Julien Gracq: Un balcon en forêt (A Balcony in the Forest)

The latest addition to my website is Julien Gracq‘s Un balcon en forêt (A Balcony in the Forest). This novel was based on Gracq’s own experiences in World War II and tells of Grange, a young lieutenant, put in charge of a bunker by the River Meuse, near the Belgian border, to stop advancing German tanks. For much of the novel Gracqq and the three men under his command are waiting while nothing much happens. Grange has an affair with a young widow living nearby, the men hunt and, all the while, they feel that the war is unreal, even as we see small signs of it creeping closer. Of course, it eventually does arrive and, for the last few days, they watch the smoke in the distance and see the planes. As we know, it does not end well for the French and Belgian defenders.

Fumiko Hayashi: 浮雲 (Floating Clouds)


The latest addition to my website is Fumiko Hayashi‘s 浮雲 (Floating Clouds). Before saying anything else about it, I should point out that this Fumiko Hayashi is nothing to with the politician of the same name and the book is nothing to do with the 19th century novel of the same name by Futabatei Shimei (see Tony’s Reading List for a review of the latter.) This one is a grim novel about failed love in the latter part of World War II and, in particular, in the period after the War. Yukiko Koda is a young woman who has been sexually abused by a relative (though is a not unwilling participant in the abuse) and decides to leave to work as a typist in Vietnam. There she meets a married man, Tomioka, and they have an affair. He has promised to leave his wife and marry her when they return to Tokyo but, when they do return, he is less enthusiastic. Indeed, they continue an off-again/on-again relationship over the course of the book, while both have other relationships. Tomioka is determined to break the relationship off but cannot bring himself to do so. Neither of the two is happy. Indeed, both seem to be thoroughly miserable throughout much of the book, not helped by the difficult situation in post-war Japan. Tomioka, in particular, cannot decide what he wants. He has relationships with four women during the book, getting two of them pregnant, yet is not a womaniser but just cannot control himself when a woman shows an interest in him. It is a sad and miserable tale and, according to Hayashi, meant to show the emptiness of women’s hearts at the time. The book has been reissued by the Columbia University Press. However, I read the original English translation, published in Japan in 1957. The book contains line drawings by a Japanese artist, Sho Tanaka, and, as you can see in the drawing above, the characters look very Western. The picture above is meant to show Yukiko, Tomioka, Kano and Makita, their boss, all Japanese, and yet they do not look at all Japanese to me. Maybe, Tanaka had not read the book!

Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins


The latest addition to my website is Kate Atkinson‘s A God in Ruins. This is a follow-up to her quirky Life After Life. That book featured Ursula Todd. This book, which also features Ursula Todd to some degree, is primarily about her younger brother, Ted, and his daughter Viola. Apart from a little bit at the end, there is none of the quirkiness of the earlier book, though the chronology does jump around a bit. Ted is the Voice of Reason, a thoroughly decent, honest, nature-loving man who also happens to be a bomber pilot in World War II, something that causes him a certain amount of guilt, when he realises to what extent he has been bombing ordinary civilians rather than military targets. We get considerable detail about the bombing raids into Germany – Atkinson says, in an afterword, one of her intentions was to showcase the Halifax bombers which had been overshadowed by the larger Lancasters. However, the book also deals with the issues of moral responsibility and, as she says in the afterword, the Fall of Man (from grace). We follow Ted’s life from 1925, as a young boy, till his death in 2012, as well as the lives of his siblings, all of whom he outlives, his daughter Viola, not a nice person, her two children and other family members. Atkinson clearly wants to show, as she did in Life After Life, the effect on the various family members of the actions of their family as well as the effect of what she calls absences due to (untimely) death. It is a thoroughly enjoyable tale and a worthy successor to Life After Life.