17 February 2019

André de Richaud: La Douleur (1930)

And here we have André de Richaud's La Douleur, the novel which would have such an epiphanic effect on Albert Camus as an adolescent. This book taught Camus that he could write, write about his feelings: Camus too had lost his father in World War I, like the young child 'Georget' Delombre in this book. In L'Ordre libertaire, Michel Onfray claims that the novel could make Camus's own future literature give voice to his mute mother's feelings. Camus read the book later to be disappointed and merely considered it as what today we would call a Young Adult publication, light and insignificant. I think both Camus and Onfray are wrong in their easy dismissal of the novel.

La douleur is set in World War I, when at the age of thirty-five Thérèse Delombre is left a widow after the death of her military captain husband in the village of Althen-des-Paluds, where André de Richaud lived and is buried. The locals have accepted her as she shows humility and lack of haughtiness, but trouble is to come when three German prisoners are lodged in the town. At first they assimilate easily and readily learn the foreign language.

But Thérèse is painfully sexually frustrated, as is the German prisoner Otto, and inevitably the two come together. And equally inevitably there are a number of problems which stem from the relationship: Thérèse falls in love with the ten-years-younger Otto, who can see that she will quickly age and has no plans for their future; with much jealousy and shame, the new Catholic convert Georget hates the German interloper: 'is it a sin to refuse to be kissed [goodnight] by a Kraut?', he asks at confession; and of course the relationship is discovered by the locals, who now view Thérèse with very different eyes.

As, ironically, The Merry Widow is played in the village, the German prisoners are now seen as unwelcome, and Otto has to confess he is leaving Thérèse. This is a little before the distraught Thérèse learns that she is pregnant, and a few months later the prisoners leave. Thérèse has thought of suicide, but an accident makes that task unnecessary. The innocent Georget will be able to be welcomed into the Catholic fold as an orphan.

11 February 2019

James Prior plaque, Blidworth, Nottinghamshire


'In Commemoration of
James Prior Kirk
1851 - 1922

Poet and Author of 'Forest Folk'
A tale of Blidworth and Blidworth Folk

"I have put the best of myself into my books.
they are me and nobody else".'

At last! A commemoration of James Prior in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, in which almost all of his novel Forest Folk (1901) is set. This is on the planter in Forest Folk Corner, close to the land on which the Forest Folk pub stood. Thank you to Alan Higgins, Chairman of Blidworth and District Historical and Heritage Society, for informing me of this. Nottinghamshire County Council and Blidworth parish council supported the Society's project, and local interest has been 'very positive'.

The Forest Folk pub, taken by me in about 1992. It bore the datestone '1926' and many people were shocked by the news in 2001 that it was to be knocked down and a supermarket put up in its place. It was actually demolished in 2005.

My James Prior posts:
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James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Introduction
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter One
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Two
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Three
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Conclusion
James Prior (1851–1922) in Bingham
James Prior's Parents' Grave, Nottingham
James Prior: Three Shots from a Popgun (1880)
The Forest Folk memorial window
James Prior plaque, Blidworth

Rocking Chair Ceremony, Blidworth, Nottinghamshire

The Rocking Ceremony in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, is more than 600 years old. The information plaque by the sculpture informs us that the ceremony is 'based on an old bible play about "the presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple".' It was revived in 1922 and takes place annually in the parish church on the first Sunday in February, when the baby boy born nearest to Christmas day is baptised and rocked in a 100-year-old wooden cradle. The church is 'the last church in the country, and possibly the world, to perform the ceremony'. This sculpture was made by Morris Reddington, and presented to the village free of charge in March 2010.

9 February 2019

Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Jean Bertholle (1910–2002), from Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte-d'Or, spent forty year turning forest trees into shoe heels, and then became a gamekeeper. His weathercocks remind me of Roméo Gérolami's current ones in his garden in Bléneau, the Yonne.


My Fabuloserie posts:
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La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Jean-Pierre Schetz (1921–1986) was a Belgian ironsmith-turned mason displeased with the uniformity of the houses around him, and in the 1970s changed the garden of his house in Jupille near Liège into Un Coin de Soleil until his death. He constructed real and imaginary figures with mosaics (mainly from broken crockery) and used various other reclaimed objects. Thanks to the Mad Museum in Liège, a part of his work is now in La Fabuloserie.



My Fabuloserie posts:
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La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

After Jules Damloup (1898–1985) retired, inspired by the animal figures on Poulain chocolate, he changed his garden by adding about twenty large animal figures. His first creation was Babar the elephant, equipped with its own water sprinkling system in its trunk. Michel Ragon, a writer and great enthusiast of art brut and working-class literature, discovered Damloup's work, informed Caroline Bourbonnais, and La Petite Afrique was moved to La Fabuloserie after Damloup's son donated it.


My Fabuloserie posts:
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La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

8 February 2019

Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Camille Vidal (1884–1977) was born in Narbonne and died in Agde. He was a mason who made coloured cement sculptures in his garden, which he called 'L'Arche de Noë' after his animal figures. The animals here are mainly (but not entirely) human. Alain and Caroline Bourbonnais rescued his work from oblivion.

Clemenceau and a very slim-looking Churchill.

Jayne Mansfield as I'm sure many millions would like to have seen her.

A very flattering representation of Margaret Thatcher, who destroyed the lives of so many people both in the UK and abroad. To bring the story up to present, Westminster has refused to accept a statue of her because it would provoke anger and vandalism, but Grantham (the place of the monster's birth) is only too willing to accept the statue on a huge plinth, as if that will deter anyone from throwing a can of paint at the figure! The people in Grantham responsible for this outrage have only themselves to blame for the consequences of their insane decision. I have been to Grantham many times, and have no idea how much I've spent there, but never again will I go anywhere near it. Thatcher is a vile creature to be ashamed of, not praised.

My Fabuloserie posts:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Pascal Verbena was born in Marseille the son of wholesale fish merchants. Married, he worked at night in the postal sector and in the day fished in the calanques, bringing up pieces of wood which he used in his atelier to renew their life. He loved hiding places, a major key to his work: sliding doors, drawers, tiny human figures, imaginary prehistoric animals. His final works became more abstract.

My Fabuloserie posts:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

There are several artists in the amazing Fabuloserie that I forgot to include in this blog last year, so here goes with the first omission. I don't have any dates for Albert Sallé, who was originally a farrier, and then employed by RATP (Régie autonome des transports parisiens). On retirement he lived in a tiny place in old Menton and started making tiny objects from recycled materials: capsules, elastic products, bits of wire and cork, etc. He'd sometimes introduce a musical element to his creations, and his display of his works sometimes resulted in theft. He died a depressed man. I don't know the name of this work, although he was apparently given to using odd names to his creations.


My Fabuloserie posts:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Albert Sallé, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)

7 February 2019

Yanny Hureaux: Un Ardennais nommé Rimbaud (2003)

This really is a masterful work by Yanny Hureaux, a novelist, journalist and writer of many local books around Ardennes subjects, who taught in Charleville-Mézières, Rimbaud's place of birth, for some years and is passionately interested in the literature and culture in general of the area. Arthur Rimbaud is seen here very much as a regional writer: nothing parochial about that: D. H. Lawrence was a regional writer as well as a national, even global, writer.

I studied Rimbaud a little at university, and was only taught that he gave up poetry at a very early age to become a gunrunner in Africa, and of course there's truth in this, although I found out nothing more. Yanny Hureaux knows a great deal about Rimbaud's travels, but more importantly he sees things from a local point of view. Certainly we follow Rimbaud on his many travels, but from the vicarious point of view of learning of his letters home – those received by his mother Vitalie and his sister Isabelle when he was in, for example, Cyprus or Aden.

For if we are with him when he is away, it is in indirectly in Charleville-Mézières or the farm in tiny Roche (Vitalie's place of birth), with mother and sister, reading quotations from his letters and imagining mother and sister following place markings on a map showing his movements.

Reading this book made me think of Marie Nimier's La Reine du silence, in which (as a fatherless daughter) she muses on how many fatherless writers there are, making me think of Georges Perec, Camus, Sartre, Jean Rouaud, Marguerite Duras, the adolescent Laurent Mauvinier, and many more that don't instantly spring to mind. But Rimbaud's father wasn't dead, merely absent, one of the many who just walk out on their families and don't return. Loss and/or existential anguish is frequently present in their work.

Verlaine is also present here, occasionally also seen from a geographical distance, but more present as a son of the Ardennes, born in Metz but seen here in the late seventies and early eighties – after leaving jail for shooting Rimbaud and teaching in England for a short time working as a répétiteur in a school in Rethel, living with ex-pupil Lucien Létinois in Coulommes-et-Marqueny and then on a farm with him in Juniville: all three towns are in the Ardennes.

The picture on the front cover is of course a detail from Fantin-Latour's Coin de table, which is of a Vilains Bonshommes dinner: Verlaine sat to Rimbaud's right and Léon Valade to his left.

A treasure of a book.

(Hureaux – unsurprisingly, as this book is essentially about Rimbaud – doesn't mention the time that Verlaine taught in William Lovell's school in Stickney, Lincolnshire, although it's worth mentioning. His English wasn't very good and he had a thick French accent which made his pupils make fun of him, but both Verlaine and his pupils came to really like each other. Verlaine also enjoyed going to Boston every weekend, where his purported visit to the Roman Catholic chapel in Horncastle Road seems just to have been an excuse to sample the drinks in the local pubs. He started there in March 1875 – shortly after his release from prison – and left in June 1876.)

My Arthur Rimbaud posts:
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Yanny Hureaux: Un Ardennais nommé Rimbaud
Arthur Rimbaud and the Vilains bonhommes, Paris 6e
Rimbaud's 'Le Bateau ivre' sculpture, Paris 6e
Arthur Rimbaud, Parc Balnéaire du Prado, Marseille

4 February 2019

Lucien d'Azay: À la recherche de Sunsiaré : Une vie (2005)

In some respects Lucien d'Azay's À la recherche de Sunsiaré resembles Didier Blonde's books: recovering people from oblivion by detective work. Certainly Blonde's Leïlah Mahi 1932 (2015) is called to mind: a strikingly attractive young woman about whom very little is known. This applied to Sunsiaré de Larcône, who died in a car crash in 1962, which took the famous and highly noted 'Hussard' Roger Nimier with her. She had just published her first novel, La Messagère, which she saw as just a 'trigger' for what she was due to bring to the literary world. Obviously her ambitions were killed along with her, but just who was she? In a detective story which resembles a biography but also (unlike Blonde's investigations) contains autobiographical elements, D'Azay tries to find the answers.

Sunsiaré was born in Rambertvillers (Vosges) modestly, as Suzy Durupt, to a car mechanic father and a mother who was a hairdresser, although her mother remarried the pied-noir Diego Larcone (without circumflex), a soldier in 1947. Suzy was brought up by her paternal grandparents, who had a restaurant in Rambertvillers. Suzy left school at the age of 14. 

D'Azay's account is fascinating, containing as it does many first-hand accounts of who Sunsiaré was, her change of name (to go with her change of image ), plus many letters to add to our knowledge of her. Sunsiaré was what we might describe as an intellectual groupie, but she was a force to be reckoned with. She had many conversations and correspondences with literary figures, such as Julien Gracq (whose Château d'Argol and La Rivage des Syrtes influenced her a great deal), and other friends of hers included Guy Dupré and Raymond Abellio. This book is not much light to 400 pages, and is surely without question the definitive work on this obscure and entrancing individual.


Sunsiaré, Columbarium, Père-Lachaise, Paris 20e.

Antoine Blondin and Pierre Assouline: Le Flâneur de la rive gauche: Entretiens (1988)

This is an edited collection of interviews made in 1988 between Pierre Assoulline and Antoine Blondin, three years before the writer's death. As might be expected, it is really humorous, and at the same time appears to be very honest. But.

Associated with what Bernard Frank (of whom Blondin speaks highly) in 1952 calls Les Hussards, when taken to task on the definition of this group, Blondin says that it essentially referred to himself, Roger Nimier, Michel Déon and Jacques Laurent: the 'core' Hussards, which was never a 'school' as the writers were very different. To Blondin, the common ground was the criticism of Sartre (who was nevertheless praised in Nimier's early writing) as an 'intellectual terrorist' without humour.

Assouline tries to dig out Blondin's political affiliations, although he says he has none: he repeats (as in his chat with Serge Gainsbourg (available online via Youtube)) that he's seen as left-wing by the right, and right-wing by the left. He vaguely situates himself somewhere in the middle. Vagueness seems to be a norm with Blondin.

What isn't vague is Blondin's drinking, which is almost a religion to the man. Alcohol is to some extent an escape, certainly a way of life, but the comfort it brings, and in particular the false companionship that accompanies it, is not exactly everything to Blondin, but it's halfway there. That's all in the fun: the 'bullfighting' of cars on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the spending of six entire days 'Chez Blanche' (a bar on the rue du Bac), the 33 arrests, Roger Nimier rescuing him financially from the cops, and on and on.

Blondin had many literary friends, Nimier being perhaps his greatest (until his death in 1962), but then there's also Marcel Aymé, Paul Morand, Jacques Chardon, etc. The idea of Blondin being elected to L’Académie française wasn't impossible: but how would he have reacted to such an invitation? Well, there were five cafés between Blondin's flat and the Académie: he would never make it there: although only 150 metres away, he would start out in his habit vert, leave his sword in the first bistrot, leave his cocked hat in the second, and shamefully end up at the Académie française in his underpants!

As for Blondin's most famous quotation, the last sentence of his novel L'Humeur vagabonde: 'Un jour nous prendrons des trains qui partent' (lit. 'One day we'll take leaving trains.'): the meaning? On 30 July 2018, the day France won the world football cup, Frédéric Beigbeder, in La Frivolité est une chose serieuse, claims that at last he's understood what Blondin meant: happiness has to be shared, otherwise it's worthless; being  proud of your country brings people closer to others. Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Beigbeder. Assouline tried hard to eke out a meaning from Blondin, and the first answer is: the quotation means that one day Blondin will write a readable book. Assouline repeats the question, and Blondin says that the meaning is that the trains will take him home. Er...

Antoine Blondin's grave in Père-Lachaise.

My Antoine Blondin posts:
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Antoine Blondin and Pierre Assouline: Le Flâneur de la rive gauche
Antoine Blondin: Monsieur jadis ou l'école du soir
Antoine Blondin: Les enfants du bon Dieu

1 February 2019

Jean-Michel Béquié: Charles (1993)

Jean-Michel Béquié was a new name to me, although this novel received very good reviews in 1993 when the novel was published. He also published Lumière cendrée in 1986, a book about which I have very little information, although it doesn't appear to be a novel as reviews say Charles was his first. Béquié published another novel, Les Fugues de Joseph Conti, in 1998, and since then seems to have moved off the radar: anyone with any information to add, please leave a comment or email me.

Charles is set in Provence, in a town which strongly resembles L'Ile-sur-la-Sorgue geographically, where Béquié spent many years of his adulthood. Béquié was only thirty five when he wrote Charles, although the novel shows a great deal of understanding of the very old protagonist François. François has a son (Frédéric, who is sixty) and daughter Gabrielle. Relations with François aren't problematic, although Gabrielle, who lives in Brittany with her husband Pierre and daughters Sophie and Delphine, rarely sees François and is cold towards him. She calls him an egotist, which François doesn't deny: he didn't approve of Gabrielle's marriage, and his attitude in general made for difficulties with François's wife seeing her grandchildren.

François is concerned about ageing, and it's evident that he's close to death. He frequently looks out onto the adjacent nursery school and dwells on his principal obsession: the death of his son Charles from a brain tumour at the age of five. He takes us through his memories of his son and his final months. This is a very perceptive work which appeared to herald an important new writing talent, but for some reason it wasn't to be.

31 January 2019

Albertine Sarrazin: La Cavale | Runaway (1965)

On the face of it this should be a fascinating read: Albertine Sarrazin, famous for her criminal activities and for escaping from Doullens, breaking a bone in her ankle, being rescued by an ex-con (Julien Sarrazin) who finds several planques for her, plus the very interesting novelised version of her exploits in L'Astragale, the astragal being the ankle bone in question. And both novels were translated, although not, it seems, her third: La Traversière.

Unfortunately I didn't like this novel, over five hundred pages of tiny print to reveal what exactly? There haven't been many novels set entirely (well, almost) in prison, and obviously what we're reading here is very close to the reality of the prison life that Albertine Sarrazin –here called Anick – must have experienced. That's a plus, as are the many slang expressions that add a rich colour to the book, and most of which in their time must have been culled from prison life. So, a realistic depiction certainly, and certainly the boredom is more than adequately conveyed. And that's the problem: it's so well conveyed that the reader – well, this one at least – is bored too.

The book is divided into three more or less equal parts relating to the different penal institutions in which they're set, although they all tend to merge into one. We have the dirt, the endless waiting, endless hopes of escape and/or being released, the many letters bringing hope, the chores, the cups of coffee, the subferfuges, the chumminess of the inmates, the smoking and saving of nub ends, the reading and card games of belote to kill time, etc, etc. The monotony is sometimes broken with the occasional celebration, buying beer from the prison shop, or when Anick is allowed out to marry Zizi (Julien) and gets drunk, but there is nowhere near enough variety to same the novel. Which is very sad.

My Albertine Sarrazin posts:
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Albertine Sarrazin: La Cavale | Runaway
Jacques Layani: Albertine Sarrazin : une vie
Albertine Sarrazin: L'Astragale | Astragal
Albertine Sarrazin in Doullens, Somme

25 January 2019

Jean Teulé: L'Œil de Pâques (1992)

L'Œil de Pâques is Jean Teulé's second novel, and is far from being his best. It begins fifteen million years ago, then cycles closer and closer to the  present until it begins the story proper about halfway through. Up to then we encounter many recurring words and themes, one of the main ones being Calais and the Channel tunnel, which incidentally was first mooted (but without success) to Napoleon in 1805 by the engineer Albert Mathieu-Favier: and there are his designs of it online to prove it.

It would take a long time to say what it's about, so instead I'll try to describe some of the characters and action. Pâque is the central character and she escapes from her hippie mother, who is French but living in India, but thinks she's being spiritual by giving herself sexually to the locals: towards the end she realises that she's just being used and blows up herself and about a hundred Tamils. Stainer is the cop who's hopelessly corrupt and steals a fair amount of the cannabis he confiscates, who fires a gun repeatedly at his damp walls to get rid of his frustration, and who lets Louis off a potential murder charge because he can fix his walls. Lucy teaches Pâque music, but she's out of her mind, living on seven eggs a day and polishing her gold and silver, which she hides in a drawer – she also has twenty-seven locks on her flat door. Those are just a few of the eccentrics. It was only on reading this book that I realised that obsession is a major theme in Jean Teulé's work.

The novel is almost entirely set in Calais and just a few of the repeated words, which underline continuity, form linkages, etc, are 'Simple Vice', which is a river and also the name of Pâque's (and her half-brother Thomas's) father: yes, I've not made a mistake there; Stainer's damp-swollen walls can be twinned with Pâque's silicon-swollen lips; the name Lucy relates to the Beatles 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' (or LSD, as drugs are frequent here); Pâque's nails are maquillés, and on two occasions Teulé uses his own expression 'made up like an English woman'; etc.

Looking at some of the reviews of this novel I can understand why it confused some people: it's far too clever for its own good.

My Jean Teulé posts:
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Jean Teulé: L'Œil de Pâques
Jean Teulé: Le Montespan | Monsieur Montespan
Jean Teulé: Le Magasin des suicides | Suicide Shop

24 January 2019

Antoine Blondin: Monsieur jadis ou l'école du soir (1970)

Antoine Blondin was not part of a school, although he is generally associated with the Hussard writers, right-wing and anti-Sartre. Regarding Blondin's politics, though, he said in a conversation with Serge Gainsbourg in a bar (available on YouTube) that the right considered him left, but the left thought him right. It was Bernard Franck who gave them this title, and the other three Hussards are Roger Nimier (who 'provided' the name with his novel Le Hussard bleu), Jacques Laurent and Michel Déon.

For many years, Blondin was a very well-known character around Saint-Germain-des-Prés, mainly for his relentless drinking, and for his resulting antics, such as playing at 'bull-fighting' with oncoming cars. He was also well-known to the police, who arrested him on a number of occasions, and as well as novels also wrote for L'Équipe sports paper.

Monsieur jadis ou l'école du soir is a kind of autobiography. I saw 'kind of' because it's all over the place, it's an opportunity for Blondin to give a fine display of his verbal pyrotechniques. It's difficult to describe because the novel has no plot, being the memories of a fiftysomething's behaviour years ago, including the disagreements with his wife, but mainly the many bars he went to (particularly the ever-open Bar-Bac (also known as 'chez Blanche) on rue du Bac. Roger Nimier also features strongly in the novel, as in the episode when he agrees to help Blondin out financially when he can't pay his taxi fare. Other writers who make an appearance are Albert Vidalie (of whom the eldest daughter was Blondin's god-daughter) and Giulio Cesare Silvagni. A crazy but brilliant man, and a fascinating book.

My Antoine Blondin posts:
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Antoine Blondin and Pierre Assouline: Le Flâneur de la rive gauche
Antoine Blondin: Monsieur jadis ou l'école du soir
Antoine Blondin: Les enfants du bon Dieu

23 January 2019

Marie Nimier: La Reine du silence (2004)

Marie Nimier's story of her search for her father is in effect a search for herself too. Prominent writer Roger Nimier died in an Aston Martin in 1962. It is quite possible that the beautiful Sunsiaré de Larcône, who also died in the crash and had just published her first novel, was driving the car. La Reine du silence strives to pull together the various and many pieces of a jigsaw in an attempt to discover the mystery of Marie's father, who died when she was only five.

Marie Nimier tries to draw on the obviously very limited memories that she has of her father, makes investigations, questions people who knew him, makes many digressions and speculations, but gradually – through the various snippets of information that she finds – she arrives at truths that are far from comforting.

Along the way we learn of her paternal grandfather Paul Nimier being an engineer who devised the first talking clock, of her paternal grandmother Christiane Roussel being a violinist before her marriage. We also learn that, after several failed tests, Marie eventually gained a full driving licence. We never learn why, at twenty-five, she jumped into the Seine in a suicide attempt, but then she doesn't know either.

Roger Nimier was a heavy drinker and sometimes did things that are very odd and disturbing, such as holding a gun to her slightly older brother's head, or stubbing out a cigarette in the plastic yoke of the egg in Marie children's tea set. There were rows with his wife, whom he once grabbed round the throat, and they were getting divorced at the time of his death.

The worse blow for Marie, though, is when she sees some of her father's possessions being auctioned. After seeing a letter he's written using a pseudonym and pretending to be a manufacturer of dildos, she reads this about herself at the end of another letter:

'By the way, Nadine had a daughter yesterday.
I immediately went to drown her in the Seine so as not to hear her anymore.
See you soon, I hope.
                                    Roger Nimier'

In a postcard once, Roger wrote to Marie: 'WHAT DOES THE QUEEN OF SILENCE SAY?'

Of course, if the 'queen of silence' says anything, she'll no longer be the queen of silence. So Marie Nimier chooses to write.

An amazing book.

My Marie Nimier posts:
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Marie Nimier: La Reine du silence
Marie Nimier: La Girafe | The Giraffe

22 January 2019

Samira Bellil: Dans l'enfer des tournantes | To Hell and Back: the life of Samira Bellil (2002)

Once again, I'm not too happy with the title in translation of a book: why To Hell and Back : the life of Samira Bellil? The original title translates as 'In the hell of gang rape' (in the slang that very much dominates this work), so something like 'Gang Rape Hell' would seem more appropriate to me. Sigh.

And this true account of a horrific life certainly makes the reader sigh. Josée Stoquart assisted with the book at every stage of its writing, and although it's unclear to what extent she changed it, it evidently resounds with Samira Bellil's voice, a voice speaking from hell, in the language of the street, about her life until she was twenty-seven.

Coming from a family in which the mother is initially intimidated, ruled over even, by the father who treats Samira in a terrible fashion, as an adolescent she doesn't really stand much chance in life. At fourteen she is savagely raped by three men who live nearby, and later by the same leader of the gang, K. She is threatened with violent consequences if she goes to the police, and anyway she can't even tell her parents because they wouldn't be sympathetic, they would be ashamed of her. On holiday in Algeria with her mother, Samira was gang raped again.

Her troubles don't end there, and it seems that every step she makes towards a relatively contented existence, she takes two steps back, and the toll this takes on her mental health is bound to be high. However, she can fight back, and positive things happen: she gets successful psychological help, her mother divorces, a judge awards her financial compensation, and she publishes this widely read book in 2002.

Tragically, Samira Bellil died of stomach cancer in 2004 – at the age of thirty-one.




Samira Bellil's grave in Père-Lachaise.

21 January 2019

Jeanne Benameur: Ça t'apprendra à vivre (1989)

This is Jeanne Benameur's first novel, and is partly autobiographical: it describes the world through the eyes of a young child, like Benameur of mixed parents (the father Algerian, the mother Italian but speaking French) first in Algeria and then in a town on the Atlantic coast: Benameur's family moved from Algeria to La Rochelle during the Algerian war.

The initial pages of this short novel are concerned with the young girl's memories of Algeria in 1958, of the family's fears and the danger of its isolation because of its ambiguous status: this is a mixed marriage and the children are of mixed blood. When the family moves to France the narrator, although no longer in obvious danger, still feels like an outsider: she's ignored by her school companions because she has no exotic tales to tell of Algeria. Her defence is to lie.

Lying is one of the themes of the book, which is addressed to individual members of the family: most of it, unusually, is written in the 'tu' form. And a number of the very short chapters on her parents are negative: the mother stealing from a supermarket, the father beating the children, rowing with his wife, and visiting a prostitute.

What most impressed me was the vividness, the intensely realistic nature of the language which seeks to convey the ultra-sensitivity of the girl. For instance, I translate here the description of (an unknown) food cooking in a frying pan:

'It hisses it shudders it simmers.

The whole kitchen is occupied by the sounds. Tiny boiling bubbles come together in the middle of the pan. From time to time, it spits. A bubble bursts, tiny blisters spurt, explode above the fire.'

Similarly, watching a bowl of white coffee form a skin is minutely described, or eating a pomegranate, etc. I shall be reading more of Jeanne Benameur's work.

20 January 2019

San-Antonio: Des dragées sans baptême (1975)

Yes, Des dragées sans baptême is another San-Antonio, or Frédéric Dard, which means that it's a cops and robbers story, starring San-Antonio himself as the commissaire superman, who has a super brain, a larger-than-life ability to take any knocks they are handed out to him, and no matter what he might look like after his ordeals he always manages to get a beautiful young woman drooling over him.

As ever in San-Antonio's world of cartoon violence, for me at least – although I suspect for many more readers – it's not so much the plot that matters as the way it's told, and San-Antonio wouldn't be San-Antonio if his books weren't littered with many humorous familiar and slang expressions, some of which are of course invented.

Thinking (mainly in American) cops-and-robber vein, it's obvious that 'gat' for gun is soufflant, feu, crachoir, or  pétard here, 'stiff' (as in dead body) is maccabe, and 'peepers' can serve for mirettes or châsses. But I was unable to find a catch-out slang term for 'car' to match San-Antonio's traction, guinde, or bagnole; I couldn't even think of a slang word for 'bullet' to match dragée, prune or pastille.

San-Antonio is also noted for his amusing expressions and wisecracks, and in this novel we have 'The door is as full of [bullet] holes as a chestnut seller's pan'. When San-Antonio is knocked out by a gangster's truncheon, he says 'I dip my head in the angels' swimming pool'. When his boss treats San-Antonio to toast, coffee and rum in his office after his daring feats are over, the sleuth drinks a bowl of coffee, then half fills it with rum, and when his boss asks if he's gonna drink that, San-Antonio asks if he thinks gonna wash his feet in it.

This was first published in 1975, although I'm still surprised that the language is so coy: shit is described as the stuff dogs leave behind, or le mot de Cambronne, which according to the non-coy Victor Hugo in the 19th century epic Les Misérables was merde !

My Frédéric Dard posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Joséphine Dard: Frédéric Dard, mon père: San-Antonio
Jean Durieux: Frédéric Dard dit San-Antonio
San-Antonio: Certaines l'aiment chauve
San-Antonio: Messieurs les hommes
San-Antonio: Des dragées sans baptême

19 January 2019

Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents (1943)

Les Impudents is Marguerite Duras's first novel, one she came to see as 'very bad' and went to the extent of deleting it from her list of writings, although it is still in print. Laure Adler, Duras's biographer, points to its many infelicities, and it is certainly not always an easy ride: it contains much of the material Duras used to rail against. In parts I found it a little like attempting to wade through treacherous water, although perhaps that strays too far towards some of the metaphorical expressions Duras herself uses. In one by no means isolated sentence, for instance, the narrator speaks of a pine wood 'high as a church nave' and a river 'sinking like a knife into the bottom of the meadows'. Another wince–worthy sentence that came to my attention is 'The heat stagnated around the house, like a pond.' Umm.

Nevertheless, in spite of its many faults, Les Impudents carries the germ of Duras's later writings: thematically – listlessness, the torments of love, desire, suicide, lies, among many other things; and autobiographically, there's a mother particularly in love with her greedy and workshy wastrel son, plus a home in the south-west, near where Duras (who took her name from a village there) spent two of her childhood years.

Maud Grand is twenty, from a bourgeois family, and lives in Clamart (Hauts-de-Seine) with her mother Mme Tanerand, her forty-year-old brother Jacques (the wastrel), her half-brother Henri and her her step-father M Tanerand. Apart from her father who stays in their appartment in Paris, the family go to their property in Uderan, but it's now uninhabitable as they haven't stayed there for some years. Consequently they stay with the rich peasant family, the Pecresses, the mother of whom is keen to see her son Jean married off to Maud. This is not to be though, and after many events – the suicide of a girl both Jean and Jacques appear to have had a strong part in, the gossip and the shame Maud brings upon herself by shacking up for a few weeks with the essentially very respectable and caring Georges Durieux – the pregnant Maud marries Georges. Who said Duras doesn't do happy endings?

My Marguerite Duras posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay

Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The ViceConsul

17 January 2019

Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga (1968)

Le Shaga is another of Marguerite Duras's rare humorous writings, and again it's distinctly Beckettian, reducing language here to absurdity. She was especially interested in idées reçues. Here we have three people in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital, where overnight B has started speaking a foreign language: Shaga, which is not a real language but one spoken by her alone. Neither A (also a woman) nor H (a man) can understand her, but A begins to find meanings increasingly quickly, interpreting them for H. There is much repetition, much laughter, even singing and dancing, and we realise how 'catching' the use of language is, how easy it is to adopt phrases and mannerisms in a kind of sympathy with it.

Some parts of the play I found particularly amusing. For instance, B shows interest in H's jerrycan with holes in. H says: 'As soon as you put petrol in it it leaves it. [...] and the jerrycan goes back to what it was before, you see, it's not worth the trouble of putting petrol in...because it doesn't remain. [...]. You put petrol in and it's not worth the trouble, so....' A repeats, 'it's not worth the trouble of putting any in..' (Duras italicises the cliché.) Adding to the craziness, H  adds a nonsense story of a woman who lived in a house with holes in who couldn't live in it until people came to put bars to the holes to stop her falling out of it.

Duras called her play 'a transgression'. Yes, although the most transgressive thing I found about it was how very close the inane, repetitive, and – it has to be said – crazy language used here by the insane is to the casual, meaningless, inconsequential language used by people we wouldn't hesitate to call, er, 'normal', well-balanced people: those we come across and talk to every day. Frightening: so in effect we're laughing at ourselves, at how stupid, or crazy, we are?

My Marguerite Duras posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay

Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The ViceConsul

Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être (1968)

Oui, peut-être is one of only three works of Marguerite Duras's which are humorous, the other two being Eaux et Forêts and Le Shaga. This, though, is also a work of science fiction. Set in a near future, it represents a post-apocalyse and is feminist and anti-military.

The landscape is bare and we are in a kind of desert after a war, a nuclear attack, of which there are hardly any survivors. Two women meet, one dragging behind her a wreck of a man, someone between life and death after a military experience. They all have anti-radiactivity devices on their arms.

The action, such as it is, is Beckettian. The language is mainly in phrases as the women have lost their memory: they don't remember what has happened to them, but they largely remember their language and struggle to express themselves, but often using groups of words without a personal pronoun, or mixing the pronouns, throwing in the occasional non-French word or religious term. The man, who lies on the ground most of the time because of serious problems standing up, has a vocabulary of only a few words, and mostly makes incoherent noises.

My Marguerite Duras posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay

Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The ViceConsul

Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres (1968)

Marguerite Duras's Des journées entières dans les arbres is in some respects a re-visitation of the mother and the elder brother seen in Un barrage contre le Pacifique and L'Amant, but at a much later period and set in Paris rather than Indochina.

A very old and somewhat demented woman has taken the plane from the Far East to visit her son for a final time. She believes she's rich although, unbeknown to her, her factory (employing over eighty workers) has recently been taken over by the state and her daughter forced to work as a property agent. Her workshy, avaricious and gambling addict son (in his forties) lives with Marcelle, a younger woman who works in a night club and prostitutes herself to customers. The mother gives her son a bundle of money and Marcelle some money to fetch some food because she's starving – in fact she can't stop eating.

They all go to the night club later and the mother disgraces herself by getting drunk on champagne and then causing a huge fuss over what she considers is an excessively high bill. She returns home with Marcelle while the son stays at the club to squander the money his mother's given him, and his mother takes the plane back home.

My Marguerite Duras posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay

Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The ViceConsul

16 January 2019

Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler (1968)

Suzanna Andler has very few characters: the eponymous protagonist (about forty); her present lover Michel Cayre (thirty or thirty-five and married); very briefly,  her friend (and once one of her husband's many lovers, Monique Combès; and Rivière the estate agent. The place is Saint Tropez and Suzanna is deciding if she wants to rent a property for the month of August.

Her husband Jean will have the last say in the matter, and price isn't really important to him. But we only encounter him once, just his voice over the phone, and he won't be staying in the property long: their marriage is more or less in name only, held together by their children in their home in Paris, while he drifts from one relationship to the next. But he makes sure Suzanna is (reasonably) comfortable.

What comes over here are the usual preoccupations of Duras: lies, extramarital relationships, despair, suicide, death, madness, the family, etc. But we are a very long way from her experimental cycle indien.

Marguerite Duras called Suzanna a woman of the world, a person who greatly interested her but whom she had never seen in person, only at a distance in restaurants on the Nationale 7 (near the Côte d'Azur). She is hidden behind her bourgeois class, conventions, idées reçues, etc. Here, she's released in Saint Tropez, but without all the the familial and general social trappings, and she is exposed to pain, despair, and, Duras adds, even death.

My Marguerite Duras posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay

Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The ViceConsul