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19 November 2014

Princesse Sapho: Le Tutu: Mœurs fin de siècle (1891; repr. 2008)

'Holy Shit!'. That's my translation of the expression 'Merde alors!', which is Geneviève Duchêne's translation of the title of Julián Ríos's seven-page Afterword to Princess Sapho's novel Le TutuRíos wrote this in Spanish, and although I don't know the original title of the Afterword I trust that the word 'shit' was in it: 'Holy Shit' is a very apt reaction to a book that very early on contains four pages of correspondence between the Duchesse d'Orléans and the Électrice de Saxe, in which the word 'shit' ('merde') or a form of the verb 'to shit' ('chier') is mentioned at least once in virtually every sentence. An example:

'If you think you're kissing a beautiful mouth with very white teeth, you're really kissing a shit mill; the finest meals, biscuits, patés, pies, partridges, ham, pheasants – they're just to make chewed shit'. (My translation.)

The front cover of this edition of Le Tutu calls it 'LE ROMAN LE PLUS MYSTÉRIEUX DU  XIX SIÈCLE' ('THE MOST MYSTERIOUS NOVEL OF THE 19TH CENTURY'). It's not just mysterious: it's very odd indeed. As well as the correspondence there are also over five pages of Lautréamont's Chants de Maldoror printed here, a few pages of conversation in play form, and a page of celestial music. This was printed in 1891, and yet it seems to predict several things, such as Raymond Roussel's Locus Solus (1914), surrealism, and even texting. 

Léon Genonceaux printed this work, but then he disappeared very shortly after and the novel wasn't even distributed to bookshops: in fact very few copies of it were distributed at all, and the Bibliothèque nationale de Paris only acquired a copy of the first edition a few years ago. Furthermore, the book was forgotten until Pascal Pia wrote about it in an edition of La Quinzaine littéraire of April 1966, part of which is published as a second Afterword in this edition. In this article, Pia suggests that Léon Genonceaux himself wrote the novel, and gives a number of well considered reasons for this. However, Jean-Jacques Lefrère, after some amount of speculation and reasoning in a third and final Afterword, concludes inconclusively. What is certain is that Le Tutu was finally published by Tristram in Auch (32) in 1991 – exactly one hundred years after the original printing – and it released two more editions, in 1997 and 2008.

The novel follows the the story of Mauri de Noirof, who is obviously a satirized version of the publisher Maurice de Brunhoff  incidentally the father of Jean de Brunhoff, the author and illustrator of the Babar the elephant books. A few more characters are modeled on actual people, although the next most prominent one is Jardisse, who is a satirized version of Henri d'Argis, the author of the novels Sodom and Gomorrhe.

The back cover notes the eccentric, extravagant, and even monstrous nature of all the characters in the novel. At least one reader has also noted its emetic qualities. Mauri is a young opportunist who frequents brothels and who marries Hermine, a rich, fat alcoholic fond of picking her nose, rolling the crows into little balls and eating them. He never has sex with her   he is in love with his mother, who is also in love with him, although their relationship is for some time unconsummated. Instead Mauri has sex with Mani-Mina, a two-headed, four-armed and four-legged circus phenomenon.

The result of this match is Paul-Uc-Zo-Émilie, a four-headed creature Mauri feeds with his own milk – the product of a miraculous creation by Doctor Messé-Malou, who has also invented a tree that grows people and which he feeds by pissing at the roots.

Paul-Uc-Zo-Émilie dies, as did his mother before him, and towards the end the mysterious Jardisse is found dead in bed with his secret lover Hermine, his stiff arm tightly around her neck. Hermine too dies a few minutes later, and Mauri and his mother finally consummate their relationship by making love on a train – on top of Hermine's coffin.

There are many other things I could have detailed – such as the eating in a café of part of a dead, worm-invested cat found in the gutter, or Mauri and his mother meeting regularly to tuck in to a plate of rotting brains washed down with the spit from asthmatics, but I've probably already given taste enough of this truly bizarre novel.

The book contains an insert of quotations from reviews of the book, including La Quinzaine Littéraire, L'Événement du Jeudi, and Le Canard Enchaîné. Libération calls it 'a specimen of literary pathology'. Quite. A must – if your constitution is up to it. It was published in English translation last year (as The Tutu) under Atlas Press's Anti-Classics imprint.

15 November 2014

Nina Bouraoui: Garçon manqué |Tomboy (2000)

Garçon manqué. Tomboy in the English translation. Autofiction. About a girl called Yasmina. Born in Rennes in Brittany. Moved to Algiers, Algeria as a child. In 1967. French mother. Maryvonne. Algerian father. Rachid. He's a senior civil servant. She goes to a French school. She speaks fluent French. She doesn't speak Arabic. Her father calls her Brio.

In France they call her Nina. It sounds less Arab. Maryvonne's parents didn't want her to marry Rachid. Her parents met while the war was on. Nina is French. Nina is Algerian. Nina is both. She's neither. She has no country. She looks at a photo of Rachid's brother, who died in the Algerian war. He's pointing a rifle. At her. She's the enemy.

Nina wants to be like a boy. She cuts her hair. She tries on the gendered mannerisms. 'Je ne me sais pas.' 'I don't know myself.' A prisoner of her body as well as a prisoner in both countries.

The telephone sounds at night. Their car tyres are removed. From a balcony they throw dirty water at her. Things could end in a blood bath. Kids throw pebbles at the car while her mother's driving.

Nina and her sister stay with their grandparents for the summer. They don't ask about Algeria. So much is spoken by never being said. But.

There's a devastating violence in the word, casual or intended. The effects on a highly intelligent, hypersensitive child. Their effects on anyone. Yes, the power of the word. This book conveys it. Sometimes brilliantly.

13 November 2014

Mongo Beti: Trop de soleil tue l'amour (1999)

Alexandre Biyidi Awala (1932–2001) – who wrote as Mongo Beti – was a prominent French African writer. He came from Cameroon and Trop de soleil tue l'amour (lit. 'Too Much Sun Kills Love') is evidently set in a country strongly resembling Cameroon in the 1990s.

Zamakwé (usually called Zam) is a journalist living with his girlfriend Elizabeth (usually called Bébète) in an oppressive, corrupt, violent country under dictatorial rule masquerading as democracy, and which is seen by its opponents as undergoing neo-colonial influence from France. Here, absurdity is the norm and Kafka's shadow looms large.

The language is very slangy, often insulting, and the action is fast. Throughout, references are made to the cinema and this seems to be a strong influence – is Beti some kind of precursor to Tanguy Viel? At the beginning, Zam is deeply upset because his CD jazz collection – which he sees as a personal history – has been stolen*. But that is just the beginning: soon afterwards a dead body is discovered at his home, and then an apartment they retreat to is bombed. On moving again, Zam fears that the new property is bugged. When Zam's boss tries to argue with the police that Zam needs protection, he's just told that what Zam has experienced is normal.

There is no investigation into the dead body at Zam's because the police aren't allowed to carry out investigations because investigations might lead to incriminating a member of the government. So when Bébète disappears, the police are of course not interested and Zam (even though he has called her a prostitute) is heartbroken.

Georges represents the exploitative French element, and when this short fat man is seen together with the tall thin police agent Norbert the reader is encouraged to think of the cinema again and imagine a black and white Laurel and Hardy: even in a regime of torture, political corruption and repression, of paranoia and killing, there is something to laugh at – maybe that makes things more chilling.

But there is really nothing funny about Georges, who has a sweet tooth for young girls. He has previously had a child by Bébète, but his sexual dalliances are increased when he is invited to stay at the luxurious home of Ebénezer, the very symbol of the corrupt regime. Here, Ebenezer encourages Georges to indulge his paedophilic instincts, and his thirteen-year-old niece joins Georges in bed each night.

Clearly, Trop de soleil tue l'amour is a very angry book. Mongo Beti intended to write a trilogy, and there is indeed a second volume: Branle-bas en noir et blanc (2000), but unfortunately he died before finishing the third book.

*Is jazz used here as a representation, or a symbol, of the black condition?

11 November 2014

Cadenas d'amour, Pont des Arts, Paris: an update

I've previously made a few posts on the cadenas d'amour (or love padlocks) on a few bridges across the Seine, including the Pont des Arts, one of which is here. They may make a delightful sight, but the sheer weight is causing problems, and the decision has been made to take measures not simply to prevent people from adding to the burden, but to replace the padlocks with transparent screens. A few photos below (taken at the end of September 2014) show the situation on the Pont des Arts.



André Léo: Cimetière d'Auteuil, 16th arrondissement, Paris


'MME CHAMPSEIX
DITE LÉODILE BERA
DITE ANDRÉ LÉO
ROMANCIÈRE JOURNALISTE FÉMINISTE COMMUNARDE
1824 – 1900'

André Léo was born Victoire Léodile Béra, and unlike her friend the anarchist Louise Michel she was born into a bourgeois family, although she had a revolutionary grandfather. Her husband Grégoire Champseix (181763) was a journalist close to the socialist Pierre Leroux and is buried with her. She took her nom de plume from her twin sons (also buried here), and who she was left to bring up after her husband's death.

Léo lived by her pen and worked for the feminist cause, workers' rights, and affiliated herself with anarchist groups. She also lived in Switzerland and Italy returning to France after the 1880 amnesty  and wrote a huge body of fiction and non-fiction.

Paul Claudel, 13 arrondissement, Paris

'DANS CET IMMEUBLE VÉCURENT
L'ÉCRIVAIN Paul CLAUDEL
et sa soeur
Camille CLAUDEL
SCULPTEUR
de 1886 à 1892'

31 boulevard Port-Royal, 13th arrondissement. From his late teens Paul Claudel (1868–1955) lived here with his family. Shortly after moving here he converted to Catholicism. He was much influenced by Rimbaud's Illuminations, and in 1889 he wrote an early version of Tête d'or. The first version of La Ville was also written when he lived here.

Jean Paulhan in the 5th arrondissement, Paris

'JEAN PAULHAN
1884 – 1968
VÉCUT DANS CETTE MAISON
DE 1940 À SA MORT'

And the house is at 5 rue des Arénes, quite close to the Jardin des Plantes. Jean Paulhan was the son of the philosopher Frédéric Paulhan. In 1920 he became secretary to Jacques Rivière at La Nouvelle Revue française (NRF), of which he was editor after Rivière's death in 1925 until 1940, sometimes writing as 'Jean Guérin'.

During World War II Paulhan wrote for a number of Resistance organs, and on one occasion was arrested, only to be saved by the collaborator Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, who had taken over as editor of the NRF. Paulhan later went into hiding until the Liberation.

Famously, Dominique Aury – secretly Paulhan's partner from 1953 to his death in 1968 – revealed in 1994 that she was the pseudonymous 'Pauline Réage' who wrote the 'pornographic' novel Histoire d'O (1954), which won the prix des Deux Magots the year after publication. It was her 'love letter' to Paulhan.

10 November 2014

Anne Hébert in the 5th arrondissement, Paris

'ICI VÉCUT
DE 1980 À 1997
ANNE HÉBERT
POÉTESSE ET ROMANCIÈRE
NÉE AU QUÉBEC'

Anne Hébert (1916–2000) also died in the Canadian province in which she was born. She moved to Paris after the death of her mother in 1965. Hébert lived at 24 rue Pontoise, close to the Seine and close to the eastern end of boulevard Saint-Germain, from 1980. In 1998 she moved back to Québec after thirty-two years in France.

Paul Gachet: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise #4

This painting by Van Gogh is the most well known representation of Dr Paul Gachet (1828–1909), who died in Auvers-sur-Oise but was buried in Père-Lachaise. It shows the doctor, artist, and art collector holding a foxglove branch.


He specialised in nervous illnesses, his thesis being a study of depression. He pracised in Paris but bought the house in Auvers as a breathing space for his sick wife. His house was visited by a number of artists, and Gachet's children left many paintings – including several by Van Gogh – to museums in Paris.

My Auvers-sur-Oise post:

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Van Gogh and others in Auvers-sur-Oise

Alain Baschung: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise #3

'ALAIN BASCHUNG
1947 – 2009'

Alain Baschung was a singer-songwriter and rock musician. He comes from a Breton mother and an Algerian father (whom he never knew), and he was particularly popular in the eighties. His surname is from an Alsatian his mother married shortly after his birth. His 1991 album Osez Josephine was made in collaboration with Jean Fauque, the title track from which Delphine de Vigan took the line 'Plus rien ne s'oppose à la nuit' for her the auto/biographical work on her mother.

9 November 2014

Constance de Salm: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise #2

'CONSTANCE MARIE
DE THÉIS
PRINCESSE DE SALM DYCK
Décédée le 15 Avril 1845.'

At last I found it, although not without some effort. I suppose it goes without saying that it's not in the very useful Plan du Cimetière du Père-Lachaise you can buy at either of the florists opposite the west and east entrances, but even when you know vaguely where to look the map can still be a little woolly in parts. I've already mentioned Constance de Salm elsewhere, so I'll just leave the link:

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Constance de Salm: Vingt-quatre heures d’une femme sensible

Élisa Mercœur: Cimetière du Père-Lachaise #1

TOMBEAU D'ÉLISA MERCŒUR

This grave has been in a bad state of repair for some time. The poet Élisa Mercœur (1809–35) was abandoned as a three-day-old child and left at the entrance to the orphans' home in Nantes, with an anonymous note saying that her name was Élisa and her birth unregistered, adding that her parents at the time hadn't the means to care for her. She was given the surname Mercœur.

Almost two years later Adélaïde (or Adèle) Aumand, Élisa's mother, claimed her back from the orphanage.  She was unmarried and originally from a professional family background who worked as an embroiderer. The father – who didn't live with the mother and the child – was most probably the lawyer Jules-François Barré, who died in 1925. 

At the age of twelve she was a child prodigy and could teach children of her own age several subjects, including history, English and French. her first poems were published when she was sixteen. Soon, with the help of an enthusiastic publisher and sufficient subscribers, she had published her first volume of poems. And it wasn't long before she was known throughout the country.

Élisa Mercœur dreamed of great fame and glory but unfortunately died of a pulmonary infection at the age of twenty-five. Poets mourned her, and Chateaubriand – who was present at the funeral ceremony – wrote an elegy.

My other Élisa Mercœur post:

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Élisa Mercœur in the 7th arrondissement

Alfred de Musset, 8th arrondissement, Paris

On avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, immediately south of the Palais de la Découverte and in front of the Vallée Suisse, is a marble sculpture of Alfred de Musset and lovers/muses. The work was executed by Alphonse Emmanuel de Moncel de Perrin from a single marble block and placed here in 1910. The name is Le Rêve du Poète ('The Poet's Dream').


Eduardo Jonquières: Cimetière du Montparnasse #32

'EDUARDO JONQUIÉRES
PINTOR y POETA
BUENOS AIRES 1918 – 2000 PARIS'

Born in Argentina, the painter, poet and translator Eduardo Jonquières studied Fine Art in Buenos Aires and in the 1950s became influenced by the Bauhaus, particularly by Joseph Albers. He moved to France in 1958.

Man Ray: Cimetière du Montparnasse #31

'unconcerned
but not indifferent

MAN RAY
1890 – 1976
love juliet'

Man Ray with his wife Juliet (1911–91).

Man Ray was an American artist loosely connected to dada and surrealism who spent many years in Montparnasse, which he considered as his home.

Gaston Maspero: Cimetière du Montparnasse #30

'GASTON MASPERO
1846 – 1916
SECRÉTAIRE PERPÉTUEL
DE L'ACADÉMIE DES INSCRIPTIONS
ET BELLES LETTRES
COMMANDEUR DE LA LÉGION D'HONNEUR
DIRECTEUR GÉNÉRAL HONORAIRE
DU SERVICE
DES ANTIQUIITÉS
ÉGYPTIENNES'

Egyptologist Gaston Maspero was the grandfather of the writer and publisher François Maspero. His many works include:

Des formes de la conjugaison en égyptien antique, en démotique et en copte (1871)
Du genre épistolaire chez les anciens Égyptiens (1872)
Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient (1875)
L'Égypte à petites journées : études et souvenirs (1877)
De quelques navigations des Égyptiens sur les côtes de la mer Érythrée (1878)
Nouveau fragment d'un commentaire sur le second livre d'Hérodote (1879)
L’Archéologie égyptienne (1887)
La Syrie avant l'invasion des Hébreux (1887)
Les Contes populaires de l'Égypte ancienne (1889)
Les Momies royales de Deir El-Bahari (1889)
Histoire de l'Orient (1891)
Études de mythologie et d'archéologie égyptiennes (1892-1916)
Les Inscriptions des pyramides de Saqqarah (1894)
Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient classique (1895-1899)
Guide du visiteur au musée du Caire (1902)
Notice biographique sur Auguste Mariette (1904)
Ruines et paysages d'Égypte (1910)
Hymne au Nil (1912)
Essais sur l'art égyptien (1912)
L’Égyptologie : la science française (1915)
Introduction à l'étude de la phonétique égyptienne (1917).

Also buried with him – as well as his wife – is his son Jean Maspero (1885–1915), who was a papyrologist.

8 November 2014

Louis Hachette: Cimetière du Montparnasse #29



Louis Hachette (1800–86) came from a modest family and founded the famous publishing business in 1826. He was the first publisher of books by the Comtesse de Ségur.

Régine Deforges: 101, avenue Henri-Martin (1983)

The design of this book cover, with Léa Delmas and her blue bicycle in the foreground and a germanopratin* background – Café de Flore on the left, Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the right – is fine. It's just a shame about the gaudiness of it, which gives it the appearance of a trashy novel, which it isn't at all.

Régine Deforges's 101, avenue Henri-Martin is the second volume in La Bicyclette bleue series, and I think it's more successful than the first volume. But it's much darker than the first, with the love interest cut to a bare minimum. The Prologue, with the murder of scores of French prisoners by Nazi firing squad, gives a brief (and very subdued) idea of the violence the reader is in store for.

As in the first volume, the story is set in both Paris and the Bordeaux area, and Léa, her sisters, her sister-in-law Camille and her lover François still play a prominent role, although her early lover Laurent only makes a few brief appearances.

Much more to the fore is Léa's gay friend Raphaël Mahl, who is an eccentric but likeable writer who is obviously making quite a profit from the black market, but who may well be a police/Gestapo informant. His existence more or less sums up the threatening and fearful atmosphere of the second volume: no one at all is to be trusted. In fact the least members of the Resistance know about each other the better because under torture almost everyone cracks and is forced to reveal the whereabouts and activities of even their closest friends.

Literary references abound: in a bookshop Léa replaces a message inside a volume of Proust and the assistant recommends she read Marcel Aymé; Mahl is obsessed by literature and as an adolescent was much affected by Le Jardin des supplices by the anarchist Octave Mirbeau (incidentally buried in Passy, although that is not mentioned here), and shows Léa the tombs of Renée Vivien and Marie Bashkirtseff in the cemetery at Passy and gives as a password a line from Baudelaire; François takes Léa to Chateaubriand's Vallée-aux-Loups in Châtenay-Malabry, and so on.

The most striking thing about the book, though, is not just the atmosphere of terror, but the horror of the Nazi régime itself, and just to give a few examples: Sarah's living but mutilated body after the cigar-burn torture; Raphael's beating up by the Gestapo and later gruesome murder in prison for having betrayed young Loïc (but strangely, not Léa's uncle Adrien); and worst of all, the London radio announcement in French of more than one hundred Jews being bundled into a tiny wagon with five centimetres of quicklime to eat their feet and asphyxiate them, as if they wouldn't already be asphyxiated – and them being left like that for about a week, when their dead bodies are shovelled into a pit.

Not a comfortable read, but there is a tremendous power here.

* germanopratin is simply a French adjective for the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris.

My other Régine Deforges post:


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Régine Deforges: 101, avenue Henri-Martin
Régine Deforges's grave

6 November 2014

Régine Deforges: La Bicyclette bleue | The Blue Bicycle (1981)

There's a great difference in time and space between Atlanta of the Civil War and France of World War II. But although there are a number of similarities between Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and Régine Deforges's La Bicyclette bleue (which Deforge freely acknowledged as an influence), she eventually defeated the litigious Mitchell estate after a series of court cases.

The principal settings in La Bicyclette bleue are the fictitious Montillac near Bordeaux, and Paris, and the story follows the spunky seventeen-year-old Léa Delmas from the beginnings of the war, through the Armistice of 1940, to the early period of the Resistance against the Pétain régime. On a personal level, it is very much a sexual and political coming-of-age of Léa.

We follow Léa and her three lovers: Clément (who is married to her cousin Camille and whom she at last makes love a few times towards the end); the more mature François Tavernier, who is almost as madly in love with her as she originally was for Clément; and Mathias Fayard, her long-time schoolfriend who leaves with the STO (the 'service du travail obligatoire'). And we follow the various political affiliations of the central characters, which creates much of the tension that drives the plot.

Deforges doesn't depict a saintly Léa, who out of spite gets engaged to the (soon to die) Claude, and makes love to Clément behind (her supposed friend) Camille's back, for which she has no remorse. But on a number of occasions she risks her life for the Resistance, delivering messages and other items on her blue bicycle.

This blue bicycle is of course a symbol, and is a force of opposition to the Nazis in general and the Vichy regime and its 'collabos'. This is a world in which everything must be done clandestinely, in which no one can be trusted: for instance, the Delmas family itself is deeply divided – Léa's paternal uncles are on opposite sides of the political camp, with Luc (whose face Léa savagely spits on) a Nazi sympathiser while Father Adrien is a resistance fighter on de Gaulle's side; and then Léa's sister Françoise is pregnant by a German officer and they want to marry.

This book is the first of the series and it's one of resistance in more than one sense: forget the Léa Delmas/Scarlett O'Hara and François Tavernier/Rhett Butler comparisons, the natural ancestor of this book is the weighty, linear nineteenth-century novel; this is simply an updated, sexier version of it. But that didn't put me off as sometimes it's a refreshing change to read such 'old-fashioned' books, and I'll probably read the next two in the series.

My other Régine Deforges posts:

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Régine Deforges's grave
Régine Deforges: 101, avenue Henri-Martin

3 November 2014

Régine Deforges: Cimetière du Montparnasse #28

'ICI REPOSE
RÉGINE DEFORGES
PRINCESSE WIAZEMSKY
1935 – 2014'

The once controversial publisher and prolific novelist Régine Deforges married the artist Pierre Wiazemsky, the grandson of François Mauriac and inheritor of the title Prince Wiazemsky from his father Yvan Wiazemsky, to whose memory Deforges dedicates her most famous book La Bicyclette bleu (1981), the first of a series which consists of ten titles.

My other Régine Deforges posts:

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Régine Deforges: La Bicyclette bleue | The Blue Bicycle
Régine Deforges: 101, avenue Henri-Martin

Frédéric Andrau: Monsieur Albert: Cossery, une vie (2013)

An old man sits in front of Saint-Sulpice fountain, perhaps in the middle or at the end of his daily walk: starting from his hotel La Louisiane in rue de Seine, moving to the cafés Flore and Lipp on the Boulevard Saint Germain, to the jardin du Luxembourg and then back to the hotel. At all these places, of course, he sits for hours and hours just thinking – or should that be watching the young girls go by.

Frédéric Andrau's book – which includes some whimsical details and addresses its subject Albert Cossery (1913–2008) throughout as 'vous' – is the first biographical interpretation of the writer's life, and its publication marks the centenary of his birth.

It begins with a quotation by Cossery as a epigraph, which pretty much sums up the writer's work and ethos, and which I translate as:

'I am an aristocratic anarchist because I believe that humankind, apart from women, doesn't amount to much. But I'll always be on the side of the little people, never on that of the bastards and if, after reading my books, you don't know who the bastards are then you've not understood a thing.'

It's fairly well known that Cossery – who adopted French as his language – was born in Egypt, moved to France in 1945 and stayed there, spending almost all the time there in hotel rooms and only managing to write eight (fairly brief) books. His father had lived off his lands and rents from his properties and so didn't actually work, and Cossery too scarcely ever worked: after a short time working on a transatlantic ship, he said – after settling in Paris – that he only wrote about a sentence a week towards his books.

Andrau doesn't spend a great deal of time praising Cossery, who some of the time comes across as an egotistical sponger – gate-crashing the literary scene at first in search of anyone who'll buy him a meal, etc. He married once (Monique Chaumette) and didn't even live with her: he preferred to have sex with her in his hotel room when he woke up in the afternoon after evenings and early mornings having a good time (often at others' expenses); when, after several years, his wife announced that the party (or at least the marriage) was over he said it had come at a wrong time as the monthly hotel bill needed paying: if that was a joke, it wasn't a good one. But when Cossery years later inadvertently met his ex-wife with her second husband Philippe Noiret, he actually shed tears: was that because he'd let his guard slip and forgot to hide his true feelings behind his usual mask of insouciance?

If all this sounds like a story of a writer not writing, well it is in part,
although he does meet a number of writing friends, such as Henry Miller, Albert Camus, Lawrence Durrell, Roger Nimier (whose politics I'm pleased to learn Cossery didn't like), Louis Guilloux, etc. And Cossery's work is later recognised in the form of three literary prizes the first carrying the significant award of 400,000 francs in 1991.

Towards the end of the story I warmed a lot more to Cossery, and not just because he's growing older, undergoing illnesses and therefore more sympathetic. There was something more: the now eighty-seven-year-old meets a young girl follower: the Belgian photographer Sophie Leys – who is anonymous in the body of the book and Cossery agrees to have her publish a book of her photos of Egypt followed by extracts from Cossery's books that they chose together: L'Égypte de Cossery (2004). Furthermore, Andrau mentions the short film Leys made: Une vie dans la journée d'Albert Cossery: this I had to check out.

Digression: Ley's thirty-two minute film is well worth seeing even if you don't speak French. It shows Cossery in Luxembourg, in his hotel room, in cafés (such as Brasserie Lipp), and contains comments on him by, for instance, Michel Piccoli, Joëlle Losfeld, Georges Moustaki, Roger Grenier and Frédéric Beigbeder. Age has not softened his ideas, and he emphatically states – barely speaking and partly using sign language after a pharyngotomy – that less people vote now because we no longer live in a democracy: the bastards are the only ones profiting from the situation.

Near the end he was mainly writing on pieces of paper to communicate, and this sentence is beautiful: 'La télévision participe à un complot mondial destiné à éradiquer l'intelligence sur toute la planète': 'Television is part of a world plot to destroy intelligence throughout the planet.' Lovely. A link to the film is here.

But (briefly) back to Monsieur Albert: thanks to Frédéric Andrau, I now feel that all my questions about this remarkable writer have been answered. Andrau goes about it in an original way which is really effective.

On the negative side, this book is in need of an Index. There are also several indications of sloppy proof-reading: Fegallah or Feggallah? Both versions are used on pp. 14 and 15 respectively; it's Sunsiaré de Larcône, not Sunsarié (p. 109); on p. 226 Les Couleurs de l'Infamie is called Cossery's eight novel, whereas it's his seventh: Les Hommes oubliés de Dieu is a collection of short stories; Andrau writes of the book L'Égypte d'Albert Cossery, but it's in fact called L'Égypte de Cossery and was published in 2001, not 2004 as he states; on p. 252 Andrau says Cossery spent sixty years in one hotel room, when he's already said that he moved from Montmartre to La Louisiane in 1952 (p. 67), and also on pp. 182–83 there is mention of a room change from 58 to 77.

My other Cossery posts:

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Albert Cossery: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Albert Cossery: Un complot de saltimbanques

31 October 2014

Joseph-Marie Quérard: Cimetière du Montparnasse #27


J. M. QUÉRARD
Bibliographe
Auteur de la France littéraire
Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur
1797 – 1865
Se amis souscripteurs

Association des Amis de Joseph Marie Quérard
Association Conservation Monuments Napoléoniens'

Joseph-Marie Quérard was obviously best known for his colossal fourteen-volume work La France littéraire, ou Dictionnaire bibliographique des savants, historiens, et gens de lettres de la France (1826–42), but he also wrote the five-volume Les Supercheries littéraires dévoilées (1845–56), Bibliographie La Menaisienne (1849), and Dictionnaire des ouvrages-polyonymes et anonymes de la littérature française, 1700-1850 (1846–47). In addition, he wrote a supplement to his great work La France littéraire called Écrivains pseudonymes (1854–56): Quérard himself also wrote under two pseudonyms – Marie-Jozon d’Erquar and Photius.

Saúl Yurkiévich: Cimetière du Montparnasse #26

'SAÚL YURKIÉVICH
1931 – 2005'

Saúl Yurkiévich was a poet, essayist and literary critic from a poor family in Argentina. He lived in Paris, where he became professor of hispano-American literature at the University of Vincennes, from 1969. he died in a motor accident.

(I had to take this grave at such a distant, skewed angle to avoid getting my shadow in the picture.)

The poem is of course one of Yurkiévich's, and is called 'Desde al fondo' ('From the back'), and is clearly about a voice (presumably of God) calling to him and summoning him. But the first line of the poem, 'desde al fondo del café', is missing:

'Una tenue voz
dulcemente
                  me llama
... Saúl... Saúl...
suave musita alguien
                                  ¿quién?
y no se ve
alguien que fue y estuvo
que está conmigo
allá
    ¿dónde?
está
y me convoca'.

Jerôme Lindon: Cimetière du Montparnasse #25

'JERÔME LINDON
9 JUIN 1925 – 9 AVRIL 2001
–––––––'

From 1948 until his death, Jerôme Lindon was the publisher of Les Éditions de Minuit, a highly-reputed business largely responsible for experimental novels, and which was established by Jean Bruller ('Vercors') and Pierre de Lescure in 1941. He published such writers as Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Claude Simon, and Jean Echenoz, who published a short fictionalised biography of him – in Minuit – shortly after his death.

Jerôme's daughter Irène Lindon now runs Minuit.

Philippe Besson: Son frère (2001)

Lucas has returned to his family's home on the coast to join his brother Thomas, who is suffering from a blood disease which is incurable: his time is limited.

The brothers have been separated from each other for some time, and this is a final opportunity for them to be together at their childhood holiday home at Saint-Clément-des-Baleines on Île de Ré – the place where land meets the nothingness of the vast Atlantic, seeming (symbolically, of course) the end of the world.

As with Besson's La Trahison de Thomas Spencer, the main characters of Son frère are two males, although in the former novel they strongly resemble brothers as opposed to the actual brothers of this novel. But there is no homosexual undertow in Son frère.

The narrative takes the form of a kind of journal narrated by Lucas, although it weaves between the past and the present. But most of it is in the present, involving Thomas's illness, a series of blood tests and operations, usually negative results, and much heartache.

The drama of the second half of the novel is dominated by an old man who at first comes to tell the brothers that he's been watching Thomas – who now looks like an old man too, many years more than his chronological age – and who talks to them on several occasions. His final talk is addressed specifically to Thomas, and tells of a young woman who was drowned off the coast. His words 'On ne va pas contre la volonté de l'océan' ('You can't argue with the will of the ocean') seems to have a symbolic – even premonitory – significance. It certainly has a strong effect on Thomas.

Thomas confesses to Lucas that he had a girlfriend, Annette, whom he got pregnant and – contrary to Thomas's wishes – refuses to have an abortion. (Lucas muses that the same problem wouldn't have happened to him as he's gay.) Annette goes swimming the day after the argument, gets in trouble and yells to Thomas for help, but he hesitates, then goes to rescue her, is within twenty metres of her but he's too late to rescue her.

If he hadn't hesitated he'd have saved her, wouldn't he? The guilt. Thomas knows he's dying, but he cuts his life slightly shorter by yielding to the will of the ocean. The police find Lucas's body in exactly same spot as they found Annette's body: on the beach of Saint-Sauveur.

Unfortunately, this is a book that only really seems to take off in the second half.

Link to my other Besson post:


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Philippe Besson: La Trahison de Thomas Spencer

28 October 2014

Raymond Queneau: Les Enfants du limon (1938)

Les Enfants du limonChildren of Clay in the translated version – is Raymond Queneau's fifth novel, which is a fictionalisation of a book considered to be unpublishable: 'Encyclopédie des sciences inexactes', on which Queneau had spent four years. The subject of the unpublished book (and the central subject of the published book) is 'fous littéraires', a term which has unfortunately often been translated as 'literary madmen', 'literary lunatics', and equally inaccurate expressions when 'outsider writers' would cover it far more politely, and far better.

Before this post runs away with itself though, perhaps a little backtracking is in order. In Les Enfants du limon Queneau – through Chambernac, but more of him later – mentions former works on fous littéraires/outsider writers which he consulted while researching his unpublished book: Charles Nodier's De quelques livres excentriques (Paris, 1835); Delepierre's Histoire littéraire des fous (London, 1860); Philomneste junior (aka G. Brunet)'s Les Fous littéraires; and Iv. [sic]Tcherpakoff (aka Auguste Ladrigue)'s Les Fous littéraires (Moscow, 1883).

Queneau restricts himself to nineteenth century fous littéraires/outsider writers: before that period misunderstandings could get in the way of definitions, and of course when he began writing the twentieth century wasn't even through its first third. But within the chosen century there are also limitations as to who should or shouldn't be placed in the category of fou littéraire/outsider writer, although the boundaries may change because this is after all a working copy (now within a novel, that is):

– by definition the person should be unknown (which of course automatically invalidates everyone if a list is published: i.e. there's a built-in paradox)

– the fou littéraire/outsider writer must have published something and so be to some extent in contact with the world outside his brain

– the published works must be saying something very strange indeed.

The question of how to establish the line between madness and plain eccentricity is also important here, but then more crucially so is the line between madness and sanity, and the reader can certainly be forgiven if he or she feels they are losing grip on reality, as indeed must have Queneau, who sifted through all these mathematical 'geniuses', messiahs without followers, idiots savants, prophets of apocalyptic doom and heavenly bliss, etc, for such a long time.

This then is a book within a book, the unpublished book within a loose story about the Limon-Chambernacs, a business family married to the impoverished aristocracy, where almost everyone is a little mad.

But it's Henri de Chambernac who is the main character, the retired schoolmaster who's now writing the book, and using the mysterious Purpulan as his secretary-cum-slave. Or is Purpulan just a facet of Chambernac's imagination, as Chambernac's passing on his book to the fictional Raymond Queneau – who makes a brief appearance at the end – is a facet of the narrator's imagination?

What are true are the names of the fous littéraires/outsider writers featured here, along with the sometimes detailed quotations from their works. But obviously what couldn't be mentioned is that the Belgian writer and bibliographer André Blavier (1922–2001) – who was near despair until he read and later met Queneau – actually succeeded in writing and publishing a huge book such as Queneau had intended to publish: Les Fous littéraires, which was published by Henri Veyrier in 1982 and revised and extended in Editions des Cendres in 2000. It is one of the oddest – and one of the most fascinating – reads anyone could ever wish for, as of course is Les Enfants du limon.

Links to my other Queneau post, my post on Blavier's book, and Queneau's grave:

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Raymond Queneau: Exercices de style
André Blavier: Les Fous littéraires

Queneau's grave, Juvisy-sur-Orge

Tanguy Viel: Insoupçonnable (2006)

Tanguy's Viel's books are marked by long, tortuous sentences. In the first sentence of Insoupçonnable (lit. 'Above Suspicion'), for example, the first sentence – which is also the first paragraph – is seventy words long. It describes a wedding table, emphasising the light on it.

Light is very important to Viel, whose novels are much influenced by the cinema. In an interview with Thierry Guichard in Matricule des anges (No. 71, March 2006), Viel says that he sees the cinema first of all as a 'reservoir of images, décors, characters, tableaux' that encourage him to write. He is fascinated by the 'inhumanity' of the movie camera, and strives to create a similar effect through his writing.

Several critics have seen the suspense in Viel's books as Hitchcockian, and the author is certainly a fan of the master of suspense. In Insoupçonnable Lise works as a hostess in a bar on the coast, but unlike the other girls refuses to sleep with any customer. She lives with Sam, until a client twice her age – the fifty-year-old, rich auctioneer Henri Delamare – asks her to marry him: at this point Sam becomes her 'brother'. The couple see the marriage as a chance to fulfil their dreams of going to the States. Kidnapping is their plan.

But the 'kidnap' is of Lise, for whose return the pair want one million euros. Henri doesn't inform the police and goes to the arranged meeting point, it's discovered that he's only brought blank papers instead of notes, so he has to be killed and dumped into the sea. Amazingly, the cops don't track the guilty pair down, although Henri's mysterious brother Édouard is on their trail.

The game is finally given away by Sam's Panama hat, an object which takes on a tremendous importance. And it is the selling back of the hat to Sam – by Édouard, by auction – that buys the couple's 'freedom' at the expense of Édouard taking Lise from him.

Link to my other Viel post:

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Tanguy Viel: Paris-Brest

25 October 2014

Susan Sontag: Cimetière du Montparnasse #24

'SUSAN SONTAG
1933 – 2004'

Writer and political activist Susan Sontag spent the final decades of her life with photographer Annie Leibovitz and died in New York city, where she was born. But according to her wishes, she was buried in Paris. Salman Rushdie, who was supported by Sontag during the fatwa, was present at her funeral.