Archive

Archive for the ‘Personal Posts’ Category

Book Club 2018-2019 : The List

July 21, 2018 14 comments

It’s that time of the year again.

Our Book Club has picked up 12 books for the next twelvemonth. We changed our ways this year and we picked countries and then tried to find one book per country. I’m happy with this new list as it will allow us to travel a bit around the world. We’re missing a book from Africa, though. Next year we’ll have to rectify that.

Here’s the list:

 

Month English title French title Writer # pages Country Year of publication
August The Secret River Sarah Thornhill Kate Grenville 310 Australia 2007
September Not found in English Son Royaume Han Han 250 China 2015
October The Ice Princess La princesse des glaces Camilla Läckberg 381 Sweden 2004
November Not found in English Canicule Jean Vautrin 331 France 1982
December Deal Souls Les âmes mortes Gogol 477 Russia 1842
January Not found in English Le poids des secrets Aki Shimazaki 500 Japan 2010
February Pavane for  a Dead Princess Pavane pour une infante défunte Min-kyu Park 325 Korea 2014
March Excellent Women Des femmes remarquables Barbara Pym 252 Great Britain 1952
April Geek Love Un amour de monstres Katherine Dunn 442 USA 1989
May The Tapestries Le brodeur de Huê Kien Nguyen 383 Vietnam 2001
June House of Splendid Isolation La maison du splendide isolement Edna O’Brien 284 Irlande 1994
July A World for Julius Un monde pour Julius Alfredo Bryce Echenique 497 Peru 1970

The book that opens the new season is The Secret River by Kate Grenville.

I find the Gogol a bit daunting, so if you’ve read it, please tell me how it was. I need a bit of reassurance. I’m looking forward to reading my first Barbara Pym. I’ve heard a lot of good things about her from other bloggers. Edna O’Brien has been on my mental TBR for a while, it’s an opportunity to finally read something by her. I’ve already read Tarzan’s Tonsillitis by Alfredo Bryce-Echenique and I’m glad to read another book by him.

We have two crime fiction books, one by Camilla Läckberg and one by Jean Vautrin. Let’s hope that the Läckberg is better than the Indridason I’ve read. I’m a bit wary of too-famous-for-their-own-good Nordic crime fiction writers. I couldn’t find an English translation of the Vautrin, let me know if there’s one.

And the books for Vietnam, Korea, China and the USA are new-to-me writers. I don’t know what to expect.

As usual, if anyone wants to join us and read one of these books along with us, feel free to do so. There’s no rule, just post your review the right month and let me know about it. And if you’ve read any of those books, what did you think about them?

Novella book recommendations : the list

June 10, 2018 24 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.

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.

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.

Quais du Polar 2018 : Fascinating conference about republishing old crime fiction books.

April 9, 2018 9 comments

At Quais du Polar I attended a fascinated conference among publishers about republishing old crime fiction books. The participants were Oliver Gallmeister, from the eponym publishing house, Jeanne Guyon, in charge of Rivages Noir, Jean-François Merle for the publisher Omnibus and Jérôme Leroy, writer, reviewer and in charge of the collection La Petite Vermillon at Gallimard.

The journalist started the discussion by asking about each publisher’s view on reeditions. All said that it was part of the strategy of their publishing house as a way ensure the transmission of a literary heritage. Rivages Noir started with a new edition of Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson. For Omnibus born 30 years ago, it was the origin of their existence as they started with the project to publish an omnibus collection of Simenon’s work. You know how prolific he was and it ended up with 27 volumes of 1000 pages each. A colossal work of researching all the books, getting them and arranging them in consistent volumes. Gallmeister has started to republish Ross McDonald, mostly because Oliver Gallmeister wants to share this writer with new readers. When he launched his own publishing house in 2006, he had in mind to release half of new books, half of reeditions. The first reedition was The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. (French title: Le gang de la clé à molette). He was inspired by François Guérif, the creator of Rivages Noir.

Reeditions are a way to help a new publisher to create a catalogue and start their activity. At the same time, they quickly become a tricky economic equation. Indeed, there isn’t as much press coverage for a reedition as for a new book. And there are less prescriptions from the libraires. Why is that? Well, for these well-read and sometimes older readers, these books are old news. They’ve read them before and don’t see why they should write about them or recommend them to clients. Gallmeister has republished seven books by Ross McDonald and it hasn’t been profitable since book three. He said he will keep on republishing them anyway, as it is his duty as a publisher to keep this literary heritage alive. Jeanne Guyon said they had the same problem at Rivages Noir where they endeavor to reedit every book by Donald Westlake and Elmore Leonard.

The root of the economic equation is: Is there a public today for this book? They never know if a reedition will be a success. For example, they republished We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. (French title: Nous avons toujours vécu au château), and it was a huge success. Gallmeister republished Margaret Millar and it was a failure, total silence in the press. On the contrary, when books by Chesterton were republished, glowing articles appeared in Le Figaro and Le Monde and the book was launched. The publisher’s thorough work is a not a sure recipe for success in bookstores. There’s a good dose of serendipity. The corporate executive in me understands the economic angst coming out of this serendipity and the need to ensure a return on investment for their good work and the aim to earn money and not endanger their company. The passionate reader in me is happy that selling books is still something different from selling peas and that the whims of the reader remains an unpredictable variable in the equation.

With this economic problem comes another tricky question: should they be completist and republish every single book by a writer or leave behind the less worthy ones? Westlake’s books were of unequal quality; is it worth it to republish the bad ones?

The question of the publisher’s duty in the transmission of book heritage was a crucial one. Gallmeister recoiled a bit at this idea, probably because it smelled a bit too much about duty and mothballs and not enough of passion for books. Jérôme Leroy said he was in a very comfortable position: as the director of a small collection of four books per year at Gallimard’s, his only guide was his urge to share with other readers books by writers that have been formative to him and kindled his love for reading. He loves to republish long forgotten books like La princesse de Crève by Kââ or La langue chienne by Hervé Prudon or oddities in a writer’s career like Drôle de salade by Cécil St Laurent, a penname of the very conservative Jacques Laurent.

The question of republishing one book in a writer’s work or all of their books came back because it’s a crucial question for the publisher. Gallmeister said that no matter what, he will publish the whole work of Ross McDonald. For other writers, he will leave some lesser works behind. He thinks it’s also part of the publisher’s duty to let some writers fall into oblivion. Do former Nobel Prizes like Anatole France deserve republishing? He’s not so sure. (Me neither, btw. Same for Voltaire. Most of his plays are OOP and for a good reason, from what I’ve heard)

I guess that all these parameters are valid for all countries and all literary genres. There’s a specificity to crime fiction and Noir in France though. Books by Thompson, Chandler, McDonald, Westlake and others were first published in collections called Série Noire or Fleuve Noir. They were named romans de gare, books to be bought in railway station by travelers. They used to sell their collection through subscriptions, publish ten to twelve books a month. Books had to be 250 pages long, not more. It was considered as popular literature aimed at a popular readership. They thought about their readers before thinking about the writers. And they had –in my view—quite a low opinion of their readers. They assumed that these readers weren’t able to read long books or that they could enjoy digressions and detours in their crime novels. There’s a lot of contempt from the literary elites on their working-class readers. White collars just assumed that their blue-collar readers were idiots.

So, they took liberties with the original and tampered with the translations. The publishers kept a team of writers/translators who worked according to precise specifications. There wasn’t much time for proof reading. Passages that didn’t contribute to move the action forward were cut, accuracy wasn’t a golden rule for the translator who adapted the text to the reader’s everyday life references. These butchery cuts sometimes erased the singularity of the writers and could reprensent from 10% to 30% of the original. Pop 1280 became 1275 âmes in its first edition probably because it sounded better than 1280 âmes. In the end, 1280 âmes is a book by Jean-Bernard Pouy where he investigates the disappearance of these five souls.

A same writer had a lot of different translators which resulted in inconsistencies in the translations. Two characters would say vous to each other in one volume and tu in others. What’s their relationship? How do they address to each other? The choice must be consistent throughout the translations and it wasn’t. It’s the case for 87th Precinct by Ed McBain published by Omnibus. The foreign authors had no idea of the poor quality of the French translations.

It was another era, a time where French readers knew less about America and translators tried to translate the books into French but also into French references to help the reader. This is behind us with globalization.

This doesn’t correspond to our vision of what a translation should be. Now translation contracts specify that the translation must be faithful, complete and accurate. Publishers are also more respectful of authors and now readers buy a book by a certain writer and not the latest Série Noire or Fleuve Noir. That’s a major difference too.

However, this past isn’t without consequences. Any reedition implies a retranslation of the book, adding to the cost of the new edition. This is also why the participants to this conference consider the republishing of older crime fiction books as a literary duty, a way to preserve and foster a literary heritage. It allows new readers to discover the books that were seminal to their contemporary favorite writers. This trend also means that crime fiction is now seen as a noble and literary genre. Excellent news, if I may say so.

Quais du Polar 2018

April 8, 2018 10 comments

For newcomers to Book Around the Corner, Quais du Polar is a crime fiction festival set in Lyon. Writers come and meet with readers, participate to panels about crime fiction and celebrate this literary genre with amateurs. The whole city organize meets, games, conferences, films, exhibits around crime fiction for three days. A giant bookshop made of the aggregation of the stands of independent bookstores from Lyon is set up in the great hall of the Chamber of Commerce.

It used to be the Lyon Stock Exchange and during a weekend, it’s a crowded place full of crime fiction lovers who interact with writers, talk with enthusiast libraires (sorry, I can’t call a libraire a book seller, especially not the ones present at Quais du Polar) and read in the alleys between signing and conferences. Here’s the picture of this unique bookstore, on Saturday morning, before the big crowds arrived.

Of course, it ends up with a book haul. That’s inevitable, here’s what I bought:

Craig Johnson was in Lyon again and he will be in other cities in France. It seems that when he’s not in Wyoming, he’s in France! I got another book by him, the edition by Gallmeister because they’re so much better than the paperback version by Le Point.

I started to read La Daronne by Hannelore Cayre while I was waiting for her at her stand and I finished it the day after in a queue before a conference. I was totally captivated and the world could have collapsed around me and I wouldn’t have noticed. I’ll write a billet about it. I’d heard it was excellent and I wasn’t disappointed.

Another French writer: Pascal Dessaint. I’ve never read him and he’s not available in English. He’s published by Rivages Noir which is a good sign for me. He recommended to start with Loin des humains. He said it encapsulates the elements that are the trademark of his work. Who am I to contradict the author? I trust his judgement and will discover his work with this one.

I’d heard about My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent through the newsletter of his French publisher, Gallmeister. If they decided to publish it, then it’s good American literature. I bought it in English even if I’m sure that the translation is excellent.

This year, the festival was dedicated to Italian crime fiction and I bought Piste noire (Black Run) by Antonio Manzini after hearing him at a panel about Italy.

I was tempted by many other books and was a bit disappointed not to find any Australian crime fiction gem. I asked to several libraires but Oz crime fiction isn’t widely spread here.

I only went to three panels, one about Italy and its regions, one about republishing books and one among writers who have a teenager as central character in their latest book. I’ll write more about the conferences. This year I could only attend the festival for two days but I had a great time with friends, I loved wandering in the bookstore, being among so many avid readers.

As always, writers seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the visitors. This 14th edition of the festival was a success, a great way to celebrate crime fiction as a noble literary genre.

Tom from Les Expectations de Hurlevent (That’s what his blog Wuthering Expectations has become during his stay in France) wrote three billets about the festival, you can find them here, here and here.

Fête du livre de Bron – Bron Book Fair : A certain M. Désérable

March 11, 2018 22 comments

The 31th Fête du Livre de Bron was from March 7th to March 11th. It’s dedicated to contemporary literature and this year I was interested in hearing François-Henri Désérable talk about his book A Certain M. Piekielny. (See my billet about it here)

His book – I don’t know if I can call it a novel or if it the term autofiction fits, I’m never good with literary boxes—relates his investigation about M. Piekielny, a character mentioned by Romain Gary in the 7th chapter of his fictionalized autobiographical novel Promise at Dawn. At the time he was a little boy still named Roman Kacew.

It was a very interesting interview, F-H Désérable is an entertaining guest, always quoting one author or the other and gracing us with a scintillating conversation with Christine Ferniot, the journalist in charge of this interview.

The discussion turned around fiction and reality, how literature could give life and immortality to people. He said he can only write books based upon real events, real characters. According to him, the frontier between fiction and reality is porous. Some characters from novels sound truer than life, it is said that on his death bed, Balzac called the doctor he had created in his books. Writers can embark us on a journey they never made themselves and it still feels real. Real persons can cross the line and wander on the side of fiction.

As I mentioned in my billet, while researching M. Piekielny, F-H Désérable brings back the Jewish neighborhood of Wilno in the 1920s, when Gary lived there. This world has disappeared and as he puts it, the Nazis destroyed the people, the Soviets destroyed their architectural heritage. Nothing visible remains of them in Vilnius.

But literature has this power. It only needs a pen and a sheet of paper, as far as Gary was concerned and a computer, as far as Désérable is concerned to give birth or leave a testimony of a whole world. Both writers saved from oblivion the Piekielnies of Wilno. Fleeting memories become solid when written down and printed. They are there, they stay with us, they won’t let us forget them. As F-H Désérable pointed out, it is only thanks to literature that we were all in this room, talking about people who died during WWII and thus acknowledging their existence and their horrible untimely death. I think that’s why dictators are often afraid of books.

The journalist asked how he worked on his style, how he liberated himself from Gary’s presence to find his own voice. He explained that it was a difficult book to write, at the beginning. He wanted to digress. He thought about Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano, a writer he admires a lot. For our great pleasure, he stopped the self-censorship and gave himself permission to digress. He also felt that his natural tone was too casual, too flippant for such a grave topic as the destruction of Wilno’s Jewish ghetto. He’s right to say that this tone was possible because it’s something Gary mastered at. Humor was an armor and a weapon to overcome the atrocities of life and to prove that humanity was above them because even in terrible circumstances, it kept its sense of humor.

Gary committed suicide in 1980. F-H Désérable thinks that he did it because he had lost faith in the power of literature and that since life and literature were so entwined in his life, one couldn’t go one without faith in the other. That’s a way to see it.

Un certain M. Piekielny was also a personal journey for its author. It was an opportunity for him to wonder why he was so drawn to Promise at Dawn when he was seventeen. His conclusion is that his mother is kacewian, that she belongs to the same category of mothers as Mina Kacew, Gary’s mother. I guess mine could fit in this category as well.

It was a fascinating hour with a very young writer (He was born in 1987) who said he became a writer to have a professional justification to all the time he spends reading. His broad culture is humbling, I wonder how he managed to know all this when he’s so young.

There was a signing after the conference and I was determined to talk to him, to tell him how much I loved his book. I raced down to the alcove where he was settling and was happy to be the one and only there when I arrived. I started gushing about his book and dared to tell him that if he wanted to read what I thought about it, he could read it on my blog. I slipped him my Book Around the Corner card and he glanced at it and exclaimed: “It’s you!” I was stunned to discover that he had read my billet and had transferred it to the person in charge of negotiating the rights for the English translation of his novel. His publisher, the prestigious Gallimard, has sold the rights for a translation in ten languages and they can’t find a publisher willing to translate it into English. *Sigh* You Anglophone people should really work on spreading the love of literature in translation.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to chat a little bit with him and I was happy to discover someone very approachable and friendly. I really, really hope that they find an English translator for his book.

Of course, there’s no book fest without adding to the TBR. I wandered in the festival library and benefited from a friend’s knowledge of Arabic literature to get new books and I got two Australian books as well.

If you’ve read any of these books, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and a link to your review.

%d bloggers like this: