Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faces on the tip of my tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano

French fiction

Original title – Un renard à mains nues

Translators – Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis

Source – review copy

I loved the first book from this writer when it was brought out by And other stories a few years ago Trysting was an unusual book with the detached nature of the voices with in the work. This is a collection of short stories in the french version there were 34 stories but the translator and Emmanuelle decide to trim this down to give the book more of a collective feel. The stories all, on the whole, have unnamed narrators and managed to capture that certain oddness of the countryside this case the french but many of these could easily be set in Rural areas in the Uk. As I show below I linked with a few stories.

I went to the lake every summer when I was alittle girl, I lived on an aec of beach nordered by wooden fences and a forest so thick that we didnt make dens in the trees but dug them in the undergrowth instead. My uncle had built a house on this strip of shore, then a hut for tools and the pedalo, and some wonky terraces where the landsloped down to the rippling water. Near the reeds, right up close to their rustling song and their birds nests, he hadmarked out a meadow where he went in search of sunshine .

My local lake was all the rage every summer.

So we have thirteen tales in this collection. It seems to want to capture the loneliness oddness and quirky nature of the French countryside. Here it opens with a narrator talking about a lake cycling to it this lake in the middle of the nowhere I was reminded of the lake well old quarry that was filled with water near where I grew up, then we meet the local loony as they say I was reminded of a chap the guy in the story had lost his family the guy  I used to pick up on my journey out for the day center he just appeared in the main street in Rothbury never saw his house he was a real country character disheveled and maybe out of pace with time he had a sad story in his past too. Then there was a story of someone that looked very like a grandmother this was another story I could relate to I have pictures of my own grandfather in his army day when he was a bit younger than me but I could see a lot of me and my dad in the picture. Then a cruel tale that I really connect with as we see women waiting at a bus stop she has a learning disability and was told by a cruel doctor that he wanted to marry her so she goes and waits for him.An interesting collection of stories. I connected with them.

The looney and the bright spark. It could be the title of a fairy tale, a bit like “Beauty and the beast”< a sad storywith quite a happy ending. The full title would be the roadside looney and the bright spark at the construction company, but that has less of a ring to it , for a sad story with a more or less a happy ending. My story is sad too, but it has a sad ending, very sad or rather it never ends its starts badly, very badly and nothing comes rightnothing is resolved.I don’t know where it starts.

The looney a man that lost everything waits for them to return in this anti fairy tale !

I was a huge fan of stones in a landslide an early Peirene book that caught a world well this is another world all be it darker and fun at times in that regard I was reminded of the works of fellow Fench writer Pascal Garnier who like some of these tales saw the darkly comic in the everyday and also rural France.. This collection was chosen by the writer and translators as they seem to link in well together from the original 34 stories which means the book fits Peirene two hour read which is about what it took me I had a quick read through and as I did I  make the slow connections which I do as a reader from time to time to my own life having lived in small towns villages in my youth it was easy to make the connection to rural places. Have you read this collection ? or Trysting by Emmanuelle ?

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Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain

French fiction

Original title – Millésime 1954

Translator – Gallic books (Jane Aitken / Emily Boyce)

Source – review copy

We all have a writer we go to for a fun read and for me the last few years it has been the novels of Antoine Laurain a mix of nostalgia and comedy. This is his sixth book to be translated into English by the Gallic books they are all similar in that they have an event or item that sets up a cascade of events. His novel French Rhapsody is being developed into a tv show according to the French wiki page. I have reviewed all his previous books and have grown to love his gentle comic books.

Oaris was destined to remain a fantasy for them. Two months after they met, although they had become engaged, chosen their wedding rings and dreamed of spending their honeymoon wandering the streets of Montmatre, Bob was contacted by Harley-Davidson. Their headhunters had spotted his talent as a mechanic, and they were offering him a job designing new egines, for three times what he was earning at Mensch’s Motors. Bob’s career was taking off and the flights to Paris could not compete

They had dreamed of Paris all their Married life Bob and Goldie but never got there.

So this book follows a group of people of a french Apartment building. Hubert and three other people open 1954 Beaujolais the three of them wake in 1954 Magilae an antique restorer, Bob a brash American from Milwaukee that is visiting France for the first time but alone as he was due to visit with his wife Goldie. Julien a Mixologist and Hubert as they set out to find out how to get back to 2017 and also, in turn, spend time in the Paris of 1954. As the see Piaf and Gabin dining elsewhere we head to the Louvre and the amazement of seeing the Mona Lisa not behind glass and light with special lighting, The Harrys bar with Harry still there and a new cocktail that is tasted by Audrey Hepburn when Julien makes it. They discover that a UFo was seen at the time this bottle of wine and a professor is writing a book about the events at the vineyard. Will he know the way back to the present for them? Has the past changed their view of the present?

“A new cocktail?” asked one of his colleagues, coming behind the bar

“Yes, with a violet base.”

“Write it down, Julien. Harry wants everything to be written down on the recipe book. He tapped the large book on the bar.

“Julien opened it and wrote in pencil

Abby, short drink

To a chilled mixing glass add : ice cubes, violet syrup(1cl), vodka(4cl), gin(4cl).

mix with a spoon, strain into a martini glass. Pour a little liquorice liqueur down the side of the glass.

Decorate with a twist of lemon zest, cutting one end into a star shap and resting this on the rim of the glass

Julien makes a new cocktail in 1954 that is new to him and old when he gets back to 2017

This is a bit different than his other books as it has a time travel element whereas his other have seen people look back in nostalgia  this sees people travel back to the fifties but it also sees people connecting with there own pasts and also remembering things like Bob remembering his wife Goldie is a sad story of a couple dream of Paris but never getting there they’d  watched Amelie, he ends up in the cafe in the fifties when it was at its best when their is touches like Harry and Harry’s bar a well known French cocktail bar that sees a modern as they are known Mixologist given the chance to make a drink for Audrey Hepburn and when he returns he see the Abbey now has a wiki page. There is a set of question for reading groups at the end the one that struck me is the one that says how do we cope when we haven’t a phone to find out about the world around us when we had to read and maybe ask !! another comic look back at French life and Parisian nostalgia. Have you tried Antoine Laurain? I reviewed this as part of a blog tour for Gallic books see the other bloggers here

Selfies by Sylvie Weil

 

Selfies.jpg

Selfie by Sylvie Weil

French fiction

Original title – Selfies

Translator – Ros Schwartz

Source – review copy

Sylvie Weil is the daughter of the well-known Mathematician Andre Weil and niece of Philosopher Simone. She studied Classics and French literature at the Sorbonne then taught in France and after a few years became a professor of French literature in the US. Then decided to become a writer she has written a number of YA novels and novels as well as Plays and Short stories. This is the latest book from the small publisher Les Fugitives bring the best of Modern French Literature to us in English.

The elderly teacher would often remind me that you must play each bar with one eye already on the next, so as not to be caught unawares. It was when he was speaking on this subject that I heard him laugh – the one and only time ever. He recalled one of his pupils, a very pious english spinster, who had replied: Oh! monsieur, god alone can see the future. I didn’t see him laugh because I never looked at him, but I definitely heard him laugh, as he sat beside ,me

The otgan reminded of the picture of someone 400 years earlier playing a clavichord sparks a memory of an old teacher.

This is a clever use of selfies the modern craze that isn’t so modern as we see here Sylvie uses a mix of paintings and photos from the 16th century onwards. Then uses these to tell vignettes of her own life, From the opening Vignette Sofonsiba Angussiola a picture of her at a Clavichord that reminds her when she visited a crypt in 1978 learning the organ being taught by an elderly teach proud to be teaching Simone’s niece. The Gwen John painting self-portrait with a letter reminds Sylvie of a postcard a lover called Gary the piece set in cafes smells of tobacco and honey and their meetings will he ask her to marry him something never answered. Later on, Frida Kahlo self-portrait reminds Sylvie of a couple she knew that had a dog, she isn’t a fan of dogs but when this dog that was a huge bouncy dog that greeted her bounding over every time passes she sees the gap and why they loved him so much. Near the end, Vivian Maier sparks the remembrance of a trip to Israel and what happened after as she is questioned about the trip.

When I met his owners, Ted and Elizabeth, they were no longer young. They’d married late. They had a huge dog called Winston, who would jump up excitedly when you mentioned the name of a certain dog biscuit, a bland rusk in the shape of a little bone. He’d snatch the biscuitm crunch it and then wag his tail enthusiastically, asis fitting for a well trained dog. It goes without saying that he never tired of running to retrive the ball or the sticks his owners threw as far as they could, knowning that he enjoyedthis game. An uncomplicated dog in other words. He was Elizabeth’s dog, from before her marriage. She liked to say that it was thank him that she’d learned to live with a fellow creature. Winston had taught her to share , to trust, Otherwise she’d never have married, she’d assert with a smile.

Well not hard to know why I connect to this particular vignette we all need a huge dog called Winston in our lives at some point !!!

This is a clever framing device using the paintings as a starting point for the vignettes she writes each a personal and emotional experience from her life. This is a literary trip on the selfie an attempt to capture in a few pages more than what is a picture but also what makes a picture the moment but also the moments leading to the snapshot a self is just a millisecond but this shows what isn’t caught yes a dog is a dog but when the dog isn’t there the gap is more than a gap. Playing a keyboard is about learning but also the experience of learning and the place. I was remind of Wim Wenders talking about how unreal phone selfies are not a photo just a image as how often do we print them of even then this shows that it is more than a moment we maybe need but the whole sensation of  what happened from Proust biting his Madeleine or Sebald falling down the various rabbit holes in rings of Saturn it is about the image, place or  taste leading the writer somewhere ! Another interesting piece of French Literature this touched me as much as Anne Ernaux Years did earlier this year.

All Happy families by Hervé Le Tellier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Happy families by Hervé Le Tellier

french memoir

Original title  – Toutes les familles  heureuses

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

I loved the years recently and it reminds me I hadn’t had chance to get to this book that had come out a couple of months ago by another well known French writer Herve Le Tellier is also a member of the OULIPO group. A mathematician by training he became a journalist and editor. He has written a number of books including winning a prize for a comic novel. when he put a book out that he had supposedly translated from Portuguese called Me and Mitterand about a series of letters in a spoof novel by Jamie Montestrela but was Le Tellier himself.

Marafan syndrome is a disorder of the connective tissue. It affects about one person in every five thouseand. The gene whose mutation produces the condition is on chromosome 15, and the mutation can have nearly a thousand variants. Symptons of the syndrome include aortal aneurism, pronouced nearsightedness and unusual bone growt,Sufferers are often very tall with long thin fingers,

The britsh actor Peter Mayhew, famlus for playing the hairy wookie Chewbacca in the star wars movies has the syndrome.Some claim that Abraham Lincoln did too. But that is of no concern to us here

He then mentions Rahmaniov and how he had it.

This is another clever little french memoir. It is a series of vignettes about the writer’s life growing up in his family growing up. He explains early on the book that the time was right his father and stepfather both dead and his mother in the latter stages of Alzheimers he starts to think back at his own youth not as he saw it as unhappy but more a childhood that when looked back on maybe wasn’t the happiest his parents split when he was very young and he grew up with his mother and stepfather guy. Guy is from an old French family and distant to the young boy He was drawn into his world of books as a kid. He also spent a lot of time with his grandparents another tale about them, every weekend. One of the things I most connect with was his chapter about Rachmaninov’s concerto no. 2 which leads to a digression about the condition Marfan syndrome which for me is something I heard mention a lot in my teens as it was thought I had it as I am tall have long fingers and a few other signs I haven’t but to know that is why he was such a great pianist was news to me.

 “My sister’s a whore ” my mother took to saying when the flood barrier of decorium gave way to age and dementia, and she stopped feigning affection.

This whore was also my god mother. My mother admitted she’d never lover her, perhaps precisely because Raphaelle was so loveable.

It was to this first daughter that my grandfather had so genrously bequeathed his name. A happy boistrous girl, she ramined his favourtie. Raphaelle was only eighteen months older than Marceline but numbers are deceptive.There was nearly a decade between them my aunt was a woman at thirteen, my mother not untilshe was twenty.

The aunt and what his mother called her .

 

This is an honest look back at a childhood that wasn’t the happiest but he does it with great humor remember events. All families are like his when we look at it this is a modern family before its time. Where divorce has happened not so common as is shown when they want to change Herve name I remember changing my own name as a child for a couple of years.  I grew up in a stepfamily my stepfather is well may I said an odd chap so I could relate to his tales of his life this is a wonderful set of vignettes that showed his family carbuncles and all his sister father all are compelling reading like his auntie or as his mother called her in the chapter My sister a whore who had a parade line  of men. All told in a witty style that made me want to read his spoof work I mentioned in the first section of this review. Have you read any of Le Tellier fiction ?

The Years by Annie Ernaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Years by Annie Ernaux

French Fiction

Original title – Les Années

Translator – Alison L Strayer

Source – personal copy (kindly sent by Batpoet from twitter the US edition thanks)

I will put my own Shortlist out tomorrow the day the actual shortlist is out I have about hundred pages of the last book to finish and I will have read this year’s longlist I am behind on reviews so this is the ninth book from the long list I have to review three more books to review. Anyway back to this which in a way is maybe the most unusual books on this years list as it is one of those borderline books that I really love. I should know it UK publisher is Fitzcarraldo. It is neither fiction or non-fiction a memoir in a way. Annie Ernaux her books have long chronicled her life over the years over books have dealt with her relationship with her father, the death of her mother and having breast cancer this is considered her masterpiece by French critics.

Memory was transmitted not only through the stories but through the ways of walking, sitting, talking, laughing, eating, hailing someone, grabbing hold of objects. It passed body to body, over the years, from the remotest countryside of France and other parts of Europe: a heirtage unseen in the photos, lying beyond individual difference and the the gaps between the goodness of some and the wickedness of others. It united family members, neighbors, and all these of whom one said “They’re people like us” a repertory of habits and gestures shaped by childhoods in the fields and teen years in wiorkshops, preceeded by other childhoods, all the way back to oblivion

I loved this passage early on in the book.

This is an interesting work as Annie speaks of her life from the early 1940s to the 20th century in a third person narrative of a womans life in France over those years and the generation she is part of the post-war generation of French intellectuals that we all know so well over here it is ashamed Annie herself maybe isn’t better know. She is a French literature teacher she has kids and lives in the Paris suburbs. This book isn’t just about her life but is a work that shows us the culture of those years and the events of those years from the music she listens to from Piaf chevalier and even pre-war acts like Josephine Baker. The books films and general culture.I love she laments how TV is taking over the world at the end of the book. This is maybe a lament to a world that has now gone that of proper discovery that of reading one book then finding another books films because of paper reviews or word of mouth of friends a smaller world a world where things need to be discovered no good reads, no IMDB, etc. The second line is France itself through these years in a way a build up to the pivotal events of 1968 that saw France on the verge of crashing into oblivion and then to here and now where they are part of a greater Europe but events still happen.

Beneath the surface of the things that never changed, last year’s circus posters with the photo of Roger Lanzac, First communion photos handed out to schoolmates, the club des chansonniers on Radio Luxembourg, our days swelled with new desire. On a sunday afternoons, we crowded around the window of the genral electrics shop to watch television.Cafes invested in TV sets to lure clientele.

A world now gone when people would stand and watch tv in a shop window .

 

I loved this I will be rereading this one for years I love books that make me think and books that make you want to discover the world around us. This was a life’s work for the writer she had kept notes for years in preparation for writing this book a look at her generation and what happened during those years and what influenced everyone. Those pivotal moments of Algeria, 1968, September 11, The coming of the digital age. The use of everything from High to low culture is great Adverts for examples those tunes and slogans that we all remember more than even the tv we may have watched this is a book about what is remember later rather than then in the moment it is where it differs from Karl Ove work it has a feeling of being worked over time it is more what has been remembered that what I remembered or what was happening a sort underpinning of the times. Yes this should be on the list it isn’t in maybe straight fiction but is a book that deserves a wider audience.

 

Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli

 

Image of Four Soldiers

Four soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli

French fiction

Original title – Quatre Soldats

Translator – Sam Taylor

Source – library book

Here is another writer from this year longlist that I have reviewed before his book Meal in winter was shortlisted for the old IFFP prize. Here is my review of it. I had seen a review of this before the longlist came out and had seen it at my library so was planning to read it anyway. Hubert Mingarelli left school and joined the Navy for three years he has since then written about twenty novels it is noted that on the whole his novels have just male characters and tend to look at father-son or male relationships like this book where we meet four soldiers in the middle of the Russian civil war that sees how they react in a lull in the war. The book won the Prix Medici

The four of us were still alive and kicking., thanks to Pavel. He was the cleverest of us all. His plans for the hut were perfect, and he was even able to build a real stove using a metal barrel filled with engine oil. A real stove that worked well nd didn’t smoke us out. But most importantly he’d found a way to pass the pipe through the roof without setting fire to it.Because that was how most other huts caught fire. Pavel had made tin tiles by cutting up our mess tins and then he’d nailed them to the roof around the pipe.

The arrival at the station / hut and Pavel sets up the stove after saving them.

We meet these four men as the set up a camp in a lull in the war they are just in the late teens or early twenties. Four young guys in the middle of the Russian civil war and just getting to know the world around them. That get time to know each other and grow closer. Benia the narrator of the book is a man that has time and is growing closer to Pavel then the other two men are Kyabine a simple giant from the Uzbek he is one of those guys that is the butt of all the guys jokes and lastly Sifira. Now it says, four soldiers. but there is a fifth man the so-called Evdokim kid a youngster a man who is a recruit. But he worries them as he is the only one of the group that is able to write and is often seen writing notes. As they try and stop others joining them in the station and get lots of useful items from around them and play dice as they talk this idyllic corner is surely only a short gap in the war.

We’d forgotten the dice in the station, We didn’t try to figure out who was to blame. We just knew tht we’d have to go and hind them s soon as we could, before anypne found them.

The tent was big enough for five. The Edvodkim kid wasn’t to our oil lamp, through, and the smoke hurt his eyes.

Kyabine was kicking up a fus about the watch. I think in reality, he was just oretending not to understand that it was my turn to hve it tonight.”I brought your turn from you last night” I reminded him

The gutys still guard but can swap when .

This is another short novella on this year’s Man Booker list it seems on the surface similar to the Meal in winter as it uses a similar framing device the men in that book end up trapped in a house by the winter. He uses the abandon station for a similar frame here the four main characters plus Evodkim who comes and goes is just on the cusp of manhood as we see in the relationship of Benia and Pavel which could be seen another way. The book isn’t about the war more the effect of war and the fear of war on those involved in it and about the comradeship of war as one of the soldiers that were a character in the tv series band of brothers about his company we in it shall be remembered. We lucky few, we band of brothers. For he who today shed his blood with me shall be my brother.” This what the short interlude is a band of brothers spending time together playing dice getting the things they need to get by and trying to forget what has been and what will be for  a few minutes and this is what Mingarelli captures so well in this book. I can see why this made the longlist it is a powerful book given it is only 120 pages long i’ve seen book much longer not have the same impact as this book does.

SmallCountry by Gaël Faye.

Image result for small country gael faye

Small country by Gaël Faye.

French fiction

Original title – Petit Pays

Translator – Sarah Aridizzone

Source – library

I went a few weeks ago through the library catalogue and try and find a few Man Booker hopefuls just to notch up the total I have read this year when the longlist comes out in a few weeks and this is a book I had seen mentioned a lot as a potential book. It is a Debut novel by the Franco Rwandan rapper and songwriter Gael Faye. This debut novel follows part of his own life when his family like many had to leave the violence that was caused by the civil war in Burundi and Rwanda. He has since lived in France and London and also later return for a time to Rwanda. This book won the Prix Goncourt des lyceens.

I am haunted by the idea of returning. Not a day goes by without the country calling me, A secret sound, a scent on the breeze, a certain afternoon light, a gesture, sometimes a silence is enough to stir my childhood memories. “You won’t find anything there , apart from ghosts and a pile of ruins,” Ana keeps telling me, She refusesd to hear another word about that “Cursed country”. I listen and beleive her. She’s alwaysbeen more clear-headed than me. So I put it out of my mind, I decide, once and for all, that I never going back. My life is here. In France.

A lament for his home and the Burden of Exile forever haunted by the past that is never the future.

the book is told through the eyes of Ten-year-old Gabriel a middle-class boy living comfortably in a Suburb with a number of Ex-pats like his own father. In Burundi with his sister and mother, the book starts as a usual tale of a boy growing up with no real difference to any other childhood. This is being told from Gabriel now in his thirties living in Paris looking back at the break up of his homeland. The viewpoint of Gabriel has that naive nature we all had as kids when the world around us seems distance as we ride on our BMX and discover friends play hooky and take part in stealing things with our friends This is all told as the dark clouds of the Civil; war slowly creep in and darken the world around Gabriel world of privileged kids in the rich Suburb. but his mother who lives in Burundi having to have left Rwanda herself is in Exile sees what is happening. As we see Gaby’s childhood slowly falling apart and those Halcyon days disappear as the war takes over.

Papa and I spent Christmas together, just the two of us. My present was a red BMX bike with mutlicoloured tassels on the handles. I was so excited that, at first light on Christmas morning and before Papa was awake, I took it to show the twins who lived in the house oppositem at the entrance to our street. They were suitably impressed. We messed about doing tcheleles – skids in the gravel. Then Papa appeared in his stripped pyjamas, livid and dished out a slap, in full view of my friends, for leaving the house so early woithout permission. I didn’t cry, or perhaps I did a little, but my tears were fromthe dust kicked up by our skids or else a fly caught in my eye, I can’t remember now.

I loved this it summed up a ten year old so well the excitment of the bike then the pain of having a slap and crying and the bravado of it not being crying for that but soemthing else.

This is a brilliant description of how easily one person’s life can change in a matter of days its one person tale that echoes the hundreds that both escaped and died in this horrific time. The war is captured so well in the way Gaby views the world when he starts to discover who he and his family is in conversations with his father Faye captures that moment we all have when the blinkers of childhood after life and we have to raise a hand and avoid getting blinded by the wider world and this is the lament at that moment but this is also a lament for a lost time and place that he or his family could never go back to it is worse than being an exile as there is a chance of return no this leaves the young, man rootless as his roots have gone. Now, this would have been a dead cert if it was the old IFFP as it has that feel of an IFFP book now I’m not sure I’d like to see it on the long list myself. Have your read this book ?

Now,Now, Louison by Jean Fremon

Published on 24 September 2018, paperback original with flaps, 180x120, 115 pages

Now, Now, Louison by Jean Fremon

French Fiction

Original title – Calme toi

Translator -Cole Svensen

Source -personal copy

Jean Fremon is a French gallerist famous for promoting a number of the best-known artists of the 20th century including the subject of this book Lousie Bourgeois also the likes of David Hockney and Franci bacon are just a few that have been through his Leong gallery over the years. His writing is described as cross-genre and a mix of art history essays and fiction he has written a couple of long books like this based around the artists lives the book is a mix of his years of knowing Bourgeois for more than thirty letters and personal accounts of her.

But you, you love spiders. They’re beautiful, they’re clean, and they manage to simultaneously both quick and calm.They wait, motionless, in corners, never flustered, never obsessive, never hysterical; they’re serenebeings, holding themselves apart. With an animal patience. And they destroy various things that make life unbearable, such as flies and mosquitoes. Ah! the mosquitoes in Easton! how we could have used a good herd of spiders ! and it must be said the take good care of their young. Ypu watch them, in the garden , in the attic, on the stairway, in the basement.

I loved this description of spiders she hit the nail on the head I don’t like spiders but they have there uses.

Fremon has tried to enter Bourgeois world and describe her life in short burst a mixture of her inner monologue glimpse of personal history and the artist she has seen or heard about. There is another thread that is called the spider book. I most remember her as the spider woman from the Tate exhibition a number of years ago where her giant spider sculptures rose in that huge space frighting visions that both scare and intrigued me as a person like a natural version of HG wells martian invaders walking the space. Family life things like her mother passing is captured when her mother was the only person she felt secure with. A mixture of art antidotes like Duchamp visiting an aviation show and the outfall of that. Her visiting controversial exhibits like Serranos works which include the work Piss Christ where he mixed bodily fluids and religious symbols like Bourgeois who had to defend the use of sexual imagery in her own work over the years. Then the spider book which has facts she finds over the years about spiders. A mix of styles of writing makes a mosaic of a great artist that lived here.

You don’t sleep. Insomnia has always been your friend, though it’s a stormy friendship, it must be said. When the children still lived with you, you would wake them up in the middle of the night. Simply because yoiu were the only one not sleeping. Now that you no longer have anyone to wake up, you ponder, you draw. In the morning, there are drawings everywhere, on the bed, on the rug … Jerry picks them up .They’re called insomnia drawings.They are cries, letters of love or of pique

One of the glimpse and the art she made when she didn’t sleep here is a glimpse at them

I knew a little about her life I saw the Tate show an interview with her at the time. Her first love was maths then art Jean Fremon builds a wonderful tone to her voice and the way he uses inner monologue the glimpse of her life on a personal and artistic level. It is a biography more an art piece itself what he has done is take her life break it into small piece and build a mosaic image that has a small glimpse of her life from her Exile in the US the loss of her parents to small everyday glimpses. slowly build a picture of this artist an impression an abstract view of her world it is an unusual style of writing compelling I read it through twice and each time found little gems in the short choppy paragraphs that range from a couple of lines to a few pages. I choose this as one of a few books I’d buy pre Man Booker as it fits my criteria of what prize-winning translations should be that is fresh, different, challenging to the reader, small press this is the sort of book we only get due to those small presses and those that run them, in this case, it is Les Fugitives which is bringing the best of French writing to use.

The wicked go to Hell by Frédéric Dard

 

The Wicked Go to Hell by Frédéric Dard

The wicked go to hell by Frédéric Dard

French Noir fiction

Original title – Les salauds vont en enfe

Translator David Coward

Source – Library book

I reviewed another novel by Dard a couple of years ago Bird in the cage. Which I enjoyed so when I saw this in the library I decided it was time to try another by this prolific French writer. this was indeed the first of four books he wrote in 1956. This was also made into a film the year before the book came out although the book seems slightly different to the film details when I read them on Wikipedia.this is a tight two-handed tale of two cellmates.

“Our man has got to escape and escape he will … with you!” He looked at me to see my reaction but I’d long been used to letting the sky fall on me without battling an eyelid.

“We’ll lock you both up in the same jail cell … a tough one.. the sort of place that gives kindly old ladies the shivers. The pair of you escape!

“You’ll hole up somewhere and you’ll wait. The breakout will be big news. The head of the organization, knowng thatnhis man has escaped, will want to get him back..At some point or other he’ll break cover..Then , when you’ve got your hands on him”

He made a chopping motion with the dside of his hand.The gesture meant death.

Merin’s boss the old man a scary old chief that sets clear whathe has to do.

The book is set firstly in one of France toughest prison and on cellmates. What we are told about Frank and Hal is that one of them is a policeman called Merins was called in by his boss the old man to trap this spy. So he was sent into the prison to uncover. a spy ring and the overman is an enemy spy and leader of a spy ring that is centered on the prison the two initially don’t get on and fight. Thou in the fighting we see thou the two men Frank and Hal are on different sides of the fence in terms of what side they are on they in personality are similarly tough men as reach accuses the other of being a spy or the stool pigeon. The prison splits them up after a number of fights and sends both men to solitary but they get together in the cell and over time a collective loathing of prison life draws the two together as the plan an escape as they do they get closer. The plan works but leaves Frank worse for wear they land on an isolated island in the southern part of France Carmargue that wetland where there are many small islands. The two hide there till another person from a shipwreck ends up with them drawing the two to a final end. But who was who!

When the bull had gone, the two new men remained standing side by side for a moment, without looking at each other. Then there was a kind of click of release. Time, which had been flowing over them without intruding on the consciousness, suddenly jolted them out of the prisoner’s stupor and swept them up on its aimless way. They looked at each other up with fierce intrest. Like two animals who come face to face. Eventually, one of them – the one with the eye half-closed eye- give a shrug.He looked round the cell. There were three hinged cots, each with a straw mattress and a blanket.The prisoner who couldn’t speak occupid the fatherst one.

The first time they are alone in the cell Frank and Hall weight each other up.

The clever device in this book is Dard not telling you who is Merins the opening chapter sees him get the job and then we are thrown into the cell with Frank and Hal and questioning who is the cop and who is the spy. The story is also a classic take on the buddy film the two initially hate each other but other the courst=e of the book they form an uneasy alliance due to the conditions they find themselves in. Dard lets us know that no one at the prison knows Merins is there as they are not sure how far the spy ring goes in the prison. Dard builds the tension as the strained relationship and violent nature of both men maybe sees them seeing a bit of themselves in the other man. Leading to the escape and the friendship becoming closer as one saves the other from the water to drag him onto the island. As human nature not what side each one is on takes over. A simple story but with a clever few twists. I do hope Pushkin carry on bring Dard’s out he did write nearly 200 books in his time.

Tell them of Battles , kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard

Tell them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

A break today from German lit a recent novella from one of my favorite writers of recent years Mathias Enard. This Novella appeared in French after his book Zone Reviewed here and street of thieves which also I have reviewed. This is a book that for me is more connected to his most recent book Compass as it tackles the connection between the east and the west the gateway to the Orient as once it was known  Constantinople. What Enard has done is used a piece of actual history around the time and added a story that might have happened to it.

Three bundles of sable and mink fur, one hundred and twelve panni of wool, nine rolls of Bergamo satin, the same quality of gilt Florentine velvet, five barrels of saltpetre, two crates of mirrors and one little jewellery box: that is the list of things that disembark with Michaelangelo Buonarroti in the port of constantinople on Thursday, 13 May 1506. Almost as soon as the frigate moors, the sculptor leads ashore. He sways a little after six days of difficult sailing. No one knows the name of the Greek dragomanwaitint for him, so we’ll call him Manuel.

The trade imortance is shown by what has arrived with Michelangelo in the boat from Italy.

The book is set in 1506 where we join the rising Artist Michelangelo who has been asked to make a trip to Constantinople by the Sultan of the town to try and design a bridge to go over the Golden Horn. He is following in the footsteps of Leonardo who was asked to design a bridge but his design wasn’t liked by the Sultan so he has asked Michaelangelo to come and put his mark on the world by building a great and wonderful bridge to Join east and west. The young man has his eyes and heart opened by the Ottoman world he sees so different from his own home as he tries to bridge the ap and one night sees a singer that captures his eye. As he is guided around the city by Mesihi (an actual member of the Ottoman court at the time). We also see the trade route that the city is the crossing road of the produce from the Orient to those going from Europe to the east on the various ships and barges he sees in the port area. As he tries to get the bridge right in his mind and then on the paper but eventually he gives his friend Mesihi a drawing of Elephants.

Little by little, sittin cross-legged on his cushions, Michelangelo feels overwhelmed with emotion. His ears forget the music, or elseperhaps it’s the music itself that is plunging himinto this state, making his eyes tremble and filling them with tears  that will not flow; as it was on that afternoon at Santa Sophia, as it is every time he touches beauty, or approaches it, the artist shivers with happinedd and suffering intermingled.

Next to Michelangelo, Mesihi observes him; he sees him overcome by this pleasure of the body and soul together that only Art, or perhaps opium and wine, can offer, and he smiles, happy to discover that the foreign guest os moved by the rhythm of the androgynous jewels to which his eyes riveted

He falls for the androgynus singers of the Ottoman era the first time he sees them

This book cleverly uses real people all the main character existed. Leonardo did go and design a bridge that was rejected. But there is no proof that Michaelangelo did although as Enard points out there is drawing in the Sultans collection that had been attributed to Michaelangelo. If a bridge had been started or even built a huge earthquake three years after the book is set could destroy it. The book shows the art of storytelling a simple idea did he go is a way of lifting the veil of the Ottoman world of the 16th century and also its importance as a trading post and crossroads or a bridge between to worlds as Orhan Pamuk said “To be able to see the Bosphorus, even from afar—for İstanbullus this is a matter of spiritual import that may explain why windows looking out onto the sea are like the mihrabs in mosques, the altars in Christian churches, and the tevans in synagogues, and why all the chairs, sofas, and dining tables in our Bosphorus-facing sitting rooms are arranged to face the view.” His modern city has seen many changes from the Sultans time but the Bosphorus is still the blood ruing through the body of the city connecting the west and east sides and the two worlds. The title is a nod to Kipling and is a quote from a story that is told by an elderly Indian to a young westerner.

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