Marriage among the well-to-do was a favorite subject in the 19th century novel, but it took Georges Ohnet in Serge Panine, Complete (1890) to create aMarriage among the well-to-do was a favorite subject in the 19th century novel, but it took Georges Ohnet in Serge Panine, Complete (1890) to create a set of situations that while being realistic were also emotionally satisfying.
To put it simply, Prince Serge Panini is a first class louse. Both daughters of the wealthy Mme Desvarennes fall in love with the handsome young ne'er-do-well, but it is Michelins, the natural daughter, who gets to wed him. The adopted Jeanne also loves him, but must settle for an ugly, but rich (and good-hearted) banker named Cayrol. Panini, who has no money of his own, proceeds to live like a king and spend his way through the Desvarennes fortune.
Needless to say, things get dicey when Panini decides he likes Jeanne more, and Mama Desvarennes finds out before daughter Michelins does.
The weakest character is Pierre, who had loved Michelins, but made the mistake of going to Africa to make his fortune and returns to find Panini in control.
Ohnet is no Balzac or Zola, but he still writes a good novel....more
This early roman dur by Georges Simenon is about a loner suspected by the neighborhood of a rape/murder -- which in fact he did not actually commit. HThis early roman dur by Georges Simenon is about a loner suspected by the neighborhood of a rape/murder -- which in fact he did not actually commit. His background in mail order pornography and a prison term for exposing himself in public make the police think otherwise. M. Hire is uncomfortable around women, though he has the beginnings of a sick relationship with Alice, the redhead who works at the dairy, and through whose window he likes to peep.
The title of Mr Hire's Engagement could refer to the police, who are watching him and about to close in on him, or the neighborhood, which wants to get to him before the police do. We all know people like M. Hire: We are vaguely repelled by them and like to imagine gruesome sex crimes that they may or may not commit. ...more
This slim book is actually by three authors: Half is an essay by Simone Weil entitled "On the Abolition of All Political Parties." This is followed byThis slim book is actually by three authors: Half is an essay by Simone Weil entitled "On the Abolition of All Political Parties." This is followed by a 1960 essay by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz on "The Importance of Simone Weil" and a current essay by Simon Leys on "In the Light of Simone Weil: Milosz and the Friendship of Camus."
The result of this organization is to make this a work of political philosophy combined with a tribute to its author.
Weil is most convincing on he subject of political parties:
The goal of a political party is something vague and unreal. If it were real, it would demand a great deal of effort and attention, for the mind does not easily encompass the concept of the public interest. Conversely, the existence of the party is something concrete and obvious; it is perceived without any effort. Therefore, unavoidably, the party becomes in fact its own end.
And what should we be aiming for if not the success of a political party? According to Weil, the answer if "truth, justice, and the public interest" -- things which get lost in the hugger-mugger of party politics....more
Jean-Paul Sartre represents an interesting confluence of talents. On the one hand, he is one of the major philosophers of the twentieth century. On thJean-Paul Sartre represents an interesting confluence of talents. On the one hand, he is one of the major philosophers of the twentieth century. On the other, his fiction is as good as fiction as his philosophy is as philosophy. The Wall (Intimacy) and Other Stories is a collection of five short stories and one novelette, "The Childhood of a Leader," about how a young man grows up to be a fascist.
My favorite story is the first, "The Wall," about a prisoner of the Spanish Falangists who is threatened with execution if he does not tell the whereabouts of one of his colleagues. "The Room" is about a young woman in love with her delusional husband. "Erostratus," named after the Greek who destroyed the Temple of Artemis, yearns to commit murder. Finally, "Intimacy" is about a marriage between a wife and husband who are fickle and uncaring, yet unable to live without each other.
After reading these stories, I might consider re-reading his trilogy, beginning with The Age of Reason, which I first read back in 1973....more
Imagine a woman writer writing about a male antiques dealer who likes to steal recently interred dead males and females and return them to his apartmeImagine a woman writer writing about a male antiques dealer who likes to steal recently interred dead males and females and return them to his apartment for the purposes of necrophilia. When they rot too much, he dumps the bodies in the river. There are, unfortunately, some gross descriptions of the effluvia some dead bodies emit, along with other unpleasant surprises.
We have this image of French literature as being intellectual and even ethereal. Well, Pierre Benoît aims to prove you wong with his The Queen of AtlaWe have this image of French literature as being intellectual and even ethereal. Well, Pierre Benoît aims to prove you wong with his The Queen of Atlantis, also known as L'Atlantide. Reading him is like reading H. Rider Haggard. In fact, he was accused of plagiarizing Haggard: He got off the hook because he could not read English, and Haggard had not yet been translated into French.
Benoit writes about a Kingdom of Atlantis that was not so much sunk into the ocean as arisen from the ocean, where it exists as a mountain kingdom in the middle of the Sahara Desert, no less.
Antinea, the Queen of Atlantis, likes to capture young Europeans that stray or are misguided into her realm, where she proceeds to love them to death and exhibit their mummified remains in a red marble hall. Lieutenant Andre de Saint-Avit and Captain Morhange find themselves in this situation. One of them escapes to tell the tale.
Benoit was accused of being a collaborationist during the Second World War, and he was convicted, which affected his writing career for a while. He served six months in prison, and his work was blacklisted for a few years.
This is a fast read and is fun once the plot gets going....more
Nadja is a 1928 surrealistic novelette written by André Breton, the virtual founder of surrealism.
Of course, the problom with a surrealist novel is tNadja is a 1928 surrealistic novelette written by André Breton, the virtual founder of surrealism.
Of course, the problom with a surrealist novel is that it can go anywhere, with any type of character (who changes before your eyes). It could be deadly boring, but Nadja fortunately isn't: There is a nostalgic entre-deux-guerres nostalgia about it which, even if it doesn't make sense, nor wants to, it doesn't leave you holding a wet mop in left field.
I was frankly disappointed by this book, primarily because I think it was written in bad faith. It tells the story of a romance between the narrator,I was frankly disappointed by this book, primarily because I think it was written in bad faith. It tells the story of a romance between the narrator, Jerome, and his cousin Alissa. The romance sours halfway through, and Jerome is left confused; while Alissa has clearly changed. The reason I say it was written in bad faith is that its author, André Gide, was gay, though he had not yet declared himself when the book was first published in 1909.
Why do I accept Marcel Proust, who transliterated the young men he loved into young women? I always felt that Proust was emotionally honest, whereas Gide, at any rate in Strait is the Gate, is just pretending. I am not saying that some women -- at least those who are a little weak in the head -- do not turn to lonely lives of austere piety and abandon any chance for love. But Alissa infuriated me, as did Jerome, who kept carrying a torch for Alissa long after he should have dropped her like a hot potato.
If I am bitter, it is because I have carried a torch also; and it flustered me to no end. Eventually, I dropped out of the game. In my case, I was not pretending; and the women I thought I loved did not suddenly urn into Mother Theresa. That would have been altogether too much!...more
I am now past the point of thinking of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels simply as genre literature. Any writer of mysteries who could enthrall the likI am now past the point of thinking of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels simply as genre literature. Any writer of mysteries who could enthrall the likes of William Faulkner, Muriel Spark, Peter Ackroyd, André Gide, P. D. James, and John Banville clearly has a lot more going for him than mere whodunits.
In Cécile is Dead, Simenon shows us an Inspector Maigret who is frantically trying to overcome a minor act of negligence which costs the life of a young woman, who is killed within feet of his office at the Police Judiciare. In addition, the elderly miser for whom she worked has been killed while wearing only one sock.
One new note is struck when Maigret is attended by a young American from Philadelphia who is studying his methods of crime detection. Does the Inspector regale him with clouds of theory? Not at all: He gets a lesson in practical detection as Maigret sifts through a crowd of suspects before hitting on the criminal(s). Throughout, he is like a force of nature:
One day, when Madame Maigret was looking pensively at her husband, she had suddenly sighed, with almost comical candour, "I do wonder why you haven't been slapped in the face more often in your life."
It was deeply heartfelt. In fact there were moments when, even with her, Maigret could be extraordinarily overbearing, and his wife was probably the only one who knew that he was entirely unaware of it. It wasn't that you saw an ironic smile or a glint of mockery in his eyes, nothing like that. You found yourself facing a solid block offering nothing you could get a grip on, a man who continued to be absorbed in his internal monologue while you were talking or getting worked up. Was the inspector listening to you/ Did he see you, or only the wall above your head? He would suddenly interrupt you in the middle of a sentence or a word, and what he said bore no relation to your preceding remarks.
Simenon was so wrapped up in this story, which was written in 1939-1940, just on the verge of World War Two -- and yet there was not even a hint of the conflagration that was to overtake his world....more
Jean Giono's Hill is the tale of several Provencal peasants living in an isolated hillside community facing the ravages of a nature gone mad. Their paJean Giono's Hill is the tale of several Provencal peasants living in an isolated hillside community facing the ravages of a nature gone mad. Their patriarch, the half-paralyzed Janet frightens them with tales of their folly in the face of nature:
Earth isn't made for you alone to keep on using the way you've been used to, on and on, without getting some advice from the master every once in a while. You're like the tenant farmer -- and then there's the landlord.
This is Giono's first novel, published in 1929. Curiously, in today's ecologically aware environment, it even comes across as being politically correct, with perhaps a touch of the supernatural involved in the person of a cat who appears before the disasters that befall the hamlet.
Those two disasters are, first, the drying up of their well, and second, a brush fire that threatens their homes and kills one of their number.
This is a quick read with a wonderful feel for the people of the Bastide Blanche and the world in which they live....more
J. K. Huysmans in Là-Bas takes as his subject the reverse of Christian mysticism, namely: The mysticism of evil. His leading character, Durtal, is wriJ. K. Huysmans in Là-Bas takes as his subject the reverse of Christian mysticism, namely: The mysticism of evil. His leading character, Durtal, is writing a book about the 15th century monster, Gilles de Rais, who murdered small children for pleasure. He is like the narrator of Sartre's Nausea, who is writing about a fictional character named Antoine Roquentin.
Durtal is part of a small circle of intellectuals which includes his physician friend Des Hermies; the devout bell-ringer of St-Sulpice, Carhais; and an astrologer, Gévingey. Strangely intruding into Durtal's bachelor existence is Mme Chantelouve, who seems to promise friendship as well as an adulterous relationship, but whose motivations are beyond Durtal's abilities to fathom.
Gilles de Rais seems to become Durtal's reason for existing:
As a matter of fact I wish it might never be finished. What will become of me when it is? I'll have to look around for another subject, and, when I find one, do all the drudgery of planning and then getting the introductory chapter written—the mean part of any literary work is getting started. I shall pass mortal hours doing nothing. Really, when I think it over, literature has only one excuse for existing; it saves the person who makes it from the disgustingness of life.
In fact, at the end of the novel, Durtal seems to be finished with his study. He dabbles in the black arts with Mme Chantelouve's assistance, marveling that contemporary Paris still contains Satan-worshipers, as did the Middle Ages.
The story takes place during the meteoric rise of General Boulanger, "The Man on Horseback," 19th century France's equivalent of Donald Trump.
I found La-Bas to be exciting and well written, preferable even to the same author's more famous A Rebours (Against Nature)....more
This early (1938) novel by Julien Gracq is more a child of literary theory than of storytelling. There are three characters -- Albert, Herminien, andThis early (1938) novel by Julien Gracq is more a child of literary theory than of storytelling. There are three characters -- Albert, Herminien, and Heide -- holed up in an atmospheric castle near the Breton shore, surrounded by water, a dark forest, an eerie cemetery, and scads of atmosphere.
Lacking, however, is character. The death of Heide and Herminien (at least, I think it is Herminien) does not arouse any feeling because both they and Albert are more literary constructs than characters. There is only a single line of dialog -- the two words "Never again!" -- uttered either by Albert or Herminien, I'm not sure which.
On the plus side, Château d'Argol is written with a great deal of energy. The scenes are constantly shifting. Although I never saw any such Breton landscapes during my visit there, I was impressed by the constant atmospherics.
A typical scene is the following:
A heavy idleness took possession of the inmates of the castle, and with rare and insignificant words they appeared persistently to avoid each other, to such an extent that even their chance meetings in the mazes of the winding corridors, filled with a faltering white light which seeped through the curtains of the rain as though diffused by the moisture ceaselessly streaming down the walls, engendered a visible malaise.
Either the Claude Izner is getting better with each novel, or I am just becoming more entranced with the world of Paris in the 1890s. In the Shadows oEither the Claude Izner is getting better with each novel, or I am just becoming more entranced with the world of Paris in the 1890s. In the Shadows of Paris: A Victor Legris Mystery could easily have gone astray, what with THREE detectives, FOUR murder victims, and ONE very promising red herring. Probably my reaction has something to do with the fact that the two-sister act writing as Claude Izner are better able to handle complexity.
There is also a fairly large cast of minor characters, from Victor Legris's Russian painter girlfriend to whoever Kenji Mori is currently romancing, his lovely daughter Iris, JoJo's mother, the obstreperous clientele of Victor's bookshop -- the list goes on and on.
Much of the action is based on the horrors of the Paris Commune, some two decades before the action of the novel. Many thousands of Parisians lost their lives in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, when the residents of Paris refused to go along with French President Adolph Thiers, whereupon he brought in the Prussian army to batter them into surrender, and thereafter execute them by the tens of thousands. It is an event not known to most Americans, as it is to the French. Only during the famine that accompanied the war against the Communards did the Parisians begin to eat horsemeat, which they still do....more
This is a book that could only have been written in France. And poor Anatole France got on the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books for his effoThis is a book that could only have been written in France. And poor Anatole France got on the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books for his efforts. The Revolt of the Angels is not really a work of irreligion as it is of gentle irony.
It all starts when Arcade, the guardian angel of Maurice d'Esparvieu, starts reading books in the famed d'Esparvieu library and decides that the God whom he served was actually a demiurge named Ialdabaoth. He enlists other angels who are living among men to join him, and with the collaboration of Satan, storm Heaven. At one point, Arcade is upbraided by one of his fellow rebels:
We are on the eve of surprising Ialdabaoth in his palace of porphyry, and you, who are burning to deliver the heavens, who were so eager to enter in triumph into your emancipated country,—you suddenly forget your noble purpose and fall asleep in the arms of the daughters of men. What pleasure can you find in intercourse with these unclean little animals, composed, as they are, of elements so unstable that they may be said to be in a state of constant evanescence? O Arcade! I was indeed right to distrust you.
There is, indeed, a gentle Gallic touch to this revolt. It's interesting that the Church took such offense to it.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline is a writer about which opinion is still polarized after more than half a century. In he 1930s. he wrote two masterpieces -- JoLouis-Ferdinand Céline is a writer about which opinion is still polarized after more than half a century. In he 1930s. he wrote two masterpieces -- Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan -- but as the decade progressed and the mood in France grew increasingly sullen, he wrote several anti-Semitic pamphlets. He almost appeared to welcome a Nazi victory. Except for one thing ...
Céline hated everybody. During the Occupation, the Nazis tried to build him up as a great writer, but Céline wasn't having any part of it. He was an anarchist at heart who had said equally damaging things about the Communists and American Capitalists. Naturally, the French Resistance wanted his hide; and after the war, he had to escape with various unsavory Vichy officials to Germany and Denmark. He was arrested and spent time in solitary confinement in Copenhagen before being released.
All this time, Céline was not just a writer: He was a physician concentrating his practice on the illnesses of the poor. Looked at in this light, he was a demonstrably good man -- a sort of irreligious Mother Theresa.
Patrick McCarthy 's Celine: A Biography is probably more a work of literary criticism than biography, but it does cover both in its own way. The writer was never a willing subject for a biographer, even though his is one of the most eventful stories of the 20th Century.
I for one like his work -- and deplore many of his prejudices. In a way, so did Céline: He had many Jewish friends. According to a New Yorker article on the Frenchman:
“Céline is my Proust!” Philip Roth once said. “Even if his anti-Semitism made him an abject, intolerable person. To read him, I have to suspend my Jewish conscience, but I do it, because anti-Semitism isn’t at the heart of his books… . Céline is a great liberator.”
There was a cafe near the Carrefour de l'Odeon in Paris called the Condé, which was patronized mostly by young men in their twenties. One of the patroThere was a cafe near the Carrefour de l'Odeon in Paris called the Condé, which was patronized mostly by young men in their twenties. One of the patrons was a young woman whom they called Louki. She was a strange, fugitive kind of girl whom everyone remembered, but who could easily be scared into flight.
Patrick Modiano gives us four windows into Louki, one of which is Louki herself. Curiously, we learn relatively little from her. It is the 1950s, when the Paris cafe scene was at its height. In the Café of Lost Youth summarizes perfectly for me that world which I had previously viewed through the French cinema, through the eyes of Truffaut, Godard, chabrol and others.
I have known -- and loved -- women who resembled Louki. Though it was only possible to do it for a while before they vanished.
Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014, is a writer very much on my wavelength. I look forward to reading more of his books -- mostly because his Paris is my Paris as well....more
This play is Jean-Paul Sartre's only attempt to come to terms with the Second World War and German guilt -- as well as French guilt for the country'sThis play is Jean-Paul Sartre's only attempt to come to terms with the Second World War and German guilt -- as well as French guilt for the country's actions in Algeria. The Condemned of Altona is wordy and somewhat unnecessarily intricate.
Its subject is the von Gerlach family, whose shipbuilding empire spanned both the Third Reich and Germany's postwar rebirth. The paterfamilias, referred to strictly as Father in the play, has two sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Franz, never emerges from his second floor room, where he addresses the crabs who rule in the thirtieth century and who stand in judgment over his past misdeeds. He is cared for by his sister Leni, with whom he has an incestuous relationship. Neither the Father nor his other son Werner have seen Franz for thirteen years.
There is considerable meat interspersed among all the play's intricacies. It is worth reading, and it would be worth seeing, but if it succeeds at all, it would be from multiple readings or viewings. ...more
We are in the later days of the First World War. Ferdinand Bardamu is holed up in London with a bunch of French pimps, whores, pawnbrokers, con men, aWe are in the later days of the First World War. Ferdinand Bardamu is holed up in London with a bunch of French pimps, whores, pawnbrokers, con men, and arsonists. They are all more or less hiding out with bad papers and afraid of being deported to France and the trenches along the Somme.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline is up to his old tricks. The book starts with a Boche zeppelin and airplane raid. Ferdinand is hanging out with super-pimp Cascade, cowering from a run-in with Matthew of Scotland Yard, whose threatening presence is seemingly everywhere. After a big fight between Cascade's stable of prostitutes, Ferdinand runs off to join a friend with a Jewish pawnbroker in Greenwich. That ends when his friend accidentally kills the pawnbroker and deliberately sets fire to his place.
Guignol's Band: Novel is not the best of Celine's novels, but like all of them it is a hoot to read. It ends suddenly when the narrator takes up with a Franco-Chinese magician (?) on the verge of cutting a deal with the British military on a new gas mask.
There is a sequel called London Bridge, which I have not yet read. ...more
Dave Galloway was a quiet clockmaker who was raising a teenage son on his own (his wife had run off fifteen years earlier leaving behind the son, Ben)Dave Galloway was a quiet clockmaker who was raising a teenage son on his own (his wife had run off fifteen years earlier leaving behind the son, Ben). He lived a quiet life, allowing himself a weekly visit to a cabinetmaker friend to watch baseball and play backgammon. It comes as a big surprise when he finds that Ben has run off with the fifteen-year-old daughter of his neighbor in his father's car.
But that is not all. Ben had shot and killed a passing motorist, robbing his car and money, and started driving to Illinois, whose marriage laws at the time permitted minors to marry without parental permission.
When Ben and his girl Lillie Hawkins are finally captured after a gunfight in which the boy runs out of bullets, Dave drops everything and flies to Indianapolis, only to find that Ben and Lillie were flying back to New York, where the murder was committed.
At no point does Ben actually want to speak to his father, who is eager to shower his son with forgiveness and understanding:
He no longer let himself grow impatient, was beginning to get used to the fact that everything turned out differently from what he hoped, and he did not lose courage, being convinced that it was he who would have the last word.
But did Dave Galloway, in fact, have the last word? I do not wish to say fo as not to spoil the book for others.
I have read several dozen Simenon novels and find this to be one of the best of them. I was astonished that Simenon, having set his story in upstate New York, had captured the American idiom so perfectly. There were no false notes, just the inevitably working out of the story of Ben's capture and Dave's growing self-realization. ...more
If this book were more about Marcel Proust, whom I revere, and less about Jacques Riviere, about whom I know next to nothing, I would have given it fiIf this book were more about Marcel Proust, whom I revere, and less about Jacques Riviere, about whom I know next to nothing, I would have given it five stars. François Mauriac was one of the greatest French writers of the 20th Century. Therefore, it is fascinating to see what he thought of Marcel Proust.
As a devout Catholic, Mauriac criticized Proust when he describes the bad influence he had on Jacques Riviere as "literarywork in its most dangerous form, Marcel Proust's, which has no other object than itself, and whose analysis pulverizes and destroys the human personality."
And yet Mauriac is profoundly fascinated and moved by Proust's great novel:
The integral history of a young life, of its loves, its friendships, its weaknesses, its intellectual or religious crises, offers the vast proportions of the history of the ideas and customs at a certain epoch as they are reflected in a single spirit. And a long old age would not be enough to complete the account or to exhaust its drama.
Proust's Way is well worth reading until it switches to Riviere. Unless you know the man, you might well be excused for putting the book down at this point....more
This is probably the single longest work of fiction I have ever read, and I read it during the most difficult days of tax season in an accounting offiThis is probably the single longest work of fiction I have ever read, and I read it during the most difficult days of tax season in an accounting office -- and I loved every moment of it. Curiously, I had never heard of Albert Cohen before, let alone his masterpiece, Belle du Seigneur.
Picture a gentle comedy about a man and a woman who fall altogether too much in love -- so deeply that there is literally nowhere to go from there. There is, so to speak, no second act. At the beginning of the book, Ariane is married to a boring League of Nations bureaucrat called Adrien Deume. Solal XIV de Solal is the Under Secretary General who happens to be Adrien's boss. The day Adrien returns from a work-related trip, a full week early, Ariane leaves him for Solal.
Ruining oneself for love is a uniquely European theme, and Cohen plays it for all it is worth. At the same time, at least until the very end, Belle du seigneur has a succession of scenes of gentle irony and even outright comedy. For instance, Adrien and Ariane plan for a dinner party for Solal, who has given the bureaucrat a plum of a promotion. Never was there so much thought put into a soiree -- but it all comes to nothing when Solal doesn't show.
I am inclined to think that Belle du seigneur is one of the greatest works of 20th Century French literature. It deserves to be on the same shelf with Proust. (Cohen knew Proust and liked him, but in the end decided he was too much of a snob.)
At first, the book concentrates on the character of Ariane, but as the story unfolds, Solal becomes the more interesting. A Greek Jew, the son of the Chief Rabbi of Cephallonia, Solal discovers himself when he spends several months in Paris in 1936, in an atmosphere rife with anti-Semitism and the beginnings of Nazism. ...more
This is a difficult book to review because it deals intimately with the subject of passionate love, between the prostitute La Nina Estrellita and theThis is a difficult book to review because it deals intimately with the subject of passionate love, between the prostitute La Nina Estrellita and the longshoreman El Caucho. About three quarters of the book is about the long slow dance by which the two get to know and finally accept each other.
The author, Jacques Stephen Alexis was murdered by the Ton Ton Macoute when he returned to Haiti in 1959, fresh from participating in the Cuban Revolution of Fidel Castro. In the Flicker of an Eyelid was to be the first volume of a tetralogy in which the relationship between El Caucho and Nina was to be analyzed in detail.
It took me a while to get into the rhythm of the book and its specific Caribbean context. But as the story progressed, I grew enchanted with it. The whole story takes places in Holy Week of 1948 and ends on Easter Sunday.
Too bad we never get a chance to follow the characters in the ensuing novels that were never written....more
Look at it as a kind of 21st century rewrite of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Jean Rolin writes of his journey to the Congo interior, but witLook at it as a kind of 21st century rewrite of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Jean Rolin writes of his journey to the Congo interior, but with a used Audi being imported from Europe to be used as a taxi in the lucrative Kinshasa market. But as the book's title, The Explosion of the Radiator Hose, hints, it was not an easy task.
In Congo, everybody's hand is out and obtrusive officialdom is rife:
I spent whole days in Kurt's office -- he busying himself with innumerable tasks (for the most part consisting of nothing but the patient removal of obstacles surreptitiously put in place by authorities or some other agent, in order to levy unwarranted taxes on the flow of goods and merchansise), me sitting sideways on a chair, sometimes silent but more often ready to chat, watching the endless procession of petitioners, lawyers, intermediaries, clients, or company employees staggering under bulging files full of papers needing to be stamped and signed.
The book purports to be a novel, but is more real than most nonfiction I have read.
Whether it is fiction or not, it can be read as nonfiction. Then again, it occasionally trails into riffs that are decidedly fictional. No matter. Rolin's book is vastly enjoyable....more
I cannot conceive of this book ever having been written in the United States. Picture a young public prosecutor resting on the banks of the Rhone withI cannot conceive of this book ever having been written in the United States. Picture a young public prosecutor resting on the banks of the Rhone with his girlfriend, who sleeps with her head on his chest. Across the river, a young woman who appears to have had an accident stumbles, falls into the river, and drowns. Our hero does ... nothing.
It transpired that the wastrel son of an influential businessman is blamed by the entire community for murdering the girl, even though the prosecutor knows it is not true. But when seemingly unbearable pressure is brought to bear on him, coming from the attorney general and the prosecutor's own patron -- the prosecutor puts on the mask of his office and demands the death penalty.
This is the country that made a movie called Twelve Angry Men, in which a single juror changes the minds of his eleven co-jurors on behalf of acquittal. For most Americans, the prosecutor, Jean Berthier, is much too squirrely and cowardly to be an object of admiration -- unless by the "hero" of the title, the author, Pierre Boulle is dripping with irony. (Yet Berthier does openly resist the pressures being brought to bear on him.)
Face of a Hero is basically an interesting book, but I wonder how I could ever really trust its hero....more
I cannot help but think that Françoise Sagan was Cécile, the heroine of Bonjour Tristesse, all her life long. It is one of those books, the writing ofI cannot help but think that Françoise Sagan was Cécile, the heroine of Bonjour Tristesse, all her life long. It is one of those books, the writing of which spoils you for the years that follow.
Sagan belongs to a certain French tradition of writing about love exemplified by Choderlos de Laclos in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Like Laclos, her Cécile plays dangerously with love. Leading a carefree life with her playboy father Raymond, she suddenly sees the walls caving in when he takes up with Anne, a woman his own age, who threatens to put an end to her carefree life.
At the same time, and this is one of the strong points of Bonjour Tristesse, she respects Anne at the same time that she wants to destroy her relationship with Raymond. And when her victory leaves her with ashes in her mouth, she must confront a life that suddenly seems to have different rules.
Sagan herself seems to have been unduly influenced by Cécile: Her life was filled with men, casinos, and fast cars. Even late in life, she looked astonishingly like her seventeen-year-old heroine. I keep thinking of the title of Thomas Mann's story "Disorder and early Sorrow."...more
As far back as 1934, Georges Simenon wrote a book about Inspector Maigret in retirement, forced to return to the scene of his travails when his nephewAs far back as 1934, Georges Simenon wrote a book about Inspector Maigret in retirement, forced to return to the scene of his travails when his nephew Philippe, also with the police, maladroitly becomes accused of a murder he did not commit. Mme Maigret and her sister appeal to the retired detective to take matters in hand. But as a retired police officer, Maigret has no status except his outsize reputation:
Maigret knew he was a thorn in everyone's side and that they would have liked to tell him to go to hell, but still he persisted. He stood there for ages, his massive bulk hovering over the chief, blocking his line of vision. Eventually the chief gave in and phone calls were made from one office to another.
As if his ambiguous position were not bad enough, he is pitted against an unusually clever bank of gangsters who seem to be immune from prosecurtion. But, as we can surmise, Maigret eventually comes out ahead using a clever trick.
This is a new translation by Ros Schwartz of a novel variously called in English Maigret or Maigret Returns.
I have read so many of Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries, and always with such avidity that I would deeply regret getting to the end of his bibliogrI have read so many of Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries, and always with such avidity that I would deeply regret getting to the end of his bibliography. Maigret Sets a Trap (1955) is about a serial killer who stabs plump women in Montmartre with a pen knife and slashes their clothing.
Even when the Superintendent finds a suspect, he is dismayed to discover that yet another woman has been killed. It is then that we see Maigret at his most impenetrable. We never really get into his mind in any of the stories. We, as it were, stand next to him and watch his mind and instincts at work. When the crimes are solved, we are surprised, because we were not privy to his thinking. In fact, at the end of Maigret Sets a Trap, we hear his monologue, as he is not quite willing to admit that his prime suspect was not, in fact, the killer.
How he solves the case is nothing short of brilliant -- and, typically, instinctive. ...more
This is an odd, half-hearted sort of book which purports to be one thing and shades into another. At first, we are presented with Guy de Maupassant asThis is an odd, half-hearted sort of book which purports to be one thing and shades into another. At first, we are presented with Guy de Maupassant as amateur captain of a sailboat named the Bel-Ami, after his most popular novel. He complains about being forced to be a sociable human being, yet for all his pretensions, he is sailing only a few nautical miles between St Tropez and Antibes with frequent overnight stops at inns along the way.
Afloat has one little authorial tic that is almost unique: Virtually every series ends in an anticlimax. It is as if Maupassant was eager to embark on a line of thought but, somewhere along the way, loses steam.
Still, there are some nice essayistic passages, such as his condemnation of war and of "table-chat" (to which he is nonetheless addicted). There are spurious paragraphs such as this one:
Oh, how I sometimes wish not to be able to think or feel, to live like an animal in some light, sunny country, a yellow country where there's no coarse, grass greenery, in one of those Oriental countries where you drop off peacefully to sleep and wake up cheerfully, go about your business without worry, where you can love without feeling distress, where you're barely aware of existing.
Is there such a place? I think not. If it speaks of anything, it speaks of Maupassant's overweening restlessness.
Still, Afloat is not a bad read, and it tells us a lot more about its author than of the places along the Riviera he visits....more
J.M.G. Le Clezio's The Interrogation begins like a French beatnik novel. We are in a Riviera resort town looking through the eyes of one Adam Pollo, aJ.M.G. Le Clezio's The Interrogation begins like a French beatnik novel. We are in a Riviera resort town looking through the eyes of one Adam Pollo, a squatter living in a vacation home. He smokes, reads newspapers and magazines, works on his suntan, and occasionally gets together with his girlfriend Michelle, from whom he borrows money from time to time.
After a while, the relationship goes bad, and Adam becomes more frenzied as the weather changes from summer to winter. He breaks down at one point, ranting at a crowd, until he is picked up and moved to a mental hospital for examination.
Suddenly, the merely phenomenological Adam Pollo we had known before becomes an intellectual familiar with Ruysbroek, the Inca, and a whole slew of mystics and philosophers. This is during an interrogation by a psychiatry professor and his young students, who bring out a showy response from him.
The Interrogation is Le Clezio's first novel, which becomes ever more interesting as we see Adam developing into ... what?
Note to Self: Read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for possible comparison....more
He served under four flags: those of Britain, Chile, Brazil, and Greece. He was perhaps the greatest ship (rather than fleet) commander in all of navaHe served under four flags: those of Britain, Chile, Brazil, and Greece. He was perhaps the greatest ship (rather than fleet) commander in all of naval history. Yet Lord Cochrane is relatively unknown outside of Britain, Greece, and South America. Donald Thomas with his book Cochrane: Britannia's Sea Wolf attempts to redress that.
Like many exceedingly brilliant military figures, Cochrane frequently ran afoul of politicians and was frequently persecuted and mulcted by them. He was accused of stock fraud in a patently ludicrous trial by an unfair judge, Lord Ellenborough, served time in prison, was stripped of his title of Knight of the bath, and removed from the navy list.
That did not dismay the Scottish sea wolf, who helped Chile and Peru win their independence from Spain by destroying that country's Pacific Fleet. When he had done all he could there, he moved on to Brazil to fight for Don Pedro I. When that was over, he joined the struggle for Greek independence, where he was prevented from winning by the factionalism of the Greek politicians.
In the end, under Queen Vicoria, he regained all his honors and died rich in years and reputation. ...more