Home > Opinion, Personal Posts > Saturday musings : to Toni Jordan and Emilie de Turckheim

Saturday musings : to Toni Jordan and Emilie de Turckheim

My Saturday musings are a message to Toni Jordan and Emilie de Turckheim. I know, it’s a bit presumptuous from me to write directly to authors and imagine I’ll be read but I’ll do it anyway. If history serves, it happens that writers Google themselves or their book titles.

My first message is to Australian writer Toni Jordan. I’ve just finished her novel Addition and I would like to react to her foreword, which is the following:

This story takes place in my home, a land sometimes called “down under.” This land is like yours in many ways, but in other ways it is very different. Our summer months are December, January and February, and our winter, June, July and August. Our temperatures are measured in Celsius; a summer’s day of 36 is almost 97 degrees Fahrenheit, and a cooler day of 12 is more a pleasant 54. We measure length in centimeters—one is almost half an inch. We also eat pancakes and drink coffee, and go shopping and to football games (although a different sort).

Why do you apologize for not being American? Seen from this side of the planet, from a country which fights for its “cultural exception”, it’s puzzling. OK, I don’t ask you to be as smug as a French, but a little pride won’t hurt. By the way, I am happy that you use the metric system, don’t play soccer but football and talk about degrees Celsius, because for once, I didn’t have to use my homemade bookmark with Celsius/Fahrenheit conversions on one side and inches/centimeters on the other side to understand your book.

I’ll write my thoughts about it later; I only hope that my “review” will be as lovely as your book. Thanks for writing it.

Australia also leads me to French writer Emilie de Turckheim although through circuitous ways. Let me explain. I wrote an entry about promising French women writers and Emilie de Turckheim was among them. She left me a message and I was seriously considering reading her book Héloïse est chauve. After reading Lisa’s post on Hate, a Romance by Tristan Garcia, I’m even more decided to read Héloïse est chauve. (Discover Lisa’s review of this French contemporary book here) I want to show you there is more to nowadays French literature than pseudo-intellectual ranting writers, that Houellebecq’s characters and Garcia’s characters aren’t what we are. So, Emilie, I’ll get your book at the library, and if I can’t find it, I’ll buy it although I usually don’t buy hardcovers, just because I’m glad you didn’t write about male bourgeois-bohemians with libido problems.

Categories: Opinion, Personal Posts
  1. March 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I haven’t read either of these authors. Do you think Toni Jordan wrote her foreword in that fashion because of her American readers? I should add that I don’t know how much she is read in N.A.

    Have you read any Jean-Philippe Toussaint?


    • March 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      I think it’s aimed at her American readers, yes. I bought this book after reading Lisa’s review.
      It’s light, fun and honestly, it was more than welcome after Get Me Out Of Here.


  2. March 24, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    What about us? I see why you say she doesn’t seem proud about her heritage and seems to apologize for not being American but she completely forgets us Europeans … Asians, Africans… Or maybe she thinks we are closer? Purely from an accent and expression perspective, I feel Australia is closer to British English than to American English.
    Glad the book is lovely though.
    I’m intrigued by Émilie de Turckheim’s book. Hope you will read and review it.


    • March 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      I read the English edition. It is aimed at English-speaking natives and especially Americans. We aren’t in the scope as we’re supposed to read in translation, I guess.

      I ordered Héloïse est chauve. It’s a short read, I don’t think it’ll stay on the shelf for a long time.


  3. March 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I honestly do not hear anything like an apology, but rather a patient and careful explanation, as if to a six year-old.

    “We also eat pancakes and drink coffee” – yes, I see, how interesting.


    • March 24, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      To me, it sounds more like a justification than an explanation. Why should American readers need an explanation, anyway?
      Have you seen Haruki Murakami explaning that his characters eat with chopsticks because it’s the custom in Japan?


      • April 27, 2012 at 8:57 am

        Loved what you said about Murakami, Emma 🙂


  4. March 24, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Murakami (or his publisher) thinks the American readers of Murakami are at least minimally educated. Jordan (or her publisher) thinks the American readers of Jordan are a little slow.

    The American educational system, the part everyone is required to take (meaning: grade school), does in fact cover the metric system and the fact that seasons are different in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. I do not believe the curriculum specifically covers which countries have people who drink coffee and go shopping(???).


    • March 24, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      I ordered the French translation for a gift. I’m curious to see what’s written in the French foreword.

      I should have said something important though, which can explain why she or her publisher felt the urge to write this: there are a lot of temperatures and lengths mentioned in the book. (You’ll see why when I write the review.)

      Reading American books in the original, I have to admit it is rather irritating when you can’t figure out how tall the character is or how hot or cold it is. Hence my bookmark. (Non metric system isn’t part of the French curriculum)


  5. March 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I have to confess I’m with the Amateur Reader. I don’t think it sounds apologetic at all. Wherever we are in the world we are ‘here’ and the fundamental difference is that we are not ‘there’. Everyone is defined as a ‘here’ through their differences to the ‘theres’. That’s all it sounds like to me, a way of defining and I don’t see any words that suggest the author isn’t proud of the differences. I’m intrigued as to why you felt so sure that it was in some way an apology?

    I’ll be very interested in your review of Emilie de Turckheim. I’m always keen to hear about good contemporary writers in France. I really MUST read more French this year or I’ll forget how to, and that would be very sad!


    • March 27, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      I don’t think this foreword was necessary at all, that’s why I felt it was an apology. What she explains is really mundane, it’s not like a specific custom no one has ever heard of.
      It’s as if you had something about baguettes, croissants or euros at the beginning of a French novel.

      But I’m glad you and Tom didn’t take it that way, I’d prefer to be wrong.

      Now I’m waiting for your review of a French novel 🙂


      • March 27, 2012 at 11:36 pm

        It certainly doesn’t sound like the best start to a novel I’ve ever read! 🙂 I’m completely in agreement with you there! I’m one chapter into Zola’s Germinal, which I’m reading for a work-related reason, but I really do want to read something contemporary. If all else fails I’ll dig out the Fred Vargas, but I feel I should be a bit more adventurous!


        • March 27, 2012 at 11:46 pm

          I loved Germinal when I read it.
          I’ll post a review of La Curée later this week.

          Fred Vargas is great ; une valeur sûre, comme on dit.


  6. adevotedreader
    March 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    This ho-hum forward was unsurprisingly not in the Australian addition, so I’d say Jordan’s US publishers asked her to write it.

    I’m sorry to say that I think many non-Australians (particularly the Brits & the Yanks) are (or at least publishers think they are) put off by Australian book as there are cultural and linguistic differences to be picked up from context BUT they aren’t dramatic enough to be exotic.

    Two examples that spring to mind are Christina Stead, whose The Man Who Loved Children was originally set in Sydney but was altered to Washington, D.C to suit an American audience and Susan Hill, who dismisses Australian and Canadian literature out of hand in Howard’s End is on the Landing (because she just doesn’t understand Australia and she thinks all Alice Munro stories all sound the same).

    It’s also not unheard of to see a book blogger review an Australian book and dismiss it because its unfamiliar rather than unsuccessful in plot, character, style etc- at which point I sigh and move on!


    • March 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm


      Thanks for dropping by.

      If the American audience is put off by the metric system and celsius degrees, why didn’t they just convert everything in inches and Farenheit? That’s what translators do when they translate an American book into French; they convert heights and temperatures into the metric system and Celsius degrees.

      Before blogging, my knowledge of Australian literature didn’t go further than Colleen McCullough and her Rome series. Sorry. I’m trying to improve 🙂


  7. March 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Ca y est.

    I have the French version of Addition : No foreword. That must be the American publisher. *Sigh* Poor Toni Jordan. And poor American reader : your publisher thinks you’re stupid.

    And for the record, Héloïse est chauve also came in the post today.

    A suivre…


  8. April 27, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Loved reading the post and the conversation in the comments! To me, what Toni Jordan says sounds like both a depiction of her country as well as an apology. There is something about the football games she says though, which I am surprised no one talked about in the comments. What she refers to is not really what is known popularly as football, but to ‘Australian Rules Football’ which is more closer to rugby. Though while watching it on TV, I have found ‘Australian Rules Football’ to be more interesting and entertaining than rugby. I loved what you said to Emilie de Turckheim – “I’m glad you didn’t write about male bourgeois-bohemians with libido problems.” 🙂


    • April 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      I suppose Toni Jordan’s publisher made her write it since it’s not in the French edition.

      I thought that for her “football” meant “soccer” and that Australians use the British word.I didn’t know there was a different sport, but I have to admit I’m not much into sports.


  1. April 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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