Elisabeth Sanxay Holding – The Blank Wall

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From conventional wife and mother to a suspect in murder investigations

The Blank Wall PersephoneI came across Elisabeth Sanxay Holding through the site of a blogger who writes about Film Noir, John Grant’s fascinating Noirish and a further site where he was interviewed, (alas I have lost the link) and he mentioned her as a writer of quality noir.

And she is, on this reckoning. An American novelist, born in 1889 married to a Brit, she started out as a writer of romantic novels, moving to the hardboiled detective genre after the 1929 stock market crash, for lucrative reasons – a popular selling genre! Not to mention, a genre she clearly had a talent for. She created a quiet, thoughtful detective in Lieutenant Levy, who features in this novel, though he is far from the central character.

No less a hardboiled detective supremo than Raymond Chandler rated Holding hugely

The Blank Wall, written in 1947, and set during the Second World War, particularly fascinated me because the central character, a middle aged woman, Lucia Holley, is such a very unlikely candidate to become embroiled in not one, but two murder investigations

Lucia’s husband Tom is away in the war. She writes conventional, dull letters to him

Lucia Holley wrote every night to her husband, who was somewhere in the Pacific. They were very dull letters, as she knew; they gave Commander Holley a picture of a life placid and sunny as a little mountain lake.

“Dear Tom,” she wrote. “It is pouring rain tonight”

She crossed it out, and sat for a moment looking at the window where the rain slid down the glass in a silver torrent. There’s no use telling him that, she thought. It might sound rather dreary. “The crocuses are just up” she wrote.

You get the picture, Lucia is conventional; Lucia is rather dull. She is a kind, loyal to her family kind of woman. She is a quite well off woman, normal, comfortable. She would probably be living the American Dream were it not for the war, which sees her raising her two children and taking care of her elderly father, all by herself. She is most definitely not the kind of woman to go breaking the law. Her two children, Bee, and her younger brother David are either slap bang in the middle of rebellious late adolescence or about to enter that state. They both hold their mother in slight or extreme contempt, precisely because she is so very conventional.

An earlier cover

    An earlier cover

Bee has begun some kind of liaison with a most unsuitable older man. He is married, but that is far from the only unsuitable thing about him. Nothing has really happened, but he is not the sort of man Bee should be involved with, and Lucia, conventional though she may be, is prepared to be tigerish in defence of her children. She has had some kind of a warning show down with Ted Darby, the unsuitable man, to try to persuade him against seeing Bee.

Darby has other plans however, and is using Bee for his own ends. And others may be using Darby for their particular reasons.

Through her connection to her children, conventional Lucia finds herself embroiled with the kind of people she would never normally meet – a criminal world.

Holding is really exploring what might make anyone cross over to the other side of the law, and the tension gets turned up and continues to rise precisely because Lucia IS so law abiding and conventional by nature and nurture, so she is constantly shocked by herself, discovering that the person she always thought she was is not the person she really is, when pushed to the limits.

This is the kind of crime writing I enjoy most – the psychology of ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary situations. Holding is superb on relationship, superb on characterisation; it is these that drive plot. She does not dwell in loving detail on the gruesome grisly blow by blow accounts of violence, the vulnerability of damaged flesh; her interest is in the ensuing vulnerability of psyche.

This book, republished by the excellent Persephone Press, gave rise to not one, but two noir films:

Joan Bennett, James Mason : The Reckless Moment

 Joan Bennett, James Mason : The Reckless Moment

Firstly, 1949’s Max Ophuls’ film, The Reckless Moment starring Joan Bennett as Lucia, and the wonderful James Mason as Martin Donnelly, one of the wider circle associated with Ted Darby, who is central in the story. The film exists in sections on You Tube, here is the first of 6

A very loose adaptation, updated for a more modern audience was released as The Deep End in 2001. Starring Tilda Swinton and directed by David Siegal and Scott McGehie the story now concerns a mother whose teenage son, not daughter, is having a relationship with the unsuitable older man with shady connections

The Deep End Swinton

    Tilda Swinton : The Deep End

I found Holding’s book taut, well written and absorbing. If at times Lucia’s Elisabeth Sanxay Holdingconventional passivity was frustrating, and her sense of herself involved in things a woman like her just doesn’t do, that is purely down to the fact that these times are different from those times, and Lucia’s conventional naiveté would have been normal and expected.

The Blank Wall Amazon UK
The Blank Wall Amazon USA

John Powell – Why We Love Music

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The joy of musical goose-bumps

Why We Love MusicJohn Powell’s ‘Why We Love Music’ is a thoroughly engaging journey through neuroscience, psychology, trivia and thoughtful appreciation into our relationship with the repetitive aural patterns and variations of rhythm, tone, pitch and timbre that we might end up describing as ‘music’

It matters not what kind of music opens you up to delight or makes you back off in whimpering distaste, some kind of ‘music’ is likely to powerfully affect us all, and what pushes your ‘like’ or indeed your ‘dislike’ button is likely to reveal something about your individual psychology as much as it might give clues to your age and from whence you came. The sound of music, like the food in our kitchens can spell home, and take us immediately into our past.

Powell is a most engaging writer, and I’m afraid, shallow as I am, I love it when people give me lots of nuggetty things to think about wrapped up in an attractive coating.

Powell is informative, references meticulously, provides some more challenging appendices for musicians and those with more of a grasp of the technicalities and mechanics than I have, and offers all the resources to help those who want drier and more detailed information, find those sources. If you want to find those resource papers with such thrilling titles as “An experience Sampling Study of Emotional Reactions to Music: Listener, Music and Situation” Powell’s footnotes and chapter headings will surely be invaluable.

The lighter-weights amongst us may well be happy enough to have Powell explain to us that, for example, one might hear the ‘fear’ music when it is played for one of James Bond’s enemies, and not have our ‘fear’ activated, but, when that music arrives for one of Bond’s lady loves, we might indeed become fearful for her. Even more, we might appreciate (I did) Powell’s flip humour reminding us :”This is usually a perfectly justifiable fear, as the average life-expectancy of a James Bond girlfriend is about thirty-five minutes” Powell does not reference that quip, but it did make me laugh.

He took me, in a spirit of adventurous investigation, out of my own musical comfort zone, as he does reference various examples as illustrations of points he is making, so a simultaneous read and navigate to a website to hear a soundtrack was very pleasurable.

Below is my first ever experience of Elbow, courtesy of Powell’s move me out of obvious comfort zone

The Birds – Elbow from Dan on Vimeo.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters examining how speech patterns morph into music/singing, and, indeed just why music gets soft-wired and hard-wired in to Importance for us – for example, the musical quality of what might be called ‘Motherese’ – the singing quality adults employ talking to small babies, the rhythmical patterns of lullabies, repetitions of phrases. Babies then pattern in their babbling back to adults, there is a satisfaction in the familiarity of repeating phrases, a kind of safety in the familiar. Here is a fascinating clip Powell references of a study done on how the musicality in normal speech might become experienced as song

This is a gorgeous, engaging book. Dr John Powell has a PhD in physics, and lectures in physics; he is also a classically trained musician and lectures in musical acoustics. He is also (MOST importantly for this reader) clearly a brilliant communicator, and someone with an infectious joy in his specialist subjects. And writes like a dream.

I have also had great fun in some of the suggested practical exercises, for example ‘re-hearing’ a clock ticking as tick tock tick, rather than tick tock, to demonstrate the mind’s ability to impose subjective patterns and rhythms. Sound stupid? – oh, just read the book, Powell will encourage you into musical games

Along the way he explores experiments in tapping into the healing power of music, particularly linked with neurological conditions – some of this has of course been very well explored. He also explodes a few myths about extreme musical talent, as further experiments and studies in statistics show the extremely musically talented tend to be those who practiced, from the start, far more than the less dedicated amongst us ever did. So…..my new dream on……..I could have been a musical contender, if only I hadn’t been so lazy………….His depressing statistic, for the easily distracted who lack persistence is that it generally takes about ten thousand hours of practice to become a professional musician. I assume he is talking classical here, rather than the three chord bash.

And here is Powell being instructive about rubato (not to mention a bit rude, about that much loved piece Asturias, by Albeniz) I’m even minded now to get the earlier book, How Music Works

Later in the book he begins to deconstruct music, going into more detail on how we hear, what we hear, what is meant by notes, and into various techniques, and their effects within a piece. In fact, there is a definite progression from the very easily graspable, at the start, to ‘stuff’ needing more thinking about. We started with a simple scale, and ended up with Wagnerian symphony! (Just to get back into my comfort zone!)

What an engaging, as well as what an informative, read!

Powell’s book will be published on the 5th of May in hardback and digital. I was lucky enough to get offered it through Amazon Vine UK. For some strange reason it will only be available in the UK on digital or Audible. I would not suggest Audible as there are various diagrams which make sense of the more technical aspects in the latter half of the book. Musicians and physicists may not need the diagrams; the moderately innocent of such matters, like myself, embraced them like a life-raft

There also appears to be some confusion between the publisher and Amazon websites John Powellas to whether this is to be called Why We Love Music or Why You Love Music. I suggest a compromise and that the book is called Why You and We Love Music, to avoid fisticuffs!

Powell is also at pains to point out that he is, sadly, not THAT John Powell – there is a film composer of the same name to whom he pays nice deference. I’m perfectly enchanted with THIS John Powell and hope the other John Powell also pays nice deference to this on

Why We Love Music Amazon UK
Why We Love Music Amazon USA

Svetlana Alexievich – Chernobyl Prayer

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Painful to read; ostrich like to not do so

Chernobyl PrayerThis is far from my usual reading, and recommending it is a kind of excruciating necessity. All I can say is that I wish the book had not had a need to be written

Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer, the account of ordinary Belarusians whose lives and land were horribly affected by the reactor blowing, is a difficult, horrifying and yet unavoidable read. At least, unavoidable if you believe we need to face terrible reality, and acknowledge it, however much not thinking about it seems the best, pain avoiding option

Alexievich lets her contributors tell their stories. This is certainly not a book to read cover to cover; so much horror can’t be borne, and in fact the only response to trying to do that is a kind of numbing and deadening, as the reader tries to protect herself from the awful reality.

This is not an account of politics, cover up, science, official speak. It is ordinary voices, and therefore, full of individual response. Some are even remarkably stoical and even manage to bear up with fortitude in the face of something which seems unbearably grim – the ticking time-bomb caused by impossible exposure to radioactivity following the reactor’s blow-out

There are a few thoughts which struck home. Inevitably, the heroism, even if no one quite understood the terrible danger of the firefighters who went in to contain the damage, and prevent the other reactors from also cracking.

Radiation large

Secondly, many of the people she interviewed had the most astonishing, deep love of place and land. Something perhaps harder for those of us who live less rooted lives, less connected to the time and place of our ancestral past, to understand. These are people, who knowing the danger, chose to secretly, illegally return to their damaged land, because to live apart from in, in cities, was no life. They mourned their land and their connection to it

Time and again people talk about how the animals, birds and insects responded immediately to the disaster, and yet, the people did not know – beekeepers reporting their bees stayed in their hives for days and did not come out. Fisherman, using worms for bait, discovering they couldn’t find any worms, because they had burrowed so deeply into the earth. I found that strange and sobering too, some sense which we have lost

Alexievich, in her own take on this writes this to show :

we now find ourselves on a new page of history. The history of disasters has begun. But people do not want to reflect on that , because they have never thought about it before, preferring to take refuge in the familiar

She opens the book with the sobering, horrifying account of the life and death of one of the fire-fighters, recounted by his widow (herself, horribly affected by contamination) Lyudmila Ignatenko, pregnant, was instructed not to touch or go close to her dying husband Vasily. In full knowledge of the danger to herself and her unborn child, she ignored the advice, and chose to touch, kiss and give human contact . She was told :

You musn’t forget this isn’t your husband, it isn’t the man you love, it’s a highly contaminated radioactive object.

I was humbled by Lyudmila, and by Vasily. And this is just one story of many

Star rating seems impossible. I hate it – I hate that this happened and needs to be recounted, to say ‘I love it’ is monstrous. I will settle for 4 star, But it is to my mind unrateable. Dreadful, important, necessary. I feel the need to read each person’s story, but cannot do this cover to cover, without long gaps, as it seems wrong to shut down feeling, but so much horror can’t be consciously endured for long.

I suppose all the reader can do, does do, on reading a book like this, is to be a kind of witness. A witness to something you don’t want to witness, because to ignore it feels some kind of deep insult

I was offered this by Amazon Vine, and took it, wincingly.

It seems more terrible, and more necessary, both, than I expected. And I’m not even necessarily saying ‘read it’ But not to talk about the book at all is something I can’t do either.

Most chillingly, the subtitle of the book is “A Chronicle of the Future”. It reminds us that the effects of such a radiation leak seeped into the air, the earth, the waters, and last for tens of thousands of years

Fire-fighters like Vasily Ignatenko helped contain and restrain even more cataclysmic potential damage. And i never thought till now of how much I owe him and others like himSvetlana

This is a re-issue and re-translation to mark the thirtieth anniversary.

Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize  “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.[

Chernobyl Prayer Amazon UK
Chernobyl Prayer Amazon USA

Alan Sillitoe – The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

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Resistance is not futile

The LonelinessShort stories, as I find myself repeatedly telling myself, are a slightly unsettling read. It’s to do with the variable length of reading time. A short can be just too short, and if you read several by the same writer in fairly quick succession, there can be a sense of ‘here we go again’ as a writer’s pattern repeats.

And so I found here, with Sillitoe. In some ways, to my taste, this collection would have been better served by having fewer of the ‘stories in the middle section’ The first, ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ is a marvellous novella, rather than short story. It is full of bitter, angry realism, a heady mix of despair, resignation and empowerment. It was of course also made into an iconic film of the 60s, part of the New Wave of Cinema – which included the film of another Sillitoe book, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

Tom Courtenay, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, 1962, director Tony Richardson

Tom Courtenay, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, 1962, director Tony Richardson

The central character of the title story is a troubled, disadvantaged young Nottinghamshire teen, doing time in a Borstal, after he was caught with the proceeds of a robbery – in a scene which mixes dark humour with pathos. The story, told in the first person is imbued with a sharp, intelligent sense of the unfair nature of an unequal society.

Smith did not have the chances, due to poverty and deprivation for any kind of better life (the book was published in 1959) Petty crime offered glamour, excitement – and food on the table.

In his time in the Borstal, the superficially progressive prison governor discovers that Smith has a rare talent for running, and when a cross-country running competition is set up against a prestigious school, the prison governor sees glory for himself and his running of his Borstal, in pitting his prize boy against the elite. For Smith, the buzz, the graft and the drudgery of daily training offer a meaningful solitary time for expansive, curiously transcendental thought, bringing him to a wider consciousness of himself and the system he is caught within

Although the ending of the story is never really going to be in doubt, once the reader sees how Smith’s process of analysis is going, it is gloriously satisfying.

Sillitoe himself came from precisely the same kind of background as the characters in this and the other stories in the collection. What I like is the sense of fire and spirit, the individuality and humanity in his characters, despite the fact that life does what it can to grind this down and away. He neither patronises, pities, indulges or allows his characters to indulge in ‘poor me misery’ in the best of the stories.

Of the shorter stories, I found ‘The Fishing Boat Picture’, the story of a mismatched marriage between a bookish postman who liked a quiet life and the ‘big-boned girl yet with a good figure and a nice enough face’ whom he marries rather in haste, followed by the inevitable joint repentance at leisure, a particularly strong one. The twist in the story is not a twist of event, rather, one of dignity, sensitivity, tenderness and emotional refinement inside what seems like unpromising, wasted lives

I was also moved by the sad pathos of ‘Uncle Ernest’, a lonely man who, through pity, forms a friendship with two manipulative young girls. I think a modern writer would have done something more sensationalist with this, and maybe, in the light of recent events, the idea that there can be innocent friendships is something which gets more cynically viewed.

Some of the later stories (when I had got the measure of the writing), such as ‘On Saturday Afternoon’, where the narrator, a young boy, assists another typical Sillitoe loner in his suicide attempt, just because he (the boy) was feeling ‘black and fed –up because everybody in the family had gone to the pictures’ seemed a little contrived, an attempt, curiously enough to lift with mordant humour, a darkening collection.

However, the very different end story absolutely raised the game again for me. ‘The Decline and Fall of Frankie Buller’. This is either a more fully autobiographical story, or a story where the writer wants us to believe in its autobiography, as the narrator in this is a writer called Alan, originally from a background of poverty and deprivation, whose success as a writer has taken him out of class, out of background, and into a much more gracious life, now in Majorca (Mallorca) . Sillitoe did indeed live for several years in France, Spain and specifically in Mallorca

In this endpiece story, quite different in tone to the earlier pieces, the theme is that of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ The writer muses of a life formed through a passion for books, reading and writing. His relationship to them is ambivalent, they are :

Items which have become part of me, foliage that has grown to conceal the bare stem of my real personality, what I was like before I ever saw these books, or any book at all, come to that. Often I would like to rip them away from me one by one, extract their shadows out of my mouth and heart, cut them neatly with a scalpel from my jungle-brain. Impossible. You can’t wind back the clock that sits grinning on the marble shelf. You can’t even smash its face in and forget it

The writer, in his present, is taken back in time from the aural equivalent of Proust’s madeleine – the song of the cuckoo, into a flooded, present remembrance of himself, earlier in life, and tells the important story of Frankie Buller, who he was, who he was for Alan, and the moment when life paths diverge.

We were marching to war, and I was a part of his army, with an elderberry stick at the slope and my pockets heavy with smooth, flat, well-chosen stones that would skim softly and swiftly through the air, and strike the forehead of enemies

The gathering up of Sillitoe’s time and place in this, as stages of his life are weaved into and out of, is wonderful.

I was offered this as a digital copy for review, by Open Road Media, a States basedAlan Sillitoe Wikipic company who bring many ‘gone out of print’ writers from earlier in the twentieth century, back into circulation. They are meticulous (not all digitisers are!) in producing versions which read seamlessly and cleanly on ereaders

This particular version is not the one available in the UK, I have linked to the UK ‘available on Kindle’ which was an earlier publication. The stories are the same, and in the same order, but the UK Kindle and USA Kindle (Open Road) contain different afterwords, by different authors. Open Road’s version has an afterword by Sillitoe’s wife, Ruth Fainlight, a writer herself, and photographs

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner Amazon UK
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner Amazon USA

George Orwell – Homage to Catalonia

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“The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians”

Homage to CataloniaGeorge Orwell was not only a writer whom I fell in love with in my late teens and early twenties, but was also a man with qualities, as shown in his writing and his life, that seemed to me heroic.

What struck me about Orwell and his writing was always the humanity of the man, and the honesty to test himself and his beliefs. He knew, it seemed, what he was, and was aware of the prejudices which class, sex, and culture impose (on all of us). He was also someone who could examine his beliefs and was not afraid to admit he was wrong

Nowhere does this show itself so clearly as in two of his great autobiographical, journalistic writings, Down and Out In Paris and London, and Homage to Catalonia, published in 1938. This book recounts Orwell’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Like many on the left Orwell went to Spain to fight Fascism. Which in Spain took a different form from Germany and Italy. The democratically elected government in Spain was left leaning. An alliance of various right wing groupings (supported by the arms from Germany and Italy) attempted to overthrow that government. Although there were several right wing groups with their own agenda, they were more united against the left than the multiplicity of left wing groupings were in their prime focus against their common enemy, the right.  Primarily, though Russia supported the left, what the Communist Party was supporting was State Capitalism. Some of the other leftist groups, notably the ‘Trotskyist’ Marxist P.O.U.M (the militia Orwell fought alongside when he first went to Spain) and the Anarchists, were fighting for a bottom-up workers’ revolution.

Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista

              Partit Obrer d’Unificació Marxista

Initially trying to get papers to go to Spain to fight for the Republic, Orwell did approach Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain. (Those Britons intending to fight for the Republic needed supporting documents from a British left organisation. Pollitt however did not consider Orwell ‘sound’. This meant Orwell got his papers from the ILP, the Independent Labour Party. Practically, this meant that he was assigned to a militia which was predominantly P.O.U.M . Had the CP given him papers, he would have entered the war with P.S.U.C , the ‘official’ Communist Party (Stalinist) line. And his experience would have been a vastly different one. An ‘official’ CP line was put out, and widely reported in the Press, that the P.O.U.M were fifth columnists, and were in fact a front for the Fascists. P.O.U.M and the more left wing trades union groupings (F.A.I; C.N.T – Anarchists) were of course nothing of the sort, but were interested in winning a revolution, as well as a war.

Except for the small revolutionary groups which exist in all countries, the whole world was determined upon preventing revolution in Spain. In particular the Communist Party, with Soviet Russia behind it, had thrown its whole weight against the revolution. It was the Communist thesis that revolution at this stage would be fatal and that what was to be aimed at in Spain was not workers’ control, but bourgeois democracy. It hardly needs pointing out why ‘liberal’ capitalist opinion took the same line.

The experience of the P.O.U.M. militia, and later, in Barcelona, were for Orwell a transforming experience. The contrast between a top down imposed line, and a bottom up without-hierarchy, though at times frustratingly inefficient, seemed to connect with Orwell’s own desire to seek the truthful, human encounter, rather than the party line.

To be perfectly honest, the complexities of that war, some 80 years ago, still seem difficult to understand, and it is very clear (as Orwell suggests) that information and misinformation was deliberately put out on all sides. Ancient ideological enmities between particular left groupings do seem to get stuck in fighting each other.

APJXTE Placa De George Orwell Barcelona named in memory of Orwells service in the Spanish Civil War

Placa De George Orwell Barcelona named in memory of Orwell’s service in the Spanish Civil War

Where I like and trust Orwell is that he wrote this book from his direct experience. A small corner of that war, and from within an organisation which was fairly quickly made illegal. Orwell’s relationship is always with the people he is alongside, not with official lines.

This is at times a remarkably confusing account of warfare. That is not to criticise Orwell – because that is the nature of war, from within the battlezones, minute by minute. Add to that the fact that the Spanish Civil War, and interpretations of what was happening still leads to shouting between different factions and believers on the left, and between different scholarly accounts and interpretations.

Orwell was fighting on a front line, near Huesca, where very little was happening as the lines were quite far apart. Paradoxically, it was when he was in Barcelona for a few days leave, looking forward to getting away from the cold and the rats and the lice, that everything kicked off, and the workers,-united,-will-never-be-defeated, broke down because the various Republican faction’s pressing differences opened out into naked conflict

I believe that on such an issue as this no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes, and consciously or unconsciously everyone writes as a partisan

Orwell reminds us that we are ALL partisan and have agendas. Perhaps that is something which is refreshing about him – he describes what he sees, he also applies his investigative, journalistic look to the stories that were told by others with more obvious agendas and party lines to promote.

I went back to my post on the roof with a feeling of concentrated disgust and fury. When you are taking part in events like these you are, I suppose, in a small way, making history, and you ought by rights to feel like a historical character. But you never do, because at such times the physical details always outweigh everything else. Throughout the fighting, I never made the correct ‘analysis’ of the situation that was so glibly made by journalists hundreds of miles away. What I was chiefly thinking about was not the rights and wrongs of this miserable internecine scrap, but simply the discomfort and boredom of sitting day and night on that intolerable rood, and the hunger which was growing worse and worse – for none of us had had a proper meal since Monday

In a way, it is Orwell’s ‘inability to make the correct analysis’ which seems a deal more honest than black and white analyses

That view which I formed when I read this first, has only been reinforced. And underlined by a very apposite quote, found in a Wiki article about Homage to Catalonia

The Spanish Civil war produced a spate of bad literature. Homage to Catalonia is one of the few exceptions and the reason is simple. Orwell was determined to set down the truth as he saw it. This was something that many writers of the Left in 1936–39 could not bring themselves to do. Orwell comes back time and time again in his writings on Spain to those political conditions in the late thirties which fostered intellectual dishonesty: the subservience of the intellectuals of the European Left to the Communist ‘line’, especially in the case of the Popular Front in Spain where, in his view, the party line could not conceivably be supported by an honest man. Only a few strong souls, Victor Serge and Orwell among them, could summon up the courage to fight the whole tone of the literary establishment and the influence of Communists within it. Arthur Koestler quoted to an audience of Communist sympathizers. Thomas Mann’s phrase, ‘In the long run a harmful truth is better than a useful lie’. The non-Communists applauded; the Communists and their sympathizers remained icily silent … It is precisely the immediacy of Orwell’s reaction that gives the early sections of Homage its value for the historian. Kaminski, Borkenau, Koestler came with a fixed framework, the ready-made contacts of journalist intellectuals. Orwell came with his eyes alone.

Raymond Carr, “Orwell and the Spanish war”, essay in the World of George Orwell, 1971

My battered old version of the book also has a later essay by Orwell, “Looking Back on The Spanish Civil War”, which was published in 1953, and gives a clear analysis of the highly complex threads, the unlikely ideological bedfellows, in both countries and political and ideological groupings,  from a vantage point 15 years later.

There is also a very clear Wiki article, including a timeline of Spanish history where the seeds of the conflict can be traced, specifically on the Spanish Civil War.
Pablo Picasso - Guernica, 1937
                      Pablo Picasso – Guernica, 1937
(Guernica was bombed at the request of the Spanish Nationalists (Falangists) by German and Italian planes)

George OrwellIt illustrates, yet again, how deeply tangled and complex the seeds of our ability to self-destruct are. Sometimes the fact that we are a self-conscious species, and our ability to self-reflect, – and self-deceive, as well as deceive others, seems a dreadful evolutionary aberration.

I was delighted (though churned up and deeply saddened) to be sprung into re-reading this account of ‘this pitiful and muddled war’ by Karen’s 1938 reading challenge She has done a remarkably clear review of Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia Amazon UK
Homage to Catalonia Amazon USA

the-1938-club

John Fowles – The French Lieutenant’s Woman

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Class and gender politics, Darwin and god-game narration

The French Lieutenant's WomanI have read and re-read John Fowles’ The Magus, roughly every five to ten years, since first reading it in my early twenties, finding it (and still finding it) a powerful book. Yet, curiously, I had never re-read the very first Fowles I encountered, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, although this was also a book I valued highly. A simple matter of probably being a library read, rather than bought, so not on my shelves and able to be easily re-read.

Fowles was always a thinker, as much as a writer of novels: philosophy, politics, psychology, history, science, sociology, ethics, natural history, as well, of course, as the arts, he is always writing ‘about stuff’ as well as inhabiting the craft of narrative literary fiction, the understanding of characters in place and time, and the relationships between them. Still, well thumbed, on my shelves is The Aristos, sentences and paragraphs about some of the topics which interested him, many of which were explored in his novels.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman was of course made into a successful film, one indeed which in filmic terms managed to explore some of the ideas about the novel itself which forms a part of the book.

And what a very satisfying book it is. We are of course well used to writers writing about writing in the course of their novels, trying out different forms, books within books, mind games, sophistication, but at the time of publication (1969) this was far rarer, particularly in a book which was both literary and popular

The Cobb, Lyme Regis

                             The Cobb, Lyme Regis

The setting is Lyme Regis, and the time, potent in that place, 1867. Darwin’s Origin of Species had been published 8 years earlier. Fossil hunting was a pursuit eagerly taken up by amateur scientists, male and female, of liberal persuasions. Palaeontology was verifying Darwin. And Lyme Regis, part of the Jurassic Coastline, was the perfect place for such searchers.

The Undercliff, Lyme Regis

                      The Undercliff, Lyme Regis

Charles Smithson is such a gentleman. He comes from aristocratic lineage, though his fortune is not quite what it was. He has recently become engaged to Ernestina Freeman, the grand-daughter of a moderately successful draper. Two generations later, the Freemans are extremely wealthy. Fowles is exploring many things, but class and its aspirations and the evolution of a society which had been fossilised, and is now rapidly changing, is one of them. So is, particularly, women and sexuality a major theme. Smithson and Freeman have come to Lyme to stay with Ernestina’s aunt on a holiday. Into the settled world of the happy couple comes a catalyst – The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Sarah Woodruff is the daughter of a farmer who wished to better himself. She was educated beyond her station and became a governess. But a mystery, and shame, is connected with her, and her reputation has been compromised through an unfortunate connection. Impropriety may or may not have happened, but the suspicion of improperness, in that generally closed society, is enough to cause shock and prurient interest.

So…….on the one hand, what we have is a kind of triangle, with a historical setting. Into which, Fowles inserts himself, as novelist, reminding us this is a story, making comments from a twentieth century viewpoint, on both his own society and the Victorian one – asking us to see our society through Victorian eyes, to constantly weigh and balance what our society and that society also, has lost and gained, compared to each other. He interferes further, showing the reader other possibilities, different trajectories for his fiction

Micraster decipiens, Echinoid fossil

Micraster decipiens fossil

There is a wonderful push and pull of the immersion of narrative literary fiction, particularly as Sarah’s character is a particularly fascinating one, and the push and pull between Charles, Sarah, Ernestina also has another relationship linked within it – Sam, Charles’ manservant, Mary, Ernestina’s aunt, Mrs Tranter’s, maid – there is a lot of mobility of class, a lot of stagnation resisting change, going on, and it all has echoes with evolutionary theory.

Of course to us any Cockney servant called Sam evokes immediately the immortal Weller; and it was certainly from that background that this Sam had emerged. But thirty years had passed since Pickwick Papers first coruscated into the world. Sam’s love of the equine was not really very deep

Fowles playfully, successfully, also involves the reader in the dichotomies between John_Fowlesimmersion, and a novelish version of Brechtian alienation – reminding us this is fiction, taking us into identifying and empathising with character, caught up in journey, only to make us question again what is going on.

The tensions between immersion and the new novel (nouveau roman), both debunking and revealing the omniscient god narrator really work. Fowles feels as if he talks directly to the reader, not talks down to them, and there is a curious sense of the invented characters being both real, and not real, literary creations. Head, heart, viscera all engaged

The novelist is still a god, since he creates (and not even the most aleatory avant-garde modern novel has managed to extirpate its author completely); what has changed is that we are no longer the gods of the Victorian image, omniscient and decreeing; but in the new theological image, with freedom our first principle, not authority.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman Amazon UK
The French Lieutenant’s Woman Amazon USA

Aside

It’s Publication Day! Margery Sharp has landed!

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Eagle landing

Margery Sharp and hairstyleIt’s re-issue day at last for Margery Sharp, thanks to Open Road Media and some dedicated bloggers who have been raising flags for her for at least a couple of years.

Followers of this blog and most of us new Margery readers know that Jane who blogs from beyondedenrock has done sterling work in helping Margery to reach a new generation of readers. You will find, if you explore that there are reviews to more Margerys, not to mention reviews of various Margery books, from readers around the blogosphere who engaged, this year and last, in Jane’s hosted Margery Sharp day

Go explore Margery – she is a light-touch, light-hearted writer, who writes books which are hugely entertaining, witty, and well-turned in writing craft. Margery can indeed write sharply and incisively; you get the sense she feels warmly towards humanity, but is not at all saccharine.

Cluny Brown Open RoadCluny Brown and The Nutmeg Tree have both been reviewed on here, so you can follow the links.

They feature two delightfully individual and quirky central characters, and I’m delighted to have met and made friends with Cluny and Julia

When Jane started her championship of Margery on her blog, she was only available, if you were very lucky, as a charity shop find, rumpled and elderly, but at reasonable cost. And, as time went by, and more of us were introduced to the wonderful Margery Sharp, the dwindling copies of Margeriana began to reach eye-watering prices via market-place sellers. I could only find a battered Cluny and a battered Julia-Nutmeg, at reasonable outlay. The Nutmeg Tree

Until now – so have a look at the other titles Open Road Media have released. I trust some of them will make their way on here in due course!

Cluny Brown Amazon UK
Cluny Brown Amazon USA

The Nutmeg Tree Amazon UK
The Nutmeg Tree Amazon USA

Mary Hocking – Visitors to the Crescent

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“Each age creates God in its own image and now God had become the supreme psychiatrist”

Visitors to the CrescentSet some time after the second world war, probably in the late 50s or early 60s, Visitors To The Crescent is a dark novel. Hocking presents a world of ordinary people, going about their small daily lives, but beneath the surface pleasantries, almost everyone is either unaware of their own, troubled psychology, or, too aware of it for comfort and making valiant attempts to keep the lights of their rationality on at all times, so they can be aware of the rustlings of things they might need to see in order to firmly restrain. There are also those who take joy only in their own propensity for violence and sociopathy.

There are three sets of central protagonists, and the main setting for the major groups is in West London

There are the residents of 10, Cedar Crescent, owned by Jessica Holt, a writer of books for children. She lives on one floor and lets out the other two floors. Paddy Brett is a bit of a louche, easy come, easy go good time girl. Edward Saneck, secretive and tortured, rents another floor, and also a basement which is used for storage. And Jessica and Edward have entered into a relationship which is on one level based on the fact that both of them are both lonely, private, and have different reasons for avoiding emotional intimacy. Sexual intimacy can be engaged in, emotional intimacy is off-limits

brockstation

Saneck also connects with the second group of protagonists. He part shares ownership of an antique shop with George Vickers. Vickers, like Saneck, has other agendas. Vickers engages in rather shady activities with joy, whereas Saneck does so through some kind of hold exerted over him.

The time and place of the territory of the book is the Cold War. The subject matter is espionage and criminality. But this is not the world of fervent political beliefs, of hidden ideologies in high places. These are small players, who have been drawn into large games in the main by meaner motives.

Man is an experiment which has failed” the man was saying, “But he is determined to take everything with him when his appointed end comes; he is inventing weapons which will destroy not only himself….

A break-in at the antique shop brings the third group of players onto the scene – higher echelons of the police force than would be expected for such a small crime. Scotland Yard, in the guise of Superintendent Harper and Inspector MacLeish, rather than the local police station, leads the investigation.

The major ‘shadow’ which Harper, MacLeish and Vickers either struggle against, or willingly embrace, is a tendency to violence; even an acknowledged enjoyment in violence. Even some of the more minor players in Hocking’s book flicker with a barely hidden tendency towards savagery and brutality.

The man to whom he was talking was staring out of the window at the dishevelled garden. The garden had responded in a muddled, untidy way to the touch of spring but the face of the man belonged to winter: bloodless, the skin stretched transparent across the sharp cheekbones, the eyes bleak and the lips bleached, it was a face wintered to the bone

What unites Jessica and Saneck is that both of them, in different ways have tendencies more towards being the ones bullied and exploited, rather than the ones who exert the force of their personalities on others

Hocking’s book is far less focused on the thriller aspects of an espionage novel – her interest is in psychology; it is the interior which drives the external events, and, even when external events happen to her characters, how they respond, their feelings and thinkings, is where her attention lies.

But now, as the sun fell behind the tall buildings and the long city twilight set in, the choice ceased to present itself as a conflict between personal loyalties and duty to the state; the issues involved seemed deeper, denser, more fundamentally disturbing, and intellectual assertions failed to combat an old, primitive fear. While the lamps continue to burn, order and chaos are words without meaning, but when the lamps go out, chaos becomes a reality

I found this a thoroughly absorbing read, character and narrative worked well together.

Suitcase

If I have a criticism it is that despite what feels like psychological authenticity, she has focused on a group of characters who are all, in different ways, rather dissociated from open, human need for engagement. Each and every one of them has secrecy and a tendency to isolation in their natures. And Hocking herself rather writes these characters with a kind of cool observance. The result is that the reader (well this one) does not fully engage as if from the inside of the characters. It’s not that I didn’t care about them, it’s not that I didn’t believe in them, but I didn’t mesh with them, inhabit them. I didn’t walk in their shoes as if I were them.

I certainly want to read more Hocking; she is a fine writer, and I’m delighted, thanks to the publisher Bello, and a story below, that I now can.

I came across Mary Hocking, an author new to me, and this book, originally published in 1962, courtesy, as is often the case, of an enthusiastic blog post. In this case, it was HeavenAli who introduced me, and you can read her post here

And actually Ali has an inspiring blogging story to tell, as she explains in a post she made about Hocking, on Shiny New Books. That I can read Hocking at all is a tribute to the role bloggers can play, in sharing their enthusiasm for forgotten and out of print writers.

Stories like this, I think, may be an inspiration to us all when we might think, either, ‘what can I say that hasn’t already been said before?’ or, ‘well this book is out of print anyway so what is the point in championing something no one is going to be able to get hold of?’hocking

As Ali’s story shows, publishers aren’t just looking for the latest blockbuster and the towering sales of populist writers. Those working in publishing are also, like us, passionate readers, and some will leap upon the evidence showing that small, niche, enthusiastic markets are there, and that enthusiastic readers of perhaps quiet, cult , half forgotten writers, can and will create more demand for the writer undeservedly lost and out of print

mary-hocking-reading-week

I have just squeaked this in to Ali’s Mary Hocking Week Challenge

Visitors to the Crescent Amazon UK
Visitors to the Crescent Amazon USA

Margery Sharp – The Nutmeg Tree

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A woman of impeccably loose morals.

The Nutmeg TreeJulia ,’by marriage Mrs Packett, by courtesy Mrs Macdermot’ is the central character of three strongly delineated women, in Margery Sharp’s delightful The Nutmeg Tree.

Sharp, a deliciously witty writer of rather eccentric English romances and childrens’ books, from the 1930s to the 1970s, had sadly gone out of print, and was only available as lucky finds in second hand shops or sometimes on line at some eye-watering prices.

Fortunately, Open Road Integrated Media who have a wonderful reputation for reissuing ‘minor’ classics in good, digital format, have now reissued a generous couple of handfuls of her titles.

And this is one of them, and I was delighted to be offered The Nutmeg Tree by Open Road, as a copy for review

Julia is a middle-aged actress, member of the chorus, and any kind of vaguely theatre related work she can get. She is a woman of impeccably loose morals. Promiscuous in part because she has a generous heart (and even more generous bosoms), she cannot bear to disappoint or embarrass a suitor. Not to mention the fact that she is hopeless with money, will squander what she has on a good time and good friends, and, when treading the boards work is slender, a man might take her out for a meal. She is not averse to undertaking the odd swindle, to part a fool from his money, either

It is Sharp’s particular genius, her wit and her warmth, to take this seemingly unprincipled woman, and make us root for her, delight in her, and understand exactly why so many who meet her, both men and women, happily fall under the spell of her charms. Despite her dishonesty, she is remarkably honest with herself about her failings, and really dislikes hurting or offending those whom she fleeces.

The opening paragraph of the book immediately showed me this was going to be a sparkling and good humoured read:

Julia, by marriage Mrs, Packett, by courtesy Mrs Macdermot, lay in her bath singing the Marseillaise. Her fine robust contralto, however, was less resonant than usual, for on this particular summer morning the bathroom, in addition to the ordinary fittings, contained a lacquer coffee table, seven hatboxes, half a dinner service, a small grandfather clock, all Julia’s clothes, a single bed mattress, thirty-five novelettes, three suitcases, and a copy of a Landseer stag

I was already laughing so hard by this point, with the tune of ‘On the twelfth day of Christmas’, rather than the Marseillaise, playing in my mind, that I half expected the sentence to end with the proverbial partridge, pear tree and all.

Julia, on her uppers again is the mother of a grown-up and extremely intelligent daughter, presently at Girton. She was never the most motherly of women, and Susanne, or Susan as she is now called, has been brought up by Julia’s mother-in-law, a well-to-do woman whom Julia admires, and who has always treated Julia kindly. Even if she does nurture a rather peculiar fantasy that her daughter–in-law would make a great success if she would only open a cake-shop in Knightsbridge.

Julia hasn’t seen her daughter for years, but Sue wants to get married to a man, whilst her grandmother wants her to wait till she is twenty one. Susan sends a letter to her mother asking her to come to France (where she and her grandmother are holidaying) to help persuade Mrs Packett senior to accept Sue’s beau, Bryan, and a speedy marriage.

Dormant mother love is wakened, and the story follows Julia’s eventful journey to France, and the amusing encounters which await her there

In a neat twist, it is Julia, and even the older Mrs Packett, who are the flexible and adventurous ones, whilst Susan, bar a desire to marry a little young is implacably rigid and insufferably worthy

Susan was a prig. Not an objectionable prig, not a proselytising prig, but a prig from very excess of good qualities.. Like all the right-minded young, she wanted perfection; the difficulty was that her standards of perfection were unusually high. Exquisite in her own integrity, she demanded an equal delicacy and uprightness from her fellows

Susan – unlike Julia – is not a lot of fun, Take, for example, this typical throwaway Margery Sharp gem, about Julia’s pecuniary embarrassment and the detail of her underwear :

Julia decided to take single instead of return tickets, and to buy a new dinner dress with the money saved. She also purchased a linen suit, a Matron’s model hat, and three pairs of cami-knickers. She had indeed plenty of these already, but all with policemen embroidered on the legs

I shan’t (of course) reveal spoilers, but do just need to say that I thought the ending was utterly brilliant, and done with panache.

A film version, or should I say an extreme ‘based on’ was made, starring Greer Garson. Whatever the merits of the film, most of the elements of Sharp’s novel have been bent into unrecognisable shape. The title of the film was Julia Misbehaves

Julia-Misbehaves-1948

I enjoyed this book enormously; though Sharp is writing light, witty romance, it is in a unique and wonderfully executed manner. Her characterisations are brilliant, her humour never laboured and, knowing more Margery’s are waiting for me, accessible, and reasonably priced is enchanting.Margery Sharp and hairstyle

Thank you Open Road! And thank you to Jane at beyondedenrock, who probably woke us all up to Margery

The Nutmeg Tree, and other Margery titles are being published on April 12th. Not long to wait!

The Nutmeg Tree Amazon UK
The Nutmeg Tree Amazon USA

Alain-Fournier – Le Grand Meaulnes

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Losing Paradise

Le Grand MeaulnesI first read Alain Fournier’s evocative, dream-like book in my late teens or early twenties. It was one of those intense reading experiences which rather stay with the reader – or at least, the sense of oneself, one’s responses to the read, stay forever. So it was with a feeling of trepidation and excitement that I embarked on a re-read.

It had been a book demanding to be re-visited, and when author Rebecca Mascull suggested we do a simultaneous read and blog discussion, this was a title which we both decided on with alacrity

Would my memory of the strange beauty of Fournier’s writing, of the misty, yearning sense of longing for something mythic and deep, which the book evokes, stand up to mature reading? With its youthful protagonists, would this turn out to be a book which speaks primarily to the young, or would it have the power in speak meaningfully to a mature reader?

The answer is a resounding yes. Yes. Yes. In fact, probably more so. A lifetime of reading gives all sorts of layerings to the book, where influences upon Fournier, and influences Fournier has had on other writers, become a denser tapestry in revisiting – not to mention, the memory of myself as a younger reader, so that present experience and past experience mesh together

Fournier, who died aged 27 in the First World War, wrote this one complete novel Fournierwhich was published in 1913. And it is, without doubt, a masterpiece. No doubt this elegiac book whose subject might be titled ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ – to steal a title from Jung – is made particularly potent because of that death. The reader cannot help wonder about all those young men, all those potentialities cut short. In the case of artists, we wonder not just about the potential of their lives, but the potential of their works.

The power of Fournier’s book, of course, goes well beyond the extra gloss given by his death – but there is an added poignancy in that the trajectory of the book is the search for a dreamlike, mythical Paradise, the lure of a golden, transformational time, some kind of Edenic longing, which is part of a collective unconscious, a sense of yearning for a shimmering idyllic estate. After that terrible war, this book rather begins also to accrue something which gets returned to again and again – the idea of that lost, golden, Edwardian summer before war was declared. The golden summer may not, in reality, have existed for many – but the idea of that reality, a backwards playing of perhaps a faulty memory, gains more reality than reality itself.

The book takes place in a roughly 15 year time span, starting some time in the 1890s. The narrator, looking back from his late twenties was a young schoolboy of 15, François Seurel, the son of the village schoolmaster. A slightly older, charismatic, adventurous, rather headstrong boy, Augustin Meaulnes, who, because of his size and presence becomes nicknamed Le Grand Meaulnes by his peers, is brought by his mother to the village school which Seurel père runs. He is entered as a boarder. A tragic accident, a little glossed over by his mother, has been responsible for this enrolment, but it does give a clue to the fact that Meaulnes is someone who will go his own way, and follow his own leanings. He is quickly destined to become a hero to the village boys, including François, who, because of an injury, is smaller and weaker than his peers.

Due to a particularly typical spirit of rebellion and adventure, Meaulnes embarks on a kind of prankish escapade, which goes horribly wrong, or, in another reading, horribly right. He ends up stumbling by chance into a strange ‘domain’ – a half deserted little country estate, which appears to be run entirely by children and young teens. And there he has two encounters which will change his life. The estate is a whim, a gift, which an indulgent father has given over to his teenage son, Frantz de Galais. Frantz and his compatriots have organised a fĕte, complete with a band of mummers, strolling players. Everyone is costumed in fashions of a time gone by, so there is a let’s pretend of an earlier, romantic period. The fĕte is a celebration, for a particular reason, organised by Frantz.

If Frantz is master of the children’s estate, his sister Yvonne de Galais, grave and beautiful,  is its mistress.

yvonne

Yvonne de Quièvrecourt, muse for Yvonne de Galais

The meetings between Meaulnes and the de Galais siblings, and his recounting of his adventures there to François, set in motion some at times conflicting aspirations, or calls to adventure, which will completely change the lives of all four, creating both tragedies and high, refined, romantic quests, which bring to mind the whole canon of medieval, courtly romance and crusade literature.

This book, and its wonderful, very lyrical and realistic descriptions of a time and place which were already vanishing, or about to vanish, following the dark carnage of that first war is both a realistic journey from adolescence to adulthood, and something larger and deeper – something which potently comes from collective unconscious.

There is a quality which recalls lyric poetry, folk tale and myth, about encounters between an enchanted world, where a hapless mortal crosses out of reality into the world of faerie (Thomas the Rhymer, La Belle Dame Sans Merci), but this is assuredly ‘realism’ not magic realism – but Fournier is also writing the metaphor of that realism. He may have been influenced by such earlier literature – but in his turn, has influenced some very different writers – Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and John Fowles’ The Magus are two very different texts where the extraordinary presence of this book can be felt

Arthur Hughes (1832 - 1915) Illustration of Keats' poem La Belle Dame sans Merci

Arthur Hughes (1832 – 1915) Illustration of Keats’ poem La Belle Dame sans Merci

Fowles called Fournier’s book “the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature” but it far, far more than that, or, rather, is far, far more than a book to speak to, or for,  adolescence alone. It is most assuredly not a ‘YA’ book, but it is one which taps into some of the psychology and the transformational quality of that particular stage in a life journey. Something I found interesting in my re-read, is that youth involved me in the romantic hero figure of the hero, le Grand Meaulnes, and the almost other-worldly, mythical princess behind the hundred year old thorn hedge type figure, Yvonne de Galais. My empathic imagination this time was more focused on the narrator. François Seurel’s sensitivities and sensibilities are no less intense than those of the knight-on-a-quest type figure, Meaulnes, but they are less dramatically played out. And I found François the character who was more authentic in the service of some deeper spiritually moral quest. A perhaps unsung hero.

A warning, however – I have had a look on ‘look inside’ at some of the other Kindle versions, modern translations, and find them pretty horrid compared to my ancient one, dating from 1959, by Frank Davison, which has a kind of courtliness and grace in its rhythms. There have been moves towards the prosaic, modern colloquial and even ‘street’ in the ones I’ve compared with, which seem quite outside the feel of the book, which Davison’s more formal approach enhances.

It doesn’t surprise me that it is Davison’s version which got re-published in the centenary edition!

This is Davison’s beginning :

He appeared at our house on a Sunday in November 189…

I still say ‘our’ house though it is ours no longer; nearly fifteen years have passed since we left the neighbourhood, and we shall not be going back to it

And here is the most downloaded eread version, in Penguin’s newer version, translated by Raymond Buss

He came to our place one Sunday in November 189_

I still say our place even though the house no longer belongs to us. It will soon be fifteen years since we left the neighbourhood, and we shall certainly never go back

Personally, I reacted most violently against the Buss, which, trying, I think to be less formal, has immediately lost lyricism, poetry and, most crucially, the strange, evocative flavour of Fournier, that which raises a simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl and all the rest trope, into something of much greater resonance.

By the second word of Davison, and the second word of Buss, I was found, or lost.

Davison’s ‘appeared’ almost immediately has within it something mysterious, other worldly, potent layers of meaning – the idea of apparition, ghostly, tricksy, magician-pulled-out-of-a-hat. Buss’s ‘came’ is much more four square, everyday. ‘Appeared’ is a much more layered, richer word – it also suggests its opposite – disappear. Just one word which has many resonances within it, true to the life of the book. ‘Came’ contains none of those riches.

I suspect Davison may follow a more formal French language structure, and Buss what is more usual in colloquial modern English. However, that slightly strange formality which Davison uses, its air of slight strangeness, its more poetical, elevated rhythms, lifts it into ‘heightened’ reality – real, but MORE than real

I wonder………..if I read Buss in my late teens, early twenties, would it resonate so intensely? I can’t un-know the Davison, but am SO pleased I still had the battered, many times re-printed version on my shelves. Otherwise i would have downloaded Buss, and I suspect would have felt some kind of disappointment I couldn’t name, except to find a remembered magic was not quite there

Fournier’s book was made into two filmed versions in France, 1967 and 2006. I looked at the trailer of the later version, and my toes curled as it was utterly soupy. However, this is an excerpt from the earlier version, an excerpt without dialogue which captures some of the strangeness of the book

Rebecca has posted our joint reading review here -and you can discover other delights – she is as thoughtful a reader as she is a writer. And I love how she celebrates other writers, too, those living as well as those departed.

Regular visitors to THIS blog will know how strongly I recommend Mascull’s writing. You can read reviews of her two books, The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid, plus two Q + As I did with her, here. I was enormously pleased to hear that she recently finished the first draft of book 3, and she whetted my appetite by sending me a link to some of the visual material she used when in the research stage, as springboards to imagination

Links to the Meaulnes versions are to the 2013 centenary, Davison’s

Le Grand Meaulnes Amazon UK
Le Grand Meaulnes Amazon USA

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