31 August 2016

Nina Bouraoui: Mes mauvaises pensées (2005)

In a 2006 MA thesis by Karla Martinez on identity in Nina Bouraoui's Garçon Manqué and Mes mauvaises pensées, she mentions a number of other writers in relation to self-representation: Nelly Arcan, Christine Angot, Annie Ernaux, Hervé Guibert (mentioned – significantly – a number of times in the novel), Camille Laurens and Marie-Sissi Labrèche. But rather differently from the other writers, Bouraoui's Mes mauvaises pensées looks – superficially at least – like an experimental novel: it's one long (269-page) internal monologue with not a single paragraph break.

And it superficially (although only superficially) appears to be spoken to a psychiatrist, as if it were a series of sessions held together in a breathless narrative. In fact the novel probably deserves, to get the full benefit of it, to be read twice: once slowly to take in all that's being said, and then at breakneck speed to match the breathless nature of the narrative. I tried a mixture of both, although I imperfectly mentally captured the nature of this confession, this self-therapy through running over, inexhaustibly, events in the past, the double nature as both French and Algerian, growing up gay, being quite profoundly disturbed, the 'l'Amie' of Nina is clearly, as the cover photo indicates, a product of herself, a positive aspect viewed as healthy, therapeutic, as opposed to her negative thoughts of self-harm, of drowning. Nina is of course haunted, as the reader should inevitably be haunted by the book.

My other Nina Bouraoui posts:

Nina Bouraoui: Garçon manqué | Tomboy
Nina Bouraoui: Avant les hommes

26 August 2016

Attila the Stockbroker: Arguments Yard: My Autobiography (2015)

Some time ago I started to think that the Morning Star is England's (Britain's?) finest daily newspaper, especially now that the Guardian is New Labour (continued) and the Independent is, er, well I'm not too sure what it is. But after learning, in the Morning Star, of the existence of Marcus O'Dair's Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt, I now discover that Attila The Stockbroker has written his autobiography: Arguments Yard: My Autobiography: 35 Years of Ranting Verse and Thrash Mandola. And in so many ways it's brilliant. In fact so brilliant that I'll break with convention first and say what I don't like about it, or make tiny grouses about the few typos I noticed. I didn't know that Attila the Stockbroker coined his name because he used to be a clerk for about eighteen months for a firm of stockbrokers, and of course it was stultifyingly boring for him, but then what do you expect? His real name is John Baine, and I shall defy my conventional approach of referring to him by his first name rather than his surname not because he seems to be a lovely (if obviously full of faults) guy, certainly not because he has very similar political views to mine, not because I learned more about his knob than I really wanted to, but, well, just because he's that kind of guy. Anyway, the grouses:

– Right near the beginning of the book John mentions 'Playing golf or being otherwise dull' from the first line of his 'The Zen Stalinist Manifesto', but if I substituted 'golf' for 'football' I can see no difference at all: they both rot the brain (sorry, John, no personal familial allusion intended), and I'm a life-long enemy of any competition that can be avoided, and sport in virtually all forms is best avoided like capitalism, the stock market, imperialism, racism, homophobia, any form of hatred. In fact, sport breeds hatred: a few kids playing on a park, kicking a ball around and using their rucksacks as goalposts, fine, but much bigger that... No. (I admit Roy Harper's 'When an old cricketer leaves the crease' is one of my favourite songs, but then it's more about the real ale John loves, maybe the hallucinations caused by it...). 'New Labour just fuck off and die' is a beautiful line, but I feel the same about football if you substitute the word for 'New Labour'.

– Speaking of the word 'fuck', there are a number of inconsistencies in the book which I know can't be due to Cherry Red Books as they've published Zodiac Mindwarp's Fucked by Rock. 'Fucked' fully spelled, not the censored word 'f**k' that appears in this book perhaps the same number of times as the fully-spelled 'fuck'. Why self-censor, when everyone knows that 'f**k' means 'fuck' anyway? Who is John trying to protect, in an internet age, when 'fuck' is all over the place, just like in Crass lyrics? There's even one 'c**t' in Arguments Yard, although I don't think there's a single 'cunt' anywhere else in the book. And yes, sensibilities have changed enormously due to political correctness, etc, but anyone who knows about Attila the Stockbroker knows about his wonderful work with Rock Against Racism, and here we learn that he objected to (bizarrely anti-racist) 'White Power' tee-shirts in NZ, so why change the word 'nigger' printed in the first poetry book poem 'They must be...Russians' to 'ni**er'? Would John Baine have all the references to 'nigger' in Huck Finn changed to 'ni**er'? This is as insane as the hypocritical asterisks used in The Sun, a newspaper he so rightly condemns. 'They must be...Russians' uses the word 'nigger' as a third person insult, and obviously not an insult by John Blane to blacks. Leave history alone, it'll sort itself out.

– Ted Heath (one of my all-time favourite PMs) is described as a 'pompous git'. But Heath was cowed by the miners, was even a kind of Conservative communist, was much more left-wing than any Labour or Conservative leader (apart from Michael Foot) who has followed him into the woeful present; and certainly the most cultured. What has John against culture, and what, for instance, has he against the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), which still struggles on valiantly. Or, dare I say it, pompously?

– My German is more or less non-existent, but aren't there some diacritics missing? On the French side, certainly I doubt that Francois (as Attila writes) lacked a cedilla, although certainly Les Halles des Blés (mentioned twice) should have the acute accent I've given it, and the (double) absence suggests laziness, although John is without doubt far from lazy. But 'tour-come-holiday' instead of 'tour-cum-holiday' is unforgivable and clearly notes the lack of a decent proofreader (sorry Robina, much as you sound really, er, nice).

– 'Relatively sterile surroundings of a bookshop'. What? As a working-class kid (father a tobacco worker, mother a slave machinist in a textile factory run in Sherwood by Tory Martin Brandon-Bravo) with no books worth reading at home, my intellectual education came from the public library and independent bookshops. I can't say the grammar school education I received from High Pavement in Nottingham was at all inspiring, though. Does it make me pompous for being proud of earning a PhD in Literature?

– John Baine eats meat. Meat is murder. Come the socialist revolution, no one will eat meat.

There are, of course, far too many negatives above, but maybe paradoxically they indicate the huge scope of this book, which is a kind of history of the left-wing from eighties Britain to the present day: the Anti-Fascist League, the miners' strike, Red Wedge, the Poll Tax revolts, the Gulf War protests, even Corbyn's triumph gets a (late added, I'm sure) mention, etc. Through all of these, Attila the Stockbroker held a prominent position.

But prominent as that position may have been, Attila the Stockbroker still maintains an anti-celebrity stance. What does he care, as he's maintained a decent standard of living by playing throughout the world. Australia and New Zealand, the States (a bit), but most of all (and the most interesting part of the book) the transition from West and East Germany to one nation. His feelings are mixed on this: before unification, East Germany was unwholesomely polluted, but prices of basics were very cheap, there was no poverty and everyone had a job. After the fall of the Wall it was biscuit city for the capitalists and poverty and unemployment were rife. Go figure.

But Attila the Stockbroker is about words, and there are some choice ones here. He doesn't mention his triumphal song 'Maggots 1 Maggie 0',* although he does say 'You brought discord, error, doubt and despair, Thatcher, and those were the good bits. Rot in hell.' I agree: but what of Blair and Brown (the latter hypocritical bastard a real enemy of mine)? Of Blair, Attila says he'd like to see him cleaning the toilets at Glastonbury for ever: with his tongue.

This book is not one of hate, it's one of a love of music and the people who perform it, but also it's personal and contains much about John Baines's father and his step-father, but more about his mother (including a very long and very moving piece about her dying of Alzheimer's). Let's hope the bladder cancer thing was just a blip, and that Attila the Stockbroker goes on to live as long as wishes: this is a wonderful book, John Baine/Attila the Stockbroker is a national treasure, a modest and a generous man, although (with no criticism whatsoever intended) I have an idea that he knows it.

*This is a little odd though: in one of his Morning Star columns Attila the Stockbroker says it's not a good idea to suggest familiarity with Boris Johnson by calling him by his first name but he should be called 'Johnson' as it's American for 'knob'. 'Maggie', to me, has always suggested an uncomfortable cosiness, whereas 'Thatcher' rhymingly recalls 'milk snatcher', 'union basher', etc: much more fitting for a 'woman' (I have my doubts) who destroyed the country enough to allow her spiritual sons (Blair, Brown, etc) to virtually destroy all the work that the Attlee government had done to make Britain, er, great.

My other post on ranters:

John Cooper Clarke and John Prescott

23 August 2016

Roger Vailland: 325.000 francs (1955)

325.000 francs is Roger Vailland's sixth novel, and in a sense is a very working-class one, although Vailland himself wasn't a member of the working class. In very few books is the nature of working-class labour described, although here it is repeated like a litany. What strikes me – hard – about this book is that it is written by someone who is very concerned about the conditions of work in Oyonnax (in the novel called Bionnas), with its important plastics industry and the many injuries to workers.

For the communist Roger Vailland, then, is this a novel of political commitment? Hardly. The capitalist Jules Morel, owner of the firm Plastoform and Cité Morel, isn't the evil capitalist of left-wing sterotypes. But then nor is Bernard Busard (ah, more bird imagery as in Les mauvais Coups) anything like a working-class hero: under the thumb of his artificially-looking 'girlfriend' Marie-Jeanne – with whom he hasn't yet even had sex after eighteen months, and for whom the sexy and far more natural Juliette Doucet would be a far better match – Bernard slaves away to shape a capitalistically-envisaged future for the two of them.

Bernard sees this future as working in a snack-bar off the N7, and fantasises about running a whole series of snack-bars from Paris to Nice, each given a number relating to the number of miles covered from Paris. But to acquire the first one he needs 700,000 francs, of which he had to provide 325,000 of them. This he has to do by working extra hours (in tandem with Le Bressan, who is working for his own interests: or so it initially appears).

Vailland was inspired by seeing someone with an artificial hand in Oyonnax, the hand which holds the cards of the Tarot card game which he plays all day. Bernard becomes that person, who because handicapped is unsuited to running the N7 snack-bar and so runs a café in the town with his wife Marie-Jeanne. Until he returns to the plastics factory, that is.

Many of the themes in Les mauvais Coups are here, notably jealousy, although in this book it is Bernard's almost insane jealousy of Marie-Jeanne that impotently conquers. An important work, I think, but one which must certainly be viewed in the context of Vailland's total of nine novels, of which I've so far only read three.

My other Roger Vailland posts:

Roger Vailland: La Loi
Roger Vailland: Les mauvais Coups

21 August 2016

Roger Vailland: Les mauvais Coups (1948)

There are a number of autobiographical elements in Les mauvais Coups, Roger Vailland's second novel. Certainly there is something of himself in the protagonist Milan, of his first wife Andrée Blavette (or Boule) in Roberte, of his dear friend the poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte in Octave (who doesn't appear here but is mentioned), and of course there's much drinking and a whole chapter is devoted to reckless gambling.

Milan (French for the kite bird of prey) is actually married to Roberte (whom he dreams of as a violent bird), although he doesn't believe in marriage, believes in freedom, believes in having lovers as he pleases, they have no real significance (although one (Juliette) obviously was, which is why Roberte slapped her face). And what can be more, er, significant than suicide, as performed by Octave who had been having an affair with Roberte and kills himself over her, or Roberte's final drunken (or maybe not so drunken) act of driving into a swamp after (presumably) reading Milan's letter to the lovely and much younger Hélène? After fifteen years (Milan with Roberte) what is left of love, if that means a great deal after the dying of the burning passion? Is all that remains just, as the cover illustration indicates, Milan the hunter symbolically crushing the skull of a crow, as if it were Roberte's? No, he clearly shows that he knows there are various kinds of love.

Is love that first dying burn, like the burn of winning at the roulette or the chemin de fer table, the burn of shooting defenceless animals, or does it take a long time to grow, like Vailland's emotional maturity?

My other Roger Vailland posts:

Roger Vailland: La Loi
Roger Vailland: 325.000 francs

Laurence Cossé: La grande arche : roman (2016)

La Grande Arche is Laurence Cossé's novelised story of the building in La Défense, which was a commemoration of the bi-centenary of the French Revolution of 1789, and President François Mitterand's pride and joy. But the events surrounding the construction of it begin in 1983, six years before it was officially 'unveiled.

A rather obscure architect, Johan Otto von Speckelsen, was the winner of Tête-Défense prize, chosen to receive this great honour. Before la Grande Arche, 'Spreck' as most people seemed to call him, and indeed the name the author herself often chooses to call him, had only built his own family house and four modest churches in Denmark.

As the events of the book unfold, it becomes evident that the book is partly a biography of Spreck, partly a description of the nature of Denmark, and partly a description of what happens when two very different cultures collide.

And collide they do, as Spreck, ensconced with his wife in an apartment in Puteaux near La Défense, learns to his horror. Things just don't work out the way he planned, he moves back to Denmark, resigns from his own project (an unimaginable thing) a few years later, and dies two years before the full installation. It's amazing how Cossé manages to make such a riveting tale from this.

19 August 2016

Frédéric Mistral in Maillane (13)

The Centre Frédéri [sic] Mistral in Maillane, with an impressive bust of the poet at the side. Maillane is a small village, and is Frédéric Mistral: even the local Maison de Presse sells statuettes of Mireille (or should I say Mirèio – Provençal is quite rightly taken very seriously here). If this makes it sound like a tourist village, it certainly isn't as the streets were deserted, there wasn't a parking meter in sight, and the only car park I found was the one outside the cemetery. There is a bureau de tourisme (incidentally originally Mistral's second home after Le Mas du Juge), although it was closed at the time of our visit.

There are several plaques dedicated to Mistral (mostly in his third and last house) although as they're all in Provençal I won't attempt to make a hash of a translation.

And so to Mistral's final home, which became a museum in 1944 following the death of his wife the previous year. Due to serious work needed on the first floor it will probably be a few years before it's fully open again. I found the guided tour useful because knowledgeable, although at the same time it was horribly humourless and perfunctory. Another thing too: there is a number of (often recent) online images of the museum put up by visitors, but we weren't allowed to take any photos at all.

The magnificent memorial to Mistral in the garden of his home, dating from 1929, sculpted by J. Itier, and at the bottom at the back is a list of Mistral's works.

And finally, his elaborate grave in the cemetery in Maillane, a replica of the Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne in Les Baux, and which doesn't bear his name:

My Frédéric Mistral posts:
Frédéric Mistral at Le Mas du Juge
Frédéric Mistral: Mireille
Frédéric Mistral in Maillane
Le Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne, Les Baux-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Giniez, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral in Avignon
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Grambois
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Michel-l'Obsevatoire
Frédéric Mistral in Pertuis

Conrad Aiken in Rye, East Sussex

Sadly, the plaque here is illegible. But Conrad Aiken bought Jeake's house (now a hotel) in 1924, and among the writer quests who visited him are T. S. Eliot, Malcolm Lowry, E. F. Benson and Radclyffe Hall.

The link to my very wet drive and walk to Aiken grave in Savannah, GA, is below:

Conrad Aiken's grave

John Fletcher in Rye, East Sussex

In this ancient vicarage
John Fletcher
was born in 1579
Jacobean dramatist and
collaborator with
Beaumont, Shakespeare & Massinger'

E. F. Benson in Rye, East Sussex


18 August 2016

Rudyard Kipling and Bateman's, Burwash, East Sussex

Already famous and much translated, Kipling bought Bateman's in Burwash, East Sussex, in 1902. The datestone above the main entrance states '1634'. As his fame (and fortune) increased, Kipling bought up surrounding property to evade curious sightseers.

A view of the hall, dark and impressive.

The sofa in the parlour is apparently inspired by the seventeenth century one at Knole.

At the bottom of the stairs is Patrick-Synge-Hutchinson's posthumous bust of Kipling.

The study, where Kipling would read and write.

And the day bed in the study, where he would think about his writing.

The dining room, with its leather wall hangings.

The former oast house was the servants quarters, now the NT shop.

One prominent feature outside the house is Kipling's 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom.

In the garden:


Kipling's use of the old water mill (built in 1750 and extended in the 1830s) was to generate electricity by turbine.

17 August 2016

Henry James and Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex

Henry James (1843–1916) owned the eighteenth century Lamb House in West Street, Rye, East Sussex, named after James Lamb (1693
–1756). There are three plaques outside:

'In Lamb House lived
from 1919 to 1940
from 1922 to 1925
Brothers and writers'


18TH AUGUST 1940 


Among the most noted novels that Henry James wrote in his garden room were The Wings of a Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). Fortunately, the rest of the house is intact.

The Dining Room. The painting is a reproduction of Singer Sargent's,  commissioned by friends for James's seventieth birthday. The fireplace has Delft tiles at the side of it.

A terra cotta bust of Count Alberto Bevilacqua which James bought from Hendrik Andersen's Rome studio in 1899 for $250.

The fireplace in the room to the right of the hall, 'the Telephone room': . At the top are two of the many walking sticks James used. The telephone itself displayed here isn't James's original.

The oak parlour, dominated by the painting of George I, who was shipwrecked off the coast of Rye and stayed with James Lamb's family here for four days.

The small pictur above the mantelpiece is The Garden of the Hesperides which was given to James by his friend Constance Fenimore Woolston (1840

The marble bust of James made in 1913 by F. Derwent Wood.

The bronze bust of James by Hendrik Andersen, in 1904.

The dog cemetery in a corner of the garden.

James left his house to Henry James junior, his nephew, and apart from the Bensons, other people who lived here include H. Montgomery Hyde, Rumer Godden, and the dust jacket designer Brian Batsford.

16 August 2016

Virginia Woolf and Monk's House, Rodmell, East Sussex

In 1919 Virginia and Leonard Woolf bought an 'old fashioned' (for which by today's standards read unbearably basic with no bath, flush toilet, hot water, etc) for £700. It became their retreat from London, which they would make many improvements to, and where they would spend their remaining years.

All the above shots are of the sitting room. The table immediately above is 'Venus at her toilet', by the artist Duncan Grant.

This table top too is by Duncan Grant, along with Vanessa Bell, Virginia's sister.

The fire screen is also by Duncan Grant, with his mother Mrs Bartle Grant doing the canvas work as she was experienced in needlecraft.

An oblique view of the dining room, with chairs by Vanessa and Duncan, and the painting on the right being of Virginia, which Vanessa painted in about 1912.

Out of view here, over the mantel-piece is a primitive painting of the Glazebrook family, millers who used to own the house in the nineteenth century.

The entrance door between the sitting room and the dining room.

The kitchen was subject to flooding.

The extension, Virginia's room of her own, her bedroom.

The fireplace, with tiles by Vanessa Bell, one (on the floor) reading 'VW from VB 1930'.

In the garden, C. H. N. Mommen's Goliath.


Born January 25 1882
Died March 28 1941.

Death is the enemy. Against you
I will fling myself, unvanquished
and unyielding – O Death!
The waves broke on the shore.'

The quotation was chosen by Leonard from Virginia's novel The Waves.

Born November 25 1880
Died August 14 1969

"I believe profoundly in two rules:
Justice and mercy – They seem to
me the foundation of all civilized
life and society, if you include
under mercy, toleration".'

who lived in this house from 1919 until their deaths,
were scattered under the great elm tree.
In 1972 the plaque in Virginia's memory, which
Leonard had placed there, was moved
from the elm to this more permanent position. At the
same time the bust of Leonard Woolf and the
plaque in his memory were placed here.

The head of Virginia was modelled by
Stephen Tomlin and placed on this wall by
Leonard. That of Leonard was modelled
by Charlotte Hewer and placed here
together with these plaques by Trekkie Parsons.'