Grim little novel about how terrible it is to be a woman. I don't think her observations were off base, as many of the narrator's psychic woes are notGrim little novel about how terrible it is to be a woman. I don't think her observations were off base, as many of the narrator's psychic woes are not unfamiliar to me, but it is so weighty, without any glimmer of hope or relief or escape. I suppose this is the fate of many women, and I suppose that was Ernaux's point, but I had to turn my face away in the end. The portrait of motherhood is especially bleak....more
“They say that fate excels in tightening the cord round the victim’s neck, but to my knowledge her special skill is to break all ties. In the long run
“They say that fate excels in tightening the cord round the victim’s neck, but to my knowledge her special skill is to break all ties. In the long run, and whether we wish it or not, destiny extracts from us difficulties by removing them, and everything else, from us.”
I typically find war novels extremely dull, but in Marguerite Yourcenar’s capable hands, not even a war novel can be tedious. (And, besides, Coup de Grâce is not really a battlefield narrative but rather psychological tension in the midst of wartime.) I think I might love Yourcenar; I don’t think she can do anything wrong. This is the third novel of hers that I’ve read, and all three have been flawless.
Erick, the narrator, is a young, emotionally cold Prussian who becomes entangled with Sophie, a beautiful, serious, and tragic young woman. Sophie loves him despite his detached and even unkind nature, which gives the misogynistic Erick plenty to brood and philosophize about while the bombs are falling around them. And, oh, the ending! I won’t say a word about it, but the fact that Yourcenar says this was based on a true story makes it all the more romantically tragic and perfect.
(There is also something very pleasing about reading a first edition. My library copy was from 1957, the year this novel was published in English, and it is delightfully strange, artistically, and old and yellowed. I don’t think many people have ever read it from my library, and that somehow makes me love it more.)
“Anyone who claims to remember a conversation word for word has always struck me as a mythomaniac, or a liar. I can never recall more than shreds, a text full of holes, like a worm-eaten document. As for my own words, even as I utter them I have ceased to hear them. What the other person says escapes me, too; I retain no more than the memory of lips near enough to kiss. All the rest is only an arbitrary, unnatural reconstruction, and that holds also for the other conversations that I am trying to recollect here. If I do repeat more or less accurately the meagre platitudes exchanged between us that night it is doubtless because they were the last tender things that Sophie ever said to me.”
Brilliant. Just really brilliant. I'm quickly becoming a huge fan of Marguerite Yourcenar, who was a total genius and who has been woefully under-readBrilliant. Just really brilliant. I'm quickly becoming a huge fan of Marguerite Yourcenar, who was a total genius and who has been woefully under-read by English-speaking readers, in my opinion; having read and loved this and Memoirs of Hadrian, I'm sold. Why aren't we all talking about Yourcenar all the time? I can't believe she wrote this book -- a confessional letter from a gay man to his ex-wife, about his childhood, internal struggles, hopes, and fraught ambitions -- when she was 24 years old, in 1928. Amazing. Shades of Proust here too (the incisive internal examination, a frequently ill gay man who is highly intelligent). It's a brief book and well worth every minute spent in its company. ...more
I nurture a noisy obsession with Marcel Proust, so I was excited to read this book, a memoir by his housekeeper, who was perhaps his closest confidantI nurture a noisy obsession with Marcel Proust, so I was excited to read this book, a memoir by his housekeeper, who was perhaps his closest confidante for 10 years. I find myself sadly, a bit disappointed. Albaret wrote the book at the age of 82, and she seemed so defensive throughout, particularly with regard to anyone saying anything even slightly negative about Proust. I’m sure he was very charming to her, but he wasn’t perfect; it would have been nice to hear her admit that more. She also completely denies him being gay, calling it all vicious rumor, and writes about the various young women he was attracted to instead. So… it is what it is, and it is a valuable glimpse into the quiet, interior life of one of the world’s greatest writers, but I wasn’t in love with it.
From the beginning of the book:
“For fifty years I refused to write the story of my life with M. Proust, because I’d promised myself I would not. The reason I finally changed my mind is that so many inaccurate and even completely false things have been written about him by people who knew him less well than I did or even not at all, except through books and gossip. The more they write, the more they distort his image, sometimes in good faith, because that’s what they really think, though often simply to draw attention to themselves. But if an old woman like me, who at eighty-two makes up her mind to tell all she knows, why shouldn’t she tell the truth? When M. Proust was alive I could never lie to him, and I’m not going to start lying about him, for I would be lying to him. All I want to do, before it is my turn to go, is to correct the picture people have of him, as best I can. That’s all. It needed to be said.”...more
Quite strange and unusual, but there were many beautiful lines and disclosures from the mouth of the protagonist, Renee, a middle-aged divorcee on theQuite strange and unusual, but there were many beautiful lines and disclosures from the mouth of the protagonist, Renee, a middle-aged divorcee on the path to self-discovery, personal freedom, and new love. This is the first Colette I've read and while it was enjoyable, I occasionally had a hard time keeping up with her style. Some passages felt forced and overly emotional. But it was a pleasant introduction nonetheless. ...more
Sad, but beautiful and funny and honest, as Balzac has always been to me. I love how authentic his portrayals of people are; how true it is that we arSad, but beautiful and funny and honest, as Balzac has always been to me. I love how authentic his portrayals of people are; how true it is that we are often just solely motivated by money. ...more
“It is on the plane of the daydream and not on that of facts that childhood remains alive and poetically useful within us. Throughout this permanent c“It is on the plane of the daydream and not on that of facts that childhood remains alive and poetically useful within us. Throughout this permanent childhood, we maintain the poetry of the past. To inhabit oneirically the house we were born in means more than to inhabit it in memory; it means living in this house that is gone, the way we used to dream in it.”
I have been waiting for years to read this little book. Finally, after acknowledging that my public library was probably never going to stock it, I bought a battered old copy online. In this charming and surprisingly readable text, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard talks about the intersection between poetry, imagination, and buildings — and does it in such a way that makes you want to constantly scope your surroundings for hidden meaning. He draws inspiration from nature, dreams, Rilke, Baudelaire, a great deal of less well-known French literature, smatterings of Thoreau, and his own experience. (As an aside, I wonder if Wes Anderson has read this book; I think he would find it very meaningful, with his clear love for portraying space, color, and form, the dollhouse-like glimpses into buildings, etc. Bachelard’s chapter on miniatures especially made me think of him and his films.)
I am often intimidated by philosophy, but here Bachelard fashions it into a welcoming arena. Nothing is too minor or mundane for him. As he says, “I am moreover convinced that the human psyche contains nothing that is insignificant.” Images, after all, are simple; we experience them every second and no weighty scholarship can improve their reception. Bachelard is concerned with this topic, how the imagination processes space and transfers it to memory, to art, to awareness.
It’s a beautiful book, and upon finishing it, I wish I had read it more slowly.
“All memory has to be reimagined. For we have in our memories micro-films that can only be read if they are lighted by the bright light of the imagination.”...more
Really marvelous. I'm kind of flabbergasted by this novel, actually. Marguerite Yourcenar spent nearly 30"I begin to discern the profile of my death."
Really marvelous. I'm kind of flabbergasted by this novel, actually. Marguerite Yourcenar spent nearly 30 years writing this quiet masterpiece; a book that I'm surprised more people don't talk about. It is serious, pitch perfect, and exquisitely researched. The Emperor Hadrian is nearing death, and he reflects on his life, his accomplishments, and all that he has seen and learned in a "letter" of sorts to his successor. As Yourcenar writes about the novel, subtly praising herself for her laborious and intensive research and reliance on original sources, "Whatever one does, one always rebuilds the monument in his own way. But it is already something gained to have used only the original stones."
I particularly enjoyed the appendices, especially Yourcenar's collection of notes and asides while she was writing and organizing this book. All in all, highly recommended if you haven't gotten to it already. I'm glad I heard about it from someone (I can't remember who now).
"Keep one's own shadow out of the picture; leave the mirror clean of the mist of one's own breath; take only what is most essential and durable in us, in the emotions aroused by the senses or in the operations of the mind, as our point of contact with those men who, like us, nibbled olives and drank wine, or gummed their fingers with honey, who fought bitter winds and blinding rain, or in summer sought the plane tree's shade; who took their pleasures, thought their own thoughts, grew old, and died."