0566 | Journey to the End of the Night | Louis-Ferdinand Céline post image

Context: listened to this while it rained for the first time in 8 months on my drive to work.

Here’s a novel powerful enough to suck the life out of Amazon’s entire self-help catalogue in seconds. In terms of sheer pessimistic cynicism of humanity, Céline’s Night is unparalleled with its tale of Ferdinand Bardamu’s adventures as he leaves his native Paris for WW1, Africa, the US and returns full circle to pursue work as a doctor in a profession he barely believes in. If Henry Miller didn’t get his inspiration from this novel for his riotous Tropics of Cancer & Capricorn, I’ll be very surprised.

All along the way, everything and everyone he encounters is subject to satire and critical examination. There are no survivors, not even Bardamu himself. Being British, I was born cynical, and although I appreciated what Miller had to say (to a certain extent), I found Night a lot easier to follow.

For a start, there’s a storyline and the writing maintains its structure, which is, in places, sublime. Miller would no doubt cite [click to continue…]

0565 | Fugitive Pieces | Anne Michaels post image

Context: Visited the bank as usual to send money home from Saudi while reading this.

This was a strange book, the tale of a WW2 Jewish refugee who is initially harboured on a Greek island before emigrating to Canada. Michaels writes her own prose, and the style forms a major part of the work. This is deep writing which would benefit not only from a second reading, but probably many more.

The entire first person narrative is overshadowed by the opening scene. Nazi troops break into a family home and Jakob flees. His initial flight is a whirlwind of imagery as this small boy attempts to come to terms with what has happened while at the same time adapt to life on the run in rural Poland.

Once he is given refuge and smuggled to Greece, the story shifts, and we find ourselves in a world illuminated by Greece and all the philosophy and learning it has to offer through Athos, Jakob’s new guardian. Despite the Mediterranean light, the darkness of the book’s beginning constantly haunts the writing and Michaels’ use of [click to continue…]

0564 | The Well of Loneliness | Radclyffe Hall post image

Context: Listened to this while we created a popup gallery of my photography at the Royal Golf Club.

With the expiration in the EU of its copyright, this initially suppressed novel is now, somewhat ironically, in the public domain in Europe. Almost 88 years to the day after it was banned, I finished this off as an audio book. It left me with mixed feelings.

This is a brave attempt to sensitively portray a human side of lesbianism given contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. In its attempt, Hall gets full marks for effort. But, for me at least, I felt it was a bit over the top. I tried hard to discern whether this was a factor of the era that I’m living in or not. I don’t think it was.

Stephen Gordon, so named despite being an unexpected daughter, is raised pretty much like any little boy would be. Now, if I met a woman called Bruce, I’d at least wonder why her parents named her that. But no. Strangely, not a single person in the entire novel seem to find it strange that she, a girl/woman, has a man’s name. “But [click to continue…]

0563 | Pierre and Jean | Guy de Maupassant post image

Context: Was reading this when I visited the British Club to audition for a play. Got the lead role. Turned it down for a lead role in a musical!

304 books ago, I reviewed Bel Ami, my first Maupassant novel and, coincidentally, the one he wrote just before this one. Thankfully, although it still deals with the worst of our fallen nature, at least you have some sympathy and understanding for the characters involved. With Bel Ami, I just wanted to punch the protagonist in the face.

Pierre and Jean are brothers, young men on their verge of finding their ways in the world. The underlying frictions caused by their very different natures rupture when one of them becomes the sole beneficiary of the heavily-laden will of a fairly obscure old friend.

It’s not just the brothers who have a hard time interpreting this injustice; the event also threatens to destroy the entire family as various skeletons are let loose from their closets to redefine relationships in unexpected ways.

Maupassant can definitely write and he does a very good job in what [click to continue…]

0562 | Inferno | Henri Barbusse

0562 | Inferno | Henri Barbusse post image

Context: read this as we went for breakfast at a new restaurant nearby. Nice, but pricey and bore zero resemblance to the pics on the menu.

Not a very long novel and not a completely entertaining one either. Barbusse has constructed a hotel room where the unnamed protagonist discovers a hole which allows him to see into the next room undetected. Through this, he manages to view a wide range of events, overhear every single word of every conversation and thereby satisfy his every voyeuristic whim. It’s not entirely edifying.

I read somewhere that the idea is that the hole enables a view of the full range of life. There are illicit lovers, obscure conversations about life, betrayals and even a death. Every conversation is laden with pathos and melodrama. Trouble is, life, especially that in hotel rooms, is usually banal and humdrum. This seems to have been lost on Barbusse.

Putting aside the contrived plot device of a small hole conveying omniprescience, there’s still little here that’s going to engage many modern readers. Nor did I feel that there was anything scintillating that Barbusse had to say about the human condition that wasn’t [click to continue…]