30 October 2016
Labels: Auclert (Hubertine)
Unsurprisingly, Marie Redonnet's Nevermore is translated into English using the same title. Slightly surprisingly, though, the Times Literary Supplement review described it as a 'frenetic erotic thriller'. Frenetic is certainly is: in the space of just 160 pages many characters appear (and often disappear), and many things happen. Also, unlike the other two Redonnet books I've read – Rose Mélie Rose and Seaside – this is certainly a thriller, a kind of detective story with a great deal of mystery, many twists, dead bodies, etc. But erotic? Well, there are a few brief moments of that, plus a few brief moments of sexual abuse, but if a reader is looking for an erotic book this is not it.
This may have some of the hallmarks of Rose Mélie Rose and Seaside – a strange, haunting atmosphere throughout, the prominence of decay, the suggestion of prostitution and iffy clubs, etc – but other things are very different. The minimalism has gone, there's a much stronger (and often bewildering) plot, and there seem to be (half-hearted) attempts at satire on (or parody of) the American detective genre with the bourbon-swigging and the casual treatment of women.
The novel has mainly American-sounding names (Willie Bost, Ronie Burke, Cassy Mac Key, etc), and appears to take place in a vaguely American west coast border town. And the reference to film-making inevitably made me think of Hollywood, and for some reason of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard in particular. And yet the frequent use of the word 'pissotière' (site of two murders and one suicide) resolutely returns us to France.
There's a sense of immediacy that adds to the raciness of the story, underlined by the use of the present tense. There are also delightfully-expressed touches of pessimism virtually throughout: of San Rosa (where the novel is set): 'if it weren't for the town center like a poisoned wound, San Rosa could be a paradise'; and (with surely a hint of Beckett?) of Willie's soon-to-be-abandoned book: 'he doesn't see any way of making sense of life other than by bearing witness to what no one wants to know'. (My translations.)
Nevermore begins improbably with Cassy casually meeting Willie and towing his broken-down jalopy into town in her new Pontiac, and ends with their disappearance after viewing the bones of a whale in a grotto. Only no one knows where they've gone to, and by the state of most people's memories (memory being a central theme) they'll no doubt soon be forgotten. Intentionally.
Links to my other Marie Redonnet posts:
Marie Redonnet: Rose Mélie Rose | Rose Mellie Rose
Marie Redonnet: Seaside
Marie Redonnet: Tir et Lir
Marie Redonnet: Mobie-Diq
29 October 2016
14 MARS 1908
PARIS 3 MAI 1961'
Maurice was a leading philosopher of phenomenology and an editor of Sartre's Les Temps modernes (est. 1945), although his rift with Sartre – over several issues but essentially politics – came in 1952. He followed Edmund Husserl's philosphy, a major work being La Phénoménologie de la Perception (1945).
28 October 2016
L'Assassin à la pomme verte refers (obliquely) to René Magritte's painting of the anonymous man whose face is unseen because of the apple in front of him. Christophe Carlier had previously published Lettres à l'Académie française (2010) and various other works of non-fiction (including one on Marquerite Duras), but this is his first novel. And very good it is too.
Mystery? Murder story? Well, yes and no. This is a novel told in several different voices, and could very easily be turned into a play, virtually all the action taking place at the Paradise hotel in Paris. The main player is Craig, who's English, teaches French Literature at an American university, has been invited to Paris and is in the throes of divorce; in the same hotel is also Elena, who is a married Italian woman in Paris on fashion business; the third principal narrator is Sébastien, the all-seeing receptionist.
Hotel bars, of course, are often peopled by idiots, such as the Italian Arturo Apanazzi, who is only too keen after a skinful to talk about his three women, his wife and two mistresses with whom he apparently separately shares his life and separate children. Elena clearly doesn't like him, which Craig (a virtual stranger to her) notes and resolves to do something about. Murder is on his mind, although he doesn't really seem to have motive enough.
But then he murders the Italian loudmouth: pushes him violently to his hotel room floor, slits his throat, and then, er, strangles him with the tie he's wearing. The police swarm the hotel, Craig clearly has no motive for murder so is surely beyond suspicion, so maybe it's one of the Italian's lovers: the existence of the postcard saying 'Ti amo', which is present at the murder scene and which the Italian brandished in the bar must surely have a meaning, no?
Well, maybe the significance will come later. Meanwhile there's the, er, murder weapon, which Craig leaves casually on the ground during a walk, and which Sébastien will pick up on his way home and leave in his pocket to open hotel letters. Uh? Well, he also suspects Craig, who after the murder came down the stairs and went for his walk. Is that strange? Well, yes, as it's normal to walk from the second floor (where Arturo was staying) to the ground, but not to walk from the fourth floor (where Craig was staying) to the ground floor. Suspicious, that, although Sébastien doesn't want to say anything to the police: the reader would have thought that he was Craig's nemesis, but he seems intellectually way beyond that. And as for the knife, better for things to take whatever course they might, and Sébastien just puts it in someone's luggage, which quite by chance happens to belong to Craig, although it doesn't matter anyway.
Everything has been leading up to Elena (LNA)
having sex with making love to Craig, which eventually happens, and affects them both. But Elena returns to her husband in Italy and Craig to his wife (yes, he still has one: he married a student, and he wasn't divorcing at all) in New England (state unspecified). And he didn't murder the Italian, who died naturally of a heart attack just before being, er, attacked. But in any case Craig has Alzheimer's and dies shortly after his return. A few months after his death Elena writes to him, can't get him out of her mind, and Craig's wife Vicky pretends to be him, writes back as her using the unfortuante words 'Ti amo', can't understand how her husband came back from AD so suddenly, and eagerly awaits for Elena's reply.
I'm not too sure when the story is supposed to be set, but cell phones are in use, so why not emails? In an internet age people use snail mail here. Great story, but the technology seems screwed.
Some of the books of the brilliant writer Laurent Mauvignier remind me of the bit at the end of Woody Allen's movie Annie Hall, in which the director/actor comes on and says he sees life as like the joke about the woman who goes to a psychiatrist because she's worried about her husband who thinks he's a hen. When the psychiatrist asks her how long this has been going on she replies several years, and in answer to the astonished psychiatrist's question of why she hadn't seen him sooner, the woman replies that she needed the eggs. That's why we, to allude to Mauvignier's last book, continue: we need the eggs. Which is a total absurdity of course, as there are no eggs.
I'm not saying that Laurent Mauvignier's books are all about absurdity and the pointlessness of existence, although there are certainly elements of that nature in his work: suicide, madness, hopelessness, huis clos and so on but there's also a love of life and hatred of hate, perhaps particularly in this novel and in his new Continuer published this year, both of which move the reader away from the insistent internal monologue turning around itself, essentially to shift to life seen from a third person's point of view, with emphasis on the external world.
At 372 pages, Autour du monde is quite long by Laurent Mauvignier's normal standards too, although in a sense it's a string of (fascinating) short stories held together by the common theme of them all happening, around the world, at the same time as the catastrophic earthquake in Japan on 11 March 2011. There's no link in common with the stories, although virtually all or them can be said – as with so much of Mauvignier's writing – to involve crisis or drama of some nature: a man saving the life of an old, mentally failing man on a liner in the North Sea; a highly charged homosexual encounter in Russia as the wife of one of the men is about to give birth; pirates from Somalia killing the male of the couple on a pleasure boat; two old men planning to win (or is it lose?) a fortune in a Slovenian casino; a severely disturbed nineteen-year-old racist disturbing the family of his elder brother whom he's not seen for nearly ten years; the utter mindlessness of tourism, especially among pseudo-death-defying tourists in Africa who self-deceivingly believe they're not tourists at all; and on it goes.
Autour du monde is riveting, but not the kind of book that reads quickly from cover to cover: you have to pause and wonder – at least if you've read other books by Mauvignier – how this fits in with those, and what he's up to. I find myself returning – in a similar way that I do to Marie NDiaye's work – to Mauvignier's books to find out what I missed the first time. At the moment the parts of this novel don't seem to form a whole, but then I may well be wrong, and anyway with such a powerful work does that matter at all? It's obviously a bold experiment, and how many high-profile English (for instance) writers would dare to attempt a similar bold action? None, I think.
My other Mauvignier posts:
Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux
Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Apprendre à finirLaurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule | In the Crowd
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour
Laurent Mauvignier: Dans la foule | In the Crowd
Laurent Mauvignier: Tout mon amour
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
22 October 2016
Labels: Belloc (Hilaire)
20 October 2016
19 October 2016
Post-Beckett, I find it impossible to believe that all Minuit writers (who have by at least one critic been labelled Les enfants du Minuit (after Salmon Rushdie's groundbreaking Midnight's Children) haven't to some extent been influenced by Samuel Beckett.
Redonnet's Rose Mélie Rose is manifestly minimalist, and manifestly (as perhaps most if not all of her works) concerned with decay, although there's hope, and hope which transcends the minimal hope (a few flowering leaves, for example) in Samuel Beckett's work.
Even the title Rose Mélie Rose suggests rebirth, revival, or the beginning of the recycling of life. And names are significant: Rose is the woman who found Mélie in a cave and brought her up, Mélie is the twelve-year-old who goes from L'Ermitage to Oat after Rose's death, to go to Nem's house (where Rose lived and another Rose works) and then meets another Mélie, who speaks of Rose, but which Rose?
Puberty is significant: in Seaside, the loss of virginity is a matter of course, as it is in Rose Mélie Rose, where Mélie just accepts (and even appears to enjoy) the mingling of menstrual and hymenal blood on the passenger seat in the driver's lorry.
But this is obviously abuse, no matter how old Mélie may appear to be, although she doesn't experience it as such. Abuse too is Pim taking Mélie into the women's toilet and serially sexually abusing her, even if she enjoys it. What is the reader expected to understand by Mélie going into the cave where she herself was born, then giving birth to a child (named Rose of course) and leaving her there?
Links to my other Marie Redonnet posts:
Marie Redonnet: Seaside
Marie Redonnet: Nevermore
Marie Redonnet: Tir et Lir
Marie Redonnet: Mobie-Diq
18 October 2016
But David Golder, her first novel, was first published in 1929 and details the end of the life of the Jewish businessman of the name of the title. Having led a life of risky business ventures and gambling for high stakes, Golder has dragged himself from poverty to wealth, and then back again. He now has a bad heart condition, an unfaithful wife who lusts for more money, and an uncaring, avaricious daughter who keeps asking, in fact demanding, more money from him to satisfy her desire for travel, sex and adventure in general.
But the reader doesn't pity Golder, doesn't in fact pity anyone in this tragic story of greed and ruin. I'm not too sure how Némirovsky's other novels read, but the comparisons should be interesting. As a first novel, though, I'm not over-impressed with this.
15 October 2016
PAR SES AMIS'
Jules Jouy was a nineteenth century singer-songwriter and poet based in Montmartre. He came from a working-class background and began his working life as a butcher's boy. Self-educated, his early writings were published in La Tintamarre and Le Sans-culotte. He later edited Les Hydropathes, but died insane at the relatively tender age of forty-two after excessive indulgence in tobacco and absinthe took their toll on him.
14 October 2016
11 October 2016
Poète et Romancier
1903 – 1923
Link to my other Raymond Radiguet post:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Raymond Radiguet and Saint-Maur-des-Fossés
DE L'ACADÉMIE FRANÇAISE
24 FÉVRIER 1848 – 23 SEPTEMBRE 1911
LES HOMMES ET LES IDÉES
ATHÈNES – ROME – PARIS
ASPASIÉ – CLÉOPATRE – THÉODORA
1814 – 1815
LES CENT JOURS – WATERLOO
LA TERREUR BLANCHE
LA PATRIE GUERRIÈRE
The historian and critic Henry Houssaye was the son of Arsène Houssaye.
Labels: Faure (Félix)
Arsène Houssaye (1814–96) is a thin pseudonym of Arsène Housset, who also wrote under the pseudonym of Alfred Mousse. He lodged with Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval, and was friends with Jules Janin and Alphonse Esquiros, all writers who contributed to the magazine L'Artiste, of which Houssaye was the director from 1843. Young writers he welcomed included Théophile de Banville, Henri Murger, Charles Monselet, Champfleury and Baudelaire.
As general administrator of the Comédie-Française thanks to Rachel, he put on plays by Victor Hugo père, François Ponsard and Léon Gozlan. He produced a great number of works, and Zola called him 'Un des derniers grands chênes de la forêt romantique' ('one of the last great oaks in the romantic forest').
10 October 2016
Clotilde de Vaux, or Charlotte Clotilde Josephine Marie de Ficquelmont (1815–46), was the poet and short story writer who greatly inspired the philosopher Auguste Comte. She died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-three.
Bust of Clotilde de Vaux, rue Clotilde de Vaux, 11e.
Statue of Clotilde de Vaux incorporated into Compte's statue, Place de la Sorbonne, 6e.
Alice Ferney's La Conversation amoureuse – a signed copy of which I was fortunate enough to chance upon for peanuts at a bookstore in France – literally translates as 'The Loving Conversation', which might seem a little, er, limp, but surely beats The Lovers (its English translated title): this novel (which in this Babel edition runs to 473 pages) is more about conversation, holding off the physical moment, than anything else. The first four fifths of it is exhausting in its lack of event, Gilles André and Pauline Arnoult (both married with a child but Gilles on the brink of divorce) just having a meal before both returning (ostensibly separately) to the tennis club where their partners and other friends are. Sex with the heavily pregnant Pauline only takes place in the last fifth, and is mentioned in very few words.
Gilles is aged 49, Pauline 25, and they've both fallen madly in live with each other, although the evening has been sexually unfulfilled for them, in fact constipated by their complex psychology, of which much of the book is filled, wondering what the other would say if a certain thing was done or said. It's a kind of study in waiting, although Ferney doesn't have the humour of Patrick Lapeyre, who (along with Laurent Mauvignier but in different ways) is a master of the sub-genre of the unspoken in fiction.
I don't usually mention reviews of translated works because of the many problems involved, but The Lovers obviously translates some of the problems of the original La Conversation amoureuse. In the Observer, it's interesting that Adam Mars-Jones states that a number of short stories contain 'more incident' than Ferney's work. Quite. I don't give up on books easily, so I stuck this out until the end, and the events (no matter how few they may be) come faster and thicker in the last hundred pages of a book whose English translation crams into 295 pages.
Obviously many people disagree with me when I call the book excessively slow and psychologising to the point of inducing sleep when read, and all right I really wouldn't have appreciated yet another weird, sex-obsessed, violent, suicidal epic that the French excel in so much. But hey, there are limits. And the homosexual writer Adam Mars-Jones notes another problem with Alice Ferney: she goes in for highly frequent references to what is 'feminine'.
And masculine, for that matter: the men of the club really love half-naked men boxing themselves stupid, although Ferney (or at least the narrator) sees this as a 'masculine' sport, in other words one that men like, although not because it's all about sweaty males, just because it's about men being violent to themselves. I think Alice Ferney has a gender problem: a clear-cut division between the sexes, nothing in between, almost no feminine or masculine sides to the opposite sexes. Mars-Jones calls Ferney's many references to 'feminity' a 'throwback', and it's interesting to note that Ferney is opposed to homosexual marriage.
8 October 2016
NÉ À NÎMES LE 13 MAI 1840,
EST MORT DANS CETTE MAISON
LE 16 DÉCEMBRE 1897'
41 rue de l'Université, the place of Daudet's death. My blog post on Daudet in Provence is here. And Daudet's tomb in Père-Lachaise is below:
The family is vitally important here, and is capable of having an overwhelming effect. Here, Larkin's famous 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad' can be extended to the whole family. But, apart from the unnamed mother, the only original survivors are the older brother and sister Saul and Hélène, and the younger twins Élias and the Réna. Initially the story seems to be mainly about the mother selling the original family home after the death of the father, the house now being too big for the mother, and anyway she wants to free money up for herself. And then there are the undecided details of how the remaining money should be parceled out after her death: is it fair to allow each brother or sister to have an equal share, when Saul and Hélène clearly have much more money than the two younger siblings, of whom Réna in permanently on crutches due to a car accident.
Yes, it's more than about the house, it's the four human walls too, it's about sibling rivalry in this particular family, about previous events in family history, and about incest, although that (in its physical expression at least) only involves Hélène and Dimitri (now dead in a car crash, although we learn (eventually) that he wasn't driving).
With Quatre murs we're in the realm of the often unspoken, but where even the slightest word can be construed as criticism, indeed attack. It's all pretty stormy.
Well, she had to leave, having got the sack after menacing the head of the kitchenware department with an electric blender: she's single and therefore can't take the summer holidays as the married staff can. Plus, she's up to her pretty neck in debt. (I don't use 'pretty' as a sexist term: her prettiness is what she uses to scoop men into her web.) Whatever her real name is, she's decided that she going to re-construct herself (as Le Havre, for instance, re-constructed itself after the war), call herself Bérénice Beaurivage, after the rather obscure Rohmer film L'Arbre, le Maire et la Médiathèque (1993), in which Arielle Dombasle (with whom Mademoiselle shares much more than a passing resemblance) plays the fictional author Beaurivage.
So when the newly-named Bérénice Beaurivage meets Inspecteur (of ships) in Saint-Nazaire, has sex with him and lives and sponges off him, he's of course not aware of her past. Although he begins to have a number of suspicions, enquires if the local library has hear of her, is surprised that Bérénice doesn't use a computer or ever contact anyone, and she never seems to pay for anything. While he's working though, Bérénice is stealing money from people's wallets, stealing clothes to give a semblance of respectability, etc. But the journalist Blandine Lenoir is friends with him too, she also suspects Bérénice isn't who she says she is, and so we have another triangle. And of course there's another fictional triangle: that in Racine's Bérénice, the play Mademoiselle stole from the train station in Montparnasse and mentions several times.
Mademoiselle learns that the boat Sirius is going to Marseille, and so is Inspecteur, who claims he's surprised that she too wants to go there. But the relationship is falling apart, too many things don't gel for Inspecteur, who takes time off to search for his mysterious lover (who has said nothing of her past) on the internet, and finds nothing. She's obviously been lying to him. He moves on to Paris and to new accommodation, having Mademoiselle sleep on the couch and keeps hoping she'll go away. In the end he manages to get rid of her by giving her two thousand euros and a one-way ticket back to Le Havre.
And so we come full circle, or maybe just begin again, endlessly recycling. Sirius went down off the coast of Marseille, but there's a sister ship Procyon in Le Havre, named after another point of the celestial triangle: interestingly, Betelgeuse is the third major star, and Beetlejuice is of course the title of the Tim Burton film. And although Mademoiselle's going through the job routine, she's thinking of a new identity: she is very taken by the name Blanche Lenoir, the name of another character (played by Clémentine Amouroux) in L'Arbre, le Maire et la Médiathèque. She thinks that name would suit her perfectly.
Link to my other Julia Deck post:
Julia Deck: Vivian Élizabeth Fauville
7 October 2016
OÙ IL ACCOMPLIT SON ŒUVRE
DRAMATURGE ET POÈTE
DE 1935 À 1992'
3 rue de Chanalailles. Jean Loisy (1901–92) was a pacifist most noted for his Poésie brève" (1949) collection, his two novels Un français dans la lune (1953) and Les enfants des vainqueurs (1963), and for his plays Marie Stuart ou la nuit d'Edimbourg (1941), La guerre et les amants (1948) and Le sacrifice (1943).
'Ici vécut Romain Gary,
Compagnon de la Libéartion,
écrivain et diplomate
de 1963 à sa mort,
le 2 décembre 1980.'
108 rue du Bac. Romain Gary killed himself by putting a bullet in his mouth fifteen months after Jean Seberg killed herself, although he left a note explaining that his death was nothing to do with her. He'd bought the gun before he met Seberg, and in an interview with Caroline Monney in 1978 he said that ageing was a catastrophe, that he would never grow old, that he'd made a pact with the 'gentleman up there'.
NÉ À SAINT MALO
LE 4 SEPTEMBRE 1768
DANS CET HÔTEL
LE 4 JUILLET 1848'
Hôtel de Clermont-Tonnerre, 120 rue du Bac, where Chateaubriand lived from 1838.
And just opposite is the square des Missions Étrangères, where Gambier's bust of Chateaubriand (1948) occupies a central position. My post on Chateaubriand's house in La vallée-aux-Loups is here.