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 (39 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. 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, and gained so much by the inclusion of Bascoulard's writings, no matter what Martinat may think of them: he is no expert in literature, and should not pretend to be one. It would have been 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:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
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?

11 October 2017

Sorj Chalandon: Profession de père (2015)

Sorj Chalandon's Profession de père is a staggering work, so powerful that indeed it would scarcely be possible to imagine it as a work of pure fiction, rather than a work of auto-fiction, the true blending in with the false. In some ways, too, it is in part a reprieve of Chalandon's La Légende de nos pères (2009), in which a ghost writer is asked to put words to his father's false experiences. In Profession de père, where the word 'profession' plays on the meaning of 'occupation' and that which is professed or claimed, lying also plays a central part. The back page blurb gives a strong indication of the content, which I translate:

'My father said that he had been a singer, footballer, judo teacher, parachutist, spy, pastor of a Pentecostal American church and personal advisor to General de Gaulle up to 1958. One day he told me that the General has betrayed him. His best friend had become his worst enemy. So my father announced that he was going to kill de Gaulle. And he asked me to help him.

'I had no choice.

'It was an order.

'I was proud.

'But I was scared too...

'At the age of 13, a gun is really heavy.'

In part, this book is really heavy too: a violent mythomaniac father – in fact a maniac tout court – tells his young son (in reality an amalgam of Chalandon and his brother) that he was been all of these things and more: he was a secret agent for the OAS, his American friend Ted (the narrator's godfather, so his story goes) was JFK's bodyguard, and he's angry if the narrator doesn't perform well at school; somehow, this is supposed to justify the child beating.

At times it's difficult to understand how the mysterious 'Dr Helguers' hasn't declared the father unfit as a parent, or indeed anything else, but then his understanding of psychiatry appears to be non-existent. And what of the mental state of the mother tolerating all this? Years later, when the narrator – a restorer of paintings (especially medieval ones) manages (mentally, that is) to re-visit his parents, his father, far from being welcoming, tells his son he's just a 'messenger boy', not a real painter. The narrator also brings his French-born half-Algerian wife Fadila and baby to see his parents, only to receive subtle racist abuse and Fadila to say 'never again', without her even knowing that the father has been sending the narrator two letters a year (latterly not even opened, but each becoming increasingly insane). Ted? Just an invention inspired by a movie, the narrator finds out by accident.

This is a shattering piece of literature.

My other post on Sorj Chalandon:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Sorj Chalandon: La Légende de nos pères

Jean Echenoz: Je m'en vais | I'm Off | I'm Gone (revisited) (1999)

Many books aren't worth reading, let alone worth reading more than once. Jean Echenoz's books, however, well deserve to be re-read, perhaps especially his Goncourt-winning Je m'en vais. Having previously written about this novel, what else can I say? Well, I wasn't specific about the end, and I have no qualms about spoilers, so why not just have my say?

Je m'en vais (variously translated as I'm Off or I'm Gone), as I wrote before, is about art gallery owner Félix Ferrer going to the North Pole on the advice of his head (and soon dead) employee Delahaye (but incidentally against the advice of his doctor who is aware of his heart condition), bringing back highly valuable Inuit art treasures from a wrecked ship in the 1950s, and a certain Baumgartner stealing the treasure from him. As I explained in the previous post, Baumgartner wasn't Baumgartner and Echenoz was playing games.

No, Baumgartner was Delahaye, who obviously hadn't died at all. So a joint investigation by the French and Spanish cops lead to Félix tracking Delahaye down, discovering that he has (illegally but officially) changed his name to Baumgartner, and Félix very generously leaves his ex-employee with a little less than a third of the proceeds and he (Baumgartner, let's call him) gets on with his life while he (Félix) can get on with his. What little life Félix has, of course, after his latest girlfriend decides she's probably dumping him, sadly leaving him with no friends on New Year's Eve, travelling a virtually empty métro, and entering (with intent to soon leave) his ex-wife's home (which used to be his own and his wife's) but now is his ex-wife's and her new partner's. The novel begins and ends  with the same words: 'je m'en vais'. Of course, Finnegan's Wake this certainly isn't,  but it's still a very interesting read.

My other Jean Echenoz posts:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Jean Echenoz: Jean Echenoz: Jérôme Lindon
Jean Echenoz: Lac | Chopin's Move
Jean Echenoz: Je m'en vais | I'm Off | I'm Gone
Jean Echenoz: Courir | Running
Jean Echenoz: Ravel

6 October 2017

Olivier Adam: À l'abri de rien (2007)

À l'abri de rien, I can't help thinking, is one of Olivier Adam's best novels. We have a family in chaos, we have a (female) protagonist in despair, but we also have a political situation which is admittedly going nowhere but which is seen from a positive oppositional point of view.

Marie lives in the Nord and is mentally adrift until an illegal immigrant helps her change her wheel, which plants a firm seed. She has a loving husband and two young kids, but still needs serious help. She loses her supermarket check-out job on a crazy fit of temper, and is suddenly caught up in the world of illegal immigrants, those risking their lives to reach the shores of England.

She very soon discovers the sordid reality of the immigrants' life, the danger of the violent police, the deaths by the desperate people to escape from what amounts to a death sentence in their native country.

But Marie's awakening comes at a price: that of severing contact with her own family, of bringing back fleas, and her children (completely wrongly) being called the children of a prostitute, of her school bus driver husband dumping children in the middle of a beetroot field in the freezing cold, etc.

Fortunately, although there may be no cure for the immigrants' problems, there seems to be a strong possibility for Marie to return to her family when she's cured. Obviously this novel is a political statement, but an important one.

My other Olivier Adam posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Olivier Adam: Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas
Olivier Adam: Des vents contraires
Olivier Adam: Le Cœur régulier
Olivier Adam: Falaises

Olivier Adam: Les Lisières

Éric Holder: L'homme de chevet (1995)

Éric Holder's Mademoiselle Chambon (which I reviewed below) is about a kind of mutual sexual (but physically unexpressed) revelation between two members of different classes. As such, it isn't unlike Holder's slightly earlier L'homme de chevet, of which a cinema version has also been made.

L'homme de chevet concerns an alcoholic (in his late twenties) who applies for a job as a help to a tetraplegic woman (also in her late twenties), a victim of a car crash. A kind of re-birth begins, against all odds: whereas Muriel's other help, Marie, needs to inject herself with heroin to numb herself from the horror of her duties, the man develops an obsession, a love for Muriel, so strong that he loses his dependence for drink.

A transformation begins too in Muriel, whom the man takes for a taxi-ride to Marseille (the book is set in Provence), including a dinner at a restaurant where people don't regard her as a freak: he's very protective of her. Muriel even buys a car for him to chauffeur her around in, driving fast, and she's not frightened she loves the thrill, and is also developing a love for her employee.

This is a short but fascinating book which inevitably reminded me of Hal Ashby's film Coming Home (1978) with Jane Fonda and the wheelchair-bound Jon Voight, the Vietnam casualty. The trouble is the boxing sub-plot here, which takes up almost half of the book, is quite unnecessary, and ruins things flat. OK, if the boxing scenes were removed we would only be left with a short story, but why not give us more of the real story? Yes, I understood the analogy of the dog, etc, but so what?

My other post on Éric Holder:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Éric Holder: Mademoiselle Chambon

Christian Gailly: La Roue: et autres nouvelles (2012)

Without going into the details of the other seven short stories here, La Roue is well titled, as the first story, 'La Roue', is certainly the best, although nothing much really happens in it: it's the way the story, such as it is, is unveiled that is of importance.

Of great importance, too, are the digressions, and this is very digressive writing, every tiny and often insignificant detail being used up in the making of it. The narrator, the unnamed man in the story, agonises about the exact nature of  the temperature when he goes to fetch an unused hammer from his shed. This is after a tortuous discussion about the kind of hammer needed – in other words what it is needed for – after a well-dressed woman who has randomly knocked on his door and finally tells him that she can't loosen the nuts from her car wheel, and that the tyre is punctured.

When the narrator goes to see the car in a field there is a sizeable digression about the man's hand-bell, and how he loves the sound and the nature of it, refusing to cede to his partner Lily's wishes to install an electric one. We even have a short description of what he looks like carrying his big hammer – like a workman (although he's a writer) – and of the nature of country roads.

Eventually a well-dressed man (albeit a little oil-besmirched) appears, and as the narrator (in detail, of course) changes the wheel he learns that the man has walked out of his own wedding ceremony and chosen the woman he loves rather than marry someone he doesn't.

So there we have it. This seemed very promising, but unfortunately none of the other stories were anything like as interesting.

My other posts on Christian Gailly:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Christian Gailly: Nuage Rouge

Christian Gailly: Un soir au club
Christian Gailly: Lily et Braine

Christian Oster: En ville (2013)

On the face of it, nothing much happens in 174 pages, but then this is Christian Oster: much psychologising over anything said or done, the possible consequences of any future action taken, long sentences and long descriptions of ever single thing done, etc. This, in fact, is a monologue, with other people's words not read as actually spoken by them but added into the monologue, which also has very long paragraphs as well as long sentences.

And life here is pretty much a mess, with sudden switches of emotion, although perhaps not quite as dramatically as in some of Oster's other novels. The main character has a steady job but his love life is, well, indeterminate and he's very slow to make any decisions. Oh, and his name's Jean, although the novel takes a long time telling us this.

The main plot revolves around a small group of people who have been going on holiday in July together, such places by the sea as Corsica and Malta, and this time they decide to go to Hydra. They all are past their prime, most of them in their fifties or older. The oldest one is  the now gross William, who's tried his hand as a dentist and a musician and several other things. Then there's the married couple Paul the doctor and his wife Louise, there's George who's split up from his wife, and finally the narrator Jean.

Things go wrong: William dies coming out of hospital and falls on his stairs onto Jean (who is in turn temporarily  hospitalised); Paul and Louise split up; and although George very briefly moves into Jean's new flat with him near the Statue of Liberty replica below Pont Grenelle, he's soon moving in with the attractive estate agent.

Nevertheless the holiday goes ahead (although moved to Hérault) with the four existing characters: George's (whose new girlfriend may have found someone else) is on the train, so is Paul, and maybe Louise and Jean will hit it off. But where does Samantha in Paris stand in this, as she's expecting a child by Jean, who doesn't seem to react too well to becoming a father, if he has any detectable reactions at all? Yeah, it's a mess, but a fascinating one for the reader, even if it's perhaps not one of Oster's best.

My other posts on Christian Oster:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Christian Oster: Dans le train
Christian Oster: Une femme de Ménage | Cleaning Woman

Christian Oster: Rouler
Christian Oster: Le Cœur du problème
Christian Oster: Mon grand appartement

27 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Vaugirard: Hector Bianciotti


Hector Bianciotti (1930–2012) was born in Argentina and was a film actor, a journalist, a writer and an academic who took on French nationality. He lived in from 1961 and in 1969 Maurice Nadeau published his first literary criticisms in La Quinzaine littéraire. He also wrote novels in his maternal language, although his first novel in French, Sans la miséricorde du Christ (1985), won the prix Femina. After his death Dany Laferrière took his seat at the Académie française.

26 September 2017

Cimetière du Mesnil-le-Roi, Yvelines (78) #5: Jeanne and André Bourin



Jeanne Bourin (1922–2003) (née Mondot), was a historical novelist who returned to the Catholic faith at the age of forty. She had a sentimentalised and idealised view of the Middle Ages, and her La Chambre des dames (1979) is her most well-known novel. She married the literary critic and writer André Bourin (1918–2016) in 1940. André contributed to a number of magazines and wrote at least thirteen books.

Cimetière du Mesnil-le-Roi, Yvelines (78) #4: Louis Pauwels


'Quand verrai-je ma fin du monde ?
Que votre Volonté soit faite etnon la mienne.
Mais je vourdrais semer des oiseaux dans ceux que j'aime
Et qu'ils ne souffrent pas quand je m'endormirai
.'


Louis Pauwels (1920–1997) was, as the stone above states, a poet, writer and journalist. He was the editor-in-chief of Combat in 1949, directed the monthly Marie-France, and with Jacques Bergier founded the magazine Planète, dedicated to science, philosophy and esotericism. He later founded Figaro Magazine, which he was in charge of for more than twenty years. The novel L'Amour monstre (1954) is one of his principal fictional works.

Cimetière du Mesnil-le-Roi, Yvelines (78) #3: Józef Czapski


Józef Czapski (1896–1993) was one of the officers to survive the Katyń massacre, and was a fourth founder of Kultura: another exile living in Maisons-Laffitte. He was a writer and an artist. His plaque just within the boundary of Maisons-Laffitte stands alongside Jerzy Giedroyc. Keith Botsford's Józef Czapski: A Life in Translation (2009) is an attempt write Czapski's 'autobiography', what Botsford calls 'a biography from within'.

Cimetière du Mesnil-le-Roi, Yvelines (78) #2: Zofia and Zygmunt Hertz


Zofia Hertz (1911–2003) was the first Polish woman to become a lawyer. She met Jerzy Giedroyc in 1933 at the Bureau de la culture, de la presse et de la propagande and she became his secretary. With Jerzy Giedroyc and her husband Zygmunt (1908–79), she also founded the Instytut Literacki (which in two years produced twenty-eight publications) and Kultura in 1946.

Cimetière du Mesnil-le-Roi, Yvelines (78) #1: Jerzy Giedroyc


I showed a photo of a plaque dedicated to Jerzy Giedroyc (1906–2000) a few posts below, and now I discover him in the Cimetière du Mesnil-le-Roi. As I mentioned in the post, he was the founder of the review Kultura, a magazine which concerned Polish culture, particularly emigrant writers and intellectuals. He also founded the literary institute in Maisons-Laffitte. Following his wishes, Kultura ceased publication on his death.

24 September 2017

Marie-Hélène Lafon: Sur la photo (2003)

Rémi lives in Paris with his wife Isabelle and daughter Louise, and is a collector of photos. This novel weaves in and out of Rémi's present live and his life as an eleven-year-old with teenaged sisters in the countryside. Maybe I wasn't quite ready for it, but I was certainly expecting more of this highly-rated novelist: OK, this is one of her earlier works, so I'll return to her.

22 September 2017

Jerzy Giedroyc in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines (78)

'Jerzy GIEDROYC
1906–2000
Fondateur de « Kultura »
revue politique polonaise –
et de l'Institut Littéraire
a vécu et travaillé
dans cette maison'

Kultura was a Polish and world cultural magazine designed as an instrument against communist totalitarianism. Many important writers of the twentieth century contributed to it, such as Albert Camus, Simone Weil, George Orwell, Witold Gombrowicz, T. S. Eliot, Emil Cioran and Czesław Miłosz.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #3: Cécile Aubry


Cécile Aubry (1928–2010) was a novelist, screen writer, and an actor most remembered for her TV series success 'Belle et Sébastien' based on her novels, from which the English indie group Belle and Sebastian took its name.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #2: Michel Audiard


Michel Audiard (1920–85) was a screen writer, a film director, and a novelist. Sometimes called a right-wing anarchist, one of his greatest regrets was not to have adapted Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit to film. He is the father of the film director Jacques Audiard. His novels include Priez pour elle (1950), Massacre en dentelles (1952), Ne nous fâchons pas (1966), Le Terminus des prétentieux (1968), and Le Petit cheval de retour (1975).

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #1: Albert Kazimirski de Biberstein


Albert (or Albin) Kazimirski de Biberstein (1808–87), of French nationality but born in Poland, was an Arabic-speaking orientalist who was the author of an Arabic-French dictionary, and the translator of several Arabic-French works, principally the Koran.

Ariane Chemin: Mariage en douce (2016)

Ariane Chemin works for Le Monde, and this book involves the secret marriage of diplomat and (amusingly fraudulent) two-times winning Goncourt, the chameleon Romain Gary, man of a number of names, to Jean Seberg, the deeply disturbed female actor most famous for her role in Godard's hugely popular À bout de souffle (Breathless in English).

The heavily-cropped photo on the cover shows the happy couple looking perhaps not all that happy: the tiny village Sarrola in Corsica was chosen for the occasion – and the mountains can clearly be seen in the background – because they (and Gary especially) wanted to avoid a media circus at all costs.

However, this book is also a summary of the lives of Gary and Seberg, Gary the Vilnius-born possessor of many names, Seberg the small-town, Marshalltown, Iowa-born movie star. I loved the information about them visiting the Kennedys, and Jackie Onassis telling Jean Seberg (aside) not to get married as it ruins things. De Gaulle and his wife would certainly have objected, but then De Gaulle and America...

Jean Seberg went on to marry twice after her marriage to Gary (although her final marriage was bigamous) before killing herself 30 August 1979. Gary put a gun to his mouth on 2 December 1980, leaving a note that his suicide had nothing to do with Seberg. Really, nothing at all?

21 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière parisien de Bagneux, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #1: J.-H. Rosny aîné


J.-H. Rosny aîné was the pseudonym of Joseph Henri Honoré Boex (1856–1940), a French author of Belgian origin who is considered one of the founding figures of modern science fiction. Born in Brussels, Rosny spent most of his years in France. Rosny was an influence on Arthur Conan Doyle, the plot of his Force mystérieuse (1913) being adopted by Doyle for his The Poisoned Belt. Les Navigateurs de l'infini (1925) is generally considered as Rosny's best work, and his use of the word 'astronautique' is a first. However, I suspect that, in spite of a prize existing in his name, Rosny will be most remembered for his disagreements with Lucien Descaves, particularly for the, er, scandalous winning of the Goncourt in 1932 by Guy Mazeline's Les Loups, rather than Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit, which received the 'compensatory' Renaudot.

Paris 2017: Cimetière parisien de Bagneux, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #2: Anna Langfus


Anna Langfus (1920 – 1966) won the prix Goncourt in 1962 (for Les Bagages de sable), and this is one of the few Goncourt graves I've come across to mention the Goncourt. But it certainly should be mentioned, if only because (at the time that I write) there have been only twelve female winners of the title since its creation in 1901. Langfus was a Polish Jew, and Les Bagages de sable concerns the difficulties of a Shoah survivor adapting to everyday circumstances.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement #3 Émile de Girardin


Émile de Girardin (1806–81) was the founder of the paper La Presse, and, with his rival Armand Dutacq (Le Siècle) was responsible for the first serial novels to appear, some writers of note being Balzac, Lamartine and George Sand. He was also a politician and wrote numerous political and social works.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement #2 Jeanne Moreau


Actor Jeanne Moreau (born 1928) only died on 31 July 2017. I, a lover of her films, particularly Truffaut's Jules et Jim in which she sings Serge Rezvani's 'Le Tourbillon de la vie', and Buñuel's Le Journal d'une femme de chambre, just had to see her grave.

20 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement #1 Sacha Guitry


The writer of 124 plays, Sacha Guitry was also an actor and a film director.

Aristide Bruant in the 18e arrondissement, Paris

'LE POÈTE ET LE CHANSONNIER
ARISTIDE BRUANT
EST MORT DANS CETTE MAISON
LE 12 FÉVRIER 1925'

17 rue Christiani.

Bernard Dimey in the 18e arrondissement, Paris


Poet and singer Bernard Dimey is commemorated in this plaque in rue Germain Pilon. He spent fourteen years with painter and sculptor Yvette Cathiard, who wrote about it in La Blessure de l'Ogre (1993). 

Éric Holder: Mademoiselle Chambon (1996)

Before reading – indeed before knowing the existence of – the novel on which the movie is based, I'd seen that film. And I loved it. But for me this is an unusual case of loving the film (by Stéphane Brizé) although not feeling the same way about the book.

I have no problems at all with Éric Holder's short book, which in so many ways manages to pack in so more (in one hundred and fifty-seven pages) than the film, but the film manages to say so much more in a very short space, with a far more limited number of characters, without actually stating feelings, just leaving the unspoken to be said in images. Also, the two main characters in the book (the Portuguese manual worker Antonio and the school teacher Véronique Chambon) are roughly half the age of their counterparts in the film, which seems far more appropriate for the circumstances.

The story (in both novel and film) is about Antonio and Véronique, who come together (but never sexually) through Kevin, Antonio's son by his wife  Anne-Marie. After the film, I found too much extraneous detail here, particularly in Antonio's workplace, the petty rivalry, and Antonio being under pressure to fall in with his boss Van Hamme's wishes.

Oh for the aching, gloriously ferocious non-dits of the film, I thought. Which all the same in no way discourages me from reading any more of Éric Holder's work.

The film Mademoiselle Chambon:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Stéphane Brizé's Mademoiselle Chambon

My other post on Éric Holder:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Éric Holder: L'homme de chevet

Bernard-Marie Koltès: Dans la solitude des champs de coton (2010)

Bernard-Marie Koltès (1948–89) died of AIDS three years after the publication of this play, Dans la solitude des champs de coton, which is a mere sixty short pages long. Maybe 'play' is a misnomer, as it's really a dialogue between the Dealer and the Customer. But no transaction takes place as the whole thing is a tense verbal ballet, skirting around a never specifically mentioned subject, although drugs are briefly mentioned, and sex a number of times. There's also an atmosphere of threat, of danger, of a kind of known but at the same time uncharted territory, of braving an unspoken challenge. I can't say more now as this is the only work I've yet read by Bernard-Marie Koltès, whose existence I only discovered last year on finding his grave in the Cimetière de Montmartre:


Yves Ravey: Enlèvement avec rançon (2010)

Yves Ravey's Enlèvement avec rançon is a kind of thriller (but only a kind of) and is exactly what it says on the cover: a kidnapping with ransom. This is first person narration, and that person is Max, the elder brother of Jerry, whom he has not seen for twenty years (when Jerry was twenty and Max fifteen). What happened to Max in those twenty years seems very little, and Max (in spite of some obvious sexual dalliances) is still in the home of his widowed mother, now in an old people's complex Max is paying for.

As for Jerry, who has come from Afghanistan, there are obvious suggestions of Islamisation: he doesn't like eating pork (including lard with fried eggs which he used to love,), and appears to be only interested in making money for a mysterious organisation.

Max has stomached twenty-two years as an accountant to Pourcelet, a highly unsympathetic boss. So why shouldn't he profit from him by (with Jerry) kidnapping his daughter Samantha and demanding half a million euros ransom money?

Well, this may be a hare-brained idea, but it may come off, although it of course doesn't allow for sibling rivalry, or (perish the thought) Stockholm syndrome. Crime (whisper it gently) often does pay, but that payment might come at a high price. This is Yves Ravey, and his books resist being put down.

My other posts on Yves Ravey:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Yves Ravey: La Fille de mon meilleur ami 

Yves Ravey: Un notaire peu ordinaire

19 September 2017

Alain Poulanges: Boby Lapointe : ou les mamelles du destin (2012)

Boby Lapointe (1922–1972), about whom I have written several posts on this blog, was a singer, writer and mathematician of some brilliance. He was born and died in Pézenas (Hérault), although he spent most of his mature years in Paris. Alain Poulange's biography is by far the best work that has been written on Boby, although – five years after its publication – it is out of print. Which is a pity, as he seems to be more popular today than he was in his lifetime, and only several weeks ago Le Monde included him in their Géants de la chanson series.

Boby's singing involves great use of puns and other play on words, Spoonerisms, nonsense, general absurdity, and it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of people have found his work too difficult to understand, although to contradict this many children have also enjoyed his playfulness. Even just after the age of twenty he was using a pun in a very serious situation: he escaped from the Nazi work camp (Service du Travail Obligatoire, usually called STO) and made his way back to Pézenas as Robert Foulcan (for which read fout le camp, which of course is exactly what he was doing).

The book charts his love of women, his love of wine, his sense of humour, and his inability to deal with money. He was very fortunate to have Georges Brassens (who too didn't care much for money, although he had enough of it) change his bald car tyres for new ones, even give him a new car and help his family out.

There are many humorous moments in this book, such as the attempts to take a plaster cast of his penis, or the fact that (as Pierre Perret notes in the Preface) he could even joke about dying of cancer: usually late for gigs, he suddenly as if by miracle started turning up early for them: when other performers took a long time getting to a venue because of the difficulty parking, Boby simply parked on the pavement: his reasoning was that he wouldn't have to pay the fines because he'd be dead.

We're lucky to have this book. But why hasn't it been re-printed?

My other Boby Lapointe posts:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
The Birth and Death of Boby Lapointe in Pézenas, Hérault (34)
Musée Boby Lapointe, Pézenas, Hérault (34)
Boby Lapointe Sculptures in Pézenas, Hérault (34)