11 December 2017

Yvan Audouard: Lettres de mon pigeonnier (1991)

The parents of Yvan Audouard (1914–2004) were born in Provence, although he was born in Saigon (his father being a lieutenant) but spent much of his childhood in Arles and Nîmes. After World War II Yvan worked in Paris for Le Canard enchaîné for about thirty years. He wrote over eighty books, dating from 1946 to 2007, many of which were simply for amusement. Provence was always in his heart, particularly in Alphonse Daudet's Fontvieille, and of course the title (lit. 'Letters from My Dovecote') is a play on Daudet's very well-known Lettres de mon moulin (1869) (Letters from My Windmill), which even receives a mention in D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers.

The writer narrator spends half of each year In Fontvieille, and this is a celebration of Provence and its secrets. It's also a celebration of mystery, of the supernatural, and here he lives with his family, including his female cat Madelon and his pet magpire Gina.

Very strange things happen here, such as the steeple cock on the dovecote speaking and  moving to greet other steeple cocks. Then there are the santons of Grambois (north of Pertuis), the statues speaking, the dove Magali turning into stone, and Madelon and Gina (very troublesome creatures at the same time) helping and talking to the narrator so much, as if they were human. 

Even stones speak in this book, although meals never seem to be vegetarian: surely something wrong with the logic here?

Ivan Audouard lies in Fontvieille cemetery:


9 December 2017

Louis Wolfson: Ma mère, musicienne, est morte de maladie maligne à minuit, mardi à mercredi, au milieu de mai mill977 au mouroir memorial à Manhattan (1984; revised 2012 )

This book – by an American – is one of the most amazing ever written in any language. I've mentioned it before, so I'll be brief with the general background here, which is in a little more detail in the link at the bottom. Louis Wolfson's previous Le Schizo et ses langues (1970) contained a Preface by Gilles Deleuze and received an enthusiastic welcome by Raymond Queneau and J. B. Pontalis. Michel Foucault, J. M. G. Le Clézio and Paul Auster have also expressed their fascination for the man. This is Wolfson's 2012 update of his Ma mère, musicienne, est morte de maladie maligne à minuit, mardi à mercredi, au milieu du mois de mai mill977 au mouroir memorial à Manhattan (1984): on the surface, simply about the death of his mother.

I've already stated that, after being sent to a psychiatric hospital in his adolescence, diagnosed as a schizophrenic and subjected to EST (or ECT 'therapy' in English), Wolfson emerged into the outside world hating English, his 'mother' tongue, the language of the mother who subjected him to psychiatric abuse. So, self-teaching himself French, German, Hebrew and Russian, he devised an extremely complex way to by-pass English by automatically mentally converting sounds and meanings into equivalent sounds and meanings in those other languages. His constant use of his cassette player and his headphones also helped to drown out his intrusive mother tongue.

When I wrote the previous post I hadn't read Ma mère, musicienne, ..., I'd only read reviews of Wolfson's books and articles about him. I'd imagined that this three-hundred page book, dressed in black and where Wolfson sort of makes his peace with his sort of aggressor, would be rather bleak and daunting. How wrong can you be? This reads very much like an accomplished novel, the writer knows how to lead the reader into the story and it's actually surprisingly humorous in many parts.

In fact, although in places Wolfson's obsessions show through, it's nevertheless really surprising how, er, 'normal' he seems, and the book in parts reads as though the apparently sane aren't so 'normal': in other words he's turning madness on its head: how about his brilliant reference (for once in English) to 'Harry Pot o' Shit'? Could any comedian do a better put-down of J. K. Rowling?

Yes, Ma mère, musicienne, ... is about Louis Wolfson's mother's death, and is punctuated throughout with Rose Wolfson's diary notes of her illness (ovarian cancer), the times she sees the doctor, the medication she's given, etc. But in the first half of the book Rose plays second fiddle to the horses Wolfson obsessively backs, and the reader is treated to betting odds, scrupulous details of how he made his way to the stadia, his arguments with a black bus driver (often called a 'nigger': Wolfson has his prejudices), his preoccupation with the cost of things, and so on. In the second half of the book, 'les canassons' ('the nags') give way to Wolfson reading up on cancer.

Wolfson, who lived for a while in Montréal, can certainly write French, although inevitably he has his eccentricities: he uses the archaic 'vivoir' for 'salon', for instance, and the word 'couple' is adopted for a couple of anything; several times, we read 'piastres' instead of 'dollars', and 'liard' is used a few times; he appears to have a healthy hatred for television, and frequently follows it with 'cancérigène ?' in brackets. He also uses the expresssion 'peu ou prou' ('more or less') and the word 'nonobstant' ('notwithstanding') a great deal. He is convinced, as he frequently mentions, that his paranoia is iatrogenic.

These little quirks, tics of language, call them what you will, might sound irritating, but they are all part of the framework of Wolfson's personality, and they very much add to the reader's knowledge of the man as a whole: there's nothing artificial there, we have to conclude – this is Louis Wolfson. And this is a hell of a book.

Link to my previous post on Louis Wolfson:
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Louis Wolfson and Schizophrenic Languages

6 December 2017

Christian Signol: Au cœur des forêts (2010)

After reading a book of interviews, and novel and a play by Bernard-Marie Koltès, Christian Signol (a very popular, but not in the same way as, say, Marc Levy or Guillaume Musso) pulled me back to earth with such a jolt that I'm still wondering 'What happened?'. Signol was born in Quercy (Quatre-Routes-du-Lot) in 1947, and has since 1984 published at least one book a year. And they're not short, as this one is over three hundred pages.

I question how much revision Signol subjects his books to, as in the beginning of this book at least there are a number of repetitions, although this novel taught me a number of things about trees, such as oaks take far longer to mature than spruces, and so on. But trees are very much the main characters in this novel, in which the ageing first person narrator Bastien owns a reasonably sized plantation: he knows that trees have to breathe, can feel pain.

Essentially this is the story of Bastien's life among the trees, of his memories, and of the present, in which his grand-daughter Charlotte comes to stay with him several times, and is very interested in family history, particularly in the disappearance long ago of Bastien's sister Justine, but of course Charlotte is technologically clued up and can research things on the internet that Bastien has no idea of.

So, hovering around Bastien's business with trees is an unsolved mystery that has haunted him for decades. So too is his memory of his father's concerns for a seriously wounded German soldier in World War II: most French people would have left him to die or have finished him off, especially members of the Resistance, people such as Bastien's father. But no, his father had a heart.

The story of the German soldier fascinates Charlotte as much as the fate of Justine, and she Googles for some time, finally resolving the mystery: the dying soldier passed on his address to Justine who told him she'd visit his family after the war to tell them how he died, which she does and ends up marrying the German's brother, and her daughter Magda (the result of the marriage) Charlotte tracks down so she (Magda) can visit Bastien to tell him the story, and of how Justine lost her life in a car crash in the 1960s, never daring to tell her whereabouts to her family, especially to her mother who'd lost her brother in a Nazi atrocity in the village.

Yeah, I know. Highly readable, but I won't jump at the chance to read too many of the novels Christian Signol churns out.

4 December 2017

Bernard-Marie Koltès: Sallinger (1995)

Commissioned to write this in 1977 by Bruno Boëglin, Sallinger (with a double 'l') is Bernard-Marie Koltès's first written play, although it was not published until 1995, several years after his death. As the title suggests, it is heavily influenced by J. D. Salinger, and there are many similarities between this and Salinger's Franny and Zooey and Catcher in the Rye: Zooey, and Leslie in Sallinger, are both actors; some of the characteristics of Ma in Sallinger echo the mother in Franny and Zooey; the telephone call at the end of Sallinger recalls the dead brother of Franny and Zooey; more generally, there is the theme of the family; and of course the various problems of young people on the edge of adulthood, etc.

Violence is again a strong feature of Sallinger, such as Leslie's window smashing scene, and of course the suicide of Le Rouquin and later Henry killing himself by jumping from the bridge. War is of course not only in the background but also very much in the foreground, and old soldier Al (the father) gives an encouraging welcome to the Vietnam war, although the general drift of the play is well away from the perceived glory of combat and emphasises war's wastefulness, its mindless tearing apart of people's lives.

Perhaps needless to say, the themes of alienation, deracination, solitude, and lack of communication (particularly among younger people), and madness (on the part of Le Rouquin and Leslie's sister Anna) are to the fore here.

Sallinger is nowhere near as well known as the plays Quai Ouest,  Dans la solitude des champs de coton, or La Nuit juste avant les forêts, although the indications of what was to come are quite clearly in place.

Bernard-Marie Koltès: La Fuite à cheval très loin dans la ville (1984)

La Fuite à cheval très loin dans la ville (lit. 'The Flight on Horseback Far into the Town') is Bernard-Marie Koltès's only novel: novels don't have the constraints that Koltès finds so productively useful, and he says in an interview in Une part de ma vie that it would probably take him ten years to write one. (Koltès was obviously unaware that at the time of speaking he only had six more years to live.) The novel was written in 1977, seven years before it was published in 1984, and was in fact Koltès's first published book. All of his books are published by Minuit.

Although obviously not too proud of this first published work, Koltès nevertheless doesn't 'disown' it, and the novel (formally unusual in its narrative that sometimes resembles a play, sometimes a film scenario) bears many of the marks of his later work.

The back cover – presumably written by the author himself – describes the four main characters, the young sisters Barba and Félice and the two young men Cassius and Chabanne (young people are a strong feature in Koltès's plays) as 'fragile heroes of a kind of mythology for our time' who are 'metaphors of everyday day life' playing out the 'cruel, silent ballet of impossible loves'.

Koltès finds love banal and false and seeks out truth. As might be expected, his characters are mainly rootless, alienated, and often violent in a menacing, violent and dark world. Félice is from a psychiatric hospital and spends some time with a knife 'haunting' a cemetery where there are threatening cats; Cassius is a constant sponger who can only live by cadging from people, and who kills a cat who just happens in on a bedroom scene, and then guts it; Chabanne is an Arab who knows his way around cars and is disliked by the police; and Barba, Chabanne's mistress, worked at the Griffe Rouge ('Red Claw') until she got the sack.

Or was some of that above a dream? The whole novel is suffused with a hallucinatory, surreal atmosphere in which reality sometimes seems just a bit player in a twilight world of psychotropic drugs, which, being no doubt so much a part of the story, are barely mentioned.

3 December 2017

Bernard-Marie Koltès: Une part de ma vie : entretiens (1983-1989) (1999)

Une part de ma vie is a fascinating, if often intangible, insight into the playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès's work, being a collection of interviews taken from just before the publication of his first work (his only novel La Fuite à cheval, in 1983) until the date of his death from AIDS in 1989.

Koltès often appears to side-step questions, denying what might appear to be obvious, such as the alienation, the lack of hope, the deracination. Nothing to do with his homosexuality, though, as he says he can't use that as a prop. Well, no, as all these interpretations of his work deal with universals.

At one point in an early interview he makes an interesting point about his interest in the theatre in particular: he likes the constraints, how you can't describe a character directly as in a novel, never speak about the situation, because you have to make it exist. It's what's behind the words being said that is of importance: you can't, for instance, have a character say 'Je suis triste' ('I'm sad'), he has to say something like 'Je vais faire un tour' ('I'm going for a walk'). Yes, but the way it is said is surely vital?

Koltès says that he goes to the cinema a great deal, but to the theatre very little, as, for example, he doesn't like the people who go to the theatre, and I can understand that very well. His literary influences are 'Anglo-Saxon' and 'Latin American', and mentions Melville, London, Conrad and Vargas Llosa, although he dodges the inevitable probe that these are writers of exile, elsewhere, travel, by saying that they have an extraordinary sense of metaphor. A similar avoidance of being pinned down to particular themes in his work comes when he doesn't deny that his work deals with deracination, but simply states that no story doesn't take this into account.

But travel is very important to him, and he finds it impossible to write in Paris, his ideas always come when travelling, and he wrote Combat de nègre et de chiens in a small Guatemalan village. The way people speak languages which are not their native tongues is also important to him.

Later, he says that he's never written anything that's intended to be serious, which surely must be an odd kind of joke, itself not to be taken seriously?

Translation though (one of my own pet hates) is certainly to be taken seriously, and he says that he'd like to see his plays performed in London, but suspects that translation is a problem. Certainly he came to see Germany (a nation among his greatest readership) as mis-translating his work in the broadest sense: he saw the theatrical interpretation of one of his plays as appalling.

Interestingly, when asked about his depiction of marginals, Koltès replies that the whole world consists of marginals. In Quai Ouest he took New York and Barbès (in Paris) as his models, places where eighty per cent of the population were (and probably still are) immigrants: ordinary people are marginals – the real crazies, the real weirdos – are the bourgeoisie in the provinces.

Clearly, Koltès was a truly original talent cut down in his prime.

1 December 2017

Albert Cohen: Belle du seigneur (1968)

Of Jewish origin, Albert Cohen (1895–1981) was of Swiss nationality, born in Corfu. Winner of the Grand Prix de l'Académie FrançaiseBelle du seigneur (1968) is generally considered his masterpiece and one of the greatest Francophone books of the twentieth century. It is  the third part of a tetralogy: first came Solal (1930), then Mangeclous (1938), and the original Belle du seigneur, at 1300 pages, was too long for Gallimard, so Cohen excised a large part and with it made the final volume: Les Valeureux (1969).

Brilliant Belle du seigneur certainly is, although it is no easy read, and not just because of its dense 845 pages. It is written in different styles, and there are a number of chapters or sections filled with unparagraphed, unpunctuated stream of consciousness. I wouldn't  hesitate to put this tome among a group of other 'unreadable' door-stoppers such as Josuah Cohen's Witz, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, William Gaddis's The Recognitions, Jean-Pierre Martinet's Jérôme, James Joyce's Ulysses, Lionel Britton's Hunger and Love, Alexander Theroux's Laura Warholic, and Marguerite Young's Miss MacIntosh, My Darling.

Albert Cohen's novel is a book of strong satire on the various diplomatic positions within the Société des Nations, the preening and posturing, the fawning and the frivolity of it all. It can be very funny, pitiless to the pathetic, filled with representations of sexual passion, but death always lurks behind the scenes, or is even a major player at the heights of apparent life.

Essentially, though, this is a love story doomed to failure. Here, the rakish big shot at the SDN, the Jew Solal, falls in love with Ariane, the bored wife of the unbearably sycophantic m'as-tu vu Adrien Teume, promotes him and runs off with his wife. Adrien tries to kill himself, fails and continues working. Meanwhile, Solal has lost his nationality, and therefore his job and entire status, but carries on regardless living in a sexual fantasy land with Ariane at an expensive hotel in the south of France. But you can't escape your own consciousness, nor the fact that love is evanescent, and the dangerous games that Solal and Ariane are playing will lead inevitably to mutual suicide. You might say that Romeo and and Juliette are hoist with their own petards, but this is much more Joycean and Proustian than Shakespearean.

In this mammoth novel Albert Cohen is often funny when talking about death, from the 'joyeux futurs cadavres' ('joyful future corpses') to Solal and Ariane being 'enterrés vivants dans leur amour' ('buried alive in their love'); he sees the insanity of tourism: whyever should they go to Venice only to see themselves?; he is acutely aware of the malice behind the social smile; the madness of being jealous about a dead affair; the vacuousness of having nothing to do in your home but use a spirit level on items of your furniture, just to check; or the despair that leads you to kiss your own hand in order to give yourself the appearance of companionship.

Belle du seigneur may be tedious to the point of being unspeakably boring at times, but isn't that true of life itself? Albert Cohen has drawn a true picture of life, and this work should be recognised as the vital literary work of art that it is.

24 November 2017

Andrée Chedid: Les Quatre Morts de Jean de Dieu (2010)

Andrée Chedid (1920–2011) was born in Cairo to a Syrian mother and a Lebanese father. Les Quatres Morts de Jean de Dieu is about the life (and death) at the age of seventy-seven of Jean de Dieu, born in Spain into a solidly bourgeois Catholic Spanish family. This novel (not her last published) was published shortly before her death at the age of ninety.

Jean's first 'death' was that of his Catholic faith: his friend Miguel's father José introduced him to the readings of thinkers such as the Russian anarchist Kropotkin. At a very young age, both Jean and Miguel were forced to flee from Spain with the coming of the fascist Franco, and emigrated permanently to France.

Jean married Isabelita in France, and was for years a man of communist persuasion, although even on the fall of the Berlin wall, Isabelita wonders if his second death, his lack of belief in communism, didn't come some time before, such as on the death of Stalin and Khrushchev's denunciation of him in 1956.
The third death of Jean came on his illnesses, his cardiovascular problems and more, but essentially his onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The final death of Jean is in carrying out his final wishes, to have his ashes scattered from a high point in Cerbère (Pyrénées-Orientales), where Miguel and family members used to go to view the Catalonia that they remembered, but where Isabella stumbles.

Andrée Chedid is buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse. The quotation at the front of the book is by Chrétien de Troyes, and engraved on the tomb: 'Lil cors s'an vet, il cuers séjourne': 'The body leaves, the heart remains':

Nathacha Appanah: Tropique de la violence (2016)

Nathacha Appanah's Tropique de la violence is a kind of (fictional) thriller which at the same time highlights one of the major problems in Mayotte, an island in the Atlantic which is also a department of France, although it vastly differs from the European mother country. The novel addresses one of the country's biggest problems: the plight of illegal immigrants, mainly from the Comoros, but also those from other nearby countries.

Tropique de la violence is narrated by several people, two of whom – Marie and Bruce – are dead. Marie was a white nurse in Mayotte whose husband had left her and she refused to divorce him until a teenaged woman, who has braved the hazardous journey on a kwassa from the Comoros, leaves her baby with Marie at the hospital.

The general idea of children or adolescents being left (or leaving themselves) in Mayotte is that they'll have a much better life in a French country. The reality, though, is that many paperless young people are living in a bidonville called Gaza, drinking, taking drugs and living by stealing from or conning others.

Marie 'adopts' the child (whom she calls Moïse) as her own with her husband's consent and an official certificate in exchange for a divorce. And then, when Moïse is still fourteen, she falls down dead in the kitchen. Not knowing what to do, Moïse leaves the house and eventually falls into the hands of Bruce, the 'king' of Gaza, and a very violent character who runs a Mafia-style gang.

But Moïse shoots Bruce dead, and the novel is much concerned with the events leading up to the killing, with a big surprise at the end. A superlative book that forced me to read on.

22 November 2017

Grégoire Delacourt: Les Quatre Saisons de l'été (2015)

Grégoire Delacourt's Les Quatre Saisons de l'été is a novel, but also four short stories linked by the same theme: all take place on the 14 July 1999 holiday period, and all at Le Touquet seaside resort (formerly called Paris Plage) in Normandy. And the stories are all named after flowers: 'Pimprenelle' (burnet), 'Eugénie Guinoisseau' (a variety of rose), 'Jacinthe' (hyacinth) and 'Rose'. Francis Cabrel's song 'Hors Saison' (lit. 'Out of Season') is also the sound of all four (summer) seasons here. This is much more of a novel than, say, the wonderful Marie NDiaye's rather disappointing Trois femmes puissantes,* as there are far more interlinks in the stories, far more sightings of the various people involved.

The stories go from youth to age, with 'Pimprenelle' being a tale of fifteen-year-old Louis's love for the thirteen-year-old Victoire being the essential element. Alas, when she has her first period they must part, although she didn't love Louis anyway, and rather made a fool of herself in her attentions to Louis's much older neighbour Gabriel.

The thirty-five-year-old Isabelle of 'Eugénie Guinoisseau' is a loser in the love stakes, although she slightly prolongs the life of an anonymous old man, nicknamed 'Monsieur Rose', whose last uttered word was 'Rose', the name of the elderly woman who was his wife.

'Jacinthe' is a story of successful seduction, of the fifty-five-year-old Monique being reborn as Louise, partner of the reborn Robert.

And 'Rose' brings us back to the septuagenarian couple Rose and Pierre, who observe many of the activities in the other stories in Le Touquet, but who have decided that they shall end their lives by walking into the sea together.

Grégoire Delacourt is more interesting than I at first thought.

*Rosie Carpe, for example, is far superior to Trois femmes puissantes, and don't be misled by anyone suggesting otherwise.

My other Grégoire Delacourt post:
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Grégoire Delacourt: La Liste de mes envies | The Wish List

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: L'Appareil Photo | Camera (1988)

In Pierre Lepape's review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novel L'Appareil Photo (translated into English as Camera) on 9 January 1989, he describes the anonymous narrator/protagonist as a hypersensitive person 'trying to live less in order to live less badly', which makes a lot of sense.

Deciding to take driving lessons, the 'hero' is bogged down by bureaucracy, and can't cope with everything he's asked for at once, particularly four photos of himself. He brings out an envelope of photos of him as a child with his father, of his sister in his mother's arms, his parents with his sister at the swimming pool, etc, but knows that they're inappropriate. He'll have to work on it.

One thing he says, and in fact repeats and seems to echo Lepape's words, is that his 'jeu d'approche' (the way he goes about things) is to try to 'fatiguer la réalité' (exhaust the reality) of difficulties he stumbles up against, much as he works on an olive on his plate, leaving marks of it with his fork, trying to crush it to make it suitable for him to stab and put into his mouth. Er, yes, that's quite an analogy.

So this is the story of a man who starts taking driving lessons, becomes at first vaguely involved with one of the women (Pascale!) who work there, goes with her in one of the dual controlled cars when she needs a primagaz refill, although the car breaks down and has to be left at the nearest garage. Then for some reason they end up in London for the night and become lovers, the 'hero' appears to have gone to the wedding mentioned in the second sentence of the book, misses the last train home and walks towards Orléans, resting in a telephone booth and concentrating on the fugitive moment, on immobility.

There are obviously a number of similarities between the protagonist in La Salle de bain and the one in L'Appareil Photo, although this one seems (relatively) far saner and has far less malice towards others: he even worries deeply over stealing (meaning not handing in) a presumably very cheap instamatic camera he finds wedged between two cushions in the self-service café on the boat going back home.

My other posts on Jean-Philippe Toussaint:
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Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Faire l'amour | Making Love
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Fuir | Running Away

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Nue
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Salle de bain | The Bathroom
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie

21 November 2017

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Salle de bain | The Bathroom (1985)

That is, not 'bathroom' in the American sense. La Salle de bain was Jean-Philippe's first novel, which seems to be about a madman, although – with the exception of one particular instance – it is really funny for much of the time, if funny in both senses of the word. Post-modern this certainly is, and Oulipian too in that the constraint is a huge lack of information about the psychology of the first person narrator, a historical researcher who does no professional research here.

In fact he is obviously undergoing some kind of crisis, and the Pythagorian theorem about the square of the hypotenuse is a kind of illustration of the form of the book: the first and last sections are called 'Paris', the middle one 'L'Hypoténuse'. 'L'Hypoténuse' mainly takes place not in Austria where the narrator has been asked to go to, but Venice (water, bathroom, of course) where he flees to under some kind of psychologically-driven panic.

Not that he does anything much there, apart from watch football on television, or 'talk' in one of the only ways possible that he can to someone (the hotel barman) whose language he doesn't share: by exchanging names of esteemed footballers and racing drivers. He also shows interest in tennis, although it's far easier to throw darts at a circle chalked on a wardrobe panel.

Until, that is, he entices his girlfriend Edmondsson (who works in an art gallery) over to join him, and with great force he (for no reason that we're aware of) hurls a dart with great force into her forehead and (after a short time in a Venetian hospital) she returns to Paris. His reaction to his behaviour perhaps brings on another crisis: a doctor in Venice tells him he has to be treated for sinusitis, which causes him to stay for a few nights at the hospital in preparation for the treatment he never has: he simply takes the plane back to Paris.

At the beginning of the novel he has spent a great deal of time in his bathroom, and it appears that he may do the same again on his return. He also spends long moments in bed, in non-activity. Contrary to Edmondsson, he loves Mondrian, whom he sees as a painter of immobility, contrary to most paintings, which he sees as highly mobile. Staring at a crack in his bathroom wall in Paris he sees no movement. Similarly, (although it's sinking at the rate of thirty centimeters per century) Venice, even if the narrator and Edmundsson tread heavily on the streets, their effect on the sinking of the place will be like water off a duck's back, as it is only sinking at the rate of 0.0000001 of a millimetre per second.

Before the narrator's violent attack on his girlfriend, he (and occasionally his girlfriend too) used to enjoy doing a few slightly malicious things, such as having really long (especially long-distance) conversations on the phone while Edmondsson's employer wasn't there; the narrator also enjoys holding people up by asking them complicated directions, and goes out of his way to find anyone in a hurry; he visits the hotel kitchen with a view to stealing a chicken leg; having enjoyed an evening meal and afternoon drink with his hospitable doctor and his wife, the narrator walks right out of their lives saying he has to return to his hotel and his wife. Come again? No, no.

A very weird book that only the French (OK, I mean the French-speaking: Toussaint is Belgian) do really well.

My other posts on Jean-Philippe Toussaint:
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Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Faire l'amour | Making Love
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Fuir | Running Away

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Nue
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: L'Appareil Photo | Camera
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie

19 November 2017

Christophe Ono-dit-Biot: Plonger (2013)

First and foremost Christophe Ono-dit-Biot's Plonger (lit. 'Diving') is a love story, and at 454 pages a long one, but it is much more than that. Winner of the Grand prix du roman de l'académie française and the Prix Renaudot des lycéens for 2013, Plonger was a critical as well as a popular success.

Plonger is packed with cultural references, sometimes mentioned in passing, sometimes dwelt on rather more, and these references come from many different periods, and many different sources. Homer is an obvious one, but he blends in freely with the statue Hermaphrodite endormi (of which there is a photo in the novel, although not at all from an obvious angle: i.e. the female breasts and erect penis aren't visible); Josef Koudelka's photos of gypsies and his own outsiderdom; Charles Ray's sculpture Boy with Frog in Venice; Pulp's song 'Disco 2000'; even an important mention of Philip Larkin's poem 'Water' towards the end, etc, etc.

The internet is vital here too, although there are a few reflections on modern technology (maybe particularly via ordiphones (or smartphones)) reducing the quality of our lives, along with other technological 'progress'. But then the narrator, the journalist César (father of war hero Hector) wouldn't have met his partner the photographer Paz (mother of Hector and whose name is Spanish for 'peace', of course) without the internet.

And forces drive César and Paz into opposite camps: initially Paz meets César after his article on her work, and she likes the way he writes but says he's completely got the wrong idea of it: Paz's photographic studies of beaches (or more exactly the touristic enjoyment of them) aren't about enjoyment at all but about vacancy, or emptiness.

There's also a case of empty pram syndrome here, as Paz is very much against having any children. But as César slyly throws Paz's birth control pills into the gooseberry bushes (OK, I'm slightly exaggerating to make a point), Paz, at about the same time as she becomes pregnant, 'adopts' a hammerhead shark.

César can understand texts to the beautiful Paz saying things like 'Great night, let's do it again', or 'I'm touching myself thinking of you', but what is he to understand by one entitled 'Ampoules de Lorenzini' (or 'ampullae of Lorenzini'): Google the expression, of course. And it refers to the highly sensitive 'sixth sense' that sharks have to detect electro-magnetic waves that might be emitted by predators or, say, humans diving for touristic pearls but with thumping hearts.

But perhaps the main bone of contention between César and (the much younger) Paz is that whereas he has 'done' the world, is not a little frightened of the way it's going and prefers to stay in Europe, she hasn't travelled but wants to. So she amicably leaves César for eight months.

That's where the novel really begins, but with the end already known: Paz has been found dead, naked on the beach of an unnamed Gulf country, and César is flying out to identify her body. She's apparently just died by drowning, but is there anything more sinister to it? And who is this Marin she's been getting all the texts from?

The end of CODB's novel may not be the most surprising, but most importantly it's the way he tells the story, which held me from beginning to end, no hitches: this is a fascinating, masterful  work.

16 November 2017

Thomas B. Reverdy: Il était une ville (2015)

Couverture du roman Les évaporés
It obviously makes commercial sense to set a novel in an Anglophone country, as it's for one thing more likely to be translated into English. And it's better still if that country is the USA, as that's a far sexier place than England, for instance. In any case – as I learned when I was teaching in France – the French have long had a love affair with the USA: I seem to remember reading somewhere that even Jean-Paul Sartre loved American cartoons.

Thomas B. Reverdy's Il était une ville isn't about New York, or San Francisco or L.A., but Detroit, Michigan in 2008 during the sub-prime crisis. But even this, of course, is sexier than, say, Dagenham at any time.

This novel is fictional, although of course the background, the near-ghost town that was Detroit, with its lack of jobs, people abandoning worthless houses, the very few remaining retail outlets, the tense, violent atmosphere, the hell-hole that the town has become, are all there.

Il était une ville is in some ways a detective story, in others a post-apocalyptic, almost science fiction novel. Here, we have Eugène, the French guy parachuted down to boot up the car industry, which in the end he gives up on as a kind of joke, resigns and leaves the work to China, and hopes that the barmaid Candice will continue her relationship with him; there's twelve-year-old Charlie, brought up by his grandmother Georgia,* who goes missing to join the gang hanging out in the former school; and then there's Lieutenant Brown (nicknamed, er, Marlowe), the ageing cop who's trying his best under difficult circumstances to track down lost kids.

All this adds up to a highly readable novel about the collapse of a small part of civilisation which, the reader can't help thinking, might easily occur again, only on a much bigger scale.

*Georgia is incorrectly called 'Gloria' on the back cover: an editorial boob which has caught out many 'reviewers' of a book they obviously haven't read? Or is it a deliberate error, to weed out those who have just pretended to read it? We'll never know.

12 November 2017

Serge Joncour: L'Écrivain national (2014)

In Serge Joncour's L'Écrivain national, the writer Serge has been invited by a bookstore in a small town in the Nièvre and Morvan area for a month making library visits and helping writing groups and suchlike. How can he resist, even if the mayor of the town condescendingly calls him 'L'Écrivain national', and his supposedly plush hotel doesn't quite live up to expectations?

A few other things don't quite live up to expectations, but then this is deepest rural France, and the locals, while not being stereotypical hicks, aren't exactly too well up on contemporary culture. Why should this concern the national writer anyway, when he is greeted at the train station (Serge Joncour loves France's train network) by the woman in the station bar who serves him a coffee and a slightly old edition of the local paper?

The national writer is so riveted by a news item in the paper that he doesn't touch his coffee. Or rather, the news item, which he tears from the paper, contains the transfixing photo of the néorurale Dora, partner of the néorural Aurélik, who has been retained in custody following the disappearance of the supposedly rich octogenarian Commodore. Dora has been cleared from any blame. The small town is buzzing with tales of the disappearance, and initially less than buzzing with the appearance of the national writer.

But the locals' interest in the national writer grows almost in proportion as the national writer's interest in his temporary post decreases. The locals, in fact, think he's spending far too much time where Dora is, even that he's sexually involved with her: which isn't true, well not until towards the end at least.

A love story removed from the norm this certainly is, but it's also one of cannabis harvests, an accidental death by one of the least suspected locals, and surely above all an unconventional detective story without a moral, or rather a novel about an amateur detective with highly questionable morals, whose morals are in his underpants? Fascinating stuff, though.

My other Serge Joncour post:
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Serge Joncour: L'Idole

9 November 2017

Alain-Fournier: Le Grand Meaulnes (1913)

Alain-Fournier's only novel Le Grand Meaulnes was a relatively short time ago voted sixth most favourite book in a survey of readers on La Grande Librairie. Why? Because it's a great novel? I can't believe that, interesting as it most certainly is. André Gide thought it overly long, its first one hundred pages being the most interesting, and I have to agree. But then, in a list with Saint Exupéry's Le Petit Prince at the top, and Camus's (surely hugely overrated) L'Étranger in second position, what should we expect?

Le Petit Prince and L'Étranger, even Le Grand Meaulnes, are fascinating books, but surely in no way represent the greatest in French literature: so what's the problem? Surely it lies in the 'reading' public in general,  very much in the 'on dit' as opposed to the non-dit? How many people have re-read these books after childhood and adolescence, for how many have these been almost the only read books (with possibly the likes of Marc Levy and Guillaume Musso being the only exceptions?)

OK I'm being pessimistic, even insulting perhaps, but what has an adult to learn from reading Le Grand Meaunles? It's about childhood, or rather the gap between childhood, adolescence versus adulthood,* seen through the eyes mainly of the fifteen-year-old narrator François Seurel, who lives with his father and mother, M. Seurel and Millie, who are both school teachers living next to the school in Saint Agathe (in reality Épineuil-le-Fleuriel). The appearance of the seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaunles subverts the other pupils, especially of course the narrator, who shares a room with him.

By chance, on losing his 'borrowed' horse and cart, Meaunles stumbles on the domaine mystérieux, which seems to be run by children having a celebration for Frantz de Galais's (aborted) engagement to Valentine (a beautiful girl based on Alain-Fournier's meeting with Yvonne de Quiévrecourt in 1905). That is when Meaunles falls in love with Frantz's sister Yvonne de Galais, whom he will later marry, have a child by, and er...

There's a certain playfulness with the names: Saint Agathe is a real chapelle in the nearby village of, er, Meaunles, La Ferté-d'Angillon recalls La Chapelle d'Anguillon where Alain-Fournier was born, Vieux-Nançay obviously represents Nançay, etc. But one of the great works of French literature? One of the best remembered, yes.

*Does it really need to be said that later authors such as Alexandre Vialatte and Amélie Nothomb later ploughed a similar theme of puberty being the Fall?

Charles-Louis Philippe: Bubu de Montparnasse: (1901)

Charles-Louis Philippe was born on 4 August 1874 in Cérilly (Allier) and died in Paris in 1909 at the age of thirty-five. He was born into a very poor family, but became one of the co-founders La Nouvelle Revue française. His novel Bubu de Montparnasse is set in the twilight zones of Paris, its main characters being the pimp Maurice (or Bubu de Montparnasse of the title), his prostitute Berthe, and her respectable client Pierre Hardy.

Berthe is essentially worthy and only dragged into prostitution by her lover Maurice, the pimp who live off her, degrades her, and in the end more or less kidnaps her back into a life of sexual slavery.

In between, we have Pierre scraping a legal living and meeting Berthe, with whom he has formed an emotional attachment while she is living with her pimp. There is much material filth amongst the moral degradation, living hand to mouth, and syphilis is a major result, even a symbol perhaps, of that mental degradation: Berthe, Pierre and Maurice all contract it. But religion is never really seen as a way out of the impasse, only mentioned as a way out that some people use.

Pessimistic this short novel certainly is, yet not moralistic, yet there seem to be few ways of escape from poverty, if indeed any, apart from the brief respite of a little cheaply and sordidly made money, and of course theft, resulting perhaps in a custodial sentence before a return to the pimp-prostitute-john cycle.

Outsider Artists, etc.

I've had another minor linking review, and while so doing I've now gathered together the few posts on outsider artists, or similar, which I've made in the past, and created links to them. I've no doubt forgotten a few, but these are the ones that spring instantly to mind:

The Art of Theodore Major
Kevin Duffy, Ashton-in-Makerfield
The Outsider Art of Léopold Truc, Cabrières d'Avignon
Le Musée Extraordinaire de Georges Mazoyer, Ansouis
Le Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal, Hauterives
Marcel Bascoulard, Bourges

The Little Chapel, Guernsey
Coral Castle and Ed Leedskalnin

1 November 2017

Karl Wood and the Old Parsonage, Bishops Tachbrook, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

I'm grateful to Tim Lisle-Croft for sending me these images of the Old Parsonage, Bishops Tachbrook, near Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, which include a watercolour of the house (where Tim was born) by Karl Wood from 1945, and which Wood gave his parents (probably in exchange for a meal). Here Dr Douglas F. Lisle-Croft, Mrs Joyce K. Lisle-Croft and their three children lived: in all, the Lisle-Croft family lived there from 1938 to 1976.

Before 1904 the Rev John Thomas Hallett lived there. The house was demolished after the death of Tim's parents in 1976. This photo of the house was taken a little before the demolition: of note is the work on the chimneys since the painting was taken. Parsonage Close was built on the land.

31 October 2017

Eugène Manuel in the 16e arrondissement, Paris


The statue of the poet and teacher Eugène Manuel (1823–1901) by Gustave Michel in the courtyard of the 'Petit lycée Janson-de-Sailly', Avenue Georges Mandel.

'DANS CETTE MAISON EST MORT
LE 1er JUIN 1901
LE POÈTE
EUGÈNE MANUEL'

Manuel died in rue Mignard, about half a mile from where his statue now stands. Coincidentally, a certain future great philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was born next door. Unfortunately, much like this building, it is a huge block of flats that doesn't make for a pretty photo. And there's not even a plaque on it.

28 October 2017

Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes (2011)

In six years Marie NDiaye published five plays: Hilda (1999), Providence (2001), Papa doit manger (2003), Les Serpents (2004) and Rien d'humain (2004). Her sixth play, Les Grandes Personnes came seven years later. In that time a great deal had happened to her: winning the Goncourt, moving to Germany, and becoming a recognised figure of literature at least among French readers of serious works. Andrew Asibong, in his Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition (2013), suggests that although the usual themes are in place, there has been an accompanying 'incongruous drift towards 'uplift', which is sometimes 'superficial' and 'crowd-pleasing'.

Éva and her husband Rudi are being visited by the ghost of 'their' daughter – actually the product of a relationship between Éva and Georges, we discover later – who walked out of the home many years before, although not due to any physical abuse on their part, indeed it seems they have almost killed her with kindness. Her ghost lives in the space under the stairs (which recalls Fanny in En famille). They share their problem with the less well-off couple Georges and his at times bizarre wife Isabelle.

Georges and Isabelle have had just one child, who is a schoolteacher and simply known as Le maître, and who tells his parents that he has been sexually abusing some of the children in his care, that he has raped several: the parents ignore the matter. The question comes to a head at a meeting of parents of the children, with Madame B. accusing Le maître of sodomising her eight-year-old son Karim  with a dildo. The kid's name of course indicates a non-European birth, and Le maître calls her 'Saloperie d'étrangère' and 'Sale métèque'.  In the end Le maître just flies off, reminding us of the daughters in La Sorcière. But these episodes themselves remind us of a true-life incident in which NDiaye's husband was commended by taking a pedophile schoolteacher and driving him to the local police station in Cormeilles, Normandy, where the couple were living at the time.

But there is also another trauma: Éva and Rudi have adopted a son who has the voices of his dead parents speaking from his chest, and they urge him to kill his adopted parents. But Éva and Rudi speak to the voices, and there appears to be a kind of resolution.

My other posts on Marie NDiaye:
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Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit

Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents

27 October 2017

Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents (2004)

Les Serpents seems to me a very good description of Marie NDiaye's books in general: slippery, slithery, shape-changing, filled with treachery, in the grass waiting to bite you, etc. It's difficult to pin down a snake, and it's difficult to pin down what NDiaye is doing to the reader.

Andrew Asibong, in his masterful Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition (2013) states that Les Serpents is one of NDiaye's 'more complex and repulsive plays'. I can understand that, and I like his comparison with Beckett's Fin de Partie, only with Hell being inside rather than outside, and Mme Diss being Hamm (maybe hammer) to France and Nancy's Clov (perhaps clou, or nail).  But I'm not convinced.

Abuse (especially child abuse) is all over NDiaye's work, as are class differences, indifferences, difference in general, the importance of money, change of identity, unhappy families, constant fear, unspeakable violence, etc.

As this is a play, the comparison with Papa doit manger (regrettably the only other NDiaye play I've yet read) at the beginning at least seems so evident: the long-lost father knocking on the door after money mirrors Mme Diss  knocking on her son's door wanting to borrow money.

But Papa doit manger is much more benign, whereas here we have Nancy's son (also Mme Diss's grandson) beaten, killed by snakes, and then maybe eaten by his father: not unusually, we have a mother walking out on her husband, but then the first wife  feeding her ex-mother-in-law with money in exchange for information.

Not everything is entirely bleak: France (the son's second wife) walks out on her husband in horror that he has tied up their children, and the ex-wife Nancy walks back into the house of horror to take her place, in hope of redeeming both herself and her husband. Welcome to the world of Marie NDiaye: just take a seat and gape, quake and leave thinking 'What just happened?'.

My other posts on Marie NDiaye:
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Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit

Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes

Dominique Fabre: Fantômes (2001)

Dominique Fabre's Fantômes is of course about visions, although these are the protagonist Edgar's own visions, springs of life in his adolescent world to which he feels he hardly belongs: he doesn't know his father, he lives in boarding school most of the time, and his mother Isabelle (whom he actually calls 'Isabelle') is very much an absentee mother. Fringe areas of Paris, Ménilmontant and Asnières (where his mother lives) are frequently mentioned: Edgar lives on the fringes of himself.

This novel has a first and third person narrator, a 'je' and an Edgar, although the two are physically but not mentally the same: Edgar exists (or in part exists to be more exact) with a kind of double called 'I': reality is a slippery subject, and the two not-quite-the-same narrators are often merged in one sentence. Edgar is often the negative side of the protagonist. The novel is also very autobiographical and some readers (but not me) have previously met the five-year-old Edgar in Ma vie d'Edgar (1989).

Edgar is fourteen going on fifteen, he smokes, has spots of puberty, and wants a girlfriend. He's on the cusp of adulthood, but life isn't treating him well. So his ontological insecurity causes him to invent people, to daydream, imagine that he meets people on the train, such as Aline Soviétique, whom he chats to and kisses goodbye after she's left him her address in Saint-Germain-des-Près: in the heart of Paris, not the fringes. The wildest daydream is with the baker's wife, who makes Edgar lick her breasts, then between her legs, pointing out where her clitoris is and telling him to slow down, and then she comes noisily as the baker himself looks on. The slippages between 'reality' and fantasy happen so subtly that occasionally the reader has to think for a second which world he's in. But then, this is Dominique Fabre.

Before writing this novel, Fabre read the back page of an Henri Calet book, in which Francis Ponge describes Calet as 'boss of the linguistic three-card trick', and Fabre, in an interview for Le Matricule de anges, notes that when you always see the same three-card trick it no longer works, so you have to change the way you cheat. Um.

My other Dominique Fabre post:
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Dominique Fabre: Photos Volées

23 October 2017

Laurent Mauvignier: Une Légère blessure (2016)

Laurent Mauvignier's Une Légère blessure (lit 'A Slight Wound') is a play, or more specifically a monologue by an unnamed woman in her forties, preparing dinner in the dining room for her parents, her brother and sister-in-law and their three children. As she can't cook she's doing this with the help of a young foreign girl who can't speak French and who is in the kitchen. The woman talks all the time without being understood, and the whole play seems to be a continuous kind of psychoanalysis.

Sex is at the forefront of the monologue, beginning with the narrator's first experience at the age of sixteen with a young boy and the narrator's probable schoolfriend Sandra, with whom the boy has sex with both, of no apparent consequence to either girl.

There follows a series of 'speeches', ostensibly to the cook (who, in the kitchen, is never seen to the audience) but in reality to herself, concerning her inability to have kept up a steady relationship with a man as opposed to her brother with his marriage and children, her lack of usefulness, and finally she comes to a revelation about her father's behaviour to her on one occasion when she was much younger, and I translate:

'My father, his flies open and this almost violet thing in his hand.

'He started to rub this piece of flesh in front of me, this monstrous cock with a blue vein running down it, this idiotic piece of flesh hanging like a lifeless animal or a piece of rubber.'

(Lack of) communication, the sexual abuse of women, family matters, oblique talk deliberately avoiding the real issue, talk as a means of non-communication, this is Laurent Mauvignier, and these are what make him one of the key figures in contemporary French literature. Wonderful.

My other Mauvignier posts:
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Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux

Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde

16 October 2017

Marcel Bascoulard (artwork); Patrick Martinat (text): Bascoulard: Dessinateur Virtuose, clochard magnifique, femme inventée (2014)

Bascoulard is an enormous book in more ways than one: this hardback (49 euros and well worth it) won't fit onto the average bookshelf with the spine legible, it probably weighs about two kilos, and the number of pages is about three hundred. Many would describe this as a coffee table book (or beau livre in French), but that expression just suggests something pretty to look at, with little to read, and invariably of a very well-known subject.

Certainly the text in this book (by Patrick Martinat) is very soon read, and there are a great number of photos in it of the artist Marcel Bascoulard (1913–78) and his work, but from there it parts company from the regular coffee book, in fact it subverts the coffee table book: outside central France (the Bourges (and Sologne) areas to be specific), how many people are aware of Marcel Bascoulard, who has his own square with his bust in Bourges, as well as a street named after him in Saint-Florent-sur-Cher, where he spent his youth?

Shortly after his mother Marguerite, when her elder son Marcel was nineteen, shot her violent husband dead in the back and was institutionalised, he moved to Bourges and began painting. He didn't fit in with society, and I won't even bother involving psychological analysis, which he would (quite rightly, I'm sure) have detested. Marcel grew away from conventional society, being unconcerned with the trapping of success, unconcerned with money or fame to such an extent that he wasn't interested in a roof over his head with running water and electricity, and traded his paintings for food and suchlike to feed his cats and dogs as well as himself. His mother had been the main love of his life, and no one else.

And yet Bascoulard was a gifted painter, first a realist depicting in minute detail the city of Bourges (particularly the cathedral), including the few other places he visited, although they were very few and probably the furthest he ever ventured was Paris. He later introduced odd colours to his townscapes, even painted abstract pictures, but they weren't welcomed, although he didn't care, he wasn't interested in painting to order, in being commissioned, he preferred his outsider, tramp status, although he didn't see himself as a tramp: after all, how many tramps dress in female clothing, for example, or ride tricycles that they've designed themselves? OK, many may live on wasteland, but what of it?

Marcel Bascoulard saw his death coming in the form of the twenty-three-year-old social reject Jean-Claude Simion, but no one else in Bourges did, otherwise they'd have protected him. Such a waste.

Bascoulard is a magnificent book, one of the few which you must have in your possession even if you don't speak French, as it so evidently speaks for the outsiders, the outcasts who have so much to tell us. Only Bascoulard wasn't an outcast, he was loved in spite of the dirt he lived in, in spite of (even because of) his anarchism, and his death was a great blow to Bourges: after all, how many other people have played such a role in putting the town on the French map?

My criticism is that Patrick Martinat glibly dismisses Marcel Bascoulard's writing, quotes from it very briefly, and gives it virtually no space. Fascinating as photos of Bascoulard are, as his painting and sketches are, as his precise maps are, many photos here would have lost nothing by their exclusion, although so much could have been gained by the inclusion of Bascoulard's writings, no matter what Martinat think of them: he is no expert in literature, and should not pretend to be one. It would have been very interesting, for instance, to give just one example, to have read 'Maternelle réhabilitation' in full.

15 October 2017

Christian Gailly: Lily et Braine (2010)

After the war, after months in the military hospital, Braine returns to 'normality', at least to his family, his wife Lily, his son Louis, and his car-sick dog Lucie. Only at first he can't speak, a little I thought like Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) in Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas (1984), but soon Braine fits back in to Lily's father's car firm job, and surely things will be fine?

Although La Roue was published after Lily et Braine, it seems quite clear that the lead story 'La Roue' was written well before, and is to a certain extent the inspiration behind this novel. Braine goes to fix the wheel of stranger Rose Braxton's car and his life's suddenly changed.

Yeah, music enters the scene, Braine's life takes a huge swerve (ah, the power of music for Gailly), and soon Braine's former jazz band is being re-formed, and oh the spunk in Rose Braxton!

And such is her power that she will unwittingly destroy the relationship between Braine and his wife. That gun is just waiting to go off, the reader is quite clear of that, although who will pull the trigger and on whom is the mystery. Christian Gailly may not be the best of the Minuit writers, but he sure as hell pulls a punch.

My other posts on Christian Gailly:
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Christian Gailly: Nuage Rouge

Christian Gailly: Un soir au club
Christian Gailly: La Roue et autres nouvelles

Alice Zeniter: Juste avant l'Oubli (2015)

As I write, Alice Zeniter's fifth novel L'Art de perdre is among the eight novels chosen in the second selection for the Prix Goncourt 2017. This is her previous novel, written when she was twenty-nine.

Juste avant 'Oubli is about love, and about writing. Judging from Zeniter's remerciements (Acknowledgements) the germ of the book is in her uncompleted thesis on the playwright Martin Crimp's representations of women. The novel is set on the imaginary Hebridean island Mirhalay, where the imaginary detective novelist Galwin Donnell spends the remaining last few decades of his life, following his divorce, in isolation until his apparent suicide in 1985.

Franck is a Frenchman and a nurse convinced that his forename has led him to a life of obscurity. After three months, he joins his girlfriend on the island, hoping that she will spend the rest of her life with him: Émilie has given up her teaching job to work on a thesis on Galwin Donnell's representations of women, and Franck (whom Émilie has upgraded to medical doctor status to her colleagues) is organising a seminar on Donnell on the island.

So we are treated to an idea of the series of lectures on Mirhalay, details of most (if not all) of ten novels involving the sex-addicted detective Adrian Dickson [!] Carr: Donnell's writing can be somewhat controversial as there are intimations of paedophilia in Carr's girly interests. And there are a number of footnotes to fictional books, plus (in sans serif type) a copy of a fictional Wikipédia entry of Donnell's use of the expression 'porc-chien' (or 'dog-pig').

Galwin Donnell begins to take over Émilie's mind, and therefore greatly intrudes on her relationship with Franck, who finds a kind of solace in the warden Jock, now the only permanent inhabitant on the island. Jock, though, has his own problems, not the least of which is his isolation, and he has built a sound-proof room in which no water or birds can be heard.

Jock, an alcoholic and a nihilist, is in no respect an idiot, and his knowledge of the island and its history (if not the world outside it) is most profound, and as an outsider to an outsider, he befriends Franck, who is very frank about his lowly academic medical status. And Jock is very frank too, even to the point of 'admitting' (maybe falsely) that as a ten-year-old he pushed Galwin Donnell to his death.

And then Jock kills himself, leaving Franck to do what he wants with to Donnell's missing (and never read) last chapter of his final novel. Well, what do you do when you find a precious manuscript?