28 September 2016

Roger Ikor: Je porte plainte (1980)

Roger Ikor won the Prix Goncourt in 1955 with Les Eaux  mêlées. Je porte plainte (lit. 'I'm making a complaint') came twenty-five years later, after the suicide of Ikor's son Vincent on 30 December 1979. The brief book (just 117 pages) is dated 15 November 1980, and is constructed as a complaint, or plea, to the President of the country, no matter who he be.

Vincent killed himself by hanging, although Ikor seems to think that his 'real' death was 'zen macrobiotics', which he calls a cult, and a deadly one. To Ikor, it's all about eating a really strict vegan diet, fasting for some time, but to the extent that the member of the 'cult' is starving. I was baffled by his revelations, although Ikor makes some interesting points.

One point is that the age of majority has been lowered from twenty-one to eighteen, which Ikor is against largely because the reduction of years of the onset of puberty, and the attendant earlier onset of sexual behaviour do not in any way tally with moral (or emotional) development. In fact, the government has increased the date of educational maturity by so many years that young adults are actually taking longer to mature than before.

And that's not all. Since World War I and its attendant pessimism – beginning, say, with surrealism – there's been a continuing culture that life isn't worth living, leading to the contemporary feeling that there are only three options: join a cult, take drugs, or kill yourself.

The eighteenth century was filled with promise, hope and the joy of living, whereas now (when Ikor wrote this) young people, living for instance under the cloud of the atomic bomb, feel only despair. What escape have they other than to join utopian sects (or much worse)?

Roger Ikor wrote this at the end of 1980 and killed himself in 1986. I don't know. He mentions Sartre in a negative light, seemingly unaware that Sartrean existentialism is in fact an optimism, and doesn't he mistake intellectual fashion for a way of life? I've never viewed zen macrobiotics as a suicide religion, not even as a religion at all: isn't the real problem not so much a question of coping with all the alternatives to God, but more just learning to live – in freedom – without Him?

27 September 2016

Guy de Maupassant: Contes de la bécasse | Tales of the Woodcock (1883)

I'll pass up on describing the exact nature of the signification of Contes de la bécasse, or Tales of the Woodcock as the book's title is translated in English. It's sufficient to say that it's pretty gruesome and involves eating woodcocks, and that the 'tales' involve a collection of stories told by a particular member of the meat-eating fraternity.

There are sixteen short stories here, a number involving cruelty to others (including animals as in the case of 'Pierrot'), several involving cruelty within the family. There are also a few really gruesome tales, as in the case of 'En mer', where the older Javel allows his younger brother to lose his arm as the alternative is saving it and losing his own boat.

Yes, money counts a lot for the characters in Maupassant's literature, as in 'Le Testament', which again involves (slightly reminiscent of Pierre et Jean) 'illegitimate' half-brothers. People are avaricious to the point of being penny-pinching, they're violent, despicable, but the victims, the reader is made to feel, are certainly worthy of sympathy.

It's a long time since I've read any Maupassant, but the exercise has reminded me of his irony and his power in general as a writer, and I'm certainly grateful for the person who left two of his books at his grave. I shall return them to the place I found them, hoping that others will read them and do the same.

My other Guy de Maupassant post:

Maupassant: Pierre et Jean

25 September 2016

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #23: Juliusz Słowacki

NÉ LE 26 MAI 1809


Juliusz Słowacki was a Romantic Polish poet who mainly wrote plays but also poetry. He spent the last years of his life in Paris.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #22: Jacques Decour

Jacques DECOUR
(1910 – 1942)
professeur agrégé d'allemand,
écrivain. Résistant, intellectuel communiste,
fusillé comme hotage par les nazis, au Mont-Valérien
le 30 mai 1942.'

Jacques Decour was a French writer and member of the Resistance. He was responsible for two papers, L'université libre (1940) and La Pensée libre (1941), which was to be the most important publication in occupied France. He was arrested in March 1942 and executed by the Germans three and a half months later.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #21: Jean-Marc Roberts

'Jean Marc ROBERTS
1954 – 2013

Badly indicated on the cemetery map (as is Bernard-Marie Koltès's grave), Jean-Marc Robert's grave took some finding. Roberts, who is the subject of Vassilis Alexakis's novel of homage, La Clarinette (2015), died of lung cancer at the relatively early age of fifty-eight. Included in the mourners were Bernard Pivot, Patrick Rimbaud, Jean Rochefort, Sandrine Bonnaire, Valerie Trierweiler, and there was a wreathe from president Hollande. Difficult to imagine that from this. My blog post on the only book by Roberts that I've read, Les Seins de Blanche-Neige, is here.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #20: Marie Duplessis


Marie Duplessis, or Alphonine Plessis, was the courtisane who died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-three, and who inspired Alexandre Dumas fils to write La Dame aux camélias (1848), where she name is disguised as Maragurite Gautier.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #19: Bernard-Marie Koltès

Bernard-Marie Koltès (1948–89) wrote plays about exile. His works include Sallinger (1977), Dans la solitude des champs de coton (1987) and Le Retour au désert (1988). He died of AIDS.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #18: Jérôme Tharaud

1874 – 1953
Membre de
l'Académie Française'

This plaque was originally attached to the front of Tharaud's grave, although it is now loose at the back and virtually illegible.

This is a very difficult grave to find, especially as the cemetery map, which includes over a hundred notable people, doesn't include this one, although Jérôme Tharaud won the Goncourt in 1906. Or rather, he co-won it with his brother Jean: they wrote many works together. The book is Dingley, l'illustre écrivain, thought to be inspired by Rudyard Kipling.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #17: Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantès

Laure Junot, the duchess d’Abrantès, born Laure  Adelaïde Constance Permon (1783–1838). After the death of her husband who killed himself in 1813, she began a literary career aided by the young Balzac, who became her lover in 1928. She is perhaps most noted for Mémoires historiques sur Napoléon Ier. Her success lasted a few years, but she died in poverty. The grave is by David d'Angers.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #16: Mimi Barthélémy

'Port au Prince 1939 – 2013 Paris
Mimi Barthélémy
Conteuse haïtienne'

Mimi Barthélémy was a story teller, writer and singer of Haitian stories, in both French and French creole, who published a number books and albums collecting her stories.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #15: Patrick Cauvin / Claude Klotz

'Claude KLOTZ dit Patrick CAUVIN
1932 . 2010

Patrick Cauvin came from a working-class background in Marseille, where his father fostered his great love of the cinema. He earned a degree in Philosophy from the Sorbonne, became a teacher and helped Joseph Joffo to write Un sac de billes. He wrote a number of detective novels under his real name and later wrote non-genre novels as both Patrick Cauvin and Claude Klotz. As Cauvin, he was particularly successful with Monsieur Papa (1976) and E=mc2 (1977).

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #14: Henri Rochefort

Henri Rochemont (1831–1913) was born in Paris and died in Aix-les-Bains. He was a journalist, playwright and politician. A radical with exreme left-wing views, he was exiled to Nouméa, New Caledonia in 1873, leaving on the same boat as Louise Michel. But he managed to escape along with several others, and after a round-the-world trip, he arrived in London where he was greeted by fellow Communard exiles. He returned to france in 1880 to become the director of the paper L'Intransigent, which was very much the voice of the former Communards. Unfortunately he was an anti-Dreyfusard on the grounds of anti-Semitism, causing him to lose much of his popularity, particularly among the working classes.

24 September 2016

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #13: Philippe Soupault

Philippe Soupault (1897–1990) was a prolific poet and a journalist. He was a friend of André Breton and Louis Aragon, and with Breton wrote Les Champs magnétiques (1919), one of the first examples of automatic writing, and also a protype of surrealist writing. By the endd of the 1920s he was a noted journalist. He also wrote many novels and essays.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #12: Pierre Ponson du Terrail

Pierre Ponson du Terrail (1829–71) died at the age of twenty-one, but found the time to write 200 popular novels. He was born in Montmaur in the Hautes-Alpes, educated at Apt Vaucluse in Provence, and died in Bordeaux. among his influences were Paul Féval and Eugène Sue.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #11: Philippe Paul de Ségur

Philippe Paul de Ségur (1780–1873) was a historian who wrote a number of books, notably Histoire de Napoléon et de la Grande Armée en 1812 (1824).

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #10: Maria Deraismes

1828 – 1894

 "My aim is to put an end to the prejudice which excludes women."

An anti-Catholic feminist, Maria Deraismes actively supported such anarchists as Louise Michel, André Léo and Elisée Reclus. Her statue stands at the entrance to the Square des Épinettes in the 17e.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #9: Joseph Méry

Joseph Méry (1797–1866) was born in Marseille and died in Paris. He was a journalist, novelist, poet, playwright and librettist. His satires were written in collaboration with Auguste Barthélemy, and among his friends were Balzac, Dumas, Hugo, Gautier and Nerval.

Maupassant: Pierre et Jean (1888)

This is another book I found on my travels, again quite by chance but at the grave of Guy de Maupassant (which I just happened to be passing). There were in fact two books at his grave, both of which I picked up, and the other of which I shall comment on in a later post. I'd not read either before, although I'd read a number of his short stories filled with irony, pessimism, etc.

Pierre et Jean is not a short story but a novel about the two very different brothers of the title, Pierre recently having qualified as a medical doctor (after some repeat student years) and Jean having just qualified as a lawyer. Both have shown some interest (if apparently only casually, maybe not seriously) in the young widow Mme Rosémilly, who has only seemed to show interest in Jean.

Initially this novel appears to concern Pierre's jealousy: Léon Maréchal, an old friend of the family, has died and leaves quite a fortune to Jean, but nothing to Pierre. Not unnaturally Pierre resents this, but resents it even more when he suspects, on information a female bar server acquaintance, that Maréchal may have been Jean's real father, which throws him into even more depression because she's perfectly right.

So Jean's only Pierre's half brother, his mother had Maréchal as a lover, and Pierre goes off as a doctor on a ship, leaving his mother with her guilt, his father in ignorance of the whole business, and Jean in his wealth with his new wife, the widow Rosémilly.

My other Guy de Maupassant post:

Maupassant: Contes de la bécasse | Tales of the Woodcock

Serge Joncour: L'Idole (2004)

The back cover of this book suggests something of a mixture of Woody Allen and Kafka, particularly as a homage to Kafka. I was reminded more of Emmanuel Carrère's La Moustache, apart from the gruesome ending of that book. Certainly madness is suggested throughout both La Moustache and L'Idole, although L'Idole, I was forced to conclude, is more of a 'what if' book, a hypothesis in which the idea of instant fame is investigated.

Georges Frangin is the hero, the man around whom everything centres, the man who is recognised every day by many people who greet him, ask him for his autograph, pay for his drinks, etc. Initially he thinks they must have mistaken him for someone else, although when he asks one of his 'admirers' for his name the reply is 'Georges Frangin', the supposedly unknown narrator.

Frangin doesn't do television very well, although he tries, and is at the beginning welcomed because of his 'fame'. But fame, of course, doesn't last.

My other Serge Joncour post:
Serge Joncour: L'Écrivain national

23 September 2016

Frédéric Beigbder: Vacances dans le coma (1994)

Frédéric Beigbeder's Vacances dans le coma is his second novel, and I think the best thing about it is the one-and-a-half page Foreword, which he also calls a self-criticism. He considers this his 'best' novel, although he had at the time only published one other, which is called Mémoire d'un jeune homme dérangé (you see the ambition of the comparison with Beauvoir's account of her early life?).

Beigbeder says that he thought of Huis clos and Voyage au bout de la nuit, but those titles had already been taken: he'd of course raised the bar too high, and of course he was young. The novel only takes place in twelve hours, kind of Ulysses thinking: yes, of course. And he was re-published in a poche edition, which he should have refused, like the Groucho Marx example of refusal, etc. Of course.

And what banality, as he says. The best thing I found about the book was the fictional Marc Marronnier being invited by his acquaintance DJ Joss Dumoulin to the new and highly prestigious club Les Chiottes (lit. 'The Shithouse'). Nice name.

Somehow this name seems quite fitting for a book filled with fashion freaks, cokeheads, sad types, and train spotters. Trainspotters?  Yes, this novel is filled with lists: of things forgotten, invited VIPs, a DJ's playlist, etc. In a word, this is a mess.

Links to my other Beigbeder posts:

Frédéric Beigbeder: Mémoires d'un Jeune Homme Dérangé
Frédéric Beigbeder: 99 Francs
Frédéric Beigbeder: Premier bilan après l'apocalypse
Frédéric Beigbeder: L'Amour dure trois ans | Love Lasts Three Years
Frédéric Beigbeder: Un roman français

21 September 2016

François Poli: Des perles aux requins (1964)

Not exactly the kind of book I normally read, in fact far from it, but I found this in the Cimetière du Montparnasse and couldn't resist reading my first Série Noire book. And it's, well, it's a very quick read and is filled with bodies, had a little romantic/sexual interest in it, is set in the Middle East, and its protagonists are essentially from the United States. That's all, only to add that I'll leave this somewhere else, joining in the spirit of bookcrossing.com.

Oh, and there seems to be very little biographical information on François Poli, who was born in Corsica in 1925 and the year of his death seems to be a mystery.

18 September 2016

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #8: Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

DOUAI 1786 PARIS 1859'

Marceline Desbordes-Valmore's grave is one of the most impressive in the entire cemetery. But who was she? She wrote a great number of poems, many of which have been set to music. Her first collection of poems, Élégies et Romances, was published in 1819, although her most significant works were Élégies et poésies nouvelles (1824), Les Pleurs (1833), Pauvres fleurs (1839) and Bouquets et Prières (1843). She also wrote short stories and tales for children, and was awarded a royal pension and several academic acknowledgements. She was admired by Balzac and Verlaine, and wrote her autobiography L'Atelier d'un peintre in 1833.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #7: Pierre-Jean Vaillard

Pierre-Jean Vaillard (1918–1988) was a chansonnier, a writer of aphorisms and an actor. He headed the bill at the Théâtre des Deux Ânes, Boulevard de Clichy, for thirty years. The last years of his life were spent in the rue de Saint-Simon in the seventh arrondissement.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #6: Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) was essentially a poet, although he was also a journalist and a literary critic. He was one of the greatest German writers of the time. His Jewish origins and his politics resulted in his marginalisation, and he left for Paris in 1831, where he died.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #5: François Truffaut

1932 – 1984'

The tickets left on François Truffaut's grave speak volumes about his popularity. But how could I have missed this, the grave of the director of Jules et Jim, Les  Quatre Cents Coups, Baisés volés, L'Enfant sauvage, L'Argent de poche, L'Homme qui aimait les femmes, Le Dernier Métro, etc, etc.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #4: Marcel Jouandeau

Marcel Jouandeau (1888–1979) wrote a huge number of books, the most famous of which is his first, the novel La Jeunesse de Théophile. Histoire ironique et mystique (1921), later to contain a Foreword by Paul Morand originally published in La Nouvelle Revue française. Religion is obviously important here (the title not only evoking a forename but also the idea of loving God), but important too is the world of mystery, of dreams.

Torn between his faith in Catholism and his homosexuality, Jouandeau first attempted suicide in 1914. He married the former dancer Élizabeth Toulemont in 1929, who hoped to divert his attention from the male sex; however, she was unsuccessful and Jouandeau wrote frankly about his lifelong homosexuality in Chronique d'une passion (1949).

Jouandeau was also an antisemite and his Le Péril juif is a collection of his anti-Jewish writings. In 1941 he published an article about his admiration for Germany in the NRF, which was at the time under the antisemitic wing of Drieu la Rochelle, who of course killed himself after the Liberation. The paedophile Roger Peyrefitte makes references to Jouandeau as 'Marcel Jouvenceau', to which Jouandeau objected.

Jouandeau lived in Rueil-Malmaison from 1960 until his death.

Cimetière de Montmartre (continued): #3: Jean-Marc Debenedetti

Jean-Marc Debenedetti (1952–2009) was a new name to me, and he's not on the cemetery map either. But he's described on his grave as a '[P]oète, peintre et sculpture'. From what I can glean online, he was a student at the lycée Jacques Decour (grave also in Montmartre and to come later), became a teacher at the lycée Janson de Sailly and died of pneumonia. According to a short article by former teaching colleague Claude Courtot, he published his first collection of poetry in 1971, and he was particularly fond of surrealism, the work of Benjamin Péret ... and Mexico.