Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

June 17, 2018 11 comments

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf. (1994) French title: Je me souviens de Babylone.

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf is set in Queensland, Australia in the early days of the European settlements in this territory.

When the book opens, three children, Janet and Meg McIvor and Lachlan Beattie meet with Gemmy when they are playing in the fields. Sixteen years before, when he [Gemmy] was not much older than Lachlan Beattie, he had been cast overboard from a passing ship and had been living since in the scrub country to the north with blacks. The children are afraid of him but recognize a bit of English in his words and bring him back to their parents.

Gemmy’s arrival disturbed two communities. Sixteen years ago, the Aborigines didn’t know what to make of him but took him in and he learnt to live among them. He learnt the language, the customs and managed to fit in. He became part of their history.

In time his coming among them became another tale they told and he would listen to it with a kind of wonder, as if what they were recounting had happened ages ago, in a time beyond all memory, and to someone else. How, when they found him he had still been half-child, half-seacalf, his hair swarming with spirits in the shape of tiny phosphorescent crabs, his mouth stopped with coral; how, ash-pale and ghostly in his little white shirt, that long ago had rotted like a caul, he had risen up in the firelight and danced, and changed before their eyes from a sea-creature into a skinny human child.

At the time the book is set, his arrival disturbs the settlers. They don’t know don’t know how to place him. Bad enough if he was what he appeared to be, a poor savage, but if he was a white man it was horrible. And the nagging question is “Is he still white or has be become black by living with the natives?”. In their mind, being white has value in itself and losing your whiteness is losing your humanity. Gemmy’s condition is puzzling:

He had started out white. No question. When he fell in with the blacks – at thirteen, was it? – he had been like any other child, one of their own for instance. (That was hard to swallow.) But had he remained white?

The underlying question is: is he one of us? Can we welcome him in the community? Can we trust him? For them, you cannot be in-between. Either you’re white and with them and have no contact with the blacks, either you’re black and keep away from the settlers. Gemmy has almost forgotten his native language, which doesn’t help the communication with the settlers. The loss of the English language is also a source of distress for them:

Could you lose it? Not just language, but it. It. For the fact was, when you looked at him sometimes he was not white. His skin might be but not his features. The whole cast of his face gave him the look of one of Them. How was that, then?

All this questioning helps today’s reader to enter into the settler’s mindset. They were mostly ignorant and didn’t have the capacity to see the whole picture or even beyond their everyday life. Whiteness is valuable, a thing to hold on to, an identity. It reminded me of Toni Morrison’s take on otherness in The Origin of Others and how she explains that white non-wasp immigrants relied on the colour of their skin to fit in the American society.

The settlers in Australia see their self-worth validated by the colour of their skin and it also justifies their presence in this land. They are part of the European mindset of the time that thought that colonizing countries was bringing light and civilization to the locals.

It doesn’t occur to them that the Aborigines have their own culture and that it’s as worthy as theirs. Gemmy can speak the language of the Aboriginal community that took him in. The settlers see this as suspicious, not as a chance to have a middleman between them and the Aborigines. They don’t think that they have something to learn from them or that coexistence or cooperation is possible. The colour of their skin is different, cooperation is not a possibility. They could learn from Gemmy…

And in fact a good deal of what they were after he could not have told, even if he had wanted to, for the simple reason that there were no words for it in their tongue; yet when, as sometimes happened, he fell back on the native word, the only one that could express it, their eyes went hard, as if the mere existence of a language they did not know was a provocation, a way of making them helpless.

…but they refuse to acknowledge the Aboriginal civilization, its value and its knowledge of the land. It would mean that they were equals and that’s not even a possibility.

They had secretly, some of them, a vision of plantations with black figures moving in rows down a field, a compound with neat whitewashed huts, a hallway, all polished wood, with an old grey-haired black saying ‘Yessir’, and preparing to pull off their boots (all this off in the future of course, maybe far off; for the moment they would not mention the boots since most of them did not have any).

Black skin is associated with slavery, with being inferior to white skin. It’s deeply rooted in their heads through their upbringing. Jock McIvor and his family take Gemmy in when he joins the settlement. Jock is able to see beyond Gemmy’s appearance. He doesn’t phrase it that way but he sees a human being before everything else. This state of mind will set him apart from the other farmers and will cause him trouble.

Malouf tries to show the settlers’ point of view with objectivity. Their existence in Queensland is uncertain. The settlement is not even a village.

Apart from their scattered holdings, the largest of which was forty acres, there was nothing to the settlement but a store and post office of unpainted weatherboard, with a verandah and a dog in front of it that was permanently asleep but if kicked would shift itself, walk five steps, then flop. Opposite the store was a corrugated iron shack, a shanty-pub, unlicensed as yet, with hitching posts and a hollowed log that served as a trough.

It’s far from what they knew in Europe. They left everything behind to take a chance in a foreign land, a place they knew nothing about. They came with nothing but tools and willpower. Malouf reminds us how hard it was for them.

You had to learn all over again how to deal with weather: drenching downpours when in moments all the topsoil you had exposed went liquid and all the dry little creek-beds in the vicinity ran wild; cyclones that could wrench whole trees up by their roots and send a shed too lightly anchored sailing clear through the air with all its corrugated iron sheets collapsing inward and slicing and singing in the wind. And all around, before and behind, worse than weather and the deepest night, natives, tribes of wandering myalls who, in their traipsing this way and that all over the map, were forever encroaching on boundaries that could be insisted on by daylight – a good shotgun saw to that – but in the dark hours, when you no longer stood there as a living marker with all the glow of the white man’s authority about you, reverted to being a creek-bed or ridge of granite like any other, and gave no indication that six hundred miles away, in the Lands Office in Brisbane, this bit of country had a name set against it on a numbered document, and a line drawn that was empowered with all the authority of the Law.

It doesn’t occur to them that they are stealing the natives’ land. They feel entitled to it. The idea that the sense of property is different for the Aborigines is totally foreign to them just as it was to the settlers in America when they took land from the Indians. We tend to forget how ignorant the settlers were.

I liked Remembering Babylon for the open questioning of the colonization of Australia. It reminds us how easy to judge when we look back on it with our modern eyes. It was wrong and the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples is a good thing. Beyond the colonization issue, Remembering Babylon addresses the issue of “otherness” that leads to racism. How does the colour of my skin affects my membership to the national community?

I admired Remembering Babylon for this and for the precise and poetic style of Malouf’s writing. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because Malouf’s style was difficult for me. I also wished he had sticked to a unique thread of plot, the one exploring the effect of Gemmy’s presence in the community. I don’t think it was useful to tell about Gemmy’s past in Europe or about Janet’s interest in bees.

I would like to know how other readers felt about it, so feel free to comment. I’ll add that the covers of the book are tremendous and perfectly fit its content.

As a conclusion, I’ll leave you with this quote, which echoes with the discussion about agriculture that I had with Bill from The Australian Legend on my billet about There Will Be Dust by Sandrine Collette.

We have been wrong to see this continent as hostile and infelicitous, so that only by the fiercest stoicism, a supreme resolution and force of will, and by felling, clearing, sowing with the seeds we have brought with us, and by importing sheep, cattle, rabbits, even the very birds of the air, can it be shaped and made habitable. It is habitable already.

Novella book recommendations : the list

June 10, 2018 23 comments

Sorry it took me almost a month to compile the list of novella recommendations I gathered after my billet asking for reading ideas.

I listed all the book titles left in the comments and also the list of novellas from Mrs Bibi Lophile’s A Novella a Day In May. Lisa from ANZ LitLovers has a list of novellas on her blog. (See here) Jonathan Gibbs from Tiny Camels also had novella reading challenge, see here. I’m sure there are other blogs with challenges like this or lists of novellas but these are the ones I’m aware of.

Thanks a lot for responding to my post.

Now apart from Lisa’s and Jonathan’s list, let’s see what I gathered:

# French title English title Author Country # pages
1 La partie de cartes The Game of Cards Adolf Schröder Germany 178
2 Non traduit Such Small Hands Andres Barbas Spain 112
3 Parler seul Talking to Ourselves Andrés Neuman Argentina 168
4 La steppe. Histoire d’un voyage The Steppe Anton Chekhov Russia 160
5 Pereira prétend Pereira Maintains Antonio Tabucchi Italy 213
6 Nocturne indien Indian Nocturne Antonio Tabucchi Italy 126
7 Un bref mariage The Story of a Brief Marriage Anuk Arudpragasam Sri Lanka 208
8 Non traduit Our Spoons Came From Woolworth Barbara Comyns UK
9 Les boutiques de cannelle The Street of Crocodiles Bruno Schulz Poland 208
10 Djamilia Jamilia Chingiz Aitmatov Russia 96
11 Un homme au singulier A Single Man Christopher Isherwood UK 175
12 Le blé en herbe The Ripening Seed Colette France
13 Les aventures de Kornél Esti Kornél Esti Dezső Kosztolányi Hungary 154
14 Non traduit Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill Dimitri Verhulst Belgium 160
15 Non traduit Mirror, Shoulder, Signal Dorothy Nors Denmark 188
16 Psaumes balbutiés. Livre d’heures de ma mère Stammered Songbook : A Mother’s Book of Hours Erwin Mortier Belgium 192
17 Le brigand bien-aimé The Robber Bridgegroom Eudora Welty USA 144
18 L’oncle Daniel le généreux The Ponder Heart Eudora Welty USA 132
19 La troisième Miss Symons The Third Miss Symons FM Mayor UK 127
20 Le dimanche des mères Mothering Sunday Graham Swift UK 141
21 Les années douces Strange Weather in Tokyo Hiromi Kawakami Japan 283
22 Contes hassidiques Not available in English I.L. Peretz Poland 171
23 Sur la plage de Chesil On Chesil Beach Ian McEwan UK 183
24 Un Bonheur de Rencontre The Comfort of Strangers Ian McEwan UK 217
25 Non traduit After Claude Iris Owens USA 232
26 Le restaurant de l’amour retrouvé The Restaurant of Love Regained Ito Ogawa Japan 224
27 Premier amour et autres histoires First Love Ivan Turgenev Russia
28 Non traduit After Leaving Mr Mackenzie Jean Rhys UK
29 Voyage dans les ténèbres Voyage in the Dark Jean Rhys UK 207
30 Quartet Quartet Jean Rhys UK 144
31 Non traduit We who are about to… Joanna Russ USA 144
32 La maison muette The Dumb House John Burnside UK 208
33 Hôtel Savoy Hotel Savoy Josef Roth Austria 188
34 Si nous vivions dans un endroit normal Quesadillas Juan Pablo Villalobos Mexico 192
35 La compagnie des Tripolitaines Under the Tripoli Sun Kamel Ben Hameda Lybia 108
36 Comédie en mode mineur Comedy in a Minor Key Keilson Germany 227
37 Code barre Not available in English Krisztina Tóth Hungary 208
38 La mer couleur de vin The Wine-dark Sea Leonardo Sciascia Italy 210
39 Un regard de sang Seeing Red Lina Meruane Chile 224
40 Non traduit Birds of America Lorrie Moore USA 291
41 La femme de Gilles La Femme de Gilles Madeleine Bourdouxhe Belgium 154
42 L’Odyssée de Pénélope The Penelopiad Margaret Atwood Canada 159
43 Ours Bear Marian Engel Canada 141
44 La douleur porte un costume de plumes Grief is the Thing With Feathers Max Porter UK 114
45 La Solution finale The Final Solution Michael Chabon USA 105
46 Demoiselles aux moyens modestes The Girls of Slender Means Muriel Sparks UK 170
47 L’empreinte de l’ange The Mark of an Angel Nancy Huston Canada 328
48 La poursuite de l’amour The Pursuit of Love Nancy Mitford UK 253
49 Non traduit Up the Junction Nell Dunn UK 133
50 La couleur du lait The Colour of Milk Nell Leyshon UK 186
51 Clair-obscur Passing Nella Larsen USA 122
52 Non traduit Devil by the Sea Nina Bawden UK 175
53 Falaises Cliffs Olivier Adam France 206
54 La Théorie du panda The Panda Theory Pascal Garnier France 176
55 L’affaire Lolita The Bookshop Penelope Fitzgerald UK 188
56 Le mangeur de citrouille The Pumpkin Eater Penelope Mortimer UK 184
57 Non traduit The Murder of Halland Pia Juul Denmark 167
58 Non traduit The Disappearance of Signora Giulia Piero Chiara Italy 128
59 Le retour du soldat The Return of the Soldier Rebecca West. UK 112
60 Non traduit Two Pints Roddy Doyle UK 85
61 Le son de ma voix The Sound of My Voice Ron Butlin UK 122
62 Les braises Ashes Sándor Márai Hungary 219
63 L’héritage d’Esther Esther’s Inheritance Sándor Márai Hungary 156
64 Piège pour Cendrillon Trap for Cinderella Sebastien Japrisot France 240
65 Non traduit Stuck Like Lint Shefali Tripathi Mehta India 156
66 Nous avons toujours vécu au château We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson USA 234
67 Le garçon qui n’existait pas Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was Sjón Iceland 150
68 La cote 400 The Library of Unrequited Love Sophie Divry France 94
69 Lettre d’une inconnue Letter from an Unknown Woman Stefan Zweig Austria 138
70 Le voyage dans le passé Journey into the Past Stefan Zweig Austria 177
71 Le chat qui venait du ciel The Guest Cat Takashi Hiraide Japan 130
72 La sonate à Kreutzer The Kreutzer Sonata Tolstoy Russia 122
73 Au commencement était la mer In the Beginning was the Sea Tomás González Colombia 221
74 La passe dangereuse The Painted Veil W. Somerset Maugham UK 182
75 Le pont d’Alexandre Alexander’s Bridge Willa Cather USA 176
76 Une dame perdue A Lost Lady Willa Cather USA 190
77 Non traduit They Came Like Swallows William Maxwell USA 140
78 En lisant Tourgeniev Reading Turgeniev William Trevor UK 236
79 Ma Maison en Ombrie My House in Umbria William Trevor UK 188
80 La piscine The Diving Pool Yoko Ogawa Japan 71
81 La formule préférée du professeur The Housekeeper and the Professor Yoko Ogawa Japan 244

I’m sure anyone can find some reading bliss among all these books. The numbers in blue correspond to books I’ve already read. As you can see, I have a lot to explore.

Enjoy! And let me know if you read any of these.

PS: There’s also the Novella tag at Whispering Gums.

And I was so focused on other people’s recommendations that I forgot two of my own: The Poor Man’s Son by Mouloud Feraoun and The Anarchist Banker by Fernando Pessoa.

There Will Be Dust by Sandrine Collette

June 4, 2018 10 comments

There Will Be Dust by Sandrine Collette (2016) Original French title: Il reste la poussière. Not available in English.

La vie n’attend pas qu’on ait envie d’y mettre les mains. Life doesn’t wait for you to be ready to put your hands in it.

In There Will Be Dust by Sandrine Collette, we are on a small farm in Patagonia at the beginning of the 20th century. Rafael is the youngest of four boys and has always been bullied by his brothers. Their father disappeared one day, never came back and the mother runs the farm with an iron fist.

Her sons are working slaves not better treated than mules and horses. She knows her older sons mistreat their little brother but she doesn’t care. They’re like a pack of dogs, she feeds them, lets them live under her roof but lets the pack find their own leader. She doesn’t give them any affection and Rafael finds solace in his horse and his dog.

Their life is tough, their farm is isolated and only the oldest sons, the twins Joaquin and Mauro are allowed to go to the nearest town with their Ma. The third son, Steban, doesn’t speak and tries to remain neutral between the twins and Rafael.

It’s a hard book to sum up because a lot of it is spend in everyday life and peering into the brothers’ minds. I felt closer to Rafael but also sorry for the others, to live in such dreadful conditions with such a hard mother. Their world is changing fast, there’s less and less room for small farms and they always struggle with money. One event will change their life but I can’t tell more without spoilers.

There Will Be Dust is a very atmospheric novel. It has an incredible sense of place. Sandrine Collette has a style that talks to all your senses. You can imagine the wind, the sun, the rush of riding a horse, the smell of the country. Her descriptions of sheep farming and sheep shearing ring true. She writes about the noise, the smell, the behavior of the sheep.

She takes you to this hard world, into this desperate family of hard working farmers. There’s a lot of violence in their life and Rafael seems to be their only hope for a different vision of life. But how to escape the yoke their mother put on their necks? How will they have a chance to life in a different light and let warmth seep into their interactions instead of the coldness ingrained by their heartless mother?

Their mother is like a dark spider, controlling everything and everyone. She’s a witch with economical and emotional power that she uses freely. Rafael’s natural temper is different and he’s incredibly resilient. His brothers and mother bully him and it should make him change. But he remains softhearted and hopeful and trusting in human nature. He’s their gift, his brothers’ chance at breaking their mother’s spell on them.

It’s an extremely powerful read. It’s a bleak family story in an unforgiving environment. In a way, it belongs to the same family as The Hands by Stephen Orr. Translation Tragedy

Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss – Being choc-lit is not enough

June 3, 2018 25 comments

Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss (2007) French title: Je n’ai pas (encore) rencontré l’homme ideal. Translated by Viriginie Lochou.

I first heard of Aboriginal writer Anita Heiss on Lisa’s blog when she reviewed Barbed Wires and Cherry Blossoms, a book I decided to read. Unfortunately, it’s not available on my kindle store but Not Meeting Mr Right was. I knew it was chick lit and remembered Lisa’s introduction of Anita Heiss as a chick lit writer. Here’s what she wrote:

Heiss writes what she calls choc-lit with a purpose: writing to engage non-Indigenous Australians with light-hearted novels about people ‘just like herself’, modern independent women who have or want to have great careers, women who network within great friendships, women who fall in and out of love, and women who face challenges and have their share of loss, failure or success.

I enjoyed following Bridget Jones’s ups and downs, so I thought I should try choc-lit from down under.

This is how I started with Alice Aigner and her group of friends Dannie, Peta and Liza. Alice is 28 of Koori and European descent. She’s a history teacher at a Catholic school in Sydney. She lives in Coogee and she’s single. She was happily single until she had a change of heart at a friend’s engagement party. She decides she’ll be married when she turns thirty and embarks on a dating journey that more like the trail of hell than an unwinding promenade along the beach.

I should have known what to expect, really, but I was still hopeful that it would be more choc than chick and boy, how disappointed I was. The only redeeming part of this book for this reader is the learning of Australian colloquial words like postie, arvo or sickie . I discovered what French knickers are – I wasn’t aware that we had specific ones, mind you – or that people might throw some roo in the wok. I’d never heard of kitchen teas and didn’t know that Western Sydney has the highest population of urban Aboriginal people in the country.

Some thoughts about interactions between whites and Aborigines were thrown here and there because Alice being a Koori is sometimes an issue. It was mildly interesting.

For the rest. Yuck. At least Bridget Jones Diary had the workplace part that was hilarious. Here we only have the dating drama and drinking. I kept reading because I hoped developments on the place of Aborigines in Sydney and I started to see the language angle and how educational it could be. But Alice, wow, no wonder she’s single. What a piece of work she is, always finding her dates lacking and never questioning herself. Here she is after another unhappy love affair, throwing an internal tantrum:

I concluded that all men were basically emotional cripples or completely illogical or both. Even though they didn’t think like we did, they could at least be considerate enough to think like each other, so that there was some consistency to their irrational behaviour.

Right. She makes a big deal out of every outing and spends hours waxing, relaxing, doing her nails, her hair, her makeup. You’d think she was competing in the Olympic Dating Games. She wants everything and its opposite. No sex on the first date but enough tension to feel it could be a possibility. Romantic outings are requested but also being ready for family diners. She dissects everything:

He had invited me to dinner on a Friday night, too – it was a very positive sign. A lunch invitation is good, but a dinner invitation is much better. Dinner means a serious invite. A date on a Friday is a really serious date, much more serious than dinner on a Tuesday or Wednesday. He didn’t say Thursday, because it’s payday – not like Simple Simon. Yes, it was certainly looking good.

Does she think that men want to be studied like bugs?

I’ve been married for a long time now but I kept wondering if there are actual Alices in this world or if they are just a stereotype for chick lit. I have no idea of what the dating scene is like nowadays, so I’ll make assumptions.

If single women are like Alice, I truly understand why men run for the hills and want to stay far, far away from them. These ladies are scary. If these ladies exist, I’ll recommend them to try being low maintenance without being a doormat and that should do the trick for coupledom.

If these characters don’t exist in real life and are only chick lit books creatures, then my question is more about the impact of these characters on teenagers and young adults. Do they read them as an indulgence with the appropriate suspension of belief or do they imagine that the real world is like that? I don’t have the answer to this question.

I can’t say I enjoyed Not Meeting Mr Right as a book but I still got something out of it, if only the Australian spoken language vibe. I still want to read Barbed Wires and Cherry Blossoms though. Hopefully I’ll manage to buy it during the summer. I’m not good at reading non-fiction otherwise I’d try one of Heiss’s essays.

PS: I was really surprised to find out that Not Meeting Mr Right has been translated into French. It seems unfair that this one is available to the French public but not That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott. *sigh*

One of my favorite writers has died. R.I.P Philip Roth You will be missed

May 23, 2018 16 comments

Early in the morning, with eyes still full of sleep I heard the news: Philip Roth has made his exit. That day started with this gloomy news and the comforting thought that it was important enough to make the headlines, have a special guest invited to talk about his books and to remind us that he was “the greatest author of contemporary American literature”. Not everything has been sold to economy, politics and marketing. Literature still makes the headlines. What a relief. Hopefully, there will be a special edition of La Grande Librairie and it could make me switch on the TV for the first time in several years.

I hate the idea that he’s dead, that he will no longer write or give interviews.

I love Philip Roth for his Jewish sense of humor. (I probably have thing for that brand of humor if I consider my love for Woody Allen’s films and all things Romain Gary) I love that he takes his readers seriously and asks us to think even if he also entertains us. I love his lucidity, his precise vision of the American society and the Western world in general. I love that he was not politically correct. I love his twisted mind, his as-if mind, his scrutiny of our ant lives. I love his endless observation of the human nature. I love that he tackled all kinds of political topics while telling the story of an individual.

He will be missed. How sad that he won’t write another book. We have to do with the ones that already exist, now.

I only have read The Plot Against America, The Breast, Portnoy’s Complaint, I Married a Communist, Exit Ghost and The Human Stain. All stayed with me, I can talk about them now contrary to other novels whose plot and characters are long forgotten.

Everyone should read The Plot Against America these days. Under the Trump presidency and what’s happening in Europe, I think I’d see it differently than before. Embracing extreme right thoughts and electing their leaders seemed fictional when I read it, but now, not so much.

I didn’t like The Breast much. It has a Kafkian ring and, while I admire Kafka a lot, he’s not a writer I truly enjoy.

I read Portnoy’s Complaint in English. Imagine how educational it was for a French reader. It enlarged my vocabulary in an unexpected (and useless) way. But it was a lot of fun.

I Married A Communist made me think a lot, so much that I wrote three billets about it. (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Exit Ghost is a stunning novel about old age in all its crudity and glory and thought about an artist’s legacy.

The Human Stain was my first Roth and pre-blog. I was blown away by it. His style, his depiction of America and the hypocrisy of the academic world. It opened my eyes about the concept of having black blood in America, something totally foreign to me.

My next one will be American Pastoral, it’s been on my mind since the last Roth I read. But I need quality time to read him because it’s a challenge for me to read him in English. It would be too frustrating to read him in French now. Let’s be positive, I still have more than twenty books by him to read and that’s a comforting thought.

I’ll end this billet by a repeat of a previous one, Politics, literature, Philip Roth…and Me which was only a quote from I Married A Communist.

“Politics is the great generalizer,” Leo told me, “and literature the great particularizer, and not only are they in a inverse relationship to each other –they are in an antagonistic relationship. To politics, literature is decadent, soft, irrelevant, boring, wrongheaded, dull, something that makes no sense and that really oughtn’t be. Why? Because the particularizing impulse is literature. How can you be an artist and renounce the nuance? But how can you be a politician and allow the nuance? As an artist, the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, à la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, to imply the contradiction. Not to erase the contradiction, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow for the chaos, to let it in. You must let it in. Otherwise you produce propaganda, if not for a political party, a political movement, then stupid propaganda for life itself –for life as it might itself prefer to be publicized. During the first five, six years of the Russian Revolution the revolutionaries cried, ‘Free love, there will be free love!’ But once they were in power, they couldn’t permit it. Because what is free love? Chaos. And they didn’t want chaos,. That isn’t why they made their glorious revolution. They wanted something carefully disciplined, organized, contained, predictable scientifically, if possible. Free love disturbs the organization, their social and political and cultural machine. Art also disturbs the organization. Literature disturbs the organization. Not because it is blatantly for or against, or even subtly for or against. It disturbs the organization because it is not general. The intrinsic nature of the particular is to be particular, and the intrinsic nature of particularity is to fail to conform. Generalizing suffering: there is Communism. Particularizing suffering: there is literature. In that polarity is the antagonism. Keeping the particular alive in a simplifying, generalizing world –that’s where the battle is joined. You do not have to write to legitimize Communism, and you do not have to write to legitimize capitalism. You are out of both. If you are a writer, you are as unallied to the one as you are to the other. Yes, you see differences, and of course you see that this shit is a little better than that shit, or that that shit is a little better than that shit. Maybe much better. But you see the shit. You are not a government clerk. You are not a militant. You are not a believer. You are someone who deals in a very different way with the world and what happens in the world. The militant introduces a faith, a big relief that will change the world and the artist introduces a product that has no place in that world. It’s useless. The artist, the serious writer, introduces into the world something that wasn’t there even at the start. When God made all this stuff in seven days, the birds, the rivers, the human beings, he didn’t have ten minutes for literature. ‘And then there will be literature. Some people will like it, some people will be obsessed by it, want to do it…’ No. No. He did not say that. If you had asked God then, ‘There will be plumbers?’ ‘Yes, there will be. Because they will have houses, they will need plumbers.’ ‘There will be doctors?’ ‘Yes. Because they will get sick, they will need doctors to give them some pills.’ ‘And literature?’ ‘Literature? What are you talking about? What use does it have? Where does it fit in? Please, I am creating a universe, not a university. No literature.’”

Yes, literature is useless but indispensable therefore it is beauty. Philip Roth will be missed. QED.

Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson

May 21, 2018 11 comments

Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson (2007) French title: L’indien blanc, translated by Sophie Aslanides.

Kindness Goes Unpunished is the third volume of the Longmire crime fiction series by Craig Johnson. (See my billets about The Cold Dish and Death Without Company  Longmire is the sheriff of the fictional Absaroka country in Wyoming. When the book opens Longmire is driving to Philadelphia to accompany his best friend Henry Standing Bear (The Bear) who is hosting an exhibition about Indian Art at the city museum. Longmire’s daughter Cady works at a law firm in Philly and she wants her father to meet with her boyfriend, something Longmire dreads a little bit. Philadelphia is also the hometown of Vic Moretti, Longmire’s second in command in the sheriff’s office in Wyoming. Her father and brothers work for the PPD. With three good reasons to visit Philadelphia, Longmire leaves his beloved Absaroka county for a trip to the city.

When Longmire and The Bear arrive in Philadelphia, Cady isn’t there to welcome them. She has been assaulted and is in a coma. Worried sick about her, Longmire starts digging to understand what happened to his only child. After all, he must occupy the time between painful visits to the hospital. This terrible event turns into an opportunity to meet Vic’s family, her mother as a support system and her father and brothers as policemen.

When Cady’s boyfriend Devon is murdered a few days after she was assaulted, it is clear that the attack against her wasn’t random and that Devon was involved in shady businesses. This is how our country sheriff gets sucked into a dangerous investigation about drug trafficking while getting to know Vic’s family.

What can I say? This series is good. The plot held my attention. The criminal investigation was interesting. With all the walks and rides in Philadelphia, it makes you want to visit the city and see the places for yourself. The characters are flowed and likeable. Their interactions are subtle. Craig Johnson explores their feelings with a light painter’s touch, drawing their inner thoughts and struggles, slowly building up relationships, the way they do in real life with daily small interactions.

The change of setting was a good idea, a way to build a bridge between Wyoming and Philadelphia, where Vic’s and Longmire’s families live. The personal lives of the characters move forward but without too many details, which still makes it possible to read this book without reading the previous ones. I like that there’s always something about Native Americans in his books. Here, far from Wyoming, they are present through The Bear’s exhibition, Cady’s work as a lawyer and a character from the criminal plot.

Craig Johnson’s writing is warm like Louise Penny’s, if you’ve ever read the Armand Gamache series. Both managed to create a set of characters the reader is happy to hear about and see how they are doing since the previous book. I’m slowly reading this series and I have three unread ones on the shelf, a comforting sight for future comfort reads.

Book recommendations needed : novellas and short stories

May 13, 2018 34 comments

Back in January, I wrote a post about finding time to read thanks to novellas.

I had compiled two lists of novellas for overbooked friends who were willing to read more or find again time and pleasure in reading. Short books are quickly read and can be good companions for a work trip from Lyon to Paris. (2 hours one way with the TGV)

Well, great news! I’ve been asked for more books like this and I need a little help from my bookish friends.

I’m looking for ideas to draft this new list. I’m thankful for Madame Bibi Lophile’s project a Novella a Day in May. She reviews one novella per day during the whole month and I’ve been writing down the list of the books she reviews. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t available in French. There are great finds there, so have a look at her blog if you’re interested in novellas.

This is why I’m asking you to please leave recommendations for books that are less than 200 pages long. Any genre is possible, crime fiction, science fiction, literary fiction and whatnots. Translated books are most welcome, I’d love to have a list with literature from various countries. I’m looking for novellas but also short-stories collections because it’s also a format that fits well with short reading slots.

Thanks in advance for the help and I promise to compile all the recommendations and publish them in a future billet.

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