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21 December 2014

François-Paul Alibert: Le Fils de Loth (2002)

François-Paul Alibert (1873–1953) was a poet and a journalist who was born and buried in Carcassonne.

His erotic gay novel Le Supplice d'une queue (lit. 'The Torture of a Dick') was published and sold under the counter in 1930–31 in a print run of only ninety copies by René Bonnel in the same volume as Hugo Marsan's Le Jeu de l'amour et de la nécessité (lit. 'The Game of Love and Necessity', and an obvious pun on Marivaux's play Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard).

Alibert's second (gay) novel – Une Couronne de Pines (lit. 'A Crown of Cocks') with a print run again of about one hundred – was confiscated by the police.

His third novel – Le Fils de Loth (lit. 'Lot's Son') – was called 'the most audacious' of Alibert's works by Joë Bousquet (1897–1950), who is perhaps Carcassonne's most famous poet. The above scan is the first edition, meaning that it took about seventy years to be published. That was by Musardine, and it has an Introduction by Emmanuel Pierrat and a Preface by Didier Eribon. The cover illustration is from Ils, dessins érotiques de Jean Cocteau (Annie Guédras, Le Pré aux clercs, 1998).

Le Fils de Loth takes as its subject not simply male homosexual love, but also gay incestuous love. At the beginning of the book Alibert uses a quotation from André Gide's Nouvelles Nourritures, in which he speaks of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt and Lot then sleeping with his daughters. Didier Eribon says that this could almost be seen as Alibert cocking an advance snook at the 'psychoanalytical vulgate' of judging homosexuality as a reversal of the Oedipus story: the male child dreaming of sleeping with his father and seeing his mother as a rival.

On first appearances it seems odd that this boundary-breaking book should come not from the literary centre of Paris but from the small town of Carcassonne, tucked away in the south-west of France. But then, there was a long correspondence between Gide and Alibert which lasted from 1907 to 1950: Didier suggests that Alibert was tempted to go beyond boundaries both because that is just what Gide had done with L'Immoraliste, and because of Alibert's taste for Helleno-Latin culture.

Le Fils de Loth begins with the young lovers Roland and André enjoying each other by the sea and Roland asking who initiated André into the art of love. André says that it was his father, and so begins a long explanation with only occasional interruptions.

Every attempt is made to make André's incestuous relationship very natural, wished for, chosen, non-exploitative. From the time that the seven-year-old boy shares a bed with his father when the mother is away and he enjoys his father's rugged masculinity and he is excited by his father's morning glory he knows that there is a power he must discover, although his father Édouard feel something is not right and they sleep alone afterwards, even though nothing of an overt sexual nature has actually happened.

André has never had any interest in girls but is particularly sexually excited by his father. When years later father and son sleep in separate beds Édouard – when he believes André is sleeping – has a tremendous wank (I don't think the word 'masturbate' is ever used), and André knows that he is having this effect on his father. But neither can express their feelings for each other.

It remains for Édouard's friend Michel to play Cupid and bring the fifteen-year-old André sexually together with his father, and the lovers have a number of days of unbridled passion, with full descriptions of many of their activities.

In the end André dies of meningitis, the nameless mother dies, Édouard is living with Michel, and the reader wonders what to make of all this. It wouldn't have been possible to publish this book in the 1930s, and although now pretty much anything of a sexual nature goes in terms of the written word the fact remains that even though André is a more than willing partner and even instigates a number of things sexually, this is still parental abuse of a child.

As Eribon states, and I translate: 'This book will again ask the eternal question: is everything possible in literature? How far can you go?' He also says that Alibert took it upon himself to push the boundaries back, and I think that's the best way to view the book: as a curiosity, a literary experiment.

20 December 2014

Lorette Nobécourt: La Démangeaison (1994)

The expression 'Génération Houellebecq' has been used to describe contemporary French writers not of a recognisable school – and indeed many who could assume this label are often very different from each other – but of a number of writers preoccupied with themselves, the body, sex, and perhaps with the state of France and the world in general. Such writers of course include Michel Houellebecq, but also Virginie Despentes, Nina Bouraoui, Christine Angot, and Lorette Nobécourt.

Michel Houellebecq's first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte, was coincidentally published in 1994, the same year as the publication of Lorette Nobécourt's first novel, La Démangeaison (lit. 'The Itching'). The subject is psoriasis – very acute psoriasis, lasting a number of years, and from which Nobécourt herself suffered in childhood and youth. This book is a fictionalisation, with the protagonist Irène as the narrator.

This is a short novel, but no easy or quick read: it is painful, and Nobécourt makes no compromise with the readers' sensibilities. Before the first page of text, the quotation is by Nietzsche: 'the serpent would die if it didn't change its skin'. The novel takes us beyond good and evil, but the particular remark about skin is very relevant here: it is full of words such as 'skin', 'scratching', 'itching', 'sores', 'swellings', 'pus', 'blood', 'scales', 'wounds', 'smell', 'marks', 'scabs', 'oozing', etc. The reader is forced to some extent to identify with the victim.

Irène has suffered from psoriasis since about six months of age and her bourgeois parents have never shown her any affection and her mother sometimes beats her. Her psoriasis is a mark of her difference, making her a stranger in the world she strives to survive in. She speaks early on of washing in icy water her skin lacerated with 'hieroglyphics', and the language of the body will play a part later in the story.

Irène sees her family as complete hypocrites, making the external show of caring by attending church every Sunday but in private being anything but caring to their sick child. Unsurprisingly, Irène initially sees herself as guilty, as 'abnormal'. But she knows her mental state is preferable to that of the others around her.

One day, pushing her little sister on a swing the corners cracks her head hard and she has to have an operation. But she refuses an anaesthetic, fearing that during the operation they'll take sometime out, or put something in that will cause her to wake up like them, without 'la conscience de mon être: 'the consciousness of my being'.

Irène comes to be her illness, to love it. Her parents are only too willing to send her to a small boarding school, where although the other girls call her 'Caiman' and 'Hippocampe' in reference to the loss of her scales and the roughness of her skin, but at least she can immerse herself in the solitary pursuit of reading. And later she writes and writes in school notebooks, writing the scratches of her body into word.

On leaving school Irène, being freed from her psoriasis, finds a job as a proof reader until the marks return and make it impossible for her to go back to work. The relationship between her marked body and her sexuality is strongly felt not so much so her masturbating alone in bed, or at peep shows, but in her rapport with Rodolphe.

Rodophe is about fifteen and doesn't ask any questions about her body marks, and as he masturbates her she teaches him to scratch her, harder, and harder, and harder. Their sexual relationship lasts a few months until he has to go on holiday with his parents. Then he returns, and she is taken to a psychiatric hospital for, it seems, killing him.

In the last paragraph there are suggestions of an unreliable narrator, when Irène says she's lied a great deal, that she never had a younger sister, she's the eldest, but that changes nothing in the end, as the extremes of psoriasis are real.

I'll be reading more of Lorette Nobécourt.

17 December 2014

Rowena Edlin-White: Kate Douglas Wiggin and Bramall Hall (2007)

I had intended to tie in a blog post about Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856–1923) with a visit to Bramall Hall, Stockport, Cheshire, but unfortunately it's been closed 'for restoration and refurbishment' since the end of this September, and doesn't re-open until spring 2016. Meanwhile I've read Rowena Edlin-White's Kate Douglas Wiggin and Bramall Hall, which underlines the very interesting relationship between the North American writer and this part of England.

Kate Douglas Wiggin first visited England in 1890, the year after the death of her first husband, Samuel Bradley Wiggin. It was towards the end of her stay – after she had also visited several countries in Europe – that she accepted Charles and Mary Nevill's invitation to visit them at their home: Bramall Hall, the Elizabethan manor house which the calico printer Thomas Henry Nevill had bought for his son Charles in 1882. She stayed there five days, but this was to be the first of many usually annual visits up to about 1913, after which the First World War – along with Charles's death – intervened.

In her autobiography My Garden of Memory published posthumously but in the same year as her death Wiggin speaks of Bramall Hall's 'picturesque beauty and grandeur', and says that the death of Mary (1901) and Charles (1916) 'left a great blank in my list of English friendships'.

She loved the luxury of the great house, and slept in the Davenport Room:

'When I go to bed at night there is a procession of room-maids, ladies' maids, housekeepers and others, with warming pans, jugs of hot water, candles, eider-down quilts, and hot gin and water! In the morning a procession arrives with different articles, and oh! how I like it!'

Wiggin initially visited Bramall Hall with Chatto & Windus publisher Percy Spalding's wife, although later she went with her sister Nora Archibald Smith (also a writer) or George Riggs, her second husband, whom she married in 1895.

Kate Douglas Wiggin is noted for the 'Penelope' books, the first of which Penelope's English Experiences was published in one volume with A Cathedral Courtship in 1893, although revised editions of each were published in 1900 and 1901 respectively. The germ of Penelope's English Experiences began on her first visit to Bramall Hall, and her most famous book Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903) – was dedicated to Charles Henry Nevill, 'under whose dear English roof so many of these chapters were written'.

Rowena Edlin-White wrote her doctoral thesis on Kate Douglas Wiggin, and it is clear from the back cover of this very interesting book that she wants the 'Penelope' series to be as well known as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. And also, of course, that the link between Kate Douglas Wiggin and Bramall Hall be better known: which it probably won't be while it remains closed.

16 December 2014

Véronique Bizot: Mon couronnement (2010)

After publishing two books of short stories, Le Couronnement is Veronique Bizot's first novel, although she's since written two more: Un avenir (2011) and Âme qui vive, which reached the final for this year's Médicis award. With just one paragraph for each of its eighteen chapters and no speech markers, this short novel initially appears a little daunting, but it's not at all.

Eighty-seven-year-old Gilbert Kaplan is the narrator, although we don't find out his name until much later in this book, which is in many ways a study of the absurdity of life, although its treatment of it is in general far from pessimistic. People in it go mad or are thought to be mad but are dealt with in an amusing fashion – M. Schenker, Gilbert's maths teacher at university, is taken away in the middle of a lecture; Gilbert's first wife (he only had one but he calls her his first), jumped out of a window of their house and her false teeth he keeps in a plastic bag to remember her; Colette Lenoir is a more doubtful case of madness, although she keeps Gilbert waiting in her flat for his old friend Henry Lenoir – her husband – until Gilbert suspects that Henry may have died some time before.

The central absurdity is the fact Gilbert has received an award for an important discovery he made when he was a scientist, although this is so long ago that Gilbert has forgotten what his discovery was: far from being delighted by this belated recognition, he sees the attention he's receiving as rather an invasion of his privacy and disruption of his routine.

And Gilbert's routine revolves around his housekeeper Mme Ambrunaz cooking for him and mothering him. She lives in the large property, sleeping in a room overlooked by Gilbert's stone sculptures left over from the later work he took up before it became too strenuous for him. She obviously lives for Gilbert and there's an unrecognised mutuality in this relationship.

Certainly there are no other people whose company he really enjoys. His brother Victor is preoccupied by his novel writing and his fame, and will never forget that his wife left him and was in love with Gilbert, although Gilbert didn't know this and didn't even have a relationship with her; his son is perfunctorily filial; he really doesn't like his sister Alice, who lives in her beloved Alsace and leaves a tacky souvenir from the place each time she visits him; apart from Mme Ambrunaz, the only other person of importance to him was his sister Louise, whom he's not seen for many years and who ran off with a bishop (now long dead) in order to do good works around the world.

Shortly before the dreaded presentation ceremony, Mme Ambrunaz decides to give Gilbert's spirit a lift by taking him to Le Touquet for two nights: she can stay with a nearby distant relative and show him around the town in the day. So she gingerly spends a while reversing Gilbert's old car which she in the beginning drives with white knuckles but handles the autoroute well enough, telling him not to talk to her as it spoils her concentration. And they both love the brief break, and Gilbert wants to tell Mme Ambrunaz how much he truly appreciates her, but he just can't manage it.

They're both very tired when they return but Mme Ambrunaz is in a hurry to have the holiday photos developed. He says he'll go with her too but then notices she's still staring at him, leaning her head back on the sofa. But she can't see him.

Both Gilbert and Mme Ambrunaz expected that he'd die before her and be buried in the plot that she'd chosen for them miles away from the Paris area, a lovely cemetery in the country. But it happened the other way round and it's time for Gilbert to take a taxi to this absurd presentation ceremony. When he arrives he finds a huge crowd, and spots a little group with his brother, his own son, and his sister Alice. But of course no Mme Ambrunaz, and no sister Louise. He decides not to go in.

Earlier in the book Gilbert goes to a book-signing session to buy his brother's latest tome: a seven hundred pager, because Victor says the public wants big books with big themes. Consciously, I'm sure, Veronique Bizot is making a comment on her own book, which is on the surface quite the reverse of Victor's: it has just one hundred pages of print, and ostensibly has a very small theme. But I found that Mon couronnement has a resonance far greater than many much 'bigger' books. This is a little treasure.

15 December 2014

Erik Orsenna: La Grammaire est une chanson douce | Grammar Is a Gentle, Sweet Song (2001)

I've read this before: it's the kind of book you can read a number of times without its freshness ever leaving you. It's a sort of fairy story for adults.

The narrator is the ten-year-old Jeanne – think of Joan of Arc, she boasts – who has a fourteen-year-old brother Thomas, and their parents are divorced. They're used to travelling by ship to see their parents when school's out, but this time there's a shipwreck and they are the only survivors. They spend a brief time on a small island until their parents come and collect them. But it's what they see on the island that is important.

La Grammaire est une chanson douce is strong on social criticism: in the first chapter we see Jeanne and her class friends being taught by Mademoiselle Laurencin, a woman in love with literature and words in general who has to be sent to have her enthusiasm ironed out and a more 'scientific' approach instilled. On the island the children – who have both lost their voices in the wreck – learn of the politician Nécrole, who sometimes burns down libraries to the delight of 'business men, bankers and economists': limiting vocabulary makes sound business sense.

Jeanne and Thomas are shown around the island by Monsieur Henri, who is a creation inspired by the guitar-playing wordsmith Henri Salvador (1917–2008). Monsieur Henri teaches them to find their voices again, and tells them that without language things – life itself – will die. On the island there's a shop, for instance, where customers can buy words to express their love for someone: saying 'I love you' is not enough, it's a hackneyed expression that becomes tired and wears out through overuse. Words are seen as living organisms that form relationships with other words, which bond, even marry. A very old and very respected woman breathes life into archaic words to revive them.

A sheer joy to read.

(I note that the English translator couldn't decide whether 'douce' means 'gentle' or 'sweet' here, so in the end kept both words: I don't know what the rest of the translation reads like, but the title is in the spirit of the book itself!)

14 December 2014

Paule Constant: Confidence pour confidence (1998)

This is the novel which took many people by surprise and won the Prix Goncourt of 1998, easily defeating the book in my post below – Michel Houellebecq's Les Particules élémentaires. It's also a novel which appears not to be among the most popular of the Goncourt winners.

The book depicts a huis clos in the imaginary town of Middleway, Kansas, in the black American academic Gloria Patter's house: briefly staying with her (on the occasion of a feminist symposium) are three other women in their late forties.

These are the Jewish Algerian professor Babette Cohen, who is also a settled in the United States; the French writer Aurore Amer, who has spent much time researching in Africa; and Lola Dohl, a washed-out Norwegian actress whose face betrays years of alcohol abuse.

There's a beginning and an end here but it's very digressive and the main interests are in the personal political dynamics of the situation and the details of the protagonists' past. There's also some amusement to be found here and I particularly enjoyed: Gloria's description of the way people avoid direct speaking today – well, at the time of writing at least – by making quotation marks with their fingers; Aurore saving Lola embarrassment by sending her back into the bathroom to undo her catastrophic face make-up; and Aurore's occasional friendship with the prostitute Leila and her mongrel dog.

It was interesting to learn that Paule Constant was in a huis clos experience herself some years previously, and that she was determined to introduce a take on the killing of a rat that happened at the time: not very pleasant, but after squeezing the sick rat to death Gloria lies and says that she's writing a novel called La mort-aux-rats. In fact the book she's (sort of) writing is to called African Woman, and for me this is the most amusing part of  Confidence pour confidence.

The writer Pierre Assouline claimed to have discovered that the novelist Calixthe Beyala had plagiarised passages of Constant's novel White Spirit (1989) in Assèze l'Africaine (1994). Defenders of Beyala speak of 'intertextuality', although Constant was aware of Beyala's book. In Confidence pour confidence, she has Gloria plagiarize the white Aurore's new and as yet unpublished novel by translating in into English as her own book.

Confidence pour confidence certainly has its moments. As Gloria says to Babette (and I translate): 'Who is plagiarizing whom? The Whites who are copying my Africa? It's not enough for them to have colonised our countries, now they're doing it to our books!'. (As a point of interest, Paule Constant spent some years in Africa, and her father was an Algerian pied-noir.)

11 December 2014

Michel Houellebecq: Les Particules élémentaires | Atomised (1998)

In 1994 Michel Houellebecq published his first novel, which was bizarrely translated into English as Whatever. I say 'bizarre' because the English title misses out the meaning behind the original title Extension du domaine de la lutte. Houellebecq's allusion was to the Marxist class struggle ('lutte') of financially rich and financially poor being extended to the sex rich and the sex poor. Les Particules élémentaires continues and extends the arguments.

It was expected by many that this novel would win the Prix Goncourt of 1998, although it came as a great surprise – indeed as a shock to many – that Paule Constant won with Confidence pour confidence. Some reviewers even compared this unexpected result to the 'scandal' of Guy Mazeline winning the 1932 Goncourt with Les Loups (a book and a writer long forgotten) instead of Céline's masterpiece Voyage au bout de la nuit. Houellebecq eventually won the Goncourt with La Carte et le territoire, although not before a second unexpected occurrence: oddly, in 2005 François Weyergans's Trois Jours chez ma mère was absent from the first selection, but appeared in the second and third selections and went on to beat Houellebecq's La Possibilité d'une île (Island).

The above are a few examples of Goncourt oddities, although perhaps the oddest thing in the history of Les Particules élémentaires is Lucie Ceccaldi – Houellebecq's eighty-three-year-old mother – turning up on the French literary scene in 2008 not only in an attempt to denounce her son as a liar, but to do so in her book L'Innocente, a 413-page rant.

Controversy has not so much dogged Houellebecq throughout his writing career as helped him to achieve a very high level of fame over a relatively short time. Does he deserve it, or is this book in particular just the pessimistic, pretentious verbiage that some people have attacked it for? In a word, yes, I think he does deserve high acclaim.

But it's difficult, in a few words, to say what kind of book this is. It is to a small extent fictionalised autobiography, certainly, but it is also a denunciation of the hippie period and contemporary French society in general, it is a pornographic novel, a horror story, a scientific tract, and even a work of science fiction. In parts, it also manages to be surprisingly tender.

Michel Djerzinski and his half-brother Bruno have been abandoned by their mother, who has gone off to join a hippie colony. Michel grows up to be a molecular biologist with little desire for sex and an inability to love. Bruno is physically and sexually abused at school, and grows up obsessed with sex, to the point of it driving him mad: at one point, as a school teacher he masturbates in front of a fifteen-year-old girl and he subsequently becomes an inmate in a psychiatric hospital.

Via Bruno in particular, Les Particules élémentaires attacks the soixante-huitards (the hippie generation) for their hedonism and suggests that one of the natural results of this attitude was the monster Charles Manson. (I wholly disagree with this theory, but no matter.)

The body's decay and the ageing process in general  are prominent in the novel, and in spite of both Bruno and Michel finding brief companionship (of rather different kinds) in Christiane and Annabelle  respectively, both women kill themselves: the first as a result of paralysis, the second after a hysterectomy.

Bruno finishes up going back to the psychiatric hospital, his libido lost in a chemical straitjacket. But although Michel also eventually kills himself, it's not without creating a great name for himself as a scientist cloning, creating the people of the future: immortal and sterile.

7 December 2014

Philippe Besson: En l'absence des hommes | In the Absence of Men (2001)

Most of the men are absent in this summer of 1916 because they're fighting in World War I, although a few men are brought together in Paris: the aristocratic Vincent de l'Étoile and the great writer Marcel Proust; and Vincent again with the housekeeper's son Arthur Valès, a soldier who has a week's leave.

Vincent, a sixteen-year-old far wiser than his years, is soon seeing the forty-five-year-old Proust every afternoon either at his home or in an expensive café: the two men are of the same class, are very intelligent, and almost instinctively recognise that they are of homosexual persuasion. But although the relationship becomes loving and confidential, it remains Platonic.

When Vincent gets together with the twenty-one-year-old Arthur though, the two enjoy seven nights of sexual bliss. Vincent's father knows nothing of this, although he knows that his son is friendly with Arthur and tries to discourage the mixed-class relationship. Later, Housekeeper Blanche will initially tacitly show that she is aware of the real nature of the relationship.

More than half of the book is the first part, which ends with Arthur leaving for an unknown future in an increasingly bloody war. The second half – almost a quarter of the book – is purely epistolary, with Arthur and Vincent expressing their deep love for each other, and Vincent slowly revealing his love affair to an understanding and avuncular Proust. The final letter is just a few lines: Vincent sending the news to Proust of Arthur's death.

The final part of the book is brief, with Vincent giving some consolation to Blanche by telling her of his deep love for her son, who Blanche informs him has loved Vincent since he first saw him. She also tells Vincent why she could never reveal who Arthur's father was. At the end of the 19th century circumstances drove Blanche to prostitution, although her shame led her to only have sex once with one client before she fled from the brothel.

The client was an aristocratic man whose father had given him money to go to the brothel because of his reluctance towards the opposite sex, and both Blanche and man found the experience uncomfortable. It doesn't exactly require great guesswork to figure out the identity of the father of Arthur.

The strength of the book is in its psychological insights, its understatement, the subtle characterisation. This is Philippe Besson's first novel, and I found it much more successful than the other two novels of his I've read: Son frère and La Trahison de Thomas Spencer. One small point though – on page 66 Vincent mentions the word 'surréaliste': this is supposed to have been written in 1916, but surely the word wasn't used until later?

6 December 2014

Éric Reinhardt: Cendrillon (2007)

'Que serais-je devenu si je n'avais pas rencontré Margot à vingt-trois ans?'

'What would have become of me if I hadn't met Margot when I was twenty-three?'

So reads the back cover of this edition of Éric Reinhardt's Cendrillon (lit. 'Cinderella'). On page 308, the frequent first-person narrator (who calls himself Éric Reinhardt) speaks about his 'synthético-théoriques' avatars Laurent Dahl, Thierry Trockel and Patrick Neftel, whose stories are all related in the third person, sandwiched between the narratives of 'Éric Reinhardt'.

I read many reviews by non-professional critics of Cendrillon, and wasn't at all surprised to find that a number of people only read so much of this whopping 568-page pavé that has sections but no paragraphs, whose dialogues run on continuously in italics, and whose speakers are introduced by a long dash. Some readers suggest that you can skip whole chunks without loosing the thread. Others say that the author has an ego the size of the book, and that he imagines himself as an heir to James Joyce.

Well, this is no easy-to-read book, and pages and pages of unbroken text – particularly when the subject is hedge funds (and there's a lot of that) – are somewhat (let's be polite) daunting, but I kept reading, I didn't throw the book at the wall. In parts I was reminded of a difficult Jonathan Franzen, and I even thought that perhaps this is more like Franzen should write – pushing the post-modernist boat, experimenting more.

This book is no modern inferior version of Finnegans Wake Joyce, not even Ulysses Joyce: it's much more accessibly experimental than that. There are some really funny episodes here, such as Laurel's father's boss's wife puking on the entrance hall carpet, or a pubescent Laurel himself trying to clean up his diarrhoea in his would-be girlfriend's family home toilet, or even an increasingly crazy Patrick Neftel smashing his sister's bridegroom's goofy teeth in.

But this is in some respects a dark book, a book of modern life where there are super-winners and super-losers, where rampant capitalism is a tremendously destructive force, where the globalisation card trumps all.

We have 'Éric Reinhardt', family man writing and researching mainly (it seems) at Le Nemours café, Place Colette, Paris; then we follow the adventures of Laurel and his many 'dolls' (million dollars); and we see his unfortunate father morph into Patrick's father, who kills himself by stabbing a fork into his throat at the dinner table and thus also ruins the life of his son, making him not only unemployable but also insane.

Often, what goes up must come down and Laurel has to flee from hedge fund hell. Patrick, a modern Don Quixote seen as a terrorist, drives off to tilt at windmills created by television rather than books. And Thierry Trockel has a small part in this too: his brain is turned by the kind of porn sites where you get to meet real people with warts and all. Welcome to twentieth-first-century reality.

4 December 2014

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: Milarepa (1997)

Eric-Emmanuel wrote Milarepa for Bruno Abraham-Kremer, who later directed it as a play. Milarepa (1040–1123) was a Tibetan Buddhist, and a magician, yogi and poet who fascinates Schmitt, a non-Buddhist partly because he's too passionate, as he explains in the Afterword interview with Bruno Metzger in the above edition.

Milarepa is a short narrative, much like a short story rather than a novel, and Schmitt won the Prix Goncourt for the short story in 2010 with Concerto à la mémoire d'un ange. It forms the first part of Schmitt's 'Cycle de l'invisible', which also includes Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran, Oscar et la dame rose, L'Enfant de Noé, Le Sumo qui ne pouvait pas grossir, and Les dix enfants que madame Ming n'a jamais eus.

The story begins with Simon, who is troubled by a recurring dream that he has to kill someone. A strange woman he initially believes is insane comes up to him in a café and informs him that he is a reincarnation of the hateful Svastika, the uncle of the sage Milarepa. But she is telling the truth and Simon has a long way to go before the cycle of rebirths can be broken.

As Schmitt says in the interview, Milarepa would have been a yawn if he'd started out as a goodie-goodie and became a sage, as opposed to the revengeful mass murderer he originally was, and who grew into a sage through years of duress: it takes no time to be a villain, but to become a genuine sage requires extremely hard work and a considerable gift for the task.

My other Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt blog post:

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Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt: La Tectonique des sentiments

30 November 2014

Virginie Despentes: Apocalypse bébé (2010)

Virginie Despentes describes herself as an 'anarcho-feminist'. When she directed a film of her first novel Baise-moi (1994) in 2000 it caused quite a stir and was subjected to accusations of 'pornography'. I could describe the film Baise-moi as Tarantino meets Thelma and Louise with lashings of unsimulated sex. But there is nothing titillating about it, and there would be something very unusual with anyone getting off on this stuff: Despentes is very angry. Coyly, the film version for distribution with English sub-titles didn't translate the title: a film called 'Fuck Me' would obviously have encountered censorship problems.

In 2010 it was a surprise when Despentes won the prix Renaudot – the second most important French literary prize. But to capture the atmosphere of the novel the making of a film version is highly unlikely because of the cost involved – this is a devastating read in more than one respect.

The back cover of this novel calls it a mixture of social satire, contemporary detective story and road novel, which seems a reasonably accurate shorthand description. Valentine Galton is the key character – a wayward fifteen-year-old who frequently plays truant and has sex with as many men as possible because she imagines that the more she has of it the better she'll get. Earlier on she mixes with the band PDTC (Panique Dans Ton Cul), which can be translated as 'Panic In Your Ass': it could almost be a prediction of the novel's climax, but more of that later.

There was a sub-genre of the fin-de-siècle New Woman novel in English literature which involved women detectives, and although I never managed to track one down to read I imagine that Apocalypse bébé must be a kind of update. The narrative switches between first and third person, with the first being related by the private detective Lucie Toledo, and the third revealing key characters in Valentine's life, ending with Lucie herself.

Valentine has gone missing, and Lucie's job is to find her. To help her in this she co-opts La Hyène ('The Hyena'), a much more experienced private detective and a larger-than-life, very openly lesbian character who doesn't flinch about using violent tactics to reach her goal. The novel involves various detective activities in Paris, and then a journey by car to Barcelona, where Valentine is eventually found and is ostensibly a docile captive.

Valentine comes from a broken family with an extremely self-centred mother and novelist father François whose books have gone out of fashion: the internet plays a very important role in detection in the story, although François uses it to write his Wikipédia entry and check his tiny sales positions on the Amazon charts.

But François's position in those sales charts will rocket, albeit posthumously. Finally his contribution to literature has been noticed, and this is to be recognised in a ceremony at the Palais-Royal. Valentine accompanies him, although what follows is catastrophe of such proportions that it will be compared, among other things, to the Twin Towers and the earthquake in Haiti.

The Palais-Royal metal detector registers when Valentine passes through it, but when she explains that this is clitoral ornamentation the staff don't probe any further. Ten minutes before the ceremony Valentine borrows her father's iPhone to post the ready-recorded video clip 'Little Girl' – showing her inserting a highly explosive device into her vagina: the result will change more than the nature of French security for ever.

Overnight Lucie becomes a wanted person, but her boss provides her with a fake driver's licence, she escapes to Spain to join her lesbian Polish lover Zoska, and ends up near Seville hoping for a fake passport to take them to South America.

A review of this book in the Independent suggests that the end of Apocalypse Baby is tacked on: oh no, it was intended. Like Baise-moi, this is an angry book, and a very powerful one.

26 November 2014

Didier van Cauwelaert: : Un aller simple | One Way (1994)

Didier van Cauwelaert's Un aller simple (translated into English as One Way) won the prix Goncourt in 1994. Aziz Kamel is the narrator, with the exception of twenty-odd pages of Jean-Pierre Schneider's dairy.

Aziz is named after the Ami 6 Citroën car, which crashed into traveller Vasile's mobile pizza van, killing Aziz's parents but leaving him an unharmed baby in the back seat. Vasile is so psychologically hurt by this that he doesn't drive again, although the orphan (born in France of unknown origin) is taken in by the travellers, renamed and given a false Moroccan passport.

So Aziz is brought up in a caravan in an area in north Marseilles, the kind of area where the residents welcome attempts by the council to give them a permanent dwelling because as soon as its finished and before they're allocated a property they rip out all the sellable fixtures, just leaving the tiling for the winter when they can make more money out of it. Aziz is keen to learn and enjoys the brief schooling he has, although the community want him to earn his keep, so he soon becomes an expert at stealing car radios.

Aziz is a gadjo (a non-gypsy), meaning he doesn't have full rights in the community he was brought up in. This means Radjo is more entitled to marry Lila, whom Aziz wants to marry, and whose 'honour' Aziz has respected by only having anal sex with her. However, Radjo is murdered before marriage: he has had vaginal sex with Lila before marriage, leaving the pathway clear for Aziz to marry Lila.

In theory. But before Aziz and Lila are married the future groom is jailed for stealing the ring. This is a frame-up because the ring is one of the few things Aziz has bought as opposed to stolen, although as he's a rookie buyer he didn't think of asking for a receipt.

Enter Jean-Pierre Schneider, a man charged by the government to repatriate immigrants such as Aziz, who hasn't renewed his (false) papers. Schneider has been assigned to accompany Aziz on the plane back to his home town and help him to find a job, only he can't find Irghiz, the supposed place of Aziz's birth, on the map.

He can't find it because it doesn't exist, but for reasons of his own Aziz plays the game and on the way over to Morocco and the first day there creates an aura of mystery and enchantment around the mythical Irghiz that has Schneider spellbound to find it. He even dreams of fulfilling his ambition of writing a book based around the adventure, and so make his wife (who is divorcing him) believe in his worth.

But then, the child is father to the man and soon roles are reversed and Schneider is being led up the (Atlas) mountain path by not only Aziz but the highly attractive and highly educated Valérie, a Moroccan courier Aziz has saved from discontented tourist dummies and had rather indifferent sex with. But Aziz is smitten and Valérie is all in favour of leading Schneider by the tail in the search for Irghiz.

Schneider is vulnerable in several ways: he soon falls for Valérie's charms as they make their way up the mountains, but a second illness strikes him and he dies many miles from civilisation, dreaming of love and literary success.
So it's down to Aziz to take Schneider back in a coffin, although his wife's remarried and Aziz has to spend virtually all his remaining government resettlement allowance hiring a van to drive the coffin back to Schneider's parents' ghost town in Thionville, Lorraine. The parents had disowned Schneider, so they're hardly likely to welcome his return, especially as a dead body. But Aziz's luck is in.

He has discovered that the van has been stolen from the Conforama car park where he left it, and using an Arab voice he anonymously reports (spending his last five francs on a public phone call) that Schneider has been kidnapped by Moroccan terrorists: the parents then express alarm and signal the catastrophe to friends and relatives.

As for Aziz, he's welcomed into the Schneider home, where he works on the man's notes to create the book he never published in his lifetime.

Very funny, imaginative, and highly engrossing.

Mathieu Belezi: Le Petit roi (1999)

Mathieu – the narrator of this short novel – is a twelve-year-old child who has been left to live with his grandfather on his farm in Haute-Provence. He goes to a religious school several miles away, which he reaches on a bicycle.

The only person he positively relates to is his grandfather: on the farm he is preoccupied by hurting, even torturing, animals and insects, and at school he has no respect for the teachers and treats Parrot – a boy who is friendly towards him – with contempt.

Mathieu also sees his parents with contempt, and tells one of the priests that they are dead. They are dead to the boy, and there's a strong suggestion that his mother – whose letters he disposes of without opening – mortally stabbed his father.

Throughout the book Mathieu's narrative frequently interrupts itself with his memories of the fights between his parents, sometimes with his own voice trying to stop them, sometimes with his parents' remembered voices at the time of the violence. It is evident that serious damage has been inflicted on the child, although it is by no means clear how much  – or how little – his taciturn grandfather knows of Mathieu's history.

And it's equally evident that Mathieu is releasing his frustration onto others – violence breeds violence and his attacks on animals are a release of the psychological damage caused by his parents, and this damage is mixed with his growing sexual frustrations which express themselves by Mathieu making friendship-starved Parrot an occasional sex slave.

There's a genuine love between Mathieu and his grandfather, but the natural death of Pépé leads to the boy setting fire to the farm and riding off with ideas of killing himself.

This is a deeply disturbing book, but also a very French one. The back cover, with its reference to the kind of interstitial literature where suffering is to be read between the lines, draws the readers' attention to Charles Juliet's L'Année de l'éveil. That's another to look into.

23 November 2014

Lolita Pille: Hell (2002)

'We have a credit card in place of a brain, a vacuum cleaner in place of a nose, and nothing in place of a heart, we go to a night club more often than lessons, we've more houses than real friends, two hundred numbers in our address book that we never call. We're the golden youth.' (My translation.)

'La Jeunesse dorée' (or 'golden youth') is the title used for the poor rich kids, the nappies from the Neuilly, Auteuil, Pereire and Passy areas to the west of central Paris, particularly in the 16th arrondissement.

It's not surprising that the sixteen-year-old Lolita Pille, who felt inspired to write after reading Frédéric Beigbeder's 99 francs, sent a copy of the original manuscript to him. Nor is it surprising that Beigbeder (a fan of Bret Easton Ellis) should have enthusiastically contacted his publisher about the manuscript.

The book illustrates the life of the still-teenaged Ella – renamed Elle by her friends, but re-renamed Hell by herself because Elle sounds too much like a magazine. Sounds count in Hell, the sound of money in particular, but also the way things are expressed, such as contemporary verlan or backslang – cheum for moche (ugly), meuf for femme (girlfriend), pécho for chopé (seduced, had, etc), and so on.

This is a world of (often very) young adults in which brand names are of vital importance, where spending vast sums of money is an everyday occurrence, where hooving up coke in the early hours is normal, as is having frequent and dangerous sex with multiple partners.

The price of living in this world – in fact this kind of Hell – is not only that of losing your youth early, but also of falling into despair: when you've done everything, there's nothing left to do but go through the cycle again, and life (along with all the champagne) increasingly loses not only its sparkle but also its entire meaning, if it ever had one.

It's only when Hell hears of the existence of Andrea that she perks up. Andrea, she learns, is a guy who chained a girl naked to his radiator before sex, went out to buy cigarettes and in the process met a friend and went off with him for the weekend. Forgetting about the girl, who had nothing to eat all weekend. And sure enough, Andrea turns out to be the man of Hell's dreams.

For six months they hide themselves away, enjoying each other. But then things turn sour and they part, although neither will admit to the other that they are still in love. Love? Nonsense, it doesn't exist. Just get coked up, pissed up.

Andrea has his own chapter as narrator, when we learn his true feelings for Hell, that he loves her and is going to tell her so. The reader already knows that Hell is going to tell him the same. But this is not the kind of book that has a happy ending and when Andrea takes his car out for a final time that night/morning he runs through a red light at great speed at the Place de la Concorde and is crushed to death. Too much of a coward for direct suicide, a heartbroken Hell – yes, she really has one  continues her descent into a living Hell.

21 November 2014

Régine Deforges: Le Diable en rit encore | The Devil Is Still Laughing (1988)

Régine Deforges's Le Diable en rit (translated as The Devil Is Still Laughing) is the third volume of her La Bicyclette bleue series which stretches to ten volumes, although this is probably as far as I'm going with it: not through disappointment or other dissatisfaction, but after almost 1200 pages all told I think I get the idea, and action-packed sagas aren't exactly my main interest in literature.

Nevertheless this is a fine book which is in no way less of an accomplishment than the previous two I've read. It continues the story of Léa Delmas during World War II, and like the second volume 101, avenue Henri-Martin, is much more violent than the first and with a much less important love interest.

The tense atmosphere of terror, suspicion, brutal murder and torture is continued here, with again the setting changing between rural France (mainly the area around Bordeaux) and central Paris. But some of the action takes place in Germany too, when France is liberated and the allied push into Nazi Germany finally destroys Hitler's regime.

Many characters lose their lives, perhaps the most notable of them all being Léa's uncle Adrien, the priest who loses his belief in God because of the atrocities he's seen in the war; he goes out with two resounding bangs: a bullet through the loathsome Nazi Maurice Fiaux's head, and one through his own tormented brain; but although people later learn of his suicide, no one knows that he killed Fiaux.

Léa's cousin Camille is killed by the Nazis quite earlier on, and much later her husband Laurent meets his death too; Léa's uncle Luc, a collabo, is one of those killed by the French seeking vengeance after the Germans leave; Otto, the lover of Françoise and father of her child, dies in battle in Germany; and Léa's old school-friend and former lover Mathias joins the Nazis in what seems like a suicide mission.

In the Belsen-Bergen prison camp in Germany Léa – while working for the Croix-Rouge  discovers Sarah, her Jewish friend who was tortured in Paris. She manages to save her by having her transported to England.

This book, along with the two preceding volumes in this series, represents a remarkable achievement. Although these are works of fiction, the background and many of the events are based on true facts that happened during World War II, and give powerful illustrations of the horrors of war.

My other Régine Deforges posts:

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

Samuel Benchetrit: Le Cœur en dehors (2009)

The back cover of this book reads:

'Tu sais Charly, il faut aimer dans la vie, beaucoup... Ne jamais avoir peur de trop aimer. C'est ça, le courage. Ne sois jamais égoïste avec ton cœur. S'il est rempli d'amour, alors montre-le. Sors-le de toi et montre-le au monde. Il n'y a pas assez de cœur courageux. Il n'y a pas assez de cœurs en dehors...'

('You know, Charly, you have love in your life, a great deal... Never be frightened of loving too much. That is courage. Never be miserly with your heart. If it's full of love, then show it. Take it from yourself and show it to the world. There aren't enough courageous hearts. There aren't enough external hearts.') (My translation.)

It's Georges Roland who gives this advice to Charly, who is a ten-year-old French-born child from Mali, whose father left him when he was a month old, and whose mother has been a paid help to the elderly Rolands.

The advice comes towards the end of a book which begins shortly before Charly's mother is arrested by the police. From the end of the introductory chapter 'La Vie', the following nineteen chapters take place in one day, beginning at 08:00 and ending at 22:50. In this time, thoughts of the past and actions in the present vie with each other.

Charly – who initially has no idea why his mother has been arrested – decides not to go to school but to seek out his drug-addicted brother Henry. This involves a tour of the rather gruesome housing estate in which the names of places (blocks of flats, park, library, etc.) are ironically named after prominent cultural figures: Rimbaud, Marcel Proust, Colette, Guillaume Apollinaire, Berlioz, and so on. As Charly remarks of a school visit to the Musée National Picasso, in which a friend makes a joke about his father having a Picasso – a Citroën Picasso – 'It's to make you think it's beautiful.' Making his way through the tenements – though an area of dumped beer cans, used needles and drug-cooking spoons  Charly eventually finds Henry, who suggests that his mother may have been arrested because she has been without legal papers since her husband left with them.

It took me a while to warm to this precocious and rather goody-goody child and his limited, excessively hyperbolic verbal mannerisms heavily punctuated by frequently repeated colloquial or slang expressions such as 'La vache', 'craignos', 'bizarroïde', but (coyly) not a single 'putain'. But his (unsentimental) charm came through to me in his love for the slightly older schoolgirl Mélanie.

Finally, Charly is redeemed from any suspicions of mushiness by his brazen lies to the Rolands. Inventing a story about his mother having a bad case of flu, he tells the elderly couple that he a really good cook, and we find him in their kitchen confessing to himself that he has difficulty even pouring milk on his cereals. So he serves them up a plastic mess of overcooked pasta and rice embellished with grated cheese and raw tomatoes. George Roland's honest verdict comes after a few glasses of wine: 'dégueulasse' ('shit'), followed closely by his wife's 'infect' ('revolting').

Happily, I can't use those adjectives on this book.

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.