Claudie Hunzinger ‘Les Grands Cerfs’


The economic impact for the Rhineland can be summarised as follows: 1 deer shot = 1260 euros saved for the timber industry.***


Years ago, Nils and Pamina, still students take the radical decision to move to the mountains and live on a high prairie cut of from the world in this book read for the Roman de Rochefort. Sure each year at set times they heard wild life noises and discovered their young trees had been massacred in the morning, but then Léo arrived, maybe an ex-military man, wanting to know if he can set up an observation post on their land and then for ten years not much happens.

Léo tells Pamina of the stags he observes and of which he takes photos, of Wow of Apollo, of Arador and of Geronimo. Léo who has observed these animals and knows them has given them names to personalise them. Slowly Pamina is pulled into the story until one day she gives in to a whim and goes to the observation point. She slowly learns that observing these animals is 99% waiting and 1 % observation, she is drawn in to Léo’s tales and marvels at these wonderful creatures. As she gets to know more about them, of their world, of their vocabulary, antlers, horns, velvet, moult and feels she knows them, of their life cycle, the animals begin to be shot, the wonderful Wow and the old clever Arador.

Claudie Hunziger renders their lives real to us, their growing antlers, shedding their velvet by impact with the trees, rubbing their antlers up against the trees to give them a finish, colour, rubbing up against a nut tree for instance to give an antler a gold colour. She tells us of the nights where they fight for ascendancy, of their mating and of then losing their antlers, their moult until the cycle begins in the spring. She tells us of their surviving the hunger of winter in the snow, eating tree bark.

Léo brings Pamina into contact with the forestry commission and the hunters who together “regulate” the “stock” of deer and learns of the future for the deer as shown in the opening quote from the representative of the commission. He explains to her that the forestry commission who regulate the livestock, auctioning of bracelets, the right to kill a deer, are only interested in the timber the forest produces:


He presented himself, what’s more, as a representative of the forestry commission responsible for implementing the national policy which is to ensure the regeneration of the forest and of its financial returns. That is to say to favour coniferous trees, silver firs, spice trees, Douglas firs, the woody species the most chewed by stags, eaten if you like……And that that required a population of deer reduced to a strict minimum.***


And of course what the hunters really want are the antlers, the stags are their real prey. Pamina lives this as her personal window onto the sixth great extinction which is now underway.

If you didn’t know about the life of stags before you read this, you certainly knew more afterwards. This was written passionately.

First Published in French as “Les grands cerfs” by Grasset in 2019
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

L’impact économique pour la Rhénanie Palatinat se résume ainsi: 1 chevreuil tiré = 1260 euros d’économie pour l’industrie forestière.

s’est d’ailleurs présenté comme un agent de l’ONF chargé d’appliquer la politique nationale qui est de veiller à la régénération des forêts et à leur rendement financier. C’est à dire de veiller à privilégier les conifères, sapins pectinés, épiceas, douglas, espèces ligneuses les plus “abrouties” par les cerfs, bouffées, quoi…. Et que ça passait par un peuplement de cervidés réduit au minimum

Fernanda Melchor ‘Hurricane Season’

Booker International Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“Hurricane Season”: In order of reading book number 6.

In order to follow this event, I have managed to write articles on all six of the short listed books and will propose my winner before the official announcement.
Visit the official site for more details: Booker International Prize 2020


Lagarta, you little shit-stirrer, you’re sick in the head, only you could come out with such a rotten, disgraceful pack of lies, aren’t you ashamed of yourself, whoring around and then pointing the finger at your cousin? There’s only one thing’ll stop you wanting to leave the house, you wicked little tramp. Grandma had cut off all her hair with the poultry shears while Yesenia sat motionless, as still as a possum in the headlights, terrified of being slashed by those icy blades, and afterwards she’d spent the whole night out in the yard, like the mongrel bitch that she was, and Grandma had said: a stinking animal that didn’t deserve so much as a flee-ridden mattress beneath its fetid coat.


As the story begins, the body of the witch is found in an irrigation canal on the outskirts of Matosa. To help us make sense of this discovery, chapter by chapter we follow what has happened through the eyes of one or the other of the protagonists. In sentences, rivalling Proust for length, through these different accounts we get a feeling for the town, Matosa:


They say that’s why the women are on edge, especially in La Matosa. They say that, come evening, they gather on their porches to smoke filterless cigarettes and cradle their youngest babes in their arms, blowing their peppery breath over those tender crowns to shoo away the mosquitos, basking in what little breeze reaches them from the river, when at last the town settles into silence and you can just about make out the music coming from the highway brothels in the distance, the rumble of the trucks as they make their way to the oilfields, the baying of dogs calling each other like wolves from one side of the plain to the other; the time of evening when the women sit around telling stories.


In this desperate town where the women seem to live from prostitution, and the men from the women we get a feeling of hopelessness, take for instance Lagarta from the opening quote, brought up harshly by her grand mother, as are so many of her cousins, nephews and nieces when their young parents runaway or are jailed. The hopelessness of their situations are drowned in Aguardiente, drugs or religion with dreams of having enough money to get a bus away from here.

The story is of machism and homosexuality, and the fine line between the two, of young girls discovering their power and becoming women too soon and preys of the men and of the age old solutions to unwanted pregnancies, with the witch central to both of these conflicts.

A second South American book in the selection, set 150 years after the first, The Adventures of China Iron , but treating many of the same subjects but this time through a realist vision, of the two, I preferred the first.

First Published in Spanish as “Temporada de huracanes” in 2017, in Mexico by Literatura Random House.
Translated into english by Sophie Hughes and published as “Hurricane Season” by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2019
Translated into French by Laura Alcoba and published as “La saison des ouragans” by Grasset in 2019

Laurent Binet ‘Civilizations’


The sight puzzled the Quitonians. Atahualpa himself, known and admired for his ability to keep imperially calm, even before the most surprising of situations, was unable to hide a slight expression of curiosity.
At the centre of the square, as if locked in a cage, stood some men and women wearing pointed hoods and dressed in robes, sometimes yellow sometimes black on which red crosses and flames were painted. On the yellow robes the flames were turned to the ground. Certain of them had knotted ropes around their knecks. Each of them held in his or her hands a long unlit candle. next to them were placed black chests and human sized dolls….
Human sacrifices were nothing unusual for the Incas. Although we know that Atahualpa, even if he didn’t want to let anythind show, was shocked by the sight of the bodies twisting as they burned and by their screams.***


Welcome to Laurent Binet’s uchronia, where rather than the Spanish invading and conquering South America, he tells us the opposing story of Europe being invaded by the Incas, a far fetched idea? or is it? Binet’s three what ifs are simple, what if at the time of Columbus’s trip the South Americans were immune to the European diseases, what if they had equivalent iron forging abilities and if they had horses, could things have happened differently?

In this four part book, Binet begins with the story of Freydis, The daughter of Erik the red, the Norse explorer and settler who set up a colony on the south coast of Greenland around 970 AD and for which there are traces of their long houses in Newfoundland. In this first section Binet tells us of her trip sailing south along the American coast, of the people’s they meet:


The small colony settled near a Skraeling village and, not just content with coexisting without incident, the two groups help each other. The Greenlanders teach the Skraelings to look for iron in the peat and how to work it to make axes, spears and arrow heads…..
But eventually the Skraelings fell ill.***


He tells us how they adventure further and further south and of how they stop first in Cuba and then further South on the mainland, mixing with the local ‘Skraelings’ and raising horses.

At the end of the first section they are now better ready for Columbus. The second part of the book is Columbus’s diary, which tells of Columbus being taken prisoner and never making it back to Europe, of his boats which are taken and of the Cuban’s learning to sail in them, of Columbus teaching the little Higuénamota, the Cuban princess, to speak castillan.

The third and by far the longest part of the book concerns the conquest, the chronicles of Atahualpa. Before this book my knowledge of the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire was limited to my ‘O’ level English Literature studies of Peter Schaffers ‘Royal Hunt of the Sun’. But in a few words, how less than two hundred Spanish invaders were able to conquer the Inca kingdom of up to 10 million people, with Pablo Pissaro arriving during the war between the two brothers, Atahualpa and Huáscar for the throne.

Here, Atahualpa and his faithful generals, Chalcuchimac, Quizquiz, and Ruminawi and several hundred soldiers and families are beaten back and flee to Cuba where Atahualpa meets the now adult queen Higuénamota. They are then able to sail east in the direction of Higuénamotta’s memories of Columbus’s tales.

But how would they conquer Europe? Binet models the events on mirror images of the actual events. The Inca empire was divided and ruled peoples that wanted freedom and that Pablo Pissaro was able to use against the Incas.

The Incas arrive first in Portugal after a massive earthquake and are able to gain a foothold and move on to Spain where a large sweep of European history shows us the Spanish empire ruling over peoples that wanted their freedom. Atahualpa reads and becomes a disciple of Machievelli ‘Your enemy’s enemies are your allies’. After seeing the Inquisition and their treatment of the ‘Conversos’, the Jews who had been forced to convert but were now being judged and burnt in Toledo, illustrated in the opening quote, Atahualpa, in a manoeuvre mirroring that of Pissaro, seizes Charles V the holy Roman emperor.

Binet takes us on a voyage around 16th century Europe and its divisions as he illustrates, using diplomacy and strategy in the deeply divided state of Europe, with religious wars, Martin Luther and the beginning of capitalism, Atahualpa uses gold from South America and money lenders to finance an army.

This was a thoughroughly enjoyable book with a number of amusing details, such as Higuénamota meeting Paulo Pizzaro in Toledo where they witness the inquisition in work and where she saves Pizzaro’s life and he becomes her page, or the building of a pyramid in the Louvre! Of the Mexicans landing on the Normandy beaches on the 6th June!

If you can read this in French then go out of your way to get it, if not then queue up for the inevitable English translation.

First Published in French as “Civilizations” in 2019 by Grasset
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Le spectacle intrigue les Quinétiens. Atahualpa lui-mème, connu et admiré pour sa capacité à ne jamais se départir de son calme impérial, y compris devant les choses et les situations les plus surprenantes, ne put dissimuler une légère expression de curiosité.
Au centre de la place, comme enfermés dans une cage, se tenaient des hommes et des femmes coiffés d’un bonnet pointu et vêtu d’une robe, tantôt jaune tantôt noire, sur laquelle étaient peintes des croix rouges et des flammes. Sur les robes jaunes, les flammes étaient tournées vers le bas. Certains avaient des cordes à nœuds passés autour du cou. Tous tenaient à la main une longue bougie éteinte. Posés à côté d’eux, des coffres noirs et des poupées de taille humaine….
Les sacrifices humaines n’étaient pas étrangers aux Incas. Pourtant nous savons qu’Atahualpa, même s’il n’en voulut rien laisser paraître, fut choqué par le spectacle des corps qui se tordaient en se consumant, et par les cris des suppliciés.

La petite colonie s’installa dans la voisinage du village Skraeling et non contents de cohabiter sans incidents, les deux groupes s’entraidèrent. Les Groenlandais enseignèrent aux Skraelings à chercher du fer dans la tourbe et à le travailler pour en faire des haches, des lances ou des pointes de flèche…
Or il arriva que les Skraelings tombèrent malades

Sandro Veronesi ‘Terres Rares’

–Today’s news is the prawn warning. It’s in all the papers, and not only in the local pages for Rome. Killer prawns from Louisiana.IMG_1119 There is a worrying tone to the articles because this particular strain, imported from Louisiana about fifteen years ago by a farmer from lake Bracciano, has flourished in the whole of Latium thanks, if would seem, to its exceptional reproductive ability. From ditch to ditch, from irrigation channel to irrigation channel they have advanced to the Malagrotta waste dumps and from there, once again according to the press, last night they launched their assault on Rome by crossing the Via Aurelia at the thirteen kilometer marker.***

Pietro Paladini, the main protagonist from Veronesi’s previous book Quiet Chaos, who lived in Milan and which concerned a reaction to the sudden loss of his common-law wife Lara, finds himself several years later in a seemingly stable situation living and working in Rome. As with the opening quote, where there is in fact a rational explication, to the irrational newspaper article, all is not as it seems, there are indications waiting to be read of the instability of his situation. Firstly he has a steady relationship with a woman of his age, D, but keeps his life with her separate from his life with his daughter: 

–Nevertheless, whilst I feel a tenderness towards her, hold her in high esteem,  feel a need to protect her, share a complicity, respect, besides a physical attraction that can’t be ignored, all of these indications have never converged to a shining cohesive whole. I don’t believe that I love her, you see, at least not in the traditional sense of the word and I do not think that she loves me.***

Pietro works with an old school friend of his, Lello, whose company repossesses luxury cars which Pietro then sells. Suddenly one day Pietro’s life falls to pieces, all is not as it seems, when, as for the first time, he is asked to recover a car from a young starlet who escapes from him at high speed and as he pursues her, his world begins to unravel. He is stopped by the traffic police for speeding and is found to be over the limit, in quick succession he loses his driving license and his telephone, his daughter leaves home, D leaves him and Lello disappears as the fraud squad take over the company’s offices.

Pietro then decides to disappear and is slowly forced to review the whole of his life beginning even before the death of Lara, his relationship with his wealthy father who ran off to live in Switzerland with the nurse he had hired to care for Pietro’s mother in her final illness, with his daughter who has not fully come to terms with her mother’s death, with Lello who had used him without his knowledge as a respectable front for his criminal business, even up to his own represssed love for another woman and as he is eventually forced to understand:

–Humility is being humble with those that humiliate us.***

This story is full of anecdotes linked to the previous book, it can be read independently but is better read after the Strega Prize winning Quiet Chaos.

First Published in Italian as “Terre Rare” in 2015 by Bompiani
Translated into French by Dominique Vittoz and published as ‘Terres Rares” in 2016 by  Grasset
*** My Translation

Laurent Binet ‘La Septième Fonction du Langage’

-In the beginning, philosophy and science worked hand in hand together up until the 18th Century, in order more or less to counter the church’s  obscurantism….then from the 19th Century…continental philosophy….became more esoteric, more and more free style, more and more spiritualist.image
-Whilst the English and the Americans remained faithful to a more scientific idea of philosophy, what we call Analytical Philosophy.***

Earlier in the year I took one for the team when I read Blanco Calderon’s ‘The Night’  a crime story with more than just a background in linguistic theory and the different theorists in South America and in the world. Well in spite of the wonderful write-ups I have seen, the nightmare is back, a crime novel with more than just a background in linguistic theory where the two main protagonists, Simon Herzog and Pierre Bayard probably the only fictitious characters in the book become mixed up in a farcical search for a document describing the 7th function of language (don’t worry the other six are explained), an understanding of which would permit the person who masters it to manipulate his audience, and for which the French semiotic philosopher, Raymond Barthes, has been killed.

I could not work up an interest to care about who were, and what were the relationships between Foucault, Sollers, Kristeva, Sartre, Derrida, Cixous,Todorov, Althusser, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari, Debray, Roman Jackobson, Umberto Eco, Chomsky, J-Kahn,  Jack Lang, Laurent Fabius, Serge Moati, Régis Debray, Mitterrand and Giscard and thus to understand or care about the satire concerning them. As I put it When I read the Blanco Calderón:

-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.

I would add that if you are particularly interested and versed in the 1970’s Paris Philosophy microcosm you may enjoy this book.

The story beginning in Paris, takes in spies killing with poisoned umbrellas, Bologne and the characters are there for the explosion destroying the main railway station as the characters flit around the world to offer historical situations and people for the purpose of the author’s satire.

I should point out here that this review goes against the opinions of most, or even all, of the other write-ups I’ve seen.

First published in French as ‘La Septième Fonction du Langage’ by Grasset in 2015
Translated into English by Sam Taylor  and published as ‘The Seventh Function of Language’ by Harvill Secker in 2017

*** My translation

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

Karine Tuil ‘Six Mois, Six Jours’

After 40 years of loyal service to the Kant family, their butler, Karl Fritz, is dismissed and decides to lift the lid on the Kant family secrets.image This book is then ostensibly born of a discussion between Fritz and a journalist.

This book is from my 2016 French lit targets

What is the relationship between the story teller and the story? Pretty quickly the reader becomes aware of the coldblooded obnoxiousness of Fritz, as he says whilst describing himself and his role:

‘Kant, at the time, was the director of BATKA, a company specialising in the manufacture of batteries and electrical … I was there as an advisor for a French industrialist who was fond of children and who had arranged to be payed, 4000 DM as well as a child younger than 15, for his presence. Does that shock you? Oh that’s not all I’ve seen during all those years with the Kant’s! Believe me, the Germans too know a bit about……’***

Fritz initially leads us into what appears at first impressions to be a relatively banal story of a powerful person being weakened up to losing their social position through attraction, both physical and emotionally, to a stranger, a sordid case of blackmail, the couple meeting in anonymous hotels where their sexual feats were secretly filmed. Or was this more complicated? Was there another reason behind this attack on the Billionaire German industrial leader of this old family business, Juliana Kant? And what do we the readers think of this story? As Fritz says:

‘It seems ridiculous to you doesn’t it? That a forty five year old married woman, mother of three children, having been awarded the ‘Federal Cross of Merit’, a woman with a fortune worth several billion euros famous not just in Germany, that such an image of female perfection should blow apart the cocoon in which she had lived for so many years for a story of sex, you have trouble believing it, you feel revulsion even….’***

So how does this end? Juliana Kant will not be blackmailed, reports her blackmailer to the police who is arrested, she is ready to accept the press onslaught and then all is over? No! Although some nuance remains, the blackmailer had another agenda, who is the Kant family and where does their wealth come from? Fritz once again:

‘You know the saying, every great fortune is built on a great crime?’***

Karine Tuile takes us back to the origin of this wealth in Nazi Germany with Juliana’s grandfather, Magda Goebbels’ first husband, and then it’s continuity after the war.

‘At the end of the war,  BATKA had large quantities of   Raw materials  and A great number of machines in working order…….. From the 22 mai 1945, the British authorised the factory to start back up its production . The company registered a turn over of more than a million Reichsmarks.’

The title of the book is the subject of a formidable  vengeance at the heart of the story. Is this just another story spun out of the war in Europe and the post war guilt or lack of it? No because this book is based loosely on the true story of  Susanne Klatten the heiress of the Altana and part of the BMW empires who to remain incognito, sometimes called herself Kant. And although her company is known to have used slave labour during the war, no apology has ever been made nor compensation ever payed.

First published in French as Six Mois et Six Jours by Grasset in 2010
*** My translation

Sorj Chalandon ‘Le Quatrième Mur’

What a subject matter for an epic film! Sorj Chalandon’s latest book ‘The Fourth Wall’ has yet to be translated into English, and thanks to matrenaud for insisting I read this book. image I had met Sorj Chalandon 2 or 3 years ago at the Paris book fair and read his 2011 book, ‘Return to Killybegs’ about an IRA traitor during the troubles, based on a true experience of Chalandon’s, a war reporter who had himself been confronted with the situation of discovering an IRA friend who had been a traitor for twenty years, already a strong story. image His latest book The Fourth Wall concerns another conflict he covered in the early 80’s, the war in Lebanon. Here was a complex civil war I did not really understand at the time, there were so many sides involved and so much killing that I just could not relate to it back then. This compulsive, thoughtful, yet page turning book written to present the different sides in this conflict, the tragedy of civil war -today’s victim becomes so easily tomorrow’s slaughterer- the senselessness of the violence whilst not judging the protagonists, caught my interest from start to end and left me better understanding this particular conflict. The story follows in a more or less linear manner a French student called George through the tumultuous 70’s in Paris taking in his friendship with a Greek exile who had been weakened by torture and who finishes by persuading Geourge to stage Antigone by Jean Anouilh in Beirut during the civil war, taking one character from each of the sides engaged in the war. In a few brush strokes we grow attached to the characters he paints and feel pain as the events unfold. A formidable story indeed!

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Le Quatrième Mur: First published in France by Grasset in 2013