28 August 2015

Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls (2004)

One critic of Laurent Mauvignier's Seuls remarked that his first three novels – Loin d'eux (1999), Apprendre à finir (2000), and Ceux d'à côté (2000) – could also have been called Seuls, and this is certainly true. Another point that the title is pluralized: Seuls – alone (also, quite often, lonely). The 'alone', then, doesn't just apply to the main character, but to others. And it's important not to forget the universalizing factor here: with Mauvignier, everyone is alone, irrespective of the presence of others around them.

In Seuls there are the constants that we associate with Mauvignier's literature: death or loss, lack of communication, the unspoken (often with a deafening silence), (self-)alienation – but in this book in particular pretence is a major factor, not the everyday pretence when people automatically say they're fine when they're far from fine, but deeply-rooted self-deception.

Three friends – Tony, Pauline and Guillaume – have grown up together, going through their first sexual experiences, getting drunk, smoking grass, going through college, etc. It was Tony who wrote his first love letter to Pauline at the age of twelve, which of course she put down to puppy love. But when she leaves the country with Guillaume Tony quits his studies, works cleaning trains among the polyvocality of foreign workers, loses himself in the repetitive work.

For years Tony has wanted Pauline, and they've even lived together platonically while at college, almost (on the outside) like brother and sister. And then after some years Pauline – who's decided to return to France and leave Guillaume who prefers to stay on – asks if she can stay with Tony while she finds a job and can have her own place. Tony, of course, is delighted.

But he still has to play the pretence game, taking vicarious pleasure in other tenants on the stairs perhaps thinking that he's got himself a beautiful girlfriend - Tony, the guy with yellow teeth and tufts of hair that he has to slick down so as not to look so unsightly, Tony the guy with the inferiority complex who smartens up his act now he has a pretend love, the girl he's yearned for for years, but can only love from a distance, she sleeping in the bed while he makes do on the sofa bed. Until, that is, Pauline finds a job and has to leave Tony and his secret, impossible dreams.

The story – which we're fed bit by bit, jigsaw-like, in usual Mauvignier fashion, with its long sentences and suggestions that often startle the reader, sometimes turn things round, introduce a new slant – is told first by Tony's unnamed father and then by Guillaume, with the occasional unmarked interruption by Pauline or Tony's voice. Tony's father is the only person Tony has revealed his obsession to, the man who turns to Pauline when Tony disappears. And the second narrator is Guillaume, the man who discovers that he can't live without Pauline and returns.

A little after Tony reneges on his promise to help Pauline in her removals his father goes with her to try and seek him out, but they open the apartment and meet only the smell of rotting food, and the piss of the cat starved to death, the unwashed clothes, etc. But no Tony.

Tony it is who will ring Pauline but not speak, and Tony it is who will finally speak when he knows Guillaume is away working, who arranges to meet Pauline in a café, and steal her keys. Pauline rings Guillaume and tells him she can't find her keys, and he drives in terror back to his home, to Tony's father at the door who's rung for the police and begs him to stay there, tries to physically restrain Guillaume from entering, from seeing the tragedy that Mauvignier leaves largely unspoken.

Mauvignier is a poet, from his simple observations of bored people making drumsticks with rolled up newspapers, through the symbolism of the Hopper poster on Tony's wall, to the candy floss clouds. This is brilliant stuff.

My other Mauvignier posts:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté

27 August 2015

Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour (2012)

I believe I've said it before, but it needs repeating: Laurent Mauvignier is a major French writer, although I'll extend that claim to major writer tout court. Tout mon amour, his first play, confirms this fact. Theatre, with its multiple voices, seems to fit with Mauvignier's area of vision, as the novels of his that went before were polyvocal.

To Mauvignier the reality of anything is plural, or to express it another way reality is unpindownable. His principal preoccupations continue to be death (in all its facets), the psychology of relationships (often familial, particularly parental), the repressed or the concealed (intentionally or subconsciously), the unspoken (or that which is hidden from anything but subjective knowledge), and the nature of truths, half-truths and plain lies and hypocrisies. There is a deeply rich furrow to plough, and Mauvignier makes the most of it.

In the title Tout mon amour (literally 'All My Love') we have an expression casually used on countless greetings cards, emails, letters, and of course wreathes or funeral announcements. And they so often register pyschologically as completely insincere, totally mindless. Laurent Mauvignier – whose father, incidentally, killed himself when his son was an adolescent – couldn't write a mindless sentence if he tried.

Father P (for père) and mother M (for mère) return after ten years to the home of P's father GP (for grand-père), and the play – which consists of fourteen 'sequences' – begins after GP's funeral. GP comes back to life (at least to P), although his comments on his own funeral, which include his being impressed about the village's strong attendance but also his  caustic remarks on only having seen P once in ten years and his disappointment about the non-attendance of P's unnamed brother (who is in Japan) perhaps suggest that this 'ghost' is only in P's head, especially as P makes a point of 're-killing' his father.

But the main point is that P and M haven't been back from the south of France to see GP because their daughter Élisa (a palindrome of 'asile', or (mental) asylum) disappeared from the place at the age of six and has not been heard of since. She's the other 'ghost' who makes an appearance, although at the age of sixteen, the same age as she would be now after the ten missing years. M refuses to see her, believing that she's a crazy; P, on the other hand, is convinced that this is their daughter, as she has a box of her former clothes, a cuddly toy she had before, a bracelet, and she remembers a trick with a match.

P is so convinced of the truthfulness of Élisa's words that he calls back the couple's son from studying for his Bac, and the long tale that Élisa tells him of being kidnapped by a man and frightened into believing in the evil of the police convinces F (for fils, or son) of the authenticity of her story. But M still refuses to believe and calls the cops, which of course means that Élisa has to go. Powerful stuff, but then nothing else could be expected of Mauvignier.

My other Mauvignier posts:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté

Danièle Sallenave: La Vie fantôme (1986)

The name Danièle Sallenave didn't mean anything to me, but I picked the book up and it seemed interesting: little did I know exactly how interesting.

Far from being a straightforward narrative, events are all over the place from a temporal point of view, and this is a novel in which little happens in terms of external actions: the psychology of the two principal individuals is all-important. There is the teacher Pierre, who has two children by his wife Annie, who works in a bank; and then there's Laure, who's an unmarried librarian having an affair with Pierre.

Laure is faithful to Pierre, who really calls all the shots: he calls Laure and calls on her when he can, which is mainly in the afternoons when Annie is working, and although the pair can occasionally sneak away for a brief time they remain at Laure's place mostly as they might be seen together by friends and acquaintances in the unnamed (and probably small) town.

The expression 'La vie fantôme' (or 'The Ghost Life') in fact has several meanings. To Laure it means being tied to the schedule (and often the whim) of Pierre, of being available at her home or able to change her work hours with a colleague often at the drop of a hat in order to be ready for a few hours of love (or lust, or whatever) with Pierre: her life certainly isn't empty without him, but it frequently feels severely reduced, almost a non-life.

For Pierre it's obviously different as he's leading a kind of double life in that he has to fulfil his role both as a husband and a father and at the same time juggle his hours to fit Laure in. He sometimes feels that he has a complete life, but then there are obligations towards everyone. He's leading a kind of ghost life too, although he's evidently also having his cake and eating it. And sometimes he can be a really inconsiderate bastard, not considering Laure's feelings: just how could he be so unthinking as to give Laure a diary as a present, when it's obviously come from Annie's bank? And how can he give her flowers that he's picked from his garden, when this garden belongs to the other life, it's an intrusion on the life they have together?

Finally, the ghost life is seen as what many married couples have, going through the motions of happiness because they're too lazy (or something) to break free.

Towards the end there's a little more action when Pierre goes to Normandy to a vacant house of a friend of a work colleague of Annie's and Annie can't join him the first week so Pierre calls Laure to join him and they enjoy a rare days together. But then Annie arrives unexpectedly when the couple are lunching at a restaurant, Pierre calls back at the house to find the wallet he's forgotten but also finds Annie (who doesn't have a key) has just arrived. So he hastily concocts a story about losing the key while Laure tidies up the house, collects her clothes from the wardrobe, sees to it the crockery and glass situation look unsuspicious, and then drives back home in an understandable numb daze. And then several days later Annie (who doesn't normally notice these things) says what a coincidence it was that there was a car immediately outside the house bearing a number plate from their département. So has she just suspected, or has she known all along?

This book is a large number of things, but it struck me as the biggest argument against adultery that I've come across.

25 August 2015

NYC #63: Story Stone, Maple Grove Cemetery (4), Kew Gardens, Queens

'In the late 19th century,
many African Americans
were buried in unmarked graves
near this stone. Hundreds of
impoverished children and adults –
taken early in life by the diseases of
the times – were brought to "common"
graves from New York City homes and
hospitals. Buried here as well, are
African-American residents of
Jamaica, Queens who helped build
our vital Community.

Day of Remembrance
September, 2005'

NYC #62: George Washington Johnson, Maple Grove Cemetery (3), Kew Gardens, Queens

'GEORGE WASHINGTON JOHNSON
(1846–1914)

THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL AFRICAN AMERICAN RECORDING STAR IN RECORDING HISTORY. ALTHOUGH BORN A SLAVE IN VIRGINIA HE WAS TAUGHT TO READ AND WRITE AND LEARNED MUSIC [.] TRAVELING TO NEW YORK CITY IN THE 1870S HE DEVELOPED A MUSICAL CAREER WITH A STRONG VOICE AND A TALENT FOR WHISTLING AND LAUGHING IN TIME WITH MUSIC. HE PERFORMED ON THE STREETS, FERRIES AND PUBLIC PLACES. ONE OF HIS EARLY SONGS WAS THE LAUGHING SONG. HE RECORDED SONGS IN 1890 FOR THE METROPOLITAN PHONOGRAPH COMPANY AND WITH THOMAS EDISON ON WAX CYLINDERS. THE EARLY RECORDINGS WERE DONE INDIVIDUALLY BY GEORGE. BEST SELLERS IN THE UNITED STATES, SELLING OVER 50,000 COPIES.

"HE NEVER THOUGHT OF HIMSELF AS A PIONEER BUT AS THE FIRST BLACK RECORDING ARTIST HE MADE HISTORY."            TIM BROOKS LOST SOUNDS

FRIENDS OF MAPLE GROVE CEMETERY – MUSICARES 2014'

NYC #61: Don Marquis, Maple Grove Cemetery (2), Kew Gardens, Queens

 
Don Marquis (1878–1937) was a humorist, a novelist, a poet, and a journalist who in the early part of his career was an assistant editor to Joel Chandler Harris. E. B. White found him very funny, and he was much respected by the Algonquin Round Table. His publications include the novels Danny's Own Story (1912), Cruise of the Jasper B. (1916), Pandora Lifts the Lid (1924), Off the Arm (1930), and Sons of the Puritans (1939); his short stories include Carter and Other People (1921), The Revolt of the Oyster (1922), When the Turtles Sing (1928), Chapters for the Orthodox (1934), and Sun Dial Time (1936); and his poems include Dreams & Dust (1915), Poems and Portraits (1922), Sonnets to a Red-Haired Lady and Famous Love Affairs (1922), and The Awakening (1924).

NYC #60: Martin Branner, Maple Grove Cemetery (1), Kew Gardens, Queens

Martin Branner (1888–1970) was a cartoonist most noted for the creation of Winnie Winkle, a strip character who appeared in newspapers for fifty years, and was considered a little too sexually daring by some people at the time.

NYC #59: Thomas Wolfe, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

'THOMAS WOLFE
AMERICAN AUTHOR
LIVED ON BROOKLYN HEIGHTS FROM 1931 TO 1935,
AND IN THIS HOUSE, 1933 TO 1935, WHILE WRITING
OF TIME AND THE RIVER.
–––––––––––––––––––––
"GREAT GOD, THE ONLY BRIDGE, THE BRIDGE OF
POWER, LIFE AND JOY, THE BRIDGE THAT WAS A
SPAN, A CRY, AN ECSTASY – THAT WAS AMERICA."
DEDICATED ON MAY 20, 1983, BY
THE THOMAS WOLFE SOCIETY'

NYC #58: W. H. Auden, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

'W. H. AUDEN
POET ('1907–1973)
–––––––––––––––––
LIVED IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS FROM 1939 TO 1941,
FROM 1939 TO 1940 ON THE TOP FLOOR OF THIS HOUSE,
WHERE HE WROTE "NEW YEAR LETTER."
–––––––––––––––––
"AND LOVE ILLUMINATES AGAIN
THE CITY AND THE LION'S DEN,
THE WORLD'S GREAT RAGE, THE TRAVEL OF YOUNG MEN."
 
THE W. H. AUDEN SOCIETY, JUNE 25, 1996'

NYC #57: Henry Miller, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn

'HENRY MILLER
 
1891–1980
 
Raised in Brooklyn, the best-selling author
is noted for his imaginative, controversial novels
Tropic of Cancer (1934), which chronicles
his colorful life as an expatriate in Paris, and
Tropic of Capricorn (1939), which depicts his adult
life in New York city. Both books were banned
in the U.S. until 1961. Miller lived here
from 1924 to 1925.'
 
91 Remsen Street. What the plaque doesn't say is that Miller and his second wife June were evicted from here: in a fictionalized account of searching for this place and moving in, Miller's novel Plexus states that the place was way beyond the means of the narrator.

NYC #56: Thomas Moore, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Among the representations of composers in Concert Grove, Prospect Park, is a bust on a pedestal of the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779–1852), who was also a musician:
 
'ERECTED BY THE
ST PATRICK SOCIETY
OF THE CITY OF BROOKLYN
TO COMMEMORATE THE
CENTENNIAL ANNIVERARY
OF THE BIRTH OF
"THE POET OF ALL CIRCLES AND
THE IDOL OF HIS OWN
."
       MAY 28, 1879'

The quotation comes from Moore's friend Lord Byron's description of him, and is reproduced on Moore's family grave in Bromham, Wiltshire.

The lines on the scroll in his hand are from Moore's poem 'Oh! Blame Not the Bard.'

NYC #55: Ralph Ellison, Harlem

Just off Riverside Drive at 150th Street, Harlem, this superb memorial:

'Ralph Ellison
1914–1994


American writer
Longtime resident of 730 Riverside Drive.


His pioneering novel, Invisible Man (1952),
details the struggle of a young
African-American man in a hostile society.'


 
'"I am an invisible man....
I am invisible, understand, simply because
people refuse to see me."
                         –– Ralph Ellison, 1952
                            Invisible Man

Elizabeth Catlett
Sculptor
May 2003'

'"The very idea of New York was dreamlike,
for like many young Negroes of the time, I thought of
it as the freest of American cities, and considered
Harlem as the site and symbol of Afro-American
progress and hope. Indeed, I was both young and
bookish enough to think of Manhattan as my
substitute for Paris, and of Harlem as a place of Left
Bank excitement. So now that I was there in its
glamorous scene, I meant to make the most of its
opportunities"
                        –– Ralph Ellison
                        An Extravagance of Laughter, 1986'

24 August 2015

NYC #54: Edna Ferber, Manhattan

At 50 Central Park West, near West 65 Street:

'EDNA FERBER
 
1887-1968
 
The widely-read novelist, short story writer,
and playwright, best known for the novel Giant (1952)
lived here from 1923 to 1929. Ferber's fiction is
distinguished by larger-than-life stories, strong female
characters, and distinctive renderings of American
settings. Two of her novels were published while
she lived here: the Pulitzer Prize-winning
So Big (1924), and Show Boat (1926).'

NYC #53: Dante, Broadway, Manhattan

A noticeboard outside the park states:

'Dante Park is named after Italy's great poet, Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). Born to a noble Florentine family, Dante immersed himself in the study of philosophy and Provençal poetry. In 1302 Dante was banished from Florence for his political views and became citizen of Italy. While in exile, he composed The Divine Comedy, the first vernacular poetic masterpiece. It tells of the poet's journey from Hell to Heaven, presenting a changeless universe ordered by God. Through The Divine Comedy and his many other works, Dante established Tuscan as the literary language of Italy and gave rise to a great body of literature.

The park's bronze monument was dedicated in 1921 (the 600th anniversary of Dante's death) and was created by sculptor Ettore Ximenes. The New York branch of the Dante Alighieri Society and Carlo Barsotti, editor of Il Progresso (the first Italian newspaper in the United States), raised funds towards the creation of the statue.'

NYC #52: Anatole Broyard, Chelsea

'It was as if a great bomb, an explosion of consciousness, had gone off in American life, shattering everything.' This quotation is by Anatole Broyard from Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, and refers to Broyard's impression of post-war America. The chalked signboard was outside 192 Books in Chelsea, which seems to specialize in translated books.

NYC #51: Clement Clarke Moore, Chelsea

The Clement Moore Park is at 10th Avenue and West 22nd Street, and named after the poet Clement Clarke Moore (1779–1863). This playground was on land bought by Captain Thomas Clarke – Clement's grandfather – in 1750. Moore is best known for his children's poem 'The Night Before Christmas'.

NYC #50: Bryant Park (7), Gertrude Stein

 
'GERTRUDE STEIN
1874 – 1946
 
BY
JO DAVIDSON, 1923
BRONZE CAST 1991'

NYC #49: Bryant Park (6), Goethe

'GOETHE
1749–1832
ERECTED 1932
BY THE
GOETHE SOCIETY
OF AMERICA'

NYC #48: Bryant Park (5), William Cullen Bryant

'YET LET NO EMPTY GUST 
OF PASSION FIND AN UTTERANCE IN THY LAY, 
A BLAST THAT WHIRLS THE DUST 
ALONG THE HOWLLING STREET AND DIES AWAY; 
BUT CALM FEELINGS OF CALM POWER AND MIGHTY SWEEP,
LILE CURRENTS JOURNEYING THROUGH THE WINDLESS DEEP.'
 
The quotation is a verse from Cullen's poem 'The Poet'. Thomas Hastings was the architect, Herbert Adams the sculptor.

NYC #47: Bryant Park (4), William Earl Dodge

William Earl Dodge was, er, a businessman, and a carpetbagger at that. I don't include many of this breed in my blog, although it would be a little churlish to exclude him from the other memorials in Bryant Park, and he seems slightly less objectionable for his kind, even though his abolitionist stance was nuanced. The only publication I can find that he made is probably fairly typical: Influence of War on Our National Prosperity (1865, from a Baltimore lecture).

NYC #46: Bryant Park (3), Josephine Shaw Lowell

 
The Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain in Bryant Park, Midtown Manhattan. Lowell (1843–1905) was a strong progressive reformer and created the New York Consumers League in 1890. She published Public Relief and Private Charity (1884) and Industrial Arbitration and Conciliation (1893).

NYC #45: Bryant Park (2), Benito Juárez

'BENITO JUÁREZ
1806–1872
PRESIDENT OF MÉXICO (1858–1872)
BORN IN GUELATAO, OAXACA, OF HUMBLE ORIGINS, JUÁREZ ESTABLISHED
THE FOUNDATION FOR THE MEXICAN REPUBLIC. IN 1867, HE DEFEATED
THE FRENCH INVASION, THUS PRESERVING THE INDEPENDENCE OF MÉXICO.
GIFT FROM THE PEOPLE AND THE GOVERNMENT OF OAXACA, MÉXICO TO THE CITY OF NEW YORK.'

NYC #44: Bryant Park (1), José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva

Bryant Park, next to New York Public Library in Midtown Manhattan, contains several monuments. This is a representation of José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (1882–1947), poet, naturalist, statesman and a leader of Brazilian independence from Portugal. The statue was constructed by José Otavio Correia Lima.

23 August 2015

NYC #43: O. Henry, Pete's Tavern, Manhattan

'Pete's Tavern: the tavern O'Henry made famous'.

'FRIENDS OF LIBRARIES U.S.A.
LITERARY LANDMARKS REGISTER
PETE'S TAVERN
EST. 1864.
in recognition of its nurturing
atmosphere for:
O. Henry,
when he wrote The Gift of the Magi,
and Ludwig Bemelmans,
when he wrote Madeline
is designated September 25, 1999.
CO-SPONSORED BY: THE BOOKS FOR KIDS FOUNDATION
AND EMPIRE FRIENDS OF NEW YORK STATE'

NYC #42: Washington Irving, Gramercy Park, Manhattan

The bust of Washington Irving outside Washington Irving High School on the corner of Irving Place and 17th Street, Manhattan.

Across the street, this plaque includes images from Bracebridge Hall, 'Rip Van Winkle', and of Ichabod Crane from 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'. The sign reads 'This house was once the home of Washington Irving', along with 'New Amsterdam 1783' (Irving's birth) and 'Tarry Town 1859' (his death) at the bottom left-hand and right-hand corners respectively.
 

NYC #41: Horace Greeley, Green-Wood Cemetery (11), Brooklyn




'HORACE GREELEY
BORN
FEBRUARY 3, 1811.
DIED
NOVEMBER 29, 1872.
–––––––––––
FOUNDER OF THE
NEW YORK TRIBUNE'
 
 
 
 

20 August 2015

NYC #40: Ann Stephens, Green-Wood Cemetery (10), Brooklyn

Ann Stephens (1813–86) founded the Portland Magazine in Maine, edited The Ladies Companion, and was a writer of poems and dime novels. She also had a magazine called Mrs. Stephens' Illustrated New Monthly.

NYC #39: George C. Tilyou, Green-Wood Cemetery (9), Brooklyn


'GEORGE C. TILYOU
DIED NOV. 30, 1914, AGED 52 YEARS.
"MANY HOPES LIE BURIED HERE."
 
Tilyou created Steeplechase Park at Coney Island. The smiling face is still synonymous with the amusement park.

NYC #38: Lola Montez, Green-Wood Cemetery (8), Brooklyn

'BORN AT
GRANGE, COUNTY SLIGO
FEBRUARY 17, 1821.
KNOWN AS
LOLA MONTEZ,
COUNTESS OF LANDSFELD.'
 
And on the other side of the tombstone:
 
'MRS.
ELIZA GILBERT
DIED
Jan. 17, 1861
Æ. 42.'
 
Born Eliza Gilbert, she became the much more erotic Lola Montez, famous as a dancer, an actor, and a courtesan. Her lover King Ludwig I of Bavaria made her Countess of Landsfeld. She is variously said to have died of pneumonia, cholera, or syphilis.