Tarzan’s Tonsillitis by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique. 1999. French title: L’amygdalite de Tarzan.
Preamble: I have read it in French, translated by Jean-Marie Saint Lu. I translated the quotes into English and as often, it’s not easy to translate a Latin language into English.
|A tous les deux, comme en tant d’autres occasions, la seule chose qui nous a manqué, qui nous a manqué d’emblée, certes, c’est notre Estimated Time of Arrival. Ce qui n’avait jamais dépendu de nous mais de divinités contraires et, par conséquent, notre histoire devait forcément déboucher sur un avenir souriant et meilleur, sur un optimisme effronté qui nous permettait d’affirmer, avec plus d’enthousiasme chaque fois, que le vrai miracle de l’amour, c’est que, en plus du reste, il existe.||For us, like on many occasions, the only thing we never had from the start is our Estimated Time of Arrival. It didn’t depend on us but on opposite gods and as a consequence, our story HAD to lead to a smiling and better future, to a cheeky optimism that made us believe with even more enthusiasm each time that the true miracle of love is that, on top of everything, it exists.|
Perhaps I should manage the upcoming billets list with a FIFO method. It would be rational. Only I can’t because sometimes the book I’ve just read is so vivid that I want to write about it right away, before I lose the feeling, before I’m out of its zone of influence, before I lose its melody. Tarzan’s Tonsillitis by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique is one of those books. I bought it by chance because the title and the cover appealed to me. My instincts proved right –only because I based my decision upon the French cover, though. So what’s it about?
Juan Manuel Carpio is Peruvian and from Indian origins. He went to university in Lima. Fernanda María de la Trinidad del Monte Montes is Salvadorian and from a bourgeois family. She went to school in California and in Switzerland in private schools. They meet in Paris where Juan Manuel Carpio plays the guitar and sings in the metro while Fernanda María works for the UNESCO. At the time, Juan Manuel Carpio is married to Luisa who left him and went back to Lima because he wouldn’t give up his dreams about becoming a musician. He’s still healing from this pain.
|Chacun se débat comme il peut sur son terrain. Les séparations ne sont pas faciles, comme tu le sais. Et les amours ne s’enlèvent pas avec de l’eau et du savon.||Each of us fights on their grounds. Breakups aren’t easy, as you know. And love doesn’t go away with water and soap.|
Juan Manuel and Fernanda María fall in love but Luisa is still in the picture, legally and in Juan Manuel’s mind. Fernanda María goes back to El Savador, leaving Juan Manuel behind in Paris with a pile of regrets. She comes back for a while, only now she’s married to Chilean would-be photographer Enrique. They will have two children, Rodrigo and Mariana.
Juan Manuel will pursue his career as a songwriter and a singer and will stay in Europe, living between Paris and Majorca. Fernanda María will be in El Salvador, California, Santiago, London…pushed by the wind of dictatorships, guerillas and family troubles.
It’s a semi-epistolary novel. Juan Manuel tells us their story. His point of view is a classic narrative and Fernanda María’s voice is heard through her letters. Juan Manuel’s letters were stolen when Fernanda María was assaulted once.
Juan Manuel doesn’t complain about his life or his career but we can guess that he was lonely sometimes and that his path to fame and success wasn’t paved with flowers and soft and green lawns. He spent a lot of time on tours and the rest writing songs. His unconventional relationship with Fernanda María nourishes his art.
Fernanda María doesn’t complain either but her life was difficult and made of exile, a drinking husband who doesn’t know what to do with his gift as a photographer and odd jobs to survive and take care of the children. And the pain to come from a little country destroyed by civil war.
|Nous marchons tous sur des sables mouvants ces temps-ci. Pour les raisons les plus diverses, le monde est inhabitable.||We all walk on quicksand, these days. For the most diverse reasons, the world is uninhabitable.|
Friends who disappear. Threats on their lives. Family split in different foreign countries to escape destruction and poverty. Fear for the future. That’s part of Fernanda María’s quotidian in El Salvador.
They will write to each other during thirty years and more. They will meet sometimes. They will nurture their love for each other. They will support each other from afar. They will have other people in their lives but these persons will have to accept they are second best.
|Mais comme tu le dis si bien, c’est Dame réalité qui est la vraie triomphatrice de toutes nos batailles.Et peut-être qu’elle se venge de nous parce que nous ne lui avons pas rendu le culte qu’elle exige des personnes réalistes. Comme si nous lui avions tiré la langue, et elle est tellement, tellement orgueilleuse, cette Dame réalité.||But as you say it so well, Lady reality is the real victor of all our battles.And maybe she takes revenge because we haven’t worshipped her the way she expects it from realistic people. As if we had stuck our tongue at her and she’s so, so conceited, this Lady reality.|
Neither Fernanda María nor Juan Manuel is Argentinean but their story sounds like a tango. They move towards each other, then move away without losing touch and always with amazing grace. Everything in this novel is graceful, from the rhythm of the prose to the acceptance of the characters to move with the music score of their lives. It’s never corny and they embark you on the journey of their lives. The novel is also a reminder of how difficult it was to stay in touch with a loved one from a non-Western country before the internet age. Letters had difficulties to reach Juan Manuel because of war, poor post office service. Phone calls were awfully expensive. And there wasn’t anything else.
“So why Tarzan’s tonsillitis?” you may wonder. Fernanda María is like Tarzan, fearless and jumping in the jungle of her life. Confident in her walk into the jungle except when her throat is clogged with worries and angst. Her mental tonsillitis leaves her unable to yell and jump into the unknown. And Juan Manuel is a distant but concerned witness of her struggles.
I had a lovely reading time and I’ll leave the last word to Juan Manuel and Fernanda María:
|– On se revoit dans notre prochaine lettre, Juan Manuel.- Sûr, mon amour. La lettre doit être comme un portrait de l’âme ou quelque chose comme ça, parce que toi et moi nous sommes tout ce qu’il y a de plus photogénique, épistolairement parlant.||– We’ll see each other in our next letter, Juan Manuel.– Sure, my love. Letters must be like a portrait of our souls, or something like this because you and me are the most photogenic people ever, from an epistolary point of view.|
Like the British Constitution, she owes her success in practice to her inconsistencies in principle.
The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy (1876) French title: S’il avait insisté. Translated by Jean Audiau in 1931 and now OOP.
I’m still reading Thomas Hardy in chronological order and my journey brought me to The Hand of Ethelberta. Ethelberta is actually a young widow, Mrs Petherwin. She married the young man of the family where she stayed as a governess. He died soon after her marriage and her mother-in-law kept her with her on condition that Ethelberta gives up any relationship with her family. Indeed, her father is a butler, her brothers are carpenters. Ethelberta married in a higher social class and it wouldn’t be possible to acknowledge being the daughter of a butler.
Ethelberta had what we would call today a boyfriend in Mr Christopher Julian. He would have married her but he was too poor and without any prospect of doing better and she was not willing to settle without money. She chose young Petherwin.
Ethelberta has beauty, intelligence, guts and a huge family. Her parents have ten children and Ethelberta wants to take care of them, to ensure they get an education to have a chance at a better life. Or what she thinks is a better life. She had a little fame when she published a decent collection of poems. The door of higher circles opened to her and that’s where she met Mr Ladywell, Mr Neigh and Lord Mountclere. However, she has baggage with her maiden name and origins and her siblings’ future. The only one who knows everything is Mr Julian. He knows her family and Ethelberta’s sister Picotee is even in love with him.
When Mrs Petherwin senior dies, she leaves Ethelberta with a house in London but no income. Ethelberta starts writing romance and telling stories for money. She’s certain that she can make it, that she can earn enough money to provide for everyone. In the house she hires her siblings as butler, maid or cook. They pretend they don’t know each other in public and they try to support themselves. But it’s not so easy to earn money when you’re a woman in the 19thcentury. So Ethelberta ends up turning to the most common way of providing for yourself and even your family when you’re female: marriage!
Yet Ethelberta’s gradient had been regular: emotional poetry, light verse, romance as an object, romance as a means, thoughts of marriage as an aid to her pursuits, a vow to marry for the good of her family; in other words, from soft and playful Romanticism to distorted Benthamism. Was the moral incline upward or down?
Lucky her, even in this era of man famine, she has three prospects. Mr Neigh, Mr Ladywell and Lord Mountclere. Mr Julian had to forfeit because he lacked the required financial perspectives. Even if he’s the one she likes best. Ethelberta looks at these men only in terms of financial stability and prestige. She remains cold hearted and states:
Men who come courting are just like bad cooks: if you are kind to them, instead of ascribing it to an exceptional courtesy on your part, they instantly set it down to their own marvellous worth.
[I wonder what Hardy would write about men who are chefs. A man can’t be a cook, he’s a chef, that’s where the marvellous worth expresses itself. Are they marvellous² ? ]
Ethelberta is a strange mix of ambition and self-sacrifice. She wants badly to make money for herself but mostly to take care of her siblings. Her parents don’t ask her to do it but she’s convinced that without a good education, they have no chance. She’s conflicted and stubborn. Nothing and no one can make her change her path. She wants a better life, she’s ready to sacrifice happiness for social advancement for her and her siblings.
Which groom will she pick and how? That’s where you need to read the book to know more…
The Hand of Ethelberta means several things for me. The most obvious meaning is marriage. Her hand is at stake and the novel is about discovering when and whom she’ll marry. Will she listen to her heart or will she listen to her ambition?
One other meaning is the hand she has been dealt. She’s a butler’s daughter, she has nine siblings to provide for and she needs to play it well to win her financial stability. She has four men around her, one for each card suit. Let’s say King of Hearts is Mr Julian, King of Diamonds is Mr Ladywell, King of Spades is Mr Neigh and King of Clubs is Mountclere.
The third meaning is given by Ethelberta’s mother when she refers to her change of social status. She climbed to an upper class when she married Mr Petherwin, she must live with the idea that she cannot be associated with her parents and siblings in public. ‘Well, you chose your course, my dear; and you must abide by it. Having put your hand to the plough, it will be foolish to turn back.’
I suppose Hardy played on the meaning of the title, otherwise he would have written Ethelberta’s hand, no?
Although I didn’t like this one as much as Far from the Madding Crowd, I was happy to be enveloped again in Hardy’s ironic prose. The novel is full of gems like these:
Supply the love for both sides? Why, it’s worse than furnishing money for both.
If a needy man must be so foolish as to fall in love, it is best to do so where he cannot double his foolishness by marrying the woman.
I enjoyed the twists and turns, the help of bad weather, coincidences, bad luck and other tricks to move the plot forward. It’s part of Hardy’s game and I went along with it. Behind the twists and turns, there’s also the very serious question: what makes us truly happy? Is social success enough? Is money enough? Is social standing and money are worth leaving a worthy companion behind? Does it make you happy to change of social class or does it cost too much? Ethelberta has made up her mind, have you made yours? For Ethelberta, changing of social class also means being able to express her potential to the fullest. It gives her the opportunity to engage in things that are challenging her intelligence. She needs this. She’s intelligent, she doesn’t want her brain to go to waste. Who can blame her?
My next Hardy will be The Return of the Native.
PS: I can’t resist adding a last quote. What would be British literature of the 19th Century without clumsy and offensive marriage proposals? I wonder. It must have been a rite of passage for would-be writers at the time. That was before creative writing classes but perhaps it was required in feuilletons like television has requirement for series nowadys. I put XXX where the gentleman’s name was mentioned, to avoid spoilers.
‘I have been intending to write a line to you,’ said XXX; ‘but I felt that I could not be sure of writing my meaning in a way which might please you. I am not bright at a letter—never was. The question I mean is one that I hope you will be disposed to answer favourably, even though I may show the awkwardness of a fellow-person who has never put such a question before. Will you give me a word of encouragement—just a hope that I may not be unacceptable as a husband to you? Your talents are very great; and of course I know that I have nothing at all in that way. Still people are happy together sometimes in spite of such things. Will you say “Yes,” and settle it now?’ ‘I was not expecting you had come upon such an errand as this,’ said she, looking up a little, but mostly looking down. ‘I cannot say what you wish, Mr. XXX. ‘Perhaps I have been too sudden and presumptuous. Yes, I know I have been that. However, directly I saw you I felt that nobody ever came so near my idea of what is desirable in a lady, and it occurred to me that only one obstacle should stand in the way of the natural results, which obstacle would be your refusal. In common kindness consider. I daresay I am judged to be a man of inattentive habits—I know that’s what you think of me; but under your influence I should be very different; so pray do not let your dislike to little matters influence you.’ ‘I would not indeed. But believe me there can be no discussion of marriage between us,’ said Ethelberta decisively. ‘If that’s the case I may as well say no more. To burden you with my regrets would be out of place, I suppose,’ said XXX, looking calmly out of the window.
Who wants to say yes to such a proposal?
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard. 2009. French title: Long week-end. (Translated by Françoise Adelstain)
For June our Book Club was reading Labor Day by Joyce Maynard. Our narrator is Henry, he’s older now and he comes back to the Labor Day week-end that changed his life when he was 13.
Henry lives with his mother in Holton Mills, New Hampshire and this is how he describes his family:
IT WAS JUST THE TWO OF US, my mother and me, after my father left. He said I should count the new baby he had with his new wife, Marjorie, as part of my family too, plus Richard, Marjorie’s son, who was six months younger than me though he was good at all the sports I messed up in. But our family was my mother, Adele, and me, period. I would have counted the hamster, Joe, before including that baby, Chloe.
His mother is rather depressed, I don’t know if it’s the right medical tag but she works from home, hates going out of the house. She barely manages to take care of her son. Henry sees his father every week-end but he doesn’t feel welcome in his new family. Henry doesn’t like sports and his father would like him to play baseball, something Henry doesn’t like. He feels like Richard is a better suited son for his father. So he endures the dreadful weekly diners and grows up with a mother who’s different from other moms.
That Labor Day, they went to the mall to buy some new clothes because school starts in a few days. While they’re in a supermarket, Frank comes to them and asks him to invite him to their home for the week-end. Frank has just escaped from prison. Well, he was in jail, had appendicitis and jumped out of the window of the hospital. Adele takes him in.
Then the unforeseeable happens. Frank is a sweet man and he makes himself at home. He fixes the house, cooks, plays ball with Henry. He and Adele fall in love in front of Henry. And witnessing this upsets him. He’s already troubled by puberty. He thinks about sex all the time. Being around his mother and Frank in a closed space makes him uncomfortable.
Yet, in a sense, he’s happy about it.
Your mother and I thought we’d take a little walk on the beach, son, Frank says to me. And the thought occurs to me that here is one of the best parts about his showing up. I am not responsible for making her happy anymore. That job can be his now. This leaves me free for other things. My own life, for instance.
He’s never seen his mother that way and he really likes Frank. He’s happy for her but has to learn to share her, to leave room for a man. He’s been everything for her for too long.
At the same time, Henry’s forced to see that his mother is a woman, that she and Frank do what’s on his mind all the time. He’s obliged to acknowledge his mother’s sexuality while his in under construction.
And then, there’s the power to know that he can end their love story whenever he wants. He just needs to give a call to the police…
I enjoyed reading Labor Day but was disappointed by its Hollywood ending. I would have liked it nastier. Here, what could have been a really twisted tale becomes rather tame. I had read half of it when Jacqui published her review of Agostino by Alberto Moravia. On paper, the stories have similarities. However, I’m sure they differ in their tone and that Moravia has added that little wicked turn I’m missing here. Well, I’ll see that in a few months when we read Agostino for our Book Club.
That said, Joyce Maynard writes well. I wasn’t an adolescent boy but I suspect that what she describes is accurate. Adele is a rather unusual woman, broken by a past that the book reveals, just as Frank. Henry’s voice is strong and rings true. He reveals his mother and Frank’s backgrounds and stories with a lot of calm and humanity. Touch by touch, their portraits come to life. Maynard creates a strong atmosphere around this novel and the reader feels part of Henry’s world. She pictures the cracks life has inflicted on her characters’ souls.
Labor Day was made into a film by Jason Reitman in 2013. Kate Winslet was Adele, Josh Brolin was Frank and Gattlin Griffith was Henry. Why not. I haven’t seen it but without Maynard’s prose, the story becomes rather ordinary. It has salt under her writer’s pen; I’m not sure it translates well on screen. Have you seen it?
PS : I prefer the French cover. Less corny. Is there a secret competition among American publishers to reward the one who comes with the corniest cover? Sometimes I wonder.
It’s a Ukrainian book set in Kiev where we meet Viktor who starts living with a penguin named Micha and at the same time starts writing obituaries of people who are still alive for a dubious newspaper. The said people start dying. And living with a penguin is…unusual.
BBC World Book Club wondered if I had questions to ask Andrey Kurkov, so I sent back several ones. Today, they phoned me and I recorded three questions that might be used during the interview. That was a first for me and the exercise is not easy when English is not your native language. Poor Andrey Kurkov might have to deal with my French accent. Thank God they didn’t pick the question that had the word python in it, I’m certain I can’t say that word properly. Ha ha, now you wonder how I came up with a question including the word python when the book is about a penguin. Bets are open, wild suggestions are expected in the comments.
So you might hear one of my questions if you listen to the show when it’s broadcasted. If you’re curious about Death and the Penguin and curious to hear my …hmmm… lovely French accent, rendezvous on September 6th, 2015.
If they cut my questions from the program, it’s no big deal. I had fun doing and it’s an opportunity to remind you that Death and the Penguin is worth reading.
We will be reading our last book from this year’s Book Club. It’s Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin. If you want to join us, I’ll post about it at the end of July and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.
This week-end we’ve selected twelve novels for our 2015-2016 Book Club and a bonus book for July 2016. Our tour starts in August 2015 and ends in July 2016. We’ve tried to pick books from different genres, different times and different countries. This year, we have four French novels and mostly European writers. Now, what you want to see: THE LIST.
The Last Frontier by Howard Fast is published by Gallmeister, gem-finder extraordinaire. Fast relates the story of the Cheyenne Indians in the 1870s, and their bitter struggle to flee from the Indian Territory in Oklahoma back to their home in Wyoming and Montana. I expect unpleasant scenes but it seems a good and enlightening read.
After this journey to the West, we’ll be back in France to read Heureux les heureux by Yasmina Reza. I loved her play Comment vous racontez la partie and Guy enjoyed Happy Are the Happy which is a good omen for me.
Lebanese writer’s Toufic Youssef Aouad is spelled Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad and I loved his excellent Deat in Beirut. Le pain (Bread) is set in 1916 and is considered as the first “real” Lebanese novel. It has just been translated into French by Fifi Abou dib, Awwad’s grand-daughter.
I don’t need to present Crimes by Ferdinand von Schirach, it’s been reviewed a few times already. I discovered him through German Lit Month and I will be reading it for this year’s German Lit Month if it is organized.
Moriarty will be another genre and I expect an easy and entertaining read. Let’s hope it will meet my expectations.
I’m happy to have Agostino by Moravia on our list. I loved Contempt. Guy’s and Jacqui’s reviews confirmed I’ll probably like Agostino. I’m also curious to see how it compares to Joyce Maynard’s Labor Day.
I’m excited to have Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb. Hungarian literature never let me down and I enjoyed The Pendragon Legend.
Our next book will be another journey, quite different from Szerb’s, though. N’aie pas peur si je t’enlace by Fulvio Ervas isn’t available in English, sorry. It relates the trip a father takes with his autistic son for his 18th birthday. They will travel through the USA and South-America on a Harley Davidson. It’s based on a true story.
After our little adventure in America, we’ll be back in Hungary for Colours and Years by Margit Kaffka. This novel was published in 1912 and it reveals the life of women at the time in Hungary and it has a feminist ring which appeals to me.
Un beau ténébreux by Julien Gracq will be made into a play in a few months. It drew our attention to the novel. I’ve never read Gracq, I don’t know what to expect but I’m happy to try a new writer.
For July, Jacqui inspired me with Le rendez-vous de Venise by Philippe Beaussant. When I read her review, I knew I wanted to read it and explore the connection I felt to Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann. I’m glad my fellow Book Club members agreed to it.
Her review of The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald gave me another reading idea. It’s the bonus read for the year. As an avid reader, I have a fondness for books about bookshops.
That’s all folks.
If you’ve read some of these books or want to read them, share your thoughts in the comments. If you want to join us one month or the other, feel free. There’s no rule, just read whatever you want and post about it (or not) whenever you want. Here’s the schedule:
Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes. 2015 (Not available in English)
Vernon Subutex is the name of the main character, a former record dealer whose professional life was destroyed by digital music. We’re all aware of what happened to the music industry with the development of internet, P2P and music in mp3 files instead of CDs. So Vernon’s store sunk and he sunk with it. His financial situation worsens and when his friend Alex dies, he doesn’t have anyone anymore to help him with his rent and he’s evicted from his apartment. Alex is not a guy-next-door kind of friend, he’s a rock star. And Vernon has tapes where Alex talked about himself. Surely, such precious material is worth money?
That brought me to page 120 out of 393, of the first volume. (The second one was released this month and there’s a third one scheduled for later). Although Despentes is still punchy in her style, I couldn’t care less about the story. I heard her talk about her novel at the Fête du Livre de Bron and I expected something more about society’s shortcomings. She explained our society is uncompromising for the weak and Vernon’s situation spiraled out of control. I expected to sympathise with Vernon.
Instead, I thought Vernon was a bit of a Peter Pan. He never wanted to grow up and he now resents ageing even if he doesn’t complain about it.
|Passé quarante ans, tout le monde ressemble à une ville bombardée.||After forty, everybody looks like a town after a bombing.|
He’s more in a mood of “where the hell did those years go?” He failed to acknowledge his professional world was changing, he failed to branch out when it was time. Perhaps it was such a strong wave that the whole music industry didn’t see it coming. His friends or so call friends are all the artistic/media world (rock stars, rock journalist, screenwriter or working on TV) I wasn’t interested at all in their angst. I could imagine a sordid plot was about to explode about Alex’s recordings and that it would be ugly and expose society’s greediness. But I didn’t feel like reading more about that.
So after seeing the book lying around for a while and never feeling like picking it up, I decided to stop reading it. It’s not a bad book at all. I still enjoyed Despentes’s style and she hasn’t lost her edge
|Pedro s’appelait Pierre, mais il prenait tant de cocaïne qu’il avait hérité d’un prénom sud-américain.||Pedro’s real name was Pierre but he sniffed so much cocaine that he inherited of a South-American name.|
However, sometime, I could hear the English under her French, which is really odd. I noticed this sentence Emilie est devenue balistique sur la propreté. (Emilie went ballistic on hygiene) and later I spotted a Marque mes mots (mark my words) In both cases, it means absolutely nothing in French if you’re not aware of the English expressions. I truly love the English language but when you write in French, you don’t sabotage the beauty of the language by literally translating English expressions into French. It bothers me.
So, in a nutshell, I think she’s as talented as ever but that her Vernon Sullivan never engaged me. Her novel should have left me with a head full of rock music. Instead, it left me with a song by Renaud, P’tite Conne. In this song, Renaud describes the funeral of a young woman who died of an overdose and who came from social circles where drugs were accepted. See part of the lyrics:
|Tu fréquentais un monded’imbéciles mondains
Où cette poudre immonde
se consomme au matin,
Où le fric autorise
à se croire à l’abri
Et de la cour d’assises
et de notre mépris
Que ton triste univers
nous inspirait, malins
en sirotant nos bières
ou en fumant nos joints…
|You belonged to a worldOf stupid socialites
Where this disgusting powder
Is consumed in the early morning,
Where money allows you
To feel protected
From the Crown Court
And from the contempt
That your sad little world
Inspired us, smartasses
While we sipped our beers
Or smoked our pot…
Vernon Sullivan seemed a part of this sad delusional world and I left him there.
This was my second read of my #TBR20 project.
Given my fondness for Hardy’s novels, I had to see the 2015 version of Far From the Madding Crowd. It is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, screenplay by David Nicholls, with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, Michael Sheen as Mr Boldwood, Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Troy and Juno Temple as Fanny Robin. Good cast, according to me.
To be honest, about 75% of the audience in the cinema was female and the men who were there seemed to be fulfilling some conjugal duty. My husband was at home, seeing Sense and Sensibility years ago left a permanent scar on him and a new nickname for Hugh Grant, Indeed, which is all he seemed to utter in Ang Lee’s film version of the book. But back to Far From the Madding Crowd.
Télérama rated it average but the journalist seemed to know nothing about Thomas Hardy’s work. Otherwise she wouldn’t have had the idea to compare Far From the Madding Crowd to Tess of the d’Urbervilles and wonder that the first was less dramatic and bleak than the latest. No kidding.
I remembered the book well, I read it last year and the film is faithful to the novel. The main events are there, except for the two important scenes of the beginning, the one when Gabriel Oak sees Bathsheba Everdene for the first time and finds her proud and the one when she saves his life. I wonder why the director cut those off as they are part of the foundation of the relationship between Bathsheba and Gabriel.
The story and characters struck me again as very Austenian, more that The Hand of Ethelberta. I developed this idea in my billet about the novel. And thanks to the film, I now know how to pronounce Bathsheba. :-) Watching the film and hearing the characters names out-loud gave them a new meaning. I guess Gabriel Oak has a name that suits his temper: he’s solid and has the patience of an angel. Mr Boldwood is not made of the same wood, his obsession with Bathsheba makes him bold. And Sergeant Troy is like a Trojan horse in Bathsheba’s ordered life.
The film is well done but a bit too polished to my taste. Although there are wonderful landscapes –it really, really makes you want to visit England—, I thought the director overused meaningful eye contacts between characters and morning light. It is centered on the plot which is normal for a film but it lacks the salt of Hardy’s writing: the humour, the tenderness for life in Wessex, the peasants’ accent and all the little thoughts about life and human nature that he drops everywhere along the way. I guess it’s hard to capture on film.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good version, equivalent to reading an abridged version of the book. Not as good as reading the original but close enough for you not to feel betrayed by the choice of actors or unforgivable alterations of the plot.