Anne F Garréta ‘Pas Un Jour’

‘Life is too short to accept to read badly written books and to sleep with women you don’t love’***

You accept to spend five hours a day, every day for a month writing from memory of one woman or another that you have desired or that has desired you. imageThus is the contract that the writer makes with the narrator, Anne F Garréta, at the beginning of the book. You will write them down in the order they come to you and you will then set them, impersonally, in alphabetical order. Did you sleep with these women? Did you conclude? This is irrelevant, you are writing about desire she explains.

Garréta’s book contains twelve stories about desire, that as was explained above, are not in chronological order. That go from the intellectual through the will they – won’t they and what is their real interest? Up to the more erotic. There is for instance the intellectual desire for B*

‘Nothing seduces you more in a woman, —you’ve known that for a long time, but each time the surprise is unsettling —than certain acute forms of intellect a way of engaging this intellect, a freedom of movement in discussion, forgetting oneself in the pursuit of the pleasure of thought, of understanding. You abandon yourself totally to the language games into which she entices you’***

There is the encounter with E* at a conference, who initially contradicts you at every opportunity, you end up talking at the bar where:

‘She talks to you of her husband, of her lover, of her children, of what she is writing. You listen to her wondering why she should be opening up to you in this manner’***

You ask yourself if you desire her but can find no clear answer, you end up going to your separate rooms, and then whilst you are in pyjamas she calls you and as you head towards her room you think:

‘there is something quite jubilant, it seems to you, to be going like this, in the middle of the night, passing door after door and knowing that a woman is waiting for you behind one of them at the end of a maze of corridors’***

A final example is from the story of X*, you are told by friends that one of the many girls at the self defence class you attend finds you sexy and though you never know who it was you’re senses are heightened throughout the term as you grapple with different partners trying to deduce from the pressure or the intensity which of the students could be the one referred to by your friends

‘The mystery of her identity, the search for signs, the hermeneutic excitement it inspired in you made this term’s self defence the most troubling exotic experience of your life’***

I enjoyed this read.

First published in French as ‘Pas Un Jour’ by Grasset in 2002
*** My translation

Olivier Bourdeaut ‘En Attendant Bojangles’

‘Hysteria, bipolarity, schizophrenia, the doctors had labelled her with all of their technical terms used to identify people who are completely mad. And they had confined her to a building and they had chemically confined her with tons of pills, yes they had confined her for insanity by a single signature validated by a medical stamp.’***

Olivier Bourdeaut’s  ‘Waiting for Bojangles’ is the marvellous story of Louise and George, a fantastic husband and wife imageinfatuated with one another whose lives consist of dancing together sublimely to the music of Nina Simone’s Mr Bojangles and drinking coloured cocktails at all times of the day and the night, seen through the eyes of their son. We can feel the son’s marvel at his father and love of his mother in his descriptions:

‘I never understood why, my father never called my mother the same name two days running. Even if certain names bored her quicker than others, my mother loved this routine and, each morning in the kitchen, I could see her watching my father, following him with a smile on her face, with her head down as she ate her brakfast, or with her chin in her hands waiting for the verdict.  —Oh no, you can’t do that to me! Not Renée, not today! This evening we’ve got guests for dinner! She chuckled, then she looked towards the mirror wincing and greeted the new Renée, the new Joséphine trying to seem dignified, the new Marylou puffing out her cheeks. —what’s more, I don’t really have anything terribly Renée in my wardrobe’***

In this life where every day is a celebration and tomorrow is always around the corner, there is another angle to their lives and the events given in George’s diary as he tells his story from the day they meet, his falling instantly in love and at once understanding and accepting Loise as she is, where, as he tries to keep their lives and love together, we feel Louise is slowly escaping him despite his care. His trying to keep the world together for her and their son after her internment and then the fantastic escape from the hospital which they all three, following one of Louise’s ideas, disguise as a kidnapping.

Both George and his son give descriptions of their escape to Spain, one magic, one full of worried determination as this short book moves on to its inevitable climax. Read in one sitting.

—He jumped so high, he jumped so high, then he lightly touched down.  Nina Simone Mr Bojangles

First published in French as ‘En Attendant Bojangles’ by Finitude in 2016
*** My translation

Céline Minard ‘Faillir Être Flingué’

‘The thing the whites sought but which they feared in equal amounts was the pull of the untamed wilderness, ruthless, unhindered. They craved it as much as they hated it. They were afraid they would reveal themselves to be monsters, more terrifying than those they saw on the plains, who shelter only at night under smoked skins of wild beasts and slowly cut up their enemies to hear them scream in pain.’***

Céline Minard is a French author who has written books in a number of different genres and here she takes on the mythic west and at the birth of the first white settlements on the untamed plains.image In this book ‘Nearly Got Shot’***  We follow a number of different characters as they cross these plains, converging on the same embryonic town and as we do so, and in no particular order, we learn about these people’s pasts and why they are on the move. Bird Boisverd, a trapper, whose last partner had left him with nothing, no food, no horse, in the wilderness and run off with the seasons trappings and how Bird had survived, hunted him down over hundreds of miles, and ruthlessly killed him not so much for the gains but for revenge, he couldn’t let himself be cheated. Ellie Coulter, who steals Birds Horse and food and leaves him stranded once again with nothing. We learn of the McPherson brothers crossing the plains with their dying mother in a waggon, of Josh McPherson who loses a boot as he nearly drowns in a river and prefers to toss away his other boot rather than to rejoin the waggon with just one boot. Bird then finding the boots, drying them out and wearing them as he pursues whoever it was who stole his horse. We learn of Zebulon then stealing Ellie’s horse and food:

‘-if you’re not able to steal a horse with no scruples then you haven’t been brought up right.’***

All of these characters and more, cross the path of the many Indians on the plains who fight other indian groups and steal anything they can, and in particular they cross the path of Water Running on the Plains, the only Indian to survive her tribe’s massacre and who, living alone, is known by all on the plains, white and Indian alike, for her powers of healing.

As they arrive in town, amongst other events and adventures, Bird recognises his horse, Josh recognises his boots, of course there is the saloon, and the girls, the barbershop and the hardware store, the all poeerful posses looking for outlaws. Minard describes the bustling life of these young towns where the raw energy and ambition of the new arrivals will create this Young America.

First published in French as ‘Faillir Être Flingué’ by Editions de la Loupe in 2013
*** My translation

Nathalie Azoulai ‘Titus n’aimait pas Bérénice’

-It’s true then that you’ve chosen poetry before God…..
As with his language, his space is split in two, on one side there is God, the Abbey and the night, and on the other there is the King, Poetry and light.***

Nathalie Azoulai has built in her ‘Titus n’aimait pas Bérénice’, part of my 2016 French lit targets a formidable romanticised biography of  playwright Jean Racine, starting out from a present day woman who has been abandoned by the man she loves, imagehe leaving her to return to his family, his surroundings and his wealth. She is desolate and in an attempt to understand what has happened to her she plunges into the works of the great French writer of tragedies, Jean Racine, who is vaunted to see events through strong but wronged feminine characters. And slowly re-builds herself as she comes to realise that if Titus left her then he loved her less than she loved him.

‘He thinks he can hear, buzzing around his head, the distant and muffled sound of all of his heroines grouped together, unified in their tears and their anger Hermione, Aggripine, Berenice Roxane, Monime, Phedre’***

As the opening quote tells us, Racine’s life is torn between opposites, he was brought up in a strict religious sect, at Port Royal des Champs, as a Jansenite, where he learnt rigour and precision in his writing and where his only non religious reading was through the Greek masters of his classical education.

‘Writing lightens him when it is precise, if he should only remember one thing from all of his years spent here (Port Royal) it would be this: precision is a thing that man owes to God.’***

His tragedies were written in the rhyming Alexandrine, with twelve syllables per line and rhymes at the end of each pair of lines that he and all of his contemporaries used and which he was taught and worked on at Port Royal:

-Jean had just managed to write lines with twelve syllables for the first time and he wondered if the Alexandrine was a guarantee of excellence, he wasn’t sure but every day after  he repeated the experience and understood that although we may not be able to code beauty, we can  code music.***

I have added here an example of the Alexandrine taken from Bérénice to illustrate the meter and the rhyme:

Le temps n’est plus, Phénice, où je pouvais trembler.
Titus m’aime, il peut tout, il n’a plus qu’à parler.
Il verra le Sénat m’apporter ses hommages,
Et le peuple de fleurs couronner ses images.
De cette nuit, Phénice, as-tu vu la splendeur ?
Tes yeux ne sont-ils pas tous pleins de sa grandeur ?
Ces flambeaux, ce bûcher, cette nuit enflammée,
Ces aigles, ces faisceaux, ce peuple, cette armée,

Nathalie Azoulai then takes us on to the second part of his life, ambition, creation and King Louis XIV the sun King. Molière is now old and the authors of the day are the Corneille brothers. Jean is obsessive jealous and because of his background he rejects the machines and the grandeur of the theatre around the King, stripping away the superfluous and concentrating on the feelings of his female protagonists. Seventeenth century France was no easy place to be a successful playwright, Azoulai describes an event at his opening of Brittanicus:

And there above the crowd, alone in an empty loge is the old shadow, watching and orchestrating the applause, the whistling, Corneille come to see close up how he is taking on Rome, his monopoly.***

We learn how Moliere’s leading lady actress defects to Racine and how together they become the court favourites, despite the Kings need for opulence and Racines leaning to sobriety in his tragedies, if not in his life, as the King says to him:

I wanted the sublime to be at the centre of the festivities and I think that we have succeeded began the King, this We melts on Jean’s tongue like a lump of sugar.***

We follow Jean’s life through his successes, through the deaths of Molière and then Corneille which cause people to ask themselves the question which of the two authors, Racine or Corneille will be most remembered and will embody the idea of French genius.

I hope that when this book is translated into English that you enjoy it as much as I have. I will be reading Racine before seeing his plays, in the near future I hope!

First published in French as Titus n’aimait pas Bérénice’ by P.O.L in 2015
*** My translation

Lorenzo Silva ‘Une Femme Suspendue’

-I’ll give you a good tip, Rubén. It was the girl friend that did it, in a rush of anger, and your job is to piece together a coherent explanation.***

At the end of the nineties, Lorenzo Silva penned this, the first in an award winning series of crime books, seven to date, featuring Sergeant Bevilacqua and his assistant Chamorro of the ‘Guardia Civil’.image This story, ‘The Hanging Woman’ read in French, takes place in the holiday resorts of Majorca, A young and rich Austrian woman is found hung from the ceiling of a holiday villa with two bullet holes in her head, and the murder weapon is found nearby with the villas occupant, her vanished girl friend’s prints on the handle. The investigation seems cut and dry as the initial quote tells us. This book was read for Spanish lit month 2016.

I’ve said all I’ll say about the intrigue, the interest for me was in the two ‘Guardia Civil’ characters, Silva caught what I would imagine to be a military police atmosphere, Bevilacqua and Chamorro operating in a background of rules and obedience, the following exchange between the two Guardia Civil officers illustrates this:

-You should know that as long as you’re with me, if anyone criticises what you are doing or how you do it will be as if they are spitting in my face. And I can assure you that when someone spits in my face I’m pitiless….
-Understood sergeant! I’ll not mention it again.

As they went undercover Silva had me laughing at times such as when these two uniformed police officers were required to spend time on a nudist beach, and he describes their discomfort with the idea, which they hide by military abruptness:

-Once on the beach I indicated to my subordinate. Over there and let’s try not to draw attention to ourselves
My assistant seemed confused
-Come on, Chamorro! I haven’t brought a camera.
But this didn’t seem to be the problem
-listen, I said trying to make things more acceptable, me too I’m feeling the same embarrassment as you. I wasn’t brought up by the clergy, but my mother didn’t walk around the house naked either. Let’s just carry on as if there wasn’t a problem and think no more of it.

This was not a must read crime book but it’s dry humour made me smile, one of this series is available in English, ‘The Faint-Hearted Bolshevik’.

First Published in Spanish as “El Lejano Paìs de los Estanques” by Destino in 1998
Translated into French by Dominique Lepreux as ‘Une Femme Suspendue’ and published by Lattès in 2000
*** My translation

J. Á. González Sainz ‘None So Blind’

‘The entire linguistic topography of threats and intimidation encapsulated in expressions—preceded by silences, gestures, and looks—that people had to take in stride, imageas if living with threats were just as completely normal as the idea that there might be rain one day instead of sun.’

This 2010 novel from González Sainz about Felipe Díaz Carrión and his family’s move to the Spanish Basque country is, in this time of Islamic Terrorism, full of actuality. How can your own family become radicalised around you? The title of course gives away some of the writer’s thoughts. This book was read for the Spanish lit month 2016. González Sainz sets the scene early on of the economic migration behind the story:

It was a time when many young people and even some not-so-young people emigrated from the area to large cities and industrial zones, to Barcelona or Madrid, to Zaragoza or the industrial towns and centers in the north, and that’s just the ones who didn’t cross the Pyrenees or even the Atlantic. Those cities and regions seemed to have made off with all the wealth and activity in the country, with all the advantages and incentives, and more than anything else, they seemed to hold an absolute monopoly on the future.

Felipe Díaz Carrión and his family then move into an industrial town, which seems only to exist for the particular industry, lumping together the workers and their families into cheap identical apartment blocks where we live Felipe’s difficulty to integrate, epitomised by his habit of walking, originally in the beautiful countryside but now in his new industrially oppressive landscape, whenever he is troubled. And of course living grouped together in such a way radicalises the society and put’s pressure on the weak as well as those with no roots looking for acceptance.

More than wealth or age or sex or worth or career, that separated people there into two groups: the people who proffered such expressions with varying degrees of bravado or conviction, and real-life consequences, and the more scattered, defenseless, vulnerable group of people who stood on the receiving end of them with varying degrees of composure—and varying degrees of fear—and then had to face those consequences.

Felipe and his younger son, the only one in his family born in the industrial town, live through the gradual radicalisation of the eldest son and of Felipe’s wife, without seeing or wanting to see what is happening around them, despite the comments of the people around them to Felipe:

“You just don’t get it, Felipe,” they said to him again as they watched him stare unblinkingly at the photo of his wife on the page of a newspaper he now bought himself. “You know it, but you don’t want to admit it.”

After the tragic events and hate thrown up in the novel, Felipe, after his retirement, moves back to the old farm, where of course life has moved on, only his memories have remained stationary. We then learn that the violence we have witnessed in the industrial town had of course always existed and that Felipe’s father himself had been killed in such a bout of violence, with different words to describe the group’s involved and understand to an extent Felipe’s understanding and need to avoid violence. But I do not think, and I guess this is the author’s point, that we understand his blindness to what is happening around him and what could he or should he have done.

In current circumstances this is a thought provoking read.

First Published in Spanish as “Ojos que no ven” by Anagrama in 2010
Translated into English by Harold Augenbraum and Cecilia Ross as ‘None So Blind’ and published by Hispabooks in 2015

Rodrigo Blanco Calderon ‘The Night’

‘From The Murders in the Rue Morgue of 1841 through to Death and the Compass in 1942, the wheel had come full circle. imageWith this short story, Borges perfects the genre. Lönnrot Is a detective who reads detective stories. A fool who dies for having taken literature for reality. He’s the Don Quichotte of police stories.’***

This quote should sum up this book which begins in Caracas with the three main characters, Mathias Rye, A struggling writer, struggling with drugs, and with themes, for which he meets regularly with Miguel Ardiles a psychiatrist who counts killers and psychopaths amongst his patients hoping to get insight for his writing. This book was read for the Spanish lit month 2016.

-So tell me, what’s the worst book to have one the ‘prix du Nacional’…
-…The title of the one I’m thinking of is unpronounceable. I can never remember it but it’s by Pedro Álamo. It was in 1982 and it was the most controversial edition in the history of the prize. It’s completely incomprehensible from start to finish. Me, I’d always taken it for the work of a mad man, but there were a few critics that saw it as a chef-d’oeuvre. I think that at last I’m going to be able to check my hypothesis.
-What hypothesis?
-You’re going to help me. Pedro Álamo is one of my students at the writing workshop.
-What do I have to do with it?
-We’ve almost become friends. I gave him the number of your private practice. Can you squeeze him in on Monday? Álamo suffers from panic attacks’***

Pedro Álamo talks about the symmetry of his life, his past with his now dead wife Margarita and that to come with his girl friend Margarita, he also talks of palindromes such sa his book Tnevarapel, le paravent and also of Yo sonoro no soy.

There is a linguistic/semiotic current running through this book and taking up a good half of it, linking linguistic theorists to Pedro Álamo via the Venezuelan poet Lancini. This whole current of the book was in far too much detail and explanation for a novel, My take away here is that Dario Lancini is famous in Venezuela for his book of palindromes, Oir a Dario, which brought together thirty of his palindromes, ranging from one sentence to a 750-word text based on Ubu Roi the largest palindrome ever written and that he lived in political exile for many years.

So if you are a linguistic theorist, this is the crime story for you. Otherwise like myself you may find this a particularly hard slog for one half of the book.

The rest of the book, the crime mystery part centres around Montesinos, and the disappearance and deaths of a large number of women, this extract from a chapter early on taken from a blog, identifying Montesinos, by one of his supposed victims, Rosalinda, and named Ana and Mie is a deep dive into eating disorders

-Hi!!! My little princesses!!! That was the worst birthday I’ve had since I was born. I’m a fat cow, nobody likes me. Ana and Mie are my only friends, the only ones that help me live, to attain my dreams.***

Ana et Mie are short hand for Anorexia and bulimia. The crime mystery is not easy to follow but some crimes continue after Montesinos is arrested  and Álamo’s girl friend, Margarita, is one of the victims. As Calderón says:

-sometimes I write with the ease and pleasure that only reading can offer, and at other times I read with the difficulty, the uncertainty and the fragility characteristic of all true writing.***

As a reader this book placed me clearly in the second category, I feel a second reading would help but do not have the courage to undertake such an adventure.

Ps the photo is of Dario Lancini and his wife Antonieta Madrid

First Published in Spanish (Venezuela) as “The Night” by Alfaguara in 2016
Translated into French by Robert Amutio as ‘The Night’ and published by Gallimard in 2016
*** my translation