31 May 2020

François Taillandier: Anielka (1999)

Below I called Abel Quentin's first novel Sœur a 'state of the nation' novel. Without doubt, François Taillandier's Anielka, published twenty years before and winning the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française, is in some ways a similar novel of an earlier period in French history, only with a very different group of older people of a rather higher social standing. In Le Figaro Magazine, Étienne de Montety described the novel as 'unique and bizarre', which I first thought an exaggeration, although I now have to agree that Taillandier is (here certainly) 'the spokesman for a world out of kilter, looking for a way out'.

Anielka has a Polish background but was brought up French-speaking, brought up on Corneille's alexandrines. But, as the narrator here says, she can't swim. The narrator is a character here, as he observes his subjects, interrogates them politely, but manipulates them, includes them in his story, which is up to a point postmodern. Anielka is in fact adrift, being unable to relate to others. She has had a relationship with a man which produced their son Quentin, but as she can't adjust to being a mother her lover leaves her for another, taking charge of the child, which suits Anielka. Anielka then has a relationship with the older François, although she won't move in with him as she has a place in the 17th arrondissement that is paid for mainly by inheritance. And then she meets Will.

Will is in the theatre and continually questions Anielka on her past, on her double existence, or the other (Polish) self that she seems to want to hide or at least make light of. But then Will is capricious, leaves Anielka, and she is really cast adrift.

François is the older man, from a modest background but made good, and he is himself cast adrift after Anielka dumps him after Will has dumped her. Whisky will help initially, but he'll recover – unlike Anielka, he can swim. 

Anielka's friend Annick (with her alter ego Aurore, who is Annick's wilder self) is what the French would term 'une allumeuse' (a prick teaser) who likes to turn men on but then complains about the inevitable consequences of men chasing after her. Near the end of the book Anielka has a few days' homosexual relationship with Annick-Aurore, but it was just a kind of experiment, or a need for tenderness.

The reader is constantly reminded of the moment by trade names, or references to the time the book is set, etc. An example: 'The pavement (protected for one hundred metres by barriers preventing cars from stopping, especially those containing a bottle of gas stuffed with old nails)', plus comments about the behaviour of the modern woman. Is Anielka a modern woman? She's left wing (unlike her father), but then as the narrator says:

'The problem in our time is that resistance is archaic: Catholics, communists, monarchists, fascists. The western masses are driven towards the hedonism of the market. Which will kill them, but it doesn't matter.' Umm.

Éric Chevillard: Le Caoutchouc décidément (1992)

Éric Chevillard's Le Caoutchouc décidément doesn't appear to have been translated into English, although if it is I think it would probably not be called 'Decidedly Rubber' or 'Rubber, Decidedly', but 'Definitely Rubber' or 'Rubber, Definitely'. In a way it's of course of no importance as the title tells you nothing of what the book is about, although as I've suggested before, some readers would say that Chevillard's books are about nothing anyway. And although I can understand that reaction and even to a certain extent agree with it, how do I justify such an outrageous statement as to suggest that Chevillard is one of the most important – if not the most important – of contemporary writers? Not an easy question to answer, although I'm certain that he's one of those authors you have to read several works of in order to have a clue about what he's doing. And that's probably why it's taken many people quite a time to begin to appreciate his work.

Le Caoutchouc décidément is Chevillard's fourth novel, and the earliest of his yet that I've read. Like his later books, there's no plot as such, no development, there are characters this time, although they are as thinly drawn as to be caricatures, and of course there are digressions. Interestingly, the first word of the novel (almost) ends with the same word, although it's Furne (the protagonist) instead of the one-word sentence 'Fume.' (meaning 'smoke') at the end.

Furne grew up with a girl neighbour just five days younger than him and they got on really well and lived many happy years together, but she felt so lonely when he died that she brought up a puppy (or was it a cat?) and in turn buried that when it was old... No, that won't do, too much narrative: she (incidentally unnamed) in fact drowned when she was twelve.

At thirty Furne has no experience of women, but he's a revolutionary, he wants to change things: not just have his name mentioned as a disease he's discovered or anything so simplistic as that, no, he wants to change everything he doesn't like, everything that doesn't gel in the world. The first sentence is (I translate) 'Furne is for example hostile to the principle of April showers' (although it actually says 'March showers' but things come earlier in France). If that weren't enough, fish don't talk, the brain is too small, stars are too far from one another, how can things be corrected?

Furne manages to attract Professor Zeller's interest in his proposed publication 'Manifeste pour une réforme radicale du système en vigueur', which is no more than an attempt to rid the world (solar system?) of its faults. Zeller equips Furne with a studio and a research team, and things are set to go. Why, though, does the building Furne and crew are working in resemble a clinic, why does Céleste – who initially scrubs Furne from top to bottom as he's filthy and scrawny because he has been unable to buy any cat food as he's eaten all the cats – seem so nurse-like, and why do the members of Furne's team behave as if they belong in a psychiatric hospital?My Éric Chevillard posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Éric Chevillard: Oreille rouge | Red Ear (2005)
Éric Chevillard: L'Explosion de la tortue (2019)
Éric Chevillard: La Nébuleuse du crabe | The Crab Nebula (1993)
Éric Chevillard – Au plafond | On the Ceiling
Éric Chevillard: Le Désordre azerty
Éric Chevillard: Dino Egger
Éric Chevillard: Le Vaillant Petit Tailleur
Éric Chevillard: Le Caoutchouc décidément
Éric Chevillard: Palafox
Éric Chevillard: Un fantôme
Éric Chevillard: Du hérisson | Of the Hedgehog
Éric Chevillard: Démolir Nisard | Demolishing Nisard

28 May 2020

Abel Quentin: Sœur (2019)

Almost exactly two months ago I found an uncorrected proof copy of Abel Quentin's first novel Sœur, published by Les Éditions de l'Observatoire, in one of the two boîtes à lire in Le Jardin des Plantes in Caen. I knew nothing about Quentin and so kept an open mind. But he's a criminal lawyer and obviously his experiences have informed this book, as what we have is essentially a 'state of the nation' novel. At least, when it was written last year it was, but as two months now seem a very long time ago, last year's France – indeed last year's world – seem far removed from the present one.

Jenny Marchand is the fifteen-year-old daughter of middle-class parents – neither upper- nor lower- – and they're perfectly, er, normal, loving parents with 'normal' cultural interests within that class. Jenny's cultural interests are no doubt within that framework for her age: Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter, mainly. But she's an outsider at school: there's nothing for her to relate to, but more importantly others don't relate to her, and so many 'ados' like the animated gif of Clément rejecting her attempt to kiss him on Facebook, which affects her very strongly.

Quentin knows the power of the internet, how it can influence the vulnerable, and as Jenny puts out an impassioned suicidal howl a member of Islamic State reaches out to her, and she welcomes him. Jenny comes from a small village near Nevers, and much of the action of the book takes place there. Jenny meets Dounia, who becomes a kind of idol, and she changes her name to Chafia Al-Faransi, wearing the veil, hating her parents drinking alcohol, her father's Pirelli calendar, and refuses to see a shrink.

And so she disappears into a world of Islamic extremism, knows that she can pull out at the last moment and be safe back in the bosom of her parents, but then if you're in Paris with a semi-automatic and the president is within easy reach of you, how can you not pull the trigger?

Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville (1941)

Jean Giono published Pour saluer Melville at the same time as he published his (and Lucien Jacques's, with the assistance of Joan Smith) translation of Melville's Moby-Dick. It's a kind of introduction, a kind of biography, although fictionalised because Giono has access to Melville's thoughts.

The book begins in the right place, relating Melville's childhood, his decision to go to sea in a whaler, some of his travels, and his change to occupation by becoming a writer. But a little over halfway through things start to go weird. Certainly Melville visited a publisher during a stay in London in 1849, although what happened there according to Giono is pure fantasy.

Melville decides that while waiting for the next ship back home he has time to visit some of England, and so heads for the south-west in a horse-drawn coach. Initially his only travelling companion is a mysterious Adelina White, with whom Melville becomes obsessed and who in turn comes to love Melville platonically. She reveals that she is smuggling corn to the Irish during the famine, and they exchange addresses as they part.

What is evidently missing here is the fact – which the name 'White' gives away – that Adelina is a representation of Giono's lover Blanche Meyer. In the thirty-page chapter 'The creation of the Muse: Blanche, Adelina White and Pour saluer Melville' of her thesis 'Space of Passion: The Love Letters of Jean Giono to Blanche Meyer (2004), which is freely available online, Patricia A. Le Page analyses how Meyer deeply influenced Giono's writing. A fascinating little book.

My Jean Giono posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque
Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque
Jean Giono: Notes sur l'affaire Dominici
Jean Giono's grave, Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1895–1970
Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest
Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure
Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville
Jean Giono et al, Le Contadour

25 May 2020

Éric Chevillard: Démolir Nisard | Demolishing Nisard (2006)

Marie-Napoléon-Désiré Nisard (1806-88) was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte-d'or, and was a writer, academic and politician most noted for his four-volume Histoire de la littérature française (1844-1861). And although he is almost forgotten today the narrator in Éric Chevillard's novel wants to 'demolish' him, meaning remove every trace of his ideas. In advertising the fact, of course, interest in  this virtually unknown figure paradoxically increases.

Nisard's main (and of course ludicrous) affirmation is that French literature ended at the end of the seventeenth century.

One of the main strands in the book is the (non-)existence of Nisard's early short story Le convoi de la laitière, which the narrator has discovered that Pierre Larousse, in one of his fifteen volumes of Grand Dictionnaire universel du xixe siècle (1863-1890), describes as 'grivois' (or dirty, salacious), and claims that the older Nisard spent part of his life trying to destroy all copies of the publication. Larousse further claims that this was published (as a separate pamphlet) in octavo in 1931, but that it is now unobtainable. (Later events prove a slightly different story.)

The bulk of the novel is taken up by the narrator's ideas of ways to demolish Nisard, a man who turned milk to butter for his bread by blowing on it, turned wine to vinegar for his leek vinaigrette by dipping his finger in it, and so on. Nisard is even mentioned in a number of contemporary news articles, stabbing someone, crashing his car while drunk and having smoked cannabis, being responsible for a plot in South Carolina to cause a civil war 'using' (but probably not actually having, the narrator adds with a clear contemporary wink) weapons of mass destruction. In fact Nisard is everywhere, and responsible for all that is negative in the world.

It is in fact clear from near the beginning of the novel that the narrator is howling mad, obsessed with a man he has found out as much as possible about, and for instance has even been forced to dislike squirrels because they eat hazel nuts, and Nisard must have eaten hazel nuts too. The narrator's wife Métilde, unsurprisingly, is worried for his mental health.

There is a positive to the negative, and as Nisard is 'demolished', then Léonard Nodot, the founder of the Muséum d'histoire naturelle in Dijon (where Chevillard lives) should be 'resurrected'. The narrator particularly enjoys visiting the museum to see the 'resurrection' of the prehistoric gigantic armadillo there, the glyptodon.

The narrator also likes visiting other places in search of the elusive Le convoi de la laitière. And eventually he discovers the truth. Contrary to what he imagines, that the book contains (then 'obscene') schoolboy reworkings of the language – the title really meaning 'Vois le con de la laitière' ('Look at the Milkmaid's Cunt') – he finds that the 'book' wasn't published at all, but that the harmless, sentimental story was in fact published in an 1834 edition of the Revue de Paris. And the full fifteen-page tale of love and greed, of a tragic perceived mésalliance can be read be anyone looking online.

The finale is when the narrator 'becomes' Nisard, in a few manners of speaking. A hugely enjoyable, really amusing treat of a book.

My Éric Chevillard posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Éric Chevillard: Oreille rouge | Red Ear (2005)
Éric Chevillard: L'Explosion de la tortue (2019)
Éric Chevillard: La Nébuleuse du crabe | The Crab Nebula (1993)
Éric Chevillard – Au plafond | On the Ceiling
Éric Chevillard: Le Désordre azerty
Éric Chevillard: Dino Egger
Éric Chevillard: Le Vaillant Petit Tailleur
Éric Chevillard: Le Caoutchouc décidément
Éric Chevillard: Palafox
Éric Chevillard: Un fantôme
Éric Chevillard: Du hérisson | Of the Hedgehog
Éric Chevillard: Démolir Nisard | Demolishing Nisard

22 May 2020

Éric Chevillard: Du hérisson | Of the Hedgehog (2002)

 
Some people have said that Éric Chevillard's book is about nothing, that it's not a novel, has no plot, no characters, no development, etc. I'd say that's a reasonable summation in a sense, although that obviously sounds negative, and this hugely enjoyable book is anything but negative.

The actual way the format appears is probably unique: 534 paragraphs of more or less the same length, although only one full stop at the end of any of them – the final paragraph – because every paragraph ends in mid-sentence and the rest of the sentences are carried over to the next paragraph. Also, almost every paragraph contains the phrase 'naïf et globuleux'*

The story, such as it is, concerns a writer sitting at his desk to write his autobiography (with old-fashioned pencil and paper it seems, as he has a rubber). Trouble is, a hedgehog has appeared as if from nowhere on his desk and starts to eat the rubber, which causes some consternation in the author. And then the hedgehog starts to eat his writing paper.

In fact the hedgehog hijacks the author's book, takes up his thoughts, quotations on hedgehogs from naturalists Buffon and Daubenton are made, imaginary naturalists Zeiger and Opole are mentioned (usually together, although they have conflicting ideas), and so on.

 Whereas the author initially felt animosity towards this gatecrasher, a genuine affinity between the author and the hedgehog develops: like the non-human mammal, the author is solitary, he even envies the hedgehog its protective muscle which means he can just retreat into a spiny ball.

And the reader is treated to a huge number of details about the hedgehog and his defense mechanisms, his sex life, his life span, his daily routines, etc. This must surely be one of Chevillard's best?

*The only exception I noted was a paragraph spanning from pages 85 to 86: a mistake, or one of Chevillard's test tricks to see who is or isn't paying attention?

My Éric Chevillard posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Éric Chevillard: Oreille rouge | Red Ear (2005)
Éric Chevillard: L'Explosion de la tortue (2019)
Éric Chevillard: La Nébuleuse du crabe | The Crab Nebula (1993)
Éric Chevillard – Au plafond | On the Ceiling
Éric Chevillard: Le Désordre azerty
Éric Chevillard: Dino Egger
Éric Chevillard: Le Vaillant Petit Tailleur
Éric Chevillard: Le Caoutchouc décidément
Éric Chevillard: Palafox
Éric Chevillard: Un fantôme
Éric Chevillard: Du hérisson | Of the Hedgehog
Éric Chevillard: Démolir Nisard | Demolishing Nisard

Sheila Turner Johnston: Alice: A Life of Alice Milligan (1994; repr. 2009)

This was the first biographical work on Alice Milligan, whom I came across recently when discovering about her brother Ernest (post immediately below), the ground-breaking doctor who lived in Glossop for thirty-four years. In fact Alice, with her brother William, lived in Glossop with Ernest and his family for almost ten years from 1922 to about 1932, but that's not the subject here.

Alice was an Irish nationalist, born in Omagh, who was a poet and novelist who came from a large family of siblings, including Charlotte, a sister who wrote songs and unearthed old folk songs. Her father Seaton was a businessman who was also a local historian and archaeologist.

One of the almost forgotten women who were a part of Irish politics and literary history, Alice Milligan published a number of books and was a friend of W. B. Yeats and Roger Casement, for instance. Although she never actually met the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell she was heavily influenced by him, angry with the Irish people's condemnation of him for his affair with the married Kitty O'Shea, and deeply affected by his death.

Alice never married, although it's unknown if she had any love affairs. She wanted to speak Irish, not the language of imperialism, although she never got anywhere near to mastering the language. Although she was relatively well-known in Ireland, her brother Ernest (who nevertheless wanted a biography written on her after her death), didn't appear to have any knowledge of her status while she was living.

Unfortunately, fascinating though it is to learn of Alice Milligan's life, Sheila Johnston, in spite of the undoubtedly painstaking efforts she has taken researching her subject, is manifestly not a professional researcher: there is a smack of the undergraduate project here (although Johnston is far from young), and I winced in a few places. Nevertheless, Johnston has put Milligan on the map, and I have since noted that Catherine Morris has followed up with the more scholarly Alice Milligan and the Irish Cultural Revolution (2012).

20 May 2020

Dr Ernest Henry Marcus Milligan in Glossop, Derbyshire


'IN
LOVING
MEMORY
OF

A DEAR HUSBAND AND FATHER
ERNEST H. M. MILLIGAN
WHO DIED 21ST MARCH 1954, AGED 75 YEARS.
FOR 26 YEARS M.O.H. FOR GLOSSOP
FEAR NOT MORE THE HEAT O' THE SUN
NOR THE FURIOUS WINTER'S RAGES;
THOU THY WORLDLY TASK HAST DONE

AND HIS BELOVED WIFE SARAH
BORN 17TH JAN 1883 DIED 19TH JAN 1961.'

Ernest Henry Marcus Milligan (1879–1954) was an Irish Protestant from Belfast who became the first medical officer of health in Glossop, Derbyshire. He lived at Daisy Bank in nearby Hadfield, and according to his obituary in the Glossop Chronicle of 26 March 1954 he began a 'health revolution in the town, a health revolution that has gone on ever since' when he moved to Glossop in 1920. He had a great interest in the nutrition of school children, and provided considerable details on them. He is perhaps best known for his peanuts and whey toffee.

Milligan wrote a book of poems in 1907: Up Bye Ballads, published under the pseudonym of 'Will Carew'. Many years later he wrote several plays – some in collaboration with his solicitor son-in-law A. V. Williams – which were broadcast on the radio in Manchester, such as: The Ballad Singer (1933), Muggleston on the Map: A Municipal Mockery (1934), The Mayor Chooses a Wife (1935), and 'Twas in Old Ireland – Somewhere (1936).

Milligan came from a highly talented family, and his most famous sibling is Alice Milligan (1865-1953), the Irish Nationalist, poet and novelist. He wanted the Irish Republican W. P. Allen to write her biography, but this was not to be. However, in 1994 Sheila Turner Johnston published a short biography of Alice, which was re-published in 2009. And for a more academic angle, there's now Catherine Morris's Alice Milligan and the Irish Cultural Revolution (2012).

18 May 2020

A Squirrel in May, Glossop, Derbyshire

This lovely creature didn't mind me taking photos from a distance, but when I moved in too close he (or she) took to the tree and peered out to see if I was still there. Yes, I was, but the temptation to finish the dinner was too important to worry too much about me.




Jean-Louis Ezine: La Chantepleure (1983)

This is Jean-Louis Ezine's first novel. Here we have the 'illegitimate' Julien Bréaux come to visit the village where he was born, more importantly to see Magloire, owner of the local La Gazette du bocage, as he's the father he's never met.

A number of people are involved here because it's a small 'incestuous' community, and Bréaux first uses a friend, Gabriel Roques, who will later deflower the twenty-year-old Catherine, much to the (fatal) chagrin of the postman Fortunat, but that's another story.

There are a number of stories in this story, such as Julien killing Magloire's dog because he looks like his owner, but then... A short novel, but there are long-lasting events. 

17 May 2020

Khalil Rasjed Dale | Kenneth Robin Dale in Glossop, Derbyshire

Khalil Dale (1951-2012) was an aid worker who dedicated many years to working for the Red Cross in many very dangerous war zones and famine-stricken areas such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan. He was born Kenneth Robin Dale in York, grew up in Manchester, and became a nurse as was his mother. He converted to Islam in Kenya in 1981. He went on, in his late thirties, to study at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, graduating in 1992. In January 2012 he was kidnapped, perhaps by the Taliban, in Quetta near the border of Afganistan and Pakistan. His beheaded body was found in April 2012: he had been killed because the $30 million ransom hadn't been paid. He is buried in Glossop Cemetery.

John Frederick La Trobe Bateman in Mottram in Longdendale, Tameside, Greater Manchester


'JOHN FREDERICK LA TROBE BATEMAN
(1810-1889)
Pioneer - Water Engineer Extraordinaire

Brought water to the taps of Tameside and Manchester by constructing
the six mile long chain of Longdendale Reservoirs from 1848.

At the time these became the largest reservoirs constructed
in the world and Europe's first major conservation scheme.

Completed in 1877, these waters have never run dry.
This plaque is located on the deepest air shaft over
Mottram Tunnel measured at some 200ft below.'

'La Trobe' was Bateman's mother's surname.  He worked on many water supply systems in many parts of the country, and also in Buenos Aries, Naples, Constantinople and Colombo. His Wikipedia entry says 'In 1855 he wrote a paper for the British Association, On the present state of our Knowledge on the Supply of Water to Towns, enunciating the nature of the problem, outlining previous measures, enumerating sources from which towns could be supplied, and discussing their merits. In 1865 he published a pamphlet On the Supply of Water to London from the Sources of the River Severn, a scheme he designed and surveyed at his own expense. A royal commission in 1868 reported in favour of the project, a gravitation scheme to convey 230 million gallons of water a day to the city.'

L. S. Lowry in Mottram in Longdendale, Tameside, Greater Manchester


The painter L. S. Lowry (1887-1976) lived at The Elms on Stalybridge Road, Mottram in Longdendale, Tameside, Greater Manchester from 1948 until his death. His statue was installed at the junction of Stalybridge Road and Hyde Road in 2005. At the time of making this post, Lowry now wears a mask.

15 May 2020

The Whitfield Cross, Whitfield, Glossop, Derbyshire

Dr Tim Campbell-Green, alias Robert Hamnett, has an excellent blog called 'The Glossop Cabinet of Curiosities', which is where I found out about the Whitfield Cross, which used to stand at the junction of Whitfield Cross, Cliffe Road and Hague Street.

In an article called 'Botanical Ramble to Moorfield' (c. 1890), the real Robert Hamnett tells a remarkable story. 'Mischief Night' was originally held on the evening of 1 May, and involved the youth of an area playing pranks. Hamnett says that the decision of a group of lads from Cross Cliffe towards the end of the eighteenth century was to move part of the Whitfield Cross from its position. But the cross was much heavier than they thought and they had to leave it in a field. The other parts of the cross soon disappeared, and the stolen section is now part of a stile on a footpath off Cliffe Road.

Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit (1951)

Much like Camus's La Peste, Giono's Le Hussard sur le toit is an allegory of the Second World war seen as a plague. Giono detested war, having experienced it in World War I, when he was wounded. By extension, he intended it as an allegory of evil in general. As he was seen by some as a collaborator and his house was once attacked by angry residents, this novel can also be viewed as Giono's way of retaliating, of striking back at his attackers.

Only relatively recently has a fascinating story been revealed, one that was held back from the general public by the Giono family, meaning that Pierre Citron's mastery biography of his friend has a gaping hole in it: there is no mention of Blanche Meyer, with whom Giono had a relationship for a number of years, and who – it is generally thought – changed Giono's writing style. Here is not the place to talk about the weird way Giono's biography of Hermann Melville hurtles into fiction halfway through and invents a tale of Melville being in love with a certain Adeline White (as in Blanche). But it is time to say a word about Pauline de Théus.

There isn't much point in telling the long story of the French-speaking renegade hussar Angelo from Piedmont's adventures through a plague-ridden Provence, or the various characters he meets, that he is thought to be a poisoner of fountains in Manosque and takes to the rooftops, etc. But his relationship with Pauline (another incarnation of Blanche) is really crucial to the novel. He first meets her when coming down from a loft to investigate what he thinks is an empty house, but finds Pauline there, who amazingly welcomes him and gives him a drink of tea. We don't meet her again until some time later.

And when we do meet her she joins Angelo on his journey as they're both going to Gap. It will be a long and hazardous trail but in the course of it they come to love each other, although this love is unspoken and platonic: Pauline is heading north of Gap to join her husband, a rich man much older than her whom she came to love when he was being nursed by Pauline's father, a poor country doctor, for a buckshot wound. Dr A. Le Page, in her thesis 'Space of Passion: The Love Letters of Jean Giono to Blanche Mayer', has a chapter mainly concerning Le Hussard sur le toit 'as an expression of the myth of amour courtois' and seeing Pauline and Angelo 'as models of the chivalric ideal'. The full thesis is freely available online.

There are many things that could be said about Le Hussard sur le toit: it is enough to say that it is a major, essential work by a major author.
My Jean Giono posts:
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque
Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque
Jean Giono: Notes sur l'affaire Dominici
Jean Giono's grave, Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1895–1970
Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest
Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure
Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville
Jean Giono et al, Le Contadour

14 May 2020

François Nourissier: La Fête des pères (1985)

This is the first novel by François Nourissier that I've read, and I doubt that it'll be my last. Nourissier writes in a very austere style that evidently doesn't appeal to many people, although I have no problems with that.

The narrator here is just called N., a very successful fifty-seven-year-old writer who's been separated from his wife Sabine for a few years and has a nineteen-year-old son, Lucas. On the face of it the novel seems to be about N.'s (non-)relationship with Lucas, whom he meets regularly for a restaurant meal or whatever, but fails in any way to relate to his son: conversation impossible. But Lucas and this lack of communication with him obsesses N.

But much of the physical – as opposed to psychological – material in the novel is away from Lucas: it is based in the Germanic town B. (which may well represent Bonn), where N. has been invited to give an important talk about his work. N. is nervous in his hotel before the occasion and has a few whiskies from the mini-bar, along with a few amphetamines.

Before the grand speech N. meets Nicole Lapeyrat, whom he knew as Nicole Henner before she met Silvain Lapeyrat. N. helps himself to more drink and (surreptitiously) more speed, and Nicole helps to prevent N.'s speech from being a disaster. Later the dinner is at the Lapeyrat home, and it is during the dinner that N.'s relationship with Nicole seventeen years before comes out, and the suggestion that the sixteen-year-old Bérénice, Nicole's daughter, is N.'s.

Flashback to seventeen years before, when N. had a one-year affair with Nicole, at a time when Sabine was hospitalised following the birth of Lucas, who spent the time in an incubator. And after N. split with Nicole he returned very briefly to her, although left when learning that she had met someone else. And when he returned it's possible Bérénice (surely named after Aragon's novel Aurélie that N. had introduced Nicole to?) was a result of that occasion: the dates tie up. But then, the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel said paternity is only adoption, as the narrator notes. Is that an excuse?

The drunken N. isn't even escorted to his hotel from the dinner but driven there in a taxi, and yet he expects to see Nicole or Bérénice waiting goodbye to him at the train station when he returns to Paris, but no. This is a novel of solitude, lack of communication, ageing and bad parenting. If Nourissier intended the reader to be sympathetic to N., it's hard to see how.

13 May 2020

Joseph Hague in Whitfield and Old Glossop

Joseph Hague (1695-1786) was born in Chunel near Charlestown, and although he came from a poor family he made a fortune selling cotton yarn when he moved to London. In the 1770s he retired to the area where he was born and built Park House in Little Hayfield. He built a school in what is now Hague Street in Whitfield in 1779, which became known as The Whitfield Endowed School. It closed in 1925, was later divided into two flats, and at the time of writing the property is for sale. Hague's tomb lies in Glossop parish churchyard.



11 May 2020

Arnaud Maïsetti: Bernard-Marie Koltès (2018)

Arnaud Maïsetti's Bernard-Marie Koltès is an enormous advance on Brigitte Salino's previous work on Koltès, and must be the definitive biography of the playwright. Although it contains much information on Koltès's work, it would be a mistake to call it a critical biography. Rather, its essential focus is on the reasons for and the amount of work involved in Koltès's plays, their genesis and each one's relevance to the main body of his oeuvre.

Maïsetti, whose principal interest is in theatre, covers all of Koltès's plays plus his only novel, Fuite à cheval très loin dans la ville, and his few short stories. What we have here is the development of the artist, of an essentially self-taught, original and major writer, a perfectionist who disowned his earlier plays, but which Minuit published after his early death from AIDS.

Travel is an important factor in Koltès's work, and it wouldn't be inaccurate to speak (but only in summary terms) of Combat de nègre et de chiens as his African play, Quai ouest as his outsider New York play, Fuite à cheval as his heroin work, etc: what he wrote was in essence autobiographical, pared down, Beckettian – although his influences were many.

To me, Koltès was an intellectual who refused to recognise himself as an intellectual, a supreme artist who lived on the edge, thrived on the edge, thrived on an existential and intellectual tightrope, a person of alarming honesty both to others and to himself. We are very lucky to have his work, and Minuit deserves full credit for publishing it.

Vernon Sullivan (Boris Vian): Et on tuera tous les affreux | To Hell with the Ugly (1948)

This edition, discovered in a boîte à lire in Bergues (Nord), is by 'Vernon Sullivan' but has Boris Vian on the cover. Of course, the title page states that it's by Sullivan and translated by Vian, although we all know it's written by Vian posing as the translator of an imaginary American author. As can be expected, this is a pretty zany story, the first sentence of which begins, and I translate: 'Being hit on the head is nothing. Being drugged on two separate occasions on the same evening isn't too painful... But going out for a breath of air and finding yourself in an unfamiliar room, with a woman, both of you in Adam and Eve gear, begins to get a bit much. As for what happened to me after that...'

And so begins a detective story mixed with strong overtones of science fiction and eugenics. Here we have kids, such as the very handsome, famously athletic and intentionally a virgin- until-he's-twenty Rocky, the narrator, surrounded by his mates and girls of the same age lusting after his flesh until he's suddenly hurtled into a world of murder, mystery, sex and sinister science. And he soon (massively) loses his virginity six months before time.

We have the disappearances of young girls, the creation of a new breed of super-beautiful people, a desire to destroy ugliness from the world, but also a desire for enormous power. But if everyone were beautiful what possible meaning would beauty have, and would it be a good thing?

The Mottram Frog Stone, Roe Cross, Mottram in Longdendale, Tameside, Greater Manchester

'The Mottram Frog Stone
During the construction of
Mottram Deep Cutting (1814-1826), a
stonemason split a piece of stone and discovered
the outline of a frog or toad. It is believed that it
crawled into a cavity in the stone through a
small crack, then fed on insects until it was
too large to escape. Sucessive generations
have marked the stone to
keep the story alive.'

This plaque couldn't be a traditional red one (for history) because it's a part of folklore, an unfounded tale that nevertheless is part of the fabric of the area. The stone itself is said to be regularly repainted, although when I came along it wasn't too recognisable as a frog.

Brown Trout, Glossop

A family of brown trout has appeared in Shelf Brook, Manor Park, Derbyshire. And they are quite an attraction in these confinement days.

6 May 2020

Bird Watching in the Time of Confinement

Confinement changes perception, forces people to look more closely at things within a shorter distance from them as their movements are considerably limited. So a local park – in this instance Manor Park, Glossop – takes on a different light. Not only is watching the water very soothing, but it's interesting watching the wildlife watching the water or drinking from it. Here we have a grey heron looking for fish, and a grey wagtail – often confused with the yellow wagtail – finding food in a clump of vegetation.


2 May 2020

The Fairy Woods, Buckshaw Village, Lancashire, and RMG

In a blow to the fake management, mafia-style Residential Management Group (RMG) ruling over much of Buckshaw Village, Lancashire, following residents' protests against RMG's insistence that the 'Fairy Village' in the woods created by local children should be destroyed, RMG have caved in and allowed the artwork to remain. But only until deconfinement. RMG's puny argument was that the woods are ancient and that a few nails would harm the trees. Anyone who is familiar with RMG's tactics will know that the real reason has something to do with the company making a profit somewhere. Meanwhile, a few images kindly provided by Rhys Lomacks and Rachael Simm, and I hope that other people will send me more. The article in the Lancashire Post is here.