Hum. It was OK. I've studied the Paris Commune of 1871 and I know what an exciting, dark and passionate story this could have been, but somehow Blinco...moreHum. It was OK. I've studied the Paris Commune of 1871 and I know what an exciting, dark and passionate story this could have been, but somehow Blincoe just never really made it come alive. I also think that if I had not studied the Paris Commune I might well have been lost at times - Blincoe's depiction of what was actually going on was sketchy. I appreciate that perhaps he was trying to show the confusion of the time but, apart from a sense that there might not be enough milk and it's a bit cold, I would not understand at all from this novel why the Commune sparked. The narrative appears detached from the subject. The Debacle by Zola, which is admittedly not one of his best, does a much better job of capturing the tensions and the fervour, the swooping despair and euphoria. Blincoe's narrative, in comparison, to me felt detached and superficial. Or maybe I've been conditioned to interpret the Commune in a 'Zolaesque' way and it really was quite a sterile process. Only a few of the Communards appear, it is uncertain why they are fighting, what the Prussians are doing, what the Versaillais are doing... actually the more I think about what he left out the more inadequate I believe this novel is. I know you can't include everything, but Blincoe is so sparing with what he tells you about the actual events of the siege and Commune as to be obscure. As far as the actual writing goes, the prose was a little... flat. I can't think of another way to put it - it was perfectly competent but wholly underwhelming. The novel was caught awkwardly between trying to be a war story and a love story, and didn't really manage to be either with any success. I did not engage with the characters on a very deep level, and I was not moved. I was not frightened, excited, saddened, amused, curious, or anything (apart from the elephant killing scene - that was the best bit in the whole thing). I am forced to conclude that Blincoe's writing simply does not connect with me. I think I see what he was trying to do with the split narrative thing, and the comments he was trying to make about interpreting and imagining history, and he definitely wasn't completely unsuccessful. There are some little flourishes of detail that are really quite clever (the connections between the characters in the past and the present strands) and I get the sense that Blincoe is somewhat under-achieving with this novel. It feels like Burning Paris had a lot of potential, but sorry, could do better.(less)
If there ever was a man who deserved his own adjective, Foucault is him. Foucauldian thinking will change the way you see 'the age of reason' for sure...moreIf there ever was a man who deserved his own adjective, Foucault is him. Foucauldian thinking will change the way you see 'the age of reason' for sure.(less)
This is my very favourite volume - apart from perhaps Time Regained because... well, you know, that ending just raises the entire thing from great to...moreThis is my very favourite volume - apart from perhaps Time Regained because... well, you know, that ending just raises the entire thing from great to so astronomically great it's impossible to put into words. But generally, if we consider this as a second reading, one in which the effect of Time Regained is felt over the entire novel, then The Guermantes Way would be my choice. I have just discovered the joys of re-reading Proust, which if anything is even more delicious than the first reading. Two years after my first Herculean struggle I suddenly realised that never again need I spend six months reading the same novel - I can pick any volume and enjoy them separately thanks to my knowledge of the whole. So I jumped straight in at number three, and later on in the year perhaps I'll revisit 1 or 4. Proust is my oyster. Having more of a handle on the plot and all the characters leaves you freer to just wallow in Proust's genius. And of course, I reckon you could read the whole thing ten times over and you'd still find little bits that you had forgotten about. Remembrance of Things Past (or whatever you care to call it) would be my desert island novel for sure.
P.S. For anybody who read my original review of the whole six volumes (which wasn't particularly insightful, more just an inarticulate expression of awe) - I have now persuaded Tim Baycroft to put this volume on the syllabus for our Fin de siècle module. Now he has to read it. It's all coming full circle.
P.P.S. I am still finding the seemingly interminable Guermantes dinner party something of a drag.(less)
OK, overall, this is a great novel. The story is brilliant, and I really enjoyed the character of Jean Valjean. However, there were some serious liter...moreOK, overall, this is a great novel. The story is brilliant, and I really enjoyed the character of Jean Valjean. However, there were some serious literary drawbacks that made me think that this is somewhat overrated. First of all, instead of letting the reader interpret a character from the way they behave and interact with other characters, Hugo most often likes to tell you (at length) their whole life history and carefully outline a character type that manages to be at once complex and strangely artificial, before allowing them to take any part in the plot. He also is not content with letting the reader think about the politics and the meanings of events by themselves. Instead, he shoehorns philosophical and political essays into the novel where, frankly, they jar and only serve to disrupt the plot. These bad habits become more and more irritating as Les Miserables gets closer to its dramatic climax. I don't think that all parts of a book should serve a relentlessly progressing plot - some of my favourite novels have very little plot indeed - but I did find Hugo's style a little clumsy and forced. Not the actual prose, but the wealth of unnecessary information (to follow the bit in which Jean Valjean and Cosette are living in a nunnery, for example, I do not require 20 pages detailing the history of the nunnery, of Christianity in France, and musings on nuns and God and praying in general). Also, Cosette and Marius are twats. Extremely entertaining though, (when Hugo lets the plot get going - and it is a cracking plot). (less)
This was a good, fun read. What I especially loved was Verne's obvious boundless enthusiasm for science and the pursuit of truth. It made me quite jea...moreThis was a good, fun read. What I especially loved was Verne's obvious boundless enthusiasm for science and the pursuit of truth. It made me quite jealous; to have lived in the 19th century, to have believed in the limitless progress of man must have been so exciting. Although maybe in our cynical age today Verne's optimism might strike some as a little naive, I think it's brilliant. I'm not a scientist, I really don't know much about it, but I think Verne captures (despite being a writer of fiction) all that's noble and inspiring about it, the side that sometimes seems lost amongst all the controversy and the entanglement with religion. The comparison between the Professor surrounded by living specimens from pre-historic times and the lover of books finding himself in a great library of lost literature struck me. Pure, honest, intellectual enthusiasm is a wonderful thing. I didn't care for the assertion that the Heimskringla was written in runes (honestly, how ridiculous). But this probably won't annoy most readers, so I'm willing to discount it.(less)
Hilarious in classic Marxist overblown style. I thought he was a bit harsh on poor Thiers, having a go at him for being short more often than he criti...moreHilarious in classic Marxist overblown style. I thought he was a bit harsh on poor Thiers, having a go at him for being short more often than he criticised his politics. 'Monstrous gnome' is a bit much. Although it was pretty funny. Yep, basically, I'm not a Marxist, so I don't appreciate this in the spirit it was intended. It was fairly interesting as a historical document, though.(less)
Mostly I enjoyed this because I've been to the restaurant that it's about, having spent some time in the area, and I can confirm it is the best restau...moreMostly I enjoyed this because I've been to the restaurant that it's about, having spent some time in the area, and I can confirm it is the best restaurant I've ever been to. People should go to the Lot Valley just for La Recreation, seriously. I'm not sure how interesting this would be to someone who didn't know Les Arques, but then I only know it a very little bit and I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into a dying rural France. Especially so because it's my favourite part of dying rural France.(less)
When I think of war novels, I'm inexorably drawn towards the literature of WWI. Maybe because I've studied them more, maybe because it was the first g...moreWhen I think of war novels, I'm inexorably drawn towards the literature of WWI. Maybe because I've studied them more, maybe because it was the first genuinely modern war, a naive continent wrenched into the brutality of the twentieth century. It's relatively easy to forget that the Great War doesn't have the monopoly on modern European war literature. It seems such a unique experience, at that time when warfare was changing forever, but of course the seeds of those changes in warfare are to be found in the conflicts of the 19th century.
The Franco-Prussian War never really featured in my imagination with regards to war literature. If I'm honest, I really knew next to nothing about it this time last year. Which is fairly disgraceful, I suppose, but I'm not French or German so the most I'd heard of it was as a small foreign policy blip that Gladstone had to respond to. La Debacle infinitely expanded my understanding of the period, but was also just a great war novel, complete with all the themes I was well familiar with from WWI literature. There were hopelessly incompetent generals, strong male bonds, frustration and futility, lots of gore, misguided patriotic optimism, tragic loss of life; all the things that make up the universal tragedy of war, especially a war fought by an ill-equipped, ill-organised and ill-prepared side against an enemy who was far stronger and more efficient than they had anticipated. There is the defeat of the old-fashioned methods at the hands of modern techniques (the cavalry are gunned down, light brigade style, when they are used at all), the useless and incapacitated Emperor powerless to save his Empire, French glory is well and truly decapitated; the debacle is not just a military defeat, it is the driving into the dust of the French nation and the Second Empire. The country must be rebuilt from scratch at the end of the novel. France learned early the lessons that would be beaten into most of the rest of Europe in 1914 (although they don't seem to have profited much by them).
Some of it was a little overblown, in typical French style (Maurice and Jean: just-friends status far more questionable than Frodo and Sam), and Zola also threw in plenty of soap opera style plotlines to keep it from being just a dry military chronicle. Some of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, often conforming to easily recognisable moral types, but Zola is anything but ham-fisted and the simplified stereotyping didn't jar. It did, however, in my opinion, prevent the novel from being deeply moving and achieving its emotional potential. It was an entertaining (although the detailed descriptions of the movements of various army corps around various villages were a little hard to follow) and informative read, and overall I think that as historical novels go, this is a very fine one.(less)
I read this because of Timothy Baycroft. I took his module on the Third Republic in France, HST234, in the first semester of my second year. I asked h...moreI read this because of Timothy Baycroft. I took his module on the Third Republic in France, HST234, in the first semester of my second year. I asked his advice on what novel to read to gain a better understanding of the period. À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu was his recommendation. And so it began. I later asked him how long it had taken him to read it, and it turns out he never has. I felt slightly conned, but this is now outweighed by gratitude because I never would have read Proust without his suggestion, and few other books have been so rewarding. So thanks, Tim. À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu is truly staggering, and not only because it is very possibly the longest novel in print. I read it in English, the C. K. Scott Moncrieff version (with Stephen Hudson for Time Regained - poor Scotty died before he could finish). I read it somewhat sporadically. It was never the only novel I had on the go. Basically, it entails one man's musings and philsophising on... well, pretty much everything, but especially jealous & unrequited love (Proust is BIG on this), homosexuality, The Dreyfus Affair, the value of literature and art, subjectivity and time. It is also a vicious satire of high society in fin de siècle France. It is incredibly funny (whether you're laughing at the narrator or with him), the characters are intricately and intimately drawn, the prose is a complex work of beauty and, contrary to popular belief, the plot's not bad either. I'm maybe alone here, but I think that The Guermantes Way was my favourite, maybe joint with Cities of the Plain, just because I loved the in depth focus on Proust's society and the Dreyfus Affair references. Ah, but in retrospect I loved all the volumes. Even though it was often tough going at the time, it's looking back on Proust that makes you realise how wonderful it is. Which is quite a Proustian way of thinking about it, I suppose. The amazing thing is that the novel actually replicates the feeling of time passing. When you are reintroduced to characters from previous volumes it requires an act of memory to place them. When the narrator reminisces, you reminisce with him because it genuinely has been a long time. It's a most curious sensation, and not one I've got from any other novel. I won't lie, and there's no getting away from it. Reading Proust occasionally felt like a chore rather than a pleasure. There were times when he'd muse for pages on topics that bored me. There were times when the narrator was entirely repellent. There were times when I wanted to shout at and/or smack him. But there were frequent and redeeming bursts of beauty that swept away the frustration and drudgery and quite literally filled me with wonder. It was like climbing a very steep mountain; the view was breath-taking but I was often distracted by the difficulty of the journey. What I had forgotten, of course, was how utterly amazing it feels to stand on top of a mountain. When you reach the final volume, and Proust brings together all the subtle strands that he's been developing for two and a half thousand pages, the cumulative effect is of overwhelming, dazzling genius. Sitting in a coffee shop, six months after starting, I was moved to tears by the sheer intellectual force of Time Regained, and a novel that can do that is something special. And you know it's all been worth it, even though the final victory came far too late to be of any help in HST234. Plus, on a more egotistical note, to be able to say you've read À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu in its entirity makes you feel very clever. Impress your friends and family: pick up Proust today.(less)
A thorough and readable account of the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. Horne adds an interesting element by frequently...moreA thorough and readable account of the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. Horne adds an interesting element by frequently considering the experiences of the British and American communities in Paris at the time, and plenty of anecdotal evidence enlivens the wider framework. A good start, I should think. (less)
Worth it just for the quotation: 'By my green candle, I do not follow you at all'. Overall a nice, simple skim over a large stretch of French history...moreWorth it just for the quotation: 'By my green candle, I do not follow you at all'. Overall a nice, simple skim over a large stretch of French history that manages to be light without being trite, and gives a good overview of the period on which to structure further reading. I only read the Third Republic section, because that was what my module was on, but I'm sure the rest was just as comprehensive.(less)
This book is an essential, but too often ignored, read for anyone interested in World War I, the literature of that period, or war lit in general. As...moreThis book is an essential, but too often ignored, read for anyone interested in World War I, the literature of that period, or war lit in general. As a piece of literature it was highly significant. Published in 1916, it was one of the first works to openly criticise the war and was a major influence on Siegfried Sassoon. It tells the story of a group of ordinary French soldiers, drawing deeply on Barbusse's own experiences in the trenches. The structure is not a complete narrative, but instead episodic, jumping from one aspect of poilu life to another. It actually works extremely well, and comes as close as any WWI novel I've ever read to encapsulating the essence of what it was to fight in the trenches. The scene in the café when the group are on leave is just perfect. You also get a little more for your money than you do with Sassoon and his ilk; the story is book-ended with philosophical scenes that go beyond realism and are just as effective as frank depictions of the brutal horrors of trench warfare, although the book contains these too. I suppose it's more 'French' in a way that's difficult to pin down. Under Fire, or Le Feu is not my favourite WWI novel. That distinction would probably go to All Quiet on the Western Front. But it is one of them, and it is an extremely important literary work.(less)