Category: France Page 1 of 10

Michel Butor: L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time)

The latest addition to my website is Michel Butor‘s L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time). I had already read and reviewed this novel (link is to the old review) but a new edition of the English translation has just appeared from Pariah Press so I have read that. (I read it in French for the previous review.) This is a complex story of a Frenchman Jacques Revel who spends a year as translator in the fictitious Northern England town of Bleston (based on Manchester). Jacques reads a murder mystery – The Bleston Murder by J C Hamilton – and finds it might not be entirely fiction and that it is also a key to some of the mysteries of Bleston, a town he hates and which seems to have an evil personality of its own. We follow his travails around the town and with some of its inhabitants as well as The Bleston Murder, its author and the mysterious fires which keep breaking out in Bleston. It is a superb book and very much worth rereading.

Olivier Targowla: Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope)

The latest addition to my website is Olivier Targowla‘s Narcisse sur un fil (Narcisse on a Tightrope). This is another fascinating discovery from the recently reborn Dalkey Archive Press. Narcisse has been in an institution for seventeen years. He does not seem to know why nor do we or the doctors. You’ve never had all the symptoms of a particular illness, but instead you have some symptoms of every one of a fairly large number of illnesses. He does not do much but he does have sex with a large number of nurses, not so much out of lust but because they want a child but no permanent man. Eventually, however, the doctors think they have have found out what his illness is and they suggest that he gradually reintegrate into society. The thought terrifies him. When he does go out, he struggles with the crowds, his relatives, whom he has not seen since he was in hospital and the lack of order and structure. Narcisse is Everyman. He wants order and structure and, if he does not have it, he needs help. This is another worthwhile addition to Dalkey’s collection of strange novels.

Danielle Mémoire: Lecture publique suivie d’un débat (Public Reading Followed by Discussion)

The latest addition to my website is Danielle Mémoire‘s Lecture publique suivie d’un débat (Public Reading Followed by Discussion). Last year John O’Brien, visionary founder of the Dalkey Archive Press sadly died after an illness. The Press was taken over by Deep vellum, with Will Evans as CEO and Chad Post of Open Letter Books as editorial consultant. This book shows that Dalkey Archive, one of the most essential publishers of translated literature, is back with a bang.

This book is very much in the Dalkey experimental literature mode. As the title tells us an author is to give a public reading of a work-in-progress, followed by a discussion with an audience. It is not as simple as that. The author does not have a work-in-progress so he improvises. The improvisation is going to involve a story about an author giving a public reading to an audience. Gradually, we see that the boundaries between author, characters and reader are breaking down as the audience become, in part, both characters and author. Other aspects change as we see the author has a dog. Or two dogs. Or three dogs. His name changes. His cat, which may or may not be lost, changes name and colour. He may be the author but there may be multiple authors, the author may be his brother or it may be a woman. The text changes. The story changes. As one audience member comments, it may be bullshit but it may also be a changing perception of reality. I am going for the latter interpretation as I found the book both very funny but also a serious and fascinating account of literary boundaries.

Henri Calet: La Fièvre des Polders [Polder Fever]

The latest addition to my website is Henri Calet‘s La Fièvre des Polders [Polder Fever]. Calet’s third novel is set in Burrh, a small Belgian town near the Dutch border, where there are polders, i.e. land reclaimed from the sea and rivers. Ward Waterwind sells beer but drinks too many of the profits and spends too much time with the customers, to the disgust of his wife, Nette. She runs an inn where the beer is sold, helped by her daughter Odilia, a quiet and unassuming young woman, but who is having sex with various people, including her brother. Ward has grandiose plans but lacks brains, business sense and a sense of responsibility and on the day celebrating the opening of the new quayside development, it all goes horribly wrong for Ward and his family. It is an excellent story of a backward small Belgian town and its residents but sadly has not been translated into any other language.

Henri Calet: La Belle Lurette [A Long Time Ago]

The latest addition to my website is Henri Calet‘s La Belle Lurette [A Long Time Ago]. This is a grim autobiographical novel about a boy, born in 1900. His parents are both criminals (money forging, prostitution, petty theft). His father is violent, frequently hitting his mother before running off with her daughter from a previous relationship. When World War I starts mother, son and mother’s new Belgian boyfriend flee to Belgium where boyfriend is arrested and mother and son have to flee the Germans to the Netherlands, before returning to Brussels. Both indulge in bad habits – sex and crime – before continuing the same life in Paris after the war. Calet himself continued his bad habits after the events of this book and it is easy to see why.

Hervé Le Tellier: L’Anomalie (The Anomaly)

The latest addition to my website is Hervé Le Tellier‘s L’Anomalie (The Anomaly). We follow the stories of various different and seemingly unconnected people, till we gradually learn that they were all on a Paris-New York flight in 2021. The flight was caught in a storm and badly buffeted but eventually came out with only some damage to the plane. The problems start when they try to land at JFK. They are forced to land at McGuire Air Force Base and all passengers and crew are detained. What happened on the flight and the subsequent repercussions for both the passengers we are following and for the world as a whole is the basis for this Goncourt Prize-winning novel. It will appear in English in December 2021.

Anne Serre: Les Gouvernantes (The Governesses)

The latest addition to my website is Anne Serre‘s Les Gouvernantes (The Governesses). This is very much a post-modern French fairy tale. The austere Austeur family engage three governesses, firstly to look after their four boys and secondly because M. Austeur wants a bit of chaos in his life, which he does not get from his staid wife. The three women certainly bring chaos. They are, essentially, forces of nature, likened to The Three Graces. They enjoy life, walking, romping around and, above all, sex. The local young men come round to the gate and fondle them. Any young man bold enough to enter the garden will find himself dragged into the wood and raped. Even when they take the four boys out they strip off, to the delight of the boys. But are they real? Their arrival and departure are mysterious, even though they seem very real, perhaps more than real while working for the Austeurs. Not your standard French fairy story.

Sándor Márai: A sziget [The Island]

The latest addition to my website is Sándor Márai‘s A sziget [The Island]. This novel, available in seven other languages but not English, tells the story of Viktor Henrik Askenazi, a Frenchman of Hungarian origin, who is a professor of Greek and Asia Minor languages in Paris, married to Anna, with a daughter and also with a mistress, Elise. He leaves Anna to live with Elise. He struggles with his relationships and eventually leaves Elise to live on his own, though still seeing Anna. At the suggestion of friends, he goes off on holiday to what is now Croatia, staying on an island, not far from Dubrovnik. Initially he does nothing but when he learns that Anna has gone off to Brazil, following a letter from him asking for a divorce, and he sees and follows an attractive German woman in the hotel, he slowly becomes agitated and slips into insanity. This is the story of a man who needs structure in his life and when that goes, he goes as well.

Anne Serre: Voyage avec Vila-Matas [Journey with Vila-Matas]

The latest addition to my website is Anne Serre‘s Voyage avec Vila-Matas [Journey with Vila-Matas]. This is quirky novel about a woman author, clearly based on Serre herself, attending a literary festival and ruminating/fantasising about Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas. She imagines he is there on her journey and at the festival and thinks about the boundary between reality and fiction. The second part of the book is about Vila-Matas himself, who receives an email from a woman who claims he is the father of her twenty-year old daughter. He is not but he investigates and again the boundary between the novel and real life becomes fluid. She concludes with deciding that Vila-Matas is both real and fictional. It is a witty and clever book about real life versus fictional life, with the boundary being very fluid.

Bernard Prou: Alexis Vassilkov ou la vie tumultueuse du fils de Maupassant [Alexis Vassilkov or the Tumultuous Life of the Son of Maupassant]

The latest addition to my website is Bernard Prou‘s Alexis Vassilkov ou la vie tumultueuse du fils de Maupassant [Alexis Vassilkov or the Tumultuous Life of the Son of Maupassant]. This is a complicated story involving the (fictitious) son of French writer Guy de Maupassant and his mother, a Russian woman who models for Renoir and becomes a painter. Alexis the son takes part in the Russian Revolution, becomes Stalin’s doctor, gets sent to a gulag, learns that Tsar Alexander I became the wandering monk Feodor Kuzmich, escapes (with his wife and young son), arriving two days before the Germans invade Paris in World War II and flees to the country (with a (real) French government minister), joins the Resistance and gets involved with collaborationists after the war. And that is just the highlights. Lots of adventure, lots of messing around with history and great fun.

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