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The Book Trail: From the Library to Hollywood

I am beginning this Book Trail with a book by my favourite living author, Ali Smith’s Public Library and Other Stories.  I did try to begin with her 2016 release Autumn, but Goodreads had no recommended fiction to recommend at the time of creating this post.

As always, seven fascinating tomes will follow, all found on consequent ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ pages on Goodreads.  Please let me know if you’ve read any of these, and if you’ve created any of your own Book Trails, I’d love to see them.

1. Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith 9780241974599
A richly inventive new collection of stories from Ali Smith.  Why are books so very powerful?  What do the books we’ve read over our lives – our own personal libraries – make of us?  What does the unravelling of our tradition of public libraries, so hard-won but now in jeopardy, say about us?  The stories in Ali Smith’s new collection are about what we do with books and what they do with us: how they travel with us; how they shock us, change us, challenge us, banish time while making us older, wiser and ageless all at once; how they remind us to pay attention to the world we make.  Public libraries are places of joy, freedom, community and discovery – and right now they are under threat from funding cuts and widespread closures across the UK and further afield. With this brilliantly inventive collection, Ali Smith joins the campaign to save our public libraries and celebrate their true place in our culture and history.

 

75743182. The New York Stories by Elizabeth Hardwick
Elizabeth Hardwick was one of America’s great postwar women of letters, celebrated as a novelist and as an essayist. Until now, however, her slim but remarkable achievement as a writer of short stories has remained largely hidden, with her work tucked away in the pages of the periodicals—such as Partisan Review, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books—in which it originally appeared. This first collection of Hardwick’s short fiction reveals her brilliance as a stylist and as an observer of contemporary life. A young woman returns from New York to her childhood Kentucky home and discovers the world of difference within her. A girl’s boyfriend is not quite good enough, his “silvery eyes, light and cool, revealing nothing except pure possibility, like a coin in hand.” A magazine editor’s life falls strangely to pieces after she loses both her husband and her job. Individual lives and the life of New York, the setting or backdrop for most of these stories, are strikingly and memorably depicted in Hardwick’s beautiful and razor-sharp prose.

 

3. My Fantoms by Theophile Gautier
Romantic provocateur, flamboyant bohemian, precocious novelist, perfect poet—not to mention an inexhaustible journalist, critic, and man-about-town—Théophile Gautier is one of the major figures, and great characters, of French literature.  In My Fantoms Richard Holmes, the celebrated biographer of Shelley and Coleridge, has found a brilliantly effective new way to bring this great bu too-little-known writer into English. My Fantoms assembles seven stories spanning the whole of Gautier’s career into a unified work that captures the essence of his adventurous life and subtle art. From the erotic awakening of “The Adolescent” through “The Poet,” a piercing recollection of the mad genius Gérard de Nerval, the great friend of Gautier’s youth, My Fantoms celebrates the senses and illuminates the strange disguises of the spirit, while taking readers on a tour of modernity at its most mysterious. ”What ever would the Devil find to do in Paris?” Gautier wonders. “He would meet people just as diabolical as he, and find himself taken for some naïve provincial…”  Tapestries, statues, and corpses come to life; young men dream their way into ruin; and Gautier keeps his faith in the power of imagination: “No one is truly dead, until they are no longer loved.”

 

4. Witch Grass by Raymond Queneau 28371
Seated in a Paris café, a man glimpses another man, a shadowy figure hurrying for the train: Who is he? he wonders, How does he live? And instantly the shadow comes to life, precipitating a series of comic run-ins among a range of disreputable and heartwarming characters living on the sleazy outskirts of the city of lights. Witch Grass (previously titled The Bark Tree) is a philosophical farce, an epic comedy, a mesmerizing book about the daily grind that is an enchantment itself.

 

5. Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars
At once truly appalling and appallingly funny, Blaise Cendrars’s Moravagine bears comparison with Naked Lunch—except that it’s a lot more entertaining to read. Heir to an immense aristocratic fortune, mental and physical mutant Moravagine is a monster, a man in pursuit of a theorem that will justify his every desire. Released from a hospital for the criminally insane by his starstruck psychiatrist (the narrator of the book), who foresees a companionship in crime that will also be an unprecedented scientific collaboration, Moravagine travels from Moscow to San Antonio to deepest Amazonia, engaged in schemes and scams as, among other things, terrorist, speculator, gold prospector, and pilot. He also enjoys a busy sideline in rape and murder. At last, the two friends return to Europe—just in time for World War I, when “the whole world was doing a Moravagine.”

 

3959606. Mouchette by Georges Bernanos
One of the great mavericks of French literature, Georges Bernanos combined raw realism with a spiritual focus of visionary intensity. Mouchette stands with his celebrated Diary of a Country Priest as the perfection of his singular art.  “Nothing but a little savage” is how the village school-teacher describes fourteen-year-old Mouchette, and that view is echoed by every right-thinking local citizen. Mouchette herself doesn’t bother to contradict it; ragged, foulmouthed, dirt-poor, a born liar and loser, she knows herself to be, in the words of the story, “alone, completely alone, against everyone.” Hers is a tale of “tragic solitude” in which despair and salvation appear to be inextricably intertwined.   Bernanos uncompromising genius was a powerful inspiration to Flannery O’Connor, and Mouchette was the source of a celebrated movie by Robert Bresson.

 

7. Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke
Short Letter, Long Farewell is one the most inventive and exhilarating of the great Peter Handke’s novels. Full of seedy noir atmospherics and boasting an air of generalized delirium, the book starts by introducing us to a nameless young German who has just arrived in America, where he hopes to get over the collapse of his marriage. No sooner has he arrived, however, than he discovers that his ex-wife is pursuing him. He flees, she follows, and soon the couple is running circles around each other across the length of America—from Philadelphia to St. Louis to the Arizona desert, and from Portland, Oregon, to L.A. Is it love or vengeance that they want from each other? Everything’s spectacularly unclear in a book that is travelogue, suspense story, domestic comedy, and Western showdown, with a totally unexpected Hollywood twist at the end. Above all, Short Letter, Long Farewell is a love letter to America, its landscapes and popular culture, the invitation and the threat of its newness and wildness and emptiness, with the promise of a new life—or the corpse of an old one—lying just around the corner.

 

8. A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien 439731
The hero of Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a child of Hollywood, and once his life was a glittery dream. His father starred in Westerns. His mother was a goddess of the silver screen. The family enjoyed the high life on their estate, Casa Fiesta. But his parents’ careers have crashed since then, and their marriage has broken up too.  Lovesick and sex-crazed, the mother sets out on an intercontinental quest for the right—or wrong—man, while her mild-mannered but manipulative former husband clings to his memories in California. And their teenage son? How he struggles both to keep faith with his family and to get by himself, and what in the end he must do to break free, makes for a classic coming-of-age story—a novel that combines keen insight and devastating wit to hilarious and heartbreaking effect.

 

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Wishlist: Ten French Books

Following on from my review of The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction, I thought it might be a nice idea to compile a wishlist of sorts, filled with recommendations which I feel will appeal to the bookish.  I have selected ten different authors here, all of whom have published markedly different works.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.

1. Conversations with Professor Y by Louis-Ferdinand Celine 97954

‘”Here’s the truth, simply stated…bookstores are suffering from a serious crisis of falling sales.” So begins the imaginary interview that comprises this novel: a conversation between the stuffy, incontinent Professor Y and Céline himself, who rails against convention and defends his idiosyncratic methods as a writer. In the course of their outrageous interplay, Céline comes closer to explaining his controversial life and work than in any of his other books. But soon the not-so-polite conversation begins to degenerate into a bizarre farce, as all pretense to the “interview” is dropped and Professor Y reveals his true identity—leading the author on a hilarious quest through the streets of Paris toward a climax skewering pretension, celebrity, polite society, and the establishment itself.’

2. Gilles and Jeanne by Michel Tournier

‘This novella by Prix Goncourt-winner Tournier (Friday, The Ogre) recreates medieval history by exploring the bizarre love of Gilles de Rais for Jeanne d’Arc, satanist and saint respectively. The homosexual Gilles, a noble and a marshal of France, finds in the boylike Jeanne an “intoxicating fusion of sanctity and war.” He escorts and protects her in battle against the English, and later tries vainly to save her from the stake. After her death, Gilles is diabolically transformed. He seeks to raise Jeanne’s spirit by putting on the mystery play Siege of Orleans. Gilles’s subsequent crimes earn him the name of Bluebeard: young boys are lured to his castle, feasted and then torturedwith erotic refinementsto death. Gilles rationalizes his grisly deeds by invoking the martyred Holy Innocents. Obsessed with Jeanne’s memory, he burns the children’s bodies in rites of necromancy, hoping to turn them to spiritual gold. Finally, Gilles is condemned to burn, like his adored saint. Tournier’s fervent and striking meditation on these legendary figures suggests that heaven and hell are the obverse sides of a coin. ‘

3. A Jew Must Die by Jacques Chessex 9781904738510

‘On April 16, 1942, a handful of Swiss Nazis in Payerne lure Arthur Bloch, a Jewish cattle merchant, into an empty stable and kill him with a crowbar. Europe is in flames, but this is Switzerland, and Payerne, a rural market town of butchers and bankers, is more worried about unemployment and local bankruptcies than the fate of nations across the border. Fernand Ischi, leader of the local Nazi cell, blames it all on the town’s Jewish population and wants to set an example, thinking the German embassy would be grateful. Ischi’s dream of becoming the local gauleiter is shattered, however, when the milk containers used to dissimulate Bloch’s body parts is discovered floating in a lake nearby, leading to his arrest.’

4. The Flight of Icarus by Raymond Queneau

‘Called by some the French Borges, by others the creator of le nouveau roman a generation ahead of its time, Raymond Queneau’s work in fiction continues to defy strict categorization. The Flight of Icarus (Le Vol d’lcare) is his only novel written in the form of a play: seventy-four short scenes, complete with stage directions. Consciously parodying Pirandello and Robbe-Grillet, it begins with a novelist’s discovery that his principal character, Icarus by name, has vanished. This, in turn, sets off a rash of other such disappearances. Before long, a number of desperate authors are found in search of their fugitive characters, who wander through the Paris of the 1890s, occasionally meeting one another, and even straying into new novels. Icarus himself–perhaps following the destiny his name suggests–develops a passion for horseless carriages, kites, and machines that fly. And throughout the almost vaudevillian turns of the plot, we are aware, as always, of Queneau’s evident delight at holding the thin line between farce and philosophy.’

97819419200915. Sphinx by Anne Garreta

‘Sphinx is the remarkable debut novel, originally published in 1986, by the incredibly talented and inventive French author Anne Garreta, one of the few female members of Oulipo, the influential and exclusive French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec and Italo Calvino, among others. A beautiful and complex love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and their lover, A***, written without using any gender markers to refer to the main characters, Sphinx is a remarkable linguistic feat and paragon of experimental literature that has never been accomplished before or since in the strictly-gendered French language.’

6. Our Beautiful Heroine by Jacques Roubaud

‘This lightweight but appealing romantic mystery in which the crime is never solved and the lovers never united is set in a bustling middle-class Parisian neighborhood replete with butcher shop, bakery, produce market and peopled with a spirited group of opinionated busybodies. These include the narrator George Mornacier, an ardent girl-watcher and astute observer of the human scene; Bertrand Eusebe, an innocently lecherous grocer; Madame Crussant, the goodhearted baker; and Monsieur Orsell, scholar and philosopher. These voluble neighbors are preoccupied with the whereabouts of the heir to the kingdom of oil-rich Poldevia, young Prince Gormanskoi, missing for two years since a state visit to France. Also dominating the neighborhood’s interest is the identity of the perpetrator of the “hardware store horrors,” acts of vandalism against 52 hardware stores carrying plaster Poldevian statuettes. When Hortense, a voluptuous student long admired by Eusebe and George, meets a young man with dark, noble features and long, delicate hands, a uniquely chronicled chain of events ensues that leads to the identification of the missing prince, a passionate liaison ending in marriage and the trial of the hardware store vandal: all with unexpected results. Although it is sometimes sidetracked by tedious digression and much of Kornacker’s translation is clumsily phrased, this is basically a vigorous and agreeable work.’

7. Happening by Annie Ernaux 41js73x1-el-_sx327_bo1204203200_

‘In 1963, Annie Ernaux, 23 and unattached, realizes she is pregnant. Shame arises in her like a plague: Understanding that her pregnancy will mark her and her family as social failures, she knows she cannot keep that child.  This is the story, written forty years later, of a trauma Ernaux never overcame. In a France where abortion was illegal, she attempted, in vain, to self-administer the abortion with a knitting needle. Fearful and desperate, she finally located an abortionist, and ends up in a hospital emergency ward where she nearly dies.  In Happening, Ernaux sifts through her memories and her journal entries dating from those days. Clearly, cleanly, she gleans the meanings of her experience.’

8. The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrere

‘”What would you say if I shaved off my mustache?” asks “The Mustache”‘s hero of his wife. Once removed, his wife and friends not only fail to recognize him, but deny the existence of the former mustache altogether. A metaphysical nightmare of the grandest kind, “The Mustache” is a stunning blend of absurdist comedy and philosophical speculation.In “Class Trip,” young Nicholas’s vivid imagination gets the best of him when a boy disappears from a school excursion. What the youthful detective finds is even more terrifying than his wildest fantasties.Brought together in one volume, the piercing early novels of Emmanuel Carrere constitute some of the most devastating psychological portraits in contemporary fiction.”‘
9. Red Haze by Christian Gailly

‘”One day unlike the others, he’ll run into a husband worse than the others, he’ll run into trouble. I often thought this. Well, I was wrong, it was a woman he ran into, a woman worse than the others, here’s what happened.” What happened is the shocking tale told deftly by the brilliant French minimalist Christian Gailly in Red Haze . It is a story at once spare and mysteriously complex, complicated by the ever odder perspective of the narrator as the details accumulate. Lucien, the narrator’s friend, is a rake, a womanizer who womanizes once too often and loses his offending member to his latest conquest. As the narrator’s interest in the mutilated man and the vengeful woman grows into an obsession, Red Haze becomes an unsettling story of how closely intertwined love and hatred, passion and cruelty can be. Winner of the prestigious Prix France Culture, Red Haze is the third of Christian Gailly’s ten novels to be published in English.’

61uots711il-_sx344_bo1204203200_10. The Bathroom by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

‘In this playful and perplexing book, we meet a young Parisian researcher who lives inside his bathroom. As he sits in his tub meditating on existence (and refusing to tell us his name), the people around him―his girlfriend, Edmondsson, the Polish painters in his kitchen―each in their own way further enables his peculiar lifestyle, supporting his eccentric quest for immobility. But an invitation to the Austrian embassy shakes up his stable world, prompting him to take a risk and leave his bathroom . . .’

 

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