The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Villa Triste (Villa Triste). Set primarily in 1960, in a town near the Franco-Swiss border which seems to be Annecy, it follows the story of an eighteen-year old man who might be called Victor Chmara (but might not) who has fled Paris, possibly to escape the Algerian War. He seems to have no employment and does very little during the book. He meets Yvonne Jacquet, a would-be film star, and they get together under the watchful eyes of a mysterious doctor, René Meinthe. Nobody is who they seem and everyone seems to have something to hide and little is revealed, even when Victor returns twelve-thirteen years later.
The latest addition to my website is Soledad Puértolas‘ Burdeos (Bordeaux). The novel tells three stories, with several of the characters appearing in two or all three stories. The first two are set in Bordeaux, with the third set in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The characters are nearly all all well-to-do bourgeoisie. The main theme of the stories is that marriage/close relationships are not a good thing, particularly for women, with the men being controlling, patronising or simply taking their wives for granted. Despite this, the solitary life, which several of the characters lead, is not really a good thing either. In the third story, Elizabeth Parker gives some advice, namely marry anyone as long as they love you. Perhaps this is the message Puértolas wishes to share.
The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Les Hauts-Quartiers [The Upper Districts]. This novel was published seventeen years after Gadenne’s death and has not been translated into any other language. It is long (800 pages) and rambling. It tells the story of Didier Aubert, a young man clearly based on the author. We start with Dunkirk, as Didier and his mother flee the advancing Germans and escape to South-West France. Like Gadenne, Didier suffers from tuberculosis and like Gadenne is an ascetic intellectual. Didier struggles with finding suitable accommodation, struggles in his relationships and struggles with the bourgeoisie (whom Gadenne continually mocks), those who live in the Hauts-Quartiers, the posh part of town. He really wants peace and quiet for his studies but that is just not possible, as life gets in the way. It is considered by many critics to be a classic of twentieth-century French literature but perhaps needed a good editor.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s Les Boulevards de ceinture (Ring Roads). This is the third novel in Modiano’s Occupation Trilogy. The narrator, probably called Serge, a young novelist, first met his father when he was seventeen. The pair tried various nefarious scams, finally hitting on forged dedications in novels to sell to collectors. However, it seems that the father tried to kill his son. Ten years later, during the German occupation, the son has tracked down the father in a village. He is now involved with a group who appear to be both dealing in the black market and publishing a magazine which uses blackmail as a way of earning money. The father does not seem to recognise his son and the son does not introduce himself, though he gets involved with the group. Inevitably, things do not work out well, though we are never sure if the narrator is telling us the truth and what really happened.
The latest addition to my website is Patrick Modiano‘s La Place de l’Étoile (La Place de l’Étoile). This was Modiano’s first novel, published when he was twenty-two. It was a highly controversial as it viciously mocks French anti-Semitism but also French writers, Jews and Israel. It tells the story of Raphaël Schlemilovitch, a French Jew and his fanciful adventures, including his time in wartime Vienna (though he was born at the end of the war) as The Indispensable Jew, his friendship in Switzerland with a French aristocrat and a very real French Jewish writer who was, in reality, dead by this time, his involvement in the white slave trade and liking Israel to the Gestapo in France. Surprisingly, it did well in France, though it must have offended many and only came out in English translation, after Modiano won the Nobel Prize in 2015. Grotesque though it is, it may well be still very appropriate, given the rise of anti-Semitism in North America and Europe at the present time.
The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Rue profonde [The Deep Street]. This is strange, short novel about an unnamed poet, living in a garret in Paris, who is writing a short poem, something he will continue to do throughout the book. He struggles with this poem, influenced by various images (the shadow of his building on the opposite one, a horse struggling with a cart). However, his poet friend tells him to get out, stroll around and see life, which he does and, inevitably, he meets a woman. Though the relationship is short and not particularly sweet, it does change his life. Sadly, the book has not been translated into English, only into Spanish.
The latest addition to my website is Michel Houellebecq‘s Sérotonine (Serotonin). This is another controversial novel from Houellebecq. The main character. Florent, is an agronomist and he shows us that French agriculture (and other aspects of the French economy) is facing serious problems. At the same time, we follow the story of Florent who, to get away from his job studying French agriculture and from his Japanese girlfriend, goes off grid, abandoning job, flat and girlfriend and moving to a hotel in an unfashionable part of Paris. He does not sever contact with everyone, visiting Aymeric, his old college friend and now a farmer facing huge problems on his dairy farms (primarily because of EU policies – Houellebecq is very anti-EU) and trying to re-establish contact with two old girlfriends, which does not work out very well. In particular, he takes a new (fictitious) drug, Caprizol for his depression and it has strange effects on him. It is a well-written though very contrarian book. Florent is not a loveable hero but his lifestyle choice make interesting reading. It will be out in English in September 2019, though is already available in German.
The latest addition to my website is Paul Gadenne‘s Siloé [Siloam]. This is a very long autobiographical novel, Gadenne’s first, based on his stay in a tuberculosis asylum in the French Alps. Unlike Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain), Gadenne does use TB as symbol of the human condition but uses the isolation of Simon Delambre, the hero, to show how much a man can change in such conditions. He is influenced my many things in his change: the beauties of nature, friendship with ordinary people, some manual labour (sewing), absence from the urban hurly-burly and routine and, above all, love. He meets and falls in love with a woman patient, Ariane (French for Ariadne) and they plan a future together. At the end of the book, Simon is clearly a changed man and definitely not a Hans Castorp as in Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). Sadly, none of Gadenne’s work has been translated into English.
The latest addition to my website is Emmanuel Carrère‘s Un roman russe (My Life as a Russian Novel: A Memoir). Though the English calls it a memoir – and, to a great extent it is – it is written as a novel, called a novel by the author and the publisher and reads as a novel. There are three main themes, apart from the overarching theme of Carrère’s own somewhat chaotic life. The first is his journalistic investigation of András Toma, allegedly the last World War II soldier to be repatriated. Toma was held in a mental hospital in Russia for fifty-five years, as he did not speak Russian and no-one in the hospital spoke Hungarian. Carrère and a film crew twice travel to Russia and once to Hungary to investigate. We also learn about Carrère’s family, particularly his grandfather who was Georgian and who never fitted in when in France, and his grandmother who was descended from Russian aristocrats. Finally, we follow Carrère’s tempestuous love affair with Sophie. All three stories intertwine and Carrère tells his story very well, despite showing himself to be a very flawed character.
The latest addition to my website is Emmanuel Carrère‘s La Moustache (The Moustache). The unnamed hero of this novel decides one day to shave off his moustache to surprise his wife, Agnès. Not only does she not notice, she later insists that he never had a moustache. This previous lack of a moustache is later confirmed by their friends and his colleagues. However, photos seem to show that he did have a moustache. When there seem to be other events that he remembered and she did not – their holiday in Java, the death of his father – he wonders if he is going mad or if she is plotting something against him. However, when he cannot find his parents’ flat, where he grew up, we have our doubts. yet there is clear evidence that, in some cases, he is telling the truth. What is the truth, who is telling it and why are there so many disparities between what he sees and says and what she sees and says? This is a very clever book on truth and lies and different perspectives.