Mend the living by Maylis De Kerangal

 

Mend the living by maylis De Kerangal

French Literature

Original title Réparer les vivants

Translator – Jessica Moore

Source – review copy

I said earlier this year I wanted to reach a 100 french novels this year, the main reason is there is so much great fiction coming from France in recent years and here is another writer I have found to add to the list . I know Maclehose have high hopes for this book and I as a reader can see why they have .This is Maylis De Kerangal fifth novel and the second one to be translated to English she has won a number of prizes in her native France. She lives in Paris.

Christopher Alba, John Rocher, and him, Simon Limbeau. The alarms were ringing when they pushed back the sheets and got out of bed for a session planned by text a little before midnight, a session at half-tide, only two or three like this a year – rough see, regular waves, low- wind and not a soul in sight. Jeans , shirt, they slipped outside without a bite, not even a glass of milk or handful of ceral, not evena crust of bread

Hungry and early in the morning simon and his mates head to the Surf on a day that will be like no other for him .His last !

The book follows one day and a number of lives that follows one death and that is the death of the title character Simon a 19-year-old surfer full of life, he has woken very early  to catch the surf  as he usually does, what we see is the early morning race to the beach he has made many times before  and the group of surfers there on the beach the sights and scents of being a surfer  . Then this scene is blown open, when  we see the accident  that has happened to Simon and he is in an ambulance the action then follows to a nurse as he arrives at the hospital and his parents decide to donate his organs.We see how one man has touched so many over the space of one day from his friends and family to those he donates to and all those along the way in this rollercoaster last day of a French Surfer.

He’ll be a donor

Sean is one to make this statement and Thomas Remige gets up from his chair abruptly, shaky, red thorax expanding with an influx of heat as though his blood was speeding up , and walks straight towards them. Thank you. Marianne and Sean Lower their eyes, planted like stakes in the office doorway, wordless their shoes mark the floor leave sludge and black grass, they themselves are over whelmed by what they’ve just done, by what they’ve just announced – “Donor” “Donor” “don-ate” “Aban-don” the words clang together.

The minute his parents choose to let him go their Simon.

 

What we have here is an event that takes place every day and that is that  someone dies, but they choose  to  live on in the donations they make of their organs. What Maylis has done is taken the moment this happens. This is like the Hadron collider of a book Simon  on one side and the people he will help on the other side.  are like the two particles waiting for that one moment this two collide  and start a new life at the  moment of creation ! This book is about heart Simons heart which goes to the heart of France Paris to be reborn in an Old woman.So Young man gives an older woman life from his own death. The prose is written in a fast furious style  almost like the surf that Simon has ridden through his young life you are on the crest of a wave a vibrant writer and a vibrant translation by Jessica moore make this a ride that will leave the reader breathless.

Have you read this book ?

 

Slow homecoming by Peter Handke

slowhomecoming

Slow homecoming by Peter Handke

Austrian fiction

Original title – Langsame Heimkehr

Translator – Ralph Manheim

Source – Library book

I was so surprised when I looked back and saw I hadn’t review a single novel by Peter  Handke in the time I have been running the blog, although he was a writer i read a lot years ago before his more controversal years when he support certain leaders in the Balkan war. I first came across him when he wrote the script for Wings or Desire the Wim Wenders film with whom he has worked with over a number of film and after which I saw I read a number of his books in the early 1990’s . Handke is a name that has crept up the Nobel betting also in recent years. The time to revisit him after twenty years maybe was now so this library collection of three novellas seemed a great place to start.

 

Sorger had outlived several of those who had become close to him; he had ceased to long for anything, but often felt a selfless love of existence and at times a need for salvation so palpable that it weighted on his eyelids. Capable of a tranquil harmony, a serve strength that could transfer itself to other, yet easily wounded by the power of facts.

The opening lines of the first of the three novellas The long way round .

The book is in three sections they were originally published separately but later brought together as the same character is in all three books The first extract is from the first book The long way round we meet Valentin Sorger he is in the distant Alaska  and as the title of the collection suggest we see  Sorger who longs to be back home in Europe working his wat slowly across America strangely I was reminded of the Wenders film Alice in the cities and it turns out that Wenders had used Handke  fiction as  part of  the inspiration for this film, also about a German speaker working his way home like Sorger in the book.

Mont sainte-Victoire is not the highest mountain in Provence, but it is said to be the steepest. It does not consist of a single peak but of a Long chain, the crest of which describes a relatively straight line at an almost constant altitude of a thousand meters above sea level. It looks like a sheer peak only when seen from the valley of Aix, situated half a day walk almost due westward .

The view of a mountain in Provence that Cezanne painted many times over his painting career.

 

 

I have include one of Cezanne’s many pictures of the mountain that makes up the second part of the three novellas that make up this book as we see Sorger taking short walks in the region and thinking about places and images as he does it.

The child was now more than three years old. Thus far, she had played alone almost exclusively, turned inward in quiet contentment, unlike the gloomily self-absorbed adult. But in the course of time ( and specifically of the seasons) both had made themselves at home in community on the wooded slope, and the adult was sick of vistors who with their falsely sympathetic or ironically citified remarks about the house and its location.

The third novella is about a father and his daughter

The third book although not called or even mentioned as Sorger follows a man who has moved to a small mountain town in what one must assume is Austria is a man returned to his roots after many years away from the country. Partly based on Handke on life.

I enjoyed this book it has a lot of what a love in my favourite books that is Longing and a wanting to return home in this case not to a place so much as to a feeling of a places. I imagine what Handke has done in these books is captured that feeling that is best decribed in the Portugeese word Saudade, that longing to return to a homeland now gone or even the german term Heimat these three books collected together see a man struugle with coming home then what it is about a place that appeals using Cezanne obsession with Mont Sainte-victoire . then the final end when home what it means to be home and not feel back at home.

Have you read Handke ?

 

Submission by Michel Houellebecq

 

 

Submission by Michel Houellebecq

French fiction

Original title – Soumission

Translator – Lorin Stein

Source – Personnel copy

Well when I started to look back on books that came out last year that may make the Man booker longlist this was one of the first on my list of books I hadn’t read and I was lucky to find a half price copy in my local waterstones. I have read Houellebecq before I have found him a challenging writer if a little to obsessed with sex for my liking. But this was a book I had to read given the events it was caught up in as we maybe all know the week of the Charlie Hebdo the cover star the week of the attack with a review of this very book. Houellebecq then stood back from promotion of this book.

So it goes, in the remaining western social democracies, when you finish your studies, but most students don’t notice right away because they’re hypnotised by the desire for money or, if they’re more primitive, the desire for consumer goods (though these cases of acute product-addiction are unusual: the mature, thoughtful majority develop a fascination with that” tireless Proteus”, money itself). Above all they’re hypnotised by the desire to make their mark, to carve out an enviable social position in a world that they believe indeed hope will be competitive, galvanised as they are by worship of fleeting icons: athletes, fashion or web designers, film stars and models

Maybe in the opening lines Houellebecq capture the modern world of greed and celeb we live in !!

The book in question is submission is set in a near distant future of  France 2020 and the story is told from the world of Francois, he is an academic who has spent his whole life studying the life and works of the 19th century French writer Joris-Karl Huysman. His life has a pattern even his relationships which early on he says seem to take a yearly cycle with his  academic year. He is wound up so much in his life , so much so that he seems to have missed what is going on in his homeland till this point which is breaking point. The country has seen a decade of governments fail and people get disillusioned with their leaders and into this vacuum that has come at the top of French politics is a far right leader based on the real Marie Le pen and a Ben Abbes the leader of a Muslim party, now the unthinkable happens and these to get to form an alliance and then Ben Abbes grasps power and starts to impose Muslim law on the country. Now Francois starts to taste a new life where have multiple wives and women have to treat men differently is acceptable but also this quite man sees his life has shifted.A scary look at a terrifying future.

Beneath these surface agitations, France was undergoing deep and rapid change. It turned out that some of Ben Abbe’s ideas had nothing to do with Islam; during press conference he declared ( to general bafflement) that he was profoundly influences by distrubutism. He had actually said so before, several times on the campaign  trail, but since journalists have a natural tendency to ignore what they don’t understand, no one paid attention and he’d let it drop

I love the fact they had missed the fact a lot of Abbe’s views follow a catholic theory that was missed by the press.

Now this is a clever look at what could happen if a path is taken the more one side grows say  the far right parties and their supporters,  their naturally has to be another side to counter act the rise of the other so the two main political figures in this book aren’t to far from the real people they are based on and in a way the fact that a far right and Muslim party would join together in a coalition shows in a way how similar some of their views may be. Then we have a juxtapose view of this book and the main book of Huysman Canon A rebours a study of a man and living a decadent lifestyle in a world of freedom.Is viewed  by a woman hating man in the present day that maybe sees the fact of  no freedoms as having the ultimate freedom.I maybe found Francois a little creepy and  in a way a typical lead character in a Houellebecq novel. But this is a clever view on France and the way things could happen if things don’t change.

Have you read this book or any by Houellebecq ?

Conducting bodies by Claude Simon

conducting bodies Claude simon

Conducting bodies by Claude Simon

French fiction

Original title – Les Corps conducteurs

Translator – Helen R Lane

Source – Library book

I have reviewed a number of French writers of the last few years that have all been identified as Noveau Roman writers such as Sarraute or Duras  both of which I have reviewed on the blog. Where each book the writer  tackled was a new style of story and book to them as a writer. Although he was included by many in this group Claude Simon himself didn’t count himself in the group of writers. Simon won the Nobel Literature prize in 1985.So when I found this book on my library system late last year I was pleased to try him.

In the display a dozen identical female legs are lined up in a row, feet up, thighs lopped off at the hip joint resting on the floor, the knees slightly bent, as though the legs had been removed from some chorus of dancers at the precise moment that they are all kicking  in unison, and put there in the window just as the were, or perhaps snipped out, in monotonous multiplicity, from some advertisement showing a pretty girl in her slip pulling on a stocking, or sitting on a pouf, or on the edge of an unmade bed

The opening lines of the book show you are in for a ride as a reader.

Well Conducting bodies belongs in the field of hard modernist novels, for there is no real plot to speak of other than we are told a writer is on his way to a writers conference that well could be a big city in america but equally given the time the book was written (early 1970’s ) when France was in love with all things US at that time it could france. Anyway or writers body isn’t working he visitis a doctor. Now this is the part you get the other parts is an interconnected collection of prose about bodies the human body, prints on the wall of the doctors , the models in the shop windows which is where the book opens from there on it is a rollercoaster ride of images and ideas

The airplane appears to be suspended motionless above the immense, unchanging layer of clouds, since each time that one glances at the fleecy humps stretching as far as the eye can see, the only thing visible are minute, nearly imperceptible changes.The only evidence that hour after hour is passing is the fatigue that is thickening little by little on his face, like a crust, accompanied by a slight burning sensation, as though he were suffering from a mild fever. It forms a sort of invisible mask of mud tat sticks to his skin,

The plane trip that may have happened or maybe not one can never tell in this book.

In a way the prose style setting and  style of this book were similar in a way to the  Robbe-grillet novel I review ed last year strangely another novel that was detached from place and time   in the way it was told. This maybe is Simon Homage to the style of writing that America produced in the middle of the 20th century some of Faulkner the way we have no fixed point in the narrative is similar in style to As I lay dying were we are given no guide to who is narrating the story.  But there is also a feel of something like William Burroughs a cut up feel to the nature of the book. This isn’t any easy book to get through no in a way it is like a lot great book trying to tackle the north face of Everest but when you reach the peak you get a real sense of achievement also the work that Helen Lane put into translating this book which must have been hard as there is no real plot to follow as you do so.I will be trying his books again as I come across them Simon is very much a French modernist writer as a look of Amazon tells me he hasn’t any books in print at the moment it seems.

Have you read Simon ?

 

The boy whole Stole Attila’s horse by Iván Repila

theboywhostoleattilashorse

The boy who stole Attila’s horse by Iván Repila

Spanish fiction

Original title El niño que robó el caballo de Atila

Translator – Sophie Hughes

Source personnel copy

I was looking at some of the books that came out last year that may be on the man booker radar and this one I remember when it appeared last year seemed to get a number of good reviews in the papers and around the web so when I was in Sheffield earlier this week I decide to buy myself a copy to read. This is Ivan Repila second book in Spanish but his first to be translated to English. I can see why it may have been chosen as the first by him to be translated into english it has a certain universal nature to the story. A book that remind me so much of a Japanese film.

It looks impossible to get out, he says. And also: “But we’ll get out.”

To the north, the forest borders the mountain range and is surrounded by lakes so big they look like oceans. In the centre of the forest is a well. The well is roughly seven metres deep and its uneven walls are a bank of damp earth and roots, which tapers at the mouth and widens at the base like and empty pyramid with no tip.

The impossible to get out of well they are in, these are the opening lines of the book .

The book is the story of two brother Small and Big. They are stuck in the bottom of a well, we are given no idea how the pair arrived there. What follows in this short novel is the struggle to survive and the slow madness that comes to them both as they are stuck down this hole. Repila has a way of the horrific days and months of there being stuck there seem poetic in a brutal nature. As the bigger brother starts to try to keep small alive. This seen remind me of the Grave of the fireflies an early Studio Ghibli film that like this film follows siblings in that case a brother and sister , but we see the same brutal and sad demise as the two retreat to a small cave by a river and feed on the insects around them . (this is the one film I won’t watch again it is so sad be warned this one rather like this book can rip your heart out )

Small is so hungry that he can no longer control his body. He baulks, puts out his hand, into which Big places a colossal maggot, as juicy as a ripe apple.

“Abuser. Nasty pig. I hate you”

Finally he eats. He chews the gelatinous fibre of the maggot a dozen times and the bitter juice that oozes from it dances on his tongue. He drools like a hungry dog. It doesn’t taste of chicken: It’s better than chicken he bursts into tears like the little boy that he was.

“You’re the best. I love you. I love you.”

The feast goes on all night.

This scene and a few others reming me of the film The grave of the fireflies, I also like the chicken line here!

Replia has chosen two strange quotes at the start of the book one from Margaret Thatcher (why anyone would quote her is beside me ) About free trade and being rich and poor . The a Brecht quote from his poem To posterity about death and uprisings. I think we are meant to read Big and small as a wider story of survival in people and stripping the two lead characters of all identity barring their size has given this a fairy tale feel a timeless nature to the story. I was reminded of another Spanish novel I read last year Out in the Open   another story of human suffering like the two boys in this book, maybe this is a modern take on a Spanish tradition that can be traced back to the books of Cela that take a look at the brutal nature of human life-like his book The family of Pascual Duarte life is brutal for some like big and small only one is destined to come through this ordeal.

Have you read this book ?

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