29 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Juste Ciel (2015)

The fictional Albert Moindre has received a number of brief mentions in Éric Chevillard's other novels, and moindre is one of Chevillard's favourite words, but this is the first time he's had the role of protagonist. Here too we learn – in an obscure paragraph which doesn't spell things out but relies on the reader's attention and knowledge of his previous novel L'Auteur et moi – that the 'author' didn't in fact kill him. Although Albert is in fact dead.

Yes, Moindre has been killed in a road accident in which he collided with an olive and dates delivery vehicle, and now speaks as a disembodied voice or ghost, someone waiting to discover his fate as he adapts to no longer having a body, although he still feels the contours of the human he was, and of course he's now a citizen of no country and his 'language' is international.

Generally speaking, as with Chevillard's later books –  I think – there's more of a narrative, and this novel is even divided into five different sections, the final four (following the 'introductory' section) actually being named:

The first is 'Bureau des Élucidations', in which Albert talks to a female – he thinks  voice with a sense of humour: the sign on the door says 'Come in without knocking', and of course Moindre can't knock anyway as he has no body – just a little friendly joke. Albert soon learns that these 'people' know absolutely everything about all the dead, even tiny, apparently insignificant details, all the thoughts the dead have had in life, all the people they've known or unknowingly crossed paths with, even the dreams they've had. He learns that his estranged wife Palmyre once tried to move back in with him with their daughter Sidonie, but as he was in a drunken stupor he didn't answer the door so missed his chance. Back in the sky, he has already met Clarisse, an American who died at one hundred years of age, and who discovers to her horror that the title of Miss Colorado 1931 was rigged for another girl to win.

Together, Clarisse and Albert move to the next section – 'Observatoire' – where they can see anyone they choose to see down on Earth. This is the perfect opportunity for Chevillard to indulge in his love of lists, as Albert zaps through all his former school pals to find out what they're doing. He also sees that Sidonie has his ashes in her room, and can predict that her latest boyfriend will soon die of a heart attack, and although he can tell that Sidonie isn't really serious about him, the young guy is serious about her.

'Service des Réclamations' is where the recently dead go to complain about all the injustices they have received on Earth, and is another chance for Chevillard to let loose about another of his favourite things: saying how completely screwed up the whole world is. Albert rants and rants about the world being run by idiots who make everything hopeless for everyone else, how life is out of joint, there are so many things that need changing. The voice will see what she can do.

The final section is 'Service des Rétributions', where we discover what has been decided. One of Albert's complaints was that he was born several decades too late: when visiting a cemetery one day when he was alive, he notices the grave of an Adèle Mage (1881-1900) and becomes fully convinced that she was the person who should have been his ideal partner. He even writes a book of poems about her, although the injustice that it was never published angers and deeply hurts him. But the voice tells him that the book has been examined and discovered to be rubbish and for this, er, 'crime' he will be punished by being returned to the body he was obviously so unhappy living in.

Those who control the dead can also control time and 'when?' is a question totally alien to them: they can send people back to earth before a disaster happens, and so can prevent it from happening;  in fact they've been emotionally moved by Clarisse's story and sent her back to the States to become Miss Colorado 1931.

Albert learns that he can in fact be sent back to France and his fatal accident avoided. But that isn't quite going to happen. Albert was an expert on transporter bridges and there is due to be serious trouble at Biscaye. Albert asks why they don't send Ferdinand Arnodin (1845-1924), the man who invented transporter bridges. No, these people also have the power to give a person another life as a completely different person: so Albert re-joins the world as Ferdinand Arnodin!

27 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: L'Auteur et moi | The Author and Me (2012)

Éric Chevillard's L'Auteur et moi is his eighteenth novel for Minuit, although it's more like two novels. The narrator is Blaise, who incessantly and maniacally tells (maybe harangues is more the word) a female stranger at a terrasse de café about having ordered trout with almonds (his favourite) but received cauliflower gratin (which he detests with a vengeance) instead: this is the subject of the book, and Blaise shows himself as more than a little insane by the way he obsesses about the mistake. His female victim is not known to say a single word throughout the verbal delivery.

But this is only half the story, if we can call it that: there are forty footnotes in the 299-page book written by the 'author', the person who has created the narrator, and the purpose of these are often to point out the differences between the author and his creation: for instance, the author finds him right-wing, probably homophobic and pro-death sentence, boorish, bombastic, etc. But then, the 'author' hates cauliflower gratin and trout with almonds too: there are some definite similarities between the two, er, characters.

The book within the book begins at footnote 26 (page 115) and ends on page 221: yes, one footnote lasts a whole 106 pages, more than a third of a book already containing long footnotes. Some of the footnotes apart from number 26 appear to be autobiographical, mentioning the death of Chevillard's father, the fact that he doesn't have a driving licence or a mobile phone, is essentially asocial, etc. But footnote 26 is a story in itself.

The author of the huge footnote 26 is escaping from the police, apparently, because of the absence of one Albert Moindre, who is dead, and maybe the writer of this footnote killed him: he certainly pushed a guy to his death in a canal, and then visited the Moindre parents, is welcomed by them, and starts living in the Moindre parents' house and is treated as a son until the cauliflower gratin intervenes and he's thought to be the murderer of their real son. (Albert Moindre appears several times in Chevillard's books, and the word moindre itself frequently recurs throughout his novels, as do various versions of cheville, but that's another story.)

So what can the author do for survival (a strong theme in Chevillard's work)? Obviously, go chasing after an ant (which one critic believes is Chevillard himself), and he's soon joined by a girl called Pimoe, an anteater escaped from a circus, and a young boy escaping from his mother. Does all this make sense? Well, this is all very Chevillard: humorous, puzzling, fascinating and well worth another read (or two, or three, or...).

24 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Mourir m'enrhume (1987)

Mourir m'enrhume is Éric Chevillard's first novel, published when he was twenty-three, and is in some ways his least accessible. Chevillard first sent Minuit's editor of the time Jérôme Lindon a copy of a poem, although Lindon told Chevillard (who doesn't like novels) that the novel is the only option to take. Chevillard learned his lesson and has now produced twenty-three novels with Minuit (as well as many books by other publishers), although he's never actually produced a conventional novel, and in effect that would be a slightly odd description of his Minuit productions, although the same could of course be said for a number of other Minuit writers.

Mourir m'enrhume is a humorous book, although it concerns the dying eighty-year-old Monsieur Théo, who has moved home to be cared by Suzie Plock, the widow of his friend Martial.  He is regularly visited by the young Lise, who reads to him and confuses céleri with salsifis, 'as everyone does', writes Chevillard, who is obviously interested in paronamasia.

Some have called this novel a prose poem. Others are nonplussed by the almost surreal nature of the work, such as the fact that swans are called camels with water at their balls, or turtles called soup in reverse. Lise reads that the inhabitants of Lumajang solve their rat problem in the rice fields by stitching up some of the rats' anuses, so sending them crazy and taking their dying frustrations out on the unstitched rats: problem over. Monsieur Théo and Lise are inspired: this is an easy murder weapon to hide, not like a revolver: you can hide a needle in any wooden groove.

Chevillard takes some getting used to, many give up on him, but I find this writer one of the most fascinating I've ever come across.

23 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Préhistoire | Prehistoric Times (1994)

Éric Chevillard's Préhistoire, set in the fictional La Grotte de Pales, is obviously based on a tourist site such as La Grotte de Lascaux, Montignac-Lascaux, in Dordogne, where there are caves with, er, prehistoric paintings: a definition of 'pre-historic' is given by the unnamed narrator of this novel as being before the written word.

In Brian Evenson's review of the book in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 4 (1995) he calls this sixth novel 'difficult yet satisfying', with a 'semblance of a plot, but a plot reduced to its bare bones'. The narrator is a guide and guard to this per-historic site, being an archaeologist who has had his kneecap shattered in a fall. Professor Glatt (an expert on Pales along with his learned opponent Opole, an equally fictional expert Chevillard mentions in passing in several books) is expecting the narrator to re-open the site after the death of the previous guide Boborikine, whose ill-fitting uniform he has inherited, and which Boborikine in turn inherited from Crescenzo, who only had one leg.

There are a number of absurd pages about the uniform, which includes a hat and pair of shoes too, one of which Crescenzo had no need of, so the pair consists of one badly used shoe and one in good condition, and, oh it's too long to explain.

Chevillard is of course noted for his digressions, and several pages here are devoted to the biography of Nicolas Appert (1749-1841), born in Châlons-en-Champagne (then called Châlons-sur-Marne) and the inventor of food preservation, sterilising by heating in hermetic containers; he established a factory in Massy using this process, which was the first of its kind in the world. Chevillard doesn't mention that the town now celebrates his existence by the huge Statue-colonne Nicolas Appert, and a room in the Musee des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie.

20 June 2020

Life Goes on: a Mallard and Her Brood, Glossop, Derbyshire

It's early Saturday morning and there are very few people about in Wren's Nest Retail Park, Glossop, Derbyshire. A mallard discreetly feeds her brood of ten on the path by the car park: a wonderful sight. Sadly, few from the brood will survive: much as the mother strives to protect her young, predators such as herons are waiting for when they can swoop down and take their prey. Humans are often harmful too, feeding birds bread, which not only bloats but can cause serious bone injuries to mallards and other birds. It is wholly selfish to feed birds bread when food for birds is openly available. Mallards also go for seedless grapes and chopped lettuce.









19 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Ronce-Rose (2017)

Ronce-Rose is a surprisingly relatively conventional narrative novel, although not without some oddities and many digressions, often in the form of the narrator's thoughts. Ronce-Rose is a young girl, perhaps about ten or eleven years old, who lives with her father (or perhaps uncle) Mâchefer, whose best friend is Bruce, and they are a couple of robbers specialising in banks, jewellers and service stations. And the novel is told by her and entirely from her point of view, although the language (if not the perception) comes from a more mature person's viewpoint.

The description of the story by Ronce-Rose, or Ronce, or Rose, is told in a childlike way but paradoxically also in another very adult-like fashion, frequently including words that Mâchefer has taught her: she hasn't received a state education, only learning from what Mâchefer has taught her, and she treasures the words she has learned. But she doesn't seem to be aware of the nature of  Mâchefer and Bruce's jobs, and is more interested in the tit bird family in the tree near her room. Her neighbours, the witch Scorbella and the one-legged man, also interest her.

And then Mâchefer and Bruce disappear for longer than they have been gone for before and she decides she must look for them, popping into the café, visiting the fountain in town, all the time writing (as her private diary is almost a character here), all the time searching for Mâchefer and his frequent disguises, all the time leaving chalk marks revealing where she's been so she can be traced by him.

In a shop window she sees a television clip of the police killing Mâchefer and Bruce but believes it's a completely different fictional film played by lookalikes, so continues her search, which leads to her eventually being taken back home, back to where she started, and where she must wait for Mâchefer.

The 'publisher' states that her notebook ends there, and that the mummified body of Rose as an old woman was discovered by chance, with chalked arrows all around her house.

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

Juvenile Pied Wagtail, Glossop, Derbyshire

I knew this was a pied wagtail, but with a yellow face? Yes, it's normal with juveniles. Confinement is a real education.

18 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Un fantôme (1995)

Two years after La Nébuleuse du Crabe (1993), 'starring' the polymorphous Crab, came Un fantôme, which also 'stars' the character Crab. A character like Crab of course can be expected in a novel by Chevillard – which isn't in any way a conventional novel (again, as is expected), being a collection of often contradictory observations about Crab. In his article 'Crab ou la pêche au gros' in the multi-authored Poétiques de l'indéterminé : le caméléon au propre et au figuré (1999) edited by Valérie-Angélique Deshoulières, Pierre Jourde suggests Palafox (of the eponymous novel of 1990) and Furne (of Le Caoutchouc décidement (1992)) are avatars of Crab.

Un fantôme is full of paradoxes, of absurdities. Crab takes out a plaster in a paper wrapper, can't open it, tries to bite into it without success, sets scissors to it, cuts his finger, then manages to open it and applies the plaster to his cut finger. Crab seems to have always existed and to have invented everything, be everyman, or rather everyone who has ever existed, is so fertile that he can make women pregnant just by brushing past them, make animals pregnant, even the sea, etc. Un fantôme abounds in surrealism and Crab can sculpt fire, joins queues not to buy anything but just to give himself a sense of being alive, and so on. Normality is seen almost as a disease, and there's a huge amount wrong with the world as it's been given to us.

Un fantôme is also about writing and survival, two major themes of Chevillard's work, which often has endless sentences. For instance there's a story within a story within a story within a story: Crab is accosted at a dinner party by a big guy who insults him for no reason, so Crab calmly mentions that the day before when he was walking along the street a car pulled up and a medium-sized guy got out and started insulting him, appearing to want a fight, and Crab calmly told the guy that the day before he was sitting at a café terrasse when a dwarf knocked his chair over and start hitting him for no reason, but Crab calmly told him that the previous day he was peacefully smoking his pipe when a mosquito began to buzz around with the intention of biting him but he just put his hands around it and splat! The guy at the dinner function made his apologies.

Crab is famous, well known by everyone and constantly receives unsolicited mail, but then he's the fall guy, or is anonymous, shunned by all around him. Crab is everyone and everything, and when he dies he'll come back and haunt you. Forever.

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

Éric Chevillard: Le Désordre azerty (2014)

Le Désordre azerty obviously refers to the French keyboard (in the English model: 'qwerty'), and in fact the sections in the novel are written in that order – the way the keyboard goes from left to right, left to right, left to right. The structure of the book – and it certainly has a rudimentary structure – takes a word beginning with a letter from the azerty keyboard: so obviously the novel has twenty-six sections. And although the content in these sections doesn't have a particular order, several of Chevillard's obsessions or preoccupations (animals, the state of the world, paradox, writing, etc) are quite clear from the words illustrated. This is almost certainly the most autobiographical of Chevillard's novels so far.

We begin with 'Aspe', which the narrator says he is annoyed to find he doesn't know the meaning of: although he doesn't mention it, 'aspe' is in fact a word for reel, as in cotton reel, film reel, etc. 'Aspe' comes slightly after 'asocial', which of course refers to a lack of adaptation to social life, as might perhaps to some extent be a reference to Chevillard himself.

I think ten pages here is the maximum for each section, and even the second one – 'Zoo' (Chevillard of course being highly interested in animals of all kinds, including insects) – only has seven pages, although it's a great opportunity for Chevillard to make one of his beloved lists. 'Ennemi' (nine pages) has a typical paradoxical statement of an enemy, which reminded me of Sartre saying in Reflexions sur la question juive that anti-Semites love to have a Jewish friend: 'il aime paradoxalement mais avidement ce qu'il n'aime pas': 'Paradoxically he loves what he doesn't love'.

'L'Origine' (eight pages) is a chance for  Chevillard to launch into a criticism of modern life, of humanity heading towards the void: our technological progress is in fact leading to our suicide. No names, though: Chevillard remains apolitical as usual. He prefers to look towards the past, to prehistory, for solace.

This novel is full of Chevillard's usual wonders, but perhaps 'Quinquagéniare' (ten pages) is the most interesting as he talks about himself, giving a list of things he's done in the fifty years of his life so far, and it has a definite smack of Georges Perec's Je me souviens.

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

15 June 2020

Deirdre Bair: Samuel Beckett: A Biography (1978)

Deirdre Bair's PhD was on Beckett, so she obviously knows her subject, this was the first biography on the writer and he wasn't opposed to its publication, and this is certainly a thorough work on the man's life and his work. It's excellent in many ways, but although I reviewed Anthony Cronin's work earlier neither of the books are up to the standard of James Knowlson's biography, which I've yet to read.

Unfortunately this book is spoiled by errors, and not just a few but many. OK, Bair didn't know that Beckett was beaten several times by Alfred Le Peton at Earlsfort House School. But sometimes she says weird things: for instance, Montpellier had a population of a little under 100,000 in the fifties, and yet she calls it a 'romote village'. I ask myself what her understanding of the French language and culture was (she died this April), because many of the things she writes border on the willfully sloppy, with accents either non-existent or all over the place: how about the truly bizarre 'Il nous ailes en culer a la gloire'?; there are two references to a certain '[Jean] Genêt'; she confuses 'mec' with 'mac' and says it mean pimp; she manages the cedilla in 'Academie Française', but not the acute on the 'e'; Jean-Pierre Jouve is just 'Jouve, Pierre' in the index, etc, etc. Occasionally dramatic or odd adjectives are used: Beckett doesn't just fall into a mechanic's pit but 'drop[s] six terrifying feet' (my emphasis), and why are the women knocking on the elderly and married Beckett's door in Germany called 'nubile'?

I'll read the Knowlson in due course.

My Samuel Beckett posts:
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Anthony Cronin: Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist
Samuel Beckett: En Attendant Godot | Waiting for Godot
Francisco Pérez Navarro: Galería de moribundos
Deirdre Bair: Samuel Beckett: A Biography
Samuel Beckett, 14e arrondissement

Signs of Summer, Glossop, Derbyshire

Signs of summer. Manor Park was heaving yesterday but Glossop Cemetery was almost empty. A peaceful place to be. A small tortoiseshell butterfly feeds on a few flowers there.

14 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Palafox (1990)

This is Éric Chevillard's third novel, the earliest of his I've read, and is just as weird and delightful as any of his others. Animals are once more not only present but to the fore, particularly one of them, as are learned animal experts, all four of them fictitious this time.

At Algernon's table, where he sits with his daughter Maureen and his future son-in-law Chancelade there's an egg which suddenly hatches and a creature which will undergo many metamorphoses and different sizes is born. After some deliberation they call it Palafox after the (real) Duke of Saragossa, who bravely defended Saragossa in 1806. Why? Well, why not, but it was decided on the toss of a coin.

The animal specialists are the entomologist Pierpont, the herpetologist Baruglio, the zoologist Zeigler (who makes several later appearances in Chevillard's novels) and the ichthyologist Cambrelin, all of whom know each other well but don't always get on with one another. Needless to say, Palafox is a mystery to them.

He's a mystery to everyone, although Olympie, who's looking after him and tending to his Gargantuan appetite, gets on well enough with him, and Palafox tolerates her. Until, that is, he escapes and wreaks havoc with the neighbouring world, a festival of mass killing. After he's caught the family watch his brutal fight with a kingfisher (Merlin), his wooing of his former potential mate Merline, and his hour-long copulation with her. Then Palafox wounds Chancelade and something must be done with him.

So Algernon castrates him, hoping to calm his anger, but this doesn't work. After much deliberation, the now prize-winning, leonine Palafox bites a distinguished guest's pet dog's head off and destroys all of china expert Algernon's precious collection. One step too far. Reading Chevillard is like visiting another world, one far removed from, say, Balzac.

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

7 June 2020

Ernest Pérochon: Nêne (1920)

I don't think it would be false to describe the almost forgotten Ernest Pérochon (1885-1942) as a regional writer. He first made a living as a primary teacher, and later as a novelist, born in Coudray in the north-west of Deux-Sèvres near La Vendée, and died in Niort, also in Deux-Sèvres.  This novel won the Goncourt in 1920 and is set in the Coudray area, where there are still Catholic and dissenters living as described in the novel, dating back many years.

The plot largely concerns the farmer Michel Corbier, a dissenter who is left a widower at the age of thirty, has two young children, and employs the twenty-seven-year-old dissenter Madeleine (the Nêne of the title), who goes out of her way to look after Michel's children almost as her own, and they in turn treat her almost as their own mother. She certainly has unexpressed sexual feelings towards Michel.

This is a novel of insane hatred and a violence not directly caused by the aggressor, but by his psychological scheming, by his lies. Boiseriot is a Catholic who has worked for Corbier, is spreading lies that Madeleine and Michel have an 'illicit' relationship, and is delighted when his plans go absolutely according to plan. The fact that he encouraged Madeleine's brother to get drunk until he loses his arm in a threshing machine and makes light of his implications in confession, knowing that the priest he's chosen won't ask further questions, is just part of his evil machinations.

He has a twenty-year-old beautiful god-daughter Madelon (also of course a Catholic), whom Madeleine's brother intended to marry. And then Michel meets her and is immediately smitten. He is prepared to abandon his religion to marry her, which he does, and which forces Madeleine out of the house.

When Madeleine returns to see the children just two weeks after the marriage they have all but forgotten her, which drives the knife further into her heart. The deep pond is near.

The Pérochon family left the author's house to the town of Niort on the condition that it be used for cultural purposes, and it is now open with photographic displays: La Villa Pérochon.

6 June 2020

Éric Chevillard: Dino Egger (2011)

Éric Chevillard specialises in nothingness, or rather in absence, and in a sense the novel Dino Egger is a hymn, or elegy, to absence. What would the world be without Plato, Pythagoras, Shakespeare, Newton, Marx, Einstein, Cervantes, Rembrandt, Archimedes, Columbus, and so on? We don't know, we have no idea. But then, what if Dino Egger had existed? What would the world have looked like then? He could have changed the world! But again, he didn't exist, so he didn't change the world.

Nevertheless this novel hinges on hypothesis, and charnière (the French for hinge) is one of Chevillard's favourite words. We move into Perec territory, as in Les Choses, into the past conditional tense, of what would have or could have been. And the narrator Albert Moindre – who has played a bit part or a walk-on part in some of Chevillard's previous novels – plays on the possibilities to the full: Dino Egger could have lived anywhere in the world at any time, could have been repsonsible for for n number of inventions, could have changed the world in so many ways. So Moindre goes in search of him, goes all over the world researching, digging deep into archives without enjoying the places he's visiting.

About halfway through the book there's a twenty-two page section from a kind of diary, a record that could have been written by Dino Egger. It seems to be about a secret plot to change the world in some (unspecified) way, and people belonging to this society have died in the process. But the only things that are mentioned are everyday activities that anyone else might do, and people (such as someone riding a bike and carrying a fishing rod, or a woman carrying a bag from the chemist's) are seen as threatening.

Dino Egger is of course another of Éric Chevillard's exercises in the absurd, a paradoxical world in which commonsense is nonsense, and vice versa, ending in the narrator becoming the man who doesn't exist: as ever, pure unadulterated pleasure from Chevillard.

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

3 June 2020

George Sand: La Petite Fadette (1849)

Just a few years before writing this novel George Sand wrote to Jules Michelet describing herself as a 'utopian', and certainly there is something of that in this book. Sand wrote it in her home in Nohant, Berry, retreating from the 1948 revolution in Paris, and it's one of her 'romans champêtres', taking place in a pastoral setting and containing a number of expressions of the area.

She'd had an idea to call the novel 'Les Bessons' ('The Twins'), although she thought that although a great number of people would have understood the word, Parisians wouldn't have, (and presumably the more common 'Les Jumeaux' would have been unsatisfactory because it wouldn't have suggested the Berry vocabulary). Certainly much of the focus of the book is about the relationship between the identical twins Landry and Sylvinet Barbeau: only identical physically in the early stages but mentally as time goes on Landry is seen as more independent, outgoing and strong, whereas Sylvinet is mentally weaker, introverted, dependent on Landry and separation from him has such an effect that his mother fears for his sanity.

The split between the twins comes when Landry is chosen, at the  age of fourteen, to leave the parental farm and live on a neighbouring one. This is torture to Sylvinet, who is jealous of Landry's new life, of the new friends he finds, in spite of Landry returning to the parents' farm on Sundays. Sylvinet is in such a state of turmoil that he runs from home and hides away, Landry goes to find him, but he's in none of their old haunts. And this is where the book takes a vital turn.

There's a nearby house where the old Fadet lives, and she's rumoured to be a witch, but she doesn't know where Sylvinet is. She lives with her grand-daughter Fanchon, or 'La Petite Fadette', who is disrespected because she's 'masculine', ugly, dirty, has dark skin and is said to have the witch gene. Her mother left her parents to run off with a soldier. She knows where Sylvinet is, but to find out Landry has to promise to grant her any wish she chooses: he has no choice, and uncannily his brother is exactly where she says.

It's some time before Fanchon reveals her wish: she wants Landry to dance only with her at the local dance, which means that he can't dance with the beautiful Madelon, who has the hots for him. And they are both insulted: Landry for inexplicably monopolising the local scarecrow witch, and Fanchon for what she is. She leaves Landry and tells him to dance with whoever he likes.

Landry follows her and finds her crying. And so begins a long, secret and innocent love story between Fanchon (who has something of the 'masculine' George Sand about her) and Landry. Fanchon though is no easy catch as she doesn't believe Landry is serious: he can't possibly want to marry her? That would be difficult as Landry's father thinks she's trash.

Fanchon decides to go to work in town for one or two years to repair her reputation, but returns after a year as her grandmother has died. Landry sees her in secret, and she's developed into a rather different person, and of course they still love each other. Meanwhile Sylvinet is wasting away, and Landry has been sent to another farm.

Fanchon secretly visits Barbeau as she can't understand what her grandmother has left her, makes him swear he'll not tell anyone, and it transpires that she's richer than him: grand-mother Fadet hardly spent anything but saved almost all her customers had paid her for over the decades. Barbeau makes sure Landry knew nothing about this, so loved Fanchon for what she is, and then visits the town to inquire about Fanchon's behaviour. He's not only pleased that Fanchon wasn't pregnant, but that everyone has very good words to say of her. Sounds like the marriage is on.

Which of course it is, but Sylvinet is getting worse, although the magic Fanchon soon cures him. In the end there's a double wedding joining the two farms, although Sylvinet goes off to become a successful officer.

My George Sand posts:
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La Maison de George Sand, Nohant-Vic, Indre
George Sand in Paris: Literary Île-de-France #49
George Sand: La Petite Fadette
Norma Tessum Onda, St Maurice, La Rochelle
George Sand and Le Moulin d'Angibault, Montipouret, Indre

1 June 2020

Richard Yates: The Easter Parade (1976)

'The whole point of crying was to quit before you cornied it up. The whole point of grief itself was to cut it out while it was still honest, while it still meant something. Because the thing was so easily corrupted: let yourself go and you started embellishing your own sobs'.

This is from Revolution Road (1961), Richard Yates's first novel. Without spending hours trying to work out who was the first person to use the expression 'cornied it up', I'm going for that person as Yates, one of the key literal sleuths of the spectrum of middle America, the honest but cruel (because honest) dissector of the social malaise throughout the modern age, the spokesperson for a particular America, and by extension perhaps America as a whole. Yates is at his best when analysing social problems, often small problems, ones unnoticed by others because too small. The example above is known by us all, male or female, when we want to rub in the drama queen mentality, and it really makes no difference if we're seen or not: we always play to an audience, real or imaginary. What is essential to note here is the basic falseness that can come from crying too much, from overacting, although we're often not too sure when we're behaving that way.

I once had a relative who had a friend who, on learning that my relative has a neighbour who wanted to borrow a book of his, refused to go along with the request because 'she seems like the kind of person who licks her thumb before turning the pages.' Personally, I've always had an aversion to such people, and have every sympathy with this objection.

On page 34 of the Vintage Classics re-publication of Yates's The Easter Parade, the protagonist Emily notes this of her mother Pookie:

'Pookie would slowly, absently wipe her thumb against her moist lower lip and then wipe the thumb against the lower right-hand corner of each page, for easier turning; it left the corners of all the pages wrinkled and faintly smeared with lipstick. And tonight she had eaten fudge, which meant there would be fudge as well as lipstick on the pages.' In horror, Emily has to leave this scene.

Emily has an older sister, Sarah, more conventional and who marries a man, Tony, who physically abuses her for twenty years, although she goes along with it – he's the only man she's physically known (and after marriage too), and their three kids complicate things: so she drowns her sorrows in alcohol and continues married, relatively far from NCY on the northern tip of Long Island. She leads a lower-middle-class existence.

Emily, on the other hand, is the educated liberated sister, casually losing her virginity on a one-night-stand and following up with a string of sexual relationships that mean little to her, even (especially?) the PhD student she very briefly marries and who turns out to be not only almost impotent (despite lessons from the shrink) but howling mad! Emily doesn't know what love is, but she knows when she's happy or otherwise.

Tragically, the alcoholic Sarah dies of cirrhosis of the liver – but also from a fall which her husband may have been responsible for, but how can anyone know?