Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq

French fiction

Original title – Sérotonine

Translator – Shaun Whiteside

Source – Library book

Well, I move on to the next of the Booker longlist after a week of self-isolation which started with reading this the latest books from the French enfant terrible Michel Houellebecq. This was a bestseller in France and he was appointed to the Legion of Honour when the book came out. I have reviewed his last book which I enjoyed I found some of his earlier books grated me when younger but their premise of this one appealed as it seems to capture an effect that of moving to the country, I wonder if there is a german world the encompasses the nostalgia of moving to the country at a certain age.

I planned my departure for Monday 1 August. On the evening of 31 July, I sat down in the sitting room and waited for Yuzu to come home. I wondered how long it would take her to graspo reality, to realise that I had left for good and would never be coming back, Her stay in France, whatever else it was, would be directly determined by the two months rental notice on the apartment. I didn’t know exacltywhatr her salary at the Japanese House of Culture was, but it certainly wouldn’t be enough to cover the rent, and I couldn’t  imagine her agreeing to move to a miserable studio flat

The last night in Paris as he makes the move to Normandy,

The book is centred around the life of Florent-Claude Labrouste he is at that age. His libido is fast disappearing his younger girlfriend is losing interest and his job for the ministry of agriculture as an engineer is down the pan. All he has is the new pill he has been given for his depression. When he hatches a plan to move back to Normandy and promote the cheese a job he did in his youth. The man that at the start of the book oogles two young women at the garage. So he leaves Yuzu his Japanese girlfriend behind. He returns in his old Mercedes to retrace those places he had enjoyed in his youth but what he gets is a place changed by and damaged by time and the effect of the EU and other events in the last twenty years as he heads further into Normandy his dream of a different life is shattered and even the place has turned dark the is an unsettling section with a paedophile later on in the book as he seems to just lump the horrors of the world on Labroste as the dream is shattered and we see a middle-aged man drifting lost in this modern world.

I obviously expected that Camille would like the house in Clecy; I had a rudimentary aesthetic sense and , well, I could tell that it was a pretty house; on the other hand I hadn;t anticipated that she would also make it her house, that from the first days there she would want to buy fabrics, move fuinture, that in the end she would quickly come to act like a wife- in a decidedly un-feminist sense – even though she was only nineteen.

Later on with a younger woman but it all turns bad when the move in together.

I like Labrouste often dream of a time when life was great for me it was a time when I was both here in UK In Northumberland a time when my dreams seemed possible and then a time in Germany when life was just about perfect I had a job there and a small group of friends but this is wishful thinking and like Labrouste would it be the same if I came back now no and this is often the case what Houellebecq has done is written an Anti place in the country a true picture of all those middle-aged folks chasing that dream when it goes wrong and In France and just here the world is a different place. He does sometimes like that kid in the class have to push the point too far I felt the whole Paedophile was him pushing the broken dream just a bit too far. Well, I had intended to read this at some point so when it made the longlist it meant I got to it sooner. Have you read Houllebecq .What are your thought around him?

This Tilting world by Colette Fellous

Tilting_38.jpgThis Tilting World by Colette Fellous

French fiction

Original title – Pièces détachées

Translator – Sophie Lewis

Source – review copy

The small publisher Les Fugitives has brought some interesting and challenging reads out from Female french writers they have brought us some great titles this last few years and here we have the French Tunisian writer and radio producer for French Culture, Colette Fellous has written over twenty novels she was mentored in her early career by the great Roland Barthes. This is an ode to her exile from her homeland but also that feeling of being between places and times that exiles feel this is a tribute to the Tunisian Jewish community that has left its homeland on the whole now.

It all happened in the same peroid, over a few short months. In Paris, the Charlie Hebdo massacres and the one at porte-de-Vincennes Kosher supermarket in January. The Bardo in March. Alain two weeks ago, and yesterday the beach at Sousse. Always on a Wednesday or a Friday. Of course Alain’s death should not be on the list, it has nothing ot do with the otherm his was an accidental death, a heart attack, most likely. The others were murde3rs, premeditated crimes, attacks. But these collectivd shocks, these blows to our bodies and our personal lives, have become interleaved with Alain’s death,woth the shock of that death, in the heat of the day, down in the village streets. He died on his sailing boat, in mid-ocean, in the space of a few minutes.

The attaxcks her friends sudden death all topple down one after another.

This book is triggered by a number of events firstly the terrorist attack that happened in Sousse in June 2015. Our main character is nearby on a beach she sits starring at the sea. Gathering the horror of the Attack but also she had also just lost her father and a close friend. This leads to a fragmented work where she tries to piece together then and now. Her time between Tunisia and France growing up in both worlds but never really feeling part of them. Then Her Father a quiet man who left Tunisia to live in France late on in his life. She tries to bring his world alive him from those little things smells music literature builds this quiet man up. Then she at times she digresses from Maupassant’s work of the turn of the century his view of Tunisia and then Proust buying a small diary that was the trigger for his great work from a shop in Paris. All this mixes with memories of Tunisia but also the Med a loss of a close friend the sea. But as she said at one point the faces objects crowd each other and dazzle me. A novel in parts to home, exile, terror, family , friends and also those little bits of everyday.

Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house, I”ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces rthat I love will leave.The friends, the objects, the doors, the pavement slabs, the tall eucalyptus and the wild olive trees, the orange groes, the roads , the markets,the music, the fruit, the dancing, my window of blue. I’ll leave it all, no strength left. I don’t know how I’ll get to slepp .Just now changed my bed around to try it out: with your head to the north you’ll sleep better, souad told me, you don’t take enopugh care with your sleep, you don’t take enough time for yourself.

Leaving her home is hard.

 

This is one of those novels in which there is no real plot no real action just fragments like a lot of flotsam and jetson collected and made into something Beautiful the everyday things memories places and smells. I read a french interview which this is mention and her mentor Barthes –

You cannot read Spare Parts without thinking of your master Roland Barthes, who claimed sweetness, words, words, smells, all the little everyday things that need to be sublimated.
That is true. Roland Barthes has always led this fight. In my training, he replaced my parents and gave me protection and sensuality. Barthes had this fabulous power to decipher the world with words. This is all that makes this book. If the small room is not there, nothing works. I gathered all these small parts which constitute me and that night I managed to operate this love machine but I sought, sought, wrote… I invoked my life, the other life in Normandy where I met all these villagers who had never moved, people who brought me back to my nomadic reality and who also reminded me that I had to stay that way. from https://www.lorientlitteraire.com/  
The French title is Spare Parts here is a tribute and a lament to a world gone almost like the attack at the start of the book its heart has been pulled out a community of Jews there now gone a father gone a dream of the place blown apart. it is an ode to a world gone she is equal Bartes and Ernaux in the way she talks about literature and music here. Another contender for tomorrow’s longlist.

Happening by Annie ernaux

Happening by Annie Ernaux

French memoir

original title – L’événement

Translator – Tanya Leslie

Source – review copy

I have reviewed two Annie Enraux books before on the blog the first A women’s story and then The years both of which I really enjoyed she has a real talent for bringing her own life and events pop off the page. She has been writing mainly books around her won life since the 1970’s she has won numerous prizes for her books. Although this is a shorter work and is based in 1963 the year she had an abortion this was written a number of years later. It still has the same descriptive and insightful view into her world.

I wasn’t the least bit apprehensive about getting an abortion. It seemed a highly feasible undertaking, admittedly not an easy one, but one that did not require undue courage. A minor ordeal. All I needed to do was ffollow in the footsteps of the mryiad women who had preceded me.Since my early teens I had gleaned many stories of abrotions, taken from novels or inspired by local gossip through hushed conversations. I had acquired some vague idea of the methods yo use – a knitting needle, parsley stalks, injections of soapy water or violent horse rides – The ideal solution being to find a quack doctor or a back street abortionist; both chargfe extremely high fees although I had no idea ow much. The previous year, a young divorcee had told me that a doctor from Strasborg had rid her of a child, sparing me the details except that “It was so painful I was clinging to the bathroom sink” I too was prepared to cling to the sink, I didn’t think it might Kill me.

She knew a bit but not the horrors that could happen as it is just whispered in the background of society.

This is one of those books that needed to write and read as it shows the importance of choice to women. Written a number of years after the events she recalls what happened to her in the early sixties. She is the daughter of a working-class religious family just starting to taste the freedom of the early days of her university career and the summer before. She has an early encounter with a man just called P in the text he was studying political science she had met in the summer holidays in Bordeaux this was her first sexual encounter. Her memories of the time are of seeing the film the rape of Sabine women and her saying it had come to mean one thing. I was there and I didn’t know I was becoming pregnant. When this occurs she must find one of those back streets abortionists as with the Uk Abortion was banned in France until 1975 with the Veil laws. So she finds out the details of one of these women but is it the right thing to do ? Does she know what she was doing? This is all brought about in the present as another casual account many years later had lead Annie to have a test for HIV.

I can’t remember how long it took her to insert the probe. I was crying.It had stopped hurting, now I just felt a wieght in my stomach. She saidthat it was all over, that U was not too touch it. She had stuffed a large was of cotton wool between my thighs in case the waters broke. I could walk and go to the bathroom normally, It would come away in a couple of days; If I didn’t I was to call her. We both drank coffe in the kitchen. She too was glad it was over. I don’t recall handing over the money

The actual event described by Annie as sehe recalls it many years later.

This is a wonderfully written piece about what must have been a harrowing decision to make at just 23 new to the world and also maybe a touch Naive as she hasn’t had much of sexual awakening as yes this is the sixties before the swinging part of it. This is a society far different from today’s this is a world of clandestine whispers about who to see and then find the women in question this has been covered in fil and tv in recent years from Mike Leighs Vera drake and on Tv where one of the Midwives grandmother is a back street abortionist both show how dark and clandestine this world was here and in France. Both also showed how dangerous it was to have an abortion before the laws changed. This shows the effect on one young woman now and back then. Another gem from this french writer that needs to be read it can easily be read in an evening as it is only 77 pages long.

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 ?

30 covers for #WITMONTH more Vernon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be getting to this before the year is out it is the second part of the Vernon subtext a trilogy by the French writer Virginie Despentes a writer best known for her controversial book that was made into a film Baise-moi. Vernon subtext follows Vernon a famous record shop owner after his life and store is closed as he tries to get by it has been made into a TV series in France which I hope we get see in the UK.

30 covers for #WITMONTH A french hit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I brought this when it came out but all the Hype around it made me leave reading it for now. But Macro the french president has said that Leila Slimani the job of “promoting the french language and its culture. The book is a tale of a nanny gone bad inspired by a real-life tale of a nanny killing her two charges in New york. Did you read it at the time or like me left it for the dust to settle around it !!!

 

 

 

30 covers for #WITMONTH a french modern classic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I move to France on one of the great French female writers from post war France. Set in Russia in what is now Lativa a woman and the men that are trying to impress her. All that on the surface as Yourcenar puts a lot of things under the surface in her characters. Here is my review 

30 covers for #WITMONTH Simone Weil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pick an older book but an important one Simone Weil was a writer that sadly died too young the philosopher and mystic was one of the leading left-leaning thinkers of her day I have dipped into this collection she spent time as a worker in a factory to understand the working people. Camus called her the “the only great spirit of times”

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.

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