Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras

Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras

French fiction

Origin title – Moderato Cantabile

Translator – Richard Seaver

Source – personal copy

I picked this up earlier this year with Woman in translation month in mind and it is strange as the book I reviewed yesterday had slight echoes to Duras Lovers as it is set in Vietnam and had a man from Vietnam of Chinese descent at its heart.(I have reviewed lovers a long time ago and another from her a few years ago). So this is my third book from Duras and this is the earliest book from her. I have read the one that put her in the spotlight as a writer when it came out and sold half a million copies. Duras was born in Vietnam or as it was then French Indo-china she lived there most of her early life eventually studying in Paris and living in France during the war where her husband end up a t Buchenwald she nurse him back to life after the war she was part of the Nouveau Roman moment this book was made into a film.

The growing clamor of voices of both sexes rose from the dock. Everyone seemed to be saying the
same thing, but it was impossible to distinguish the words. The sonatina went innocently along, but this time, in the middle of it, the lady could take no more.
The child stopped. The lady turned to Anne Des-baresdes. “I’m sure something serious has happened.” They all went to the window. To their left, some twenty yards from the building, a crowd had already gathered on the dock in front of the café door. From the neighbouring streets people were running up to join the crowd. Everyone was looking into the café.
“I’m afraid this part of town.” the lady said. She turned and took the boy’s arm.”Start again,one last time, where you left off.”
“What’s happened?”

The event happened during the Child’s lesson.

The book follows Anna she is the wife of a factory owner the book opens as she is at a piano lesson hence the title of the book when the piano teacher asks her child what Moderato Cantabile means`( he is referred to as just the child) as the lesson happens the attention is drawn outside the lesson to a cafe just by them it seems as they something is happening as they stare on the cafe the police come. It turns out there has a murder opposite a lover has killed the woman he was in love with. Well Anna is drawn in so next time she goes she visited the cafe where she saw the action last piano lesson what follows is her revisit the cafe where she meets a worker from her Husband’s business and pumps him for info of what had happened her imaging why it happened the day it happened as he Chauvin fills in the gaps of what happened. As the two are in the cafe on a Friday as the child has lessons. she starts to see this new man in her child at points saying he has similar eyes. This meeting is repeated this describes their lives this is a book where nothing but everything happens if that makes sense most of the book is about the same meeting at the cafe over a number of weeks.

The patronne picked up her red sweater, and didn’t answer. Another tugboat, loaded to the gunwales, entered the port. The child shouted something unintelligible. The man came over to Anne Desbaresdes. “Won’t you sit down?” he said. She followed him without a word. As she knitted,
the patronne followed the tugboat’s every manoeuvre. It was obvious that in her opinion things were taking an unfortunate turn.The patronne picked up her red sweater, and didn’t answer. Another tugboat, loaded to the gunwales, entered the port. The child shouted something unin-
telligible. The man came over to Anne Desbaresdes.
“Won’t you sit down?” he said.
She followed him without a word. As she knitted, the patronne followed the tugboat’s every manoeuvre. It was obvious that in her opinion things were taking
an unfortunate turn.

Red is a recurring motif in the book.

This is one pop those books that subtly hits you as a reader it is about the memory of a place in a way I can see this influence on other French writers including one of my favourites Modiano it is a book heavy on the sense of place. But with a lot of imagination to events by them both that for me in a way mirrors British books around this time I think the relationship between Anna and Chauvin is similar to those of certain books like Billy liar the relationship between Billy and Liz the way the real and imagined events blend or ike in a taste of honey where imagination and reality clash. It is a connection between class also that feeling of her as a repressed wife meeting this rougher man and making a connection. The book is as short as Peirene would call a movie book a book read in a couple of hours falls into that category. It was made into a film but it isn’t online to stream I hope to catch it one day as it is meant to be a French classic film. This is my favourite of the three I have read as it is one of those books that you think is easy but then days later are still making connections and going oh there was this and that there in this book. Have you read this or any books by her ? have you a favourite?

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet

French fiction

Original title – La Jalousie

Translator -Richard Howard

When I noted the other week that I was only 19 books away from 150 french books read I had a look back over all the books I had read from France over the years and looked at my shelves and thought I need a little more depth to the selection is mostly modern writers so I do have a lot of french books as they now are my go-to country to read from when I started the blog it would be German fiction but these days it is very much French literature but as I say more modern french literature. So I decide the next few french books will have a few older books and here we go with a book from the post-war era of French Literature. When we got a group of writers that were grouped together as the roman Noveau the new novel  Grillet and other writers like  Claude Simon (I have my eye on a new edition of his work from The Flanders road I have reviewed him and also a book from Nathalie Surraute. Robbe Grillet wrote a weekly column about his view of the modern novel. He was both a writer and also a filmmaker. This is his best-known novel I have already reviewed A project of a Revolution in New York which was written a number of years after this book. Anyway, I have watched a few of his films in the meantime and also read a bit about him and this book has a lot of common threads that appear in Grillet’s works.

Franck is here agaun for dinner, smiling, talkative, affable. Christiane has not come with him this time; she has stayed home with the child , who is running a slight fever. It is not unusal, these fays, for the husband to come without her like this, because of the child, because of christiane’s own ailments – for her health has difficulty adapting itself to this hot, humid climate – and also because of her domestic  problems, her difficulties managing her numerous and poorl organized servants.

There is an undercurrent of this short passage I felt !!

The book is the first-person narrative of a jealous husband as he is viewing his wife whom we only ever know as A in the book and her interaction with their neighbour Franck with his wife sometimes other times just Franck. We watch as the narrator glimpses on through the blinds. The title in french has a duel meaning as Jaluise is also the French name for Venitian blinds that the jealous husband is observing the action but this itself means that his description of the events is limited to our narrator’s vision of the event and is from the viewpoint that he feels his wife A is having this affair with Franck this love triangle is the heart of the book as we observe that action or well the events it is set in a Banana plantation and this is the time that the French Empire was like the British Empire was starting to fall apart so one imagines that there is a sense of that the heat also will add to the tension of the events happening I was reminded at times of the restored scenes of Apocalypse Now where we follow the evening in the old plantation. There is a feel of what is missed in the narrative also he like in his films jumps from time to time from one event to another event. This is a classic slice of what the New novel as a concept was meant to do and that is to rip up the novel as a norm away from the novel to the bare mechanics of what the work is!

They look at each other without adding another word.Franck widens his smiles, which wrinkles up the corners of his eyes. He opens his mouth as if he were going to say something, be he doesn’t say anything. A …’s features, from a point three quarters of the way behind her, reveal nothing.

After several minutes- or serveral seconds – both are still in the same postition. Franck’s face, as well as his whole body, is virtually petrified. He is wearing shorts and a short sleeved khaki shirtm whose shoulder straps and buttoned pockets have a vaguely military look. Over hus rough cotton knee socks he wears tennis shoes coated with a thick layer of white shoe polish, cracked at the places where the canvas bends with the foot.

The mechanic of the meet here also the reference to Military lok remind me of Apocalypse now

I said the mechanics as the bones of this book and it is true that he was trained as an Engineer and there is a sense of that type of mind at work I was reminded of my own father’s mind and the way he views the world which is very much how does it work? That is the heart of what he has done here it is like a hotrod of a novel it has been taken apart and rebuilt you can see its influence on other works after this the way the narrated glimpses into this world of his wife and his neighbours isn’t far removed from Jeffrey viewing frank through the slanted wardrobe door. Even the name is similar Franck and Frank! The glimpse of action even has a nod towards Hitchcock which came out before this book it is all about the angle the view we get the glimpses of the action it is shots of the events we are asked to think about what the events are we add the emotions and maybe even fill the gaps! in the book. So it is easy to see why this is considered an important work of post-war fiction as it is part of a canon of writers that wanted to shake up the novel after the war in France and Nabahkov called it the best novel about Love since Proust maybe the best about the despair of love. Have you read any books or seen the films of Robbe- Grillet.

Winstons score – A look at what one man views or doesn’t?

Conducting bodies by Claude Simon

conducting bodies Claude simon

Conducting bodies by Claude Simon

French fiction

Original title – Les Corps conducteurs

Translator – Helen R Lane

Source – Library book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you read Simon ?


September 2022


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