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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Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah

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Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah

Mauritian fiction

Original title – Tropique de la violence

Translator – Geoffrey Strachan

Source – review copy

I often wonder when I review a book from one of the more unusual places around the world if I will ever review another book by the same writer. That was what I wondered over the years when I reviewed Nathacha first book to be translated into English The last brother that was eight years ago , I had seen a copy of another of her books had come out in the US last year which I had been looking at getting so when this dropped through my letterbox I was excited to be reading her writing again. This is set on another French colony of Mayotte which at the time I wrote the review of The last brother she was living of the island of Mayotte this is from her experiences of this distant island.

She points to one of the baby’s eyes. I don’t understand, i can see nothing , the baby’s asleep. ashe becomes impatient, she points to her two eyes, then to mine, then to those of the baby. Oh, is your baby blind ? She shakes her head vigorously ad suddenly the baby begins to wriggle, smacks its lips once or twicce, as if it is searching for the nipple and the young woman holds it out to me as you might do with something theat both frightens you and disgusts you. I don’t know why I take this baby that’s being handed to me and the infant stretches out in my arms and this warm little body snuggling up to me is wonderful, The child opens its eyes. the mother shriks back against the bed.

His mum is scared of him due to his eye colour but what happened to this young woman.

This is the tale of a sons journey to discover who he really is the story opens with Marie she is a nurse the books opens with her story of a failed marriage and her not having her child with her husband this is how she ended up in Mayotte working as a nurse in the frontline of the city so when one day a Baby that has one green and one dark eye that his teen mother feels has the curse of the Jinn on it Marie adopts this baby. She calls him Moise for the first few years of his live everything is great he is in a private school a dog called Bosco after his adoptive Mums favorite writer Henri Bosco. But he is a teen and being raised in this all-white world in a way he knows he is different he questions his background. Then the worst happens his world falls apart when Marie dies so the young boy takes his mom backpack and the boy and the river and sets of to Gaza the large Slum near the capital of Mayotte this brings him into conflict with the head of a local gang Bruce he also meets a policeman Called Oliver and a volunteer called Stephane as the young man tries to discover his past but also tries to survive in the present as Bruce sees him as bad as the white people that come to the  slum to help out.

La Teigne told me about you, he told me he’d met a Black Muzungu but he thought you were African, a proper negro, one of them who wears shirts and trousers and speaks Frenc, not one of them dying in the gutter in rwanda, the Congo or Somalia. He said you followed him everywhere like a dog, that you put your hand into your pocket without a second thought and you were  called Mo and had a weird eye. Weird that’s the word he used, the dumb bastard.

Bruce in Gaza the Slum when Mo first goes there and is seen in a certain way by them.

This has some similar traits to the earlier books a boy struggling for identity which was a thread in the earlier book The last brother. Another common theme is that of identity her it another boy struggling with his childhood and being different. This has been a theme of many books of the years. There is something Dickens at times the story of Moise fits neatly into a Dickens-like story adoption having a good life the losing it could almost be Great Expectations. There is also something a bit Magic realist to this as well the sense of Moise journey that reminded me at times of Marquez writing that sense of viewing the world the way he did is something that we see with Moise.Also the thread of the book by Henri Bosco a writer I haven’t read yet but will be doing at some point.  There is something of a commentary on the place itself Mayotte. This distant colony has struggled with its large refugee population slums which have led to riots on this far-flung piece of France. This won a  big prize for female writing in France the Prix Femina Des Lyceens a prize for Female fiction which is chosen from a shortlist of ten by high school kids.

Anthea Bell RIP

Anthea Bell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the translation community got the sad news that one of the best-known Translators of the last fifty years had passed away. Anthea Bell is a name readily known too. She had translated a lot of the books I read pre-blog so was a translator. She was best known for her work on the Asterix series. She said in an interview “It’s all about finding the tone of voice in the original. You have to be quite Free”. Klaus Flugge said of Anthea -” Anthea has a talent that not every translator has for catching the mood of a book. Some are a bit more wooden and some try to take too many liberties. She has a knack of hitting the right style and atmosphere,” I was a huge fan of she had featured in a dozen review of her translations over that last eight years of the blog. I had picked my three favorites from the blog.

A minutes silence by Siegfried Lenz – One of the Gruppe 47 writers that post-war set alight German Literature. This is the tale of a doomed romance between a teacher and Pupil.

The glory of life by Michael  Kumpfmüller – The book tells the story of Kafka’s final days as he falls for a younger woman first on the Baltic coast then through Berlin.

Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig – the tale of Ludwig and his love for a married woman was a novella that Zweig worked on for y=twweig translations were simply stunning works of translation. I also enjoyed here Sebald Translation.

Have you a favorite Bell translation?

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!!

 

In every wave by Charles Quimper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In every wave by Charles Quimper

Quebecian fiction

Original title – Marée montante

Translator – Gull Lefebvre

Source – Review copy

I have a real feeling that I am lucky to have been let in the Library of books from Quebec it is like a small room in Borges Dream Library one that we who know about the great books from Quebec have the secret knowledge and so to the latest. This is an amazingly short novella from the writer Charles Quimper he has previously been a bookseller and written to a number of magazines. I read an interview where it said he had tried out working on a trawler only to find he has seasickness. He is married and has two children.

A BIRD GLIDES OVERHEAD. Could be a cormorant, maybe an albatross. Might be just a seagull.I have no idea.

It’s there first thing in the morning and follows me all day, circling above, tracking me accross the seven seas.

Cracked skin, calloused hands. My body sculpted by the sea

The steady rhythm of the gallery inside me. Turmoil and rain filled sorrow. A hint of something sweet, clear and amber. A mournful melody. I think of you every day, seeking your shadow in the boat’s wake, finding nothing but the sea

The recurrent them of the water her again in this poetic passage early on in the book.

In Every wave is narrated by the father of Beatrice. She had drowned one summer whilst swimming. Now the water is a recurring theme in the book. The narrative has a broken nature as we drift through the past and the present. From memories of camping playing Marco Polo , the actual day of Beatrice drowning rerunning what happened maybe to see if it could have been different then the aftermath his with underwater in the bath motionless her way of dealing with there loss. The distance between the husband and wife after the event is like a tide slowly drawing in and cutting them off to there island. He has a boat maybe he is trying to sail back to her or even to his wife but he just sees a bird in the distance every day.

That day

I swear , I tried. I tried everything. Our fingertips brushed together. I grabbed you by the forearm, but the current was too strong, and you were being pulled down too fast. I swear by your name engraved on my skin. On the head of my dead bird.

I can’t even swim, but there I was, swallowing water by the bucketful, spitting, coughing, desperate to get back to shore,howling your name. Cramped,gasping, and spent.Spittiomg up saliva and snot and despair. Someone pulled me out. Without you.

That day he replays again near the end trying to grasp at the water for his Beatrice.

This is such a short book 78 pages Long. It is strange I am just reading Knausgaard’s the End well that book was started with the death of his father. Well, it turns out the kernel for this book was Charles own fathers death he was young when it happened. Knausgaard books are a forest or words this short novella is a single autumnal leaf one of those leaves that had just the bare skeleton of the leaf this is the bare bones of coping with a death whether it is a father or a Child. This uses the sea and water so well as a recurrent theme from the boat, the drowning, the wife in the bath and the sea water forming salt on the skin a lasting impression of what the sea is like the tears we cry at times like this salty. I was so touched after reading this I tweeted this was one of the most touching books I have ever read it is a real gem a short book that lingers long in the memory of the reader. You will feel the unnamed fathers sorrow and guilt. I for one now both feelings so well in recent times especially the replaying the last days of what happened as the Counting crows one said in a song.” If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts, You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast”. Another gem from the library of Quebec. Please go preorder this gem I review it earlier than normal as I felt it was that good!!!!

 

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 !!

The Kites by Romain Gary

The Kites by Romain Gary

French fiction

Original title – Les Cerfs-volants

Translator – Miranda Richmond Mouillot

Source – Review copy

I looked back and it has taken a good while to get from book 90 to 99 from France. I have slowed down blogging wise this last year.I remember thinking after the eighth year anniversary it would be that year I would hit a 100 books from France and I hadn’t so I looked at the last two spots and this is the first my 99th book and the first from Romain Gary on the blog. I think I so=hould have featured him earlier I have had a couple of his books other than this one sat around for a couple of years. His life reads like a novel he was a Diplomat, resistance fighter, filmmaker and also the only writer to have won the Prix Goncourt twice when his non de plume won as well. This was his last work before he committed suicide.

“I don’t have any parents. I live with my uncle”

“What does he do?”

I sensed vaguely that “rural postman” wasn’t quite the right thing

“He’s a kite master.”

She seemed favourably impressed.

“What does that mean?”

“It’s like a great captain, but in the sky.”

She thought for a little while longer then got up.”Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow”, she said. “I don’t know. I’m very unpredictable.How old are you?”

“I’m almost ten.”

“Oh, you’re far to young for me. I’m almosrt eleven and a half. But i like wild strawberries, Wait for me here tomorrow at the same time,. I’ll be back if there’s nothing better to do.

The first meeting in the field of the young couple that starts a love that last for years

 

 

The story starts in the early 1930’s when a young boy Ludo, he is the nephew of a man famous for his unusual and daring Kites Ambrose Fleury. The story starts when this young boy meets by chance one day a Polish aristocrat in a field. Lila a woman that grabs the young boys attention for the rest of his life. This sets forth his life from this point in a whole new direction as he falls in love with this slightly older girl. But also as he loses her in the war and sees what happened. His uncle has already got in trouble flying a kit based around Jewish star of David the Jews had to wear. This sees the war through a young man’s eyes as his village and those he grew up with try to resist the Germans. The activity in the village centers around the Cafe Clos Joli as they cycle around the Germans passing messages and he tries to find out what has happened to Lila. Locals like a Jewish prostitute who changes her self from that to an exiled Lady within the village, A wonderful insight into the way everyday French people tried to resist the Germans. As we see Ludo move from a boy to a man and His love for Lila change.

THE CLOS JOLI CONTINUED TO PROSPER< BUT MARCELLIEN DUPART’S reputation in the area began to suffer; he was accused of serving the ocupier to well; as for comrades, they hated him cordially. I knew him better than that and defended him when my friends called him a bootlicker or a collaborator.Truth be told as soon as the ocupation began with German superior officers and the entire Parisian elite already flocking to his “galleries” and his “rotunda”. Duprat made his choice.

The Clos Joli serves great food so has many imortant customers that come through it.

This is one of those books that cuts across genres. War story in part, the story of a village in the war. A heartsong to the France of those years one Gary would remember as he served in the resistance. The similar feeling I remember hearing from some of the old people I looked after thirty years ago that were involved in the war about the spirit that brought people together in those time seen. A romance where the love is maybe one-sided as Lila is very much above the young boy that has fallen for her. A coming of age novel. Yes, this has it all in also I often felt the relationship between Ludo and Lila was similar to that of pip and Estelle in great expectations the aloof nature of Lila is similar to that of Lila. The Clos Juli remind me of the cafe at the center of Allo Allo which like the one in the Kites was the center of village life like most cafes of that time and was also the main center of the resistance whilst still operating as a cafe. The last book of his lifetime and here nearly forty years later in English for the first time. The 99th book for this blog from France not long til I get 100 up.

Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain

 

Smoking Kills by Antoine Laurain

French fiction

Original title –  Fume et Tue

Translator – Louise Rogers-Lalaurie

Source – review copy

I mentioned the other day that the Wodehouse prize for the funniest book in English had been stopped this year due to a lack of funny books. Here is another example of a great comic work in translation. Antoine Laurain is a writer I have reviewed four times before, his books are witty and usually have a turning point in them. This is a book he wrote a few years ago I imagine this was like the time in the UK when the smoking bans came in Place. This also moves the total of French novels under review on this blog to 98 nearly at the 100 mark.

I couldn’t believe it. Now that it was full stem ahead with the smoking ban, the rats were leaving the sinking ship. Vancourt had joined the enemy. He was as bad as the barman – another smoker – at the hotel d’Aubusson, who, ever since his hotel had implemented the ban had been vaunting the merits of his smok-free workplace.” I work better and can breathe ” he told me , earnestly. This man who from time to time used to share a smoke with me at the bar. And wasn’t the first smoker I had seen rally to the opinon of the majority. Strange how people are apt to turn their coats at once large scale .

I would call this effect the Simon Cowell effect when somesays something and every one around agrees with them

Fabrice Valentine is a fifty-year-old married Headhunter who is a compulsive smoker. When the rules at work change and he has to stop smoking there. This to him feels like his whole world is changing. After much discussion with his wife about this, it leads him to a hypnotherapist. But it also leads him back to the earliest years and how he ended up a two packet a day smoker. As his wife, Sidone has said he be best stopping. He does succeed the hypnotherapy has done its trick and this lifelong smoker has kicked his habit.That is until to one night he is coming home from work and is attacked and he fights off the man that attacks him.  In the end, throws him to the rails of an oncoming train he then runs home has a cigarette but the buzz doesn’t last like it when he was smoking. SO when a new colleague really e=getrs under his skin Fabrice has a clever plan !!

I would go walking with him my early teen. My father would puff on his cigar, while I was allowed a handful of Malabars brought at a backery along the way. Often, he would remember that he had brought my bubblegum while he was buying his box of Punch cigars from the tobacco counter in the cafe. “Your turn now ” he would say, and we would look around for the nearest bakery.For months, our walks invariably ended at Place du Colonel Fabien. Oscar Niemeyer had drawn up the plans for the headquarters of the French communist party , theb under construction.I can see my father  now, chewing on his cigarm standing motionless lostin admiration of the great structure.

I was reminded of my own dad who used smoke cigars on our walks when we were younger a smell that still evokes memoires to this day.

I said there was a turning point there is a few in this the first the decision to stop smoking for Fabrice leads the narrative to the nostalgia that for me is always a part in Laurain’s books. I remember packets brands I liked to smoke when I smoked. I was a fan of French brands like he has Benson and Hedges. I would often have Gaulouise Blondes a brand which seemed hip back in the day. It’s been years since I stopped, unlike Fabrice. I didn’t use hypnotherapy no I just managed with cold turkey and well a dislocated elbow that made rolling my own impossible just at the time I had stopped. The second turning point that leads to the latter part of the book is the attack at the station and the death of the attacker which sends the story in an unexpected direction which is another theme that runs through Laurain’s books. The nearest I could connect to this book was a section in the film Cats eyes a collection of Stephen King stories about a man that goes to a strange stop smoking agency that isn’t all it seems like this it has an unexpected turn when the main character starts smoking again.

Vernon Subutex 1 By Virginie Despentes

 

Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Depsentes

French fiction

Original title – Vernon Subutex

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – Review copy

Well I am pleased that Frank is the first person to have books from two languages he has translated on the short list he also translated from Spanish The imposter also on the Man Booker longlist.As far as I can see looking back this is a first for the prize even going back through the IFFP years. He won the Old IFFP with his transition ofWindows of the world in 2005. Anyway back to this book and the writer is well known as well she wrote her first book Baise Moi in 1999 which she also made into a film. Virginie has written a number of novels since then this is the first of a trilogy. She also worked as a rock journalist at about the time this novel starts.

Vernon had just had enough time to rediscover his love of a long lie in – for more than twenty years, come hell or hideous hangover he has rolled up the metal shutters on the shop six days a week no matter what. Only three times in twenty five years, had he entrusted the keys to one of his colleagues: a bout of gastric flu, adental implant fitting and an attack of sciatica it took him a year to relearn the knack of lazing in bed and reading in the mornings. It felt like it .

Vernin starts slacking after his shop revolver closes down.

The book follows the downward spiral of Vernon Subutex. He was once the owner of the most well-known record shop in Paris.A man that like Joe from empire records one of the great films from the gen x years a man people wanted be and has a magnetism for women.  His story is maybe a reflection of the music industry in a way. But also a thesis on Generation X. He finds he in the early 2000’s is without a shop and had been helped by a friend Alexandre a heavy drug user from his past.Is his help  to get by with rent and his daily life but when the friend dies he has to go round visiting old friends and spends time sofa surfing one of those homeless people that avoid being homeless till they have run out of them this is what we see with Vernon a man alone in the world after all his dreams have fallen spend time with old friends from an ex-lover that has a sterlie flat , a wife beating husband who he never really knew as he falls through these peoples lives we see a mryiadof the city of paris what happened to the hipsters when they aren’t hipsters anymore.

Friends are diffeerent. Spending years together listening to records, going to gigs, arguing about bands, these are sacred bonds, You don’t stop seeing each other simply because of a change of venue. But what had changed was that he had to call and arrange to meet, whereas before they could just come into the shop if they were in the neighbourhood.He was not in the habit of organising dinner parties, trips to the cinema.

I was remind in these lines of John Cusack character in High fidelity Vernon friends are shop friends.

This is a searing knife through the social lives of a generation cutting into the gen x lives and what has happened to them it is like a Parisian version of the slacker film as we follow Vernon going through those who moved up and down through those years as he had met them when he was hip. He is also a story of how music has suffered record shops where the hiding meeting and place to be seen a generation ago for me when I was young it was a shop called beat route  alas like Vernon shop it is no more as music is online these days the other thread is the last recordings he has of his friend and benefactor Alex Bleach a well-known star. I can’t wait for part two to see where it takes us with Vernon and like one of those classic works of French lit by Balzac or Zola more about how modern Paris treats those on the downward spiral. Which for me is always far more interesting than a rise from the bottom to the top what about you?Also, this is one of the most eye-catching covers in the last year I think also slightly disturbing.

 

So You don’t get lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick modiano

 

So you don’t get lost in the Neighbourhood by Patrick Modiano

French fiction

Original title –  Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier

Translator – Euan Cameron

Source – review copy

I so enjoyed the last Modiano I decided to carry on reading another of the few by him I have on my TBR pile.This was the last of his books to be translated into English and the came out in French the same year as he won the Nobel prize. He has written one more book since but that hasn’t been translated into English. I said last time he has written the similar books and this is another twist on those themes.

“I should like to speak to Monsieur jean Daragane,”

A deary and threatening voice.That was his first impression.

“Monsieur Daragane? Can you hear me ?”

Daragame wanter to hang up. But what was the point? The ringing would start agan. withpu ever stopping, and short of cutting the telephone cord permanetly ..

“This is he.”

“It’s abput your address book, monsieur”

Giles rings up but is slightly threatening at first to jean

Again like in the last book the main character in this novel is a writer. Like in the last review he is called Jean but we get his full name in this book Jean Dragane. The story in this book is like the last review set of by the discovery of something old. This time a man has got hold of the old telephone book of Jean. The book has the name of Guy Torstel someone Jean had once been acquainted with many years ago. At the time he knew this person there was a murder.At the time he lived with a showgirl Anne in the seedy part of town. He is helped by the girlfriend of the man who has phoned him when he meets the man, to discuss his old telephone book. That man is  Giles Ottolini and his girlfriend, Chantal. A man that since then has drawn away from the world and lived as a recluse writing books one that may have a clue into what happened in the past. The past is a lost country in this book and Jean has to revisit it.

And so would the name Torstel which had once used in a novel.Simply because of its resonace. That is what Torstel  conjured up for him. There was no need to look any further. It was all he had to say. Gilles Ottolini would no doubt be disappointed. Too bad. After all, he was not obliged to give him any explanation. It was none of his buisness

The name from the past inspired a character in a novel but what about the real Torstel ?

As I said there are themes in his books. Jean is almost a mirror image of the writer having grown up in the dark post-war days. He also lives near Paris and spent time with a showgirl in the seedy part of Paris where there are twist streets and never quite sure what is around the corner the same Paris as Maigret walked in books like Maigret sets a trap. Then there is what I would be called missing memories another recurring theme of a misty past that the main characters seem to want to forget their Past. I feel Modiano is working his own past and his love may of a good mystery into books. I enjoyed this as I have all his books the Nobel win was such a treat for us the English reader as pre-Nobel I had struggled to find a book to read in the weeks before the prize and so many have come out since.

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