Some people I know maintain that the movie (with Hot Lena Olin and Daniel 'Jaw-o-Man' Day Lewis) is better than the book. those people didn't have theSome people I know maintain that the movie (with Hot Lena Olin and Daniel 'Jaw-o-Man' Day Lewis) is better than the book. those people didn't have the chance to get this book passed to them in high school so they could read it in the parking lot before their first class of the day and think to themselves, "This is the type of book they let you read in college."...more
I had to give a presentation on this book in my "Travel Writing" class during my Sophomore year of college. The experience of reading the book had beeI had to give a presentation on this book in my "Travel Writing" class during my Sophomore year of college. The experience of reading the book had been so conflicted--Is sex fulfillling, or just the purest expression of how empty human life is? Does Houellebecq hate everyone or just Muslims?--that it probably wasn't my finest collegiate moment. It did, however, allow me to use the word 'sodomy' in an academic context and get into a near shouting match with a woman who I would one day come to recognize as my doppleganger.
I found this book in an English bookstore in Berlin, and although the sexy cover (which you can't see, sorry...) and description won me over, I had neI found this book in an English bookstore in Berlin, and although the sexy cover (which you can't see, sorry...) and description won me over, I had never heard of Sebastian Japrisot, and so didn't take the opportunity to pick up the three or four other titles (published in the UK) that were also on the shelf. Now I wish I had, because The 10:30 from Marseilles was really a gem.
The scene--a beautiful woman is found strangled in the title train--is set quickly and cleanly in the first few pages. A quirky detective team--the type that you might expect to see on a particularly well-written 'Law and Order' type of show--is called in to investigate. But no matter how quickly they act on clues and leads, they always seem to be one step behind their killer, who has taken to systematically offing all of the other people who traveled in the same train compartment as the victim.
Call me morbid, but I find the structure of domino-style murder books incredibly satisfying. Once a readership knows that it's only a matter of pages before the next death occurs, the stakes are automatically heightened. Throw in a few beleaguered detectives, some unwilling witnesses (future victims), and any number of sub-plots, and you have yourself a winning read.
The 10:30 is no exception to this formula, and even ups the ante by giving the majority of the characters (even incidental ones) well-rounded, sympathetic personalities. Japrisot notices the nervous ticks and self conscious gestures, and the subtle weaknesses and endearing eccentricities that make characters seem really human (and, coincidentally, make us sorry to see them die). He doesn't seem restricted by any of the characters he presents either, but embodies his lonely, aging actresses, blase, lady-killer policemen, teenage lovers, and jaded, cynical detectives with the same aplomb.
My one quibble--and this is very minor considering that this was Japrisot's first novel--is with the ending. The 10:30 ends in a bit of a whirlwind, wrapping things up with a sort of wacky twist ending that actually could have worked well, if only it weren't revealed in such a convoluted fashion. After all the characters have been so well developed and the pacing handled so efficiently, it's frustrating to see new, rather two-dimensional figures come out of the nowhere, and have so little explanation as to what actually happened that it feels like the reader may have missed a few pages. However, as what really matters here is not so much the solution to the crime, but the process of its revelation, these things don't really damage The 10:30's overall effect....more
I came to The Waitress Was New through the website Three Percent's "Best Translated Book of 2008" longlist (here, if you're interested). Narrated by PI came to The Waitress Was New through the website Three Percent's "Best Translated Book of 2008" longlist (here, if you're interested). Narrated by Pierre, a fifty-six year old barman in a cafe on the outskirts of Paris, Waitress provides a quick and quiet glimpse into the life of a man who has spent his life observing others and catering to their whims, but is only just starting to develop the same acute awareness of himself.
Pierre is profoundly alone—a state which only occasionally seems to concern him. He has drinks once in awhile with a barman friend from his neighborhood, waters his boss' plants when he's out of town, grocery shops for his upstairs neighbor, and decides what to read based on the selections of a regular customer. He is a consummate listener, but--as is the case with many such professional confidants—has almost no idea how to respond on the rare occasion that someone actually asks his own opinion.
There are a few images towards the end of the novella that were so beautiful that I kept reading as I got off the subway and walked to my office. Pierre's boss unexpectedly closes the cafe for a week, but Pierre, left at loose ends, continues to go into work every morning, mopping down the bar top and watching as people go in and out of the train station across the street. The image of an aging barman—locked in an empty cafe and watching passersby—seems to me the most poetic rendering of solitude, spectatorship, and quotidian ritual that fiction has produced in some time. ...more
One of controversial French author Paul Claudel's masterpieces, The Satin Slipper is a play of epic, grandly melodramatic proportions. When performedOne of controversial French author Paul Claudel's masterpieces, The Satin Slipper is a play of epic, grandly melodramatic proportions. When performed in full, the play (which is comprised of fifty-two scenes) clocks in at around 11 hours long (Manoel de Oliveira made a seven hour film out of the play in 1985). It's action takes place over the course of four non-chronological days in the late 16th/early 17th century and spans three continents. Although principally the story of a love-not-to-be between the honorable and pious (and married) Dona Prouheze and the roguish Don Rodrigo, there are literally dozens of secondary characters, each with their own sub-plots, romances, motives, and dramas. It is deeply Catholic, darkly humorous, and often chronologically and narratively incomprehensible. The resulting muddle is purposeful (and rather fabulous), highlighting the complications, confusions, and frequent incomprehensible state of human life.
A lovely, multi-layered story which says more about human relationships in its thin volume than many more showy books do in double the page count. TheA lovely, multi-layered story which says more about human relationships in its thin volume than many more showy books do in double the page count. The prose is clear and simple, as is the story--at least at first. But Poulin manages to create very vivid worlds and circumstances for his characters, each of whom have very real back stories, quirks, and habits, and each of whom is seeking their own way of really connecting with other people.
Translation is a Love Affair is a novel which celebrates the deep and truly meaningful relationships that one forms unexpectedly--the family that one creates for herself. While its plot is somewhat whimsical--a translator and the author she translates find a cat with a mysterious message for help on its collar and track down the original owner--it conveys the importance of looking out for others, of taking on the responsibility of helping people you see in need, even those you don't truly know.
Sorry to say, but I'm giving up on this one. I've heard good things about Fred Vargas (and love that Fred is a female author who has also made a careeSorry to say, but I'm giving up on this one. I've heard good things about Fred Vargas (and love that Fred is a female author who has also made a career in archeology and as a historian), but the characters in this book, though eccentric and drawn in detail, did not engage me enough to distract from the fact that the investigation is really rather stagnant. The comissaire's investigation into the so-called "Chalk Circle Man" is preemptive, and then a series of coincidences put him in close contact with someone who may or may not have met the man (and also is the mother of his long-lost lover?).
Perhaps I'll try another Vargas in the future (this is the first in the series), and perhaps the plot all comes together dramatically at the end, but I was about half way through and just not getting anything out of the book. So another one for the incomplete pile...I do try to avoid not finishing as much as possible, but sometimes, I just have to call it early. ...more
The fictional world of Québécois novelist Jacques Poulin can, poetically speaking, be likened to a snow globe: a minutely-detailed landscape peppered with characters who appear to be frozen in one lovely, continuous moment. Mister Blue, recently published in a new English translation, captures this timelessness in a fluid and deceptively simple story about the complex bonds that can develop between completely unlike people, if only they are allowed to.
Brooklyn’s Archipelago Books has previously released two Poulin novels—Spring Tides and Translation is a Love Affair—both of which share some basic fundamentals with Mister Blue. Each of these slender novels feature reclusive literary types (authors and translators), their beloved cats (all with names worthy of T.S. Eliot’s Practical Cats: Matousalem, Mr. Blue, Charade, Vitamin), and enigmatic strangers who quickly insinuate themselves into the lives and imaginations of the aforementioned writers. But although Poulin frequently returns to the same themes, the same hyper-specific scenarios and characters in his work, each of his novels retain a freshness and idiosyncratic sweetness that reward readers with small revelations and happy coincidences.
Mister Blue opens on Jim, “the slowest writer in Quebec,” a former Hemingway scholar turned full-time novelist who now summers in his dilapidated childhood home, a ramshackle cottage in a quiet, uninhabited bay on the Ile d’Orleans. Jim’s daily writing follows a quiet routine with little to punctuate it other than semi-regular tennis matches with his brother, feeding and tending to his cats and the scrappy strays that invite themselves into his home, and solitary walks on the beach in front of his home. It is on just such a walk that Jim discovers footprints in the sand leading to a cave where someone has been camping. Finding a copy of The Arabian Nights in the cave with the name “Marie K.” written on the flyleaf, Jim becomes instantly besotted with this mysterious unseen stranger, whom he nicknames Marika.
Here, as in Translation is a Love Affair, real life quickly begins to intermingle with fiction and vice-versa. For Poulin’s characters, life itself is a process of composition, improvised and redrafted as unforeseen events take place. As Jim struggles to write a love story, he becomes convinced that his authorial problems can all be chalked up to the fact that he has ignored Hemingway’s rule: “a writer must stick to the subject he knows best.” He surmises that his story has stalled because “I was trying to write a love story without being in love myself.” Ergo, he whimsically decides, he must “take a closer interest in that person named Marika.”
But matters of the heart, much like matters of fiction, are not so easily constructed. Instead of meeting Marika, he meets a woman named Bungalow, a former housewife who left her “gilded cage” to run a shelter for young women in Old Quebec, and La Petite, who lives at the shelter but increasingly becomes a regular visitor at Jim’s cottage. The arrival of these two women takes both Jim’s fictional and real life love stories off course: the mysterious Marika continues to elude him, and obstinately, his fictional characters become friends instead of lovers, despite his frequent attempts to revise their relationship. The romantic story that he set out to write (and to live) gives way, ever so slowly, to a gentler, more protective, tender kind of love—that between himself and the curious, lovable, but often volatile La Petite—the love between a parent and child.
In simple, clean prose (musically rendered in Sheila Fischman’s translation) Poulin delivers his bittersweet tale with a restraint that belies true joy, the dogged optimism that complete strangers from totally different backgrounds and circumstances can find in each other real empathy and kindness. That such connections are right there in front of us, if only we trouble to look for them.
“What matters are the emotional ties that connect people and form a vast, invisible web without which the world would crumble,” Jim realizes. “Everything else to which people devote the greater part of their time, looking very serious as they do so, is of only minor importance.”...more