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Time After Time by Molly Keane

June 29, 2014 15 comments

Time After Time by Molly Keane 1983 French title: La revenante.

Keane_TimeTime After Time is our Book Club choice for June. I’m sorry to report I couldn’t finish it, I stopped at 36%, the kindle says. I never managed to enter into the book’s universe.

It is set in Ireland, in the decrepit aristocratic mansion Durraghglass where the four Swift siblings live together. They are over sixty year old and kindly hate one another. Jasper is the only man of the group. An accident in his childhood left him one-eyed and he loves cooking and gardening. April, the only one who was married once, is almost deaf; her main hobby is buying pretty clothes and taking care of her beauty. May has a hand with only two digits and is the President of the Flower Arranger’s Guild. June –Baby— is slow and loves farming. The four of them worship their deceased mother. For example, Jasper still wears the hat she picked for him years ago and the sisters quote her words like the Gospels. Saint Mummy, pray for us.

They all have clear but different memories of the cousin Leda who was a half-Jewish Austrian. She had stayed with them during a summer and they all assume she died during WWII. A Jew married to a Jew, what else could have happened? But Leda arrives unexpectedly on their doorstep…

This is where I stopped reading. There was a feeling of déjà vu that bothered me. Molly Keane has a lovely and humorous style but the outline of the characters and the plot sounded more like a literature exercise than real creation. Four siblings, each with a disability, raised in grandeur and now impoverished. The three sisters have month names, the mother’s ghost is hovering over their lives. They each have a pet, the sisters have dogs and Jasper has a cat. Each sibling has their little quirk. And you can feel that cousin Leda’s return is going to set things in motion, dig out dark secrets and shatter the fragile modus vivendi of the Swift siblings. So she’s the deus ex-machina, as my literature textbook calls it.

This is why I couldn’t finish it. I thought the characters, setting and plot were artificial. It reminds me of theatre play rules, unity of time, place and action. I felt like Molly Keane was trying to comply with literature rules for a school assignment more than expressing herself. Four disabilities were too much for my liking and the names put me off. Seriously: April, May and June? The accumulation of quirky irritated me and I saw an accumulation of details and characters that didn’t mesh well.

I’m now curious to know what the other Book Club participants thought about it. For another review, discover Guy’s thoughts here. He was delighted by the book.

PS: I can’t reconcile the cover of the book with anything I’ve encountered in the 36% I’ve read. The explanation must come later.

 

Pennac embodies his Journal d’un corps

June 26, 2014 6 comments

Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac. 

Pennac_afficheRegular readers of this blog know that I love theatre. There’s something special about seeing flesh and blood actors a few feet away from you, impersonating characters and telling a story night after night for an audience. Perhaps it resonates with childhood memories of listening to stories before bedtime or the pleasure comes from the knowledge that these actors are playing for us, the people sitting there and not for a camera. In a way it’s more personal. When my professional schedule leads me to Paris and there is time, I always look for a theatre play to watch. Last week was Mass Appeal and this week, it was Le Journal d’un corps by Daniel Pennac, with Daniel Pennac. If you’d looked inside my head when I found out about this on my usual theatre website, you would have seen my brain doing cartwheels in there. That’s how happy I was. I had loved the book Le Journal d’un corps and I’ve written about it here. I’ve been a Pennac fan for a long time now, loving the Malaussène series (see Guy’s review here) and his memoir about teaching, Comme un roman. It’s in this very book that Pennac lists the 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader which are also advertised on my blog. Bref, he and I have a long story of one-sided admiration, my side of course. So, I felt like a teenager going to see her favourite rock star playing unplugged.

Pennac_wikiMy brain was doing cartwheels again, after the show. That was amazing, he was amazing. The concept of seeing an author reading his book is appealing to a bookworm, per se. The concept of seeing a writer impersonating his words is mind-blowing. When you read a book and the writer is a real author, you hear their literary voice. There’s no way to know if this voice is their natural voice or if it’s ventriloquism. For Pennac, his physical voice matches his literary voice. His voice is a little nasal, conveying the irony, the wit of his words. He’s a gourmet of words and he lets them roll around his tongue, reaching his taste buds and gives them back flavoured with good humour and passion. His lower jaw gives a special texture to his voice and a unique rhythm to his sentences. His eyes are a bid hidden by Harry Potter glasses but his mischievous look escapes their metallic frame, revealing his rebellious side. Everything in Pennac’s body speaks of childhood, play and of his healthy appetite for life and language. This is what I felt when I read Le Journal d’un corps. This is what I saw on stage, and I was sitting in the third row, quite close and with a clear view. How often do we have the opportunity to see a writer on stage, ten meters away, living his text on stage. Not reading it, playing it, turning the writer into an actor, giving life to his own words. Not often. He has the ease of excellent actors and teachers. I would have loved to sit in his class and hear him read masterpieces aloud.

Apart from the performance, the play reminded me how good the book is. It’s funny, accurate in its rendition of the human condition, universal and particular at the same time. If you’re French and you have the opportunity, go to the Théâtre du Rond Point and watch Pennac on stage. For foreigners, there’s always the book, sadly not translated into English. Yet.

PS : Post publication of this billet, I asked Folio whether Le Journal d’un corps will be translated into English. Good news for UK readers, MacLehose Press will publish it. Publication date still unknown, though.

The place not to be

June 23, 2014 33 comments

The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier. French title: La place du mort.

I have to admit that I discovered French writer Pascal Garnier on English-speaking blogs. Then a libraire at Quai du Polar highly recommended him as well. So I bought La place du mort, translated into The Front Seat Passenger. In French, la place du mort has a double meaning. Literally, it’s “the deadman’s place/seat”. For a car, it means the front passenger seat because according to the statistics, the risk to die in case of an accident is higher when you’re on this seat. Referring to the front passenger seat as la place du mort is very common language in France. The second meaning is to take a dead man’s place. Keep this in mind. Oh, and did I mention Garnier writes polars, aka crime fiction?

The book opens on a murder. A person voluntarily drives into a car, causes an accident where the driver and the front seat passenger die. First encounter with Garnier’s striking prose:

In the forest a fox had just ripped open a rabbit. It pricked up its ears when it heard the squealing of tyres on a tarmac and the clang of metal in the ravine. But that only lasted a few seconds. Then silence descended again. With one bite, the fox disembowelled the rabbit and plunged its muzzle into the steaming innards. All around it, thousands of animals, large and small, were eating or climbing on top of each other for the sole purpose of perpetuating their species.Translated by Jane Aitken. Dans la forêt un renard vient d’égorger un lapin. Ses oreilles se dressent en entendant le crissement des pneus sur l’asphalte et le bruit de la tôle dans le ravin. Ça ne dure que quelques secondes. Le silence reprend possession des lieux. D’un coup de dents, il éventre le lapin et plonge son museau pointu dans les entrailles fumantes. Partout autour de lui, des milliers d’animaux, des plus grands aux plus petits, s’entre-bouffent ou se grimpent dessus sans autre but que de perpétuer le jeu.

GarnierI’m afraid the English translation misses out a bit the black humour at the end of the quote. s’entre-bouffent or eat each other has a humorous tone and it’s not written to for the sole purpose of perpetuating their species but for the sole purpose of perpetuating the game. But perhaps it doesn’t sound as well in English as it does in French. When I read this paragraph just after the murder, I see Garnier reminding mankind that they are animals and that the animal world is not bucolic but full of violence. So violence is part of our nature and that’s what he’ll show us.

Just after this gruelling scene, we meet with Fabien Delorme, forfty-something, visiting his father. The two men have nothing to say to each other and Fabien is there out of duty and without his wife Sylvie. When he comes home to his apartment in Paris, the police pay him a visit and tell him his wife is dead. She was killed in a car accident near Dijon with her lover, Martial Arnoult. Fabien goes to the hospital and briefly sees Martine, Martial’s wife. He notes down her name and address.

Back home, his friend Gilles decides Fabien that can’t leave alone and as a recently divorced father, he’s happy to invite Fabien to live with him. As Fabien points out Il n’était pas incapable de vivre seul, il ne concevait la solitude qu’accompagné. (He wasn’t unable to live alone but his idea of solitude was being with someone.) They find a new routine but Fabien decides to stalk Martine. He wants to seduce her, to take Martial’s place. He’s sort of seeking revenge: “he stole my wife, I’ll steal his widow”. He doesn’t know yet he’s going to embark on a crazy journey.

Fabien is not a likeable character and he’s surrounded by insane or childish characters. The story is pure noir but everything holds in Garnier’s unique style. Like here, in this conversation between the police and Fabien, after Sylvie’s death:

– Did you know what her last wills were? – Her last wills?

– Yes, whether she wanted to be buried or cremated?

– I don’t know…I suppose she didn’t want to die, just like anybody else.

(my translation)

– Savez-vous quelles étaient ses dernières volontés?- Ses dernières volontés ?

– Oui, si elle souhaitait être inhumée ou incinérée ?

– Je n’en sais rien…Je suppose qu’elle ne voulait pas mourir, comme tout le monde.

The whole novel is full of eccentric thoughts and acid piques, placing Fabien in a realm of his own.

I’ve seen Pascal Garnier compared to Simenon. I haven’t read Simenon, except for two or three Maigret books. Based on this, I don’t know where this comparison comes from. There’s a wicked sense of humour in Garnier that lacked in the Simenons I’ve read. I haven’t read the best ones, I know. I assume that the good ones are rife with black humour. For me, Pascal Garnier the crazy son of a Patrick Manchette with sprinkles of a Duane Swierczynski. And that’s a huge compliment. I read La place du mort on a plane and I kept chuckling and chuckling despite the dark path the story was taking. I had obviously so much fun reading it that my neighbour had to politely ask Excuse me, but what are you reading? It seems excellent and she left the plane with the reference of the book.

While I’m not tempted to read L’A26, I’m much interested in Flux which won the Prix de l’humour noir. Definitely a writer to discover. Definitely a writer I’ll explore.

PS: this would make an excellent film. (with Daroussin as Fabien, for example)

Francis Huster on stage as a priest: just wow

June 17, 2014 5 comments

Mass Appeal by Bill C Davis. 1980. French title: L’affrontement

Disclaimer: This billet is about religion, but not only about religion. If I inadvertently hurt your feelings or beliefs, that was not my purpose.

I’ve been to the theatre again to see a marvellous play, Mass Appeal by Bill C Davis, adapted into French by Jean Piat and Dominique Piat.

AffrontementThe play starts in a catholic church where Father Tim Farley is telling his Sunday sermon. He’s a well-respected priest in a well-off community, his bishop likes him enough to go on holiday with him and his parishioners spoil him with good bottles. He has easy-going manners and gives unchallenging but entertaining sermons every Sunday. That day, as he casually brushes aside the idea that women should be allowed to priesthood, the young seminarian Mark Dolson dares to contradict him. The older man is outraged and intrigued by the younger one. Farley is later asked to take Dolson under his wing in order to instil a bit of Catholic Church good sense into him. In other words, Dolson must not say that women should be allowed to become priest or that homosexual relationships are respectable or challenge his superiors in any way. Farley’s place in the local community is such that he was assigned to the task. Mark Dolson lacks diplomacy and Farley has it in spades. Farley has to teach him just that, diplomacy.

The play is made of scenes corresponding to lessons given by Farley to Dolson. As the two men confront each other, their personalities are revealed. Father Farley is glued in his comfort. He feels lonely and wants his parishioners’ affection. He’s ready to adjust his speech to keep that affection, to receive good whisky bottles and live in peace. He plays by the Church’s rules, abides to its hierarchy and smothers any thought wandering out of the official path. He has lost his enthusiasm, he ditributes comforting words like an automatic dispenser, writes his sermons on auto-pilot and changes their course in the middle of telling them if he hears his audience getting bored. And how does he hear it? People cough abundantly and drop their prayer books when they’re bored. Mark Dolson is young, untamed, honest to the point it disserves him. Diplomacy is capitulation to him, white lies are hypocrisy and blunt honesty is his choice. In that, Dolson is like Alceste in The Misanthropist by Molière. He challenges Farley like nobody else and the older man is picked and eventually moved.

The play has two or maybe three trains of thoughts. The obvious one is meant to challenge the position of the Catholic Church on the ordination of women as priests. The arguments are well brought up. I don’t know if they’re convincing, as far as I’m concerned, Mark Dolson was preaching a believer. I’ll never understand why a community can neglect fifty per cent of their forces, just because these fifty per cent happen to be women. This statement is valid for professions, the right of vote and the right to become priests. This play was written in 1980 and it’s still painfully accurate. I’m an atheist but I’ve been raised a Catholic. If I were to turn to a church again, I would not go back to the catholic one. I find it mummified in old habits and it needs a real change. I dislike their position on contraception, marriage, homosexuality and the place of women. This play shows very well how the hierarchy destroys in the nest any challenging personality. They want sheep, they get priests who sheepishly yield to the inevitable. Mark Dolson states that the Catholic Church is destroying itself by not following the evolution of society. It sure showed an ugly face during the discussions for the law to allow same sex marriage in France. Where were the moderate Catholics? Why do they let the extremists speak in their name while they say nothing?

This play addresses this issue and fundamentally raises the eternal question about leading changes. The plays portrays the games of power and how church moguls –supposedly closer to sainthood than us, which makes their attitude harder to swallow than for common people—are willing to let go a talented priest to retain their power. Because, as the conversations between the two men go on, the audience understands that Mark would be a wonderful priest if he ever got the chance. He’s compassionate, honest and he believes in mankind. Once he tells Farley that he wants to challenge the parishioners because he thinks they’re capable of much more than what they do.

The underlying question is: what’s the best method to change an institution, to lead a revolution? Do you get in, play by the rules and try to change it from inside to the risk to lose yourself in the process? How do you draw the line between using the rules in order to later promote your cause and becoming part of the system yourself? Or do you fight it from outside? Is leading a revolution the best way? This question is asked here for the reform of the Catholic Church but it could be a political party, a political regime or a company. Where’s the best position to honestly conduct changes?

The last train of thoughts is the opposition between the young and the older man. I liked Mark’s rebellion. I’m not too keen on imposed hierarchy myself. Put me under a boss I respect, I’ll be a good soldier. Put me under one I consider incompetent and I’ll rebel or leave. Mark is ardent, his faith is genuine, untainted. He wants to do good deeds. He wants to heal and comfort people who suffer. He wants to live by his faith. The more he reveals about himself, the more we understand he’d be an excellent priest. He’s a mirror to Farley and the image he gives back is that of an old priest who used to be as enthusiastic about his calling but gave up along the way. He played by the rules and the rules played him. He’s the shadow of the young man he used to be and when Mark is ostracised by their bishop, Farley must make a choice. Will he speak up in favour of Mark or will he look away? This part of the play reminds us of the ideals we abandon along the way when we get older. It’s called wisdom but isn’t it a nice soothing wrap for renunciation?

As you’ve probably understood by now, this was an excellent play for a lot of reasons. The text is deep and thought-provoking on two universal topics: power and our submission to it and age and its toll on our dreams and ideals. It’s also extremely lively and funny. It deals with serious topics in a light tone and the audience was enraptured. The play was adapted into French by Jean Piat and Dominique Piat. The production I’ve seen was directed by Steve Suissa who picked great decors and a fantastic soundtrack. Francis Huster played Father Farley and Davy Sardou was Mark Dolson. Both were marvellous on stage; I’m more than happy to have seen Francis Huster. They play as if they were casually discussing in their kitchen. Nothing is overdone, they speak with total clarity. Both were convincing in their role. Nothing compares to live performances when they’re good.

What a treat! Or, as we say in French: Quel plaisir!

No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker

June 12, 2014 10 comments

No Beast So Fierce (1973) by Edward Bunker. (1933-2005) French title: Aucune bête aussi féroce.

BunkerNo Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker is the second Humbook Guy gave me last Christmas. Born in 1933 in Hollywood, Edward Bunker had a rocky childhood and spent his youth in foster homes and reform schools. He was involved in criminal activities, mostly scheming robberies and extorting funds from pimps. He was caught several times, acquired quite a reputation and had spent 18 years in prison when he wrote his first novel No Beast So Fierce. I don’t usually linger on authors’ biographies when I write a billet but Bunker’s life experiences nourished his writing and the story of this novel.

When the book opens, Max Dembo is released on parole after eight years behind bars. The first part of the novel describes his first weeks of freedom. The second and third parts are about his subsequent offence. I don’t want to say a lot about the plot and the characters because it’s difficult to do so without spoilers. Max’s and Bunker’s childhood and adolescence have a lot in common. The difference between the two is that Bunker had a helping hand in the person of Mrs Wallis. Like Bunker, Max had a broken home, was in foster care and in reform school. He had to fend for himself when he was very young and he grew up like weed, without direction.

Bunker’s style is luminous, precise. It combines description of the action, glimpses of the environment and time in Max’s inner mind. No Beast So Fierce lets common people into the mind of a criminal. The criminal world raised Max. He grew up with a set of values given by the underworld of pimps, prostitutes, con artists and thieves.

I’d never had qualms about killing. My system of values came from the jungle of reform school and prison. I’d never heard anyone denounce killing on moral grounds. Violence was deemed by some to be “uncool” or “stupid”, but never evil or wrong.

He’s angry at society and while he’s determined to remain on the safest side of law when he goes out of prison, he quickly falls back into his old habit. He’s out of prison on parole and there’s no safety net.

I RODE off the prison property with sixty-five dollars, a cheap suit (ten years out of style), a set of khakis and change of underwear in a brown parcel, and a bus ticket to Los Angeles. A uniformed guard drove me to the depot and waited until I was on board.

Then he’s left to meet with his parole officer. Earlier this year, I read On Parole by Akira Yoshimura. I couldn’t help but compare the social net that awaited the two characters. In Japan, Kikutani has a social worker taking care of him and showing him around to adjust to the city. He’s led to a temporary room until he lands on his feet and couldn’t have been out of prison without a job. Society makes sure that material conditions are good enough to give the ex-convict a chance to a successful rehabilitation.

Here, in California, the social net isn’t very solid. Max’s parole officer is totally oblivious of the canyon lying between his values and Max’s. He fails to convince him to go and live in a halfway house until he gets on his feet. They can’t find a communication channel and his rigid mental posture leads Max into refusing the little help he proposes.

“Bend a little and I’ll bend a little. Just ask that I don’t commit any crimes, not that I live by your moral standards. If society demands that, society shouldn’t have put me in foster homes and reform schools and twisted me. And these last eight years. Shit, after that, nobody would be normal. Just understand my predicament. I don’t know anyone but ex-convicts, hustlers, and prostitutes. I don’t even feel comfortable around squarejohns. I like call girls instead of nice girls. I don’t need a Freudian explanation, which wouldn’t change the fact anyway. But because I prefer going to bed with a prostitute doesn’t mean I’m going to use an acetylene torch on a safe.”

His righteous parole officer can’t bend. Max will only bent a little. Well, you know what happens for the oak and the reed in the fable by Lafontaine. The reed bending adapts to the weather conditions, the oak is uprooted.

So Max is left to his own devices and must follow parole conditions:

There was a copy of the parole agreement I’d signed, and its conditions. They were standard—maintain suitable employment (what’s “suitable”?), make no address change and drive no automobile without written permission, no drinking, make no contract, borrow no money, avoid ex-felons and persons of ill repute, and heed the advice and counsel of the parole officer. Failure to comply with any condition was grounds for return to prison without notice or hearing.

It’s kind of hard to live in Los Angeles without a car; the city is not built for pedestrians and the underground is totally underdeveloped. He’s not allowed to drive a car and anyway, he’s not allowed to borrow money to buy one. He doesn’t have a job and by law, he has to tell his employer about his ex-convict status. He’s not directed to companies that are used to hiring ex-convicts (it is the case in the Yoshimura); he has to find a job by himself, say he’s just been out of prison and hope that his employer won’t mind hiring a thief on parole. Like these jobs are easy to find. What chances does he stand when he has no money and needs to pay for a hotel and food at least? And since Max has no family, no girlfriend, he turns to the only network he knows: the criminal network. The lack of empathy and communication skills of his only contact with the legal world can only lead to failure. He doesn’t stay on the right path for long and soon goes back to his old world. There, he knows the rules, he knows who he can trust and he has friends.

Being in Max’s head is not always comfortable. Being in Kikutani’s head was uncomfortable because I could feel he was unbalanced. Max is not unbalanced. He’s enraged against the society that mistreated him since childhood and he doesn’t want to follow its rules. He loves his freedom and lives by the only code he knows: the thief’s code. At times I felt compassion for him and at others I thought he was a lost cause. That said, I was very interested in his way of comprehending the world. It humbles you and shows that righteous condemnation will not ensure the rehabilitation of criminals. Incidentally, I talked about this book to a friend who’s a lawyer and discovered that in France, prisoners can’t be on parole; the system doesn’t exist and I wasn’t aware of that.

Among Max’s friends and help system are ex-convicts or wives of accomplices in crime. Max finds shelter in their homes, bringing a whiff of the underworld with him. He gives them money to help them raise their children. I felt sorry for them. They are victims of their social environment. The children grow up poor, with an absent father and a mother struggling to make ends meet. Shady characters crash at their house and they are in an unstable environment. What is their chance to have a better life? Who can show them another way to live? How can their parents’ fate not repeat with them?

No Beast So Fierce is an honest book. Bunker shows Max’s anger, pictures what the system made of him, pities him but doesn’t deny his responsibility in his actions. He never says that Max is a victim who doesn’t have a choice. He shows how his life story leads him to the choices he makes. Max is never hiding behind phony excuses to justify his actions.

It’s disgusting to behave stupidly, but doubly so while knowing it’s stupid in advance.

He made poor decisions and he went into crime with his eyes open. He also mentions the thrill it gives him (A tremor almost sexual passed through me as I anticipated the coming robbery.) and the rebel in him doesn’t want to bend. He’s a fascinating character but not one I’d want to be friend with.

I know it doesn’t show in this billet because I wanted to avoid spoilers but No Beast So Fierce is also a high-paced novel. The first part sets the décor and characters. The second part increases the pace and starts the action. The third part races to the denouement and it’s gripping. Quentin Tarantino loved No Beast So Fierce and hired Bunker to play Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs. I think I know why.

Many, many, many thanks to Guy for picking this book for me. I’d never heard of it and it’s a fantastic read.

Book Club 2014 – 2015 : new reading list

June 7, 2014 42 comments

book_club_2Our Book Club is currently reading Time After Time by Molly Keane and will be reading Anna Edes by Dezső Kosztolányi in July. Our new Book Club year starts in August and we’ve already picked the books for the coming year. We’ve chosen books from several countries, several genres, classics and recent ones and I think it will be an exciting reading year. I’ve never read most of the writers we’ve selected, and that’s a bonus. *drums* Here’s the list:

Book title in English

Book title in French

Author

Country

Month

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me Demain dans la bataille, pense à moi

Javier Marias

Spain

August

The Awakening Eveils

Gaïto Gazdanov

Russia

September

To Kill a Mocking Bird Ne tirez pas sur l’oiseau moqueur

Harper Lee

USA

October

At Swim-Two-Birds Swim-Two-Birds

Flann O’Brien

Ireland

November

The Good Soldier Le bon soldat

Ford Maddox Ford

UK

December

On the Black Hill Les jumeaux de Black Hill

Bruce Chatwin

UK

January

The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro La tête perdue de Damasceno Monteiro

Antonio Tabucchi

Italy

February

Not available in English De là on voit la mer

Philippe Besson

France

March

Fathers and Sons Pères et fils

Turgeniev

Russia

April

Machine Man Non traduit en français

Max Barry

Australia

May

Labor Day Le grand-weekend

Joyce Maynard

USA

June

Going to Meet the Man

Face à l’homme blanc

James Baldwin

USA

July

By Marias, I’ve only read All Souls (Le roman d’Oxford in French) and I liked it but not enough to start another one. I’ve seen Marias praised a lot on other blogs, so I’m curious about my response to this one. In September, we’ll read The Awakening by Gaito Gazdanov. It is set in France, in Provence, even if Gazdanov is a Russian writer. So no promenades in sleight in this Russian novel but garigue expected. Then we’ll move to the USA. I suppose most of you have already read To Kill a Mocking Bird but we haven’t. I’m glad it’s on the list, I’ve wanted to read it for a long time. After that, we’ll fly back to Ireland and read At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien. He’s also a new writer to me and from the blurb of the book, I think that At Swim-Two-Birds should be right in my alley. Let’s hope the English isn’t too difficult or too full of Irish words I’ve never heard of.

According to Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, Ford Maddox Ford’s body odour was intolerable. That’s TMI to me, I’m not interested in writers’ bodily details unless they turn them into literature like Philip Roth. So I hope reading The Good Soldier will help me put Ford Maddox Ford back on his disembodied literary pedestal and that his prose will be so good it will erase any impression of him left by Hemingway.

Chatwin_Black_HillThen we’ll move our literary feast to Wales with On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin. The cover of its Penguin edition is consistent with my memories of Wales: lots of sheep. I’ve heard it’s an excellent book, so it should be a wonderful reading moment in January, the month made to read on the couch by a fire. Perhaps we’ll still be sitting there in February to read The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro by Antonio Tabucchi. Isn’t that an intriguing title? It’s a dark novel set in Porto. After reading a novel set in Portugal and written by an Italian writer, we’ll head to Italy with a French writer and discover De là on voit la mer by Philippe Besson. (From There, You See the Sea, not available in English, yet.) I’m happy to have a Besson on the list, I’ve loved to two ones I’ve read  (En l’absence des hommes and Un homme accidentel) and I highly recommend him. I find his prose addicting, it carries me away like a leaf in the autumn wind.

Then we’ll have something totally different with Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, another writer I’ve never read. Fathers and Sons is his masterpiece, I’m looking forward to it. After this classic, I’ll be delighted to meet with Max Barry again and read his Machine Man. Company, Syrup and Jennifer Government were fantastic, the kind of books you want to buy to your friends. I love Barry’s sense of humour and insight. We will finish our booking year with two American novels. We won’t read Labor Day by Joyce Maynard in September but in June, just before reading stories by James Baldwin.

I’m looking forward to this new reading year and of course, I’ll share my impressions of these books with you in future billets. Have you read any of these books?

Romain Gary Literature Month: wrap-up

June 3, 2014 18 comments

I wanted to publish this a little bit earlier but work got in the way. May is over now and so is Romain Gary Literature Month. It’s time to wrap things up and give you the list of the Romain Gary billets I’m aware of. If there are some more, please let me know.

Gary_CentenaireCaroline published a billet about a collection of short stories and unfortunately, she wasn’t thrilled by them. Gary is better with novels; it seems to me his prose blooms better in longer works. Passage à l’Est re-read Education Européenne and the novel was up to her memories. It’s a good one to read. Gary wrote it while he was roasting in Africa and it’s set in the cold and snowy winter of a Poland at war. Guy wasn’t enthralled by Your Ticket is No Longer Valid. It is not one I’d recommend for a Gary beginner unless you’re also a Philip Roth fan. I hope Guy will still want to try another one. Vishy loved Promise at Dawn and he’s willing to read The Roots of Heaven and White Dog. Déborah read Le Vin des morts. This is an early novel that had never been published. It’s been released for Gary’s centenary and now I need to read it too. I’m curious about it and Gary fans seem to like it. James Henderson re-read The Roots of Heaven and wrote an excellent review of Gary’s first Goncourt. And I read White Dog, the English version of Chien Blanc. My billet is here; it’s really excellent and I highly recommend it. (the book, not the billet)

Thanks to all of you for participating, reading or re-reading my favourite author. I will add links to you blogposts on my new page Reading Romain Gary. For late bloomers or late participants, let me know if you write something about him and I’ll add it to the page.

Meanwhile in France, his centenary was well celebrated. The great news besides Le Vin des morts is that Romain Gary’s work will be published in the edition La Pléiade. For non-French readers, La Pléiade is a luxurious edition of literature. It’s an honour for a writer to have his books in this collection. It is named after the famous group of French Renaissance poets. Gary would be proud to be edited in this collection, I think. For book publishing, it’s like royalty. Gary’s publisher Gallimard edited special bookmarks for the occasion and I’m glad my favourite independent bookstore gave me a set. Finally, bookstores celebrated the event, like here in Divonne-les-Bains:

 librairie_Gary

If you want to know more about Gary’s celebration in France, have a look at Delphine’s blog Romain Gary & moi.

I hope other readers will discover him, just like one of my friends recently did. She’s on her way to read them all.

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