31 October 2017

Eugène Manuel in the 16e arrondissement, Paris

The statue of the poet and teacher Eugène Manuel (1823–1901) by Gustave Michel in the courtyard of the 'Petit lycée Janson-de-Sailly', Avenue Georges Mandel.

LE 1er JUIN 1901

Manuel died in rue Mignard, about half a mile from where his statue now stands. Coincidentally, a certain future great philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was born next door. Unfortunately, much like this building, it is a huge block of flats that doesn't make for a pretty photo. And there's not even a plaque on it.

28 October 2017

Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes (2011)

In six years Marie NDiaye published five plays: Hilda (1999), Providence (2001), Papa doit manger (2003), Les Serpents (2004) and Rien d'humain (2004). Her sixth play, Les Grandes Personnes came seven years later. In that time a great deal had happened to her: winning the Goncourt, moving to Germany, and becoming a recognised figure of literature at least among French readers of serious works. Andrew Asibong, in his Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition (2013), suggests that although the usual themes are in place, there has been an accompanying 'incongruous drift towards 'uplift', which is sometimes 'superficial' and 'crowd-pleasing'.

Éva and her husband Rudi are being visited by the ghost of 'their' daughter – actually the product of a relationship between Éva and Georges, we discover later – who walked out of the home many years before, although not due to any physical abuse on their part, indeed it seems they have almost killed her with kindness. Her ghost lives in the space under the stairs (which recalls Fanny in En famille). They share their problem with the less well-off couple Georges and his at times bizarre wife Isabelle.

Georges and Isabelle have had just one child, who is a schoolteacher and simply known as Le maître, and who tells his parents that he has been sexually abusing some of the children in his care, that he has raped several: the parents ignore the matter. The question comes to a head at a meeting of parents of the children, with Madame B. accusing Le maître of sodomising her eight-year-old son Karim  with a dildo. The kid's name of course indicates a non-European birth, and Le maître calls her 'Saloperie d'étrangère' and 'Sale métèque'.  In the end Le maître just flies off, reminding us of the daughters in La Sorcière. But these episodes themselves remind us of a true-life incident in which NDiaye's husband was commended by taking a pedophile schoolteacher and driving him to the local police station in Cormeilles, Normandy, where the couple were living at the time.

But there is also another trauma: Éva and Rudi have adopted a son who has the voices of his dead parents speaking from his chest, and they urge him to kill his adopted parents. But Éva and Rudi speak to the voices, and there appears to be a kind of resolution.

My other posts on Marie NDiaye:
Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit

Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents
Marie NDiaye: Quant au riche avenir
Marie NDiaye: Tous mes amis
Marie NDiaye: Hilda

27 October 2017

Marie NDiaye: Les Serpents (2004)

Les Serpents seems to me a very good description of Marie NDiaye's books in general: slippery, slithery, shape-changing, filled with treachery, in the grass waiting to bite you, etc. It's difficult to pin down a snake, and it's difficult to pin down what NDiaye is doing to the reader.

Andrew Asibong, in his masterful Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition (2013) states that Les Serpents is one of NDiaye's 'more complex and repulsive plays'. I can understand that, and I like his comparison with Beckett's Fin de Partie, only with Hell being inside rather than outside, and Mme Diss being Hamm (maybe hammer) to France and Nancy's Clov (perhaps clou, or nail).  But I'm not convinced.

Abuse (especially child abuse) is all over NDiaye's work, as are class differences, indifferences, difference in general, the importance of money, change of identity, unhappy families, constant fear, unspeakable violence, etc.

As this is a play, the comparison with Papa doit manger (regrettably the only other NDiaye play I've yet read) at the beginning at least seems so evident: the long-lost father knocking on the door after money mirrors Mme Diss  knocking on her son's door wanting to borrow money.

But Papa doit manger is much more benign, whereas here we have Nancy's son (also Mme Diss's grandson) beaten, killed by snakes, and then maybe eaten by his father: not unusually, we have a mother walking out on her husband, but then the first wife  feeding her ex-mother-in-law with money in exchange for information.

Not everything is entirely bleak: France (the son's second wife) walks out on her husband in horror that he has tied up their children, and the ex-wife Nancy walks back into the house of horror to take her place, in hope of redeeming both herself and her husband. Welcome to the world of Marie NDiaye: just take a seat and gape, quake and leave thinking 'What just happened?'.

My other posts on Marie NDiaye:
Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit

Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes
Marie NDiaye: Quant au riche avenir
Marie NDiaye: Tous mes amis
Marie NDiaye: Hilda

Dominique Fabre: Fantômes (2001)

Dominique Fabre's Fantômes is of course about visions, although these are the protagonist Edgar's own visions, springs of life in his adolescent world to which he feels he hardly belongs: he doesn't know his father, he lives in boarding school most of the time, and his mother Isabelle (whom he actually calls 'Isabelle') is very much an absentee mother. Fringe areas of Paris, Ménilmontant and Asnières (where his mother lives) are frequently mentioned: Edgar lives on the fringes of himself.

This novel has a first and third person narrator, a 'je' and an Edgar, although the two are physically but not mentally the same: Edgar exists (or in part exists to be more exact) with a kind of double called 'I': reality is a slippery subject, and the two not-quite-the-same narrators are often merged in one sentence. Edgar is often the negative side of the protagonist. The novel is also very autobiographical and some readers (but not me) have previously met the five-year-old Edgar in Ma vie d'Edgar (1989).

Edgar is fourteen going on fifteen, he smokes, has spots of puberty, and wants a girlfriend. He's on the cusp of adulthood, but life isn't treating him well. So his ontological insecurity causes him to invent people, to daydream, imagine that he meets people on the train, such as Aline Soviétique, whom he chats to and kisses goodbye after she's left him her address in Saint-Germain-des-Près: in the heart of Paris, not the fringes. The wildest daydream is with the baker's wife, who makes Edgar lick her breasts, then between her legs, pointing out where her clitoris is and telling him to slow down, and then she comes noisily as the baker himself looks on. The slippages between 'reality' and fantasy happen so subtly that occasionally the reader has to think for a second which world he's in. But then, this is Dominique Fabre.

Before writing this novel, Fabre read the back page of an Henri Calet book, in which Francis Ponge describes Calet as 'boss of the linguistic three-card trick', and Fabre, in an interview for Le Matricule de anges, notes that when you always see the same three-card trick it no longer works, so you have to change the way you cheat. Um.

My other Dominique Fabre post:
Dominique Fabre: Photos Volées

23 October 2017

Laurent Mauvignier: Une Légère blessure (2016)

Laurent Mauvignier's Une Légère blessure (lit 'A Slight Wound') is a play, or more specifically a monologue by an unnamed woman in her forties, preparing dinner in the dining room for her parents, her brother and sister-in-law and their three children. As she can't cook she's doing this with the help of a young foreign girl who can't speak French and who is in the kitchen. The woman talks all the time without being understood, and the whole play seems to be a continuous kind of psychoanalysis.

Sex is at the forefront of the monologue, beginning with the narrator's first experience at the age of sixteen with a young boy and the narrator's probable schoolfriend Sandra, with whom the boy has sex with both, of no apparent consequence to either girl.

There follows a series of 'speeches', ostensibly to the cook (who, in the kitchen, is never seen to the audience) but in reality to herself, concerning her inability to have kept up a steady relationship with a man as opposed to her brother with his marriage and children, her lack of usefulness, and finally she comes to a revelation about her father's behaviour to her on one occasion when she was much younger, and I translate:

'My father, his flies open and this almost violet thing in his hand.

'He started to rub this piece of flesh in front of me, this monstrous cock with a blue vein running down it, this idiotic piece of flesh hanging like a lifeless animal or a piece of rubber.'

(Lack of) communication, the sexual abuse of women, family matters, oblique talk deliberately avoiding the real issue, talk as a means of non-communication, this is Laurent Mauvignier, and these are what make him one of the key figures in contemporary French literature. Wonderful.

My other Mauvignier posts:
Laurent Mauvignier: Loin d'eux

Laurent Mauvignier: Ceux d'à côté
Laurent Mauvignier: Seuls
Laurent Mauvignier: Ce que j'appelle oubli
Laurent Mauvignier: Continuer
Laurent Mauvignier: Autour du monde

16 October 2017

Marcel Bascoulard (artwork); Patrick Martinat (text): Bascoulard: Dessinateur Virtuose, clochard magnifique, femme inventée (2014)

Bascoulard is an enormous book in more ways than one: this hardback (49 euros and well worth it) won't fit onto the average bookshelf with the spine legible, it probably weighs about two kilos, and the number of pages is about three hundred. Many would describe this as a coffee table book (or beau livre in French), but that expression just suggests something pretty to look at, with little to read, and invariably of a very well-known subject.

Certainly the text in this book (by Patrick Martinat) is very soon read, and there are a great number of photos in it of the artist Marcel Bascoulard (1913–78) and his work, but from there it parts company from the regular coffee book, in fact it subverts the coffee table book: outside central France (the Bourges (and Sologne) areas to be specific), how many people are aware of Marcel Bascoulard, who has his own square with his bust in Bourges, as well as a street named after him in Saint-Florent-sur-Cher, where he spent his youth?

Shortly after his mother Marguerite, when her elder son Marcel was nineteen, shot her violent husband dead in the back and was institutionalised, he moved to Bourges and began painting. He didn't fit in with society, and I won't even bother involving psychological analysis, which he would (quite rightly, I'm sure) have detested. Marcel grew away from conventional society, being unconcerned with the trapping of success, unconcerned with money or fame to such an extent that he wasn't interested in a roof over his head with running water and electricity, and traded his paintings for food and suchlike to feed his cats and dogs as well as himself. His mother had been the main love of his life, and no one else.

And yet Bascoulard was a gifted painter, first a realist depicting in minute detail the city of Bourges (particularly the cathedral), including the few other places he visited, although they were very few and probably the furthest he ever ventured was Paris. He later introduced odd colours to his townscapes, even painted abstract pictures, but they weren't welcomed, although he didn't care, he wasn't interested in painting to order, in being commissioned, he preferred his outsider, tramp status, although he didn't see himself as a tramp: after all, how many tramps dress in female clothing, for example, or ride tricycles that they've designed themselves? OK, many may live on wasteland, but what of it?

Marcel Bascoulard saw his death coming in the form of the twenty-three-year-old social reject Jean-Claude Simion, but no one else in Bourges did, otherwise they'd have protected him. Such a waste.

Bascoulard is a magnificent book, one of the few which you must have in your possession even if you don't speak French, as it so evidently speaks for the outsiders, the outcasts who have so much to tell us. Only Bascoulard wasn't an outcast, he was loved in spite of the dirt he lived in, in spite of (even because of) his anarchism, and his death was a great blow to Bourges: after all, how many other people have played such a role in putting the town on the French map?

My criticism is that Patrick Martinat glibly dismisses Marcel Bascoulard's writing, quotes from it very briefly, and gives it virtually no space. Fascinating as photos of Bascoulard are, as his painting and sketches are, as his precise maps are, many photos here would have lost nothing by their exclusion, although so much could have been gained by the inclusion of Bascoulard's writings, no matter what Martinat think of them: he is no expert in literature, and should not pretend to be one. It would have been very interesting, for instance, to give just one example, to have read 'Maternelle réhabilitation' in full.

15 October 2017

Christian Gailly: Lily et Braine (2010)

After the war, after months in the military hospital, Braine returns to 'normality', at least to his family, his wife Lily, his son Louis, and his car-sick dog Lucie. Only at first he can't speak, a little I thought like Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) in Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas (1984), but soon Braine fits back in to Lily's father's car firm job, and surely things will be fine?

Although La Roue was published after Lily et Braine, it seems quite clear that the lead story 'La Roue' was written well before, and is to a certain extent the inspiration behind this novel. Braine goes to fix the wheel of stranger Rose Braxton's car and his life's suddenly changed.

Yeah, music enters the scene, Braine's life takes a huge swerve (ah, the power of music for Gailly), and soon Braine's former jazz band is being re-formed, and oh the spunk in Rose Braxton!

And such is her power that she will unwittingly destroy the relationship between Braine and his wife. That gun is just waiting to go off, the reader is quite clear of that, although who will pull the trigger and on whom is the mystery. Christian Gailly may not be the best of the Minuit writers, but he sure as hell pulls a punch.

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

Alice Zeniter: Juste avant l'Oubli (2015)

As I write, Alice Zeniter's fifth novel L'Art de perdre is among the eight novels chosen in the second selection for the Prix Goncourt 2017. This is her previous novel, written when she was twenty-nine.

Juste avant 'Oubli is about love, and about writing. Judging from Zeniter's remerciements (Acknowledgements) the germ of the book is in her uncompleted thesis on the playwright Martin Crimp's representations of women. The novel is set on the imaginary Hebridean island Mirhalay, where the imaginary detective novelist Galwin Donnell spends the remaining last few decades of his life, following his divorce, in isolation until his apparent suicide in 1985.

Franck is a Frenchman and a nurse convinced that his forename has led him to a life of obscurity. After three months, he joins his girlfriend on the island, hoping that she will spend the rest of her life with him: Émilie has given up her teaching job to work on a thesis on Galwin Donnell's representations of women, and Franck (whom Émilie has upgraded to medical doctor status to her colleagues) is organising a seminar on Donnell on the island.

So we are treated to an idea of the series of lectures on Mirhalay, details of most (if not all) of ten novels involving the sex-addicted detective Adrian Dickson [!] Carr: Donnell's writing can be somewhat controversial as there are intimations of paedophilia in Carr's girly interests. And there are a number of footnotes to fictional books, plus (in sans serif type) a copy of a fictional Wikipédia entry of Donnell's use of the expression 'porc-chien' (or 'dog-pig').

Galwin Donnell begins to take over Émilie's mind, and therefore greatly intrudes on her relationship with Franck, who finds a kind of solace in the warden Jock, now the only permanent inhabitant on the island. Jock, though, has his own problems, not the least of which is his isolation, and he has built a sound-proof room in which no water or birds can be heard.

Jock, an alcoholic and a nihilist, is in no respect an idiot, and his knowledge of the island and its history (if not the world outside it) is most profound, and as an outsider to an outsider, he befriends Franck, who is very frank about his lowly academic medical status. And Jock is very frank too, even to the point of 'admitting' (maybe falsely) that as a ten-year-old he pushed Galwin Donnell to his death.

And then Jock kills himself, leaving Franck to do what he wants with to Donnell's missing (and never read) last chapter of his final novel. Well, what do you do when you find a precious manuscript?

11 October 2017

Sorj Chalandon: Profession du père (2015)

Sorj Chalandon's Profession du père is a staggering work, so powerful that indeed it would scarcely be possible to imagine it as a work of pure fiction, rather than a work of auto-fiction, the true blending in with the false. In some ways, too, it is in part a reprieve of Chalandon's La Légende de nos pères (2009), in which a ghost writer is asked to put words to his father's false experiences. In Profession du père, where the word 'profession' plays on the meaning of 'occupation' and that which is professed or claimed, lying also plays a central part. The back page blurb gives a strong indication of the content, which I translate:

'My father said that he had been a singer, footballer, judo teacher, parachutist, spy, pastor of a Pentecostal American church and personal advisor to General de Gaulle up to 1958. One day he told me that the General has betrayed him. His best friend had become his worst enemy. So my father announced that he was going to kill de Gaulle. And he asked me to help him.

'I had no choice.

'It was an order.

'I was proud.

'But I was scared too...

'At the age of 13, a gun is really heavy.'

In part, this book is really heavy too: a violent mythomaniac father – in fact a maniac tout court – tells his young son (in reality an amalgam of Chalandon and his brother) that he has been all of these things and more: he was a secret agent for the OAS, his American friend Ted (the narrator's godfather, so his story goes) was JFK's bodyguard, and he's angry if the narrator doesn't perform well at school; somehow, this is supposed to justify the child beating.

At times it's difficult to understand how the mysterious 'Dr Helguers' hasn't declared the father unfit as a parent, or indeed anything else, but then his understanding of psychiatry appears to be non-existent. And what of the mental state of the mother tolerating all this? Years later, when the narrator – a restorer of paintings (especially medieval ones) manages (mentally, that is) to re-visit his parents, his father, far from being welcoming, tells his son he's just a 'messenger boy', not a real painter. The narrator also brings his French-born half-Algerian wife Fadila and baby to see his parents, only to receive subtle racist abuse and Fadila to say 'never again', without her even knowing that the father has been sending the narrator two letters a year (latterly not even opened, but each becoming increasingly insane). Ted? Just an invention inspired by a movie, the narrator finds out by accident.

This is a shattering piece of literature.

My other posts on Sorj Chalandon:
Sorj Chalandon: La Légende de nos pères
Sorj Chalandon: Retour à Killybegs | Return to Killybegs

Jean Echenoz: Je m'en vais | I'm Off | I'm Gone (revisited) (1999)

Many books aren't worth reading, let alone worth reading more than once. Jean Echenoz's books, however, well deserve to be re-read, perhaps especially his Goncourt-winning Je m'en vais. Having previously written about this novel, what else can I say? Well, I wasn't specific about the end, and I have no qualms about spoilers, so why not just have my say?

Je m'en vais (variously translated as I'm Off or I'm Gone), as I wrote before, is about art gallery owner Félix Ferrer going to the North Pole on the advice of his head (and soon dead) employee Delahaye (but incidentally against the advice of his doctor who is aware of his heart condition), bringing back highly valuable Inuit art treasures from a wrecked ship in the 1950s, and a certain Baumgartner stealing the treasure from him. As I explained in the previous post, Baumgartner wasn't Baumgartner and Echenoz was playing games.

No, Baumgartner was Delahaye, who obviously hadn't died at all. So a joint investigation by the French and Spanish cops lead to Félix tracking Delahaye down, discovering that he has (illegally but officially) changed his name to Baumgartner, and Félix very generously leaves his ex-employee with a little less than a third of the proceeds and he (Baumgartner, let's call him) gets on with his life while he (Félix) can get on with his. What little life Félix has, of course, after his latest girlfriend decides she's probably dumping him, sadly leaving him with no friends on New Year's Eve, travelling a virtually empty métro, and entering (with intent to soon leave) his ex-wife's home (which used to be his own and his wife's) but now is his ex-wife's and her new partner's. The novel begins and ends  with the same words: 'je m'en vais'. Of course, Finnegan's Wake this certainly isn't,  but it's still a very interesting read.

My other Jean Echenoz posts:
Jean Echenoz: Jean Echenoz: Jérôme Lindon
Jean Echenoz: Lac | Chopin's Move
Jean Echenoz: Je m'en vais | I'm Off | I'm Gone
Jean Echenoz: Courir | Running
Jean Echenoz: Ravel
Jean Echenoz: 14

6 October 2017

Olivier Adam: À l'abri de rien (2007)

À l'abri de rien, I can't help thinking, is one of Olivier Adam's best novels. We have a family in chaos, we have a (female) protagonist in despair, but we also have a political situation which is admittedly going nowhere but which is seen from a positive oppositional point of view.

Marie lives in the Nord and is mentally adrift until an illegal immigrant helps her change her wheel, which plants a firm seed. She has a loving husband and two young kids, but still needs serious help. She loses her supermarket check-out job on a crazy fit of temper, and is suddenly caught up in the world of illegal immigrants, those risking their lives to reach the shores of England.

She very soon discovers the sordid reality of the immigrants' life, the danger of the violent police, the deaths by the desperate people to escape from what amounts to a death sentence in their native country.

But Marie's awakening comes at a price: that of severing contact with her own family, of bringing back fleas, and her children (completely wrongly) being called the children of a prostitute, of her school bus driver husband dumping children in the middle of a beetroot field in the freezing cold, etc.

Fortunately, although there may be no cure for the immigrants' problems, there seems to be a strong possibility for Marie to return to her family when she's cured. Obviously this novel is a political statement, but an important one.

My other Olivier Adam posts:
Olivier Adam: Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas
Olivier Adam: Des vents contraires
Olivier Adam: Le Cœur régulier
Olivier Adam: Falaises

Olivier Adam: Les Lisières

Éric Holder: L'homme de chevet (1995)

Éric Holder's Mademoiselle Chambon (which I reviewed below) is about a kind of mutual sexual (but physically unexpressed) revelation between two members of different classes. As such, it isn't unlike Holder's slightly earlier L'homme de chevet, of which a cinema version has also been made.

L'homme de chevet concerns an alcoholic (in his late twenties) who applies for a job as a help to a tetraplegic woman (also in her late twenties), a victim of a car crash. A kind of re-birth begins, against all odds: whereas Muriel's other help, Marie, needs to inject herself with heroin to numb herself from the horror of her duties, the man develops an obsession, a love for Muriel, so strong that he loses his dependence for drink.

A transformation begins too in Muriel, whom the man takes for a taxi-ride to Marseille (the book is set in Provence), including a dinner at a restaurant where people don't regard her as a freak: he's very protective of her. Muriel even buys a car for him to chauffeur her around in, driving fast, and she's not frightened she loves the thrill, and is also developing a love for her employee.

This is a short but fascinating book which inevitably reminded me of Hal Ashby's film Coming Home (1978) with Jane Fonda and the wheelchair-bound Jon Voight, the Vietnam casualty. The trouble is the boxing sub-plot here, which takes up almost half of the book, is quite unnecessary, and ruins things flat. OK, if the boxing scenes were removed we would only be left with a short story, but why not give us more of the real story? Yes, I understood the analogy of the dog, etc, but so what?

My other post on Éric Holder:
Éric Holder: Mademoiselle Chambon

Christian Gailly: La Roue: et autres nouvelles (2012)

Without going into the details of the other seven short stories here, La Roue is well titled, as the first story, 'La Roue', is certainly the best, although nothing much really happens in it: it's the way the story, such as it is, is unveiled that is of importance.

Of great importance, too, are the digressions, and this is very digressive writing, every tiny and often insignificant detail being used up in the making of it. The narrator, the unnamed man in the story, agonises about the exact nature of  the temperature when he goes to fetch an unused hammer from his shed. This is after a tortuous discussion about the kind of hammer needed – in other words what it is needed for – after a well-dressed woman who has randomly knocked on his door and finally tells him that she can't loosen the nuts from her car wheel, and that the tyre is punctured.

When the narrator goes to see the car in a field there is a sizeable digression about the man's hand-bell, and how he loves the sound and the nature of it, refusing to cede to his partner Lily's wishes to install an electric one. We even have a short description of what he looks like carrying his big hammer – like a workman (although he's a writer) – and of the nature of country roads.

Eventually a well-dressed man (albeit a little oil-besmirched) appears, and as the narrator (in detail, of course) changes the wheel he learns that the man has walked out of his own wedding ceremony and chosen the woman he loves rather than marry someone he doesn't.

So there we have it. This seemed very promising, but unfortunately none of the other stories were anything like as interesting.

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

Christian Oster: En ville (2013)

On the face of it, nothing much happens in 174 pages, but then this is Christian Oster: much psychologising over anything said or done, the possible consequences of any future action taken, long sentences and long descriptions of ever single thing done, etc. This, in fact, is a monologue, with other people's words not read as actually spoken by them but added into the monologue, which also has very long paragraphs as well as long sentences.

And life here is pretty much a mess, with sudden switches of emotion, although perhaps not quite as dramatically as in some of Oster's other novels. The main character has a steady job but his love life is, well, indeterminate and he's very slow to make any decisions. Oh, and his name's Jean, although the novel takes a long time telling us this.

The main plot revolves around a small group of people who have been going on holiday in July together, such places by the sea as Corsica and Malta, and this time they decide to go to Hydra. They all are past their prime, most of them in their fifties or older. The oldest one is  the now gross William, who's tried his hand as a dentist and a musician and several other things. Then there's the married couple Paul the doctor and his wife Louise, there's George who's split up from his wife, and finally the narrator Jean.

Things go wrong: William dies coming out of hospital and falls on his stairs onto Jean (who is in turn temporarily  hospitalised); Paul and Louise split up; and although George very briefly moves into Jean's new flat with him near the Statue of Liberty replica below Pont Grenelle, he's soon moving in with the attractive estate agent.

Nevertheless the holiday goes ahead (although moved to Hérault) with the four existing characters: George's (whose new girlfriend may have found someone else) is on the train, so is Paul, and maybe Louise and Jean will hit it off. But where does Samantha in Paris stand in this, as she's expecting a child by Jean, who doesn't seem to react too well to becoming a father, if he has any detectable reactions at all? Yeah, it's a mess, but a fascinating one for the reader, even if it's perhaps not one of Oster's best.

My other posts on Christian Oster:
Christian Oster: Dans le train
Christian Oster: Une femme de Ménage | Cleaning Woman

Christian Oster: Rouler
Christian Oster: Le Cœur du problème
Christian Oster: Mon grand appartement