The confidant by Helene Gremillon plus Helene’s favourite books

The confidant by Helene Gremillon

French Fiction

Translator – Alison Anderson

Source review copy

Helene Gremillon is a French writer born in the late seventies  ,she studied both literature and history at university ,she then worked for le Figaro the French newspaper .This was her debut novel ,she is now a full-time writer ,she lives in Paris with the well-known French singer Julien Clerc.

I got a letter one day ,a long letter that wasn’t signed .This was quite an event ,because I’ve never received much mail in my life .My letter box had never done anything more than inform me that the sea-was -warm or that the-snow-was-good ,So I didn’t open it very often maybe once a week.When I hoped a letter would change my life completely …

the opening of the book and how it does for Camille .

So the confidant has two timelines in 1975 we see Camille ,who has just dealt with her mother dying .When she happens on some letter among the effects for the funeral .These letters make up the second time line coming from France the dark clouds of the second world war are in the background of this letter ,but this letter is not sign so it draws Camille in to who was this person sending this letter to her .but then the following week another letter arrives on a Tuesday and then every Tuesday Camille gets more info from the past  ,we start to find a love story in pre war and then world war two France Louis and Anne story of love comes to Camille across time .But then they are separated by war and we see Anne,she meets a baron and this innocent young women is drawn into a world or jealousy and revenge ..Also a child that Anne had  to help a childless couple during the war .Meanwhile part of this story starts to ring bells with Camille back in 1975 .

Dear Camille

With those words in my heart in my throat .Oddly it was at that moment I knew I was Louis .I unwrapped the brown paper.Inside was an exercise book .I opened it

Louis handwriting ,as always ,more cramped and more vigorous ,but this time ,writing someone else’s words

One of the notes Camille’s gets later in the book .

This novel may appear to be on the surface similar to other books over the last couple of years I mean the dual storyline in  different times has appeared in a couple of books over the last few years .I review the tiger wife which in some ways have similar sort of feel to this book  as it is about secrets , families and love .It is also easy to compare to various books in recent times that have been runaway success that have involved the second world war ,books such as suit Francaise ,the reader and alone in berlin books that open the personnel lives at war .But  in a large way this is a French book at its heart complex and deeper than it appears on the surface .It’s about secrets and what people will do to cover the truth up ,also about love between two people .Motherhood is another theme in this book ,also the modern question of surrogate motherhood ,which we see as a modern question is really an age-old question .I found this a complex but rewarding read that shows the best of French fiction also a wonderful twist on the Epistolary form of novel as half the book is made up of letters  .I was going to be doing an interview with Helene but with recent events I didn’t get time but she has kindly told me her six favourite books .which are below –

Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen
A love story to enchant the romantic at heart.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
The last very good thriller I read.

Medea by Jean Anouilh
A text of stunning beauty which revisits what is for me one of greatest ancient myths.

An Anthology of French Poetry, which is always good to lose oneself in…

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The loss and despair of an extremely brilliant little boy, who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks. For me, completely original writing.

The Notebook by Agota Kristof
A trilogy about the lives of two twins, a short, effective and sharp story. Poetic and despairing.

Many thanks for Helene for sharing her favourite books .I will be try the Cohen at some point .This is part of a blog tour for Gallic books this week

Monday was Davids post

Tuesday was Novelicous which had Helene writing room pictured

today well its me lol

Thursday tomorrow is cornflower books .

Our man in Iraq by Robert Perisic

Our man in Iraq by Robert Perisic

Croatian fiction

Translator Will Firth

Source review copy

Robert Perisic was born in Split in Croatia ,he studied philosophy at university ,he then took up Journalism and later on became editor of the croat magazine New year .in the mid 90’s he start publishing poems and short stories then in 2008 came his first novel our man in Iraq (although the Google translate has the book title translated this as our man on the ground ).

Our man in Iraq obviously from its title has slight overtones to Graham Greene’s seminal work our man in Havana .In the Greene novel James Wormold is drawn in to being a spy for MI6 during the cold war .So in this book follows Boris he is sent by his distant relative Toni a reporter that should have gone to Iraq to report on the war but he  has stayed behind , because he is having huge problems in his relationship to a well known beautiful actress  Sanya .So it is a satire on journalism in some ways  .I ve read a couple of other books over the years .The most recent was Tom Stacey’s the man who knew everything which I review here ,which was also set in the middle east during a crisis in the fifties thou .Of course it is hard not to mention Waugh both scoop and in someways Vile bodies both touch on the newspapers and Journalism ,in scoop also reporting from a war zone  .But that said there is also a large part that follow Toni and his girlfriend in everyday life in Croat almost mirror what might happen in Iraq after the war you see how Croat is recovering after it’s own war .

The place is full of camouflaged Yanks and Brits ,the biological and chemical carnival has begun ,and me ,fool that I am ,I haven’t got a mask ,They’re expecting a chemical weapon attack and say Saddam has got tons and tons of the shit .

From Boris first report to toni .


Any way all starts well with  Boris his  reports and faxes are  coming back.They are  ropey some what his grammar is rather like mine basic but the reports add to the colour of the war that is going on .But then suddenly the faxes and reports stop appear and Toni still unwilling to go out to  Iraq to report has to draw on his own past and the Croatian Serbian and Bosnian wars after Yugoslavia fell apart .This rather remind me of the comic series blackadder goes fourth where blackadder is forced to go over the top of the trench  and describe the scene which he does but gets it wrong and this in some ways is what happens to Toni .As people also see news reports from the region .

A Croatian reporter is missing in Iraq ,they repeated on the radio as I was driving back .

Later in the office ,I found myself sitting at the computer in the role of missing reporter I had get to write one of his texts .It was almost as if he’d offically taken me over .

Toni struggling to keep it all together .

This book manages to be partly  a love story at its heart that of Toni and his girlfriend Sanja ,a satire on Journalism and reporters  ,a war novel and a look at how Croat has moved forward since the war and how the war has impacted on all that were involved in the war .Perisic is considered a leading light of Croatian fiction the well know Croatian Slavenka Drakulić has said of the author: “‘Robert Perišić is considered one of the best writers of his generation. In fact, he is one of those rare things – a writer loved by both the critics and the readers .He seems to sum up what it is to be croatian for a man of my age he is only three years older than me ,so it is interesting to see how different the worries and how similar the worries are for a middle aged Croat .I must say Will Firth and Istros books have yet again managed to dig up another gem of Balkan fiction .

Have you a favourite book from the Balkans ?

Who is the greatest living Prose writer ?


The world cup for the greatest living Prose writer

Well as ever the backlash of the booker winner has started and it is about the comment that Peter Stothard made about Hillary Mantel being the greatest English living English prose writer (Pleased he said that because for my mind if it was world-wide she’d not be near the top ) .So the guardian have open  thread on who is the greatest English prose writer ,well I’m wanting to  go further and ask you all who is the greatest living prose writer ? I feel maybe a discussion that is less Anglo centric be interesting as I feel the best prose aren’t from english at the moment (but that may just be me so steeped in the translation ) so what are your views ? I ll throw three names in the hat to start with –

Peter Nadas – reason able to show the complexities of the human soul and sexual desire in the written word better than any one else .

Cees Nooteboom – travel writer ,prose writer ,novelist ,poet and Holland greatest living writer a jack of all trades and quite possibly a master of them all .

Goncalo Tavares – my current writer I want to read more off and champion . the Portuguese writer is push the bounds of what is fiction unlike anybody has in English for decades .

Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese fiction

Translator Helen Stevenson

Source library book

A couple of years ago I review another book by Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass .Since I read that a couple more of his novels have appeared in English translation so when I saw this one in the library I decide it was time to review him again ,as his style of writing had intrigued me the first time I read it .He still lives in the California where he is a professor of french ,he is also quite a controversial writer  for how he sometimes shows a lot of african problems are of their own making .

So to the book Memoirs of the Porcupine won the Prix Renudot a prize that has a number of big name winners in the past . Memoirs of a porcupine is the story of a porcupine he is the spirit of Kibandi a young eleven year old that is facing his journey into adult life .His father has taken him in to the forest to drink a liquid that had been stuck in the ground for many years and thus the narrator the porcupine appears .After this Kibandi turns to killing people and this is the account of this murderous spree by his spirit animal and Kibandi where they went through the village killing people  ,now his master is dead the porcupine feels free to tell their  story .Now the porcupine has helped in the killing using his special talents  but he was Kibandi spirit so had too .As the memoir moves on he also starts to calls himself later in the book Broken glass eluding to the book I read before .

I wasn’t present at Kibandi’s birth ,not like some doubles ,peaceful doubles they’re called who are born the same day as the child ,and watch them grow ,their masters never see them ,they only intervene when necessary ,when their initiate falls ill ,for example or has a jinx put on them ,it’s a dull life being a peaceful double ,in fact  I don’t know how they stand it .

I was reminded of the Pullman’s  book here ,but also Mabanckou sly humour at times .

Now like broken glass there is a very loose feel to Mabanckou prose style almost like it is written by a porcupine or a drunk , a  certain beat to his work as you read .I ve read a couple of interviews and articles about  him like this one in the economist ,and I can feel a rumba beat that he says he so enjoys  in this book , but also a passion for clever word play ,a style that seems simply written but is deep oh and he doesn’t like full stops there isn’t  any in this book but after a time you get how  the grammar works  .Again he has been compared to Beckett as I often see (although part of me wonders if any one you can’t easily put in a box are compared to Beckett or Faulkner ,you often see them mention ) .But having read Ahmadou Kourouma waiting for the wild beast s , I feel Mabanckou is firmly placed in the Franco african school of writing some parts of this book echo Kourouma style wise and even further back to other writers I ve read .This is where elements of magic realism ,surrealism but also a large chunk of oral tradition the tales told by the village type ,the parables to warn of where you can go wrong  .The heart of this book is rooted  in African myth the myth of animal doubles has appear in many places around the world even Philip Pullman used the in his “his dark materials ” books .As well as looking back he is looking in the present part of me wonder if Kibandi story is partly about the child solders and the violence that have been seen in the region of Africa in the where  Alain Mabanckou is from  .neighbouring Uganda the lords resistance army has used very young men to run riot and kill millions .Not overly sure but there is a feel Kibandi story is a warning of what can happen when child on the verge of young adulthood can  go the wrong way .Again I leave his book wanting to try more of this unusual writer ,but also maybe wanting to read earlier Franco african writers to help better place him as a writer (that said I have since I read this ,I have read Mongo Beti book King Lazarus a long out of print book from the african writer series ).

Do you have a favourite french language African writer ?

Have you read Mabanckou ?

The garden of Evening mist by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of evening mist by Tan Twan Eng

Malaysian fiction

Now this is the second book by Tan Twan Eng to make the booker lists ,his first was longlisted in 2007 .Tan Twan Eng grew up in various places in Malaysia ,eventually becoming a lawyer in the area of intellectual property .He then decide to become a full-time writer ,he published his first book in 2007 the gift of rain ,this book like the garden of evening mist was set in Malaysia and was about the Japanese control of the area in the second world war .This his latest also looks back on that time .

Every child longs for a larger-than-life uncle and, because I had none ,Magnus Pretorious became a figure of fascination to me ,although he hardly anything more than a vague presence in my life when i was growing up .What I knew of him I heard from my parents and from things they left unsaid broken-off twigs of conversations I picked up whenever I walked in on them ,and from what Magnus told me after I got to know him better

Early on remember her past .

So garden of evening mist is a complex book that brings together many themes ,secrets ,love and hate  ,gardening and people .The garden in the title is being made by a famous Japanese gardener in  Malaysia this is after the second world war and this garden is well crafted in the Japanese style of gardening called Sakkei borrowed scenery a Japanese style from the past  that Nakamura Aritomo worked for the emperor in Japan caring for his gardens  .

According to the lay of the land, and depending upon the aspect of the water landscape, you should design each part of the garden tastefully, recalling your memories of how nature presented itself for each feature. (tr. Inaji 1998:13)

A quote found on wiki about Shakkei

The other main character in the book is a Malaysian women Teoh Yun Ling  she survived one of the hideous Japanese war camps during world war two  and hates all things Japanese since then til she meets Nakamura .She is Nakamura apprentice ,this sets up a wonderful parallel of love and hate between these two characters and there initial frostiness   .Throw in the fact that Malaysia itself is undergoing a civil conflicted  and is descending into chaos,Tan has set up to a wonderful book  that encompasses love ,loss and death and the remembrance of the dead .Also add his wonderful eye for the world around him the garden and surrounding area jumps of the page at times and you are transported to the garden of evening mist . You’ve got one of those books I have been crying out for on the booker lists  a discovery.for me this alongside the Will Self I reviewed last week are equal favourites for me .


It was hard for me reading this book and its setting and time not to think back to Anthony Burgess Malaya trilogy set at the same time as this book is also set ,but that book was from the view of a British officer in Malaya ,this was the view of a native and the book is mostly told from Yun Ling view both at the time and looking back as an older women at the time .There was something about Eng style of writing that drew me in at times it reminded me of Romesh Gunesekera a writer I also discovered years ago when he was short-listed for the booker with his book reef  .I think it was the style of prose , that harks back to the greats of English literature  writer like Conrad and dickens (even burgess as I ve mentioned ) .I feel this is a sign of what makes a lot of  Asian writers very readable to me as a reader , because in a way they are removed  from the here and now of what is modern fiction in the uk and tend to have read the classics growing up so on the whole their style harks back to an old age of writing  .It’s fair to say I loved this book probably the best book I ve read published in English this year or even recent years .

Have you read this book ?

Who is your favourite Asian writer ?

Nobel winner for 2012 in literature Mo yan

Nobel Literature prize winner for 2012 is Mo yan

He was given the for his motivation, realism , folk-tales and history .I ve yet to read Mo Yan my self but have red sorghum on my tbr pile that I ll be starting shortly and have a review of by the weekend .he is from a pheasant family left school at twelve to work in the fields ,gained his education from the Chinese army .Made his début in 1981 ,his best known book is Red sorghum that was made into a film that won an award in Berlin film festival .Franz Kafkaesque is how I ve seen him mentioned he is a  writer about rural china and the mixture of myths and supernatural world he grew up hearing from stories as a child  .He is a true rags to riches writer .

Here is his wiki page 

Here is from a recent china daily piece 

Diary by Witold Gombrowicz

Diary by Witold Gombrowicz

Translated by Lillian Vallee

Polish non fiction


Witold Gombrowicz was an ex pat Polish writer ,when he got stuck in Argentina  at the out break of world war two .He had already  written a number of books back in Poland  before he went to Argentina ,the most well-known been Ferdydurke a novel about a thirty year old writer being haunted by his former tutor  his debut which from his own words was maybe his best book .This set the theme for most of Gombrowicz writing life deep psychological themes and questioning of Polish society and culture .Any way to the book in question which is his  Diary and is what it says on the cover it is Gombrowicz diary for the years 1953 til his death in 1969 ,these entries were published in the polish Magazine Kulutra .Most of the time in Argentina although near the end of his life Gombrowicz did return to europe to live .











Josefa Radzyminska has magnanimously provide me with a dozen or so issues of Widomosci and Zycie (life and the literary news )

The opening of the diary and a rather witty start .


Now from its opening you can see both Gombrowicz deepness of thought  and his humour which is quite dry  at times .So this for the   diary  it is hard to pin down it isn’t really a diary in the straightforward sense  as such ,No it is  so much more it is the outpouring of a great writer ,no I’ll go further  a great mind .Granted  at times you disagree with him at times on some of his views  ,he has little time for Proust ,he also had various views good and bad on his fellow countrymen most of which he does go into depth with over the course of this book .WE also so see the many trends of the time things such as  , existentialism , Marxism , phenomenology . structuralism .This marks Gombrowicz as a great Polemic writer he does have strong views on most things he discusses in the book ,these views also set what made him such a great fiction writer as his insight into so many things seemed well thought out and in-depth .

The flaws of Proust’s book are enormous and innumerable -a gold mine of defects .His duel with time ,based on an exaggerated ,naive faith in the power of art -this is the professional mysticism of a crazed aesthete and artist .His psychological analyses could drag out into infinity ,for they are only embroidering on observations -they are not exploratory .

He was not a real Proust fan it seems .

Then at other times you marvel at Gombrowicz ability to recount the writers of his day and also his looking in at the polish literature scene from the outside ,this is definitely one of those books you need a notebook for the names of writers you are unaware of (although this said most of the ones I have looked up seem to be out of print in English a great shame ) also one of those books I can see myself returning over the coming years for quotes and insights into writers he has mentioned or encountered . I felt  via this book you get a real sense of polish literature up to the late sixties .Then we also  get his insight into Poland as a place and culture  there isn’t the wistful looking back and yearning you expect of an exile no Gombrowicz opens his homeland up and pulls it to piece bit by bit ,so you see how it became the place it was when he left and since he left .Then we see the life of an exile working in a bank ,mundane at times but his slow move into the lit society of ex pats and Argentinians ,also his late night meeting with younger guys .Gombrowicz manages to catch what it is to be an intellectual but without that feeling of him showing it off to you as a reader ,you feel he knew this or else he wouldn’t have  had a successful column in   Kultura for ten plus years .

Now strange enough  John Self happen to mention he had been reading Gombrowicz novel because Keith Ridgway had mention him as a writer to read ,but I had already read the diary’s before he mention this  in his post ,strange we both come at a great writer via different routes ,well I had read Ferdydurke by chance many, many  years ago and had forgotten about him as a writer til I saw a Yale press tweet about the diaries coming out  (the book I read had a funky graffiti style cover and was published in the sixties I mainly borrowed it from library due to the cover rather than the writer , but Yale have just put out a new edition ) .I must admit this is maybe given me a feeling for diaries as a form of writing I need to read more off so suggestions welcome (I know of Woolf’s thou ).I would say this is a book that any lover of writing and writers would love it is a great insight into a writers mind .

Have you a favourite Polish writer ?

Umbrella by Will Self

Umbrella by Will self

English fiction in modernist style


source – review copy

Now I was a fan of Self’s early books having read grey area,my idea of fun ,the book of Dave amongst a few but its been six years since I ve read him the last book was the book of Dave .So when there was a lot of interested in his new book Umbrella ,which takes its title from a James Joyce quote I decide maybe it was time to go back and see what had change with Will Self since I last read him .Will self is london based writer and was in the 1993 Granta new writer list .He is well-known in the uk for his frequent media appearances in the UK on tv .He has published nine novel and eight short story collections and numerous books of non-fiction .

A brother is an easily forgotten as an umbrella

– James Joyce

opening the book this quote is a puzzle by the end you get it !!!


So umbrella ,I was looking forward to this book then I saw some people didn’t like it and other had struggled with it .This is Self’s take on modernism but we should be shocked I feel Self has played with styles all his writing life great apes was a Swiftian novel a bit like Guliver travels a man wakes in an environment where he is the odd one out  and Dorian was a tribute to Oscar Wilde  with a modern retelling of the picture of Dorian Grey .So this time he is tinkering with Modernism but is it a copy or is he bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century well I m going go with the second of those views he has updated the Modernist style .So the book itself is mainly about the De’ath family (which after hearing an  interview recently with  Self is partly based from research he had done into his own family ) anyway the main character from this family in the book is Audrey De’ath we see here in the 1920 but she ends up with the sleeping sickness that spread the world at this time ,left her like a fly caught in amber alive but not interacting with the world as she is motionless and thus is really a person caught out of time anyway the second of many storylines in this book sees the return of one of Self’s favourite character Dr Zack Busner (Self said in the same interview I heard he keeps returning to this character because of his interest in psychiatry and the working of the brain ) .So what connects there two is that Busner is working with Audrey in the 1970’s in one of the old asylums to unlock her from her state .Now I ve not read or seen the film but supposedly this is a similar thing to the book from Oliver Sacks where he helped people with the same condition as Audrey .Elsewhere we see the world war via Audrey brother who is on the frontline .We also meet Busner in the here and now looking back on what happened in the seventies .

Miss Dearth ….Miss Dearth ? She doesn’t respond but she hears ,oh yes she does .They go on and repeat the same procedure for the three male guinea pigs ,who are found becalmed in their back water of the mens dormitory .Busner has charged Inglis with ensuring that all of them are got every morning cleaned and dressed and shaved .She was sarcasm itself :Ooh ,par-don ,Doc-tor ,but you want me to pre-tend dey goin’ onna Journey ? her hands on her hips ,her breast proud ,a reddy flush in her cheeks .Busner though bitterly,was her go-slow ever called off ?

as you see time drifts and it is hard to pin .


Now I like some modernist writers anyone that reads this blog Know I m a huge Henry Green fan one of the best modernist writers but also like James Joyce but never quite got Woolf  and yes in places he has feel of all  these writer are in there but also a large part of Self and his earlier works ,it has a stream of consciousness style to the narrative and a jumpy style where he starts in the 1920’s and some how ends the sentence in the 1970’s or now  ,I liked this it is like a core sample you sometimes see in a museum  instead of sticking throughout with years and layers of time  and going between them ,Self has taken a core sample and driven the narrative through time this can be initially quite disturbing too me as a reader, but after a time you get use to it and I always feel as a reader you need to be pushed to the limit  .There was a punctuation tick Self  uses  that did really annoy me at the start and it was the constant use of a … here there and everywhere but after a time this blended into the narrative and I noticed it less ,also like Joyce did he makes up words by sticking ends onto them so we get toothpasting this is a very Joycean thing to do in fact I follow a twitter feed  a Joyce fan that is listing all his inventive verbs for Finnegans wake .I enjoyed this book a lot more than other people it seems I ve now heard Self is planning to writer two further books so this is just the start of his modernist era or should that be neo modernist I feel he has paid homage to Joyce ,Woolf and Green but also thrown in enough of his style to make this feel like the beginning of a new style .This is one of three booker shortlisted books I ve read and this is just second on my list so far but I could see it winning the booker prize .It was a welcome return for me to a writer I used to enjoy a lot but had drifted away from .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like new takes on modernism ?

Thanks I m back slowly

I’m returning  but not fully refreshed as I had hoped ,but as many of you may know my wife has just returned home after a nine-day stay in hospital, so the time I had off from work to try to sort out  my blog and the review backlog has gone on the back-burner  .But I have learnt one thing about what is important about blogging to me  and that is the nice people I ve met via blogging  and there support over recent weeks has been wonderful via twitter and email .So I will be return this week I ve a hug backlog of books but have decide to read Proust  all in one go in December as I had planned to read him this year reading it all in one go will give me time to catch up .So  I’ve managed to read three of the booker shortlist whilst I ve been away and been making small plans for German lit month .I’ve a song that means a lot to me and Amanda here and so  What you all been up to ? I may take a while to get through all your blogs and comment please bare with me .

October 2012


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