Know that these are three loving stars, given out of respect for what the novel accomplishes even though it's incomplete and, most of the time, aimlesKnow that these are three loving stars, given out of respect for what the novel accomplishes even though it's incomplete and, most of the time, aimless and wandering.
Confessions of Felix Krull is Thomas Mann's attempt at the picaresque, and Krull is something of a mix between Don Quixote and Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces. Parts of the novel are laugh-out-loud funny--not a gut reaction I've ever had to a Mann novel. I'm thinking in particular of a scene that could have been cut from Dunces where Krull (a character very much like M. Gustave H. from Wes Anderson's film, The Grand Budapest Hotel--that is, a character whose sexuality has nothing to do with a desire for men or women, both of whom are equally at his disposal, but with his erotic appetite for romantic civility) is seduced by an older woman (a novelist) who calls him a slave in bed and wants him to call her a whore (imagine Don Quixote's reaction to something like this). The scene is hilarious because he truly thinks she's chosen him for his social graces and charm (he's a hotel elevator operator at this point).
Mann conceived of the book in 1905, published it as a short story in 1911, and attempted a novel the year before he died. Imagine how different the Mann of 1954 must have been from the kid who first put Krull to paper. That sort of disparity between decades of intellectual and emotional transformation deranges the plot of this novel, unfortunately. You never really get a grip on the trajectory, which can delight a reader if one senses movement toward crisis or conclusion. But the many faces of Felix Krull are not, as the title would suggest, the masks of a confidence man but rather the personas of different actors in different stories whose paths simply refuse to intersect.
Ultimately, I'm not sure if it's worth the read unless you're a Mannophile like myself. Hence the three loving stars. ...more
I've become an Aymé nut. After finishing the short story collection, "The Man Who Walked through Walls," I moved on to Aymé's most censured novel, TheI've become an Aymé nut. After finishing the short story collection, "The Man Who Walked through Walls," I moved on to Aymé's most censured novel, The Green Mare, and I'm starting Beautiful Image right now.
Aymé is virtually unknown in the U.S., and I imagine elsewhere too, even though he is an icon in France (so the internet tells me). A friend of mine who will turn 103 in August remembers Aymé's vogue in the thirties but admits hearing very little of him not long after. I imagine it has something to do with his politics. Here's a quote from the "About the Author" section on Amazon:
"Aymé espoused causes from across the political spectrum, for example apparently supporting Mussolini's colonialism in Africa whilst also campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty. He attracted much controversy for his writings for collaborationist magazines during the Second World War, and his defence of Nazi-sympathising friends including Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Robert Brasillach in the post-war years."
Many of Aymé's works remain untranslated, and I don't think there's a biography out there (anyone know?). Aymé wrote all sorts of stories, including children's books, one of which was illustrated by Maurice Sendak. And there's definitely something innocent about Aymé's fiction, even though the content itself may be, at times, quite violent and sexually explicit. And that's because Aymé is a modern fabulist, something between Kafka and The Brothers Grimm.
The Green Mare tells the story of the Haudouin family and their generations-long feud with the Malorets. The essential psychological conflict has to do with the rape of the Haudouin matriarch during the German occupation of France. Honoré Haudouin, one of the Haudouin sons, witnessed, or at least heard, everything from under the bed. But there's something ambiguous about the rape that's never really resolved and is reflected by a very similar scene at the end. I won't say anything more about it except that Aymé uses sex to grapple with the incomprehensible violence of war, the incomprehensible indignities of politics, and the incomprehensible fidelities of love, friendship, and family. And all of this is accomplished through the insights of an unusual horse.
Early in the novel, a green mare is born on the Haudouin farm. The poor, hardworking family benefits from the spectacle and quickly ascends to a position of great political influence in the village of Claquebue. M. Haudouin has the mare's portrait painted, and it's this painting that becomes the novel's structural adhesive. Every now and then, Aymé inserts a short narrative by the picture of the green mare--that's right, the PICTURE intervenes like a Greek chorus between episodes. I admit, I was slightly put off by a device so blatantly fantastic. But Aymé is a fabulist, and if you take him for what he is, there is no end to the delight and surprise and satisfaction in his work. But back to the green mare. The picture doesn't just comment on the families' goings-on, it narrates the private sexual lives of the families, and it's this emphasis on the bedroom that colors and informs the entire novel.
One Haudouin brother, Honoré, is a kind of innocent who treats sex as play, without moral implication, without social obligation, and without any sense of mystery or decorum. He's funny and carefree, loved by is family and untainted by political ambition. Reminds me a lot of Pop Larkin from H.E. Bates's Darling Buds of May. Honoré's brother, Ferdinand, represents the opposite end of the spectrum. He has a puritanical strain that translates into a severe (to the point of absurdity) domination of his children and an unscrupulous political appetite. The message might seem clear from our perspective as twenty-first century readers, but it's far more complex than it seems, and all of it is understood by the green mare who traces each character's persona to what methods he or she prefers in the bedroom. It's funny but, in its way, deeply, deeply perceptive and convincing.
The Green Mare is definitely a novel I'll read again and again. It's one of those rare treats in literature, both wise and entertaining. ...more
One of the best collections of short stories I've EVER read! Aymé is considered one of France's national treasures, and now that more of his work is bOne of the best collections of short stories I've EVER read! Aymé is considered one of France's national treasures, and now that more of his work is being translated (and as the many multilingual comments below show) his reputation will surely have lasting value beyond France's borders.
Often discussed within the context of magical realism, Aymé is actually more of a modern fabulist. Several of the fables and tales in this collection are reimagined interpretations of older classics: the rape of the Sabine women, for instance, or the seven league boots. One of my favorites is the "Poldavian Legend" where a saintly woman is refused entrance into heaven while endless regimes of belligerent soldiers are welcomed without reservation.
Like all fables, Aymé's stories end with some sort of moral but with a twentieth century twist--that is, a complicated and often unjust (though accurate) perception about human values in the face of WWII atrocities. What do you take a way from an ending like the one written for the "Poldavian Legend"? Is it that, in the modern state, patriotism is piety, no matter the bloody prerequisites of the patriot? Whatever the case, the lesson reflects the way things are rather than the way things should be--a sort of reversal of the fable's form.
Some of the stories are grotesque, some are enchanting, but all are inventive, fresh, and revelatory. This is a book I'll return to. Highly recommend!!...more
Hard to describe this novel. In my edition, Edward G. Seidensticker compares it to a haiku: a concise, often abrupt, juxtaposition of opposing images,Hard to describe this novel. In my edition, Edward G. Seidensticker compares it to a haiku: a concise, often abrupt, juxtaposition of opposing images, impressions, or emotions. I think that's right, in the case of Kawabata's work, and perhaps in the case of most great Eastern literature. It's what I love about Japanese film as well: plotless (in the Western sense) episodes oriented by aesthetic tropes. For Western viewers/readers, every turn, every entrance, every exit can seem completely unexpected, even irrational. You never know what might happen. Hence, Shimamura, our ineffectual geisha patron, sees in the reflection of his train window an eye in the mountains on the way to the hot springs. The eye, of course, belongs to the woman sitting across the aisle, but Kawabata commingles reality and fantasy so beautifully in this novel that ordinary things like reflections in train windows can reveal the blushing skin of clouds or the fire in the Milky Way. Komako, the geisha, drunkenly dotes on Shimamura. But a love story this is definitely not. Shimamura and Komako recognize (though never fully concede) the wasted lives they both represent--lives bereft of satisfaction, fulfillment, desire, ambition, or anything like real joy. Yet Kawabata avoids the typical trap of cynicism and despondency that tends to saturate novels like this. Shimamura and Komako remain human, struggling, and a little crazy, but not tragic. There's still magic in the air. There's a "cleanness" in the world. And Shimamura and Komako have access to both. It's the idea of love that Kawabata complicates. Shimamura has a family in Tokyo. Komako has a community and cachet. But companionship, sex, intimacy, amusement, even romance--these things combined, despite all banalities to the contrary, may not, and often do not, add up to this condition the poets call love. It's a realism not often explored in realist novels--and the crowning achievement of Kawabata's art. ...more
I understand the aesthetic intention: to impress upon the reader a sensual melancholy--something almost wordless, like a photograph. But thA Nobel????
I understand the aesthetic intention: to impress upon the reader a sensual melancholy--something almost wordless, like a photograph. But the photograph does the work of a photograph. For better or worse, the novelist has the difficult job of expression as well as impression. There's no outwardness in Modiano's novel--nothing reaching toward me.
That said, I read the English translation. For those of you who've read the French original, does the prose improve? I can't imagine the content changes much. But I'll read the French if someone can convince me that Modiano does something spectacular with words.
"It's all so strange, Karamazov, such grief, and then pancakes all of a sudden . . ." "Don't be disturbed that we'll be eating pancakes. It's an ancie"It's all so strange, Karamazov, such grief, and then pancakes all of a sudden . . ." "Don't be disturbed that we'll be eating pancakes. It's an ancient, eternal thing, and there's good in that, too."
Imagine, if you will, a small town of whimsical, flirtatious, jocose, witty, polyglot centenarians who speak in entanglements of prose so strange andImagine, if you will, a small town of whimsical, flirtatious, jocose, witty, polyglot centenarians who speak in entanglements of prose so strange and poetic that even the simplest greetings sound like the musings of a sphinx. I'm serious, I needed my dictionary for almost every page, but I've NEVER enjoyed myself more. Firbank had a cult following in the thirties, I think, for those with peculiar tastes in literature. There were Firbank clubs and societies. The peerless literary critic Edmund Wilson belonged to one. Firbank wrote his novels at odd moments on the backs of shopping lists and napkins, stringing together fragments of conversation that may or may not conclude the way a typical novel concludes: that is, with some resolution of crises, etc. Language is Firbank's domain. Either you enjoy that kind of thing or you don't. But do not be put off by those who say Firbank was a racist. Those readers haven't read the novel carefully. His most intelligent character is an African masseuse and the hero's bride, in the end, is the masseuse's Haitian aid. Firbank satirized the racism of his own genteel class, turning their prejudices against them. They're all talk and no teeth--impotent islanders of a bygone age. Neither did Firbank have any problem criticizing the prevailing antipathies toward homosexuality (as he was gay himself). Shakespeare would have reveled in Firbank's mastery of innuendo. I can't stress it enough, this book is genius. Listen to this passage about the story's hermaphroditic saint:
"One day St. Automona di Meris, seeing a young novice yawning, suddenly spat into her mouth, and that without malice or thought of mischief. Some ninety hours afterwards the said young novice brought into the world the Blessed St. Elizabeth Bathilde, who, by dint of skipping, changed her sex at the age of forty and became a man."
It's all wonderfully strange and sonorous like this. If Gerard Manley Hopkins and Flannery O'Connor had a lovechild who wrote a novel on discarded tissue, Valmouth would have been the result. ...more
For a man who believed that biography is the only history worth reading, Emerson must have smiled in his grave when Robert Richardson, a modern masterFor a man who believed that biography is the only history worth reading, Emerson must have smiled in his grave when Robert Richardson, a modern master of the genre, published The Mind on Fire. Richardson is discriminating, tasteful, honest, rigorous, empathetic, and to the point. Whereas scholars tend to crunch and collate the Essays, Richardson gives us what we really want: a story. The Mind on Fire is about the unique, irreducible experience of Emerson: what he read, who he loved, where he walked, how he imagined, and why he wrote. To say this book satisfies doesn't quite do it justice. Rather, as only the best biographies can do, Richardson's book sends us dashing back to the source. ...more
I shouldn't like Hemingway as much as I do. The minimalism for which he's known is exactly what I find so unsatisfying at the sentence-level. CatherinI shouldn't like Hemingway as much as I do. The minimalism for which he's known is exactly what I find so unsatisfying at the sentence-level. Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry might be fleeing their Italian executioners in a rowboat, in the pouring rain, and in the dark--the former pregnant and undernourished, the latter war-weary and wanted--and Hemingway would write something like this: We were in the boat. The waves were rough. The moon came out. We were happy.
And yet, somehow, these pithy observations add up to genuine sentiment and narrative complexity--usually. A Farewell to Arms is a good novel, but not one of Hemingway's masterpieces. Henry's two affairs (the one with Catherine and the other with the Italian army) strike an awkward balance. Neither are fully developed--not enough, anyway, to warrant the kind of existential cynicism we're meant to feel after both Italy's and Henry's concurrent losses. At its weakest moments, Henry is little more than a narrative device used to frame the indignity of war. That wouldn't be so bad if it didn't make his character superfluous. That said, Hemingway's supporting characters often end up stealing the show. We feel, for instance, for Rinaldi and the priest. They are uncontrived, complex, flawed, and human, all too human. We understand them.
And as in all of Hemingway's stories, A Farewell to Arms is full of powerful one-liners. It's worth a read for that alone. But I give it three stars for what the third star says: I liked it. ...more