30 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay; (1982; repr. with new version 1983)

This edition of Savannah Bay contains the original version of the play, plus the later version – somewhat shorter than the first and with slight alterations but essentially the same – written the year after and performed in 1983 at the Théâtre du Rond-Point: this was produced by Duras assisted by Yann Andréa: there were just two actors, Bulle Ogier as the Jeune Femme and Madeleine Renaud (in her last performance) as Madeleine.

Many of Duras’s usual themes are present here: age and youth, life and death, madness, suicide, passionate sex, different kinds of love, memory and forgetfulness, a sprinkle of lying, and of course the presence of water, particularly in the title.

Madeleine (a Durassian wink to Proust) is the Jeune Femme’s grandmother, closer to death than life, at a stage when she no longer fears death, and whose memory is failing. The Jeune Femme has brought a record for them to hear and sing or speak along to – Édith Piaf’s ‘Les Mots d’amour' – which is an important part of the beginning of the play.

The Jeune Femme coaxes Madeleine to speak – as she has spoken many times before – of her daughter, the Jeune Femme’s mother, who willingly lost her virginity at sixteen to an unnamed man on a rock in the sea, and who killed herself after giving birth to the Jeune Femme.

There is a feeling of myth to the whole business, but of course I couldn’t help mentally comparing and contrasting Jeune Femme and Madeleine to Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon and Hamm and Clov.
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

29 December 2018

Jean-Yves Potel: Les Disparitions d’Anna Langfus (2014)

When people told her that the Prix Goncourt 1962 for Les bagages de sable (trans. The Lost Shore) would change her, the Polish Jew Anna Langfus’s reply – after suffering years of Nazi rule, years of torment, living in constant fear and watching many people casually slaughtered, having her husband and her parents murdered, her nanny dead – was simple: the Gestapo hadn’t changed her, so how could a few fleeting weeks of fame succeed?

This wasn’t in fact true about the Nazis not affecting her, as this extremely well-researched biography of Anna Langfus makes quite clear. It takes us through Anna’s relatively comfortable childhood in Lublin, Poland, through her education in Verviers, Belgium, and then spends some considerable time describing the torment that Polish Jews had to undergo during Nazi rule, the torture, the nonchalant mass murders, the creation of increasingly small ghettoes, the scarcity of food, the diseases: in a word, the hell of being a Jew in Poland under fascist rule.

And then after the war Anna couldn’t live in the cemetery that she saw as Poland, so left for France, to adopt French as her new tongue with her new husband Aron, also a Jewish Polish survivor. We don’t learn much about Aron, although we do of Anna and her struggle to master a new language, and learn to write creatively, aided by such friends as Maurice Finkelson, another Polish survivor, but one whose novels are now almost forgotten.

Anna Langfus didn’t have a great deal of success with her plays, although three novels – Le sel et le Souffre (1960), Les Bagages de sable (1962) and Saute, Barbara (1965) were all critically and popularly successful. Needless to say, all were about the Holocaust, surviving it physically, and attempting to survive it mentally, to live with the guilt of survival and the memory of the unspeakable atrocities.

Anna Langfus died of a heart condition in 1966 at the age of 46, leaving a husband and a daughter. She also left a small body of work which should be remembered for its importance, for the power it has to tell with such numbing detail exactly what happens when madness and madmen are allowed to take control of countries.

My Anna Langfus posts:
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Jean-Yves Potel: Les Disparitions d’Anna Langfus
Anna Langfus: Les Bagages de sable | The Lost Shore
Anna Langfus: Cimetière parisien de Bagneux, Hauts-de-Seine

25 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande (1986)

Marguerite Duras’s La Pute de la côte normande (lit. 'The Normandy coast tart') is a brief booklet first published in November 1986 in Libération and called a ‘complément nécessaire’ to reading Yeux bleus cheveux noirs (see my post below), in which she wrote about her appartment in L’ Hôtel des Roches noires in Trouville, where she lived with the homosexual Yann Andréa, an impossible love relationship.

She describes him typing the account for her, his anger, yelling at her, calling her the title of this piece that she later wrote about him: ‘La Pute de la côte normande’, shouting at her. He goes cruising, looking for handsome men, searches the hotels, even in golf clubs, but she is frightened to lend him the car. She dedicates Yeux bleus cheveux noirs to Yann, who after Duras’s death was named her literary executor and received ten per cent of her royalties, which Thierry Ardisson made clear on French TV when Yann – on the publication of his book ‘Cet amour-là (1999) – sat next to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, hardly said a word to Ardisson’s questions, and left the programme after a few minutes: not out of any malice on anyone’s part, but he didn’t have anything to say.

In retrospect, what could he have said that wasn’t in his book, which he partly pointed out, but then there must be an obvious problem here: what could Yann have expected from the eagerness of the media to gain footage from him, and what could the media have expected to achieve from an author reluctant to say anything?

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

23 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir | The Man Sitting in the Corridor (1980)

Marguerite Duras began the original version of L’Homme assis dans le couloir, an erotic short story, in 1962, during her relationship with Gérard Jarlot. She asked Jarlot if she should ditch it, start it again, but he said no, it’s great, you must finish it.

Duras made three copies, gave one to Jarlot, one to her friend Madeleine Alleins, and kept one for the bottom drawer – all of this according Laure Adler, who, according to Wikipédia, turned down the post of Ministère de la Culture in 2016 as she thought the offer was a hoax. Laure Adler in exchange for the clueless Fleur Pellerin? Uh?

I digress. Adler continues to say that Duras discovered the typescript in 1968 (after Jarlot’s death) and in 1969 anonymously sent it to Jérôme Lindon (of Minuit, of course), who almost immediately recognised the writing style as coming from Duras. Not too sure what happened between, although Duras re-wrote this slight story and it was published a number of years later.

Here, we have a narrator who at times gets close up to the characters. There’s a woman dressed just in a very flimsy silk dress in front of a man sitting in a corridor, she sucks him, he penetrates her, they come, he beats her and it’s not certain at the end if she’s asleep or.

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

Marguerite Duras: Agatha (1981)

Marguerite Duras was encouraged to write her ‘incest book’ Agatha after partly reading Robert Musil’s L’Homme sans qualités, in which the incestuous love between Ulrich and Agathe takes place: it brought back a flood of memories about her brother Paulo Donnadieu, with whom she had had an incestuous relationship. In Alexandra Saemmer’s Duras et Musil : drôle de couple ? drôle d’inceste ? (2001), the author points out that in the French translation of the Austrian work, the author concentrates on the chapters ‘Souffles d’un jour d’été’, evoked on page 64 of Agatha. Duras had, as she notes in Le Monde extérieur, Outside 2 (1993), found Musil’s work ‘eminently obscure, unreadable, irresistable’.

Duras’s film Agatha et les lectures illimitées (also 1981) – which was filmed in Trouville, contains almost identical dialogue to the book, and is with virtually motionless images – is played by Yann Andréa and Bulle Ogier, with the voices of Andréa and Duras herself.

The book is a conversation, with many silences, between brother and sister, both aged thirty, Lui and Elle (or Agatha), and takes place in and around ‘La Villa d’Agatha’. They have spent their youth there and speak of many different activities (including, very coyly, their secret incestuous love) in the house at different ages. Only now, they create a distance between themselves, calling each other 'vous'. Agatha is seeing her brother for the final time because early in the morning she will get up to take a plane. They are obviously still in love, and although the man begs her to stay a little longer, even says he’ll kill himself, the woman is irrevocably determined to leave.

For Duras, incestuous love is never-ending, has no resolution, is unworkable, is cursed, and is pure.

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

22 December 2018

Gérard Jarlot: Un chat qui aboie (1963)

In Laure Alder’s biography Marguerite Duras (1998) she declares – in a sentence that reminds me of Albert Camus’s remark about Jacques Copeau and French theatre – that there is a before Gérard Jarlot and an after Gérard Jarlot in Duras’s work. She met him in 1957: he was a charming seducer, cultivated, and a writer. Adler says she used to drink with him, went to Italy with him, and he was an excellent fuck. He told his journalist friends that he had devised a way of lifting his bed up to allow him to see himself making love to Duras in a mirror, and even allowed some to visit his handywork.
With Jarlot, her books took on a new style, notably with Moderato Cantabile (1958) and Le Ravissement de V. Stein (1964). She also helped him considerably with his third novel, Un chat qui aboie (lit. ‘A Barking Cat’). It just won the prix Médicis, the jury including Duras herself,  although it did so against the wishes of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute. So what is this bizarrely-titled book exactly about?
The back cover was presumably written by Jarlot, who says:
‘What makes a barking cat? At worst it’s an incongruity, at best an error in essence: it does precisely that for which it’s not intended.’ (My translation.)
He goes on to ask if Armand Peuche, the main character, is made to love Rose, his wife, whose mother Louise-Anna was against the marriage. Then he mentions Armand’s devouring excesses, and generally excessive behaviour, but the same could be said of a number of other characters in this huge, tiny-font-sized, 464-page book.
In fact I’d say that there are many barking cats here, and not just the characters: scenes tend to merge, possibly in mid-sentence, with for instance the behaviour of two characters merging with two others, and even two more, possibly using different (but usually clearly indentifiable) names. The present also merges with the  past, which is usually revisited in memory: Armand’s infernale mémoire recalls Samuel Beckett’s L’Expulsé (1946), in which this sentence appears: ‘C’est tuant, les mémoires’, and which Beckett later translated as ‘Memories are killling’.
Essentially, the immensely rich Armand from Pracomtat marries Rose, has three children (Jacques, Fernand and Eliabeth, in that order) by her, and then Rose starts disappearing into the countryside with agricultural engineer Albert Colombille. In a desperate attempt to win back her love, Armand in a wildly extravagant, hugely expensive moment, launches a festival that many people come from miles around to see: but Rose escapes to Lyon with her new lover.
Then, after about eighteen months of seclusion in the basement, Armand is smitten by a young woman pissing into the basement window: he must find out who it is! Unfortunately, Armand is rewarded by the woman – Roma Heïdowicz – covering Fernand in love bites and losing her virginity to Jacques. Even worse, as a result of Fernand discovering Jacques and Roma in a post-coital moment, Fernand drowns. Armand’s wrath is huge and he banishes Jacques to his lycée for three years, giving strict instructions that he is to receive no mail from Roma, now Armand’s pet hate.
I could continue by mentioning Rose’s lapse into poverty and alcoholism, Roma’s new love in Lyon and area, a dead body in a basement, the (sado-)masochism, Armand’s turning of the castle into a fortress to keep out Roma, Armand’s cheating in a major cycle race, or even an apocalyptic ending in which virtually everyone is blown sky high, but I’ve probably said enough so far. An insane comedy-cum-tragedy in which almost everyone is mad or obsessed with something or someone.
Gérard Jarlot was jealous of Margaret Duras because she was a brilliant writer. Marguerite Duras was jealous of Gérard Jarlot because he was a brilliant seducer. Nevertheless, Un chat qui aboie is a brilliant (if very unven) novel but Jarlot is now virtually forgotten, which is so very wrong.

19 December 2018

Grey Heron, Glossop, Derbyshire, UK

I spotted this grey heron while sitting in the car in Manor Park, Glossop, Derbyshire, today. It caught a few little fish and then just flew off. My English gets worse, as I just knew that it was an héron cendré, but wasn't too certain of the name in my native language.

17 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: Emily L. (1987)

Almost every afternoon in summer, Marguerite Duras and Yann Andréa would drive from Trouville to the Hôtel de la Marine in Quillebeuf, usually via Pont-Audemer, a round trip of slightly under eighty miles. This is just what the two unnamed characters in Emily L. do, at a time when, Duras’s biographer Laure Adler says, the couple were drinking six or eight litres of wine a day without eating. It’s hardly surprising that the narrator is terrified of the masses of Koreans she sees around her on the café terrace: sounds like a dose of the DTs.
The narrator and her friend seem to be at a negative turning point in their relationship, but that’s not the focal point of interest here: it’s the much-travelled English Captain and his wife (later known as Emily L.) who are the principal subjects here, he with his strong Pilsner beers, and his alcoholic wife with her double bourbons. An early few sentences about them sets the tone:

‘Perched on their stools almost motionless, heads leaning forwards, dangling, they were […] a little ridiculous. You could have called them plants, something like that, of no definite state, a sort of vegetable, human plants, no sooner born than already dying, no sooner living than already dead.’ (My translation.)

Emily L.’s history comes in instalments, but to sum up: she comes from a wealthy family, and after the death of her parents she inherited a boat and property. She has been many places in the boat with her husband the Captain (a nickname the patronne gives him), but  their relationship seems to have run aground, they seem to be in terminal Despair Street.

Probably once beautiful, Emily L. wrote nineteen poems in her youth which were (unknown to her) published by her father, and (also unknown to her) they’ve been translated into a few European languages, she quite a celebrity if only she knew it, but the Captain has always seen her poems as a rival and steers the pair into safe Malaysian waters where Emily L. remains anonymous. Emily L. has already dismissed these poems as juvenilia, but the turning point in her poetry came when she was writing a poem following the still-birth of her child, an unfinished poem that the Captain burned in jealous hatred, and which Emily L. searched all over for. She never wrote anything after that.

She only learns of the existence of the booklet from the warden of their house, who looks after it when they are (almost always) away on mindless cruises. He loves Emily L., she loves him, but their relationship will never see day. Perfection,  perhaps. Emily L. was Marguerite Duras’s favourite character, and there’s more than a little Duras in her.

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

16 December 2018

Vincent Almendros: Ma chère Lise (2011)

Ma chère Lise is Vincent Almendros’s first novel: he sent the typescript to Jean-Philippe Toussaint, who appreciated it and sent it on to Irène Lindon of Les Éditions de Minuit, and she subsequently made Almendros a member of this highly select publishing group.

The narrator of the novel is unnamed, but is twenty-four and private tutor to the immature and capricious Lise: for instance, she seems to have a habit of ordering coffee, taking a sip and proclaiming ‘beurk’ because she can’t stand coffee. Rather improbably he falls in love with her, and is obviously worried about the consequences of acting on his desires: although the age of consent in France is fifteen, there are ten years between them and he was born on the wrong side of the tracks.

The narrator comes from a working-class background, was raised in an HLM flat in the provinces, and has suddenly been temporarily hoisted into the life-style of the rich, joining Lise’s friendly parents Jean and Florence Delabaere at their weekend home in Le Loiret, etc.

And then Lise’s schoolfriend Camille appears, there’s a great deal of travel, a great deal of confusion (partly due to drink), it’s not clear what the relationship is between the narrator and Camille, and the love affair between Lise and the narrator is in a mess. Bizarrely, I note that some amateur reviews find this book straightforward: I don’t know what coffee they’ve been drinking.

15 December 2018

Christian Gailly: Les Oubliés (2007)

Christian Gailly’s Les Oubliés (lit. ‘The Forgotten’), as expected, is written in his recognisable, compelling style: truncated, telegraphic, pointilliste, repetitive, parenthetical. Not that Gailly would use long words, though: he prefers short simple words in short simple sentences, as in this short paragraph that Albert Brighton addresses to his dead work partner:

‘Here we are, he said. These words were addressed to Paul Schooner. And Brighton asked himself how Paul. If he were there. Present at the side of him. In contact with this woman. On approaching the house. Would have reacted. What would we have seen in his gaze?’ (My translation.)

Albert and Paul are reporters for a weekly cultural paper and this (like Gailly’s book) is their thirteenth mission. They are reporting for a series called ‘Que sont-ils devenus’ (‘What has become of them?’), cultural figures once famous but now forgotten. Gailly deals with big themes such as life, death, love, memory, forgetfulness, age, etc.

And on the way to see the forgotten cellist Suzanne Moss in Britanny their car is involved in an accident. They continue by train, but Paul dies in the toilet so it’s left to Albert to let his wife know, and he decides to take the journey to make the interview with Suzanne by himself. As it happens, he’s obviously done the right thing.

Suzanne is more than welcoming, perhaps too welcoming in a sense: when Albert gets a good old-fashioned fire going, she tells him he’s gifted, and that such people are supposed to make the best lovers. Albert senses danger.

The interview starts, and then Suzanne decides that they should go for a walk along the sea shore, which they do, Albert struggling hard to keep pace with her. And then it rains, they get drenched and take refuge in a café, and on the way back to Suzanne’s house he says something. Funny, but many important things happen in or after visiting the toilets in Quentin Tarantino’s films, and since the death of Paul, Albert has often thought of his work colleague when going there. He tells Suzanne that he made a decision when in the café toilet: Paul died in a toilet, but he wants to continue to live, which means continue to love. He concludes by saying that he’s decided to love her, that he already loves her, is she going to slap him?

They return to the coastal house with the three stray cats of varying ages that Suzanne didn’t have the heart to reject. She’s pre-cooked a lovely meal for them both which only needs re-heating, so they get a little drunk on whisky, it’s understood that Albert is staying the night, and Suzanne says that they’re sleeping together, OK? Albert says he’s very old, Suzanne shoots back ‘Me too […]. We’ll do what we can’.

In fact they do much better than that, in spite of Suzanne’s reluctance to get naked because of her wrinkles, and after all she’d had ten years of celibacy since the death of her pianist husband. But the reader gets the impression – as Albert wakes up to Suzanne next to him and not just three cats on the bed, but to the cat Franklin licking his hair and saying ‘Mia-mia’ (which Suzanne translates as ‘I love you’) – that Albert will be waking up like this for a long time to come. Yup, this is no one-night-stand.

By far the best Christian Gailly book I’ve read, and I’ve been through six others.

My Christian Gailly posts:
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Christian Gailly: Un soir au club
Christian Gailly: Lily et Braine
Christian Gailly: La Roue et autres nouvelles
Christian Gailly: Dernier amour
Christian Gailly: Nuage Rouge | Red Haze
Christian Gailly: L'Incident
Christian Gailly: Les Oubliés

14 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs | Blue Eyes Black Hair (1986)

Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs (trans. as Blue Eyes Black Hair) is a novel containing limited dramatic directions: a similar Marguerite Duras play, Maladie de la mort (trans. as Malady of Death) was published four years before, in 1982. Duras also gives a brief explanation about the two protagonists in La Pute de la côte normande (also published in 1986). As yet I’ve only read the novel.

Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs is paradoxical throughout, and strongly reminded me of Samuel Beckett, particularly Endgame, its interdependence, its madness, despair, asphyxiation, etc. It also called to mind the plays of Bernard-Marie Koltès not just for the homosexual element, but for the transaction, as if life is a (terrifying but necessary) business deal of some kind. There is certainly no escape.

There are no names here, just a man and a woman. The woman joins the man in a café, they move to another when that closes, and from then they go to the man’s place: he says he’ll pay her for being there, but not for sex. Although it’s never specifically mentioned, the man is evidently homosexual, and therefore incapable of pleasing her sexually. But she continues living there.

This is a huis clos situation, but although the woman goes out to have (violent) sex with a man in this seaside town –  modelled on Trouville where Duras lived with the homosexual Yann  Andréa, to whom she dedicates the book – she will always return. They are living out their own insanity.

She will always return and lie naked on the bed next to the naked man in the naked room, also stripped bare of any other furniture, any other means of communication with the outside world. She is naked apart from a black veil. At the man’s place she spends most of the time sleeping, and also cries a great deal, although probably far less than the man. They detest each other, but love each other, and remain inseparable, like twins who can’t break free because if one of them went they would both die. This is a chilling book, but this is the one that taught me how great a writer Marguerite Duras is.

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

10 December 2018

Jean-Marie Gourio: Les Nouvelles Brèves de comptoir: Tome I (2008)

Until the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Jean-Marie Gourio (who was associated with Charlie) was noted most perhaps for his collections of jokes or odd comments that customers in bars came out with. I'm not too sure that he stood or sat there pen in hand in order to collect his gems, but then (in another country, another world) I'm not too sure that Patrick Hamilton did so either.

What we have here is a book of four hundred pages with about five comments each page considered worthy of publication. Some are pretty odd, some bizarre, some obviously influenced by drink (!). There are a number of philosophical comments, some about the insanity of modern living, some plain crazy in themselves, some about sex, life in general, drink, getting pissed, politics, in fact everything: there are even comments by women! Here's a sample:

'If my husband killed another woman, I'd be jealous.'

'Kangaroos are good meat, and there's a pouch to put the chips in.'

'Things go so fast that next year is already out of date.'

'People want to live longer and longer, and then they complain that they're old.'

'With cocaine, there's no need to keep it in the cellar for ten years.'

'They put Durex machines in schools but ban chocolate bars.'

'In a million years there'll be a night train to the moon, and a day train to the sun.'

'Paedophiles must have their cocks cut off, and if they re-offend, cut them off again.'

'The most difficult tongue to learn is how to shut up.'

'A baker covered in flour is a snowman that doesn't melt.'

'The internet is like going directly to a mushroom without putting a foot in the woods.'

Sometimes you can't translate. Anyone can understand 'A scalded cat fears the bastard who threw it in the water', but not that this is from the expression 'Chat échaudé craint l'eau froide', which literally means 'A scalded cat is frightened of cold water', in other words 'Once bitten, twice shy'.

This book is highly amusing in parts, although I wouldn't like to make a collection of them.

8 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover (1984)

What Marguerite Duras said about things could definitely vary with her mood, or I think according to the industrial proportions of the wine she's been drinking with Yann Andréa, but at one stage she described L'Amant as 'shit', a beach read ('roman de gare'), and that she wrote it when she was drunk. After decades of novels, though, she scooped the Prix Goncourt in 1984 with this novel, at the age of seventy.

In a way this is a type of replay of Un barrage contre le Pacifique (1950), although much shorter, and with less linearity, different ages of the protagonist being shown, different perspectives of the same person ('I' and 'she'), for instance. In Barrage the mother is a kind of pimp, but not here: she's given a much softer treatment.

But it's not the family itself that's the important thing in L'Amant: it's the relationship between the adolescent girl and her Chinese lover. Her rich Chinese lover, who has a very rich father who owns a great deal of property. Initially, though, the Chinese lover (who's not given a name) sees this white young creature as the only white person on the ferry across the Mekong, but that's her last time, and from then on in she's chauffeured to her lycée.

She also willingly loses her virginity to her Chinese lover, willingly accepting that she is just one of his many conquests, although he loves her. It's a mésalliance of sorts, though, as in spite of his money he's considered inferior because of his race. The girl's elder brother, invited to an expensive meal with the girl's family and on to a kind of night club, doesn't once speak to him, although everything is of course paid for by the Chinese lover, who will also pay for the girl's mother's journey back to Paris.

The relationship between men and women, money, power in its broadest sense, time and age, psychology, sex and what it can pay for, all play their part in a novel that's interesting enough, but surely far inferior to Lol V. Stein. But then, Marie NDiaye's Goncourt-winning Trois femmes puissantes was very much inferior to her Rosie Carpe (which won the 'consolation' Renaudot).

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

6 December 2018

Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein | The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein (1964)

'Manon' is a patient Marguerite Duras once met in a psychiatric hospital, and to some extent the Lola Valérie Stein of the title of this novel is very loosely based on her. Not, though, that this novel is entirely (or even partly) about a mad woman. Indeed, as the very uncertain plot progresses, the truth becomes increasingly blurred, to such an extent that most of my statements here could be suffixed by a one-word sentence: 'Perhaps.'

The truth is elsewhere, although there at least seem to be some definites in this story, which  appears to be set in a vague U.S.A, although later incarnations of the morphing story (in the cinema) usually point strongly to Normandy. Lol V. Stein lives in S. Tahla and is engaged to be married to Michael Richardson; she goes to a ball at T. Beach casino, where her fiancé dances with an older woman, Anne-Marie Stretter, and he leaves with her and Lol is left with her best friend Tatania Karl. Lol V. Stein is devastated, but tries not to show it.

Traumatised, Lol V. Stein takes some months to 'recover' and then marries Jean Bedford, they move to U. Bridge for ten years, have three daughters, and then return to S. Tahla, to the home where Lol V. Stein's parents lived. The children are no problem as the couple have money to employ servants. But barely a quarter of the novel has passed: most of the other three quarters concerns the reconstruction of the past.

Reconstruction (by memory), obsession, paranoia, insanity (?), a possibly unreliable narrator, etc, all follow. Lol V. Stein goes for walks, thinks about the events at the ballroom leading up to her ten-year-old trauma, follows Tatiana with her lover to l'Hôtel des Bois, later meets Tatiana and her husband Pierre Breuger, who's with his friend Jacques Hold, Tatiana's lover, who also turns out to be the narrator.

And the narrator  is not omniscient, imagines things, conjures things up, so how much of this is the reader to believe? Tatiana and Lol seem to merge at times: the same person, or is Jacques Hold, or Lol, or indeed Tatiana, deforming reality to serve unknown ends? Not that reality can in any way be defined here, partly because Lol's reality is part of her madness (if she is mad), partly because she doesn't fit into any framework, because she's part of a jigsaw that will never make a full picture, only (at best) a distorted vision of what this book is about.

Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein is certainly Marguerite Duras's most complicated novel, and it is also most probably her best. Paradoxically, she thought it unpublishable, but then there are many paradoxes surrounding Duras, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

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 Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille

Pierre Bergé: Les Jours s'en vont je demeure (2003)

Pierre Bergé (1930–2017), who was born in Saint Pierre d'Oléron and died in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, is perhaps best known as the partner of Yves Saint Laurent, whom he doesn't include in this book, although he does include many other people he knew.

He begins with an aphorism by Jean Cocteau, that whether we paint a landscape or a still life, what we are in effect painting is a portrait of ourselves. This in a sense is Bergé's excuse, if any were needed, to display to the reader his relationships with the many people included in this book.

At the age of fifteen, Bergé read Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit and discovered the nature of literature, how words spurt, and how to spit in the face of the world. He notes that Céline called Henry Miller one of his 'plagiarists', although to Bergé Miller was a kind of pupil. At eighteen, Bergé began to live with the slightly older Bernard Buffet for eight years.

Bergé splits this book into two sections: the main people he knew, and those of whom he has less to say. Of the main people not mentioned above are: Jean Giono, François Mitterrand, Marie-Laure de Noialles, Louise de Vilmorin, Louis Aragon (who during a restaurant meal wonders if the waiter 'sucks well'), Chanel and Schiaparelli, Lili Brik and Tatiana Yakovleva. The smaller accounts of known people are: Garry Davis, Pierre Mac Orlan and Francis Carco, Marguerite Duras, the Rostands (Maurice and Rosemonde), Diana Vreeland, Rudophe Nureev, Danielle Cattand, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Louis Barrault and Madelaine Renaud.

This is a gem.