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In dire need of escapism…

October 22, 2022 26 comments

I don’t know how it is for you, but every time I switch on the radio, it’s all gloom and doom. Add to the mix a string of exhausting days at work and I’m in the right mood for book escapism.

I tried to read A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable (2014), based on an extraordinary but true story.

In 2010, Marc Ottari, a Parisian art expert was appointed to appraise the content of an apartment. Set in the heart of Paris, it had been unopened for 70 years. They discovered a portrait by the Belle Epoque portraitist Giovanni Boldini along with a collection of expensive furniture and decorations. It was the apartment of Marthe de Florian (1864-1939), a famous demi-mondaine of the Third Republic.

The novel features April Vogt, an American art expert sent to Paris to help out her colleagues from the French office in charge of registering all the furniture and decorations of the above-mentioned apartment. She gets interested in Marthe and investigates further.

The blurb had me salivating. The execution? Not so much. I thought that April was an irritating character with her marital angst and her swooning for French men. Gable dabbles a book full of all the Parisian clichés an American reader might expect. It didn’t warm me to April as a character or to the author.

April finds Marthe de Florian’s diary and the chapters alternate between April in Paris and Marthe’s voice coming from her journal. A well-known but efficient plot device. The problem is that Marthe doesn’t speak like a 19th century woman, in my opinion. That’s the form. And then, there’s the substance.

CREDIT “AFP/MARC OTTAVI”

According to her Wikipedia page –probably based upon Gable’s novel— Marthe de Florian was involved with several French politicians of the Third Republic and with Robert de Montesquiou.

In the afterword by Marc Ottavi, the actual art expert who went into the apartment mentions that they found letters by prominent politicians of the Third Republic but nothing by Robert de Montesquiou.

To be honest, I thought that her affair with Montesquiou was strange. I know of him because he was a friend and mentor of Proust’s and allegedly the inspiration for the Baron de Charlus.

I don’t think that Marthe de Florian and her politicians ran into the same circles as Montesquiou, even if Boldini painted him too. And both Montesquiou and his doppelganger Charlus were gay.

Monstesquiou’s Wikipedia page confirms my impression. He ran into aristocratic social circles (and not Republican ones like Marthe de Florian) and his only love interest mentioned is a man, Gabriel Yturri. They met in 1885 and were together until Yturri’s death in 1905. They are buried in the same grave.

I’ve looked into other articles about Marthe de Florian and while they mention the politicians, they never hint at any relationship with Robert de Montesquiou. One of those is here.

So, a torrid affair between Montesquiou and Marthe de Florian? I don’t buy it. I’d love to hear about Michelle Gable’s source since none of them are listed in her book.

In the end, between April’s weak voice, Marthe’s too modern one, her weird hatred for Jeanne Hugo and the historical inconsistencies, I stopped reading. I felt I was cheated of a good story because the discovery of Marthe de Florian’s apartment is a bloody perfect pitch for a novel.

I was still in dire need of escapism when I stumbled upon Emi’s message on Twitter (@dappled_days) about The Lark by E. Nesbit. She wanted other book recommendations like this one and I figured it would help me out too. Other book lovers responded with recommendations and I listed them for future reference.

  • The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
  • The Lark by E. Nesbit
  • Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
  • Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
  • Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam
  • O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker
  • Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson
  • Susan Settles down by Molly Clavering
  • Miss Carter and the Ifrit by Susan Alice Kerby
  • Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
  • The Marble Staircase by Elizabeth Fair
  • Shepherdess of Sheep by Noel Streatfeild
  • Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp
  • High Rising by Angela Thirkell
  • The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
  • Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
  • The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • The Haunted bookshop by Christopher Morley
  • A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse
  • The Love Letter by Cathleen Schine
  • The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Tom Tiddler’s Ground by Ursula Orange
  • The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy Days
  • Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple
  • The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff
  • At Sea by Laurie Graham
  • Patricia Brent, Spinster by H.G. Jenkins
  • Miss Mole by E.H. Young
  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
  • Penny Plain by O. Douglas
  • Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom
  • The Romance of a Shop by Amy Levy
  • Miss MacKenzie by Anthony Trollope
  • Mr Hogarth’s Will by Catherine Helen Spence
  • A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge
  • The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge

More suggestions published by Dean Street Press.

British Library Crime Classics supplies another kind of escapism and that’s the one I turned to when I read The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie for the upcoming #1929Club.

If you have information about Marthe de Florian, please let me know, I’m curious. Other recommendations for book escapism are welcome.

A season at the theatre : 2021/2022

October 2, 2022 18 comments

I had planned to write this billet in June and well, life happened, I didn’t have time for it.

Now that the new theatre season starts, I still want to have a wrap-up billet about the 2021/2022 one. I have a subscription at one of the theatres in Lyon. I’ve seen the plays I’ve picked when I booked my subscription and a few others in Paris.

Théâtre des Célestins. (from grainsdesel.com)

Theatre is still a living art in France, even if theatres struggle to find their public again after the COVID crisis. I don’t know exactly how many theatres there are in the Lyon metropolis (1.7 million inhabitants) but it’s more than forty, according to the Yellow Pages. A lot of theatres receive public funding to keep culture affordable. In France, included in Paris, you can see a play for 30-35 euros, just to give you an idea. After this “fun facts” interlude, the plays!

September: Skylight by David Hare, translated by Dominique Hollier and directed by Claudia Stavisky

The season opened by Skylight by David Hare, a British playwright. Kyra lives in a poor neighborhood in London. She’s a teacher at a local school and barely makes ends meet. Her former lover, a rich self-made man comes to visit her. Their love wasn’t enough to keep them together when their definitions of a purposeful and well-lived life differ so much.

A very powerful direction with exceptional actors. My billet is here.

September: The Island of Slaves by Marivaux, directed by Didier Long

This is a classic play written by Pierre de Marivaux in 1725. After a shipwreck, noblemen and their servants arrive on an island where masters and servants switch their places, so that masters experience how it feels to be a servant.

This play is often on the syllabus of French classes in middle-school. My billet is here.

October: The Earth Rebels by Guillaume Clayssen, Sara Llorca and Omar Youssef Souleimane, directed by Sara Llorca.

It’s a contemporary play, the child of a meeting between Sara Llorca and the Syrian poet Omar Youssef Souleimane. I don’t remember much about this play as I didn’t like it. Sorry. It’s bound to happen when you have a subscription.

October: Love written and directed by Alexander Zaldin.

This play was broadcasted in English and we weren’t light on our feet when we left the theatre. It’s set in a British shelter run by the social services. People have private rooms but share the kitchen.

They are waiting for permanent council flats and are ill, old or unemployed. A very poignant play about poor people who don’t have a voice and are sometimes accused of being responsible for their poverty. Bleak but necessary. Billet available here.

November: Heaven in Nantes written and directed by Christophe Honoré.

You may know Christophe Honoré as a film director. Le ciel de Nantes is his first play and it’s based on his family’s life. I loved it.

The text is powerful and the direction original. The setting was an old movie theatre where Christophe (Honoré), now a filmmaker, reunites his family to talk about their past. The grandfather was a drunkard and violence tainted the relationships of his children and made his wife’s life a living hell. The family’s hard story unfolds under our eyes. It’s fun, sad, violent and unique and universal as it makes references to France in the last decades.

All the actors were excellent and rang true. The public was immersed in their life stories, singular and at the same time common with French people of Christophe’s age.

To readers who live in France: if this play comes to your theatre, go and see it.

November: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, directed by Arnaud Denis and translated by Pierre Arcan.

It was a wonderful time at the theatre. Wilde’s play is funny in itself but the direction and the actors were perfect. This is a play for theatre newbies. It’s got rhythm, great costumes, excellent acting and simply makes you happy. My billet is available here. It’s is on at the Théâtre Hébertot in Paris.

December: Fracasse based upon the novel by Théophile Gautier and directed by J-C Hembert.

Le Capitaine Fracasse is a novel I never finished because I found Gautier’s prose heavy. Even Proust says it in Days of Reading.

Made into a play, Le Capitaine Fracasse comes alive and sheds the complicated words nobody uses anymore to keep the fun of the plot. We had a wonderful time and it’s also one to see with teenagers.

December: I Have Doubts by François Morel

François Morel is a French actor and columnist who write thoughtful and poetic billets. Here, he made a show out of texts by the late humorist Raymond Devos.

Devos had the knack to write timeless and poetic sketches where he plays on words and points out daily absurdities. It’s delightful but not easy to say and François Morel is up to the challenge.

February: Gulliver’s Travels based upon Swift, directed Christian Hecq and Valérie Lesort

This was such a pleasure to watch.

I have never read the original by Swift but this adaptation into a play was playful and imaginative. The play was centered around the travel to Lilliput. The Lilliputians were played by actors who had their hands playing their feet.

Look at the costumes! We exited the theatre with a big grin on our faces and the urge to recommend this play to everyone. Another great play for children and teenager to show them that plays are not boring. We have to pass our love of theatre to the younger generation.

March: Eve of Retirement by Thomas Bernhard

A horrifying play by Thomas Berhnard about an ex(?)-Nazi officer who bullies his sisters and enjoys celebrating Himmler’s birthday. A terrifying moment based on the true story of man who concealed his past in the SS and spent a quiet life somewhere in Germany. We got out of the theatre feeling terrible and I wrote a billet about this play here.

April: An I and Silence by Naomi Wallace, translated by Dominique Hollier and directed by René Loyon.

I expected better out of this play. We’re in the USA in the 1950s, Jamie and Dee meet in prison. Jamie is white and Deet is black. They decide to stick together when they go out. The play is about their attempt at living a “normal” life after imprisonment and the difficulties they meet due to their social and/or the color of their skin.

Something was off in this play, even if the text was good. It wasn’t my favorite one.

April: I Live Here written and directed by Jean-Michel Ribes.

Jean-Michel Ribes is an excellent playwright. I Live Here features an apartment complex and twelve characters, including the famous French concierge. They meet briefly as they go in and out of the building. It’s not a brand-new concept but it still makes a great play.

April : The Wild Imaginings of a Man Suddenly Touched by Grace by Edouard Baer, directed by Edouard Baer and Isabelle Nanty.

The original French title of this play is Les élucubrations d’un homme touché par la grâce. Edouard Baer is a man of many talents.

In this play, he was alone on stage, playing an actor who escaped from the show he was supposed to do. And he talks about anything and everything, taking the public with him in the meanders of his mind. He ends up quoting his favorite writers and since Romain Gary is among them, I was conquered.

A lovely, erudite-but-not-too-much, poetic and fun evening.

May: The Bourgeois Gentleman by Molière, directed by Jérôme Deschamps

No need to introduce Molière or his Bourgeois Gentleman.

I’d already seen this play but not in its original form. It’s a comédie-ballet, a play intermingled with music, dance and singing. Lully composed the music and Pierre Beauchamp did the choreography.

This time, for the fourth centenary of Molière’s birth, the show was as imagined by Molière. An orchestra was there to play Lully’s music and dancers did the ballet interludes.

Jérôme Deschamps did a wonderful version of this comedy with quirky costumes. Excellent actors served Molière’s prose and it was a pleasure to see this comedy again.

June: Berlin, Berlin by Patrick Hautdecoeur and Gérald Sibleyras, directed by José Paul

Back to Paris and off to see a play which won a Molière, the Goncourt of theatre plays. Berlin, Berlin is set in East Berlin in the late 1980s.

Emma and Ludwig want to go and live in West Germany. They’ve heard that there are tunnels in the basement of a building in East Berlin. An old lady living there is in need of a nurse. Emma is hired to take care of her and soon discovers that the lady’s son is a high rank Stasi officer…It’s a wonderful comedy with lots of twists and turns and quiproquos. Very funny.

All in all, I had an excellent season and I hope the 2022/2023 one will be just as good. Stay tuned!

Book Club 2022-2023 : The List

September 18, 2022 24 comments

I’m a little late with my usual Book Club list but, here we go!

Our reading year starts in September with The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard (UK, 1990)

This is the first volume of the Cazalet Chronicles, the story of an English family from 1937 to the 1950s. It’s our September read and I’ve finished it now and won’t write a full billet about it. I know it is a beloved series but I was very disappointed and terribly bored.

I expected something between Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson and ended up in a plain soap opera full of clichés.

An eccentric couple as patriarch and matriarch of the family. A woman who left her career to marry and ends up stuck with a womanizer. A closeted lesbian spinster. A would-be painter, a widower remarried to a beautiful but vapid young woman who doesn’t like her step-children. An affectionate couple who can’t seem to speak to each other. A sister married to a scoundrel and struggling with money, until a dear old aunt dies. An ugly and poor governess. An army of children with the expected dreams and angst: being an actress, fleeing from home, fighting with each other…And servants as side characters.

All this in a style I found very plain. Tedious and lifeless descriptions of the countryside, the different homes or the cook’s culinary wonders. I expected a bit of humor and found none. I couldn’t find any interest in the characters’ fate and struggled to finish The Light Years. Needless to say, I won’t be reading the next one.

I couldn’t immerse myself in Downtown Abbey either, that should have clued me in. At this time, I don’t know if the other members of our Book Club enjoyed it more than me. I’m looking forward to hear their take.

Since several bloggers I respect and share literary interests with really loved this series, I wonder what I missed. A British cultural background?

October will bring another historical novel with Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown (USA, 2014)

Like The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Flight of the Sparrow is based upon the real life of a woman who feels stifled by the restricted status of women in her time and who starts questioning the vision of the world she was born in.

Set in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1676, Flight of the Sparrow is based upon the real life of Mary Rowlandson who lives in a Puritan community and is captured by Indians. Sharing the Indians’ quotidian, she’ll discover another way of living, another kind of civilization.

I’m looking forward to it.

November will be totally different with Animal Souls by Jose Rodrigues Dos Santos (Portugal, 2020).

It is the eleventh volume of a crime fiction series featuring a recurring character, Tomás Noronha. I’ve never heard of this writer, specialized in scientific crime fiction and who bases his books on true scientific research.

Animal Souls explores the topic of the intelligence and the consciousness of animals as Tomás Noronha investigates a murder at the Oceanarium in Lisbon.

It sounds fascinating. December will take us to India with Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga. (2011)

Set in Mumbai, it’s the story of a man who refuses to leave his apartment and sell to a property developer. On principle.

I like him already.

I hope to learn a bit more about India through this book even if it’s already eleven years old and many things have happened since.

January will bring us back to Europe and in the 19th century with The Waltz of the Trees and the Sky by Jean-Michel Guenassia (2016).

I don’t think it’s been translated into English and the original French title of the book is La valse des arbres et du ciel.

The beautfiful cover is spot on as this book relates the last days of Van Gogh’s life with the Gachet family in Auvers-sur-Oise. It’s based upon the latest research on Van Gogh’s life and his work.

February will see us back in the 21st century with Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov. (Ukraine)

Lots of reviews of this book have blossomed on our literary blogosphere since the war in Ukraine started.

I’m looking forward to understanding better the background of the war in Ukraine through Kurkov’s eyes.

I still have his other book, The Chameleon, on the shelf.

In March, we’ll go to Atlanta and read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018)

According to the blurb, it sounds like the little brother of If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

A young couple with a promising future is set apart when the husband is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

How will their couple survive this?

Then it’s back to France and crime fiction in April.

We’ll read Boccanera by Michèle Pedinielli, a crime fiction book set in Nice. Boccanera is a woman PI who will investigate a murder in the gay community. She sounds like a great character, a maverick in a men’s world.

On the cover it says : “If Montale and Corbucci had a daughter, she’d look like Boccanera.”

Doesn’t it sound great?

We’ll fly back to America in May, to New-York and his Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. (2021)

According to the blurb, it is a gloriously entertaining novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s.

It sounds more playful than the very serious Underground Railroad and Nickel Boys.

Let’s go to Harlem in the 1960s!

June will have a totally different vibe with L’Autre by Andrée Chedid (2005).

I don’t think that this one is translated into English. Andrée Chedid is a poetess and a novelist. In this novella, an old man sees someone at the window of a hotel just before an earthquake. He’ll do his best to steer the rescue teams towards this stranger and save him.

And July will be a reread, Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. No description needed. I’m curious to read it as an adult.

That’s all for the coming year. I’m happy with our choices, it’s a good mix of historical, crime and literary fiction. Did you read any of them and did you like them?

20 Books of Summer: how did that go?

September 4, 2022 12 comments

Before diving into September, running into Fall and ending up doing Christmas shopping thinking that time flies and that 2022 is almost over, let’s have a look at my 20 Books of Summer challenge. It’s hosted by Cathy and I shared my selection here. I wasn’t sure I could read 20 books this summer but I did it!

I took some liberties with the original list and the books read that weren’t on the list are in bold. I haven’t had time to write billets about all the books I read but I’m on it! Hopefully, I’ll catch up in September.

I’m happy with my summer reads as I had a good mix of crime fiction, literary fiction and non-fiction. I managed to read a few books related to my trip in the USA, which I love to do when visiting places.

Summer with crime fiction:

Trip related books:

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Appalachians)
  • Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (North Carolina)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Southern Region)
  • Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (Appalachians)
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (South Carolina)

Other books

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (USA)
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (USA) This one counts for two and I loved it.
  • Thursday Night Widows by Claudia Pineiro (Argentina)
  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (Canada)
  • The Fire, Next Time by James Baldwin (USA)
  • La véritable histoire de l’Ouest américain by Jacques Portes. (France) The most interesting thing I learnt in this one is that the film Stagecoach directed by John Ford is based on Boule de suif, a short story by Maupassant. (Translated as Dumpling or Butterball or Ball of Fat or Ball of Lard) It has also an excellent map of Native American tribes.
  • A Bookshop in Algiers by Kaouther Adimi (Algeria)

Books on the list that I didn’t read:

  • Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup (Louisiana)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (North Carolina)
  • Serena by Ron Rash (North Carolina)
  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (USA)
  • Days of Reading by Marcel Proust (France)
  • Proust by Samuel Beckett (Ireland)
  • Lie With Me by Philippe Besson (France)
  • The Miracles of Life by Stefan Zweig (Austria)

I need to change of scenery and I’m not ready to read other books set in the Appalachians or the Deep South right now. I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as they deserve it.

The upcoming billets about my 20 Books of Summer are…

I’m happy I signed up for the 20 Books of Summer challenge and I’m ready to do it again next year! Many thanks to Cathy for organizing this event.

Back from holiday!

August 23, 2022 25 comments

Hello everyone! I’m back from my holiday and normal blogging will resume soon. I’ve read nine books and I’m on a good way to complete my 20 Books Of Summer Challenge!  Now, I’ve a lot of billets to write to catch up as soon as I can.

Before diving back into the billet pool, some news about my time abroad. I’ve been to places I’m used to reading about in books, like Washington DC, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachians, North and South Carolina as well as Virginia.

So, you won’t be surprised to read billets about Shiner by Amy Jo Burns, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead or The Cut by George Pelecanos. I’m currently reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and still have When the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and Serena by Ron Rash on the shelf. More Southern books to come!

We’ve been “colleging”, a new word I learnt when we moved our daughter into her apartment at USC. It was “move in” weekend and it was a bit surreal to do that in another country, so far away from home and yet be part of this collective move-in day.

We left a family member behind until Christmas. Well, here are book-friendly places at USC.

Until I have the energy to write proper billets about books, some photos about bookish stuff that came my way during this trip. I’ll do a Literary Escapade about the Library of Congress where I spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling and reading authors names and mottos about reading and books.

Otherwise, here are too Little Free Library boxes, including one in Halifax, North Carolina, a town officially on The Underground Railroad and proudly displaying two books by Colson Whitehead.

Of course visited bookstores and came come with three books, The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly, bought at Kramer’s, Justice by Larry Watson, discovered in a used bookstore and Jim Hanvey, Detective by Octavius Roy Cohen because I had to have a book in a Library of Congress edition.

We visited historic houses and two of them had home libraries.

And last, but not least, the fly-fishing running gag of Book Around the Corner.

Frequent visitors know that I have a knack for reading books that talk about fly-fishing even if I’ve never held a fishing pole in my life. I know an abnormal number of words about fly-fishing and Oliver Gallmeister should take full responsibility for this.

I’m thinking about books by Keith McCafferty, John Gierach or William G Tapply and other books published by Gallmeister. Now I’ve been to a sporting goods store and the area about fishing was huge. I got to see flies in real life.

And, surprise, there’s a fly-fishing museum!! We didn’t visit it, I’m not that interested in fly-fishing.

I hope you enjoyed these little snippets of my trip and that will be all for the pictures. I’ll be back soon with proper billets about books.

Quais du Polar 2022 : my festival.

April 4, 2022 11 comments

In a previous billet, I had told you about the crime fiction festival Quais du Polar, set in Lyon for the 18th time.

The whole city was full of activities dedicated to the “polar” genre, a nickname for crime fiction in French. Even the weather was committed to the cause, the temperatures were polar, we even had snow! In April. In Lyon. Only Craig Johnson and the Icelandic writers felt at home with this, I imagine.

So, what did I do? I started with a rencontre musicale autour du jazz avec Jake Lamar, ie a musical experience around jazz.

Jake Lamar is an African-American from New York who’s lived in France for thirty years. His last book, Viper’s Dream is a crime fiction novel set in Harlem from 1936 to 1962 and the story revolves around jazz musicians and how the music changed in these years. Lamar is a fan of jazz, his book includes his playlist at the end and the jazz band Les Paons had prepared several songs that agreed with his writing. They were very good and the public had the chance to hear Lamar about his love for jazz and then discover his musical preferences with Les Paons. Wonderful experience.

One of my great friends was staying with us for the festival and we decided to attend a panel, la puissance noire des éléments, about wilderness or natural elements influencing a plot to the point that they are characters as much as the human characters.

As you can see on the picture, we were not in the wilderness for this panel but in the great room of the City Hall.

The writers invited to his panel were Olivier Norek, whose last book is set in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, David Joy and the importance of the Appalaches mountains in his work, Dolores Redondo who wrote a book about the hurricane Katrina and Marie Vingtras who wrote a novel set in Alaska. The journalist who hosted the debate was a bit prejudiced against Marie Vingtras who was the only one who had written a book about a place she’d never been to and where extreme weather plays a key part in the plot. To be honest, I’m not sure you can describe the cold in Alaska without experiencing it yourself. Unless you’re from British Columbia, Norway or Greenland. But for most French people who shiver when three snowflakes hit the ground and who live in a country that is mostly a garden, you need to have a hell of an imagination to write about Alaskan wilderness and be convincing. Maybe she’s that good.

Dolores Redondo decided to write about the Katrina tragedy because she was so shocked by what happened to people in New Orleans, how help took five days to come and rescue the poorer population who was stuck in town because they didn’t have the means to leave. She wrote a crime fiction book based on true facts.

That was the first time I heard David Joy speak and he intrigued me.

We managed to get into another panel, le Coeur noir des Appalaches. A lot of people were interested in this panel. The writers invited were John Woods, Kimi Cunningham Grant and David Joy. Covid happened and only David Joy was among us and we ended up spending an incredible hour with him.

Christine Ferniot from the culture magazine Télérama did an outstanding interview. She knew his books in-and-out and asked intelligent questions in such a calm and tranquil way that she pulled him out of his shell and made him talk about himself, his country, his Apalachees, the opioid pandemic around him, his love for literature.

We listened to him talk freely about his favorite writers, the importance of books and literature in his life and what matters the most to him. What outrages him. How he sees his mountain culture disappear. How he soaks up everything around him and feels more natural in the woods than in cities. Where his characters come from. His vision of the role of an artist and his quest to understand the human condition. What he wants to achieve with his books. We went off tracks and left the highway of book tours to meander in his inner literary garden.

We had a lovely and moving time with him and the great news is that you can have a lovely time with him too as all the conferences are available on the Quais du Polar website, on the replay part.

The next day, I went to a literary cruise with Olivier Norek.

We spend an hour with him and he talked about his new book, Dans les brumes de Capelans but also about himself, his experience as a policeman and how he writes his books. He’s a lot closer to an IT project manager than to Hemingway but it works! He was nice and friendly and being on the Saône river, seeing the city from the water added to the pleasure of this conference.

And of course, I spent time at the giant book fest and came back with several books:

The Kurkov is not a crime fiction novel but the blurb reminded me of Romain Gary. It just sounded like a book that he could have written. Obviously, I couldn’t resist. The English title is The Good Angel of Death. Have you read it?

The most frustrating part of the festival is that there are so many tempting panels that it’s hard to choose which one to attend. But everything is on the Quais du Polar website and now I just have to find some time to listen to other panels. (I’ll have to listen to the one called Marseille la noire).

According to newspapers, there were around 100 000 visitors at the festival and the independant bookstores sold for 250 000 euros of books in three days. A great success and see you next year from March 31st to April 2nd.

Quais du Polar 2022 : let’s get ready!

March 19, 2022 18 comments

In two weeks, the crime fiction festival Quais du Polar will open. It’s a three-days celebration of crime fiction all over the city. The program is available on the Quais du Polar website and you can download it in pdf file if you’re interested.

The organization of the festival outdid themselves. There are the usual panels with several writers gathered around a theme, the giant bookstore in the gorgeous hall of the Chamber of Commerce, the mystery to solve in the city with a booklet of clues and questions. There are also crime escape games in several museums of the city.

Last year, the festival was in June, during COVID restrictions and they had to do things outdoors. They started the “literary cruises” on the Saône River, using the city’s bateaux-mouches. I went on the cruise with Florence Aubenas last year and this year, I’m very happy that I snatched a ticket for a literary cruise with Olivier Norek.

The Opera and Théâtre de l’Odéon are also involved and I booked a ticket for a Jazz & Literature event with Jake Lamar and Les Paons. I have wonderful memories of the one with James Sallis and Michael Connelly in a previous edition of the festival.

There are tons of talks with writers, opportunities to get signed books, chat with authors and discover the city of Lyon and sneak into places where you usually don’t go, like the grand room at the city hall. Almost everything is set in the city center withing walking distance and all events are free.

The festival has a broad approach of crime and works with the police and the justice to show how things work in real life. The police organize tours at the national school for commissaires de police and police officers set near Lyon. One year, you could do a tour at a police station with police officers to explain how they work. for a tour or have police officers explaining their jobs in police stations.

Last year, I attended a panel at the tribunal with judges and lawyers specialized in cold cases. This year, the festival goes further with bus tours with CSI, police and judicial experts. People you see on the screen and hope to never meet in real life, at least, not in their official capacity.

For the rest, I’m thrilled to spend time at the festival with friends and relatives. Let’s hope that the weather cooperates and it’ll be a fantastic weekend.

Last but not least, the authors without whom this festival wouldn’t exist. Here are the authors invited to the festival. The photos come from the official Quais du Polar website. I put a book sign on the writers I’ve already read (not many, actually). Let me know in the comments which ones you recommend.

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – People and characters

February 28, 2022 19 comments

I imagine that a lot of readers of In Search of Lost Time wonder who were the real people behind the main characters of Proust’s masterpiece. The characters are so striking that they stay with you years after you’ve read La Recherche and it’s natural to want to dig out who was who between the Narrator’s life and Marcel’s. It doesn’t help that the Narrator is named Marcel, it blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography.

The Marcel Proust and Paris exhibition that I mentioned in my previous billet showed real life person vs characters.

Odette de Crécy

Odette de Crécy is the courtesan who captures the imagination and the heart of Charles Swann. We meet her in the first volume, Swann’s Way. She’s also the mother of Gilberte, the Narrator’s first love.

Odette de Crécy is modelled after Laure Hayman. She was a courtesan, first the mistress of Proust’s great-uncle Weill, then of his father Adrien. The rumor says the Marcel wanted to take over the family tradition and propositioned her but she rejected him. She had a salon, 4 rue La Pérouse in Paris, where famous writers went. Some dukes too but not their duchesses. She wasn’t too happy to recognize herself in Odette de Crécy, even if Proust always denied that it was her.

Charles Swann

Charles Swann is the key character of Swann’s Way. He was friends with the Narrator’s parents, went to salons in the high society and his love for Odette led him to the bourgeois salon of Madame Verdurin. He was very cultured and refined, his love for Odette was a surprise in the higher circles.

Swann’s real-life counterpart is Charles Haas (1832-1902) He was a star of several salons, including Madame Straus’s. Like Swann, he was Jewish, well-introduced in the world and known for his intelligence, his excellent manners and his broad culture. He was the lover of several famous ladies, like the actress Sarah Bernhardt. (Herself a model for La Berma in La Recherche)

Robert de Saint-Loup

Robert de Saint-Loup is the Narrator’s dear friend. They confide to each other, spend a lot of time together. They have a really close relationship. The Narrator knows about Robert’s liaison with the actress Rachel and Robert knows that the Narrator hides Albertine in his home.

Proust had several friends from his high school days but two dear friends stand out in his life. The first one is Raynaldo Hahn. They were close friends during twenty-eight years, it ended with Proust’s death. Hahn was a musician and a composer. Their relationship started with a liaison that turned into a long-lasting friendship. I’d like to think that there is something of him in Robert de Saint-Loup. The specialists think differently.

Robert de Saint-Loup was modeled after two other friends of Proust: Prince Antoine Bibesco (1878-1951) and Bertrand de Salignac-Fénelon (1878-1914).

A scene in La Recherche, where Robert de Saint Loup goes for the Narrator’s coat when he’s cold in a restaurant has happened in real life between Marcel and Bertrand. Bertrand de Fénelon died in combat in 1914, his body was never found. Proust only learnt about his death in March 1915 and was very distressed by his loss. Specialists think that Fénelon misunderstood Proust’s love for friendship. He died the same year as Agostinelli and the grief has certainly fueled Albertine Gone.

The Baron de Charlus

The Baron de Charlus, brother of the duc de Guermantes is the most famous homosexual character in La Recherche. He’s an art afficionado, appreciated in salons for his artistic tastes. In La Recherche, we will see him in the throes of passion, we will follow him to gay brothels and discover the underground gay Paris. Proust knew it well too.

Everyone agrees to see Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) in the Baron de Charlus. Proust and Montesquiou met in Madame Lemaire’s salon. They admired each other greatly and Proust called him “professeur de beauté” (teacher of beauty)

Montesquiou was a dandy, a poet and a novelist. He was the cousin of the comtesse Greffulhe. Like Laure Hayman, he was furious to discover himself as a character in La Recherche. I’ve never heard of him as a writer, even if he wrote eighteen collections of poems, two novels and twenty-two art and literature critics. He was very influencial in Proust’s life, for introducing him in salons and for developing his artistic tastes. He was an early promoter of lots of poets and artists, with an incredible capacity to unearth new talents and adopt new forms of art.

I haven’t read Against Nature by Huysmans, but Montesquiou also inspired the character of des Esseintes.

Madame Verdurin

Madame Verdurin has a salon that grows from bourgeois to high society in the course of La Recherche. She has around her a little clique of writers, musicians, painters and other professions. Madame Verdurin is based upon Madeleine Lemaire.

Proust was a frequent visitor in Madame Lemaire’s salon. He met there several of his close friends or acquaintances, like Raynaldo Hahn or Robert de Montesquiou. Madame Lemaire had a famous salon where numerous artists met. She was a painter herself and illustrated Proust’s first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours, in 1896. Like Madame Verdurin, she was very peremptory in her likes and dislikes and regular visitors of her salon were expected to bow to her judgements.

The duchesse de Guermantes

The duchesse de Guermantes was the Narrator’s ideal. He dreams about her and maneuvers to go to her salon. Being a regular guest at Oriane de Guermantes’s soirees is the highlight of his society life. The enchantment lasts a moment but the Narrator quickly discovers his idol’s flaws and the duchesse de Guermantes turns out to be not so likeable after all. The duchesse de Guermantes was created after the Comtesse Greffulhe, Madame de Chévigné and Madame Straus.

The Comtesse Greffulhe was a star in the Parisian high society at the turning of the 20th century. She was a painter and played the piano. She promoted various artists and loved Wagner, whom Proust adored too.

The Comtesse Geffulhe met Proust in 1893, at a soirée at the princesse de Wagram’s. She was a lot more intelligent than La Recherche lets out. She helped artists but also funded Marie Curie, as she was also interested in science.

Proust met Laure de Sade, future comtesse de Chévigné in 1891. She’s the descendant of the Marquis de Sade and she had a famous musical salon in Paris, 34 rue de Mirosmenil. Like the Narrator with the duchesse de Guermantes, Proust used to watch out for her when she was taking her morning stroll. Proust was fascinated by her and in love with her too. They remained friends during twenty-eight years, until she was hurt when she discovered herself in Madame de Guermantes and refused to read Proust’s novel.

Some say that the duchesse de Guermantes was also inspired by Madame Straus (1849-1926)

She also had a famous salon where artists gathered. Maupassant was a frequent visitor (She’s the main character of his novel Fort comme la mort). Robert de Montesquiou went to her salon too.

This is where Proust met Charles Haas, who will become Swann. In 1898, the Straus move into their new mansion, 108, rue de Miromesnil.

The duc de Guermantes

The duc de Guermantes is a formidable character in La Recherche but he’s not as interesting to the Narrator as his wife Oriane or his brother Charlus. Indeed, he has nothing in common with the Narrator. He cheats on his wife, he’s rude, talks with a booming voice, and is not interested in the arts.

He’s modeled after the comte Greffuhle. He was fabulously rich, cheated on his wife repeatedly and as soon as they were married. He loved hunting, understood nothing to art and disliked his wife’s artistic friendships. Sounds like the duc de Guermantes to me, indeed.

Albertine

And what about Albertine? It is admitted that Albertine was modeled after Alfred Agostinelli (1888-1914) He met Proust in 1907 when he drove him to Normandy. Agostinelli was a chauffeur who became Proust’s secretary. Agostinelli was passionate about aviation and he died in a crash in 1914. Proust was in love with him but his love was unrequited. Now you know where Albertine Gone comes from.

Artists in La Recherche.

Bergotte is THE writer in La Recherche. The Narrator loves his books. Bergotte is a frequent guest at Madame Verdurin’s, which confirms her ability to detect real talents. He seems to have been made of Anatole France and Paul Bourget. Ironically, unlike Maupassant or Zola, they are not a writers that people commonly read today. The irony. Anatole France had national funerals when he died but I think that his books are unreadable today.

Elstir is THE painter of La Recherche. He’s an impressionist based upon Monet, Manet, Renoir, Helleu, Whistler and Boudin. Proust must have met Monet, Manet and Renoir through Mallarmé, who was close to Berthe Morisot’s circle. He’s also a member of Madame Verdurin’s salon.

Vinteuil is THE composer of La Recherche with his sonata. There’s no actual link with a real composer.

La Berma. This actress features in beautiful pages about Phèdre and theatre. It is notorious that Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and Réjane (1856-1920) inspired the character of La Berma.

After writing about all these characters of La Recherche and their real-life inspirations, it strikes me that it was really a small world. The salons were very close, geografically and they all knew each other. How was it to be surrounded with so many great artists? What has become of salons today and what replaced them?

A lot of Proust’s models didn’t like how he portrayed them in his novels. Was he too harsh or didn’t they like that he saw through them so well? I suppose there are some clues in Proust’s abundant correspondence. What they didn’t foresee is that their socialite friend or acquaintance would give them a form of immortality. Truly, all these people would have been long forgotten if Proust hadn’t used them in La Recherche. So, literature gave them their immortality. The only ones who survived through their own merits are the painters who shaped out Elstir and and in a lesser way the writers who inspired Bergotte.

I hope you had fun with me in peaking at what was behind the scenes of La Recherche and read about its who’s who.

PS : Another thought. We must be grateful that Robert Proust was not the same prick as Paul Claudel. Otherwise, you bet that some serious editing about homosexuality would have been done in the volumes published after Marcel’s death. And let’s not think about what could have happened to his correspondence.

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – Proust in Paris

February 24, 2022 36 comments

The exhibition Marcel Proust, Un roman parisien at the Musée Carnavalet shows the importance of Paris in Proust’s life and in In Search of Lost Time. (“La Recherche”). It explores Proust’s Paris and the fictional Paris of La Recherche.

Proust has lived in Paris all his life, except for his stays in Illiers-Combray or Cabourg and his travels to Venice. The exhibition traces his family’s origins, the apartments they occupied in Paris and the places they used to spend time in. There are even maps of them!

Proust was born in 1871 in Auteuil, a village incorporated to Paris in 1860 and which is now the wealthy 16th arrondissement. His great-uncle had a country house there and Proust’s parents found shelter there during the Commune. Then they moved to the 8th arrondissement, where Proust would spend all his life. This area of Paris was modeled by the Baron Haussmann: large avenues, trees, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.

Rich bourgeois had mansions built there. In today’s touristic Paris, it’s the Boulevard Haussmann and its famous department stores, the Garnier Opera, the La Madeleine Church, the Saint-Augustin Church. We have to remember that for Proust as a child, everything around him was rather new.

The exhibition shows all the places that were Proust’s quotidian in Paris, so there is nothing about Cabourg or Illiers, translated as Balbec and Combray in his novel.

Proust spent his early childhood in Auteuil. Laure Hayman, a famous cocotte of the time was his great-uncle mistress. Marcel went to play at the Champs Elysées and he had various crushes on girls. His father, Adrien Proust, was a gifted doctor who had a brilliant career fighting for hygiene and against epidemics (cholera). He studied how epidemics spread and how to prevent their spreading. I listened to a series of podcasts about his work and actions during the first lockdown and it was fascinating. Proust’s mother, Jeanne Weill, came from a rich Alsatian-Jewish family of tradesmen. They had stores in Paris. She was the one who shared Marcel’s interest for literature and the arts, and, as the Narrator’s mother, was devastated by her mother’s death.

Proust had his mother’s eyers, no? We can imagine that Proust’s younger brother, Robert, who became a doctor, was closer to their father.

Marcel Proust went to the high school at the Lycée Condorcet. The students there were mostly non-religious bourgeois as the others were in private Catholic schools. Imagine that he had Stéphane Mallarmé as a teacher! They say he was very influential in Proust’s youth. Personally, I find Mallarmé’s poetry unreadable, I tried again after reading Berthe Morisot’s biography. Proust met close friends during his formative years at Condorcet and was an active participant to the high school newspapers and started his first literary work during those years.

La sortie du Lycée Condorcet by Jean Béraud (1903)

Growing up, he met people who introduced him to the high society. I took pictures of all the key people who inspired the characters of La Recherche but that will be in another post. These are the years he spent in salons, translating Ruskin, writing articles for Le Figaro and gathering memories and material for his future masterpiece.

Une chanson de Gibert dans le salon de Madame Madeleine Lemaire
by Pierre Georges Jeanniot (1891)

Following the death of his father (1903) and his mother (1905), he had to move to a smaller apartment, still in the same neighborhood.

The exhibition shows what Paris was like for Proust at the time, knowing that he never left the very wealthy 8th arrondissement. Maps showed the places he used to go to, like shops and restaurants. Some still exist, like the bookstore Fontaine and the restaurant Maxim’s. The gay brothel he financed and frequented, the Hôtel Marigny was on the map too. There was a map of the theatres and operas he loved and out of the nineteen places, I counted that only three don’t exist anymore. They may have moved but they are still there and that, in itself, is a tribute to the vibrant Parisian theatre scene. See an illustration with this very contemporary street corner in the 10th arrondissement.

The most surprising thing was Proust’s subscription to the Théâtrophone service. It was a service you could subscribe to in order to listen to live theatre plays and operas over the phone. It started in 1890 and was in operation until 1932, replaced by the radio. Proust loved theatre and operas and he signed up for this service in 1911. He listened to Wagner’s operas and Debussy’s music. We’re talking about the first streaming service for music and theatre here. Isn’t that mind-blowing? Reading a bit about it, I discovered that this service was invented and sold by Clément Ader, who made a fortune out of it and used the money to finance his researches on aviation. From music to planes!

When we think about Proust, we picture the whirlwind of soirées, shows and salons, but Proust wasn’t disconnected from politics: he was a fervent support to Dreyfus and Zola. He followed closely the battles during WWI and stayed in Paris during the whole war. He was interested in the world’s affairs.

Meanwhile, in 1906, he starts writing La Recherche, as if he needed his parents gone to spend some serious time on writing. The first official recognition came with the Goncourt prize for In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower in 1919. He finished the first draft of the whole La Recherche in 1922, and told his housekeeper Céleste that he was done and could die. He hadn’t left his bed much during the last years.

Proust’s bed, coat, cane and writing instruments

His brother Robert made publishing Marcel’s work his mission. Tough job as Proust never reviewed Time Regained and added corrections and additions with sticked bands of paper. The last volume of La Recherche, Time Regained, was published in 1927. Then, Robert published Marcel’s correspondence. Céleste Albaret’s book of souvenirs was published in 1973 and it’s a gold mine of information.

It was a fascinating exhibition with a lot of information and things on display. Paintings, posters, pictures, maps and scale models were numerous and all accompanied by useful explanations. I loved it and I’m not the only one. There were a lot of visitors, which explained the poor pictures. It wasn’t easy to take them.

I will post the pictures about people who mattered in Proust’s life and inspired characters in La Recherche and I hope I’ll have time to post about Paris in La Recherche, the second part of the exhibition.

Literary Escapade: Alexandre Dumas, Edmond Dantes and the Château d’If

February 21, 2022 31 comments

Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my fondest memories of reading during my teenage years. It’s the definition of a page turner, I remember reading it with eagerness and delight. What a story!

With The Three Musketeers, it is the most famous novel by Alexandre Dumas and I don’t think I need to sum up its plot. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link to the related Wikipedia page and to its free pdf edition on Project Gutenberg. Now you have no excuse not to read it.

Alexandre Dumas published Le Comte de Monte Cristo in 1844 and a significant part of the plot is set in the Château d’If. It is where Edmond Dantes is imprisoned and where he connects with Abbé Faria. The Château d’If really exists, it’s near Marseille and tourists can visit it after a mere 20 minutes boat trip from the Vieux Port. How could I resist such a literary escapade?

Photo by Jean-Marc Rosier, from Wikipedia

The Château d’If is a fortress built on the orders of King Francis I between 1527 and 1529 and reinforced by the military engineer Vauban in the 18th century. (There are Vauban fortresses all over the country. The man was everywhere, I don’t know how he made it). The Chateau d’If was a prison during 400 years and became extremely famous when Alexandre Dumas set his novel there. The last prisoners left the Chateau d’If in 1914.

Dumas knew of the Chateau d’If through his father, who was a general in Napoléon’s army. For the General Dumas, this fortress was where the General Kléber’s coffin was kept after he was assassinated in Egypt in 1800. Bonaparte was embarrassed by his death and Kléber’s body remained at the Château d’If until 1814.

Alexandre Dumas visited If in 1834 for the first time. During a trip in the Mediterranean, he came across an island named Monte Cristo. The legend says that in the Middle Ages, monks amassed a treasury on this island and nobody ever found it.

So, life provides material for fiction but the writer is the one who ties together the real story of Pierre Picaud, the Chateau d’If, the island of Monte Cristo and the political context of the Restauration.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was first published as a feuilleton in the Journal des Débats, from 1844 to 1846. The newspaper gave it a large audience as papers circulated more than books at the time, as they were cheaper and available in cabinets de lecture. (The cabinets de lecture were establishments where people could read newspapers and books against a small fee.) It was then published as a novel and immediately translated into 20 languages. So, Le Comte de Monte Cristo is one of the first international bestsellers!

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was a huge success when it was published. Dumas came to the Chateau d’If, in 1858, ten years after the novel was released as a feuilleton. To his astonishment, a guard, not knowing who he was talking to, explained the whole story of Dantes and Faria as if it were real facts. He showed the supposed cells of the two fictional prisoners and a passage between the two had even been built! It is still visible today.

This is a picture of Marseille, taken from If, only 1.5km away at sea.

How frustrating it must have been to be so close to the coast and unable to go back to the city! The only person who managed to escape this fortress is the fictional Edmond Dantes.

Readers started to visit the Château d’If as soon as the novel was published. It wasn’t officially opened to visitors but the novel was so popular that it drew people to see the fortress and Dantes and Faria’s cells. See, we’re not so original with Harry Potter or Hunger Games tours! I find this kind of trivia fascinating and I often realize that a lot of our modern behaviors started out in the 19th century.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo has an amazing plot, and it was made into a play by Dumas himself, into films and into a manga by Ena Moriyama. The clerk of the boutique at the Chateau d’If told me that she met a Japanese tourist who was staying in France for four months to learn French and was very happy to visit the castle as he was a huge fan of the Monte Cristo manga.

History and fiction are entwined in such a way that the Château d’If has 100 000 visitors per year, something it would never have without Dumas. Otherwise, it is a rather banal fortress, a prison whose most notorious prisoner is a character in a bestseller.

And, that is the lasting power of literature and books for you, my friends. 🙂

2022 Reading projects

January 9, 2022 43 comments

Now that you know all about my favorite reads for 2021, let’s have a look at my reading projects for 2022. They include the inevitable “Kill the TBR” part, probably only to allow myself to buy more books and end up with the same number of unread books come December 31st. Oh well. One of the great pleasure of life is visiting bookshops. I’ll never spend a whole year without buying a single book.

My 2022 reading year will include the books I’ll read along with my Book Club and with my sister-in-law.

That’s already 15 books, out of the 75 read every year.

2022 will see two major centenaries for French literature. It is the centenary of Proust’s death and the fourth centenary of Molière’s birth.

I’ll have a Proust Centenary event. I want to finally finish my reread of In Search of Lost Time. I also have several works by Prousts or Proust related books on the shelf. Time to read them! The Proust Centenary reading list is:

  • Albertine disparue by Marcel Proust
  • Le temps retrouvé by Marcel Proust
  • Proust by Samuel Beckett
  • Days of Reading by Marcel Proust
  • The Mysterious Correspondant. New Stories by Marcel Proust
  • Le mensuel retrouvé by Marcel Proust

I hope to be able to visit the Proust exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. I’d love to visit Aunt Léonie’s house in Illiers-Combray but it’s like a six-hour drive to go there.

I’ll probably do something about Molière’s centenary too. I will see Le Bourgeois gentilhomme in May, it’s in my theatre subscription for 2022. I’m tempted to reread Le Misanthrope. We’ll see how things go on that front. I have already published several billets about Molière’s plays as he’s my favorite playwright.

I will also participate to various reading challenges and blogging events because I enjoy the book blogging community and also because it’s a good way to tackle the TBR. I try to pick books from the TBR for these events and to kill several birds with one stone.

So far, I’ve spotted several events.

The first one is the year-long Nonfiction Reader Challenge, a good way to decrease the Nonfiction TBR. There are twelve categories but I can’t really find one book per category, so I choose de Nonfiction Grazer status, meaning I can read whatever nonfiction book I want. Here’s my list, which overlaps with Book Club and Proust Centenary lists.

My daughter is spending a year in UofSC and I hope we’ll be able to visit the area next summer. I’ve chosen several books to read from the Appalachians and the Carolinas.

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  • Country Dark by Chris Offutt
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Serena by Ron Rash
  • Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash
  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Have already been announced : Japanese Literature Challenge, Larry McMurtry 2022 for which I want to read Lonesome Dove, and the 1954 Club. (I have The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty on the shelf)

All this makes 30-35 books, all from the TBR, Yay! For the rest, we’ll where my mood takes me and how life goes. I only want to have fun, learn new things, do some armchair travels and spend time with books.

What are your reading projects for 2022?

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Let’s have a quick look at my 2021 year with books.

January 8, 2022 47 comments

I can’t believe we’re already in 2022. At work, I’m starting to see contracts that ends in 2030 and the first one struck me as being a mistake but after recounting the years, I thought, “Oh right, we’re that close to 2030 after all”. Before I share my 2022 reading projects with you, let’s have a look at my 2021 reading year.

I read 76 books, two less than in 2020 but the end of December has been busy, my concentration was shot and I couldn’t read anything. For a lot of bloggers, 76 books is what they read in three months, but for me it’s a good score.

I’ve read your posts full of stats about countries, writers’ gender, translated books, non-fiction vs fiction, numbers of pages read and all that and I admire you for checking out all these numbers. I work with numbers all day long and I keep them at bay from my reading. So, no stats like this from me, I’m afraid.

Here, I’m happy to live without numbers and only go with totally subjective opinions about books I read. So, here we go, with categories of my own.

Best Least Commented Billet

I looked into my billets in search of the least commented ones. Some of my favorite books of the year are in this category, sadly. Something happened to The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart, it fell into a pit and nobody cared about this Texan family saga. It is an amazing book, though. Rugged characters, beautiful writing and a story that takes you away to Texas for a while. I haven’t read Lonesome Dove yet, but I figure it’s the same kind of book.

Best Gallmeister Book

Frequent flyers of this blog know that I’m fan of books published by Gallmeister. They publish excellent American literature with a focus on crime fiction and Nature Writing, the books that Oliver Gallmeister loves and wishes to promote.

Among the eleven books that I read this year from their catalogue, my favorite on is Betty by Tiffany McDaniel. It’s a bestseller in France, readers, libraires and literary critics loved it. I was a bit reluctant to read it, as often with books with a lot of hype. (Still haven’t read Elena Ferrante for that same reason). It was a Book Club choice and I’m very happy the group pushed me to read it.

It’s based on the true story of Tiffany McDaniel’s mother growing up poor and part-Cherokee in Ohio in the 1950s. It is a beautiful homage to McDaniel’s grandfather too, written in a style that hooks you up. Violence and pain are part of the family story but it’s not a bleak book. Highly recommended.

There will be more Gallmeister books in 2022, starting with Italian crime fiction as they’ve branched out and started to publish non-American books.

Best Most Relaxing Book

This category is for comfort and fun books. I loved Miss Mole by E.H. Young . It was a wonderful study of character, an easy read with excellent insight. A total comfort book. Thanks for the recommendation, Ali.

I also had a blast with Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gishler. It’s like reading an action movie set in the near future and it was sheer fun. I owe this one to Guy.

But the book that combined comfort and fun was The Grey Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty. It’s all-in-one for me: crime fiction, Nature Writing, fun and exotic.

Best Non-Book Post

Since 2019, I have a best-of category for my billets that are not a book review. This year, the most read and commented ones were about lists of books, my 20 Books of Summer List and my Book Club 2021-2022 List. That’s us, avid readers, we all love book lists, reading recommendations and book piles.

Sign of the times, there has been no Literary Escapade billet in 2021. I hope to resume these outings in 2022.

Best Read With-Sister-in-Law

I’m now in my third year of readalong with my sister-in-law. (Hi S!) It’s been a year with literary fiction and crime fiction. We couldn’t finish Elmore Leonard’s Western Stories. It’s well-written and all but we got tired of formulaic cowboy stories.

The most striking book we’ve read it The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The characters are fictional but it’s based on the real place, the Dozier School in Florida. It was a reform school operated by the State of Florida and as you imagine, it was not a Care Bears kind of place. Reading it made me so angry on behalf of all the boys that were destroyed in that school and by the very people who were supposed to take care of them.

Best Translation Tragedy

A Translation Tragedy is a book available in English but sadly not in French or vice versa. This year I’ve read fifteen books that are not translated into English and nine that are not translated into French.

Among the nine books not available in French, three are from Australia and New Zealand, three are from America and three from UK. I think that Death on Demand by Paul Thomas would find its public in France as we are fans of crime fiction and his Maori maverick police officer would be a hit. Thank you, Kim, for organizing your Southern Cross Crime event as it led me to Death on Demand.

Nine of the fifteen books not available in English are French books, the others are from Italy, Colombia, Morocco, Japan, Egypt and Québec.

Noah’s Ark by Khaled al Khamissi is the book I’d want to see translated into English. The intertwined stories of the characters show the various reasons why people want to emigrate and how well it works for them.

Best Book-I-Want-To-Buy-To-All-My-Friends

I guess it’d be Convenience Store Woman by Sakaya Murata. The main character, Keiko Furukura, is a peculiar lady. She’s 36 and had been working at the SmileMart convenience store for 18 years. She’s single, never had a boyfriend, doesn’t wish to marry and loves her job. She doesn’t conform to the Japanese society norms. This novella is an easy read and shows an interesting side of Japan. Thanks Vishy for pointing this one to me!

Best Book Club Read

Our Book Club year was a success but the one book I want to show off is Entre deux mondes by Olivier Norek. It’s hard but not bleak and it will force you to see what happens to migrants on our shores and especially in Calais, in the North of France, across the UK. I wish that all the candidates to the French presidential election and the current British Home Secretary read it if they’re openminded enough to see the human beings behind their speeches and actions on emigration.

Best Non-Fiction

I loved the time I spent with Monsieur Proust’s Library by Anka Mulhstein.

It’s a slim book in which Anka explores Proust’s relationship with books, literature and writers. It’s a delightful book that will appeal to all readers, whether they’ve read Proust of not.

Best Random Discovery

By Random Discovery, I mean a book I read after leaping from another book. That’s exactly what happened with The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage. I read a book by her husband, Thomas Savage, realized that he was married to a writer and decided to try her books too.

The Last Night at the Ritz is told by an unreliable but likeable narrator and it goes back to a life of friendship between two women and their different paths in life.

Best Bleak Book

In 2021, I seemed to have the knack for picking bleak books, as I mentioned it in my billet B is for bleak : the bleak fest continues in Oktober. The bleakest book of my reading year was Les larmes sur la terre by Sandrine Collette.

In a dystopian future, Moe lands in a breaker’s yeard with her baby, gets a used car for housing and discovers that poor people are parked here with no real hope of ever going out. I’ve rarely read a book that dark and that hopeless. It has wonderful literary qualities in its style and the story is totally new. But wow, it’s taxing for the reader.

Best Spooky Book

Nothing prepared me for The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury. The main character is Tracy, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in Alaska.

Her mother died the year before and their family fell apart after that. Her father and mother were mushers but now he doesn’t want to race anymore. And Tracy has a strange need to spend time in the wilderness, a need she shared with her mother. She has a special connection to wild life, one you’ll get to know if you read this book.

That’s all folks! 2021 has been an excellent reading year for me and I’m sure 2022 will be too. What was your favorite book in 2021? Say the first that comes to mind when you think “What did I read in 2021?”

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Happy New Year 2022!

January 1, 2022 35 comments

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you spent New Year’s Eve in good company and that you had a wonderful evening.

I wish you all and your loved ones a good health, a chance to go and see your relatives who live abroad, a peaceful professional life, an opportunity to make your dreams and projects come true.

I am thankful for all the healthcare professionals who bear with Covid-19, keep on nursing us and who have to take the brunt of the epidemic every single working day. I hope this year will be easier on them.

Let’s hope that this year will grow into an amazing transition year to a better future.

I wish us all an excellent reading year and I’ll come back later with my best-of-the-year list and 2022 reading projects. Meanwhile, here are the bookish gifts I got for Christmas. Look at my cool Mafalda tote bag and the cutest library socks ever!

I got myself a subscription to Quais du Polar, and along with it, the book Les jardins d’Eden by Pierre Pelot. I’m ready to read Nemesis by Philip Roth and see his take on a pandemic situation.

Many thanks to the book blogging community for sharing and exchanging about literature, libraries, book shelves, TBRs, book recommandations, for organizing challenges and events that bring us together. We make our lives better with civilized discussions about the immense pleasure that books and literature bring into our quotidian.

I’m looking forward to spending this new reading year with you.

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Paintings, theatre, music and books.

December 12, 2021 30 comments

As the pandemic once again rears its ugly head, I feel like the last few weeks of activities have been on borrowed time. I’ve been to a wonderful museum-thon in Paris with my girlfriends. We managed to pack four exhibitions and a theatre play in a two-day stay in the capital. How I love Paris. There’s no other city like Paris, except maybe Rome.

Our first visit was to my favorite museum, the Musée Jacquemart-André. It is boulevard Haussmann, where Proust used to live and where the great department stores always make me think of Ladies’ Paradise by Zola.

At the moment, the museum hosts an incredible exhibition, Botticelli, artist and designer. I’m not a great art connoisseur but I’ve never stared at a painting in awe as much as I have in front of The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. No printed or screen reproduction can give justice to the colors that leap out of the canvas, the fineness of the fabrics or the details in the hair and jewels. Look at his Portrait of young woman, (La Belle Simonetta in French.) *sighs with happiness*

We had lunch at the museum’s café which makes you think that Robert de Saint-Loup might stride into the room at any time for a chat with Marcel.

Different museum, different painter and a leap across the centuries: a major Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Centre Pompidou.

I always find this museum rather cold with its modern architecture and it has the worst waiting line management I’ve ever seen. The exhibition was worth the hassle though as they displayed paintings from all of O’Keeffe’s career. I’ve been to her museum in Santa Fe, so her work wasn’t new to me. We all know about her colorful and flower paintings and her later New Mexico period. I thought about books by Hillerman, Doss and Kingsolver.

Taos Pueblo by Georgia O’Keeffe.

I also enjoyed her New York paintings. They reminded me of Manhattan Transfer by Dos Passos and I wanted to hop on a plane and to go New York.

East River from the Sheldon Hotel by Georgia O’Keeffe.

The day after, we visited the Fondation Louis Vuitton that currently hosts an exhibition about the Morozov collection. It’s like the Barnes collection, for Russia. It is the first time that that this impressive collection of Impressionist art travels abroad. The Morozov brothers, born around the same time as Marcel Proust, bought paintings from all the major artists of the time. I discovered several Russian painters I’d never heard of and was grateful to know, like Valentin Serov who painted this portrait of Morozov.

Ivan Morozov by Valentin Serov

He’s leaning towards us, as if he were going to speak to us. I’d never heard of Aleksandr Golovin, Konstantin Korovin, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Natalia Goncharova or Ilya Mashkov and it was a marvelous discovery.

We went out of the museum, stars in our eyes. What do we owe to these art afficionados who collected paintings and sometimes helped painters survive! I am grateful for the Morozov, Vollard, Barnes or Shchukin of this world. And also to the Jacquemart-André who left their town house and their art collection to be a museum.

Our trip to the Musée d’Orsay brought us to another art collection, this time by Paul Signac. This is him, on his boat, painted by Théo Van Rysselberghe.

En mer, portrait de Paul Signac by Théo Van Rysselberghe

Signac owned up to 400 paintings, thanks to his family’s money and through exchanges. His collection favors Impressionism, Fauvism and Divisionism.

Between the Morozov and the Signac collection, I came across several painting of my favorite area of the French Riviera, the Estérel massif and the Maures massif. It brought me back to holidaying there, hiking in the hills with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, the scent of warm pine needles and other aromatic plants mixed with the iodine from the sea, the heat of the sun and the sound of cicadas.

Les roches rouges de l’Estérel by Louis Valtat

Although we had been on our feet all day, our evening was at the Théâtre Hébertot to see The Importance of Being Earnes by Oscar Wilde. The Théâtre Hébertot is one of the old theatres of Paris. It dates back to 1838 and was named the Théâtre des Batignolles at the time.

Maybe Lucien de Rubempré and Oscar Wilde went there, and Balzac and Hugo. There’s always a kind of magic to see plays in old theatres, as if the generations of spectators and actors had left their imprint on the walls and in the air.

The play was directed by Arnaud Denis, Evelyne Buyle and Olivier Sitruk.

I had read the play and knew we couldn’t go wrong with Wilde and no matter how many kilometers we in our feet, we wouldn’t fall asleep in the theatre. Happy to report I was right.

Everything was perfect: the text, of course, served by a vivid production and an excellent set of actors. Their acting did justice to Wilde’s sense of humor. He’s quick at repartee and the actors’ tone and acting enhanced the text beautifully. It’s French vaudeville laced with Irish sense of humor and the mix is explosive. I wonder if Wilde thought about The Game of Love and Chance by Marivaux when he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest. There are similarities in the devices used in the two plays: quiproquos, change of identity and the question of honesty between lovers.

We laughed, we felt energized and had an amazing time.

Literature was also on my mind when I went the concert of Stephan Eicher, a Swiss German singer who was very famous in the early 1990s.

His album Engelberg, sang in English, French and German, was a huge success in France in 1991. This was the tour that partly celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of this album and like most of the audience in the theatre, I bought when it went out.

I loved this album and the songs in French written by Philippe Djian who is probably my favorite living French writer. He started to be famous in the 1980s with novels like 37°2 le matin (Betty Blue), Echine and Maudit Manège. The songs Déjeuner en paix and Pas d’ami (comme toi) are representative of the atmosphere of Djian’s books at the time.

I was in my teenage years and Djian’s books were something new. First book with a gay couple in a book whose focus was not homosexuality. They happened to be gay, that’s all. First book with a man and woman as best friends. A lot of references to American literature, happening at the time 10:18 started to publish a lot of American writers in paperbacks, thanks to their director Jean-Claude Zylberstein. On top of this, this friendship between Eicher and Djian, some sort of modern Montaigne and La Boétie. They are still friends and Djian wrote the lyrics of Eicher’s latest album in 2019.

This concert was a trip down to memory lane, a sunny path surrounded by good music, lots of reading and bonding with my Mom over Eicher and Djian. My love for American literature started there, with a French writer who worships Carver and a publisher who brought Jim Harrison and many others to French readers. Maybe it’s time for a reread of Echine or Maudit Manège.

I hope that vaccines continue to do their jobs to give a bit of respite and leave us a rather free access to culture because we really need all the beauty we can get in this world, be it brought by artists born 500 years ago or by contemporary ones. Happy Sunday everyone!

Back to the theatre! Yay!!!!

September 22, 2021 15 comments

I’ve wanted to write a billet about how happy I am to be able to go the theatre again. Nothing compares to sitting in a theatre and watching a play and I missed it dearly. I usually have a subscription to the theatre in Lyon and go to ten to twelve plays during the season. In 2020-2021, almost all plays were cancelled due to the Covid crisis. As soon as the theatres reopened, I bought tickets. I hope theatres will survive these long months they had to keep their doors closed.

I started end of June in Paris, with St Ex in New York, a play written and directed by Jean-Claude Idée. In France, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is nicknamed St-Ex, hence the title of the play. It focuses on a special time in Saint-Exupéry’s life.

We’re in 1942, he’s living in New York with his wife Consuelo, who has an affair with Denis de Rougemont. Saint-Ex has an American mistress, Sylvia. He’s writing Le Petit Prince and he’s hitching to go back to France, enroll in the army and fight in the war.

The four of them fight, discuss art, writing and try to discourage St Ex to go back to Europe and risk his life at war. I didn’t know much about St Ex’s life, except for his experience as a pilot. I knew nothing about his temper, his relationship with his wife or anything else. Phew! If the play is accurate, he and Consuelo were like oil and water, fighting, making up, hurting each other and all in the name of love. The play shows a St Ex who’s not happy to be far from combat but is also pressured to give his support to the Général de Gaulle.

Le Petit Prince stems from this time and I understand that the temperamental rose is actually Consuelo in real life. The play was vivid and it showed an interesting moment in St Ex’s life.

End of August, I was in Paris again and went to see Le Cercle des Illusionnistes, written and directed by Alexis Michalik.

This play won several Molières, the most prestigious prize for theatre. Michalik has the knack for embarking you in his unique brand of storytelling. I’d already loved his Porteur d’histoires.

Le Cercle des Illusionnistes opens in 1984, it’s a football championship and Décembre steals a handbag in the metro. He contacts its owner, Avril, a pretty young lady because he wants to get to know her.

He starts telling her the story of Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, watchmaker, magician and illusionist of the 19th C. He was before Houdini and invented lots of techniques that are still used by conjurors. He was also a creator of automatons, ran a theatre in the heart of Paris.

The play goes back and forth between 1984 and the 19th century and we discover Robert-Houdin, his life and his heritage. It’s the kind of play that removes you temporarily from your life, puts a smile on your face and just makes you happy. Most needed in these stressful times.

Yesterday was the beginning of my new season here at the theatre in Lyon. It opened with Skylight by David Hare, directed by Claudia Stavisky. The play dates back to 1995 and was translated into French by Dominique Hollier.

We’re in the 1990s in a poor neighborhood in London. Kyra lives in an old apartment building, it’s cold because the central heating isn’t good. Tom comes to visit her, uninvited. He’s in his fifties, a successful businessman whose company was just listed on the stock market. Kyra teaches mathematics to underprivileged children. They were lovers and Kyra left him when his wife Alice discovered their relationship. They still love each other but butt heads over their past.

They confront their present, what they want to do with their lives. Their path differed. Kyra comes from a rather wealthy background, lived and worked with Tom for a while, left him to earn a lot more and live modestly. Tom came from a poorer background and became a successful and rich businessman.

The play questions the power of love and what we can accept and compromise for it. Love isn’t enough to build a solid and healthy relationship. These two still love each other but can’t live together.

The play also explores social issues. Tom and Kyra have different stances on money. Kyra despises money in a way that only people who grew up without money worries can afford to. Tom knows better and enjoys the perks money brings him. What’s more meaningful or valuable? Teaching mathematics to underprivileged kids and help them move forward through education or founding and running a successful business that provides jobs for people? Are the two approaches irreconcilable?

Hare’s text is excellent, alternating between feeling and debating, between emotion and humor. The actors, Patrick Catalifo, Marie Vialle and Sacha Ribeiro, who plays Tom’s son were outstanding. We were in this apartment with Tom and Kyra, eager to know how things would turn out for them.

It’s a relief to resume watching plays live. Stay tuned, next week I’m going to see L’Ile des Esclaves by Marivaux, a play were masters and servants reverse their roles. 18th century magic.

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