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 ?

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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.

Everyday life by Lydie Salvayre

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Everyday Life by Lydie Salvayre

French fiction

Original title – La Vie commune

Translator Jane Kuntz

Source personnel copy

Another short novella from Dalkey archive and this by a recent Prix Goncourt winner Lydie SlavayreIts been a while since I featured a Goncourt winner. Lydie was born to refugees of the Spanish civil war. She grew up in southern France. Trained as a doctor with a degree in Psychiatry. She has published a number of novels. In 2014 her book Cry mother Spain (English title ) won the Prix Goncourt. That book was published by Maclehose she has also had four books including this one published by Dalkey.

I omitted one detail. She stinks.

The new secretary wears a vetiver scent, and I detest the smell of vetiver. There’s nothing I detest more in the world than the smell of Vetiver (After milk). It makes me listless, it gives me the vapors, migraine headaches. It makes me dizzy, nauseous, It makes me vomit

Every morning when I crack open the door of my office, the obnoxious stench of her perfume smacks me in the face. I stager. I can’t help it, I ve grown allergic to it. Like a police dog , I could sniff out its trail miles away, that’s how allergic I’ve become. It’s crossed my mind that she might soak herself in the stuff just to put me off, to make me go in the opposite direction.

The scent affects her but the reaction seems more than that in a way to me!!

This is a classic slice of an Office drama. It is about two sectaries Suzanne the narrator of the book has been at her job as the secretary of Monsieur Meyer for more than thirty years. so when this younger woman arrives she sees this as a real threat to her position as Meyers favorite. She starts to pick apart this new younger woman as they work together. She dissects her rival bit by bit as she is doing so you see the pent-up anger in this older woman as she sees her rival become more important to Meyer as her grip on her life is starting to slip. This is a woman not only losing her job but there is a sense she is getting old and that is the reason for her replacement not just to learn from her but also to easily slide Suzanne into retirement and also accepting her problems. This is a slice of life in an office the jealousies of office rivals the older member like an old lion marking her territory but like in Lion pack or Gorilla families that Alpha in the head has to succumb sometime and this is the moment caught in the book that breaking of an Alpha.

Because I’ve had a dull ache in my chest for seventeen days, I go to the doctor. He asks me if the pain spreads towards the shoulder and along my left arm. No. It’s just in my chest. As if it were digging a hole that opens and close,opens and cloes. While hes gliding his icy stethoscope over my chest, he asks what happen right before the onset of this pain. Imagine you’re straight path, I tell him, wwhich you can follow with your eyes shut, it’s so familar to you. Then suddenly, you no longer recognize it, even though everything you see is identical to what was there before. Do you know what I mean?

Her we see Suzanne has more wrong than we see an underlying problem !!

This is a fun book and a touching book and to do both at the same time is great it is a Tragicomedy of a woman fall. We see Suzanne ripping into the new girl. I was reminded of the scenes in the Office as the David Brent tries to capture his Job as the new man takes his place and that loss of the Alpha role well this is the same the role of being Meyers main secretary is the prize and the Older woman is describing losing the grip but she is seeing it as thou this younger woman has pushed her out but in between the lines there is the sense she is failing in her job but maybe age has caught up with her. She isn’t as flexible as her younger counterpart having got set in her ways as the world around her has moved on. There was that bittersweet taste in the prose that I find in the work of Bernhard the satire of loathing he wrote so well. Lydie has caught what happens when one’s life falls apart in a simple monologue another nod to Bernhard in a way. I was touch by her fall it was a shame like one of those football stars that shone but has stayed on the pitch far too long!!

 

The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

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The Tree of the Toraja by Philippe Claudel

French fiction

Original title- L’Arbre du pays Toraja

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – review copy

I have been a fan of Claudel’s writing since I read Monsieur Linh and the child review it here a few years ago. Since then I have also reviewed his book Parfums. So when this dropped through the letterbox his latest book to be translated into English. I always think books and life sometimes run so close together it makes one wonder. As I struggle with my own grief and questions of life. I find that his latest book is about similar subjects being middle-aged and questioning what life was about.

We bury our dead. We burn them too. Never would we dream of entrusting them to the trees. Yet we lack neither forests nor imagination. Our beliefs, however have grown meaningless and inconsequental. We prepetuate rituals taht most of us would find hard to explain. In our world, nowdays we play down the presence of death. The people of Toraja make it a focal point of theirs. So which of us in on the right path

The lines where he questions whether we are right in trying to avoid death rather than celebrate it.

Our Narrator is a filmmaker as the book opens he is visiting The Toraja people of Indonesia their island home of Sulawesi. He arrived there after he heard about the custom they have of sewing inside the bark of the village tree the bodies of children that die within in the first few months of their lives. They are then placed in the tree bonding them with the tree. This is also tied with death on the island where it can take a year to organize a funeral of an adult that has died and to organize everyone coming. This is all in the bag when we see are narrator returning to his home and finding out that his close friend from school days Eugene is dying. This leads our narrator to question his life when his friend dies he starts to question his wider life and what death means. As this is the first death he has seen that isn’t by accident, old age or suicide. He has to take the time to question his own life. This involves meeting a younger woman in his apartment block. Slowly his life moves on as he thinks about a new project involving this younger woman in apartment 107  and finishing his film about the Toraja.

I have always been haunted by the words of Montaigne that “To philosophise is to learn how to die” and that “it is not death that is difficult but dying” I am not a sixteenth-century man, accustomed to epidemics, to wars, to the sudden and frequent loss of friends, paerents and children, and for whom a forty-year-old is already an old man.But his book we read affect us with the intensity of a knife thrust into an organ without the “Survival prognosis” – this is an expression that has always delighted me in that it ascoiates a light hearted subject, such as a horoscope, a racegoer’s prediction, a weather forecast, with a word that causes us to tremble like a leaf – being really life- threatening”?

How death has change the line when he was forty and an old man struck me as I don’t feel old and am in the later forties myself.

This was a very personal journey for me as a reader I really felt a real connection with the narrator. Firstly I was interested in the Toraja customs mention this of course lead me down a rabbit hole of death around the world via google. I took a similar journey after reading the white book by Han Kang. We all see death differently around the world and being I have read many books over the years touched with how we view death especially this last year or two. What Claudel shows us here are the different ways it is viewed. As the narrator questions various people about death from philosophy through his own media of films and writers like Kundera who his friend Eugene recite his book titles as he was near the end. This is a highly personal book you feel the Narrator is in some ways Claudel himself he is of that age when you can lose close friends to illness like Cancer. What he shows is what we all do what I have done since my mother’s death and that is to take stock on what is happening in my own life and what we do to carry on the narrator like me felt does he have the right to carry on. Maybe we should all be like the Toraja and celebrate death turning the end into a celebration then carrying on. This isn’t a light book but a thoughtful book and maybe one for a lot of us middleaged reader that taste death at close quarters for the first time !!

One hundred twenty one day by Michele Audin

One Hundred twenty one days by Michele Audin

French fiction

Original title – Cent vingt et un jours

Translator – Christina Hills

Source – personal copy

Another book for Woman in translation month. This is a real gem as well as being the second book from a female member of the Oulipo group to be translated into English. Michele Audin is a French Mathematician and professor her special area was Symplectic Geometry. She joined the Oulipo group in 2009. Her father was a famous Mathematician as well that was killed in Algeria an event that led to her turning down the Legion of Honour. After the president refused to reply to a letter about her father her mother had written.

The murderer had his sense knocked out of him

(le petit Parisen, july 2 1917)

We have been informed that Robert Gorenstein(and not Roger Goldstien, as we printed in error), the polytechnician and officer on leave who arrested last week for the murder of his uncle, his aunt and his brother( three and not four crimes as was written in haste in the previous article) was a victim of an artilery shell last January. Almost all the men in his battery were killed, and he himself hit his head.

In a horrible development, according to informantion gathered from neighbors, the three Gorenstein children were orphans and had been raised by their aunt and her husband.

As th time, miltary doctors considere him recovered, and he was sent back to the front. He is presently undergoing psychiatric exams

One of the news paper reports about Robert G .

Now when you know a book has come from an Oulipo writer you know it is going be an unusual book. This one also doesn’t disappoint. it is a mixture of styles of writing about a group of various mathematicians from France and follows both wars. From an opening piece on a childhood, we follow with a diary set in the middle of world war one following the worst parts like Verdun from a French woman’s point of view. Then a collection of newspaper cuttings about various figures from world war one then on afterward about the case of Robert G a man that killed members of his family in a sort of what would now be called a PTSD attack. Then we see the announcement of Magurite the writer of the diary and a professor. Then a chapter involving Andre Silberberg as the led character. Later we see how his life led to the title of one hundred and twenty days as that was the happiness in his life he worked out in a later chapter in the book. The rest follows with people trying to find out more about various mathematician a chapter of just numbers and their meaning in relation to the book. The book also shows what part peoples notebooks can play in history as people in the present search for the notebooks of various mathematicians. Including Christian M one of those Mathimaticians he grew up in Senegal we follow his wart years.

The numbers, in order, starting with the negatives:

-25  the tempratur (in dgrees celsius) in Upper Silesia in January 1945 during the evacuattion of Auschwitz

0.577215…., Eulers constant

0.625  or 5/8 Jewish would have been each of Mireille’s and Andre’s children

1   single bullet managed to remove one of M’s eyes, his nose, and half his Jaw

1.414213…, the square root of 2, the length of the diagonal of a square with a side of 1

A selection of numbers from the chapter of numbers.

 

This is a clever book that use the various styles of writing to build layers of lives that we dip in and out of and those mathematicians. The thread that runs through the book is maths and the wars the knock-on effect of these seen in various documents. The families involved in the texts have the lives followed through the 20th century. I like this book it is one of those books that can be reread and reread like most of the Oulipo books it is complex and like the type of maths she studies about complex linear groups and patterns, this is a complex  piece of writing building on lives through the years and it shows  how the war affects them. From a brief fling of 120 days, that means more than anything to one man. To seeing others that collaborate during the war years.  This is a challenging read from a great small publisher Deep Vellum this is why we have a publisher like them those books that are edgy clever and relive history in a different way to others. Also to keep up with the number theme this is the 100th French book on the blog

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