Compass by Mathias Enard

file_000-17

Compass by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Boussole

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

Well strange I did my round-up and book of the month for february yesterday .I am sure unless something unexpected comes along this will be March’s  book of the month only a day in . This is the third novel by Mathias Enard I have read and for me this is his best . It won the Prix Goncourt in 2015. Mathias Enard studied Persian and Arabic and has spent long periods in the Middle east . This is his tenth novel

Sarah found that pharse extraordinary, “Take me, lead me where you like ; I won’t bother you, I sleep all day, in the evening you can let me go to the concert and at night you can do what you like with me ” a declaration of absolute beauty and despair, a total nudity – unlike Liszt , I know where she is buried , the montmatre cemetery. Which Sarah showed me

sarah quotes Marie Duplessis Liszt’s mistress and a woman who inspired Alexander Dumas .

The last but one  sentence of the intro is the key  to what  this book is about  simply Enard is a huge fan of the Middle east and this book is his ode to the way us in the West and the east mix together . I’m now not sure what we call this area the middle east or as Nawai El Saadawi who’s middle east , the Wests middle east ! so from the middle west here is my view of this wonderful book . Then we have the term Orient the older term which is the one Enard seems to prefer . Anyway the Arab speaking world and How Enard has chosen to show us this  west and east struggle via Franz Ritter a Austrian musicologist who over the space of one late night and early morning suffering  with a bout of insomnia he recalls his frequent trips to this part of the work . so from Istanbul to Tehran and place like Aleppo and Damascus we follow Franz but also Sarah a spirited french woman like Franz caught between west and east. SO as the night goes on the arc of the relationship maybe also arcs the relationship of west and east . Like the point of a compass this book points east to the heart of Arab world and an affair that was doomed but also the clashing of the west and east how the west has viewed the east through music , art and literature and how these have been tinged by the East from Franz Liszt to Agatha Christie the east has touch many artists and their works .

The debate became stormy ; Sarah had mentioned the great name, the wolf  had appeared in the midst of the flock , in the freezing desert: Edward Said .It was like invoking the Devil in a Carmelite convent ; Bilger , horrified at the idea that he could be associated with any kind of Orientalism, immediately began embarrassed auto criticism, renouncing everything : Francois-marie and julie were nuanced on the question, while still acknowledging that Said had asked a burning but pertinent question : the relationship between knowledge and power in the Orient

Said one of the main names you connect with Orientalism

Well as you see this book is one that it is easy to fall in love with it is one of the novels that you will also need a note-book and maybe Spotify hand to listen to the music mentioned and the books mentioned. So as we see Franz wrestle with on coming sleep and the dreams to remember the good and bad times of the relationship. This is also an ode to that lost world his times in Aleppo , which is now a smoking ruined city instead we see the Aleppo that drew people there before the war . We get a sense of a past that isn’t there now a time when the world wasn’t so tense in this Joycean evening of vivid dreams of a long past relationship and world .

The French compass points to Lithuania

file_000-12

I decide as two books arrived today I would talk about them and save you another review til tomorrow. The first is the first from this years Fitzcarraldo editions and it is a big prize-winning French book this won the Prix Goncourt , I have read a number of the recent winners, this is from a writer I have really enjoyed before Mathias Enard. The book follows a night in Franz Ritter as he is unable to sleep but as the night pass he travels the middle east from Istanbul through Aleppo to Tehran. a bridge from east to west I read an interesting interview about the book and its Orientalist angle of the book from a french website L’orient Litteraire  a very insightful piece. Mathias Enard is one of of the most inventive writers around this is the third book from him I have.

file_000-10

Then I was contact by the publish of this prize-winning Lithuanain novel as he noted I had yet to review a book from their and this is the first book published by a living writer Laura Sintija Cernauskaite won the 2009 eu prize for this book. The book follows a family with a son with epilepsy whom mother adopts another boy a young Orphan taking him to their country home where their lives will never be the same . This is first of two book they are publishing at Noir press .

What books have you had arrive ?

The great swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

The Great Swindle

The great swindle by Pierre Lemaitre

French fiction

Original title – Au revoir là-haut

Translator – Frank wynne

I am carrying on my journey through books from last year that may make the MBIP2016 and next up is The Prix Goncourt historic novel from Pierre Lemaitre. and a book from one of my favourite translators Frank Wynne  He is better known for his Crime Novels Alex and Irene, I reviewed Irene and enjoyed it , but I was looking forward to this given it’s post world war one setting and the fact it won the Prix goncourt.

This later position was one espoused by Lieutenant d’aulnay-Pradelle. When talking of him, everyone dropped the first name the nobility particle, the “Aulnay” and the hyphen, referring to him simply as “Pradelle” since they knew very well how much this riled him, They could afford to do so, since Pradelle made it a point of honour never to express personal aimus.

The three of them at the start of the book in the same army unit and they have little respect for Pradelle the officer.

The book follows three French soldiers as they start to make their way post war in war-torn France. Now these three are trying to get their own back for the horrors of the war by running a couple of clever confidence tricks. The first two Albert and Edouard met just as the war is about to end in an incident that leaves one of them disfigured and the other with what is know called post traumatic stress disorder after the events that brought the two of them together out of the army they head to Paris and find the streets aren’t paved with gold , but find a clever way to make some money by conning French towns and villages as they go round selling fake war memorials . Then there is Lieutenant Henry D’Aulnay Pradelle is trying to get the hand of a wealthy heiress, but has to find a way to make money so gets a job burying the dead he was the man who sent the first two out on the job that caused them to end up the way they did on a fruitless mission, he is a real cad.What we see is how each man falls down their respective holes post war.

It was these workshops that had produced the magnificent sample coffin that had been sent to the war graves commission, a superb oak casket worth every centime of its sixty francs. Now that it had served its purpose in persuading the adjudicating committee, they could move on to more serious matters, to the coffins that would actually be delivered.

Pradelle sends a great coffin to bury the dead to the graves commission then actually makes some substandard ones in the place.

I loved this it was a slow burner to start as the war burns out,  as he starts to place the characters in their places for what is to follow post war  but as the book gets on the pace picks up some what as we see the three men each start to run their swindles. I think it is a shame the title was changed from Goodbye there , which as Lemaitre explains were the last words of Jean Blanchard a man shot in 1921 after he had done something similar to the title characters. For me one reason is to link this in the English mind to the great pieces of  lost generation literature The great swindle maybe brings to mind the Great Gatsby and as Gatsby in the book in one line of thought is meant to be a swindler that made his money in a very dark way it may be a connection not sure that is just my idea. in the afterword Lemaitre gives a list of world war one books that inspired him Barbusse and Jules Romains (I have Romains Verdun in my TBR pile ). He also notes a number of 19th century French realist writers for inspiring the style of writing in the book, I can see Pradelle is one character that could come from Dickens as Dickens was inspired by a number of the writers on Lemaitre list. The great swindle is a dark look at the underbelly of the post war lost generation and what happens when the dreams of peace don’t go as planned.

 

The red collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin

The Red collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin

French fiction

Original title – Le Collier rouge

Translator – Adriana Hunter

Source – review copy

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him
He stood so straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out into a grin

“Oh, son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
Make me proud to know you own a gun
Do what the captain says, lot of medals you will get
We’ll put them on the wall when you get home”

That old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood

John brown is about the aftermath and outfall of war by Bob Dylan

Well today is Bastille day , so a perfect day for French novel and this is the most recent I have been sent , I may remind you there are  59 books from france under review on the blog ., Jean-Christophe Rufin is one of the founders of doctors without borders and a former ambassador of France to Senegal , he also won the Priz Goncourt for a debut novel in 1997 , he has also won the main prize in 2001 , and has since then he has written over ten books .He is also the second youngest member of the French academy .This book won the Prix Maurice -Genovoix a yearly French  book prize .

At one o’clock in the afternoon , with the crushing heat over the town , the dog’s howling was unbearable , The animal had ben there on the place for two days it had barked . It was a big brown , short-haired dog with no collar and a torn ear .

The opening lines as the dog barks all day long .

This book is about a dog and three people , the story is set in the aftermath of world war one .A small town of Berry has a dog that is barking all day and night long during this hot summer .A war hero Jacques Morlac is awaiting a trial as a deserter and  the arrival of the second person in this story a judge , but this judge has had his worldview scared by the war and what he saw during . The third person is a young woman Valentina she is related too Jacques .We discover how all three faired during the war and what the dog that is barking has to do with them all .Why does the dog wearing a red collar “ribbon” . What did the dog do during the war and how did he connect these three souls .

After the armistice , Lantier saw his appointment to the military justice system as serendipity .The relevant committees must have felt he was ripe for this difficult responsibility : protecting the military institution , defending the interests of the nation and understanding mens failings .

But this prisoner was different .He belonged to both camps ; he was a hero , he had defended his country , yet at the same time loathed it .

Lantier the judge to decide on what to do with Jacques .A job that brings back his own life during the war .

I loved this short book it is one of those perfect for a summer evening reads .IT is about war , being human under pressure also the loyalty of a dog to the ones they love .I was reminded of the book by Dan Rhodes Timolean vieta come home ,which like this the dog is a dumb  witness to various peoples lives .in the way mention and seen but never do we know the dogs view of all this .Its a simple story of three people and the damage that war can do . From the fallen hero , to the man damage because of what he saw and the damage of being behind the lines during the war .I was also reminded of a book like A month in the country , this book has a similar feel of damaged souls after the horrors of world war one .This is a post war story of the out falling of war , in particular the war to end all wars .

Do you have a favourite book from france ?

The Ogre by Michel Tournier

52926

 

The Ogre by Michel Tournier

French fiction

Original title – Les Roi des aulnes

Translator – Barbara Bray

Source – personnel copy

Belligerent ghouls
run Manchester schools
spineless swines
cemented minds
Sir leads the troops
jealous of youth
same old suit since 1962
he does the military two-step
down the nape of my neck
I wanna go home
I don’t want to stay
give up education
as a bad mistake
mid-week on the playing fields
Sir thwacks you on the knees
knees you in the groin
elbow in the face
bruises bigger than dinner plates
I wanna go home
I don’t want to stay

Another school in Manchester The smiths talk about there brutal school days .

Well I had a lucky day a few weeks back I found this and Roger Vailland book the law both Prix Goncourt winners . The Goncourt is the top french prize for fiction and one of the original prizes for fiction around the world . Michel Tournier . Was born on Paris , but has always had a connection to Germany , he studied german and spent many a summer in his youth there . A number of his books have a German connection like this one .He is often mentioned as a possible Nobel winner .Although with Mondiano winning last year it may be to late now

Febuary 8 1938 , sometimes you have to reach bottom before you at last see a glimmer of hope pierce the clouds .It was the  Colaphus that revealed to me for the first time the astonishing protection I was to be the object of , and which still hovers over me .

When do we know what is bottom thou ?

The Ogre or as it was also published The erl king is his most well-known book . The book is the story of one man growing from a shy boy to the so-called Ogre of Kaltenborn . Abel Tiffauges tale is one of what nuture can do . The story is told by Abel and narrated as we see him move from a simple man working at a garage , a keeper of pigeons and then he joins the army and is caught by the Germans and ends up working at a Nazi school were his job is to recruit kids for this school . How does this bullied school boy become the Ogre of a Nazi school ? When will he see the world for hat it is around him .

He had to make a superhuman effort now to overcome the viscous resistance grinding in his belly and breast , but preserved , knowing all was as it should be when he turned to look up for the last time at Ephraim , all he saw was a six -pointed star turning slowly against a black sky .

The closing lines of this book as he sees the world slightly differently .

This book is an example of what happens when a simple man in a way meets an evil world . Abel becomes like the world around him but how easy it is to get drawn in by the Nazi mindset . Abel is one man but he maybe is also the voice of so many that fell foul of the Nazi regime those how came to blindly believe  at what they are told . But given his past you see how that lead to the present . I was reminded in a way of Alex in clockwork orange especially near the end of the book were both characters see what their effect on the world has been. What we have here is a book full of ideas and how ideas can change the world for good or bad  , The book has been made into a film in the 90’s which I must try to find to watch .Has anyone seen it ?

What is your favourite Prix Goncourt winning book ?

Previous Older Entries

March 2017
M T W T F S S
« Feb    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
%d bloggers like this: