I am head over heels in love with this book. Only a terrific author can write about something as appalling as war and occupation and uneccesary death...moreI am head over heels in love with this book. Only a terrific author can write about something as appalling as war and occupation and uneccesary death but yet make you feel so alive and carefree whilste reading it. The prose was as mouthwatering, succulent and juicy as the food in the book and I wanted to be there! Yes, I wanted to run down to the Loire and swim and splash and yell and hang upsidedown from trees overhanging the river and race through sun-soaked fields and pick fruit in the orchards. I wanted to sneak off on the back of bike to the nearest village to watch a film in the cinema unbeknown to my mother, I wanted to set traps in the Loire and catch fish and I wanted to go to market on a Thursday morning and sell home-made pastries. And all this under German occupation. Only a talented author can make you feel like that while telling the story of something far more sinister.
This is a book about an old woman who comes back to the village of her childhood, but can't allow the villagers to find out who she really is. Aged nine Framboise and her family has to make a hasty exit from Les Laveuses and now she can't allow them to know the truth of who she really is and also what really happnened back in 1942. The book is as sumptuous as it is teasing with bits of information that allows the reader to peice all the fragments together over the course of the story and lead us to the final catastrophic moments.
I adored this book; it was ripe, tangy and a feast for the senses. I want to read it all over again. But if not, it has made me hungry and now I need to go and raid the fridge.........(less)
Who would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the char...moreWho would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the characters). One minutes I was swooning over landscape and seascape and melting in Maupassants prose, and the next I was wanting to ring the protagonists neck!
The book starts with a young Jeanne who is on her last ever day at the convent school in 1819 and who is desperate to taste freedom and start her life after being cooped up for so long, only being able to stare out of windows and dream what her life will be like when she is finally out in the world. Jeanne’s daydreams are filled with longing and a restless spirit that is aching to see far away lands and nature and finally breathe after all these years at school. Jeanne’s parents (a Baron and Baroness) pick her up on her last day and drive her to Poplars which is to become her home by the sea. Maupassants narrative is so beautiful in parts that I longed to be there too; to experience what Jeanne was experiencing.
“First of all facing her was a broad lawn as yellow as butter under the night sky. Two tall trees rose up like steeples in front of the hous, a plane to the north and a linden to the south.”
“Jeanne gazed at the broad surface of the sea, which looked like watered silk, sleeping peacefully under the stars. In the quiet of the sunless sky all the scents of the earth rose up into the air. A jessamine climbing round the downstairs windows gave a penetrating scent, which mingled with the fainter smell of the young leaves. Gentle gusts of wind were blowing, laden with the sharp tang of the salt and the heavy sticky reek of seaweed. At first the girl was happy just breathing the night air; the peace of the countryside had the calming effect of a cool bath.”
Jeanne’s first few months are spent getting to know her new surroundings and enjoying her freedom and soon she is introduced to a young man by the name of Julien who is a count and after a breif and all-consuming romance they marry. Jeanne starts to pick up clues that all is not what it seemed as early as the wedding night when he forces himself on his new bride but desperately wanting to believe that she has married the right man and stay happy she puts it to one side. I feel the need to note here (for amusements sake) that Julien calls his wifes breasts Mr Sleeper-out and Mr Kiss-me-quick and certain other part of her womanly anatomy The road to Damascus. Fortunatley these aren’t mentioned more than once.
The story is very much about the downward spiral of one woman’s life. We watch Jeanne’s hopes and desires and dreams turn into boredom and frustration and self-pity.
“Suddenly she realised that she had nothing to do and never would have anything.”
“But now the magic reality of those first days was about to become the every day reality, which closed the door on those hopes and delightful enigmas of the unknown.”
“Habit spread over her life like a layer of resignation like the chalky deposit left on the ground by certain kinds of of water.”
“Sometimes she would spend the whole afternoon sitting looking at the sea; sometimes she went down to Yport through the wood, repeating the walks of old days which she could not forget. What a long time it was since she had wondered through the countryside as a young girl intoxicated with dreams!”
Maupassant has such a way with words that he drew me into Jeanne’s world and I felt the same longing she felt. It took me back to days when I had the world at my feet too and thought I could do anything, had no cares in the world – OK so my carefree days were a little different to Jeanne’s as in rather than floating round some big mansion by the sea, it was made up of nights out on the town, no mortgage to pay and a feeling of being able accountable to nobody except myself (ahh, to be so naive once more!). I do sometimes wonder how I would have coped in those days – one part of me thinks how lovely to do nothing all day other than read my books and take little walks round the garden with my parasol in hand, and the other part thinks but what would happen when you got bored of that? A woman didn’t have a choice then. In those particular circles they were there to look pretty and be seen but not so much heard. How dull!
Despite my sympathy towards Jeanne, not just because of her longing for something else but also because of her brutish husband and selfish son, I still found myself wanting to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake! My God, this woman can make a fuss. Her level of self-pity knows no bounds – we have hysterics, weeping, falling on someones breast and weeping, collapsing on a chair and weeping, we have fainting, panic attacks and wailing. There were times when I wanted to yell “get a grip, love!” at the pages.
“She continually repeated: ‘I have no luck in life.’ But Rosalie would retort: ‘What would you say if you had to earn your living and had to get up at six every morning and go out to work? There are plenty of women who have to do that, and when they are too old to work, they starve to death.’”
This book, I believe, should have been translated as One Woman’s Life rather than A Woman’s Life as it is very much about Jeanne and her personal story.
I read quite a few Maupassant books when I was at school (we studied Boule de Suife and some of his other shorter stories) but it’s far too long since I have read anything else of his. I’m glad I did – it reminded me why I liked him. Recommended. (less)
How refreshing it is to read an account of France and the French that hasn't resorted to the usual "hilarious" micky-taking of every stereotype you ca...moreHow refreshing it is to read an account of France and the French that hasn't resorted to the usual "hilarious" micky-taking of every stereotype you can think of.
I am a huge Francophile and am about to embark on my 8th trip in the next few months so I was looking forward to reading this. The book is written by a Brit who has lived in France for over 20 years, was married to a French man and has two children who have always considered themselves French rather than dual-nationality, so she's pretty well placed to make fair and frank comments about both the French and the Brits and all our differences without resorting to cliches and poking fun.
Wadham, if telling about a certain aspect of French behaviour, always tries to back it up with historical facts of why that may be (the revolution, catholicism, a national love of and belief in Freud for example) which did cause a few "aha" moments. What I also liked was the way she explains our British behaviour in comparison and the reasons why the French see us the way they do: we dress badly and have a culture of ladettes and drunkeness but they have a great affection for our eccentricity and sense of humour.
There were some eye-openers too, particularly when it comes to extra-marital relations and racism. I also now know why those "rude" Parisian waiters behave the way they do too. While I come from a nation of manners, politeness and overusing the words please and thankyou in resturants, for the French the role of waitor is held in icredibly high esteem and expressing gratitude is seen as us looking down on their profession. Now I know to look down, not up and say simply "onion soup and red wine". Simple!
My only slight grumble about this book is that it sometimes appeared as though it was hopping back and forth between times or themes. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it a refreshing and convincing portrayal of one of our closest neighbours. (less)
After having read, and loved, Sagan’s more famous Bonjour Tristesse about a year ago; when I saw this book and two others by Sagan for only £2 each in...moreAfter having read, and loved, Sagan’s more famous Bonjour Tristesse about a year ago; when I saw this book and two others by Sagan for only £2 each in a little second-hand bookshop, I dutifully rescued them from the shelves and brough them home to be loved and nurtured by me!
I loved this book! Really loved it. Francoise Sagan is such a talented writer. She wrote Bonjour Tristesse at the age of 17 when she had failed her exams so “decided to write a novel instead”. For one so young, that particular book is truly amazing (or am I just forgetting – now I’m older – how complex a teenagers emotions really are?).
Sunlight on Cold Water was written at the end of the 1960′s so by this time Sagan had matured and had the time and experience to hone her craft. For such a short book (a novella, really) not a word is wasted and I found myself, over and over again, marvelling at her insight into human beings and their actions and motivations. She really gets under the skin of her characters and has the most incredible empathy for what makes them tick.
Gilles Lantier is a successful journalist in Paris, living a life of frivolity with a model for a girlfriend (and women whenever he pleases). At age 35, he finds himself in a very unfamiliar and very frigtening place. What used to interest him now makes no sense, what used to please him now repells him and for the first time in his life he is struggling to even function, let alone live with any purpose. Gilles, although he doesn’t realise it at first – being so overwhelmed by fear, is suffering from depression of the most crippling kind.
“He had spend the whole morning at his newspaper, where he worked on the foreign desk. The world was full of violent and absurd happenings, to which his colleagues reacted with a smug indignation which he found exasperating. Three months ago, he would have been delighted to join in their protests, but it was out of the question now. He even felt midly irritated that the people in the Middle East, the United States, or anywhere else, kept trying to distract him from his real problem: himself.”
The way Sagan depicted Gilles unravelling was astounding. Speaking as one who has suffered depression previously and knows how crippling and debilatating it can be, she got this spot on.
Gilles finally (on the advice of everyone telling him he needs a break) heads down to Limoges, in the Limousin, to stay with his older sister and her husband. Far from him miraculously becoming well again, as everyone expected, in the fresh country air and slower pace of life, Gilles still struggles to do the simplest of things and sleeps as much as possible.
“The simple, homely pleasures of country life! What a pity such clichés could only sustain him for a few minutes at a time before life and his obsession caught up with him again like a pack of hounds in full cry that has given the stag a few minutes’ breathing space merely to prolong the hunt.”
A few weeks into his stay in the provinces, Gilles is dragged along (unwillingly) to a dinner party in the village where he meets Nathalie, the young wife of a very well-to-do lawyer. She instantly falls in love with Gilles (quite to his amusement) and finds reasons to pop along to Gilles’ sisters house to see him. They begin an affair (not very successfully at first) but he eventually falls in love with Nathalie too and his life suddently begins to hold some sort of meaning again.
The title of the book, Sunlight on Cold Water, is a perfect metaphor for Gilles and Nathalie’s budding relationship. Gilles starts to live again, to breathe again. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book, but there is some soul-searching to be done once back in Paris and the ending really does come completely out of the blue!
I know I have only read two Sagan books so far but I am now declaring myself a huge fan! I find her prose so crisp and clear and not a word wasted and she is also an author who knows her characters so well that her books don’t need to be padded out with non-necessities. Brilliant, just brilliant! (less)
I'm glad I have finished this book; it was really beginning to irritate me! I wanted to like it, I really did - Books, Paris, what's not to love? What...moreI'm glad I have finished this book; it was really beginning to irritate me! I wanted to like it, I really did - Books, Paris, what's not to love? What a shame then that what started off as a very promising look into Paris's most famous of bookstores quickly descended into one of the most self-indulgent memoirs I have ever read.
Jeremy Mercer is a Canadain journalist who after printing the name of someone he promised he wouldn't name, did a runner one Christmas to Paris and ended up spending the next 9 months of his life living in the famous Shakespeare & Company bookshop. What did interest me was the fact that the shops owner, 86 year old George Whitman (an American) let anyone (usually with the claim of being a struggling writer) sleep in one of the many beds dotted around the shop, indefinitely. The backstory of how George came to be in Paris and how he came to set up the shop in the first place was intruiging (for about 50 pages). What confused me too was the fact that Mercer kept saying what a wonderful person George was, yet the way he portrayed him was as a rude, grumpy old man who perved after young girls 65 years younger than him! He also repeatedly talked about Georges wish for communism and how the world had it all wrong, yet he also seemed proud of the fact that the two of them would go to church sales to buy books for a few pence and then sell them on for a massive profit in his store. Infact, when one of the priests cottoned on to what they were doing, George had a physical fight with the priest over a book. Nice!
I am left feeling deflated and somewhat irritated by this book. Given the subject, I expected to fall in love with Paris over again through the book. While there were frequent references to getting pissed and telling stories by the river Seine, there was never a point where I felt that this was a magical city. The narrative was flat, it didn't make me feel like I was there (which is always a sign of a well written book, in my opinion), in fact I didn't even feel like Paris was somewhere I would want to revisit on the back of this book.
A self-indulgent, poorly executed excuse for a mediocre writer to cash in on his time spent living in a famous bookshop. (less)
This book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or...moreThis book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or maybe I've just got too old and have forgotten how complex emotions are when you're teetering on the brink of adulthood. Either way, I thought it was brilliantly done.
Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) is a tale of one tragic summer through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Spoilt and extrovert, Cecile is used to living the high life with her 40 year old Dad whom she goes out drinking and gambling with as if she were his contemporary. They head off from Paris to a villa in the south of France for 2 months one summer (taking along Elsa, her fathers current girlfriend) and spend the first few weeks doing little else other than sumbating and swimming in the sea. Then Anne arrives (Cecile's dead mothers best friend) who is sensible, intelligent and calm (everything Cecile and her father are not). Cecile loves Anne, but having been used to doing exactly as she pleases, she is not pleased when Anne treats her as the child she is and makes her study for her exams. Cecile is adamant that she doesn't need exams - she is already leading the life she wants (living in luxury and partying none stop). This sort of attitude reminded me so much of those vile brats on MTV's My Super Sweet Sixteen - the ones who make my blood boil by demanding and expecting everything and you know damn well they will never have to work for anything in their lives. Shortly after, Anne and Ceciles father announce that they are getting married and here Cecile hatches a plan to stop the wedding at all costs (fearing for the lifestyle she loves with her father and knowing that it will all change). She involves Elsa, the spurned girlfriend, and Cyril, the boy from the next villa whom she has been sleeping with, to help her plot the undoing of the engagement. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and then it all goes horribly wrong...
I loved it. I don't know if it is because Sagan was the same age as Cecile herself or that she was an incredibly perceptive young lady, but she really captures the fine balance of not being sure whether you're an adult or a child. Interestingly, although Anne appears to treat her as the latter and her father as a contemporary, Cecile herself says that she feels like their pet kitten (something to be cooed at and petted).
I loved this book - perhaps even more so because I didn't expect to. I found it refreshing, funny, thought-provoking and very quirky.
There are two na...moreI loved this book - perhaps even more so because I didn't expect to. I found it refreshing, funny, thought-provoking and very quirky.
There are two narrators, each taking a turn with a chapter or two. The first is 54 year old widowed Renee who is caretaker of a large Parisien appartment block with very well-to-do residents who largely ignore her unless barking orders. Renee has a secret though - she loves Tolstoy, classical music and Japanese films; but why upset the neighbours by confusing them by having an intelligent concierge? The second narrator is Paloma, aged 12, daugher of a government minister living in the entire 5th floor of the building, highly intelligent, cynical, bored and planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. Both go about their daily business as normal until a death in the building and subsequently a new resident arriving turns both their worlds upside down.
I found this book such a lovely read - it made me think, it made me question and it had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (Paloma imparticular). I'm so glad I picked this book up and so glad it far surpassed my expectations.(less)
I just love these Eyewitness guides, they are so colourful and vibrant. I bought this prior to my latest trip to Paris and found it so much better and...moreI just love these Eyewitness guides, they are so colourful and vibrant. I bought this prior to my latest trip to Paris and found it so much better and more useful that other giudes I have used in the past. There is so much history and detail in it that I found places that I didn't know about despite several previous visits.
The book is split into really easy to follow sections - basically the diffrerent quarters (i.e. The Latin Quarter, Le Marais, Monmartre, The Opera Quarter etc). At the beginning of each section there is a small map of Paris at the bottom of the page highlighting where it is in relation to the other areas and then over the page a more detailed map of the sites in that area with snippets of info. The following pages go into more detail about various sites, buildings etc. It's choc full of so many things I wanted to cram into my weekend but alas some will have to be saved for another trip (any excuse!).
There is also loads of info on the best places to eat (again by area, and also price), different types of shops, markets etc as well as all the practical info about getting around and underground and overground maps. I read the whole things from start to finish before I left for Paris becuase I found it so interesting as a book as well as just a city guide.
I highly recommend this book - perfect for planning and drooling over.(less)
What a wonderful book. Lyrical and atmospheric, this book is a story told by Silvio about his family in the early last century who live in a little vi...moreWhat a wonderful book. Lyrical and atmospheric, this book is a story told by Silvio about his family in the early last century who live in a little village in rural France. What starts out gently and as a story of great love between the various family members quickly descends into secrets, lies, betrayal and grief.
I picked this book up this morning and read the first page to see how I liked it and before I knew it I have read the whole things while barely pausing for breath. A lovely book and I shall certainly be reading more by this author. (less)
This is the sweetest, funniest, most genius and trippy book!
Shame on me that I never read this as a child and had no idea what the story was actually...moreThis is the sweetest, funniest, most genius and trippy book!
Shame on me that I never read this as a child and had no idea what the story was actually about. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it all the more, as I had no idea about the story. It's hard to put into words - if I were told that it is a book about a little prince who lives on his own planet and encounters a human in the dessert I'm not sure I would have picked it up, but I am so glad I did.