on LibraryThing and so I need not add much to what has already been said. I am therefore just going to give my impressions of this excellent book. Némirovsky was born in Kiev, she was jewish, but by the time she was writing the Suite française she had lived in France for over 20 years and had become a french national and converted to christianity. The first book tells of the flight from Paris just before the nazi invasion in 1940 and the second depicts a small town under Nazi occupation in 1941. Two events of which Némirovsky had first hand knowledge.

The story of the flight from Paris: 'tempête en juin' tells the story of several peoples experiences as the sought to escape the Nazis. There is the wealthy family Pericaud in their charabanc of cars taking everything they can with them, including Arthur the cat. Gabriel Corte a famous and well connected author is fleeing with his mistress. Charles Longelat a wealthy collector of porcelain and finally the banker Corbin and two of his employees les Michauds are all on the road. A good mix of the layers of society of Paris, who meet other people along the way in the confusion of the flight. It is the confusion in the fog of war that is well depicted here. The Germans are faceless invaders, bombing, shelling and strafing the towns and the countryside, the only soldiers that are met are the rags and tags of the defeated french army. Nemirovsky skilfully changes her POV from one character to another, including a memorable sequence describing Arthur the cat adapting to his new territory.

The second book Dolce is the more involving of the two books. A small town adapting to life under German occupation. The shortage of men who have either been killed or are prisoners of the Germans; place intolerable pressures on the women folk left behind. At the time 1941 after the defeat of the french army and the signing of the armistice it would appear that the Germans would be in France for some time. To what extent should the French citizens collaborate with the occupiers? Némirovsky observes that collaboration was more likely to occur in the upper levels of society. The rich and well connected town folk were more interested in keeping hold of their wealth and their position in society than being patriotic french citizens. They had more in common with the higher ranking German officers than the working citizens in the town.

The book was written more or less contemporaneously by the author who was murdered in the gas chambers in 1942. At the time of writing she did not know the outcome of the war and so her viewpoint was not affected by subsequent history. Again in the second book she is able to change her POV from character to character, emphasising the enormous gaps between the high born, the nouveaux rich, the tradespeople and the agricultural workers.
A revealing document and some excellent writing make this a five star read.

marraskuu 21, 2022, 2:07 pm

Merci Bas, encore une fois tu nous apporte un livre intéressant à lire

marraskuu 23, 2022, 8:51 am

Park Buttes-chaumont Paris

Vernon Subutex Tome 2 - Virginie Despentes.
At the end of Tome one of Vernon Subutex ( the eponymous hero was trying to exist on the streets of Paris. He had been badly beaten up by some right wing youths and rescued by Xavier, an out of work film script writer. Vernon is soon back on the streets again, but now he is suffering with a fever after his brutal assault. He looks for somewhere to hide out and to be alone and ends up in the Buttes-Chaumont a parkland area in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. he slowly recovers his health, unaware that various people are searching for him, because of his connection with the recently deceased Alex Bleach (Black singer/songwriter extraordinaire).

We still do not know very much about Vernon, but the back stories of the disparate bunch of people on his trail are each given their due. Vernon himself still has the ability to attract others around him, just as he did when he owned his record store. He is befriended first of all by a couple of other homeless people and then the staff of a restaurant that backs onto the parkland give him food. People from his past life begin to rediscover him. La Hyéne and Emilie and then Xavier. Word gets around and soon there are his friends from the porn industry, there is Aicha the daughter of Vodka Santana, who is looking for answers concerning the death of her mother who committed suicide, when living with Alex Bleach. La Hyéne working for the mysterious M. Dopalet has stolen the three cassettes that Vernon had left in his duffel bag for safe keeping. The mystery of Bleach's own death and Vernon's connection to him are left swirling round with the group of people.

The elephant in the room is Vernon himself, his back story has not yet been completed. The mystery surrounding him is enhanced by his angel like attraction for others, he is becoming more ethereal, his illness has left him gaunt a little unsubstantial, but the other characters continue to play and flit around him. At the restaurant called the Rosa-Bonheur he becomes the DJ for the staff's party nights, attracting new people as well as his followers, their stories continue to unfurl, while Vernon keeps on just being Vernon. There are stories of violence, relationships, revenge, lesbianism and domesticity all apparently leaving Vernon untouched.

The third part of the Vernon Subutex trilogy is available at my local library and I hope to get to it soon as Part 2 was another 4 star read.

joulukuu 4, 2022, 8:13 am

L'Homme des haies - Jean-Loup Trassard
I suppose the literal translation of this book is man of the hedges. It is a monologue of a retired farmer in the Mayenne: A department south of Normandy. Vincent Loiseau still lives on the farm with his heir and his wife who now manage the farm. The hedges are now the most important thing in the life of Vincent, he can no longer do much of the heavy work on the farm and so what is left is looking after the hedgerows as best he can. He has a rediscovered passion for the countryside now he has the time to reflect on his life and the natural world contained in and around the hedges.

When I made my first cycling trip to France I could not help but notice the different aspect of the French farms. At that time back in the 1960's, many of the hedgerows of the farms in the South of England had gone to make way for huge fields for growing wheat. In France many of the small farms still survived with different sized plots of land, bordered by hedges and containing a variety of animals and small areas for cultivation. Vincent's story is of an earlier era still, he was active in the 1930's and through the years of the German Occupation. He used horses to plough and can remember a time when there was no electricity on the farms in his area. The work was harder and certainly more labour intensive, but Vincent looks back on his life with some satisfaction. He has no regrets and cannot think he would have done anything else, but take over the work on the farm where he was born.

Vincent tells us of his daily routine from warming his clothes in his bed to getting up when it has warmed up a little to go back to working on the hedgerows when the weather and season allows him. He has not much to say about his son (one presumes it is his son who has taken over the farm as he only refers to him as "him"). Vincent is now in his late sixties and farming methods have changed, mechanisation has taken over and the son has tractors and other equipment. Vincent tells of the time when he had to sell his beloved horses and reminisces about his relationship with the animals and how important they were to the life on the farm. Much has changed and Vincent thinks that today on his farm the connection with nature has been lost: 'Him' is in too much of a hurry to do things differently. Vincent tells us of his wife Suzanne whom he loved and who died when he was in his fifties. He has adapted to life on his own, but still misses his wife.

It is Vincent's speaking voice throughout the book and he uses a variety of patois words and phrases (their is a small dictionary of terms to help the reader), but one soon gets used to his speaking voice and the way he phrases things. In his last sentence and the last sentence of the book he says that "I believes I have told everything, perhaps more than I should have and in any case I have told more than I have said to anybody". The book serves as a polite document of the life of a small farmer in the North of France at a time when agricultural methods were changing. Vincent's reminisces if they don't hark back to a golden age; certainly paint a rosy picture of farming life and its more intimate connection with nature and the small world of the farm and neighbouring villages.

The author Jean-Loup Trassard is a photographer and author and this book won him the "prix de L'Academie française Maurice Genevoix in 2013. I was soon caught up in the world that is described by Vincent in this book. In many ways it connects with the life that must have existed in the countryside around the village in which I live. I think Trassard has created an authentic voice and one that takes the reader into a world that for many of us is just about recognisable. 4 stars.

joulukuu 19, 2022, 1:36 pm

Kannjawou - Lyonel Trouillot
Kannjawou is the name of a bar that is a meeting place for the well-todo of Port-au-Prince Haiti. It is situated at a crossing point between the rich upper town of the city and poorer quarters below. It is a focal point for five young people who live in the poor quarter; one of whom: Sophonie works in the bar as a waiter. Two brothers the narrator and Popol regularly make the long walk to the bar to escort Sophonie home through the more dangerous streets of the town. The two brothers and Sopnonie live in the "rue de L'enterrement which ends at a huge cemetery and frequently watch the processions of mourners who make the long walk to the cemetery gates. They live in a house of 2 and a half rooms.

The narrator tells a fragmented story of the lives of five individuals and their connection with a college that receives grants from the government and their interaction with other people in the area. There is man Jeanne an elderly lady who is friendly with the petit professuer who runs a bookshop and encourages the narrator to widen his reading. It is at the time of the second occupation which began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Some of the patrons of the Kannjawou are English speakers and many have been drafted in from other hot-spots around the world for a tour of duty in Haiti. This is the background to the lives of the five individuals, who can read all they want about liberty and freedom and perhaps get involved in some subversive activities, but at the end of the day there is little they can do. They all have to adapt to the situation, especially if they want to drag themselves out of the poverty trap.

The occupation of the country is juxtaposed with the funeral processions which prove both an interruption and a fascination for the five friends. There is just enough of a story and time line to make for an interesting read, however it is the brooding atmosphere and a sense of the lives of the young people, who cannot stretch their wings that is the fascination of this book 3.5 stars.

tammikuu 17, 10:46 am

Valerie Tong Cuong - Par Amour
This was a Library book and in typical french fashion there was just enough information on the cover to give a clue to its subject matter. It said that it was a novel which spellbindingly leads us from L'Havre under German Occupation to Algeria and it follows the destiny of ordinary heroic people whose secret lives form part of the larger history. It was published in 2017.

The story begins on 10 June 1940: war has been declared on Germany the previous year and Lucie a young girl starts the novel, by introducing us to her family and saying that everyone was convinced that the french army would repel any German invasion attempt. Her father Joffre has been drafted into the army with his brother Louis and the family left behind in L'Havre consist of her mother Emilie and her older brother Jean, her Aunt Muguette married to Louis and her children Joseph and Marline. After the child's introduction the story is taken up by Muguette and it is now later in June 1940: and it is now a different story the french army have not repelled the invasion and have sued for peace. Joffre has managed to get back home a defeated man, but Louis has been taken prisoner. The next person to take up the story is Emilie and then she passes the baton to Jean. By the time Muguette takes up the story again it is October 1941 she has fallen ill and her two children Joseph and Marline have been evacuated to Algeria. The only person outside the family that tells the story is Joffre's friend Thuriau who works as a navigator on the boat that takes the children to Algeria. Marline who has lost her speaking voice wraps the story up in August 1945 after the liberation of the town by the Allies.

L'Havre was the town that suffered more than most during the German Occupation. Situated on the North West coast of France it was at once identified as a town that would be crucial for defence against any attempt to liberate France and so the port was heavily defended. The french citizens suffered from a strict enforcement of the Occupation and soon lost any freedom. Public buildings such as schools were turned into military barracks, a rationing system was introduced and the port area soon became out of bounds. However once rumours of a liberating army circulated in 1943 things got much worse for the french when the Allied airforce started to bomb the town. In fact the English airforce reduced the town to rubble during the period from June 1944 to September 1944, when the German commander refused to sue for an armistice. The families description of a town under occupation becomes a story of survival under extreme military bombardment, they did not know what was worse the German Occupation or the English airforce who were intent on destroying the town.

The story as told in the first person by family members works well because it was necessary for them to keep secrets from each other to save their loved ones from German reprisals, therefore we get a full picture, and can sympathise with each member of the family. The only criticism that I would make is that the characters are not given more of an individual voice by the author, it feels to me more like a device to tell a complete story and this it certainly does well. I was unaware of the deprivations suffered by L'Havre during the war and so it filled a gap in my knowledge. Valerie Tong Cuong lists the materials of her research at the back of the book which includes a few witness statement. It all boils down to a dramatic story of survival of a family during wartime by an author who also achieves her aim of telling the story of the town of L'Havre. A four star read

tammikuu 19, 11:37 pm

Confused by the writing of Le Havre into L'Havre. Are these two different cities or is L'Havre just the pronunciation of Le Havre by the narrators?

Anyway, once more an interesting pick Bas.

tammikuu 27, 5:39 pm

Nue - Jean-Philippe Toussaint
This is the fourth and last book in the series about an artist in the world of haute couture: Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte. I have not read the previous three, but had no trouble with picking up the story in Nue. Thankfully the heroine is referred to as plain Marie in this book and her story is pieced together by the narrator the unnamed admirer and lover of Marie. The story is told in several set piece situations. The first is an outrageous fashion show in Japan where Marie has designed a dress that clings to the body of her model like a second skin and is the colour of honey. She arranges to have a swarm of bees follow the model down the catwalk. We then find the narrator alone in his Paris apartment after enjoying a holiday with Marie in Elba. He spends two months looking out of the window waiting for Marie to phone him. The narrator remembers an art exhibition celebrating Marie in Japan, to which he had not been invited and how he climbed onto the roof and peered down at the gathering through a porthole like window. Then he finally receives a phone call and meets Marie in a run down Paris cafe on a wet winters night in the city and then agrees that night to go back to Elba with her for a funeral.

These incidents are described in some detail with the author intent on providing an atmosphere which connects them to each other. I enjoyed the writing which has a dream-like quality to it. It has the feel of being written by a person in love who understands that he must play his part in the game of love, without fully understanding the rules. It is a waiting game and like the diaphanous honey coloured dress, nothing must be done to spoil the overall effect. I was carried away by the writing in this short novel which has a timely resolution. I need not read the preceding three to understand the story, but I would like to for the quality of the writing. 4 stars.

helmikuu 12, 6:54 pm

Camille De Toledo - Oublier trahir puis disparaître.
This was a library book that proved to be an interesting read. Camille de Toledo is the nom de plume of Alexis Mitral a french essayist and writer now based in Berlin. This book is described as a novel, but the majority of it is set out in poetical form with some short chapters in prose. The narrater is on a train journey travelling in Eastern Europe and he is accompanied by a twelve year old boy Elias. The narrater wants to be a father figure for Elias who speaks a different language to him. The countryside flashing past the window is described and so is an old woman a mother figure sitting opposite Elias. The narrater looks down the carriage and sees a man who is causing his fellow passengers to recoil in apprehension, it is at this point that the reader starts to realise that this is perhaps not a real train journey. The narrater talks to Elias and the theme of his conversation is the war in Europe after the break up of Yugoslavia, he impresses on the boy that he is a man of the 20th century with guilt and blood on his hands, but the boy Elias has a chance to live peacefully in the 21st century.

They get off the train in Mostar now in the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the scene of fierce conflict in the Yugoslav wars, they visit the famous bridge "Stari Most" that crosses the Neretva river and watch the children making the dangerous jump into the water to collect coins thrown in by tourists. They then walk to the life size statue of Bruce Lee erected in 2005 in a nearby park. The narrater suggests that this crazy statue of an American actor exemplifying a Chinese martial arts tradition was the only compromise possible for the Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks after the wars. There are martial arts schools in Mostar popular with the young, but this is hardly a statue that looks forward to a peaceful existence. In the conclusion to the book the narrater seems to be recalling his own childhood and the two faces of his father always hard at work at his desk, whose only words of wisdom seemed to be that his son should create his own world. The narrater remembers filling his bedroom with figures from American super hero comics.

The book although not always easy to grasp spoke to me in some moments. I remember standing on the original Bridge in Mostar before the wars (it was destroyed and has since been rebuilt). The narrater also talks about climbing the Buddha statues at Bamien Afghanistan, which I also did before they were destroyed by the Taliban. There was also another reference to Robert Musil who I keep coming across in my reading:

"un histoire du vertige de Robert Musil à Bruce Lee"

A book that has put down a marker for me for the work of Camille de Toledo and so 3.5 stars.

helmikuu 20, 12:03 pm

I took a short train journey to Toulouse last Friday and got the chance to visit a couple of second hand bookshops which were quite different from each other. The first was Joseph Gibert near the Capitol, which was really a bookshop with some second hand books mixed amongst the new books on the shelves. All the books were in good condition and the only way you would notice the second hand stock was that it had a bright yellow label and a two euro reduction. I suppose the advantage is that you might find books that are out of print. I found two Geoges Simenon Maigret books published in 1951, but I had to work hard to get them as they were on the bottom shelf and I am not quite so agile as I used to be. Before catching the train home I had time to walk down to the river to find the Bouquiniste Brocanteur at the pont Neuf. This was the other kind of second hand bookshop where all the books are second hand. There were some areas and shelving named according to genre, but much of the stock was piled up in heaps on the floor which leant against the shelves, there was also plenty of cardboard boxes packed with books. No hope of finding anything you might be searching for, but a great place for browsing and it was there that I bought:

Le Guide du Polar: Histoire du Roman Policier Français by Michel Lebrun and J.P. Schweighaeuser.

Only when I saw the book did I realise I wanted a guide to french crime writing in the mid 20th century, which also supplied pocket histories of popular authors and their best work. This was published in 1987 and so by no means up to date, but was perfect for me. The first chapter is pre-polar: that is before 1900 and a chance to drag in such famous names as Honoré de Balzac, Françoise Vidocq and of course Emile Zola. The second chapter covers Maurice LeBlanc and Arsène Lupin as well as the mystery story writer Gaston Leroux. There is an interesting chapter on the magazines that sprung up from 1910 onwards like Fantômas and the authors that supplied them with short stories or serials. The first real detective novels appeared after 1920 with authors such as Gabriel Bernard, André Armandy, H.G. Magog. It also saw the first 'collection' of books specialising in the genre "Masque" and paved the way for other publishing houses to follow suit.

!930-1940 was the golden age for detective novels; Georges Simenon of course but also Pierre Véry, Claude Aveline, Steeman, and Jacques Decrest. Authors tended to have more than a couple of pseudonyms and so it was useful to have the guide and google to sort them out. Typically crime writers also wrote film scripts and the book covers these as well. There is a section at the end of each chapter that gives pocket biographies of other less well known (today) authors. 1940-1950 was a more difficult period, certainly because of the war, but also because of the invasion of American crime fiction. Much energy was spent on making translations of American books. The collection called Série Noir was launched in 1945 and all the books apart from one, published between 1945-50 were translations. The American invasion continued between 1950-60, but french authors were beginning to make a comeback: Leo Malet in the 1940's with his Nestor Burma series, then Terry G Stewart pseudonym for Serge Arcuoët and Thomas Narcejac, Jean Sabran and Louis C. Thomas. However the genre was starting to widen under the influence of the American writers and Auguste Le Breton introduced his Rififi series, books with a noir edge whose criminals used gangster slang. 1960-70 saw an explosion of writing in the crime genre, which now encompassed espionage, suspense, humour, fantasy; really too much to get a handle on and plenty of new french writers in the genre including Michel Lebrun (co-author of this guide). There were plenty of authors that were new to me in this section and the final two sections that followed.

Le Guide du Polar cost me 6 euros, but I have the feeling it is going to cost me much more as I track down some of these writers. I feel quite a few lists shaping up. The book was probably only worth three stars when it appeared in 1987 as it is part of Guide Culturels Syros written for a popular market, but for me it was a 5 star read.

helmikuu 28, 5:25 pm

La Colère Du Mistral - Jean-Michel Thibaux
Jean-Michel Thibaux (18/4/49 - 16/3/2015) published his first novel in 1983 and since that date published 1/2 books a year until his death in 2015. He was recognised as a regional author in that many of his novels were set in the region of Provence and the city of Marseilles where he lived. La Colère du Mistral is set in Provence in 1930 and part one takes place in the countryside some distance from Marseilles

Colin and André Bastille are two bothers living with their mother (Georgette) in the village scratching their living as farm workers. Georgette is estranged from her husband Gregoire who lives in the big manor house outside of the village with Mathilde his Jewish partner that he met in the North of France. The book opens with the village en fête and Colin and André are fuelling their hatred of their father with plenty of alcohol. They stumble out towards the manor house intent on causing trouble. Gregoire meets them shotgun in hand; their is an altercation and Gregoire has a heart attack. Gregoire's will is due to be read the next week, but a beautiful well dressed woman (Anne) arrives from Marseilles claiming to be Gregoire's daughter. Typically the will leaves the large house to the family, Georgette gets the Manor house and the brothers get much of the best farming land. Mathilde and the family servant Adèle are given a run down cottage and an olive grove. Anne helps her mother and Adèle to fix up the cottage. Not content with her inheritance Georgette stirs up hatred for the "jews" enjoying her new found wealth and position in the towns hierarchy. The second part of the book takes place mainly in Marseilles. Anne is a journalist and needs to secure her position at the newspaper and with her elder lover who is editor of the paper. André has fallen in love with his half sister and moves to Marseilles, meanwhile Anne has met a Corsican young man who works in a soap factory and is involved with gangsters.

The book has many strands which are in the background to the story. There is the hatred of the jews stirred up in the village, the fear of the Germans after the first world war as the villagers hear of the news of the rise of Hitler. There is the easily believed stories of occultism and sorcery amongst the village people and the struggles of bringing an olive grove back into production. In the city there is the economic downturn, the ghettos where the Corsicans live and the underworld of the gangsters who have a foothold in bourgeois society. None of these are developed to any extent as the love story takes precedence. The mistral: the cold wind that blows in the bouche de Rhone for weeks at a time adds to the underlying malevolence in the countryside and Marseilles. 3 stars.

maaliskuu 23, 8:08 pm

Un été sans alcool - Bernard Thomasson
A summer without alcohol; was this possible? It was the next book on the library shelf and proved to be a very good story that picks again at the issues of collaboration with the Nazi invaders during the second world war.

69 years old Charles is the first to tell the story. He lives in Paris in some opulence, having sold the family business to set himself up in some style for the rest of his life. He is now an alcoholic surviving by relying on his chauffeur and maid to get him through each day. His world was turned upside down on his 21st birthday when his parents who had always been a bit distant revealed that he was not their son. His mother had died giving birth to him in 1944 and his father was probably a member of the resistance group who were annihilated by the Germans just outside the French town of Brive-la- Gaillarde. Charles on one of his walks through a public park in Paris is robbed by a gang of young girls, no one comes to his aid, and he is left wounded on the ground, but a young black guy chases after the robbers and retrieves Charles' expensive watch and helps Charles back on his feet before zooming off. Charles tracks the young man down who lives in a poor Paris suburb.

Matt the young man resumes the story. He becomes friends with Charles and wants to help him to stop drinking. Charles overcome by Matts kindness thinks of a way to help the young man and knowing his interest in History employs him to help him look for evidence of his parents. Matt agrees if Charles will stop drinking and they head down to Brive-la-Gaillarde to start their search. Interspersed with the story are love letters written by Charle's mother Angele during the war addressed only to Cheri. Their research leads them to meet relatives of the two lovers who are themselves living in denial to what happened in Brive, because the resistant group were betrayed by a collaborator and the surviving relatives were dealt with harshly at the wars end. Matt uncovers evidence that Charles father could have been the leader of the resistance group or he could have been the 'Collabro' The story twists and turns until the end.

The story raises the issues that french people faced during the invasion, but in addition to this; actions that they wanted to stay hidden and the effect of these on their children, who may or may not know how their parents survived during the war. It is a good story, mainly plot driven, but the leading characters are well drawn. It would resonate with many readers today whose parents or grandparents would have had to deal with the invasion. Questions are raised as to what would you do in similar situations.

The author Bernard Thomasson is a journalist and radio presenter and has based his imaginary story on a real events in Brive-la-galliard during the war:

Le 11 novembre 1943, les 42 membres du camp de l'Armée Secrète de La Besse défilent à Sainte-Féréole. Quatre jours plus tard, ils sont dénoncés et leur camp était encerclé par des troupes allemandes. Dix-huit maquisards sont tués et huit déportés. les seize autres réussissent à se sauver. Laval envoie 4 000 GMR supplémentaires pour aider les troupes et policiers allemands à ratisser la région.

Some events are a little detached from reality to make the story work and the resolution is neatly tidied up. All the same I enjoyed the read and could easily identify with the characters and so 3.5 stars.

maaliskuu 27, 11:09 am

Georges Simenon - Maigret et la Grande Perche.
Simenon published nine books in 1951; Five of them starred Commissaire Maigret of the police judiciaire de Paris. It is a heatwave in Paris during August and many of the staff of the PJ are away on holiday and Maigret pretty much has the place to himself. A large lady (Le Grande Perche) steps into his office and he recognises her from a case he worked some 17 years ago. She is now the partner of Alfred-le-Triste who has gone missing. Alfred is a notorious safe breaker and while cracking a safe in a large house he was surprised to see a dead body of a female, he panicked and left his tools behind. He is now in hiding and Le Grande Perche fears for his life. Maigret believes the story and starts an investigation. There is no trace of a body or a crime scene when he visits the house which is occupied by a dentist and his elderly mother, but Maigret is convinced there has been foul play.

Characterisation is important in this story and Guillaume Serre the dentist is well portrayed. He looks like a bigger version of Maigret himself (and that is big) and the story develops into a battle of wills between the two men. When Maigret finally calls him into the PJ for an interview in his office, it becomes a marathon session with Maigret's pipe smoking and Guillaume Serre smoking cigars, they end up by hardly being able to see each other. Maigret has to get up to open the window despite the heatwave. Inspector Janvier is around to do the leg work and madame Maigret puts in an appearance sitting downstairs on the terrace of the Brasserie Dauphine while her husband goes back and forth to his office. She wonders whether the four or five calvados that he drinks with her, will affect his work. When Maigret arrives for a steak-out of the dentists house, he sits in the restaurant opposite the large house and does not miss his aperitifs. It's all a bit different from the TV series Engrenage (2005-2020) where the team are usually huddled in the back of a van in the poor suburbs of Paris and must piss in a waterbottle.

The story is up to the usual standards of Simenon's police tales and although it is not difficult to guess the outcome, all the fun is in the getting there. Charming and 3.5 stars.

huhtikuu 23, 7:00 pm

Vernon Subutex - Tome 3 - Virginie Despentes
Wow she did it! Virginie Despentes brings her story of urban life; Parisien style to a suitable climax; in this the final part of the trilogy. The Christ like figure of Vernon Subutex who communicates only through his presence and his work at the mixing desk manages to become a cult figure for future generations. However this is not a novel about the future, but about contemporary life in Paris France.

In Tome 1 we met Vernon just as his life was changed by the death of a famous french chanteur Alex Bleach. Vernon managed a record/disc shop in town, but also worked in some capacity looking after the wayward pop star. When Alex died maybe from an overdose, but under suspicious circumstances he left Vernon three cassettes. Vernon found himself suddenly homeless and the lease had expired on his record shop. He had plenty of hangers on in his shop and managed to lodge with some of them for a while, but when favours ran out he found himself living on the streets of Paris. A film producer connected to the criminal underworld sets out to steal the cassettes and a journalist is putting together a biography of Alex Bleach and a search is on to track down Vernon who at the end of Tome 1 suffers a vicious beating.

Tome 2 finds Vernon at deaths door, but he manages to find somewhere in one of the Parisien Parks to heal. He is befriended by a couple of other homeless people in the park and then by staff of a restaurant that backs onto the park. Vernon's suffering has resulted in him being an ethereal like figure, but gradually more people gather around his makeshift home including some of the people who frequented his record shop and or knew Alex Bleach. The violent incident in this book does not involve Vernon, but the film producer is assaulted in his home by two of Vernon's female camp followers. Vernon is talked into running disco nights at the restaurant which soon become popular. His followers arrange for out of town "convergences" rave like events with Vernon mixing the music.

At the start of Tome 3 Vernon's rave events are turning into gatherings of like minded people. Some of the old crowd are with him, but he is attracting new people. They bliss out at the drug and alcohol free events dancing the weekend away to Vernon's mixing of the music. A follower of Vernon dies leaving Vernon a considerable sum of money. The close knit group around the DJ cannot decide what to do with it and when Vernon suggests they make a zombie film using the actresses from the porn industry that are part of his group, nobody is enthusiastic and the idea of getting hold of the money breaks up the circle. Vernon goes off with his latest girlfriend/manager earning a living as a DJ for hire. It is 2015 the year of the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris. There is also a violent incident in the circle that had gathered around Vernon. He drifts back to Paris.................

Vernon is sometimes a catalyst, but more often a sort of cipher, a hollowness at the centre of this group, that whirl around him. Despentes uses the back stories of her characters to raise issues about modern life, with Paris as the contemporary backdrop. Racism, homelessness, prostitution, violence, politics, religion, criminality, terrorism, immigration, relationships and gender awareness are all subjects raised and experienced by the characters that people the book. Vernon has no views on any of this, letting everything happen to him, while he concerns himself with making lists of music to play. The introduction of new characters and the development of their lives, their views and interactions are used by Despentes to paint a vivid picture of issues facing characters living on the fringe of urban society. The hollow centre of the book works, because Despentes is looking to examine the figures, motifs, developments and myths around the periphery. I wondered if Despentes would be able, somehow bring this all together in this final book; she does triumphantly. I rate this novel at 5 stars.

huhtikuu 26, 3:17 pm

>122 baswood: Intriguing

toukokuu 9, 4:28 am

Jean Teulé - Fleur de tonnerre
Fleur de Tonnere in Jean Teulé's book is Hélène Jégado a french serial killer. She was active in Brittany between 1833 until her public execution at Rennes in 1852. It is thought that she murdered at least 36 people by poisoning with arsenic.

Teulé's biography links Jégado's murderous exploits to the landscape and legends of Brittany. Jegado came from a poor family and earned her living as a cook, housemaid and sometimes prostitute. He tells her story in chronological order sticking closely to the known facts. His most inventive story telling is at the start of her murderous life where he tells of her taking part in a shipwrecking expedition on the Brittany coast with her lover, who she of course poisoned later. There seems to have been no motive for her murders, she just seemed to enjoy the power that she had over her victims, often nursing them, while poisoning them.

Of course there are a lot of murders to get through, but Teulé imagines that Jégado was influenced by L'Ankou who was a personified spectre from Celtic mythology who represented the dead. Jégado's parents died when she was young and Teulé imagines that she killed them and other members of her family using belladonna, from that time she imagines she hears the spectre L'Ankou sharpening a blade, which encourages her to murder. She also seems to be empowered by the standing stones that litter the Brittany landscape. After the deaths in her family Jégado starts her murderous journey criss-crossing Brittany, killing as the mood took her in the families of her employers. She seems to have inspired loyalty in some of her employers, or perhaps they found it difficult to find hired help. She did garner a reputation for bringing death with her, but life in rural Brittany in the mid 19th century was certainly more precarious. She was usually not under suspicion of murder, but when she felt that she maybe, she moved on; seeking employment in another town and another household.

Teulé does not try to explain her actions or her motivations, he busies himself by telling her story in the context of the times in which she lived, letting her speak and be spoken to, and being affected by the imagery of the houses, convents and bordels in which she lived. When she says to her employers that she will bake a special cake or that she will make her exceptional vegetable soup with herbs, the reader suspects that soon someone will fall ill. Hélène Jégado was a psychopath and in the towns and communities in which she lived she could function as she wished. It was only when she lived in the big town of Rennes as an elderly woman of 49 years that she got caught out when medical practitioners became suspicious. A sobering tale shot through with the imagery of the folklore and culture of Brittany in the 19th century 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 14, 2:01 pm

Maigret au Picratt's - Georges Simenon
This is the third of the five Maigret books published in 1951 that I have read. Maigret is up to his neck in sleaze and seems to be quite enjoying it. The novel starts with Arlette a striptease dancer stumbling into a police station in Montmartre Paris at 5 am claiming that the countess is going to be murdered. She is drunk and fairly incoherent and really only gets the time of day because one of the police detectives is an admirer. Later that day Arlette has been murdered and Maigret is called in to examine the crime scene. He immediately takes charge and launches an enquiry to discover who she meant by the countess.

Picratt's is the name of the small nightclub where Arlette performed and that is where Maigret heads for, to interview the owner and the other artists. He finds a club that is at the end of the line, meaning that people looking for entertainment in that pert of Paris end up there, when there is no other place to go. The owner Fred manages it with the help of his wife Rose and Maigret soon rules them out of the investigation, but reading through the notes of Arlette's interview he is certain that there is a connection between the club and the murders. Maigret spends most of his time interviewing witnesses at his Headquarters or ensconced in Picratts where he can always get another drink and watch the show. Georges Simenon's story takes on the usual procedure of Maigret skilfully breaking down suspects in the interview room, handing them over to Sergeant Torrence when he wants them roughed up. However a feature of this novel is the workings of the small nightclub, sleazy it might be, but it is a business like any other. There is a telephone inside the club and so Maigret finds it convenable to sequester himself inside while his team and the local police trudge around the wet wintry streets of Paris.

There are some good backstory's to the main murder enquiry and it is all over after 150 pages when Maigret finally rouses himself from his chair in the night club. 3.5 stars.

kesäkuu 2, 5:38 pm

Georges Simenon - Maigret En Meublé
Another Maigret story from 1951, this one has Maigret moving out of the family home to solve an attempted murder. He doesn't want to be in the family home anyway, because Mrs Maigret has gone to help her sister who is recovering from an operation and Maigret does not like being alone in the house. Another reason for the drastic move is that "petit" Janvier his favourite inspector is the attempted murder victim and has narrowly survived being shot in the chest. The gunning down of Janvier took place in the rue Lhomond a couple of steps away from Mlle Clements boarding house. Maigret figures that getting to know the other boarders by actually living in the property is the best way of picking up clues to the crime.

Maigret proceeds to interview the various boarders more than once and his attention also becomes interested in the building across the road and another chance to interview even more people. Fortunately there is a good brasserie in the next road where Maigret can hang out after his exhaustive enquiries. This reader started to get a bit lost with all the various people involved, but Simenon must have realised this as he provides some summaries of who is who as the story unfolds. Perhaps the best character is Mlle Clement herself a large lady with an enormous bosom who thinks all her tenants are wonderful and tries her best to entice Maigret into her kitchen. As usual with Maigret stories of this era there is some humour some of it at Maigret's expense, there is ittle danger or suspense, but the real meat is the unravelling of the story and the solving of the crime. Maigret's tough interviewing technique is put into action as his team provide all the legwork. Another good story which I rate as 3.5 stars.

kesäkuu 5, 10:56 am

Jean-Guy Soumy - La Tempête
My next library book La Tempête was a romance; a love story where two people are thrown together as a result of an unusual event. The event in question is the title of the book. Perhaps there will be more stories like this as a result of climate change, but in this novel published in 2003 there is no hint that the tempest was caused by the result of a warming climate. I don't read many romances, but I am always liable to stumble on one when taking library books out randomly.

Grace and her husband Christopher are two Americans who have spent much of their working lives in Europe. Grace was a pupil of Christopher before they were married, they are both well to-do especially Christopher who is well connected. They are holidaying in France travelling towards a chateaux deep in a forest when a tempest strikes pushing their car into a ravine. Grace climbs out uninjured, but Christopher is trapped with a broken ankle. The tempest has destroyed the forest and Grace embarks on a perilous journey to find help. She reaches a small hamlet deep in the forest which has suffered much damage, where she meets Thomas who is frantically trying to make the roof of a small chapel water-tight. Grace persuades Thomas to help her rescue Christopher and they must spend some days trapped in the hamlet which has no running water and now no electricity.

Having experienced a tempest here deep in the French countryside the scenario rings true enough. It may well take the EDF several days to reach a hamlet after a severe storm and it is likely that people who live in an isolated village will be fairly self-sufficient. Grace and Christopher are travelling in deep winter when temperatures can stay below freezing point and coping with the cold can be hard work without power. Jean-Guy Soumy creates a very realistic scenario and I am glad I read this book in summer time. Soumy also does well with the characters who live in the hamlet, but stretches credibility when he smoothes over the difference in cultures between the uninvited guests and the local residents: necessary for a love story to develop I suppose. He does treat the story with some sensitivity and it held my interest well enough. 3.5 stars.

heinäkuu 2, 5:38 pm

Les Memoires de Maigret - Georges Simenon
Published in 1951 this is the fifth Maigret novel to be published that year and it is a little different; there is no crime to be solved. Commissioner Maigret is summoned into his boss's office where he meets Mr G Sim and he is asked to show Mr Sim around the Quai des Orfèvres. It is written in the first person as though Maigret was writing his memoires. I didn't get the joke/twist until the second chapter whem Mr Sim is revealed as Georges Simenon who rapidly becomes Maigret's friend. He encourages Maigret to talk about himself and so we get a little story of Maigret's early life, how he came to be a police officer and how he met Madame Maigret (Louise is her first name).
It is Simenon who is the imaginary character in this story, but we do not learn anything about him.

For lovers of the Maigret novels this is an interesting read: Maigret's promotion to inspector, his first arrest when he wasn't the corpulent figure that he became in most of the novels. It is a time when there was as many horses and carts on the streets as there were motor cars, and gas lamps were a prominent feature. We also hear from Maigret the secret of his success; all down to hard work and experience and a talent for reading people and the streets. Even in the early days Maigret's appetite was legendary, but for food rather than drink. It is a novel that fills in some of the missing pieces of a long running series and done in masterly fashion 3 stars.

heinäkuu 8, 4:58 pm

Christiane Singer - Seul ce qui brûle
In her preface to this novel published in 2007, Christiane Singer says that nothing appears to her more apt when thinking unreal thoughts of today and comparing them equally to other ways of thinking which can be equally passionate and fantastic. She chooses to think about an incident from a story in the Heptameron by Marguerite de Navarre published in 1558: a friend of a person of the nobility is invited to stay in a chateau and at diner time he sits down to be served at a long table, while he is eating a beautiful young woman with a shaved head takes her place at the other end of the table, she does not say anything, eats a little and then the waiter brings out a drink contained in the skull of a dead person. The woman drinks and leaves the table as silently as she came into the room.

Singer imagines a backstory to this event, which she tells in an epistolary format. The first long letter is by Sigismund of Ehrenberg to his friend the Seigneur de Bernage. He tells of his passion for a young girl of 13 years whom he marries as soon as she is considered to be of age; not very long after her next birthday. He worships the ground she walks on and she loves him with equal passion. His business affairs take him away from the castle and he arranges for one of his squires to keep his young wife Albe entertained. When he catches sight of them in bed together he stabs his squire to death and locks his wife in her room and arranges for a barber to visit her every three days to shave her head. The next instalment of the story is from a notebook kept by Albe during her internment. She still loves her husband, she tries to make the best of her new life and prays for the day when he will come to her again. The third piece is another letter from Sigismund to his friend. Sigismund is now at the end of his life, he has four children with Albe and has lived happily, he reminds his friend of the evening that he stayed to diner and Albe had appeared at the other end of the table.

This is a story where a contemporary author has imagined how a young wife from another age might think when an incident causes her husband to take harsh retaliatory measures. It is a story of love within the context of the times. Albe knows her duty to her husband, she accepts her punishment she knows that his love for her will triumph in the end. It is not a story that sits easily with contemporary thoughts on love and marriage, but it works well enough in this beautifully told story. It has also reminded me that I have not yet read The Heptameron and so 4 stars.

heinäkuu 20, 10:46 am

Karine Silla - Aline et les hommes de Guerre
This was the next book from the library shelves: Karine Silla born in Dakar (Sénégal) is an actress, director, author and screenwriter and chose to write a biography of Aline Sitoé Diatta who became a hero of the Senegalese resistance to French colonial rule. It was claimed by researcher Paul Diedhiou that she was also a féticheuse; roughly translated as fetishist, a term that was used by french colonists to describe an African cult where a figure or other object was used by worshipers in some sort of religious ceremony. Karine Silla uses this information to give a more rounded portrait of Aline.

The basic facts of Alines short life are that she was born in 1920 in Kabrousse in the tribal area of Casamance. At a young age she left home to work as a porter in the docks of Zinguichor, the work was hard and she moved to Dakar where she was employed as a maid. She heard a voice calling her to liberate her people from French rule and she moved back to the Casamance where she led a movement of civil disobedience. It was 1943 and French rule was fragile because of the German occupation of mainland France and Aline was arrested as she was considered subversive and dangerous. She was imprisoned and exiled to Timbucktu in Mali where she died after being poorly treated. She was 24 years old.

Karine Silla having been born in Dakar has good background knowledge in which to place her subject, she has also researched the history of Sénégal during the war years and it filled in many gaps in my knowledge; for example I was unaware of General DeGaulle's attempt to make Dakar the base for his free French movement to operate in Africa. Silla places Aline in Dakar at this time and imagines that she would have heard the naval battle off the coast. How much of Aline's life has been imagined by the author is not clear to me (there are no references), but her portrayal of an economy based on rice paddy fields sounds right. She describes Aline's role as maid and would be educator of a French couple's children. She uses imaginary letter between the husband and wife to demonstrate the man's increasing uneasiness in his role in the colonial machinery, but his wife becomes ill with worry and sees Aline as a danger to France. Further viewpoints are explored in the husbands circle of intellectual friends, he is a doctor. There is also Aline's protector and friend who acknowledges her calling and tries to help, but perhaps the biggest leap is Aline's activities when she leaves Dakar for the villages in the Casamance to start her fight to free the people. She invokes the Gods to make it rain during a dry spell and is seen to have miraculous powers when she emerges from the forest. Her arrest and time in prison is evidence that she was seen as a danger by the French Vichy government and conditions in the jails were known to be appalling.

Silla tells her story mainly in the third person, but at times allows her characters to speak for themselves. Her knowledge of Sénégal and its environment provides a realistic feel for this biography and as a reader I was carried along by her story telling. Aline comes across as a heroine even a martyr, and to base her convictions on tribal knowledge and visions of a better life is probably the most logical conclusion. A very readable biography that captures the time and place well and brings to our attention a woman's fight to free her people from the evils of colonial rule. It is all too believable 3.5 stars.

Oh dear! the cover picture is not Aline Sitoé Diatta and while it is a striking picture I can only guess it has been used as a comment on French Colonialism and its attempts to sell the African product. Then again it could have been used just to sell more books.

elokuu 15, 9:16 am

Christian Signol - Cette vie ou celle d'après
I have a friend who lives in the north of France with whom I share some favourite novels, but increasingly she wishes to read novels that have a "feel good" factor. After a recent visit she has left me with four novels that she thinks I might like, I struggled to find some books that I could give her in return, but I am wondering whether I could recommend to her Cette vie ou celle d'après, which I have borrowed from the library. It is a bitter-sweet novel, but one that I found moving in it's own quite way. It was published in 2003. Wiki claims that Chistian Signol is one of the most widely read authors in France today and I suspect one could always find one of his novels in the local library.

We meet Blanche an elderly lady living alone just outside the village of Villard, which is set high up in a forest of the Alps. It is covered in snow from November to March making it difficult for an elderly lady living on her own to negotiate the footpath down to the shops. Blanche was born in the town where she was the schoolmaster in the local school, which she can see from the balcony of her chalet. She gazes down and thinks of the past. She has a daughter living in Marseilles who leads a busy life and struggles to find the time to visit her mother. Blanche despite her age has moved back up to the mountain village fairly recently, so that she can connect more closely with her memories of Julien the love of her life. The novel charts its course through a hard winter in the mountains where Blanche waits expectantly for her daughter to visit, while she thinks on her past life and its painful memories. The novel flows beautifully as small events in the difficulties of day to day living causes Blanche to dwell on her past.

Blanches story is told largely in chronological order, no obvious usage of 'stream of conscious' technique; rather the author concentrates on evoking the quality of a life lived in the high mountains. There is a poetry and softness in the language that still manages to portray the harsh living conditions: Blanche is always cold, but this could be because of her age or because of her memories. All is revealed as the novel moves towards an expected, but satisfying conclusion. A feel good or a feel sad factor? I am not sure; 4 stars.

syyskuu 9, 4:43 pm

Jean-Luc Seigle - Femme à la Mobylette
Jean-Luc Seigle was a french dramatist, scriptwriter and novelist; he died in 2020. his first novel was published in 2001 and so his novel writing came towards the end of his career: Femme à la Mobylette was published in 2017. He seems to have specialised in modern day tragedies and this novel takes the POV of a woman in her forties who is at the end of her tether. Reine has three children and they live in a three roomed house with a small garden. Her husband has left her for another woman and Reine has not managed to find any work, she struggles to put one meal a day on the table for her three children who are always hungry. We meet Reine during one of her many nuit blanches (sleepless nights), but this one is worse than most, she has a sharp knife on the kitchen table and does not dare to look at it in case she picks it up and murders her children and herself.

The day after her worse night she looks out of the window at her small garden that is covered in junk. Her ex-Olivier always had big plans of building something, but never got round to it. Reine in an attempt to lift herself out of her depression decides to clear the garden, she loves the flowers and the birds. At the bottom of the heap she finds a mobylette that still looks presentable. She manages to get it started and now has the means to look for a job. She gets employment at the local undertaker who wants to train someone to become a mortician. Reine has always been fascinated by the dead, paying frequent visits to her family tomb and her skills as a dressmaker secure her the job, meanwhile Olivier is suing for a divorce.
Reine battered by life is rapidly coming apart at the seams, but the mobylette could be a turning point. She meets Jorgon a long distance truck driver who thinks that Reine looks like Bathsheba in a painting by Rembrandt and says he wants to make a picture of her.

This is a story of a woman, who seems haunted by a past, which is never explained. Her current troubles prey on her mind and push her to the edge of suicide. Her fascination with the dead and her family history all play their part in pushing her to embark on some surprising actions. What is real and what is imaginary becomes confused and Jean-Luc Seigle captures this in his novel. His use of short sentences in describing the thoughts and actions of Reine add to a feeling of disconnectedness, a feeling that can only be eased by love. 3.5 stars.