Oxford World's Classics edition translated by Margaret Mauldon
I finally read this properly in one go... Though when I say in one go, that was over a f...moreOxford World's Classics edition translated by Margaret Mauldon
I finally read this properly in one go... Though when I say in one go, that was over a few days: I found it like the richest, most gorgeous cake imaginable. I could hardly imagine anything more wonderful whilst I was reading it, but every now and again I paused, and the pause turned into hours or a day or two as I realised retrospectively a feeling of sensory overload. Perhaps not unlike that des Esseintes experiences when confronted with the noise and bustle of Paris.
Several years ago I started the Penguin translation of À rebours but was devastated by its dry-dullness. This didn't feel like the book which meant so much to Oscar Wilde and numerous others, which I'd been hearing about and been a little intimidated by since I was 14 or 15. I was confused, disappointed and embarrassed. The Mauldon translation doesn't have such good reviews but I found it hypnotic from the first page, as the book should be.
des Esseintes is a man who defines himself by taste, and in that I found this perhaps the most modern book of its age I've ever read. So long as they've been around (so for me really only since the early to mid 2000's), I've always loved internet profiles full of great long lists of people's tastes in everything. On the rare-ish occasion when I found someone who'd posted really fascinating things I would return to it repeatedly, look the unknown things up, start reading/listening/watching stuff myself. À rebours provides details of his thoughts on the authors, information about them so it provides that experience of doing a search, of clicking through to the blog posts, on the same page.
It was many years before I realised it consciously, but as far as my favourite people are concerned I often have at least as strong a relationship with their cultural stuff as with them as a friend, and in some cases it's the artefacts that have been constant, when people moved on. (I think this began because it wasn't until I was 19 that I got to know anyone in real life who shared a lot of my taste and whose own likings inspired me; having spent so long waiting, having or having had such things within reach became completely compelling. And whilst I am, thank goodness, not so impossibly fussy as d'E, I can certainly hear my younger self - or myself as I might be if trapped for too long in the wrong place - in his elitist frustrations "Did he know one man capable of appreciating...?"
To the more detached reader, all these lists of stuff and misanthropy will be redolent of Patrick Bateman - and I daresay they were an influence on Bret Easton Ellis. But although I hadn't read it properly, À rebours and many of the things it mentions have been part of my world for more than half my life. So it is completely different: it feels like home.
Even in its less beautiful attributes, which I'd long forgotten about and was initially saddened by. With his sneering isolationism, extreme sureness of taste and cruel streak, never mind the home full of fascinating things, (and Schopenhauer fandom) the protagonist reminds me a great deal of an ex from seven years ago. I remember on first seeing his flat struggling to describe how amazed I was and that it was like something I'd always tried to imagine, actually brought to life ... Now I would simply say "you're des Esseintes on a budget, aren't you?
Even in some of its more abstruse ways the book is comfortable: having been to a Catholic school and then studied medieval and Renaissance history the lengthy discussion of theologians was hardly alienating. (Initially it was unexpected but really it fits very well here: with the modern view of the church as corrupt, with its fondness for decoration, and the imposition of requirements so particular that very few fulfil them.) And the chapter on perfume. A neglected art with only niche enthusiasts because it is a) so fleeting and b) completely dominated by commercialism. The closest you can get to an art gallery of perfume is a wander in Liberty's fragrance hall (or similar in other major world cities) but things are always there for the purpose of being sold. (I'm not a very good perfumista though because I'm too much of a serial monogamist: after a short phase of transition and trying, one fragrance soon feels like part of me and I stick loyally with it for several years. On the offchance anyone else who cares about such things is reading, the previous one was Bvlgari Black, and the current one is L'air de Rien. Which must be terribly dependent on skin chemistry because many reviews make it sound utterly foul, yet to me it's lovely if perhaps dreamy and impractical. "incense, vintage shops and sex" is how I would describe it. Rather suits this book in fact.)
And I am so so glad I didn't read this book in my teens. I have a feeling it could have ended up on the small list of things I wish I had left till later not because their content was any more shocking than countless other things I read at the time, but because something in them chimed too deeply with me and I took them wrongly as prescriptive (Nicola Six in London Fields) or descriptive of just about everyone (Alfie the film) and they thus dramatically affected the course of my life more than most people would suppose. Though I was already sick of being told to stay in and be careful of my strange health problems... and I had reasonable years of fun and adventures and work before stuff got too bad. So my axis is basically opposite to that of des Esseintes: better health resulting from staying in, when I would, temperamentally, like to be out there doing stuff. He does show that staying at home doesn't have to be boring (though the richer you are the better in that respect). But he also shows unsurprisingly that it's a damn sight more enjoyable for those who are natural misanthropes and recluses.
I am not sure it's worth trying to analyse him scientifically because he's a symbol not a case study: though he doesn't appear to have a physical adverse reaction or allergy to anything in the city, his personality traits mean he is very annoyed and therefore stressed by it: a little autistic and a little narcissistic if you like labels. Stress probably isn't very good for the complex set of genetic diseases he has got from generations of inbreeding. And his being recommended to throw himself totally into city life - rather than a more likely prescription such as to try and get a bit of fresh air and find a few friends to chat to - is part of the decadence of absolute contrasts with which Huysmans was opposing the Naturalist school of writers.
I didn't plan specifically to finish the book today, but curiously this is one year, minus one day, after the last start date I entered on Goodreads.(less)
Bonjour Tristesse never crossed my path at what may be the best age for reading it (younger than the heroine and younger than the 18-year-old who wrot...moreBonjour Tristesse never crossed my path at what may be the best age for reading it (younger than the heroine and younger than the 18-year-old who wrote it); it wasn't in the school or local library and I don't remember it from any lists of classic or cult books I would use as maps for adventures beyond.
At first I had little care for the whole enterprise, not least because no character seemed to have any sincere emotions - something I value a great deal more now that I did in my teens. Only a little less than half-way through, when Cecile first experiences a real and unfair obstacle, did I sit up and take notice. I was surprised by the complexity of internal conflict through the second part of the book - though the character's self-awareness was appropriately incomplete. (I couldn't tell whether that was intended or simply happened because the author was so young.) It was dubious that people of 26 and 29, even if lovesick or not especially bright, would take part so willingly in the schemes of a teenage Merteuil, but as a character study of Celine and her relationship with her father the story was still interesting.
Aside from the narrator most of the characters are lightly drawn within a stylish world, and that combined with the youthful arrogance of the narrator made me want to tag this nouvelle vague even if it is a few years too early and the wrong medium. (less)
I didn't analyse it. I didn't read the French - just occasionally glimpsed how much prettier the structures a...moreOUP edition, translated by Martin Sorrell
I didn't analyse it. I didn't read the French - just occasionally glimpsed how much prettier the structures and rhymes were, and if this was this good even in English, was it the perfectest thing in all French? I had thought I was stuck with this translation but a page or two in, I was lolling around blissfully in it. Like a dream I'd actually want to wake up in. (Not that I am, thankfully, one for often waking in cold-sweat nightmares, but this is a South Seas holiday from the usual sleepful scenarios of impossible work or impending illness or having to marry someone who repels me.) It's like basking in the sun feeling lithe, animalic and ethereal. (unbothered by my summer SAD or hiding the bits that had been having IPL, or things that get to everyone like sunburn and the goop that keeps it away, and how to keep reading on the lawn without one arm going to sleep.)
And I suppose the awkward and the mundane is just what Paul Verlaine rarely mentions. Even the grubby is exquisitely beautiful here. There are so many times I'd have loved to quote these.
There is something I can't explain about the way these are written, that over and over led me to revel in things which in other works might upset me at the moment ... I think it may be in part because poetry is so often a one-to-one intimate monologue, not characters talking to or about one another.
Not that every single poem is perfect. It's hard to know whether some of the few squibs were due to translation or original, but most of the wordier, clunkier religious verses from Amour disappointed me, even if they did capture a little more of the felt sense of faith than much else does.
I very much like reading poetry at the moment; I'm not sure I've ever sought it out quite so much. Most prose (and writing it's worse) feels too cluttered and seems to have awkward corners sticking out everywhere, but poetry is the essence.
Over the past twenty years, dozens of people - some I'd met and more I hadn't - recommended P. Verlaine and the other French Symbolist poets (who are simply not difficult as I thought they would be, though I'm sure you can find as much complexity as you like)... I keep having to write the poet's initial or first name here because "Verlaine" to me on its own still means a friend's old username before it means the nineteenth century maudit... Strange then that it was because of Bruce Robinson and my temporary rebound-crush on him that I actually bought this book. Fickle as I can be, I may not be quite so much of a fan now (well, at least I know enough to have since the age of 30 eschewed real-life rebound and the hurt it makes me inflict) but this book was a wonderful thing to have finally found as a result.(less)
translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay & George Dillon
It's outrageous that this wonderful translation is out of print. After looking at many versio...moretranslated by Edna St. Vincent Millay & George Dillon
It's outrageous that this wonderful translation is out of print. After looking at many versions (including Richard Howard, James McGowan, and Cyril Scott who was my second favourite) this was the only one with truly good poems which replicated the original structures and had the glittering night-magic of Baudelaire's sensual, sinister, romantic, gothic wonderland. Which would of course have something to do with one of the translators herself being a distinguished poet.
These are poetic translations rather than ones designed to reproduce the exact meanings line-by-line, but for the non-academic reader I think they are by far the most satisfying as poetry.
Female characters seem stronger than in other translations, undoubtedly Millay's work. One commentator in a source I now can't find says that in her translation of Baudelaire's women - often passive in the original - she finds a powerful active voice she only rarely displayed in her own poems.
I've taken a long time to finish Les Fleurs du Mal but this was largely because I despaired of how to describe Baudelaire's verse, something quite beyond my powers, and kept being distracted from reading by trying to find (im)possible phrases.
Some of the translations from this edition can be found here, with a bit of patience, clicking and scrolling.(less)
A Season in Hell & Illuminations, transl. Wyatt Mason Having become absurdly near apoplectic in the search for a translation of Baudelaire that I l...moreA Season in Hell & Illuminations, transl. Wyatt Mason Having become absurdly near apoplectic in the search for a translation of Baudelaire that I loved, I let enjoyment return by instead reading one of his close kin. There wasn't a shortage of Rimbaud translations which felt right; Louise Varese or John Sturrock, or this one I chose for reasons I can't exactly remember.
As these are prose poems without conventional, clear focus, sometimes more like notes, I thought some readers must decided they were another set of the emperor's new clothes.[4 or 5, I can't decide.] In my teens I wonder if, regardless of exalted reputation among heroes of mine, I would have set Rimbaud aside after one reading after ... not quite getting into it ... as I did with Beat poetry. This stuff probably would have been wasted on my numb and spiky self back then, but still I wish with all my heart that I had read the French decadent poets when I was somewhat younger and had these lines pulsing in my veins for the last seven, or at least two, years.
Rimbaud's style is elevated and incantatory and comes very close to inducing the state I call inspiration. (Others, I'm sure, have different experiences of it and they have also been able to do more useful things with it... For me it even has a particular type of breathing associated with it and it was quite remarkable to notice this happening simply from reading.) On one plane I could still see how odd and flimsy these fragmented prose poems could look to some, yet the works were also a form of intoxicant: one which clears, not fogs, the mind and feels as if it opens doors. Right or wrong, the works feel as if they must have been written in some laser-focus fever state, tunnel visioned, nothing but the writing, the writing and the most basic of fuel; perfunctory sleep, unwashed, eventually reeking hair and clothes but a mind in cold fire. Perhaps this is not just some weird wittering after all, given the influence Rimbaud has had on so many.
A Felt lyric says "you're reading from A Season in Hell but you don't know what it's about" but there's no shame in that when academics can't quite agree on its subject either. the stanza L'epoux infernal is evidently about his former lover Paul Verlaine, like Rimbaud's own more exalted version of the jottings I and countless others gradually make in screeds and MB, so as to trap thought balloons containing relics of some lost one. Much else, though is a nebulous cluster of beautiful or anguished images.
"Mood piece" is a hack phrase I keep hearing in description of films with a similar effect. Reading both poems was like swimming in a heavy air. Illuminations was more pleasurable, sometimes psychedelic, an experience of incense (strong ancient stuff, not Nag Champa from a yoga shop), patterned cloth and the soft jangle of belled bracelets on dancers' ankles and wrists. A conjuration of the east, breadcrumbs for the hippie trail. I felt it unlocking new ways of saying things I'd thought of for aeons, and cursed not having known it before.
There's a game I've always loved to play when looking at portraits: imagining people in other costumes and other eras. Th...moretranslation by Galway Kinnell
There's a game I've always loved to play when looking at portraits: imagining people in other costumes and other eras. The aristocratic lady who in all her Watteau finery looks as if she'd be happiest manning a stall at the church bring-and-buy sale in a nice sensible jumper. Or how about a Roman toga instead of a suit for him? The gormless looking young noble who would suit casting as a mailroom boy; peasants with an air of confidence and leadership who look like they should be in charge and probably would be now.
Reading François Villon, then, is a real version of Portrait of the Bedsit Poet as a Fifteenth Century Man. From 'The Legacy':
Near Christmas, the dead time When wolves live on the wind And men stick to their houses Against the frost, close by the blaze A desire came to me to break out Of the prison of great love That was breaking my heart...
[several pages later]
As soon as my mind was at rest And my understanding had cleared I tried to finish my task But my ink was frozen And I saw my candle had blown out I couldn't have found any fire So I fell asleep all muffled up Unable to give it another ending … He has neither tent nor pavilion That hasn't been left to a friend All he has now is a bit of change Which will soon be gone
I liked it from the first bits I read on Google Books, and - having previously contemplated reading Villon a few weeks ago on hearing he was the first of Verlaine's poètes maudits - I read all I could on there one day, after other things nudged me in this direction: posts about Osamu Dazai and then Rabelais. And then I ordered this edition. I've looked at several translations; this and Anthony Bonner's are my favourites, then David Georgi, and then Peter Dale's (the last I really didn't like; some of the rhymes made me cringe).
Villon's two major works are 'The Legacy' (1456) and 'The Testament' (1461) which use a popular late medieval verse form of making a satirical will. (A while ago there was an issue of McSweeney's in which modern poets wrote in archaic forms; I don't think this was among them but I would rather like to see a contemporary one done - though it obviously has far less traction in a century and hemisphere when the vast majority of people are healthy and long-lived than it did in the wake of the Black Death and the Hundred Years' War.) The poems do lose out a bit by having references to people Villon knew, records of whom have not survived in all cases, but the mocking tone still becomes evident from what is known and there is a real sense of wit and personality here. I think it probably does help to already know some medieval history, however. (And if you do, the sense of an artist projecting their own identity is absolutely stunning and quite unlike anything else before Montaigne.) The maturing of voice in the five years between these two long poems is incredibly striking: 'The Legacy' is simply by a clever, angry young man; 'The Testament' is far more wide-ranging and one feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. Sadly among the reasons for this were experiences of being imprisoned and tortured (for common crimes such as robbery rather than any elevated political or religious dissent). 'The Testament' is still in a way the same witty personality but with greater complexity and seriousness of thought, and blackly bitter where once he was more playful. Though in one section there is an imaginative, vituperative disgustingness which made me a little queasy and reminded me of some of Will Self's fiction. To a reader who was not an aficionado of late medieval European history, I think it's possible this long poem may pall at times; in the verses full of names - which I did not want to interrupt to constantly check notes - and some others, what kept it going for me was the atmosphere of time and place.
His shorter poems include a few semi-devotional verses probably written for patrons, but in most of the short works a grumpy, yet puckish insolence is still present. The final poems here are about execution and torture and give an insight I'd never seen before into how at least one medieval criminal viewed these. They are also very moving - though because of the distance in time I did not find them so upsetting as modern accounts.
I must say that older foreign texts, by dint of a good choice of translations, are are more accessible than native ones. I don't (though I'd like to be able to truthfully say I still did) sit down and casually read a bit of Chaucer or Langland for an hour when I really should be doing something else. But neither could I stoop to reading modernised versions. It's easy to get out of practice with stuff like Middle English and even when I was a student it required a lot of focus. This, by contrast, was very enjoyable to read.
Two other poems from this translation are here(less)
Freeman seems to have made a good account of an interesting character about whom few concrete fact...moreRead c.50 pages worth as available on Google Books.
Freeman seems to have made a good account of an interesting character about whom few concrete facts are known. It's a very readable book, and like many of the most enjoyable history writers, he is scrupulously aware of the reliability of sources whilst still being able to indulge in the fun of anecdote, speculation and what-if, in their place.
The known details of the poet's life are filled out with information about his environment. Some of this is a bit glib, but that may simply be because it was early in the book.
François Villon, whilst care is taken to situate him in his environment, implicitly comes across much like a late nineteenth century poet or late twentieth century singer-songwriter as Freeman describes his creation of a partly-factual roguish persona who narrates his ostensibly autobiographical works. (As with said poets and singers, it's best not to assume everything is about their real lives, even if the presentation sounds like it.) These works are so very much about him and his friends and his urban environment, taking himself as his central subject in a playful manner that - whilst my knowledge is very patchy - I can think of no writer like him since Catullus; and whilst some of the Elizabethans, Metaphysicals and Enlightment poets may have written a few bits and pieces like this, this foregrounded self didn't form the main body of anyone else's works until the nineteenth century.
David Georgi in his introduction to this translation of the poems is even keener to debunk apparently autobiographical elements, questioning whether Villon had been imprisoned and tortured at all in 1461 in the Bishop's gaol at Meung (information the poet communicates in his longest and greatest work 'The Testament'). Freeman accepts that he was - responding, as I instinctively did on reading the poem, to the brokenness and bitter world-weariness found there. It's such a great contrast with the playful tone of 'The Legacy', a much more playful and naive treatment of the same subject written five years earlier.
Villon really seems to challenge common cultural-history ideas about identity.(This is one of those occasions when I'm so very taken with a subject it's almost a shame I don't have access to the facilities and most of all the purpose for producing a proper essay...) I think there is perhaps insufficient crossover between the disciplines of literature and history here. I read quite a lot on this subject of the development of ideas of the self, the medieval mind &c when I was a student yet had never heard of Villon before the last few months. Freeman, primarily a language and literature scholar, is a little too uncritical in his use of established medieval world-view materal. And here is a comment from a review of a literature book named Urban Poetics: "Chapter one starts by analysing one of the most urban of poets, namely François Villon. The Testament serves as a more secure repository for the poet’s self than his body which, he tells us, is failing. Interestingly, then, Villon locates his self in writing and not, therefore, in any particular location." (Given that he bequeaths items that are in the city, talks of locations in the city which he knows well, I'm not sure how one could feel one's identity any more situated in the city without actually owning the damn place, so I think that's a positively silly conclusion. This literary theory needs a bit of history to bring it down to earth.)
Peter Burke (a name probably recognisable to anyone who's studied the history of this period in Western Europe) in his essay in Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Middle Ages to the Present says that Burckhardt's idea of medieval society as collective, switching in the Renaissance to a greater individualism, is insufficiently nuanced. Yet Villon is not mentioned and the examples he does give (those whose work I've ever read) are all so much more formal, reverent and circumspect in putting themselves forward than is the French poet. God is an instrinsic part of his world view yet he is quite unafraid to cheek him in a manner it's surprising to see put down in writing from this period.
Anyway, whilst not all of this post has been about the Freeman book, it seems pretty good, though perhaps not very stringent in seeking out recent relevant historical scholarship (less)
This book put two songs in my head*. Harpers Bizarre - I Love You Alice B. Toklas Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go To My Lovely?** (mentions of the Boul...moreThis book put two songs in my head*. Harpers Bizarre - I Love You Alice B. Toklas Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go To My Lovely?** (mentions of the Boulevard Saint Michel)
It's also a reminder that avant-gardes using simplified, faux-naive writing styles (e.g. Tao Lin and alt-lit) are nothing new. I've said quite a few times this year that I don't enjoy these very basic styles, that I feel some writers under-describe - yet I did rather like the Autobiography. It's not a flat sort of basic, conveying depressed anomie, it's an account of interesting things (time spent with artists and writers; experiences of war work) written conversationally.
It was easy enough to read - the sentences were so simple that one can actually apply what Stein says: commas were only a sign that one should pause and take breath but one should know of oneself when one wanted to pause and take breath. (A perverse agreement with the reader who edits in their own head.) For a while I did also miss semi-colons, colons, brackets and dashes - which after all exist to be used, do they not? Yet after a while I stopped adding imagined punctuation. Except for the question marks; too many sentences needed to be read twice for lack of those.
And most importantly, the book is quite funny. "...in the centre of the room stood a huge man glooming. This was Vollard cheerful. When he was really cheerless..."
And as it's more of a non-fiction subject, I didn't have the sense of something missing, because facts are conveyed perfectly well in their context. (It is a context of someone talking about people they know, so there isn't much in the way of biographical background. It's unusual to find a Penguin Modern Classics edition with no introduction or footnotes, but this lacks both. It would have been nice to have some notes, especially for the less well-known figures, without having to look them up online. A more casual alternative in keeping with the narrative tone would be to have a few bunches of pictures - of paintings and people - inserted every now and again as in biographies - with some further info as captions.)
And like non-fiction on some subjects, I found it unemotional in a relaxing way (not a failing-to-say-something-about-these-characters way). Something which tallies with Stein's intentions: "the destruction of associational emotion in poetry and prose" (p.228), "exactitude, austerity, absence of variety in light and shade" (p.57, quote from critic Marcel Brion).
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is famously not what it says on the tin, being mostly an account of Gertrude Stein's friendships with painters. Whilst I found it all quite interesting, it would be more so to someone who's a fan of cubism and so forth. Whilst it's obviously interesting as a development, unforunately I've always found it ugly, and if I'd been around at the time I would have been a right middlebrow stick-in-the-mud, preferring Art Deco and Nouveau to sideways blue and yellow cyclopes etc. It's very much a gut reaction which has never changed though I have tried: much cubist and surrealist art gives me a feeling of slight background nausea, headache, fear and sometimes annoyance. (Of the Matisse on the cover, all I like is the little line-portrait of the woman in the top left corner: very elegant.) I was quite delighted to hear snippets, though, about Apollinaire, Bertrand Russell, Jean Cocteau, Satie and Scott Fitzgerald.
What I most want to know is: what did Alice B. Toklas herself think about this book, later in life? Did she edit and amend it? Did she want to?(I admit to being knackered and to making no effort so far to find out, beyond Wikipedia.)... Your partner, a writer, urges you to write an autobiography. You don't get round to it as soon as they'd like so they do it for you - and, whilst they at least get the voice right, they make most of the book about themselves rather than trying to step into your shoes. Bloody cheek. From a more serious stance, it could be interpreted as quite controlling (I wonder if the reason you don't see this mooted is because both partners were women and readers are less likely to [want to] see it that way.) - but to see it as in some way a bad thing could equally be judgemental and a misunderstanding of the dynamics between the two. (I have been lucky to know a few people I consider to be geniuses or near-geniuses - like Alice I think it's something I can tell as soon as I meet a person - but have far too much ego of my own not to feel that the idea would be, secretly or openly, disgruntling.)
This curious project of the Autobiography is part of what makes Stein such a character, a real eccentric with her own unique melange of opinions agreeable and disagreeable, and apparently bulldozer-like confidence/ arrogance. (She even managed to maintain a friendship with Picasso on equal terms which was probably no mean feat; he has always sounded like an absolute arsehole.) When she dropped out of medical school because she was bored, friends pleaded with her to stay because of "the cause of women"; her reply was "you don't know what it is to be bored". She is criticised because of her exceptionalist / queen bee feminism - obviously I'm likely to agree with her to an extent having grown up in a similar tradition (one which can really be boiled down to intellectual snobbery). What Stein does is demonstrate a sense of freedom that disregards gender; feeling like an exception among one's own gender can be a stepping stone to a wider individualism applied to others: to ways that do not consider gender relevant in plenty of situations and to using gender less as a social categorisation for others - an ideal of equality which at least some strands of feminism have forgotten. The friends' collectivist viewpoint (similar to people who think women have more obligation to vote than do men, because of suffragettes) tries to place extra social burdens and duties on an individual woman to which a man would not be subject. Stein's approach seems to have been very successful for her. By considering herself without question to be worthy of the same respect as any man doing the same work, (and by being a forceful and single-minded individual generally), not feeling that respect was something she had to fight for because of being a woman, ("just getting on with it and not wasting time on all those meetings" as I remember hearing a relative put it re. second wave feminism) she achieved it.
* Digression. I have not listened to any music at all since March (as in put on any myself - of course I've overheard radios and such) and hardly any since December. One odd consequence of this previously unconscionable musiclessness is that when I do get songs in my head they tend to stay far longer. I find they are either things I heard a lot in 2012 or else much longer ago from university or earlier - with quite a bit of overlap. One track that particularly plagues me for some reason is 'Runaround Sue', which - especially given its monotonous appearance at various times when I was in pain - I started to think of as my own equivalent to 'Brown Girl in the Ring' in Touching the Void. ** I found out last year via Goodreads that plenty of people apparently hate this record. I have to admit that I love it; it is possible to take the lyrics quite seriously like some beautiful daydream and equally to see it as satirically taking the piss out of same, both of which suit me perfectly at various times. Besides, it just has a lovely sound.(less)
[3.5] An ethereal novella that may appeal to those people who carry a torch for someone they once fleetingly saw in the street or on a train. Most of...more[3.5] An ethereal novella that may appeal to those people who carry a torch for someone they once fleetingly saw in the street or on a train. Most of the encounters are described much as I'd think of a lovely misty sunset rather than a person. If you forget those briefly-glimpsed train-people within days, and your idea of "brief loves that live forever" instead involves something intellectually and physically intense, and all-consuming attention to the remarkableness of another person, Makine's book may not quite connect. Still, he may make you more aware of how even in memories from mundane urban settings (which probably only Suede lyrics could romanticise), the light or the weather was interwoven with the most amazing moments more than you'd previously noticed. His poetic swooning makes sense: the narrator grew up in a Soviet state orphanage where kids were sexual with one another quite young, and it goes without saying that he was surrounded by ideology - these things were hardly special. So whilst he's not the type for long term attachments, romantic and poetic experiences are the rarest and most prized for him, and feel most rebellious against the harsh utilitarian ethos of Communism. (Often this is a book about the less obviously political: a rare French film which got past the Soviet censors amazes and inspires its 1970s audience because a character takes a hotel room without showing any ID - a scene which should give pause for thought in contemporary society.) As the nameless narrator grows older, his engagement with ideas and with lovers' or friends' thoughts increases somewhat; still the wispy muslin quality swathes the writing, and his poetic idealisation sometimes IMO lapses into the cartoonish, much as it pains me to say so. The first and last chapters are somewhat different - earthed - stories not of the narrator himself, but of his friend, a stubborn dissident named Dmitri Ress. (I really liked Ress' story and would rather the whole book had been about him - his combination of misanthropy and idealism was just what I hoped to find here.) Even so, this is not a bunch of blood-red roses, a few thorns remaining (shortish though their lifespan would be too) but a handful of dandelion clocks.(less)