I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about this book. I was intrigued at first, then became confused by the huge cast of characters and was tempted to abandonI wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about this book. I was intrigued at first, then became confused by the huge cast of characters and was tempted to abandon it – but found my interest reignited when the plot began to resolve into a more coherent whole.
It’s the story of Maria Rosalia Inzerillo, also known as La Mennulara, a nickname she retained from her days as an impoverished almond-picker. In the small town of Roccacolomba there were few options during her childhood: Sicily was still a highly stratified, almost feudal society and education wasn’t available to the children of poor families. She went into service where she was expected to contribute her earnings towards her sister’s dowry. But at the time of the novel’s opening in 1963 she has just died aged 55 amid rumours that she is a wealthy woman and the source of her money is a matter of great interest to everybody.
As events unfold, it seems that Mennulara‘s life and death is highly unusual. She leaves detailed, rather bossy instructions for her obituary and funeral, and her employers are quick to take umbrage because she was, to them, only a servant. However they soon change tack when they realise that she has managed her affairs from beyond the grave, the Mafia are loitering and there is either an inheritance or the restitution of stolen money to be had. It is impossible to keep anything private in Roccacolomba, especially not the raging rows that erupt in the wake of Mennulara’s machinations. Everybody knows about what’s going on, and everyone has a different opinion about it.
On reflection, I think that the style of the book was meant to represent the gossipy, incestuous nature of small town Sicilian life.
Things are torrid at work at the moment as we hurtle towards the end of the school year, so much as I love a book that challenges me in style and formThings are torrid at work at the moment as we hurtle towards the end of the school year, so much as I love a book that challenges me in style and form and content, I just wanted a story to read in bed as I try to wind down at the end of a long day. The Foundling Boy has been just perfect for that. First published in 1975 but only recently translated into English, it is a beautiful coming-of-age story set between the wars in France, thought-provoking enough to be interesting, but easy reading.
As it happened, there was a rare instance of a newborn being abandoned by its mother here in Australia in the same week that I read this book. I can’t comment on it because matters are in the hands of the courts and social services, and quite rightly, the privacy of this tragic act is being respected. There is an assumption that with support and care the mother and child will be reunited, and if not there will be an adoption process to find a loving family for the child. But the fact that the courts and social services are involved contrasts markedly with the situation in the Michel Déon’s novel. A baby is found mewling on the doorstep of childless Albert and Jeanne Arnaud – and they simply keep the foundling, with the blessing of the local abbé Le Couec and their wealthy employers the de Courseau family. There is some rivalry for possession of the child from Madame Marie-Thérèse du Courseau, but there is no question of any official intervention at all.
So Jean grows up in Grangeville, Normandy, enjoying the love and devotion of his adoptive parents and a close relationship with the family at La Sauveté where there are three children, Antoinette, Geneviève and Michel. Playing with the reader’s suspicions about the paternity of the child, because Monsieur Antoine de Courseau is an incorrigible womaniser and it’s possible that he might be the father of Jean, Michel Déon portrays Michel as a hostile rival to Jean, and Jean’s would-be amorous relationship with the girls before he discovers his uncertain identity seems more than problematic. The France that Déon depicts is relaxed about sexual liaisons but presumably not about incest, and the small town setting where this might unintentionally occur brings the matter into focus. The abbé knows who Jean’s parent is, but he’s bound by the confessional, and the secret can’t be revealed by him.
I enjoyed The Foundling Boy by Michel Déon, (see my review) but this sequel is not quite as successful. It is, as the title and the book cover suggestI enjoyed The Foundling Boy by Michel Déon, (see my review) but this sequel is not quite as successful. It is, as the title and the book cover suggest, a continuation of the life of Jean Arnaud who comes of age as France capitulates to Germany during World War II. Most of my reading of fiction about this period has tended to explore evil and the struggle to deal with it, so I found this book a little wanting. Amoral adventures and a disdain for politics that seem somewhat charming in adolescence resonate differently when life gets serious under a jackboot, or so it seems to me.
But I wasn’t just disappointed by Jean’s scant attention to the Occupation and its pro-Nazi offshoot in Vichy. The sentimental education of a boy that seemed life-affirming in the first novel seems a little over-worked here: it’s too long, too improbable and sometimes too confusing because (even though I read The Foundling Boy only recently) the plentiful characters from the first novel reappear without timely explanation. Jean went to bed, or wanted to, with quite a few women in The Foundling Boy, but in the sequel I lost track of which women were relations and which were former lovers. And although Jean has two fathers and two mothers in The Foundling Boy it was easy to keep them separate because the peripatetic biological parents were both flamboyant characters while the stay-at-home adoptive parents were stoic and rather dull; in the sequel since they are all offstage almost all the time, the occasional references to them had me floundering sometimes (especially in the case of Antoine, his lovers and his other children).
Dear me, I read this nauseating collection of flowery driblets which are *based on* Sappho's fragments, thinking they were Sappho's poems too, that maDear me, I read this nauseating collection of flowery driblets which are *based on* Sappho's fragments, thinking they were Sappho's poems too, that makes two pretenders to Sappho that I've read, thanks to wholly inadequate descriptions at the iTunes store.
Apparently Mary Robinson, nee Darby (1757-1800) was an English poet and novelist and during her lifetime she was known as the English Sappho. Poor Sappho, to be so cruelly debased!
Moral: stick to real books publisher by real publishers who describe their contents accurately so that you know what you're getting.
*smacks forehead* I read these thinking that they were Sappho's. Moral: don't buy books from the iTunes iBook store because their descriptions aren't*smacks forehead* I read these thinking that they were Sappho's. Moral: don't buy books from the iTunes iBook store because their descriptions aren't adequate. ...more
Post-war Lies, by Malte Herwig, is a challenging book to read and review, because it would be so easy to fall into the trap of sitting in moral judgemPost-war Lies, by Malte Herwig, is a challenging book to read and review, because it would be so easy to fall into the trap of sitting in moral judgement about Germany’s Nazi past. You might also ask, what’s it got to do with us, in Australia in the 21st century, if Germany is still exploring its mea culpa issues?
Well, I would argue that a thoughtful reader makes for a thoughtful citizen, and Germany’s quest for truth is relevant to many societies. While the Holocaust is unique in human history, the acquiescence of ordinary citizens in morally culpable crimes against humanity might be more common than we like to admit. Herwig in his concluding chapter quotes the German author Martin Walser saying that if concepts of ‘state’, ‘people’, ‘nation’ or ‘race’ have any meaning at all, then each individual has a responsibility to enquire into his complicity in political crimes. (Or as I would put it, you can’t belong and then wilfully ignore what is being done in your name). Walser was talking about complicity in the crimes of the Third Reich, but he could IMO just as easily be talking about political crimes against asylum seekers or future generations who will suffer the effects of climate change. He could just as easily be talking about the complicity of non-indigenous Australians in the distortion of its Black history.
Post-war Lies explores the vexed question of the culpability of the generation born in Germany between 1919 and 1927, and specifically whether they were members of the Nazi Party or not. According to Wikipedia there were 8.5 million members of the Nazi Party, (10% of the population) while Herzig says 10.1 million, but whatever the exact numbers were, in the post-war de-Nazification period (1946-1948) it was intended that these people should be the subject of intense scrutiny. The Allies were determined to rid Germany of Nazi ideology entirely, to punish supporters whose complicity was criminal, and to ensure that Nazi Party members were removed from positions of influence. (See Wikipedia). The numbers, of course, made the goal unachievable. Inevitably, people slipped through the net. And by the 1950s, it was realised that it wasn’t possible to create a functioning, economically independent and democratic state without the contribution of these people, and the Constitution was amended so that ‘minor offenders’ who’d been sacked could be re-employed. Herzig’s figures show that some West German government departments were completely dominated by ex-Nazi Party members.
But those were the older generation. A generation defined by the date that they joined the Nazi party. If they were one of the 1.5 million that joined the Party before Hitler came to power in 1933, they were defined as ‘hard-core Nazis’ (See Wikipedia), (differentiating them from those that Herzig calls opportunists, conformists or the ambitious). They were expected to atone for what had been done (if such atonement is ever possible). But Herzig’s interest is in the Flakhelfer generation, the Hitler Youth generation that in some contexts can be described as child soldiers, and in particular those who became the high-profile leaders in positions of influence who helped to rebuild post-war Germany into a genuine democracy. For these people exposure of any Nazi past is a stain on Germany’s contrition and a personal affront. Despite what looks like compelling evidence, the claim that they progressed from the Hitler Youth (which was compulsory for Aryans from 1936, and unavoidable) to becoming members of the Nazi Party, is, apparently, almost universally denied.
Finlay Lloyd publish beautiful books, and The Wild Goose by Mori Õgai is no exception. It’s a new translation of an early modern Japanese text, its orFinlay Lloyd publish beautiful books, and The Wild Goose by Mori Õgai is no exception. It’s a new translation of an early modern Japanese text, its origins captured in the cover design by Phil Day of Mountains Brown Press, and the same design on elegant paper leaves separates the novella from the introduction. Paradoxically, the book feels both delicate and sturdy in the hand, because while the texture of the boards feels like very expensive paper under the fingers, you know that the book is not going to fall apart with reading, as so often paperbacks do.
The introduction by Meredith McKinney might have been written especially for me. I have read very little Japanese literature, and none at all from the early modern period when Japan was making hasty efforts to transition from isolationism after American ‘Black Ships” forced them to accept international trade. It was not an easy transition, apparently: there was a bloody civil war between supporters of Westernization and those who wished to ‘expel the barbarians’. At the time of Õgai’s birth in 1862 Japan was still officially ‘closed’ but within half a dozen years the new Meiji era had begun, and Õgai was, by the time of his adolescence, able to take advantage of the changes. He was obviously gifted in many ways, entering the Tokyo University Medical School at twelve years of age and graduating at nineteen. He studied in Germany and his fluency in German enabled him to read an astonishing array of Western Literature in German. This background in Western Literature positioned him in the literary forefront of the early modern Japanese era when he turned to writing.
The Wild Goose (sometimes translated as The Wild Geese) was written in the period when he mostly wrote fiction based on his own life, but after that he wrote historical works and biographies. It tells the story of thwarted love, an opportunity lost for want of a nail. The novella (just 150 pages) is told by a young student who might easily be Õgai himself, but the story is revealed mainly from two points of view: the young woman Otama, mistress of a sleazy money-lender called Suezõ, and the student Okada who sees her through the lattice of her window and becomes attracted to her. (This ‘woman at the window’ trope reminded me of a story by Balzac, but I can’t remember which one that was).
The Sailor from Gibraltar is a marvellous dreamy book – reading it is like drifting away from all that’s mundane and real.
The University of Rochester’The Sailor from Gibraltar is a marvellous dreamy book – reading it is like drifting away from all that’s mundane and real.
The University of Rochester’s Open Letter Press is a non-profit literary translation press, dedicated to opening cultural borders. I’ve never heard of most of their author list, but I like the idea of expanding my horizons and when they recently had an offer to good to ignore, of course I succumbed. I bought the first 25 of their titles to be published for only $200. (Yes, that’s less than $10 a book:) . I have already read and reviewed one of them (Gasoline by Quim Monzo, translated by Mary Ann Newman) and now I’m discovering Marguerite Duras.
Duras is listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, but the recommended title is The Ravishing of Lol Stein (1964). The one in the Fist 25 Collection is The Sailor from Gibraltar, an earlier book from 1952 and before she adopted a more experimental style. It’s probably not very original to say so, but it reminds me of Camus’s L’Etranger (The Stranger/The Outsider, published in 1942) because it also features a disaffected, disengaged young man drifting into a surreal kind of existence.
The story begins in Italy, where he is on holiday from his dreary job with his girlfriend, Jacqueline. He gets a sudden impulse to go to Florence, but once there, he succumbs to an invitation from the van driver who gave them a lift, to visit Rocca on the coast. Once again, the impulse is urgent, and Jacqueline goes along with it even though she’s been enjoying the tourist delights of Florence while he – to her frustration – has been wasting his days in cafés drinking coffee and crème de menthe.
Gasoline is a book that messes with your mind, but it’s good fun.
The novella (only 141 pages) satirises the new York art scene, and while it’s true thGasoline is a book that messes with your mind, but it’s good fun.
The novella (only 141 pages) satirises the new York art scene, and while it’s true that modern art is an easy target, the way the author has tackled its pretensions is droll indeed. It’s a little like a shorter, more surreal version of Robert Bolano’s The Savage Detectives (see my review) which was a spoof of avant-garde literary movements.
Written in two parts, January and December, the book begins with the artist Heribert Julia who reminded me straight away of Ivan Gonchaarov’s Oblomov. (See my review). Too lazy to get out of his own way, too mired in his absurdist self-preoccupations to make a decision about anything, Heribert is supposed to be churning out paintings for an exhibition that’s coming up, but he can’t muster the motivation. He’s impotent, in more ways than one. And he doesn’t realise until it’s too late that the up-and-coming artist that his wife wants him to help is not only her lover, but is also his rival in the art world.
It’s not until the reader makes the acquaintance of both wife Helena and mistress Herundina, and a bunch of Herbiert’s friends that it becomes obvious that almost every character’s name begins with H (and most of them are women). There’s Humbert, Hubert and Hug, Hildegarda, Hipólita, Hilari, Hannah, Hilda, Henrietta, Heloise, and Hester. (Even the first letter of Heribert’s surname Julia sounds like an ‘H’ in Spanish, and presumably also in Catalan). Methinks the author was playing games with us late in the book when he introduced Xano and Marino del Nonno – because it appears as if there is some meaning to be made out of the difference with these names. But although I’m happy to be enlightened, I suspect that this name play with the Hs is another example of the kind of lists peppered elsewhere in the book, lists which reminded me of the long lists of Mexican poets in The Savage Detectives.
The Hand of Fatima is a sprawling historical novel, set in 17th century Spain when the Christians had defeated the Moors. Nearly 900 pages long, it’sThe Hand of Fatima is a sprawling historical novel, set in 17th century Spain when the Christians had defeated the Moors. Nearly 900 pages long, it’s a blockbuster, successor to Falcones’ European bestseller Cathedral of the Sea.
Judging by The Hand of Fatima and the blurb about Cathedral of the Sea Falcones is interested in historical religious conflict as well as the usual staples of blockbusters (love, betrayal, war, injustice, see–sawing fortune and human frailty). What elevates The Hand of Fatima above the ordinary is its subject matter: the expulsion of the Moors by the triumphant Christians; Cathedral of the Sea apparently involves the Inquisition in 14th century Spain and its treatment of the Jews. The imposition of one religion over another seems especially pertinent at the moment as ISIS advances on Baghdad, bringing its triumphant medieval caliphate to one Iraqi city after another. Women especially seem to bear the brunt of these religious wars. Certainly the women in The Hand of Fatima do.
The title refers both to a forbidden religious symbol and Fatima’s hand in marriage. For all that the novel bears her name, in this plot-driven novel, Fatima isn’t a fully-fledged character: she’s a beautiful woman doomed to be alluring to men who seek to possess her. Without giving away the plot, suffice to say that she has a rough time of it. But all the women do: even the rich Isabel has no right to self-determination. She is a possession too, and her punishment for cuckolding her husband is severe. (To say nothing of what happens in good time to her lover). The flawed hero of the novel, Hernando a.k.a. Ibn Hamid is the blue-eyed son of a priest who raped his Muslim mother in the town of Juviles in the Sierra Nevada. Aisha is married to a brute called Brahim, and the fate of her children is shocking. The Christian authorities suppress insurgencies with summary executions and enslavement; they tolerate the Moriscos (Muslims forced to convert) as an underclass doomed to poverty and oppression.
This book came to me in a most remarkable way, it has own little history as a passenger!
First of all, I read about it at Kim’s blog, Reading Matters,This book came to me in a most remarkable way, it has own little history as a passenger!
First of all, I read about it at Kim’s blog, Reading Matters, and when I commented about it, Kim, who was about to pack her bags for Australia to see her parents, offered to bring it with her. The book duly made the journey in Kim’s suitcase, but then for various reasons, we couldn’t manage to meet up while she was here. Imagine my astonishment when, after chairing a panel at the Stonnington Literary Festival, ‘Sharkell’ who often comments here on this blog, came up to introduce herself – and handed over The Passenger, passed on to her by Kim somewhere in Gippsland!
Then the book made another 2500km journey because I took it in my suitcase on my recent trip chez maman et papa – and I finally read it on the plane coming back. What a well-travelled little book it is, eh?
It is little: only 112 pages, but it has a bigger impact. It is the story of an immigrant now well-established in Paris, who takes a taxi home after a work trip to Greece, and finds her long-suppressed life unravelling as she makes her way through the traffic to her family. Nothing much happens, but the reader senses the enormity of her new awareness that the past travels with her, wherever she goes in life.
The book is cunningly constructed. Having been foolish enough to return a hire car to Charles de Gaulle airport via the Boulevard Périphérique in peak hour, trust me, I can vouch for any journey along that ring road taking a lifetime. Sach’s passenger starts her journey at 6.34 and gets home at 8.30, and the book is divided into little slabs of time, punctuated by references to her progress along the road and finally into the suburbs of Paris. At 7.12, for example, they cross Place du Général Catroux also called Place des Trois Dumas because it boasts statues of the family of Alexandre Dumas; at 7.39, she passes Boulevard Malesherbes where Marcel Proust lived with his family from 1873-1900; at 7.56 she sees Japanese couples doing their bridal photo shoots in Place de la Concorde. All along this route her memories are triggered by the things she sees and the conversation she has with the driver, a migrant, like herself… ...more
had a million things to do this weekend but I have spent most of it reading this compelling novel instead! It’s only a week or so since I read Book O had a million things to do this weekend but I have spent most of it reading this compelling novel instead! It’s only a week or so since I read Book One in the trilogy, My Brilliant Friend (see my review) and I am now tormented by impatience to read Book Three which isn’t available yet.
The Story of a New Name follows the story of the complex friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo. Lila is now married and living in style with Stefano’s money, but the intimation that all would not be well in Book One turns out to be true. Lila’s easy contempt for anyone who might thwart her meets its match when Stefano uses his fists to make her do his will. Elena, torn between jealousy over Lila’s social elevation and her own determination to transcend the poverty of Naples through education, discovers just how bleak Lila’s imprisonment as Stefano’s wife is.
The causes of Lila’s disenchantment are complex, but they revolve around the influence of the Solara brothers. Stefano’s association with these wealthy neighbourhood thugs offends her, and she hates her family’s dependence on them for the success of the shoe factory which makes the shoes she designed. Her intellectual accomplishments are irrelevant in a world where she is expected to work in the family business and design more shoes for the hated Solaras and to make babies within the expected timeframe. Her pride makes her cease to care and whereas in My Brilliant Friend she continued to compete intellectually with Elena even after her family made her leave school, now she no longer bothers with books at all.
Not, that is, until she and Elena take a holiday on the island of Ischia, which becomes a kind of idyll. Having lost two babies to miscarriage, Lila is sent to Ischia to build up her strength in the sunshine, and Elena takes the opportunity to go with her because Nino, the boy she has fancied from a distance since their schooldays, will be there. Lila can’t bear to be left out of conversations about books and politics and philosophy so she helps herself to the books that Elena has brought with her…
An unhappy bride, a jealous friend, handsome young men and the freedom of the beach … in the hands of a less skilful author, this plot could easily have degenerated into a torrid romance, but Ferrante never falters.
Eileen Chang (1920-1995) was a Chinese writer whose life was profoundly affected by the upheavals of the 20th century. I have just read one of her mosEileen Chang (1920-1995) was a Chinese writer whose life was profoundly affected by the upheavals of the 20th century. I have just read one of her most famous works, a novella entitled Love in a Fallen City.
Born in Shanghai into the instability of the nationalist Sun Yat-sen Republic, Chang's early life was a microcosm of the conflict between conservatives and modernists. Humiliations on the international stage led intellectuals in China to champion reforms in thinking, while reactionary forces were nostalgic for the old certainties of Confucianism. For Chang, this dichotomy meant a traumatic childhood.
Her father, of aristocratic lineage, was an opium addict with a propensity for domestic violence, while her mother, an independent woman open to Western ideas, abandoned the family for Europe for part of Chang's childhood when he took a concubine. But she eventually returned, and when the father was hospitalised after a morphine overdose, the mother's European aspirations influenced a more liberal education for her daughter, broadening it to include art, music and English. However on the father's release the destructive cycle of domestic conflict resumed, and after the inevitable divorce, Chang had to divide her time between her father's opium den and her mother's modern apartment.
When she was eighteen, Chang fled her father's cruelty. By 1939 she was studying Literature at the University of Hong Kong and hoping to go London, but the Japanese invaded in 1941. She had to return to her mother's apartment in occupied Shanghai,
Remarkably, Chang's literary career flourished under the Japanese. Shanghai was a city bustling with new ideas, but the literary coterie either abandoned the city or chose to lie low under the Occupation. Chang, however, stepped into the limelight and began publishing stories and essays, becoming very popular and staying out of trouble with the authorities by masking her work as 'unserious'. Her first fiction collection, 'Romances' was published in 1944 and her essays 'Written on Water', in 1945.
Love in a Fallen City is not a romance novel as it is commonly understood. It is a tale of love and longing, but the tone is dark and melancholy, even though Sixth Sister Liusu gets her man...
The Bai family are conservatives who don't answer the door after dark because that's against the rules of the 'old etiquette'.
Fourth Master sat still and listened, but since Third Master, Third Mistress, and Fourth Mistress were shouting all at once as they came up the stairs, he couldn't understand what they were saying. Sitting in the room behind the balcony were Sixth Young Lady, Seventh Young Lady, and Eighth Young Lady, along with the Third and Fourth Masters' children, all growing increasingly anxious. (p. 111)
But it turns out that it's old Mrs Xu with news about Liusu's ex-husband. He's caught pneumonia and died, which the family immediately sees as an opportunity to get rid of her. The rules of etiquette don't seem to apply to family members: the gloves are off in the battle to humiliate Liusu for the failure of her marriage. Now that they have spent the money she brought back after her divorce, they resent what she costs them:
Sure, in the past, it was no problem. One more person, two more chopsticks, that's all. But these days? (p. 113)
The extended family gang up on her, wanting her to return as a 'widow' to her ex-husband's family so that she will be off their hands. But Liusu has more modern ideas, and she laughs off the suggestion that she should go into mourning for him.
If ethical and aesthetic principles no longer exist, looking like an idiot disappears as a a consequence. (p.184)
So says the surgeoLet the Games Begin
If ethical and aesthetic principles no longer exist, looking like an idiot disappears as a a consequence. (p.184)
So says the surgeon Bocchi in this new novel from Niccolò Ammaniti. He says it to reassure the writer Fabrizio Ciba, who is worried that his public will recognise a poem he plagiarized from Kahlil Gibran. And that abandonment of ethics and aesthetics which plagues the modern world and Italy in particular, is the theme of this bizarre farce.
Let the Games Begin is utterly unlike the acclaimed I’m Not Scared, which won the Viareggio Literary Award, was translated into umpteen languages and made into a gripping film. This new novel is absurdist, crude and mocking, and – be warned – it has some repellent scenes which made me hesitate before plunging on.
Think Federico Fellini, Carnevale, Bacchanalia. The cover art on the Australian edition references two-faced Janus, the rape of the Sabine women, Artemis the Hunter, Bacchus and an assortment of diabolical satyrs and whatnot. In satirising the state of Italian politics, Ammaniti has drawn on all kinds of mythology to create this extraordinary book, deliberately designed to shock, disgust and dismay
I discovered this very interesting book thanks to Dutch Lit Week which is organised by Iris from Iris on Books. Hella Haasse (1918 – 2011) is an emineI discovered this very interesting book thanks to Dutch Lit Week which is organised by Iris from Iris on Books. Hella Haasse (1918 – 2011) is an eminent author from the Netherlands, whose oeuvre comprises many works set in what was the Dutch East Indies until Indonesian independence in 1949. She was born in Jakarta (then called Batavia) but completed her post-secondary education in the Netherlands and lived most of her life there. Oeroeg was her debut novel, published in 1949. She must have been writing it during the period of military and diplomatic conflict which followed Indonesia’s 1945 Declaration of Independence.
I had some doubts about Haasse’s magnum opus, The Tea Lords (see my thoughts here), but despite some reservations, I found The Black Lake (the title by which Oeroeg is translated) to be a less troubling book. It’s a novella of only 114 pages and I read it in an hour-and-a-half on my flight back from Queensland. A coming-of-age story penned in the first person, it captures the pain and bewilderment of a cross-cultural friendship that cannot survive the war of independence.
The unnamed narrator is the only child of a tea-planter, and as his parents’ marriage disintegrates, his friendship with Oeroeg becomes the most important relationship that he has. Oeroeg is the son of Deppoh, the Indonesian foreman, and Oeroeg’s family becomes a sort of second home where there is fun, laughter and games, unlike his own melancholy home. The boy’s naïve commentary suggests that the boys play as equals, but of course they are not.
After I read Germinal a couple of years ago (see my review), Émile Zola became one of those authors that I really wanted to read more of, but it was nAfter I read Germinal a couple of years ago (see my review), Émile Zola became one of those authors that I really wanted to read more of, but it was not until I saw the BBC series based on The Ladies’ Paradise and read the novel (see my review) that I decided to begin a long-term project to read them all. I’ve enjoyed reading this one, The Fortune of the Rougons, which puts the whole sequence into perspective.
With Les Rougon-Macquart, Zola apparently set out to emulate Balzac’s La Comedie Humaine but his 20-volume cycle differs in two significant ways: it consists of novels rather than short stories and novellas, and it focusses on a single family rather than a whole society. Zola believed in the fatalistic effects of heredity and environment, and so the novels trace three branches of the Rougon-Macquart family: the aspirational Rougons, always on the hunt for wealth and position; the Mourets, who are bourgeois tradesmen and provincials; and the low-born Macquarts who are industrial workers. (Or worse).
The Fortune of the Rougons charts the lives of the first generation. (There’s a helpful family tree at Wikipedia). Adélaïde Fouque (Aunt Dide) - who is a bit loopy, has three children: Pierre Rougon, the legitimate son of her long deceased labourer husband, and Antoine and Ursule who are the children of her liaison with the smuggler Macquart. By the end of the novel Pierre and his ambitious wife Felicité Puech have with a mixture of good luck and cunning overcome their disadvantages and achieved their destiny as influential leaders in the town. Ursule (who marries Mouret) and the drunken layabout Antoine have been swindled out of their inheritance, and are relegated to their respective paths in life.
Eugène Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People (Source: Wikipedia Commons) Eugène Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People (Source: Wikipedia Commons) The novel begins with the naïve idealism of a young couple who have enlisted in the doomed insurgency that led to the December 1851 coup d’état that created the French Second Empire under Napoleon III. (Fortunately, the reader does not need to know much about the interminable revolutions of this period, but if you are keen, you can start at Wikipedia, or try A Traveller’s History of Paris by Robert Cole which has the only explanation I’ve ever enjoyed reading.)