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SassyLassy Sails into Uncharted Waters

Club Read 2018

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Jan 1, 12:01pm Top

It occurred to me as I was unpacking and shelving books after my 2017 move, that I have a large number with the tag category "Ahoy". Perhaps it's time to get to some of them this year. Will this be the year I finally read Moby Dick?

I'll also be going back to Zola's Rougon Macquart cycle. I had been reading one a month, but only managed one after the move. I'm going to try getting back to one a month as I am almost finished. The next book is the eighteenth. I skipped two as there were no contemporary translations. Hang on - I just checked and there is a new 2017 translation of Une page d'amour, so I have just ordered that. So much for any resolutions about cutting back on book buying this year!

Now that I have moved, I've also started my And Other Stories subscription again, so I'm looking forward to more contemporary fiction from around the world. Naturally there will also still be some reading from the nineteenth century.

Jan 1, 12:08pm Top

I love colour and each year, for some obscure reason, I like to start with Pantone's colour of the year. This year it is Ultra Violet, an odd choice as in 2014 it was another purple, Radiant Orchid. Not a repeat though, for Pantone tells us

Who knew? I can go with inventiveness and imagination but the rest seems somewhat overblown in these times. And what is an "intuitive" colour - have apples turned purple? At least they didn't call it Complicit.

Jan 1, 12:15pm Top

Purple is actually one of my three favourite colours. This is what purple reading looks like:

image from Kitchen Studio of Naples

Edited: Jan 1, 3:34pm Top

Back to the real world. 2017 was a year of little reading for me. What I did read I usually quite liked, but I didn't get enough reading time in. I hope to change that this year.

2017 saw only 40 books read. The biggest disappointment was that only 30% were in translation into English; I usually average 50% +
Like many in CR, I also read more crime that usual. I'm not sure why, maybe it's better having the bad guys in novels where they get their just deserts.
Lastly, I used to read a lot about the US. Ever since I was a child and saw the cover of Time magazine looking at me each week as my father read it, I've had a fascination with American politics, although I don't live there. This may be the year to delve back in.

Edited to correct spelling. The bad guys may get just desserts (hopefully also bad), but I must have been thinking of a favourite eating spot.

Jan 1, 12:54pm Top

Hi Sassy and Happy New Year! Just starring your thread. There has definitely been something in the air the last year or two - I know so many keen readers who’ve read far less than usual in recent times, including myself. I hope this year is filled with good reading!

Jan 1, 3:35pm Top

>5 Polaris-: Yay, you're back! and my first visitor. Here's hoping your reading is works for you too, and pass on any good arbori/horti titles.

Edited: Feb 11, 3:28pm Top

Forgot to carve out a spot for one of the most useful spots on a thread:

Books Discovered on other People's Threads

Who Will Write our History? by Samuel D Kassow torontoc

Jan 1, 4:11pm Top

Good to see you have settled down after your move and that you plan more time for reading.

Jan 1, 4:14pm Top

Happy New Year! I read far less than usual last year as well, and a high proportion of what I did read was crime fiction. My reading has picked up in the last month or so, which I hope is a good sign. I look forward to getting some inspiration from your thread!

Jan 2, 4:10am Top

Happy New Year!
I see you're maybe approaching Moby Dick this year. It's on my list, too. I'll be interested in your thoughts!

Jan 2, 9:54am Top

Here goes with the first book of the year!

1. Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter translated from the German by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore, 1945
first published as Bergkristall in 1845
read January 1st, 2018

I wondered about this little novella as I started reading, but persevered and was rewarded. At first it read like a Christian tract on Christmas and its celebration in the home. Stifter then shifted outdoors, to its setting in a rural village in the mountains of Bohemia. Ever so gradually, he moved further away still, through the woods, avoiding the glacier field, and on to a neighbouring village. All this is done as if taking the reader on a personal tour. He talks about the villagers' habits and stops to point out a memorial to the baker who froze to death on the track between the two villages.

Next, like creating a miniature toy village, he introduces a family with grandparents in each of the two villages. The setting is complete. Just as slowly and deliberately, Stifter moves on to the tale of the two grandchildren one Christmas Eve, alone in the snow that has crept up as gradually as the story itself, as they make their way home from the grandparents in the other village.

Stifter was at one time a landscape painter in Vienna, but he came from a village in the former Austrian Empire. His eye for domestic detail and his knowledge of the land both come out beautifully in this story. You almost want to close your eyes as if it is being read to you.

W H Auden says in his 1945 Introduction to the novel, "To bring off... a story of this kind, with its breathtaking risks of appalling banalities, is a great feat." It works.

Jan 2, 10:03am Top

And because I love illustrations from old books:

The above is an 1853 illustration for the book by Ludwig Richter. I would like to find illustrations by Stifter himself. I'm not sure if this is one or not:

Jan 2, 10:05am Top

>10 OscarWilde87: "Maybe approaching" is a good way to put it.

>8 baswood: >9 rachbxl: More reading indeed. I know I will be picking up some inspiration from your threads, books to put in >7 SassyLassy: above.

Jan 2, 10:14am Top

May your reading be more ample and satisfactory this year. I look forward to reading your reviews.

Jan 2, 5:43pm Top

Hi Sassy--looking forward to following your reading this year.

Rock Crystal is a book that has been on my wishlist for ages--but I've never come across it in a used book store, and it's not on Kindle. I'm glad you liked it, and I will keep looking.

Jan 2, 5:47pm Top

Hi Sassy. I'm looking forward to following your reading this year.

Rock Crystal has been on my wishlist for ages, but I've never come across it in a used book store and it's not available on Kindle. I'm glad you liked it, and I will keep searching.

Several years ago I read a book by Tarjei Vesaas that in my imagination is similar, The Ice Palace. Have you read it?

Jan 2, 5:50pm Top

>14 RidgewayGirl: Thank you - "ample and satisfactory" is a wonderful thought.

>15 arubabookwoman: My edition is an NYRB classic. I just checked their website to see if it was still for sale, as I only bought it last month and discovered it is actually on sale in the US: https://www.nyrb.com/collections/classics/products/rock-crystal?variant=1094931113

Jan 2, 5:53pm Top

I’ve starred your thread, as usual, Sassy. You always have something to inspire me.

Edited: Jan 7, 1:53pm Top

avast me hearty, best wishes for your ultra violets (is that in brave new world? or no maybe Lana del Rey). I've marked ye spot with a golden star and will try to keep up, argh.

(edit - meant A clockwork orange not bnw)

Edited: Jan 2, 9:31pm Top

>11 SassyLassy: This sounds eeirily familiar, but I am sure I haven't red it yet. I will keep an eye out and add it to my nyrb collection.

>16 arubabookwoman: It is in the Brooklyn Public Library overdrive catalog, the kindle ebook was released in 2015. :)

Jan 3, 9:18am Top

I'm always happy to see the annual posting of the Pantone color. Ultra Violet: another delicious color (oh, there are so many!)

Looking forward to following your reading this year.

Jan 3, 10:40pm Top

you left me fascinated by Rock Crystal, a book I'd never heard of. Wondering, a silly geologist might, how much the title is directly addressed in the book. Hope you do get to Moby Dick and in state of mind that lets you appreciate its playful openness...speaking as one who doesn't always manage that state. But, more than that, wish you a great reading year.

Edited: Jan 4, 4:45pm Top

>17 SassyLassy: and >20 ELiz_M:--Thanks for the info. My problem was just that I didn't want to pay full price for a new book or the full $10.99 Kindle price. I guess I will break down one of these days since it's been on the WL so long. (My library does not have the Kindle version--off to see if they have a book version.)

ETA Nope.

Jan 6, 11:41am Top

>8 baswood: Looking at your Moby Dick review, I am wondering about reading it. I know I will, but it will be interesting to compare with your review and Dan's.

>22 dchaikin: "Silly geologist" - never - we all should know more about the ground upon which we stand. There is not actually much rock description other than topography, but there are descriptions of crystals in the form of glacial caves.

>19 tonikat: Makes me think more of with a Lou Reed vibe. My other self thinks of my garden in spring.

Jan 6, 1:50pm Top

>24 SassyLassy: I can like totes see that. But a garden in spring, ahhh not arghhh, somewhere over my rainbow in Wordsworthian silence, stillness.

I do like this shade, btw.

Jan 6, 9:19pm Top

>24 SassyLassy: just looked up my Moby Dick review, from 2012. I didn't post on the book page, maybe because it's rambling and not particularly enlightening. Maybe i'm just critical in hindsight. If you get to a point you want to read it, you can find it on my 2012 thread here (you might just skip to my last paragraph)

also, this makes me think of lost LTers. Among the response were posts by Poquette and StevenTX. I miss them.

Jan 7, 12:48am Top

Good luck getting to the books you want to and avoiding adding too many to your library. I'd be happy to have a proxy in regard to diving into US politics... It's been so personally scary that other than keeping tabs on my local elections I have to avoid it.

Jan 8, 2:01pm Top

>26 dchaikin: Thanks for putting in that link. I can't believe it was that long ago. It is sad to see the responses from people who no longer post. I was very sad to see steven's thread disappear completely.
Your review does make me more hopeful about reading it. I'm not sure what the hesitation is. I read it in my early teens and thought it was a great adventure. For the past few years, I've thought it could do with a rereading but now it seems fraught with so much literary baggage. Maybe it's better not to know these things when we read.

>27 mabith: My first step has been ordering a copy of Southern Politics, published many years ago, but considered by many to still be an authoritative look at the subject, so much so that it was reissued thirty years after its initial publication.

For anyone puzzled by the person in >24 SassyLassy: above, she is Ultra Violet, real name Isabelle Collin Dufresne, one of Andy Warhol's superstars.

Jan 8, 2:35pm Top

2. Winter by Christopher Nicholson
first published 2014
finished reading January 3, 2018

Thomas Hardy was completely infatuated. He pondered whether he was in love. He went further and wondered whether the feeling was returned. He mentioned it to no one. Thomas Hardy was eighty-four. Gertrude Bugler was twenty-six. Mrs Hardy was forty-six and not at all pleased.

Christopher Nicholson has taken these three people and created a fictionalized look at actual events. The Hardys were living at Max Gate, the home Hardy had built for his first wife Emma. The second Mrs Hardy, Florence, loathed the place. She felt it made her physically ill. The trees that Hardy had planted were now full grown. Florence believed that spores from the trees caused cancer. Thomas believed the trees would feel the pain of being cut down, effectively murdered, and refused to do anything. They were a major cause of contention.

Then one day, it occurred to Florence that preparations for the upcoming local stage production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles were entirely too focussed on Gertrude Bugler. Gertrude was to play Tess. Years earlier Thomas had seen Gertrude's mother and based his description of Tess on her. Now he believed Gertrude was the only person to play Tess, right down to her perfect "Wessex" accent. The play went ahead and Gertrude was engaged to play the role in the upcoming London production.

Florence put down her foot. Thomas fought back. Florence found poems Thomas had written about Gertrude. Not able to tell Thomas she had found them, she intensified the battle of the trees instead.

Nicholson uses the third person narrator to tell Hardy's part of the story. Florence's side is told in the first person. Gertrude tells what little she knows of her part in it all. Nicholson does an excellent job of portraying Hardy's intransigence, Florence's rising hysteria, and Gertrude's confusion. He also explores other aspects of their personalities, especially that of Hardy as he contemplated death and his legacy. There was Hardy in the churchyard envisioning his own funeral, counting up who would attend.
...and who was that? Barrie! He was pleased by that; excellent that Barrie had bothered to come down, the old fox. There was Augustus John looking his usual angry self, glaring at the universe. O, and Kipling, too, with a fat moustache, even fatter than Barrie's.

He also thought of how he would be remembered and what they would say of him. He knew his novels would survive for awhile, but worried about his poetry.
He was a famous man; his death would have been reported in every newspaper, with long obituary notices and lavish tributes. Would any record the struggles of his early years?... Would any say how much doubt and uncertainty had dogged his footsteps, and how much determination and perseverance had been necessary to achieve what he had achieved? No, they would not say anything of the sort. How little they knew! And quite right, too: there was no need for them to know everything.

Winter is tinged with the sorrow of both Florence and Thomas realizing the increasing barrenness of their lives. Hardy's poetry has failed him. Florence is now past child bearing and is facing years on her own. All in all, this was an excellent, if sombre portrayal of two people locked in a mismatched marriage, and of the writer in winter.

Jan 8, 3:05pm Top

>28 SassyLassy: ahhh I seee. I’m not very good at this am I.

Jan 8, 5:52pm Top

Excellent review of Winter, Christopher Nicholson. Fictionalized histories can be entertaining as long as they don't stray too far from your own pictures of the authors. Even better if they make you go back and read some more Hardy.

Jan 9, 4:16pm Top

>29 SassyLassy: Interesting. Sounds like something else I'll have to put on my list now that I've uncorked the Hardy bottle again... But first I need to re-read a bit more of the man himself.

Jan 10, 7:00pm Top

I'm still catching up with everyone's threads, so dropping by to keep track of your thread. Hope you have a good year of reading ahead. It seems like you've made a good start already!

Jan 10, 7:12pm Top

Intriguing review of Winter. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Edited: Jan 15, 10:20am Top

This next book would be in the uncharted waters category; an author new to me, Magda Szabó, but one whom I have seen positively reviewed in past CR years.

3. Katalin Street by Magda Szabó translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix, 2017
first published as Katalin Utca in 1969
finished reading January 9, 2018

Some believe that those who die suddenly and unexpectedly stay in their temporal world in spirit form until they are reconciled to death, or until those they are watching over join them. The dead though, don't age, while those left behind do; aging inevitably, sometimes dying inside of shame, of grief, of loss of hope. So it was on Katalin Street, where an alert lively girl first watched those she had considered her family grow up, grow old, and alter irrevocably.

In pre WWII Budapest, there were three particular houses facing the river. The sisters Blanka and Irén lived in one, Henriette in another, and a slightly older boy, Bálint, in the third. The children played together, their parents were friends, and the families celebrated small occasions together throughout the year. The three girls all loved Bálint, whose name means Valentine, each in her own way.

If this were a straightforward chronological narrative, the novel would start here. Instead, it starts with Irén, her family, and Bálint on the other side of the river, in Soviet era housing, looking back at their old home. None of them had ever got used to the apartment or grown to like it. They just put up with it, as with so many other things. Although they rarely spoke of it with each other, they all yearned to return to their old homes on Katalin Street, and even more, to return to the people they had been. Henriette, now dead, knew that you can't go back without those who have since died. The past cannot be recreated.

Time can be fluid in our thoughts though. Szabó's book moves back and forth from the 1930s right up to 1968. Nazis come and go to be replaced by the Soviets. People go, but don't always come back: dead or exiled. Even in sections of the book with a date as heading, some characters are in one year, while at the same time others are in another.

What Szabó is telling the reader is a stark message about what we do to each other and what life does to us:
...the most frightening thing of all about the loss of youth is not what is taken away, but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not sound judgement or tranquillity. Only the awareness of universal disintegration.

For those left behind, There came too the realization that advancing age had taken the past. ... They had discovered too that the difference between the living and the dead is merely qualitative, that it doesn't count for much.

The penultimate sentence of the novel, In everyone's life there is only one person whose name can be cried out in the moment of death, sent me back to the beginning, and an immediate reread, for now the use of that same sentence, first seen early in the novel, gave a different focus and I wanted to follow that path. There are many paths in this book though, and a different one could be taken with each reading. This is the first book I have read by Szabó, but it won't be the last.

edited for numbers as it appears I can't count to 3

Jan 14, 5:20pm Top

>31 baswood: >32 thorold: More Hardy reading is definitely in order.

Jan 14, 5:24pm Top

>35 SassyLassy: excellent review. I read The Door recently and found it intriguing though I felt my lack of knowledge of her culture kept me from the full meaning of her novel. Really great writing, though. I’ll look for this.

Jan 14, 6:35pm Top

I put Magda Szabo on my to-read list after seeing a number of glowing CR reviews too, and glad to add another to that pile!

Edited: Jan 14, 6:57pm Top

Great review of Katalin Street. An author new to me.

the most frightening thing of all about the loss of youth is not what is taken away, but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not sound judgement or tranquillity. Only the awareness of universal disintegration.

That is a stark message

Edited: Jan 14, 9:38pm Top

>35 SassyLassy: What a lovely review and wonderful-sounding book. Going on the TBR list for sure, and my library even has an e-copy.

Jan 14, 11:54pm Top

Thinking about your review now, and those quotes.

Jan 15, 4:40am Top

I enjoyed your reviews and am looking forward to the ones that will follow this year, especially the Zola ones! I'm currently reading The belly of Paris myself.

I read The door by Szabo and did not quite know what to make of it. On some level I rather liked it, but I feel as if something has eluded me.

Jan 15, 9:21am Top

Another one here who read The Door and was left feeling I'd missed something. I know several people who read it in Hungarian and loved it; I suspect that the problem is not the translation, but, as japaul says, not knowing enough about Hungarian culture. I very much liked the writing, though, and would happily give Szabo another chance; Katalin Street has gone on my wishlist.

Jan 15, 10:29pm Top

OOh - Katalin Street is next on my wish list -- or Amazon ordering list.

Edited: Jan 16, 11:59am Top

>35 SassyLassy: I read The Door too and thought it excellent, so adding this to the list Sassy.

Jan 18, 9:50am Top

You've all convinced me I must read The Door! Up next on the order list.

>42 chlorine: I'm currently waiting patiently for my next Zola to arrive. It's well overdue. Did you know that Oxford released at least two new translations in 2017?

>39 baswood: Stark indeed, but then that is the kind of book I like, sort of like reading Lessing!

Jan 18, 10:40am Top

This book was not what I expected, but then I didn't see the subtitle until I sat down to read it. Fascinating all the same.
I had found the book unread in a seaside used bookstore, only open after about 22:00 hours, a time which varied with the proprietor's whims, and usually long after the town had gone to bed.

4. Winter Sea: War, Journeys, Writers by Alan Ross
first published 1997
finished reading January 14, 2018

Winter Sea is a diary of sorts of a 1997 trip across the Gulf of Finland and through parts of the Baltic and North Seas. Yet as the subtitle, "War, Journeys, Writers" suggests, it is also musings on all three during these travels. Even more, it is a writer approaching the winter of his life and thinking back.

Alan Ross had left Oxford to serve in WWII. He was part of the Royal Navy convoys to Murmansk and Archangel; missions with a disastrous death rate. At the end of the war, he accompanied German ships being returned to their ports of origin now under Allied control. One such voyage took him just of the coast of Tallinn, where the German ship was handed over to the Soviets. The nominal command was Korvetten Kapitan Richard Schlemmer.

Fast forward to 1997, and Ross sailing across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki to Tallinn, and then travelling by land to Haapsalu. Memories of Schlemmer feature largely as the two had become friends in the years following the war. Schlemmer, now dead, had moved to Estonia later in life, and had hoped to have Ross visit him there. In a sense, this trip was that visit.

Ross was also a small craft pleasure sailor. No such person can contemplate Estonian waters without bringing to mind Arthur Ransome. Ransome's adventures and misadventures with three boats off the coast were the subject of several books, now quite rare. Ross was rereading these on his trip. Ransome played several roles during WWI. Ross, citing a former Foreign Minister, credits him with being in part responsible for Estonian independence between the two world wars.

This part of the book was perhaps the most interesting. Ross ruminates on the Estonian experiences of Jaan Kross, Graham Greene, Colin Thubron, and the Baroness Moura Budberg, mistress of Gorky, Bruce Lockhart and H G Wells. A noted poet himself, Ross quotes the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski
The East-West border is always wandering,
sometimes eastward, sometimes west,
and we do not know exactly where it is just now:
in Guagamela, in the Urals, or maybe in ourselves.

Oslo to Bergen by train is the source of the next segment. Tales of naval battles off Norway mix with a long reflection on Knut Hamsun's semi-autobiographical Hunger, and the political fortunes of Hamsun himself. Ross walks the streets of Oslo following in the steps of the protagonist in much the same way Joyce lovers walk Dublin. He quotes I B Singer comparing the hero of Hunger to Raskolnikov. The poetry in this section is that of Nordahl Grieg, put into English equivalent by Ross.

During the late summer of 1945, Ross was stationed in Buxtehude. There he read most of Ernest Junger's works in German. Apart from his name, this author was unfamiliar to me, and his writing as recounted by Ross, especially Auf den Marmorklippen seem unlikely to be anything I would find myself looking for in translation. While his other discussions of authors and books had made me want to read and reread them, this made this small segment of the book less interesting for me.

The final excursion was a true trip down Memory Lane for Ross: Hamburg to Wilhelmshaven in January, the coldest in decades. Here the journey ends with a sea that can no longer be seen, with ice reaching to the horizon... the sea itself invisible. He had returned to his White Sea, the sea of Archangel
White sea of memory, of fear and adventure, of camaraderie and consolation. White sea of the unknown, on which nothing and everything is written.


photo from The Guardian

Alan Ross had a wide range of interests and a life which managed to accommodate them:




Jan 18, 11:31am Top

>47 SassyLassy: That sounds quite interesting.

Jan 18, 11:41am Top

47> Intriguing review. Sounds rather poetic.

Jan 18, 2:52pm Top

>46 SassyLassy: I'm actually French so I'm lucky to be able to read Zola in the original text and not worry about translations. :)
One thing that puzzles me in the Zolas I've read recently: what's up with men pinching women they want to have sex with?! I can't really understand whether it's supposed to be pleasurable for the woman or if it's a sign of domination...

Very nice review of the Ross book.

Jan 19, 8:41am Top

>47 SassyLassy: I think you’ve just put another item on my TBR list! That bookshop sounds fun, too.

Have you read the Ransome books? I’ve been vaguely on the lookout for them for years but never seen them anywhere.

Jan 19, 9:55am Top

Enjoyed those articles about Alan Ross and an interesting review.

Edited: Jan 19, 11:25am Top

>50 chlorine: Blushing, of course you are reading in French! Are they the Mitterand editions?
Perhaps pinching was a Zola thing?

>51 thorold: Although I look for the Ransome books in every semi-nautical bookshop or section of a bookshop I enter, I have not found any. The originals are available online for a lot of money. Now that some have been reissued lately, with sketches by Ransome, I will probably go that route. Naturally I have read all the books for children: Swallows and Amazons forever!

I love these kind of bookshops.

>52 baswood: I remember London Magazine, now The London Magazine once more. I hadn't connected Ross as the editor until I read the end flap of the book, and then all those author connections made so much more sense.

>49 janeajones: It was poetic even in prose. Ross wrote many other books, on a variety of subjects from cricket to travel to his own poetry. They must be out there somewhere, but I was surprised to see only five other people on LT have this particular book.

>48 .Monkey.: It was interesting indeed and confirmed me in one of my greatest travel dreams, which is to go by ferry around these northern seas and to cross from Oslo to Bergen by train. Not sure about the winter part though, as I have had my fair share of it in Canada.

edited for spelling

Jan 19, 2:23pm Top

>53 SassyLassy: Don't blush about not remembering my nationality, I think it's really hard to keep track of who comes from where!

I have an e-reader so I got free ebook copies from the website Ebooks libres et gratuits.
I think it would maybe be nice to have an edition with notes instead but I value so much the fact that so many public domain books are available for free that I'm quite happy with the raw text (even if there are a few errors that have been introduced by the scanning process).

Jan 19, 8:27pm Top

>47 SassyLassy: I love the sound of your midnight bookshop!

Jan 19, 8:38pm Top

Oh, my. I finally found time to read your thread; when I get behind, I know it will take a while, because your reviews are so good!

>29 SassyLassy: Your review makes this novel very enticing, but I have a hard time reading fiction about real people. I think to myself, why don't I just read the (auto)biography! But you make me think that there is something more that I would get from Winter.

>35 SassyLassy: Another wonderful review of an author that I too have been wanting to read. DieF recommended The Door years ago, but I think I might start here instead. Fluidity of boundaries in East European is of particular interest to me.

>47 SassyLassy: Wow. So much contained within 150 pages! Thank you for giving us a thorough taste (yes, an oxymoron, but I hope you know what I mean). Ross sounds like a fascinating character, and although I have Ransome's children's books, I had no idea about the other facets of his life. Hunger was an interesting, if depressing read. Its similarity to Crime and Punishment made me wonder whether Hamsun was trying to write the same novel for Norway. I still haven't read Storm of Steel, although it's been on my to-read-sooner-rather-than-later table for two years now! I am bookmarking your post so that I can follow your links. So much to explore in your post! A deluge of book bullets (another oxymoron).

Oh, and hello!

Jan 20, 2:41pm Top

>47 SassyLassy: Fascinating Sassy. Love the sound effects f the bookshop too. I love when I’m in Paris, that Shakespeare and Co is open til late.

Jan 20, 10:15pm Top

Just posting that I loved your review of Winter Sea and Ross.

Jan 23, 10:07am Top

Winter Sea sounds fascinating.

Jan 23, 11:12am Top

This is a book I read last year. I have just posted this review on my 2017 thread, but since most of us have moved on to 2018, I have also posted it here, as I only got around to this review yesterday. Also my next Zola will be 10 in the suggested reading order, so it naturally follows from this one. I won't count this for my 2018 totals.

Life seemed to be getting back to normal by early October, after a crazy year. It was time to start reading Zola again, last visited in April. My reading of the full Rougon Macquart series was hampered by only reading those in English translation, and of those, only recent translations. I did not want bowdlerized versions. When I started the series in January 2016, these restrictions meant that of the twenty novels, I would be skipping 2, 9, 10 and 20 in the suggested reading order. I thought I was now at 18, but a quick check revealed two more translations had been released in 2017, so I happily went back to 9, The Sin of Abbé Mouret.

The Sin of Abbé Mouret translated from the French by Valerie Minogue 2017
first published as La Faute de Abbé Mouret in 1875
finished reading October 25, 2017

The Sin of Abbé Mouret starts out in almost wooden fashion, reminiscent of The Crime of Father Amaro, published the same year. Serge Mouret was a young priest, fresh out of the seminary. Prayer and devotion meant so much to him that he found it almost impossible to imagine the struggles other priests might have with their less spiritual sides. However, this is Zola, and the themes and descriptions soon let the reader know it.

Serge was a product of both the Rougons and Macquarts. His mother was from the respectable Rougon side of the family, and his father from the tainted Macquart side. Since Zola's aim was to study family, heredity and environment, we know that such a lineage will be fraught with tension and turmoil. Furthermore, not only was Serge's father committed to an asylum, perhaps expected as a Macquart, Serge's mother could be seen as suffering from mental instability at the end of The Conquest of Plassans, when she fell under the influence of the terrifying Abbé Faujas.

Serge had not only renounced the world of the flesh when he took his priestly vows, he also renounced the material world. He was now living in Les Artaud with a housekeeper and his mentally deficient younger sister Désirée. He had given his money to his much more worldly older brother Octave, from Pot Luck and The Ladies' Paradise. Les Artaud was not the place to be though for a man who found such disturbance in what he considered to be carnal sins. The villagers were all related, were wildly promiscuous, and barely paid lip service to the rites of the Catholic Church, a religion Zola shows as completely unable to meet their needs. Nature also showed no respect. Chickens pecked on the stone floor of the church, birds flew through the broken windows, a rowan tree thrust its branches in. At the altar, the priest, lost in his devotions, ... did not even hear this invasion of the nave by the warm May morning, or the rising flood of sunshine, greenery, and birds, which overflowed even up to the foot of Calvary, on which nature, dammed, lay dying. Nature was already fighting him.

Just outside the village, was a magic estate, Paradou. It had been abandoned a century before. Built in the time of Louis XV, it was like a little Versailles. But the lady of the Paradou must have died there, for she was never seen again after the first season. The following year, the chateau burned down, the park gates were nailed up, and even the narrow slits in the wall filled up with earth, so ever since that distant era, no eye had penetrated the vast enclosure which occupied the whole of one of the high plateaux of the Garrigues. Nature there was left to run riot.

The place was looked after by the caretaker Jeanbernat, the Philosopher, who took care to lodge outside the walls. His sixteen year old niece lived with him. Serge first went to Paradou with his uncle Dr Pascal, the family recorder, to visit Jeanbernat who was rumoured to be dying. Jeanbernat represents the rationalists and the voice of reason against dogma, and as such felt no reticence in challenging Serge on his beliefs. It was here that the Abbé caught his first glimpse of Albine, This blonde child, with her long face, aflame with life, seemed to him to be the mysterious and disturbing daughter of that forest he had glimpsed in a patch of light when he first arrived.

Since the age of five, Serge had been devoted to the Virgin Mary, so white, so pure. He thought of her as a divine sister, the two of them innocents in a sinful world. His priestly devotions had continued that marian focus. Mary was the only representation of the divine to grace his cell; Mary, the ever pure, in an image of the Immaculate Conception. Now, suddenly, he could not help seeing her with the eyes of an adolescent. He feared to contaminate her with his impure thoughts as her image became confused with that of Albine. Feverish, rambling, he prayed.
O Mary, Chosen Vessel, castrate in me all humanity, make me a eunuch among men, so you may without fear grant me the treasure of your virginity!
And Abbé Mouret, his teeth chattering, collapsed on the tiled floor, struck down by fever.

Here the book shifts. Serge awoke in a strange room, festooned with fading images of cherubs. Albine was his nurse. He had been there some time. As he convalesced, Albine coaxed him outdoors into the gardens of the Paradou. Gradually the two innocents explored her paradise together in Zola's version of the Garden of Eden. The horticulturalist might quibble that the combinations of blooms Zola gathers don't occur in the real world, but this is the Garden, where all things are possible. There are pages and pages of incredibly lush descriptions of the animals, trees and flowers, done with incredible and accurate detail, everything with voluptuous overtones:
The living flowers opened out like naked flesh, like bodices revealing the treasures of the bosom. There were yellow roses like petals from the golden skin of barbarian maidens, roses the colour of straw, lemon-coloured roses, and some the colour of the sun, all the varying shades of skin bronzed by ardent skies. Then the bodies grew softer, the tea roses becoming delightfully moist and cool, revealing what modesty had hidden, parts of the body not normally shown, fine as silk and threaded with a blue network of veins.

However, just as in the original Garden, there is a forbidden tree and there is a fall. Serge, whose illness had resulted in his forgetting his priestly life, suddenly recalled it, and was driven from the garden. The clash of religion and reality resumed, for Serge and internal one, for Zola an eternal one.


One thing I did wonder about was the translation of the title, in French La Faute de Abbé Mouret which to me is more a fault or an error, both of which fit here, than an actual sin. Of course, as the English title indicates, Mouret does commit a sin in the eyes of the Church, but I would think of that as le péché, not une faute. Could some francophone please help me out here?

Edited: Jan 23, 2:16pm Top

Faute has both religious and secular implications - it can be a synonym of péché, and it’s definitely used in religious language in that way, but it also has the general sense of violating a moral rule, and the particular sense of extramarital relations and their consequences (l’enfant d’une faute, etc.). I don’t think that English can do all that with one word, so “sin” is probably the best way of getting it across.

cf. the TLF here: http://stella.atilf.fr/Dendien/scripts/tlfiv5/visusel.exe?12;s=16759365;r=1;nat=...;

I think I must have fainted several times trying to get through that garden when I first read it - amazing how steamy he can make it without a greenhouse ...

Jan 23, 6:03pm Top

Great review of The sin of Abbé Mouret it sounds typical Zola. You are getting close now to completing the whole series.

Jan 24, 12:51pm Top

What thorold said concerning faute.

Great review of this Zola. I tried to read it many years ago and I remember that I was bored with it and did not finish it, and this was at a time when I quit on a book much more seldom than now.
Therefore I'm a little apprehensive of it now. But anyway I have La conquête de Plassans to read before this one!

Jan 25, 1:43pm Top

>60 SassyLassy: I found The Sin of Abbe Mouret to be the strangest Rougon-Macquart I've read so far. I thought it verged on magical realism.

I stalled on my Rougon-Macquart journey several years ago about half-way through (The Masterpiece). I really have to get back to it.

Jan 25, 5:08pm Top

>61 thorold: >63 chlorine: Thanks for the explanations. I am getting the message "session expirée" but I will go with this as another word without a direct equivalent, like l'assommoir, which seems to generate discussion. I have not found my French - English dictionary since I moved, nor my English dictionaries for that matter. The box marked "reference" yielded useful books, but no dictionaries other than Esperanto and Scots.

>61 thorold: "amazing how steamy he can make it without a greenhouse ..." too funny!

>62 baswood: Only three more left in English translation, then I may have to tackle the final two in French!

>64 arubabookwoman: I thought that about magical realism too at times. Have you read The Dream? I had the same sense there.

Interesting about The Masterpiece. It's odd where we each stall. Mine was The Ladies' Paradise, which is one that many recommend as a start, but those floors and floors of merchandise would have had me running for the exits in no time in real life, and so the feeling was as I read the book. I kept going though. I noticed that in her review of The Sin of Abbé Mouret, rebecca said she wouldn't have finished it if it hadn't been Zola, so that one would be a stall in her case as with chlorine above.

Jan 26, 3:19pm Top

>65 SassyLassy: Sorry, obviously not a portable link. But the TLF is a useful resource if you want some more detail on a French word than what your desk dictionary gives you. Try going to http://stella.atilf.fr , click on the big “Entrer...” button, and enter the word “faute” top right.

Jan 28, 11:45am Top

>66 thorold: That link worked- thanks - what a great resource. I think I liked the J'ai péché par ma très grande faute in version 9 for this particular book, so it now the translation works for me. I should never question the translators, but now I have a new sense of the word.

Jan 28, 12:14pm Top

This year's reading so far had been somewhat sombre. It was time for some derring-do, so I turned to my triumvirate of adventure writers and came up with this, on the TBR pile since August 21st, 2013.

5. La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas translated from the French by David Bogue, 1846, "modernized and revised against the standard French text" of La Reine Margot, ed Claude Schopp, by David Coward
first published in serial form in La Presse from December 25, 1844 to April 5, 1845
finished reading January 24, 2018

The works of Alexandre Dumas are known for many things: adventure, romance, beautiful women, dastardly evil- doers. Accurate history is not one of his fortes. Dumas loved to take figures from history, imbue them with legendary characteristics, and toss them into a stew of fact and fiction. La Reine Margot is a perfect example.

The novel starts with two historic events. The first was the 1572 wedding of Marguerite de Valois, Catholic daughter of Catherine de Medicis and the deceased Henri II, to Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot and Bourbon. The wedding was intended to reconcile the parties in the religious wars that had raged for the past decade. The second event was the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre. This was a slaughter of Huguenot nobles who had come to Paris for the wedding; a massacre that would spread out into the countryside. It was instigated by none other than the mother of the bride, who convinced her son Charles IX that the Huguenots who had flooded into the capital for the wedding were actually there to usurp the throne. There were other contenders for this throne too. Neither of Charles's two younger brothers would have grieved his death, and Henri de Guise, leader of the Catholics and co-architect of the massacre, felt he also had a worthwhile claim.

This all allows lots of scope for cross and double cross, even without Dumas, but the author strides into it like the giant he was, rearranging political and romantic alliances, inventing an executioner as grateful for kindness as a puppy, and embellishing the sinister reputation of Catherine de Medicis even further. He uses two young men, M de la Mole and M Coconnas as his heroes. As in real life, one will have an affair with Marguerite, the other with the Duchesse de Nevers, providing the Dumas staples of romantic interest and male brotherhood onto death, this last a fiction in this case. He adds a level of intrigue by creating a political bond between Marguerite and her new husband, who will ignore each other's liasons as they did in real life, but in this case to advance their own causes and affairs without working against each other, while at the same time appearing to the court to be completely estranged.

The setting of the Louvre provides a superb backdrop for affairs and political intrigues, with characters able to spy, eavesdrop, visit and depart unnoticed, and even disappear from the world completely through hidden oubliettes. Read this for just plain fun and escape.

Jan 28, 3:04pm Top

>68 SassyLassy: Wonderful! We all need more books like that.

Jan 28, 3:44pm Top

>68 SassyLassy: That definitely sounds like a good story. I love when just enough actual history is thrown in to give a flavor of the time.

Jan 28, 3:45pm Top

>68 SassyLassy: I'm glad you had a good time with this book!

Jan 28, 6:06pm Top

I'm very unschooled in French history. I've had La Reine Margot on the shelf for more than a few years, but haven't had the nerve to pick it up, though I'm sure it's very readable. There is a group read in the Category Challenge Group of Young Henry of Navarre by Heinrich Mann starting in January which I'm thinking of participating in since that's another one I've delayed reading. (The second volume will be another group read later in the year.)

Jan 28, 7:46pm Top

>68 SassyLassy: That ones on my French Bookshelf, enjoyed your review.

Jan 29, 5:47am Top

>68 SassyLassy: Dumas is great. :) I've only read three of his as yet (Monte Cristo, Musketeers, and The black tulip), but you know you're in for a good ride when you pick up something of his, haha.

>70 NanaCC: That's what Dumas' writing is, he plucked bits of history and made them suit his story desires, lol. So you go in knowing you won't be getting an accurate account, but there is an underlying base of history, with his romantic adventure on top. :P

Feb 5, 11:23am Top

Bruce Chatwin is another uncharted read for me. Over the years I have tried reading his work from time to time, but never succeeded. This one, clearly acknowledged as fiction, is the first one I've finished.

6. The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin
first published 1980
finished reading January 26, 2018

One hundred and seventeen years after his death, Francisco Manoel da Silva's descendants still gathered yearly in Ouidah for a Requiem Mass and dinner in his honour. This was far more that an average family gathering, for when Dom Francisco died back in 1857, "... he left sixty-three mulatto sons and an unknown quantity of daughters, whose ever-darkening progeny {were} now numberless as grasshoppers".

This 'ever-darkening' aspect was one that worried the descendants, attached as they were to what they perceived to be their European origins, feeling that somehow this elevated them above the citizens of Dahomey, Nigeria, Zaire, Togo and other countries they had populated. The da Silvas clung to the past, calling themselves Brazilians, for that is where their ancestor had been born. They clung to this idea of whiteness, pointing to Dom Francisco's last surviving daughter, Mlle Eugenia da Silva, "... a skeleton who happened to breathe". The unthinkable was now happening, even as they feasted. Mlle Eugenia, their Mama Wéwé, was dying. They would have to drop all pretence.

Francisco da Silva had first come to the shores of what is now Benin in 1812. He represented a Brazilian company that bought slaves from the King of Dahomey to supply Brazilian planters, in exchange for guns, rum, and whatever else might take the King's fancy. Da Silva dreamed of returning to Bahia. In the meantime, he built a house, just like the his Brazilian partner's.

This all sounds as if the author sees Africa through imperial eyes, as a continent whose only purpose is to be exploited, whose people are as much a commercial resource as palm oil or gold. That may be true of the da Silvas, but Chatwin manages to give his tale a twist, so that the man who comes to make his fortune winds up a slave himself, a hostage to the King who has made him his blood brother, so tying him with invisible bonds to his macabre throne and to the country da Silva would plunder and flee.

There are many novels by non Africans of Africa defeating those who would exploit it. There are echoes of some of them here. This is Chatwin's first novel, and it is obvious Conrad and Greene were strong influences. However, it is also obvious Chatwin cannot equal either. At times, images of Flashman pop unbidden to mind. While Flashman fans are legion, it is probably not a style Chatwin was striving for. While at times the writing is lush, there is an off kilter feel to it, a feeling that Chatwin couldn't seem to decide between horror and adventure.

Perhaps this is in part because there was a real life Francisco Manoel da Silva, Francisco Féliz de Souza, whose descendants actually do gather annually to honour him. While Chatwin has his family mourning the "...Slave Trade as a lost Golden Age when their family was rich, famous and white", it is difficult to imagine today. Yet the website for the Ouidah Museum of History, after stating de Souza managed the slave trade for Dahomey, adds "To this day, the descendants of de Souza hold a place of importance in Ouidan society". Even Werner Herzog has taken on this story, with his 1987 Cobra Verde, with Klaus Kinski as da Silva. Not really recommended; in the end, this is probably a book best suited to Chatwin completists.

Feb 5, 1:51pm Top

Some might say that most of what Bruce Chatwin wrote was fiction. I have never been tempted by the Viceroy of Ouida and didn't realise it was a first novel. Chatwin did go on to develop his own style and so its interesting that this first novel seems caught between two (at least) styles of writing.

Feb 6, 7:29am Top

>75 SassyLassy: I agree Sassy, it is my least favourite of Chatwin's books. I love the rest of them. He's a bit like Marmite I find, you love him or you don't.

Feb 16, 6:49am Top

>68 SassyLassy: Not a Dumas I have read. Your review is excellent. There are so many possible diversions in Club Read, aren't there?

Feb 19, 12:28pm Top

>68 SassyLassy: Great review of Dumas! I have it on the shelf, I'll get to it someday.

Feb 23, 10:22am Top

>76 baswood: >77 Caroline_McElwee: I think the idea that most of Chatwin's work was fiction was in part swayed me from reading his non-fiction. It seemed real enough, but every once in a while I would wonder. Now that I think about it, it's odd that I didn't have that reaction to Kapuscinski, whom people now also accuse of injecting fiction. I will go back to some of the travel writing and see how I make out this time, with these reservations in mind.

>78 avaland: Diversions... excellent word for Club Read.

>79 VivienneR: Save it for a time when you need total escape and it won't disappoint.

Feb 23, 11:01am Top

January's Zola, and yes, there is a garden.
I don't usually comment on covers, but this one suits beautifully.

7. A Love Story by Emile Zola translated from the French by Helen Constantine 2017
first published in serial from December 1877 to April 1878, published as Une page d'amour 1878
finished reading January 31, 2018

Despite its title, A Love Story is actually several different versions of love: the love of a mother for a child, passionate adulterous love, de rigueur society affairs, and the quiet love of close family friends are just a few. Love inspires many other emotions though, and in this novel rage and jealousy feature strongly.

Hélène Grandjean was a young widow living in Passy, just outside Paris proper. Her apartment had a magnificent view of the the city in the distance. Although she did not venture there, she spent many happy hours at her window, contemplating the city in its many moods. Hélène lived with her eleven year old daughter Jeanne, a sickly child, given to wild mood swings which seemed to induce illness if she encountered any opposition. Here the reader is in familiar Zola territory: the study of family and environment. Hélène was the daughter of Ursule Mouret, part of the first illegitimate generation of Macquarts, the unstable line in Zola's multigenerational family history. Hélène herself seemed free of any taint, but Jeanne clearly was a throwback.

When Jeanne started seizuring one night, Hélène was forced to search for a doctor, securing by chance her neighbour Doctor Deberle. The families got to know one another. Hélène and Deberle developed a strong mutual attraction. Hélène learned from listening and observing at Mme Deberle's that the bourgeois society in which she found herself thought nothing of adulterous affairs. She started wondering, then rationalizing.

Jeanne, however, had sensed the deepening connection between her doctor and her mother. Unsure what it meant, her child's psyche tried to defeat the doctor, paradoxically by becoming more ill. A Love Story followed the publication of L'Assommoir, and there are suggestions that Zola tamed it down following the critical reception of the depravity the public found in the latter. While that is true to a certain extent, Zola has directed his energy elsewhere, and in Jeanne, has created perhaps the most diabolical child in literature, one who would stop at nothing to punish those whom she felt had crossed her.

One afternoon when Hélène had rushed out of the flat,
She had a vague feeling that her mother was somewhere where children were not allowed to go. She had not taken her, they were holding something from her. At these thoughts her heart tightened in inexpressible sadness and pain,
... she was suspicious and her face grew deathly pale with jealous rage. Suddenly the thought that her mother must love the people she had rushed to see more than her... caused her to clutch her chest with both hands. Now she knew. Her mother was betraying her.

Sitting at the window where her mother had spent so much time, Jeanne too surveyed the skyline.
Jeanne at the window coughed violently. But she felt that by being cold she was getting her revenge, she wanted to be ill. Her hands held against her chest, she felt her discomfort increase. She was suffering and her body was delivering itself up to it.

This novel is divided into five parts. Each of the first four ends at this window, allowing Zola to show Paris in its infinite variety of moods and colours. In the end, A Love Story is not only a story of mere mortals, it is Zola's declaration of love to his city. All else may fall away, but Paris will never fail to arouse the emotions.

Feb 24, 4:56am Top

>81 SassyLassy: Excellent review of the Zola. It makes me want to get to it sooner rather than later, but I have four others to read before (this will include a re-read of L'assomoir which was one of my favorite!)

Feb 24, 7:55am Top

>81 SassyLassy: Good review. Have only read Theresa Raquin which was very dark. Will put this Zola on my list.

Feb 24, 6:44pm Top

Enjoyed your excellent review of A Love Story, Emile Zola and he was right about Paris.

Feb 25, 3:52am Top

>81 SassyLassy: Nice review. You and chlorine are slowly pushing me towards Zola...

Feb 25, 10:20am Top

>84 baswood: I'm sorry to say I have never been to Paris. However, the more I read of these books, the more I wonder if I should keep it that way, as my idea of Paris in my mind is strongly influenced by writers like Zola, and I know it doesn't look like that any more.

>85 rachbxl: It was rebecca and her "zolathon" that got me reading these. I had read two or three before then, but randomly, and she made it sound completely worthwhile, which it is. I hope you get to him.

Feb 25, 10:48am Top

This next book was part of this year's effort to read authors I hadn't read before, and to read from my TBR, where it had been since. June 29, 2012.

Cela won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1989.

8. Mazurka for Two Dead Men by Camilo José Cela translated from the Spanish by Patricia Haugaard 1992
first published as Mazurca para dos muertos in 1984
finished reading February 12, 2018

This book made me work. That's not a bad thing, but along the way it almost drove me crazy. I couldn't make sense of it. Was there a clue in the title? I looked up the structure of a mazurka to see if there was a link between that and the prose rhythm. There wasn't.

Then one day, about one hundred and seventy-five pages in, I discovered the secret. Up 'til then, I had been reading it in ten to twenty page segments, and that day I read about seventy. It clicked. This is a book which requires immersion. There is a rhythm and music to it which can't be appreciated in brief bursts.

Set in a rural village in Galicia during the Spanish Civil War, the novel tells a story of clan loyalty and revenge that could have happened in any era, but is one which the war magnifies and repeats again and again. The mazurka in question is one which the blind accordion player from the brothel will only play twice: once for the oldest of the nine Gamuzo brothers, Lionheart, when he was murdered in 1936; and once more when his death was avenged three years later. However, the novel starts with another murder, that of Lazaro Codesal, whose death had caused the rain to fall continuously ever since, obliterating the line of the mountain range beyond it, and keeping the villagers in their own world. Here we have the two great themes of the novel: revenge and superstition.

Imagine an old bard telling a story. There is repetition. There are digressions, complications, and red herrings. Cela's novel is like that, only there is not just one narrator there are many. There are no chapter breaks and it is up to the reader to know when the changes in narrator occur. Added to these voices is that of the recorder, who sometimes interjects his own thoughts, and sometimes stops his recording altogether to converse with a narrator. Time is like a tide in this novel, ebbing and flowing back and forth.

As each assertion is introduced, it seems like a simple fact. It grows with a slight embellishment each time it is repeated, connecting to other facts, other characters, setting up rivalries, explaining family histories. It's like elderly aunties competing with each other to air the dirty laundry in the baldest of language, leaving nothing out. These are peasants, close to the land, their animals and each other. Often they fail to make the usual distinctions. Always there is that underlying bloodlust, that drive to avenge the murder. As the arrangements are made, the pace quickens, a certain tension is introduced.

In this novel of layers though, there is yet another death that must be avenged. Cidrán Segade was killed half an hour after his comrade Lionheart. His wife Adega's wish was to live long enough to see the murderer dead and buried. She wouldn't utter his name, she just wanted to see him dead and his remains sullied. Sullied they were when the time came after revenge had been extracted. Even then, Adega could not speak his name, calling him always "the dead man that killed my old man", one of the refrains of the novel.

Throughout, Cela pokes fun at those in authority. He gets his last dig in with a coroner's report on the dead man. While there is truth in it, it is so far off the mark as to be ludicrous. The villagers have won.

Edited: Feb 25, 12:35pm Top

>87 SassyLassy: This seems very interesting, but I can understand why you found it difficult.

>85 rachbxl: I expect to start another Zola in not too long so don't expect the pressure to lessen. ;)

>86 SassyLassy: Do come to Paris, it's worth a visit! Some things are still the Sama in Zola's time, especially the Hausmann-time buildings.

Feb 25, 11:45pm Top

>87 SassyLassy: --Wonderful review of Mazurka for Two Dead Men -- I don't think it's my cup of tea, but I'm grateful to have read your review.

Feb 26, 11:54am Top

>81 SassyLassy: Fab review of the Zola.

>87 SassyLassy: Sounds intriguing, but I know exactly what you mean when you say it requires immersion. I have run across books that have needed the same.

Feb 26, 12:24pm Top

>81 SassyLassy: Wonderful review of Zola! I remember when Rebecca was reading a lot of Zola and influencing many of us.

Feb 27, 8:17am Top

>87 SassyLassy: Nice review! On my wishlist it goes!

Feb 28, 6:38pm Top

>87 SassyLassy: Your description of this reminds me of Saramago (who is one of my favorites) a bit. I might keep an eye out for it.

Mar 20, 9:43am Top

Thanks all. In different parts Cela reminded me of some favourite authors, among them Vargas Llosa and Kadare. That was probably what kept me going until it clicked.

>93 janemarieprice: I will have to look at Saramago again, with this book in mind. He's an author whose work I have never managed to finish, but perhaps immersion is the key to him too.

>91 VivienneR: I remember when rebecca was doing her "zolathon". I had read a few random books of his at the time, but it was reading through her reviews as she went that got me going on my own reading of the Rougon Macquart cycle, albeit in a much more leisurely fashion, aiming for one a month.

Mar 20, 10:50am Top

Time to get back to reviewing.

9. To Siberia by Per Petterson translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born 1998
first published as Til Siber in 1996
finished reading February 17, 2018

The blurbs on the back of this book were somewhat contradictory and definitely generic, for example, "...makes us see our world with clearer vision". Still, based on the positive reviews I had seen for Out Shooting Horses, I picked it up.

To Siberia starts out in a promising enough fashion. Two children, at the beginning aged nine and twelve, lived in a rural town in northern Denmark. It was 1934. The town wasn't as insular as it sounds, however, for its shipyard and harbour attracted boats from Sweden, Norway and beyond, giving a sense of connection with the outside world. The children dreamed of that world, the girl imagine the Trans Siberian Railway journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. For her, "every journey I made by train was a potential departure on my own great journey." Jesper, her older brother, dreamt of Morocco, with its mountains, light and sun. They made a blood pact that each would make their journey when they grew up.

Things were difficult in northern Denmark. The children's mother was a devout hymn singing Christian. Their father had left the family farm and become a failed carpenter, then a dairy manager. Against this bleak desperation, Jesper became enamoured of Rosa Luxemburg and Greta Garbo, hanging their pictures in the children's shared bedroom. "He hopes they will merge into one when he is not looking."

Time passed. The Spanish Civil War and then the German occupation of Denmark gave Jesper a quasi political education, leading him into danger. Through the eyes of the girl narrator, known only as Sistermine, we see these events, but her lack of understanding of what is actually happening became a reading impediment as the book went on. 'Two German soldiers stand on the quay weeping... They are being sent to Norway. There is a war in Norway, in Denmark it is quiet. They have had a good time in Denmark." Jesper often had to interpret what was happening for her. This may have been in part Petterson's way of developing the strong relationship between brother and sister, for it is that relationship which is the novel, but as the girl aged, it became tiresome.

The end, when it came, was almost a relief, although life looked as if it was about to get more complex and interesting. There is nothing really wrong with this book, faint praise indeed, it was just that nothing stood out. This made it my first reading disappointment of the year.

Mar 22, 4:24pm Top

To bad about the Petterson. I seldom finish books these days that don't catch my attention in 30-50 pages, or become "tiresome." Might be an age thing.

Mar 25, 9:20am Top

>96 avaland: Oddly, in this book, I liked the first part the best. However, as the girl aged chronologically, I felt there should have been more development, especially when she found herself in some definitely adult situations.

Mar 25, 10:16am Top

Back to the TBR pile, not a difficult thing in this case as this is one of my favourite authors.

10. Doruntine by Ismail Kadare, translated from Albanian into French by Jusuf Vrioni 1986, then translated from the French by Jon Rothschild, 1988. Also known in English as The Ghost Rider
first published as Kush e solli Doruntinën? in 1980
finished reading February 18, 2018

Ismail Kadare would be my first, second, and third choice for the Nobel prize in literature. He can bring the past into the present, making it seem as real as today. He can bring the history and politics of his native Albania to life, even when caution is required. Best of all, his writing is completely immersive; the outside world ceases to exist when reading one of his novels.

The story of Doruntine is an old Albanian legend*. Doruntine was a beautiful young woman with nine brothers. Tradition had held that girls married within easy visiting distance of their families. However, Doruntine married a man from far away, at least two weeks' ride to the west, in Bohemia. Her mother and eight of her brothers opposed the marriage, based on distance. The ninth brother, Constantine, insisted on the wedding, giving his mother his bessa that be he dead or alive, he would fetch Doruntine back personally whenever their mother "yearned for her daughter's company".

Three weeks after the newly wed couple rode off to Bohemia, a plague infested Norman army attacked the principality. All nine Vranaj brothers died within a week of plague or wounds.
No one could recall a more impressive funeral. All the counts and barons of the principality attended, even the prince himself, and dignitaries of neighbouring principalities came as well.
...the mother, in those days of grief, did not have her only daughter, Doruntine, at her side. But Doruntine alone had not been told about the disaster.

Now three years had passed. The Lady Mother cursed Constantine for not fulfilling his pledge. One night word spread that Doruntine had returned. She and her Lady Mother were ill and near death at the castle. Furthermore, Doruntine said she had been brought back by her brother Constantine.

Kadare now adds his own classic twist to the legend in the form of Stres, the prince's local functionary and administrator. Like all good bureaucrats, Stres must decide what information to pass on to his employer, and at the same time, try to investigate and take control of the events, before rumour and superstition have run completely amok. Like other Kadare characters whom fate has burdened with difficult situations, Stres is not just a bureaucrat, he is a skilled one, a thinker, a character in a highly structured system able to appreciate nuance, a man of integrity.

The women's illness was attributed to shock. Stres felt his superior should know of the event, and after attempting to interview the women, wrote in his report,
I concluded that neither showed any sign of mental irresponsibility, though what they now claim, whether directly or indirectly, is completely baffling and incredible. It is as well to note at this point that they have given each other this shock, the daughter by telling her mother that she had been brought home by her brother Constantine, the mother by informing her daughter that Constantine, with all her brothers, had long since departed this world.

What then to make of this mysterious stranger, the one who had brought her home, then left her at the castle gate saying "Go on ahead. I have something to do at the church"? On examination, Constantine's grave was disturbed. Had someone tried to perpetuate a hoax? Could the dead man have risen from his grave in his lonely mother's hour of need? The peasants could not stop talking about the matter. The story grew and spread, ... changing shape like a wandering cloud.

The prince reported the events to the Archbishop, who summoned Stres to an interview. It was a time of passionate division between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. There was only one man who could rise from the dead. That a man could rise from the dead now was "...a ghastly heresy. An arch-heresy" Heresy could mean a painful death indeed for those who subscribed.The story must be squelched. It must be managed. Perhaps Stres could produce a lover who had brought Doruntine home? There had to be a rational explanation, or at least the appearance of one.

How Stres conducted his investigation and how the case was concluded, become in Kadare's version a nationalist statement. Kadare was still living in Albania when this novel was first published, and the matter of dogmatic orthodoxy was still one of life and death, so its treatment is more muted here than in his later work, written in France. That however does not make it any less a novel.


in a nod to steventx, other books I have read by Kadare:

Broken April
The Concert
The Successor
The Siege


* A translation of the legend, which some say is the basis of the German legend Lenore, is here:


Mar 25, 2:36pm Top

Enjoyed your excellent review of Doruntine

Mar 29, 3:20pm Top

Always glad to see love for Ismail Kadare. A friend of mine adores him, got me started, and I think I love him just as much. The Siege is still my favorite of what I've read.

Mar 30, 2:39pm Top

I've got a couple of volumes of Kadare on the shelf, but still not got to them. I need to glue my mailbox closed, so I can focus on the books I already have...

Edited: Mar 30, 2:49pm Top

>98 SassyLassy: I've got The Successor on my Kindle - I've got to get to it so I can decide if I'd like to read more by him, especially since my library has numerous books by him available for download.

Apr 24, 3:16pm Top

Fabulous review of Mazurka for Two Dead Men! I haven't read anything by Cela yet, so I'll try to locate a copy of this book when I visit Barcelona in June.

I also enjoyed your review of Doruntine. I own several of Kadare's books that I haven't read yet, one of which,The Traitor's Niche, is eyeing me warily, so I'd best get to them first.

Apr 24, 7:23pm Top

Great review of Doruntine -- just downloaded it to my Kindle.

Jun 18, 9:53pm Top

I read Doruntine a long time ago and gave it only two stars. Your review makes me think I should reread it. Sometimes a book doesn't resonate with me simply because of timing and my reading mood. Memories of Chronicle in Stone, however, still haunt me.

Jun 20, 2:51pm Top

Now Ms Sassy, where be you hiding out these days?

Jul 8, 12:07pm Top

>106 Caroline_McElwee: Thanks for the shoutout. It has been a weird year and I get stuck on the silliest things. Take this next review. It was written semi promptly, then lost in the continuous moving of boxes of books and papers from one room to another as the rooms get painted. I kept telling myself I would find it and post, but finally this week I gave up and started it from scratch again. That certainly gave lots of time to contemplate the read!

>105 labfs39: Chronicle in Stone is one I haven't read, so it's something to look forward to.

Jul 8, 12:47pm Top

Good to see you back!

Jul 8, 12:48pm Top

11. Living by Henry Green
first published 1929
finished reading February 28, 2018

Living at first seemed a novel of contrasts and opposites. In reality, it is a carefully worked story of parallels between two disparate groups: factory workers, and the factory ownership and management. Most of the book is in dialogue form rather than narrative. The reader hears the story directly from the characters involved.

Like most conversations at home and at work, the characters speak mainly of the everyday often completely mundane details of their lives. In Birmingham, site of the iron foundry, a worker sat down to dinner:
Mrs Eames put cold new potato into her mouth.
"Ain't they good?" said she.
"They are" he said.
"Better'n what you could get up the road or if you took a tram up into town."
"There's none like your own."
So for a time they ate supper.

Meanwhile, in London, the owner's wife was having dinner with her son:
They went in to dinner. Mrs Dupret and her son. Butler and footman brought soup to them.
"James" said Mrs Dupret after searching "I left my handkerchief upstairs" and footman went to get this.

It is not all back and forth however, Living was written in 1929, a time of crisis for many, workers and owners alike. The two worlds necessarily overlap. Here are the workers caught up in attempts by management to modernize production methods and shop floor procedures. Here are the workers concerned about jobs, injury and old age. Dupret, the owner, is ill and elderly, and the workers, while grumbling about the familiar present, fear for the future when Dupret's son takes over. Craigan, the best moulder, actually has a small house where he lets out rooms to other workers. Lily Gates, the daughter of one of them, runs the household in the absence of any other female. It was a time of upheaval for women too. Lily would have like to go out to work in a factory or shop, but the men were adamant that she should stay at home. They felt they were perfectly capable of providing for her.

Green skilfully blends the two worlds. Making a living can be living itself, but living itself is a job.

As I read this, I thought it seemed an unusual novel for the times. Admittedly, it's not a period I've read much, but it occurred to me that most of what I had read was by female writers favoured by publishers like Virago and Persephone. These writers offer a completely different, though equally valid take on the time, albeit more skewed to the middle and upper classes. Workers are few and far between in their novels. Perhaps it was time to read more men from this time and place. Who were they?

Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Isherwood and Graham Greene were contemporaries. Henry Green was not the man of the people his writing suggested. He was actually Henry Vincent Yorke, onetime Chair of the British Chemical Plant Manufacturers' Association, and managing director of the family owned H Pontifex and Sons Ltd. He had attended Oxford where his tutor was C S Lewis, but dropped out to work in his father's factory after two years, living with workingmen.

Green had published Blindness, his first novel in 1926. It, and the 1929 Living, were well received by the critics, among them Evelyn Waugh. However, he didn't publish another novel until 1939, by which time Waugh himself had eclipsed Green in the public eye. He was a "writer's writer", not a bestselling author, possibly because his writing was difficult to pigeonhole, and he himself was aloof. Today, however, his works are enjoying a resurgence, with eight of them currently published or forthcoming from NYRB, and another two from New Directions.

Photo of Henry Green by Cecil Beaton from this article in The New Yorker on Green, calling him "The Novelist of Human Unknowability": https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/the-novelist-of-human-unknowability

Jul 8, 1:23pm Top

>109 SassyLassy: Sounds intriguing !

Jul 8, 3:31pm Top

>109 SassyLassy: Great photo!

Henry Green seems to be one of those writers who doesn't fit into any obvious literary grouping - he's probably got a lot more in common with Ivy Compton-Burnett and Virginia Woolf than with any of the men you mention. The New Yorker article exaggerates a bit in calling him "forgotten", though - I don't think he ever quite fell off the radar in Britain. He was always there in the library next to shelves and shelves of The heart of the matter and Brighton rock...

Jul 8, 7:38pm Top

>109 SassyLassy: Those Henry Green NYRB reissues are all stand-alones, right? I have Back, picked up at random, but now I'm wondering if I should read any of the others first.

Jul 9, 2:44pm Top

>107 SassyLassy: Oh, you are painting....(do you wish to tell us about it?...)

Jul 10, 10:37pm Top

Hmmm..... sounds definitely intriguing.

Jul 11, 6:45pm Top

>111 thorold: I was surprised at Green's male contemporaries as I didn't see any commonality between them and Green, although it sounds as if socially they may have fitted together well. I read that Green was best man at Waugh's wedding.

I did love that photo.

>112 lisapeet: Yes they are standalones, so no worries with Back.

>113 avaland: Afraid it is interior painting, nothing exciting. The colours in the house looked wonderful at the viewing, but once the furniture and art work changed, they definitely needed changing. It's amazing (and in this case appalling) what a change in background colour can do to pictures, so change was required. It just takes so long! The last room will be done this fall, then on to permanent bookshelves, although nothing as spectacular as yours.

>110 FlorenceArt: >114 janeajones: Intriguing in many ways, but I suspect not everyone's cup of tea. Some people have trouble with the missing definite articles in so much of the book, although the speech sounded very real to me.

Jul 12, 11:51pm Top

>115 SassyLassy: Color is endlessly complicated in its interactions so I completely feel your pain in that arena. Hope it's going well.

I've been curious about Green's work for years so it's been an interesting conversation to follow.

Jul 14, 1:05pm Top

>109 SassyLassy: Great review of Living. The picture personifies the sobriquet, "The Novelist of Human Unknowability."

Jul 15, 10:26am Top

Hi there! This is my first visit to your thread. Lots of interesting ideas and reviews. Thanks. I will be back!

Aug 6, 9:20am Top

Back again in less than a month - things are looking up!

>116 janemarieprice: I have another Green on the shelves and think it is soon time to give it a go.

>117 labfs39: You're right. I used to associate Cecil Beaton with stuffy photos of the royal family, but then I saw some of his other work and came to appreciate it far more.

>118 LadyoftheLodge: Welcome! I hope to be here more.

Aug 6, 10:30am Top

Another Zola, finished some five months ago

12. Earth by Emile Zola translated from the French by Brian Nelson and Julie Rose 2016
first published in serial form in Le Gil Blas from 29 May - 16 September 1887, then in book form as La Terre in 1887
finished reading March 9, 2018

Zola's great Rougon - Macquart cycle set out to show the effects of heredity and environment on the two branches of one family: the legitimate Rougons, and the illegitimate Macquarts, all descendants of Adelaide Fouque. The novels shocked the reading public with their depictions of lust, alcoholism, poverty, greed, adultery, prostitution, political corruption and clerical complacency, in other words, everyday life in nineteenth century France. Chronologically the fifteenth novel in the twenty volume series, but eighteenth in the suggested reading order, Earth, Zola's examination of French agriculture, was for some even more scandalous for its content and descriptions than the earlier novels.

It's difficult to prettify basic reproductive functions in animals. Zola not only started the novel with a graphic description of a young girl helping a bull perform, he reduced the peasants to little more than the animals they lived among, rutting in the barns and fields whenever the opportunity presented itself; a picture far from the popular idealized notion of rural French life.

Part of Zola's object in writing the novel was to "...raise the social question of property; I want to show what the agricultural crisis that is weighing so heavily upon us means..." Echoing Lear, the elderly peasant couple the Fouans had decided to divide their land and property among their three children, despite their notary's warning that it could destroy family ties. Here the reader has the first indication of what land means to the peasants. Fouan's feelings on having to make this division made it clear:
...something he did not say {...} was his immense grief, his deep resentment and heartache at giving up this land which he had so coveted before his father's death and then cultivated with a passion that can only be described as lust, and added to, with a little strip of earth here and at the cost of the most squalid avarice. Each single piece of land represented months of a bread and cheese existence, whole winters without a fire, summers of endless toil in the scorching heat {...} He had loved his land like a woman who might kill you and for whom a man will commit murder. No love for wife or children, nothing human: just the land! And now he had grown old, and like his father before him, would have to hand over this mistress to his sons, furious at his own impotence.

It is this lust for land that drove the peasants to rape and murder, if by so doing, more land would be theirs. The land itself is raped, as machines tore into it and men scattered seed. Buteau, one of Fouan's sons, felt "Never in all his time as a hired labourer, had he ploughed so deeply: this was his land and he wanted to force his way into it and fertilize it deep inside."

Not all is violence though. For Buteau, Even when there was no more work to do in his fields, he would go back and gaze at them like a lover." Zola had said in his preliminary notes for the novel, " I want to write a poem of the Earth." There is a certain peace in his lyrical descriptions of the land
The fields quivered and grew paler, the wheat was shot through with tints of old gold, the oats were tinged with blue, and the barley trembled with glints of purple. As evening fell, the walls of the distant houses, lit up by the setting sun, looked like white sails and the steeples reared up like ships' masts from the folds of the earth.

Jean Macquart, a veteran of Solferino and a carpenter, had come to this area seeking a more quiet pastoral life as an itinerant labourer. Landless and without connections, he had no value to the local peasants and never really fit in. Seen through his eyes, through the suffering he endured in the village, "... perhaps blood and tears are needed to keep the world going." After all, Only the earth is immortal, the Great Mother from whom we come and to whom we return, the earth we love enough to commit murder for her, and through whom life is continually renewed for its hidden ends. However, in the end, Macquart's experiences in the village had caused him to lose all desire to live the life of those who till the earth, preferring instead to defend it as a soldier.

It's difficult in 2018 to convey the outrage which met La Terre on its initial publication. In the Translators' Note, Zola's style in this novel is described as producing a "relentless virile energy", intended to "deliver a painterly, expressly impressionistic, canvas, against which violent deeds and ugly designs and sentiments can be flung at breakneck speed, unimpeded by civility". Such was the reception though, that even an abridged 1888 translation into English was debated in the British House of Commons, leading to the book's complete withdrawal from sale in English in the UK, and the imprisonment of the translator. Translated into English once more in 1980 by Douglas Parmée (haven't read), and in this 2016 edition by Brian Nelson and Julie Rose, the full force of Zola's exposé is now there for readers in English.

Aug 6, 11:00am Top

La Terre (in translation) was the first Zola novel and I remember being surprised at the earthiness of the subject matter and language. Full frontal Zola. I enjoyed your excellent review

Aug 6, 4:57pm Top

Interesting review of La terre! I might try to read it some day.

Edited: Aug 7, 5:16am Top

>120 SassyLassy: >121 baswood: It was my first Zola too, probably 40 years ago (so presumably the Parmée translation), and I still have strong memories of that opening scene! Looking forward to re-reading it in the original, although it may take a little while before I get that far in the cycle.

Aug 28, 9:53am Top

13. Paradise Reclaimed by Halldór Laxness translated from the Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson in 1962 and translation revised by him in 2002
first published as Paradísarheimt in 1960
finished reading March 14, 2018

Paradise Reclaimed was a strange read. Having read two pre Nobel prize books by Halldór Laxness, Independent People and Iceland's Bell, Paradise Reclaimed left me somewhat perplexed. Had Laxness lost his touch after winning the award? Was he writing of a world with which he was less familiar?

The hero, Steinar of Hlíðar, at first seemed a fairly typical nineteenth century small farmer with his sheep and meadows. Although poor, he kept his farm far better than any in the neighbourhood, and his dry stone dykes and walls were wonders to behold. At first the reader sees this as a quirk in his personality, only to realize it is the first hint that Steinar can fall prey to obsession.

In 1874, Steinar went off to the one thousandth anniversary celebrations of the first settlement in Iceland, attended by no less a personage than the Danish king. There two major events happened which would shape his entire future. Steinar gave King Kristian Wilhelmsson his dazzling white colt, the fairy pony so loved by his children. Then, out walking, he encounter a man gagged and tied to a boulder. Upon freeing him, Steinar discovered the man was Bishop Pjóðrekur, an Icelandic Mormon living in Utah.

Through numerous adventures, Steinar travelled to Denmark and on to the Territory of Utah, leaving behind his wife and children while he sought the Promised Land. Part Candide, part Quixote, always innocent and simple, Steinar made a life for himself while back in Iceland his family's life was destroyed.

Laxness displays his usual humour and satire here, creating in Steinar a sort of folk hero. However, the Utah sections did not always work for me. I didn't know if it was because I don't know enough about Mormons to appreciate Laxness's comments, or if I was beginning to find it too far fetched. It's been five and a half months since I finished the novel. For some time I was unsure about it, and so unable to write about it. Going back over it now though, it strikes me in a far better light than it did originally, especially now that the title makes a certain sense to me.

I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction to Laxness, but it does give a sense of his skill. In her introduction, Jane Smiley says"While it doesn't seem to have the sweep and general applicability of the larger works, it functions like a parable or folktale, not operating out of basic verisimilitude, but out of material that is not understandable by reason, only through belief." Steinar was based on the story of Eirikur Bruni, a real nineteenth century Icelander who travelled to Spanish Fork, Utah, to be with other Mormons who had been expelled from Iceland because of their faith. As Smiley says, Bruni provided the raw material. "Laxness's job was to make sense of it and find meaning in it, and the meaning he found was in the exploration of innocence." In that, the novel definitely succeeds.

Aug 28, 11:12am Top

>124 SassyLassy: I read Independent People a few years ago and couldn't appreciate it. Perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind; perhaps I couldn't relate with any of the characters, most of whole seemed despicable to me. Perhaps I should try Paradise Reclaimed, since it seems to be so different from Independent People.

Aug 30, 11:46am Top

>125 labfs39: Independent People was the first Laxness I read, and it was so horrifying (vivid descriptions of scrapie just for a start) that it took me a while to get back to him. I would say don't give up on him though.

>126 baswood: That's still to come, but at least it's on the TBR pile.

Aug 30, 12:02pm Top

It was March, so on to some lighter reading before spring arrived and distracted me completely:

14. The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
first published 2016
finished reading March 17, 2018, just days before Kerr died

Those who follow a character through a series of books know that there will be hits and misses, and that the more books there are in a series, the more likely it is this will be so. The Lady from Zagreb, Kerr's tenth Bernie Gunther novel sometimes seemed a bit too familiar in its plot, with Bernie in Cannes looking back a decade to his Berlin days. So it was that I approached The Other Side of Silence, the eleventh novel, with a bit of trepidation.

Luckily there was nothing to worry about. Kerr wisely keeps Bernie in the present, that being 1956 Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. The war is long over and Bernie's life as a concierge is wearing him down, so much so he is contemplating suicide. Enter Anne French, a local English writer. Mrs French managed to set Bernie up as a fourth for bridge with none other than Somerset Maugham, another local resident. Maugham as a character is fascinating, and his background with the British Secret Service makes him more than a foil for Bernie's adventures; it makes him the leading protagonist. This was an excellent portrayal of a real person in a fictional incident. I won't have any reservations about reading Kerr's twelfth Bernie Gunther.

Edited: Aug 31, 3:37pm Top

Over in the Viragos world, March was E H Young month. This was a new author to me, one I had not even heard of before the Viragos group.

This illustration feels wrong for a cover for this book.

15. The Misses Mallett by E H Young
first published in 1922 under the title The Bridge Dividing
finished reading March 22, 2018

There was a time when related unmarried women lived together, be they mother and daughter(s), sisters or cousins. They might have been referred to in ways that now sound quaint: "maiden aunts", spinsters, or more demeaning terms. Somehow, the descriptors never seemed to allow that the women in question might be happy with their living arrangements, that they might even have chosen them over other alternatives.

Such a household was the one in which the Misses Mallett lived. Caroline and Sophia were unmarried sisters in their late thirties or early forties when the novel begins. Their half sister Rose, aged twenty-three, had lived with them since the death of her parents when she was a child. Later, a young niece, the fourth Miss Mallett would come to live with them. Luckily for the sisters, it was a fine Edwardian household where money need never be discussed and tea trays and fires in the bedroom at bedtime magically appeared.

While the two older sisters would have liked Rose to marry, they themselves had "an inherent Mallett distaste for the marriage state." They were not easily won, although Caroline did like to reminisce about earlier beaux. Rose did entertain thoughts of marriage, but with a certain innocence imagined a Heathcliff like figure, a man no one of her acquaintance remotely resembled. When a suitable proposal came her way, she turned it down.

Young takes the time to carefully develop Rose's character over the years. As time went by, Rose would stiffen in her resolve to remain independent. She enjoyed her standing in the community, and her freedom. The arrival of the fourth Miss Mallett in the household moved Rose up a tier in seniority. Now no longer the young Miss Mallett, the realization that life might not always be quite so enjoyable became something to contemplate. Should she have married? Would she marry? Was she one to have an affair?

Young doesn't dwell on such questions in the standard 1922 ladies' novel fashion. Instead, as one who was having a real life affair with a married man, a woman who had been widowed by the Battle of Ypres, she was able to consider Rose's situation with an outsider's eye, and use that to develop her main character more that other novelists of her day might have done.

As Sally Beaumont says in her introduction, the original title of The Bridge Dividing was more apt, for in this case the bridge in Rose's community (Bristol disguised as Radstowe) separated her from much around her. It set up contrasts between the quiet refinement of the Malletts' house on one side of the gorge, and the more animal world of the woods and farms on the other, a bridge between Rose and her erstwhile suitor. There are also more intangible divides: between youth and middle age, early dreams and later reality, and the greatest of all, between life and death.

Although she had had novels published earlier, this was the first novel Young wrote after her husband's death, the first of several successes. Reading it almost one hundred years later, at first it seems like a relic of another world, but then those divides reveal themselves. Perhaps not so much has changed after all.


Edited comment on the book's cover

Aug 30, 12:33pm Top

>121 baswood: full frontal Zola... Great expression!

Aug 30, 1:38pm Top

Interesting thoughts on Living. I read Loving a couple of years ago, which is often sold along with Living. I remember finding it a little frustrating, as I really loved Green's writing style but felt like I needed the novel to 'go somewhere' a little more; I'm much more used to reading plot driven novels from that period.

Aug 31, 2:20am Top

>129 SassyLassy: Great review of The Misses Mallett. I read Miss Mole recently, by the same author and enjoyed it enough that I bought this one too. E.H. Young seems to have led an interesting life.

We shared some comments at one time about Charles Rennie Macintosh. I was thinking about it while reading Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud this week. If you haven't read it I'm sure you'd enjoy it. The story is about the time he and his wife spent in Suffolk, told by an 11 year old boy. It has made me want to look out for more about Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh.

Aug 31, 9:41am Top

>131 AlisonY: I'm much more used to reading plot driven novels from that period. That's something I'll have to think about, interesting. I actually haven't read much from that era with the exception of Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, but just right there you have something.

>132 VivienneR: Miss Mole does seem to be highly recommended. I don't know about BC, but Viragos are thin on the ground in this part of the country, but I keep looking.

Thanks for the recommendation of Mr Mac and Me which I hadn't heard of. That definitely looks like something I would enjoy. I'm so glad you mentioned Margaret, as outside Scotland she seems to get little recognition, but it's difficult to imagine many of his interiors without her work. Here is a recommendation for you: Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920. It's a beautiful book.

And just because I love her work and love having images on my thread, here is an example: This is a panel for Summer from 1904 worked in gesso

Image from National Museums Scotland website

Aug 31, 10:28am Top

Now back to cold hard reality:

16. Emergency Continued by Richard Rive
first published 1991
finished reading March 31, 2018

It is August 1985. Parts of South Africa are under a State of Emergency declared in July. Compared with the 1960 State of Emergency, "...this situation is far worse, on a far bigger scale and far more protracted. The battle is grossly uneven. On one side we have the people's movements, community organisations, workers, and students armed with stones, petrol bombs and moral and political rights. On the other side they have the entire might of the State, soldiers, policemen, Casspirs, armoured cars, guns and limitless powers of arrest and detention." On the day the novel starts, the police have just moved in on a crowd of several thousand people intent on marching to Cape Town's Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison, to demonstrate solidarity with Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners incarcerated there.

Andrew Dreyer, former political activist and now a college teacher, is forced by his son's and students' political involvement to reexamine his own stance. He had moved away from activism after the events of 1960 and now his children, students, and colleagues felt he had abandoned his ideals by not taking a stand.

There is a strong autobiographical feel to this book. Dreyer writes regularly to an expatriot activist now safely ensconced teaching African literature at a Toronto university. He looks back at their joint experiences, discusses his family, and most of all writes down his thoughts about the Emergency, which he says he will work into a novel, a novel which will continue an earlier one about 1960. Rive himself had taught at the same college as his protagonist. He wrote a novel, Emergency, about the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. He then left South Africa to study at Columbia and Oxford, then chose to return to South Africa, a move that would cost him dearly; a move that not many in a similar situation would have made, for under South Africa's race laws at that time, Rive was classed as coloured.

Other parts of the novel are in narrative form, detailing what it is actually like to live in a State of Emergency. The writing is uneven, but that doesn't detract from the force of the events, as old scores are settled, new alliances are made and broken, and no one knows what will happen next. As he writes to his friend "For weeks now we have been subjected at school to police surveillance, raids and searches. Pupils and teachers have been shot at with rubber bullets, tear-gassed and detained. This happens almost daily for weeks on end." It is much worse elsewhere, for as Dreyer also says "...you can avoid the worst if you are privileged enough, as I am, to live in a quiet suburb...".

Although the first novel, Emergency, was published elsewhere in 1964, it wasn't published in South Africa until 1988. Emergency Continued is a 1989 sequel to that earlier novel. Sadly Rive was murdered in his own home two weeks after finishing this book. It is not known if the murder was political, sexually motivated, or completely random.

Aug 31, 10:49am Top

>132 VivienneR: I will keep an eye out for Mr Mac and Me as well. I finished reading My Friends the Miss Boyds a few days ago and already miss being immersed in that world. This sounds a bit similar and set in the same time period.

Aug 31, 2:21pm Top

>133 SassyLassy: Yes, Viragos are rare here too. My Miss Mole was a lucky find at a library booksale.

What a beautiful image of Margaret's panel. There were many mentions of her work in Freud's book. Thank you for the recommendation. I've added it to my wishlist although it looks like it might take a while to find a copy.

Aug 31, 2:46pm Top

>135 labfs39: Thank you, Lisa. That's another one for the wishlist! I'm not familiar with Jane Duncan's books and it's always good to hear of new (to me) authors.

Sep 6, 7:39pm Top

17. Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad
first published 1911
finished reading April 21, 2018

Under Western Eyes is Joseph Conrad's attempt to portray the Russian mind and soul to those with western sensibilities. His chosen meeting place for rationalists and Russians is Geneva, a city long known for both refuge and intrigue.

Conrad's westerner and narrator is an Englishman, a teacher of languages, who states at the outset "I have no comprehension of the Russian character. The illogicality of their attitude, the arbitrariness of their conclusions, the frequency of the exceptional, should present no difficulty to a student of many grammars; but there must be something else in the way, some special human trait - one of those subtle differences that are beyond the ken of mere professors." These attitudes guide his reading of a journal that has come into his possession, written by the Russian Kirylo Sidorovitch Razumov.

Razumov was a solitary philosophy student in St Petersburg in 1911, when the Minister of State was assassinated. That evening, his fellow student Haldin, a dilettante, dropped in on Razumov and confessed to his startled host that he was the assassin. The two barely knew each other, a fact which Haldin considered a plus, as no one would suspect Razumov of helping him in his planned escape to Geneva, where his sister and mother lived.

Razumov's journal detailed this encounter and its aftermath. It is the instrument which allows the narrator to set forth his reflections on Russians, a people for whom he felt sympathy, living as they did under the oppression of the autocratic rule that governed all aspects of Russian life in those days. However, he was unable to comprehend what he saw as their acceptance of that oppression. Secure in his belief in a fair and ordered world, the narrator stated
It is unthinkable that any young Englishman should find himself in Razumov's situation. This being so it would be a vain enterprise to imagine what he would think. The only safe surmise to make is that he would not think as Mr Razumov at this crisis of his fate."

In his Author's Note, Conrad says his novel is not so much a portrayal of Russian politics, but rather an attempt to show "...the psychology of Russia itself". He went on to say
My greatest anxiety was in being able to strike the note of scrupulous impartiality. The obligation of absolute fairness was imposed on me historically and hereditarily, by the peculiar experience of race and family, in addition to my primary conviction that truth alone is the justification of any fiction which makes the least claim to the quality of art or may hope to take its place in the culture of men and women of its time. I had never been called before to a greater effort of detachment: detachment from all passions, prejudices, and even from personal memories.

That he succeeded in his portrayal was evidenced by the book's huge popularity in Russia. However, his interpretation was received in a fairly lukewarm manner in England, not really arousing much interest until the Russian Revolution.

No one but Conrad could have written this novel. Hardy could have captured the gloom and Razumov's inner unrest, but could not have plumbed the depths of his horror and terror. Dostoyevsky could have captured that part, but the narrator's reactions would have been outside his experience. Conrad alone, with that inner duality to which he referred, and the immediacy of the novel at its publication date, could succeed in such an attempt. The idea of national characteristics may seem odd or even disturbing now. It is hard to imagine a narrator describing his role as "...a mute witness of things Russian, unrolling their Eastern logic under my Western eyes" without any further elaboration. However, Conrad's book succeeds for the same reason his other novels still have such power: for his explanation of the human psyche.

Sep 6, 8:40pm Top

>17 SassyLassy: Excellent review! Makes me more curious about Conrad's life. Have you read a biography that you would recommend?

Sep 7, 6:57am Top

>124 SassyLassy: I keep saying I'm going to read Laxness. I may even have one or two of his books hanging around here. Which book would you recommend to start with? (having been to Iceland, one would think I would have read him already, but my literary introduction to Iceland was the early crime novels of Indridason.

Sep 7, 1:59pm Top

>139 labfs39: Thanks. I haven't read an actual biography, but I dip in and out of The Mirror of the Sea: Memories and Impressions, which is Conrad's own take on his years at sea. If you find a good biography, let me know!

> 140 Unfortunately I've never been further than the airport in Iceland, which I am far more familiar with than I would like to be. Seats might be an idea. Anyway, based on Laxness's novels I've read to date, I would say it depends on your tolerance for dark. If that's high, I would start with Independent People, if not so much on any given day, then Iceland's Bell. Have you read The Greenlanders? I see it in your collection and it's a book I loved. I would also recommend the author Sjon.

I did like Indridason, but he seems to have disappeared, of maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.

Sep 8, 2:47pm Top

>133 SassyLassy: What a gorgeous picture! Your thread is always fun to visit.

I have a couple of E H Young’s books on the shelf. I keep meaning to pick one up. I’ve so many books on my shelf that it sometimes becomes overwhelming choosing next up.

Laxness sounds like an author I should try.

Sep 10, 6:47pm Top

>142 NanaCC: I’ve so many books on my shelf that it sometimes becomes overwhelming choosing next up

Darts? Of course they couldn't really be darts because you can't damage books, but maybe Nerf makes a slim version! Seriously, what to read next is often a challenge. I am often guided by my just finished book, but sometimes I just want something completely different.

I do love adding images and that one you mention makes me happy every time I scroll down the page.

Laxness is certainly worth trying.

Sep 10, 7:04pm Top

Following up on NanaCC's comments above about choosing the next book to read, this one came courtesy of the Viragos group where Rosamond Lehmann was April's featured author, so it was an easy choice.

18. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
first published 1932
finished reading April 22, 2018

Knowing nothing whatsoever about this book other than the title and author's name, Invitation to the Waltz had always sounded almost exotic to me. Perhaps it was the combination of title and author's name, which had me putting it in a more foreign context. How wrong I was. There is nothing remotely exotic about this novel. If anything, it veers into bland.

Olivia Curtis has just turned seventeen. She is about to go to her first dance at a house party for the daughter of the local landed gentry. Reading this some eighty-five years after it was written, it is somewhat refreshing, albeit also somewhat startling, to see how innocent and naive seventeen was back then, at least among Olivia's class.

Lehmann captures Olivia's mixed feeling of anticipation and dread as she gets her first glimpses into the adult world around her. That Olivia can find excitement in the prospect of joining this world, not realizing how stultifying it is, makes the reader want the best for her, hope that things will turn out well. Lehmann wisely leaves that future unknown once Olivia comes home to her hot cocoa. That is how it should be.


Olivia actually is the subject of a later Lehmann novel, The Weather in the Streets.

Sep 13, 7:41pm Top

Enjoyed your review of Under Western Eyes - I love Joseph Conrad.

Group: Club Read 2018

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