31 March 2016

William Thornber, Blackpool

'The
Parish Church
of Saint John
(Grade II Listed)

The first Church of St. John was built on this site in
1821 as a Chapel of Ease to Bispham. It became a
Parish Church in 1860.
Its third curate was the Rev. William Thornber
(1829–45)
Blackpool's first historian.
His grave, and that of William H. Cocker another
Blackpool pioneer and its first Mayor, remain to the
east of the present church completed in 1878.
The original vicarage, completed in 1829, stood
across the street on a site behind the Empress
Buildings.

Kindly donated by
Blackpool and Flyde
Historical Society'

Among Thornber's writings are The History of Blackpool and Its Neighbourhood (1837), and, er, according to the British Library catalogue, Traditions of the Foreland of the Fylde. Elizabethan era. Penny Stone; or, a Tradition of the Spanish Armada (1886), which includes a biographical sketch of the author.

The Temple of Arts, Blackpool

 
 'The Temple
of Arts

One of the oldest surviving buildings in the
town centre.
Built in 1847 it became John Eastman's Temple
of Arts photographic studio in 1853, said to
have been the first in Blackpool.
The outer wall was originally adorned by three
carved figures – 'The Three Graces', Faith,
Love and charity. Created by the artist
Samuel Wood they were subsequently hidden
for many years until uncovered in 1976.
Sadly they were damaged during building
renovation in 1988 and were replaced by
a plastic replica.'

Alistair Cooke, Blackpool


'ALISTAIR
COOKE
(K.B.E.)

Legendary Broadcaster, Journalist and Writer,
Alistair was renowned for his 'Letter from America'
broadcast which ran for 58 years from 1946 until his death
in 2004. In 1917 at the age of 8 years he moved from Salford
with his family living here at number 10 Vance Road.
He became and American citizen in 1941
and received his Honorary Knighthood
in 1973.

Kindly Donated by
June and Trevor Lockwood
Iona Hotel
2010' 

Maria Vero, Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #8

'In
Loving Memory
of
MARIA,
WIFE OF DAVID R. VERO,
PASSED AWAY 20TH FEB. 1913,
AGED 76.

SHE WAS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL SOCIETY
FOR WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE. (MANCHESTER BRANCH)
AND LEFT THIS WORLD AN ANCIENT TEMPLAR,
AND BRITISH WOMAN.'

Again, I can find no information on this person other than that on the gravestone, although the concern with women's suffrage is interesting. David R. Vero and Maria were no doubt also very involved with the temperance movement, but there is nothing else to discover. And what does 'British woman' mean exactly?

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

Richard Gorton Barlow, Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #7


'Here lie the remains of
RICHARD GORTON BARLOW,
DIED 31ST JULY 1919, AGED 68 YEARS.
FOR TWENTY ONE SEASONS A PLAYING
MEMBER OF THE LANCASHIRE COUNTY
XI, AND FOR TWENTY ONE SEASONS
AN UMPIRE IN COUNTY MATCHES.
HE ALSO MADE THREE JOURNEYS
TO AUSTRALIA WITH ENGLISH TEAMS.
THIS IS A CONSECUTIVE RECORD IN
FIRST CLASS CRICKET WHICH NO OTHER
CRICKETER HAS YET ACHIEVED.
BOWLED AT LAST.'

I hardly ever include anything concerning sport as I have a virulent allergy to competitive activities, but I simply had to include this as the monumental work is so unusual and attractive.

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

Ada Boswell, Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #6


'In loving Memory of
ADA,
THE BELOVED WIFE OF
TOBIAS BOSWELL,
OF SOUTH SHORE.
WHO DIED MAY 11TH 1901.
AGED 48 YEARS.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.
QUEEN OF THE GIPSIES.
ALSO OF THE ABOVE
TOBIAS BOSWELL,
WHO DIED APRIL 5TH 1908,
AGED 52 YEARS.'

I have almost no information on 'The Queen of the Gipsies', least of all why she was so called.

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

James Wayman and Samuel Pilling, Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #5


'RAISED BY FRIENDS
TO THE MEMORY OF
THE
REV. JAMES WAYMAN,
BORN AUGUST 15TH 1840,
DIED DECEMBER 8TH 1899.
HE WAS A GOOD MINISTER,
AND USEFUL CITIZEN.'

'Useful citizen' today seems an odd way to describe someone, and I wonder if it seemed odd at the end of the 19th century too. James Wayman was also the co-founder of the Blackpool Times in 1877, with Samuel Pilling:


'IN
LOVING MEMORY
OF
EMMA
WIFE OF THE
REV. S. PILLING,
BORN DECR 9TH 1844,
DIED MAY 5TH 1927.
ALSO OF THE ABOVE
REV. SAMUEL PILLING
BORN DECR 29TH 1844,
DIED JANY 11TH 1930.'

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

30 March 2016

Olivier Adam: Le Cœur régulier (2010)

Coincidentally, I'm writing this on the first day of the French release of the movie of this novel, which is just one of several of Olvier Adam's that have received the cinematic treatment, and on watching the trailer many things seem to hit the target: characters, mood and scenery above all.

Sarah has been sleep-walking though life: she's studied a course in sales technique, married fellow student Alain who has swiftly risen in the ranks of his profession with a high-ranking salary to match, and they have two adolescent children, but something is wrong: the fact that they haven't had sex for years and Alain regularly visits prostitutes is just one indication of this.

Yes, this is of course another example of Adam's unhappy, dysfunctional families. Nathan is Sarah's soul-mate brother, although since her decline into boring domesticity with a boring right-wing husband he's tended to see Sarah less often. Nathan is of course left-wing and rebellious and has just got by on bum jobs, with hopes of becoming a successful novelist. But he's an alcoholic and furthermore suffers from bipolar disorder, which makes for a very unstable personality.

Things come to a tragic head when Nathan dies in a road accident, which Sarah feels sure was suicide although her parents want to shove that idea under the carpet. But she was the closest family member to him and is surprised to learn the existence of Nathan's lover Louise, who is pregnant by him. She feels compelled to trace Nathan's movements, to stay for a time in the place where he found peace, like a kind of promised land: Japan.

At first Sarah stays in a pension near the rugged cliffs, a noted suicide spot stalked by night by the retired detective-turned-suicide-dissuader Natsume Dombari, who is based on the real Yukio Shige. Sarah is calmly apprehended by Natsume and invited to stay in his house with two other potential suicide cases: the adolescent Haruki (who is later revealed as the murderer of his parents), and Midori (a young woman whose child has been killed in a road accident).

Here and around the town Sarah learns to become calmer, to develop something of the peace of mind her brother found here. And her brother is remembered  with great fondness by several of the people in the town: by Hiromi, the teenaged daughter of the keeper of the pension; by the vending machine man who has a brief but loving fling with Sarah; and most important of all, perhaps, by Natsume.

After a few months in Japan, Sarah returns to France to find her perfect husband has found someone else but left her ample provisions in her new life. Much more negatively, her daughter has been wasting away since Nathan's death, mainly existing on a diet of alcohol and cannabis, but at least she's no longer an absent parent to her two children, and she has the psychological strength to start over. Oh, and Nathan's novel was found worth publishing, although only after many cuts and emendations: unfortunately, the only person who can render it publishable is dead, making the event somewhat impossible. I'd rate this as the best Olivier Adam novel I've read so far.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Olivier Adam: Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas
Olivier Adam: Des vents contraires
Olivier Adam: Les Lisières
Olivier Adam: Falaises

Olivier Adam: À l'abri de rien

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Nue (2013)

This novel is the final part of what critics have called 'Le Cycle de Marie', or what the publisher Minuit seems to prefer to call 'Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte' after the protagonist of the tetralogy. As I remarked in the post immediately below this one, Laurent Demoulin notes in the Aferword in Faire l'amour (the first volume) that the plot of Fuir comes before that of Faire l'amour – but Demoulin wrote this before the publication of Nue, which, confusingly, makes it clear that the opposite is the case.

Nue begins with a section concerning a model who is naked apart from a 'dress' of honey, and is pursued by a swarm of bees, although I won't go into this dramatic moment. Memory is important here, and even if by no means all of the pieces of a narrative can be filled by it, it can still add to things, even fill in cracks in our knowledge that we didn't even know we didn't know.

The honey 'dress' episode is really a short introduction of sorts, with the book then divided into two large sections. The narrator (always unnamed) returns to Paris with Marie from the Isle of Elba and they go to their separate homes, although the narrator waits for Marie to contact him, spending some time looking out the window.

A long piece in the first section concerns the narrator's memory of the events following the end of Faire l'amour, after he's poured the hydrochloric acid on the pansy (or violet). His mind returns to when he returned to Contemporary Art Space in Tokyo, but, knowing he won't be allowed in, he climbs up to the roof to look into this window, trying to spot Marie. We follow the concupiscent Jean-Chrisophe de G. who spends some time with a Marie he thinks is Marie the fashion designer, and then he sees her, as does the narrator. And this has an oddly soothing effect on him, as for instance when he held the small hydrochloric acid bottle. As for Marie, we learn on the final line of the first section what soothes her: 'When I'm depressed I boil an egg.' An egg?

As it is, there's almost no news from Marie until two months later, when she telephones (ah, all those Alan J. Pakula moments!) to meet him in a café at Saint-Sulpice. Here the narrator learns of the death of Maurizio, the man who's well known to Marie and has been looking after her dead father's home on Elba: so it's another journey, vaguely recalling the restlessness of Jean Echenoz's narratives. But was that all Marie wanted to tell him?

It's not a pleasant trip to Elba at first, where due to the behaviour of Maurizio's son Guiseppe (who may be an arsonist, maybe not) they miss the funeral, leave Marie's father's old house in disgust because someone's been sleeping there, and have problems with the heating at a hotel in Portoferraio. On the positive side, Marie tells the narrator she's pregnant and it must be by him as she's slept with no one else since. So after all this, after all their problems, we have a happy ending? As this is the final volume it's for the reader to reach his or her conclusions.

My other posts on Jean-Philippe Toussaint:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Fuir | Running Away
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Faire l'amour | Making Love
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Salle de bain | The Bathroom
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: L'Appareil Photo | Camera

26 March 2016

Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Faire l'amour | Making Love (2002)

Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Faire l'amour | Making Love (2002) is the first of a tetralogy known as Le Cycle de Marie (or the full name 'Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte'), the other books being Fuir | Running Away (2005), La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie and Nue (2013), the last title as yet not translated into English and meaning 'Naked' (referring to a woman). This Minuit edition has an eleven-page Afterword by Laurent Demoulin titled 'Faire l'amour à la croisée des chemins', which I read before the novel itself: the positive point here is that such a strategy allows for better comprehension, although at a more superficial level some suspense is inevitably lost. The article informed me that one thing I'd missed about three years ago when I read Fuir (incidentally when this cycle was only a trilogy – before the publication of Nue) was the season 'Été' printed at the top left corner of an otherwise blank page following the title-page: this means that Faire l'amour ('Hiver') is actually chronologically set after Fuir. (La Vérité sur Marie is set in two seasons – 'Printemps–été, as is Nue – 'automne-hiver').

I translate the first sentence of Faire l'amour: 'I had had someone fill a small bottle of hydrochloric acid, and I kept it with me permanently, with the idea of one day throwing it in someone's face.' Strangely, possessing this bottle has a tranquillising effect on the narrator, who – this was of course written before 9/11 and all subsequent security measures were put in place – even carries it in a suitcase stashed in the hold on a flight to Tokyo with Marie, and escapes with impunity. The narrator is obviously disturbed, the bottle is the source of much of the suspense, and Marie even wonders if the acid will end up being thrown in her face.

Marie is a fashion designer carrying several suitcases of her creations, and she has been enjoying an on-off relationship with the narrator, having wonderful sex and not ceasing to be in love with him, but there's a major problem, and one which Demoulin perceptively pinpoints in one sentence on which the relationship hinges, a sentence which fully explains why this is the last trip the couple will share, why they must part*: 'We loved each other, but we could no longer bear each other. Now, in our love, even if on the whole we were doing ourselves more good than harm, what little harm that we were doing to each other had become unbearable.'

And in the end, the hydrochloric acid doesn't go in Marie's face, in the narrator's own face, or even as a crazy final gesture in the face of the guardian of Contemporary Art Space, but it's poured onto a flower, which may be a violet or a pansy (French pensée means 'thought' or 'pansy'): a final futile, desperate, anguished gesture, or as the narrator puts it, 'an infinitesimal disaster'.

ADDENDUM: Well, in theory at least, but this is of course a post-nouveau roman, so who knows anything?

My other posts on Jean-Philippe Toussaint:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Fuir | Running Away
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Nue
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Vérité sur Marie | The Truth about Marie
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: La Salle de bain | The Bathroom
Jean-Philippe Toussaint: L'Appareil Photo | Camera

25 March 2016

George Washington Williams: Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #3

'GEORGE
WASHINGTON
WILLIAMS
AFRO-AMERICAN
HISTORIAN
1849–1891'

George Washington Williams was born in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. In 1874, he became the first African American to graduate from Newton Theological College. Supported by Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, he founded the monthly journal The Commoner in Washington D.C., publishing eight issues. His most noted works are A History of Negro Troops in the War of Rebellion and The History of the Negro Race in America 1619–1880.

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

Samuel Laycock: Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #2


'SAMUEL LAYCOCK,
BORN JANUARY 17TH 1826,
PASSED TO THE HIGHER LIFE
DECEMBER 15TH 1893.
THOU ART NOT IDLE: IN THY HIGHER SPHERE
THY SPIRIT BENDS ITSELF TO LOVING TASKS,
AND STRENGTH TO PERFECT WHAT IT DREAMED OF HERE
IS ALL THE CROWN AND GLORY THAT IT ASKS
ALSO OF HIS BELOVED WIFE
ELIZA,
WHO DIED FEBRUARY 27TH 1917.
IN HER 82ND YEAR.'

Unlike Spencer T. Hall's grave, Samuel Laycock's mentions nothing of his literary works, or anything of his life for that matter. Laycock was born in Marsden near Huddersfield, now in West Yorkshire, and was the son of John, a hand loom weaver. Samuel began his working life in a mill at the age of nine, and continued as a mill worker of different statuses until the American Civil War (1861–1864) caused him to be unemployed. He wrote dialect poetry about life in the mills, his earlier publications being Lancashire Rhymes; or Homely Pictures of the People (1864) and Lancashire Songs (1866). Laycock worked as a librarian at the Mechanics Institute in Stalybridge from 1865 to 1971, and later moved to Blackpool due to poor health. Eliza was his third wife, and the future novelist Arthur Laycock was one of their children.

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

24 March 2016

Spencer Timothy Hall: Layton Cemetery, Blackpool #1

'HERE RESTS, LIFE'S LABOURS O'ER,
THE EARTHLY REMAINS OF
SPENCER TIMOTHY HALL. PH.D., M.D., M.A,
"THE SHERWOOD FORESTER,"
AUTHOR OF "THE FORESTER'S OFFERING,"
"THE PEAK OF THE PLAIN," "BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES
OF REMARKABLE PEOPLE," AND OTHER LITERARY WORKS.
BORN AT SUTTON-IN-ASHFIELD, DEC. 16TH 1812,
DIED AT BLACKPOOL, APRIL 26TH 1885.
"WHO, WALKING OFT WITH NATURE, HAND IN HAND,
TURNED ON HER WHEN SHE SPOKE, A RAPTURED EYE,
AND THEN, RETIRING IN HIS INMOST HEART,
THERE PONDERED ALL HER TEACHING O'ER AGAIN,
UNTIL, O'ER FILLED WITH GRATITUDE AND JOY,
HE TRIED TO ECHO THEM IN HYMNS TO GOD.
AND CHEERING WORDS AND WORK FOR SUFFERING MEN."
ERECTED BY HIS EARLY FRIEND, C.P.'*

* Dr Rowena Edlin-White informs me that 'C.P.' is 'Charles Plumbe (1813- ?1899), a cousin of Samuel Plumb the poet. Apart from being Post Master in Mansfield he produced two newspapers, The Sherwood Gatherer and later, The Midland Gazette. Apparently also a poet in a small way, I have yet to find anything by him. He appears to have been the last survivor of the Sherwood Forest Group'.

Many thanks to The Friends of Layton Cemetery for their amazingly enthusiastic help with all our grave enquiries.

Allen Clarke and Cornelius Bagot, Blackpool, Lancashire


'ALLEN CLARKE MEMORIAL WINDMILL
THIS WINDMILL WAS GIVEN IN 1937 BY
CORNELIUS BAGOT
OF BLACKPOOL
TO BE MAINTAINED AS A MEMORIAL TO
ALLEN CLARKE
AUTHOR, JOURNALIST & LANCASHIRE DIALECT
STORY WRITER WHO WAS BORN IN BOLTON IN 1963
& DIED IN BLACKPOOL IN 1935 AUTHOR OF 'WINDMILL
LAND' 'WINDMILL LAND STORIES' MOORLANDS AND
MEMORIES' - FOUNDER OF THE LANCASHIRE AUTHORS
ASSOCIATION AND THE BLACKPOOL RAMBLER CLUB'


'Blackpool Council
Built in 1838 on the site of an earlier windmill
by millwright Richard Blezard for Nancy, widow
of John Whalley. Originally one of seven windmills
in the area, it is the last remaining within the boundary
of Blackpool Borough. The design is typical for the Flyde
Coast, other surviving examples being Lytham St Anne's
to the south and Thornton to the north. The mill ceased
operating in 1928 and was given to the town by
Cornelius Bagot, as a memorial to his friend,
local author Allen Clarke (1863–1935).'


'BLACKPOOL CIVIC TRUST
HERITAGE TRAIL
251
WHITEGATE DRIVE
BUILT 1900
The home of
CORNELIUS BAGOT
1924 – 1940
He gifted
LITTLE MARTON MILL
(GRADE II LISTED)
Together with 315 sq yards of land on 30th October 1937
in trust as a perpetual memory to local author
ALLEN CLARKE
Cornelius Bagot was knocked down by a taxi near
this house on his 60th birthday 9th August 1940
During the W.W.2 Blackout.'

There's even a photo of Little Marton windmill in the Layton Rakes pub in the centre of town, which mentions both Allen Clarke (who often wrote under the pseudonym Teddy Ashton) and Cornelius Brown. Unfortunately Blackpool Council hasn't paid anything like the respect to Allen Clarke's grave as it has to his mill: we were unable to locate it in Marton Cemetery because, as an email from his granddaughter Shirley Matthews informed me, it still lies in pieces after being vandalised some time ago.

My other post on Allen Clarke:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Paul Salveson: Lancashire's Romantic Radical: The Life and Writings of Allen Clarke / Teddy Ashton (2009)

18 March 2016

Olivier Adam: Falaises | Cliffs (2005)

I know Olivier Adam has some unpopularity with literary critics, and Frédéric Beigbeder in particular has said that he has nothing against Adam – it's just his books. On reading Falaises I thought I was beginning to understand what the critics meant, but then I turned to what Olivier Adam has said about his books and changed my mind: the critics are definitely being unfair.

Falaises struck me as a deeply pessimistic novel and it would be a mistake to see Olivier's Adam's world view as not bleak, although there is light at the end of the novel. Bearing in mind his later novel Les Lisières and what I wrote about it, it's interesting to note that the word lisières (edges, frontiers, borders, etc) is mentioned several times in the novel. These could very easily apply to the edges of the self.

The family is an important element in Adam's writing: the family can of course be wonderful, be a healing influence, but also be sheer hell. Adam said of Le Cœur régulier, 'Rien n'est vrai, mais rien n'est inventé': 'Nothing is true, but nothing is invented'. People fall and try to get up again, and after the narrator's mother in Falaises – a short time after being released from a psychiatric hospital – throws herself from a cliff, the impact is profound.

Siblings different and similar, family problems, leaving home, despair, drug taking and severe abuse of alcohol to escape the hell of reality, casual sex, suicide, violence, all present here and all usual in Olivier Adam novels.

My other posts on Olivier Adam:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Olivier Adam: Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas
Olivier Adam: Des vents contraires
Olivier Adam: Le Cœur régulier
Olivier Adam: Les Lisières

Olivier Adam: À l'abri de rien

15 March 2016

Édouard Louis: Histoire de la violence (2016)

I had wondered how Édouard Louis was going to follow up his highly successful En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule – apparently to be translated as The End of Eddy, which misses out the surname the author had to grow up being called. As it happens, another autobiographical work was to come soon after, although under very unfortunate circumstances.

Histoire de la violence – if translated as 'History of Violence' – sounds very grandiose, and the reader might expect that he or she is in for heavy theorising on the changing nature of violence in society, but that would give entirely the wrong idea: 'Story of Violence' would be much more accurate. And this story happened to Édouard Louis.

To the author's credit, the novel is not sequential, and is in fact told by two narrators: Louis himself in regular, educated French, and on a number of occasions by a representation of Louis's sister Clara's speech to her husband, in colloquial, slangy French. Throughout, there is a number of references to Louis's working-class childhood in Hallencourt, although the name of that small town in Picardy is never actually mentioned.

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule is dedicated to Didier Eribon and Histoire de la violence to Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, the two sociologists Louis spends Christmas Eve with near the Place de la République. He walks towards home clutching his Christmas presents, books that he intends to look at before he goes to bed, and he stresses that he wasn't drunk, although he decides that it's wise not to return by bicycle. On the way home he's greeted by the stranger Reda, a Kabyle whom he discovers is doing odd jobs on the side, and he decides to invite him in. It's a few hours later that the problems start.

They have sex and it's just as Reda is preparing to leave that Édouard realises that he can't find his phone, which like many people he uses as a nervous tic. He does, though, discover his iPad, which he fishes out of Reda's pocket and in a roundabout way asks him to return his phone, even offers to pay fifty euros for it: stealing isn't seen as a huge crime for someone who's grown up in an environment where lack of money can be a major issue.

Unfortunately, Reda (rather oddly) reads Édouard's words as a kind of affront not only to himself but also to his mother, and reacts angrily by calling him a 'filthy queer': the insult of course isn't at all odd because Reda is merely divorcing himself from the truth, in denial of what he has done. But his words aren't the problem: his actions are.

Reda threatens Édouard with a gun, tries to strangle him with a scarf, and brutally rapes him. This takes the reader back to the first page, with Édouard trying to hide all trace of Reda by washing him out of his system (mainly at the launderette), and yet forgetting to destroy Reda's crushed cigarette packet or wash the glass he's used to drink vodka: slim DNA evidence they will bring.

But then, Édouard is far from happy with the police, annoyed by their evident racism, automatically (and incorrectly) calling Reda an Arab, and associating 'Arabs' with criminal activities. Édouard Louis's left-wing credentials are clear in this book, which ties in with what Didier Eribon wrote in Retour à Reims about the working-class being faithful to the politics of their roots in spite of upward mobility. Evidently, there are few things to laugh about in this second novel, although the reader must wince not only at the gratuitous violence but on learning of Édouard Louis's initially very misguided attempts to join academe by wearing, er, a suit and butterfly tie.

ADDENDUM: Of course, none of Édouard Louis's mishaps that he describes in his relationship with 'Reda' are at all funny, although initial legal complications are distinctly farcical. Read here (in French): Eddy Bellegueule alias Edouard Louis, Riadh.B alias Reda et le féroce juge Bourla

My other post on Édouard Louis:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Édouard Louis: En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule | The End of Eddy

12 March 2016

Jean Carrière: L'Épervier de Maheux (1972)

L'Épervier de Maheux (lit. 'The Sparrowhawk from Maheux') gained the Prix Goncourt in 1972, the year of its publication. It is set in the Cévennes, a relatively small area in central south France, a mountainous region forming a small part of the Massif Central, to the south-east extremity. It is a land of extremes of temperature, as vividly described in this intensely powerful book. In the nineteenth century, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about the land in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879).

The plot takes place in the mid-twentieth century, and the characters in it – principally from the Reilhan family – are not exactly sympathetically portrayed. If the bleakness and the extreme harshness of the area – from which most of the people have already moved and most remaining ones move in the process of the book – suggests Jean Giono (who was Carrière's friend), another author is suggested in the book itself by two quotations: William Faulkner. There is certainly more than a hint of Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha here.

One of the quotations is from Sartoris and the other from Absalon: 'Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.' The rather farcical coffin scene also recalls Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Perhaps more than anything, though, the names of the brothers Abel and Samuel – and the apocalyptic nature of the pitiless weather, the violence at the end, recall the Bible.

L'Épervier de Maheux sold almost two million copies, and Carrière suffered because of this literary Grail, went into a deep depression, probably never really recovered. It was eight years before he published another book, and fifteen years after the Goncourt he wrote Le Prix d'un Goncourt (better translated as 'The Price of a Goncourt' rather than its homonym 'Prize', and it was also published as Les Cendres de la gloire ('The Ashes of Glory')). Essentially, Carrière's problems were existential: the way others saw him, the sensation of being divorced from himself. Fame, fame, fatal fame.

Maheux is a fictional name, and although the hamlet Mazel-de-Mort exists, its true location exists in a different place than in the book. And as far as I know there are no characters in the book who bear the same name as any living characters in the region, although locals certainly recognized some of the characters and were very less than happy about it. Ah, Life...

This is a demanding book but the effort pays off.

7 March 2016

G. B. Edwards: The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (1981)

G. B. Edwards's The Book of Ebenezer Page (1981) is not a book I'd have read without his biographer Edward Chaney making a comment on a blog post here. I'm very pleased that he did though, as I've been introduced to a somewhat obscure, fascinating work that was published posthumously: Edwards was born on Guernsey in 1899, and died in Weymouth, Dorset, in 1976. I've ordered Edward Chaney's Genius Friend: G. B. Edwards and the Book of Ebenezer Page (2015) and shall be discovering more in due course.

As regards the rejection slips that Edwards must have received for his only novel, I can only assume that the publishers' readers didn't read the whole book: what at first appearances may seem like the (possibly rather amateurish) life story of a man from Guernsey is in fact a very complicated saga of life on a small island and the interrelationships between many of the characters in it over a period of several decades. And any criticisms of parochialism are automatically offset by the fact that the emotions of the characters – greed, love, ambition, friendship, self-preservation, hatred, selfishness, generosity, and many more – are universal, and the events described in the book could in fact apply virtually anywhere.

This is a big book in many ways, four hundred pages of close type. It documents a whole community at peace, coping under Nazi occupation, and how it coped afterwards. Many individuals are shown here but after all this is Ebenezer Le Page's book, and his generosity, his forgiveness, his acceptance of others' foibles, his observations and his humour shine throughout the book. On the other hand, political correctness isn't his forte, and his comments on gender (well, the role of women), and on homosexuality, leave him looking a little old-fashioned today. On the positive side, though, what can only be seen as fear of the modern comes over as refreshingly welcome: his hatred of television, particularly walking out on a visit as soon as it is switched on because he considers the people on it to be intruders, is a joy. As, of course, is his hatred of the fact that the island is losing its traditional nature and becoming a tax and tourist haven.

Yes, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is a joy to read.

My other post on G. B. Edwards:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Edward Chaney: G. B. Edwards & The Book of Ebenezer Page

Colombe Boncenne: Comme neige (2016)

Comme neige is Colombe Boncenne's first novel, and is a celebration of literature, a tribute to creative writing. It is also written as a kind of detective story, although without any crime at all: the search is for a book, and the clues can perhaps be found in other books.

It begins when the fifty-year-old literary enthusiast Constantin Caillaud is travelling with his wife of twenty years, Suzanne, to Clamency in Nièvre. But they take the wrong exit and end up in the small village of Crux-la-Ville, where Constantin visits the maison de presse and in a box of items they're selling off at two euros stumbles upon a book by (the fictitious) Émilien Petit, one of his favourite authors. This treasure is the novel Neige noire, and although Constantin hasn't read all of Petit's novels he believes he's heard of them all, but not this one.

Back in Paris, Constantin is eager to find out about the book, although all his searches prove fruitless: this appears to be a book without trace, and to make matters worse he loses his own copy. He contacts Hélène, an occasional lover he's met in relation to Petit and with more knowledge of him and tells her about his lost find, but she has her doubts about the existence of Neige noire, which of course is to question Constantin's sincerity.

Flurried activity ensues and Constantin is informed by Petit's publishers that there's never been a book of theirs called Neige noire, and he tries to establish contact with Petit, even though the writer is now something of a recluse. He also discovers that he was part of a group of other writers: the (real life) Olivier Rolin, Antoine Volodine and Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Later, Petit will receive communications from the three (real) authors, and their writings are in fact the true ones they wrote in reply to Colombe Boncenne's literary game. Petit only very indirectly replies (negatively) about his authorship of the novel in a spoof article written in Le Monde by (the non-fictional) Patrick Kechichian.

So the whole book is really a game in which fiction blends with reality, but most of all – and surely most importantly – literature is displayed as the playful, wondrous joy that it is. Anyone who thinks French literature is in decline must be out of their mind: Colombe Boncenne, and Olivier Bourdeaut, to give just two examples of (first) novels from the January 2016 rentrée, stick a middle finger up to this insane notion. Me too.

Didier Eribon: Retour à Reims | Returning to Reims (2009)

This could be described as Didier Eribon's coming out novel, only not as a homosexual (which he'd already done) but as something he felt harder to reveal: his coming from a working-class background, which for many can be seen as a source of shame. In this book, following his father's death, Eribon returns to visit his home town of Reims, where he grew up in an HLM, although his parents moved to the outskirts of Reims, to Muizon, some years previously. As well as describing Eribon's personal memories of Reims from his birth in the late fifties, it also charts the change within, even what can be described as the death of, the working class.

Eribon, then, grew up with a kind of double curse on him: his sexuality and his class. There are, unsurprisingly of course, many similar elements in Édouard Louis's En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (to be translated as The End of Eddy): the lack of understanding of (indeed contempt for) difference, the lack of and little concern for education, the non-intellectual activities, etc.
 
He hated his father, and vividly remembered him coming home a few days after Friday payday when Eribon was four or five, and his father still drunk from his binge and standing in the kitchen throwing bottles of milk, oil and wine at the wall opposite: as good a reason as any not to attend the funeral. His mother, though, he realises slaved in a factory for him to give him the education she was so ashamed of lacking.
 
The book is determinedly left-wing, school to some extent seen as a plot to prevent the working class from joining the dominant class, to perpetuate the status quo: the war is against the working class, with school as the battleground.
 
And yet the modern working class is at war with itself: from the solidarity of Eribon's youth, the class struggle of the dominant against the dominated and the importance of communism as an ideological tool, the working class is now divided and instead of seeing immigrants as their friends sees them as their enemies and increasingly votes for the extreme right-wing Front National. There is little awareness of the paradoxes. Didier Eribon paints a bleak picture.

1 March 2016

Francis de Miomandre: Écrit sur de l'eau | Written on Water (1908); repr. by La Différence 2013

'Prix Goncourt 1908' screams the title, rather oddly: 1908? A novel marked by 'frivolity' and 'inconsistency', as suggested by Miomandre's biographer Remi Rousselot in the Preface here? Yes, certainly, but then so what, is what we both think. Écrit sur de l'eau (lit. 'Written on Water') is not only a wonderful title, but a most appropriate one for a work that concerns instability, intangibility, plain impossibility.

Jacques de Meillan is a nineteen-year-old student, or rather ex-student, or, well anyway he doesn't have a job, doesn't do anything, lies in bed until late, and simply allows his father's servant to do all the work while Jacques just thinks about his future, but mainly the future of his social life, especially his love life.

Jacques's father Pierre is a representative of a different kind of parasitism, or would-be parasitism: he dreams, crazily, but really seriously, of becoming a mega-rich businessman, such as in the latest of his schemes to turn alcohol into gold – although in the end Pierre has just been conned and there's not even any alcohol to turn into anything. His main partner was going to be millionaire Mazarakis, although we don't see anything of him in the novel.

We do, though, see Mazarakis's unfaithful wife Anne, and hear a great deal of her in Jacques's waking and sleeping dreams: he's cock-over-tit in love with her, and thinks she is with him, and he's only too willing to mortgage his future on their relationship, until he discovers the truth about her.

So what do you know, Jacques and his best friend Juliette Brémond have been made for each other all along, until of course the relationship can't possibly continue as he has no money so Juliette will have to marry a boring old fart she doesn't love. Moral of the story? Money doesn't buy love, but it pays the bills? All capitalists are bastards? Never trust a woman as it's a woman's world and they'll always win in the end? Don't only watch your back but also your front and above all the person who's supposed to be siding with you? Yes, there's some of all that here. This is a really very readable book.

My other post on Francis de Miomandre:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Remi Rousselot: Francis de Miomandre: Un Goncourt oublié