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Winter's Journal by Emmanuel Bove
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Winter's Journal (1931)

by Emmanuel Bove

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Bove's narrator, Louis Grandeville, speaks to us through 4 months of journal entries, mostly obsessing about his wife’s latest mood swings. He loves his wife, or perhaps it's just an infatuation, an irrational need to possess and control her. At first, I believed his wife to be rather mad, but as the book progressed, I realized that the narrator was perhaps equally if not way more mad.

Whereas Victor (in [b:My Friends|1571607|My Friends|Emmanuel Bove|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1185348788s/1571607.jpg|1564319]) notices odd details, Louis Grandeville notices everything under the surface. He understands (or thinks he understands) everybody’s psychology and motivations for doing what they do, and tells us the exact twisted, often contradictory logic behind the smallest facial movement. The pinnacle of this obsession is of course with his wife; he is convinced he knows her inside and out and therefore can explain exactly why she acts the way she does. Often when reading his explanations of his wife, I imagine a farmer explaining why (psychologically speaking) his pig just snorted a certain way. This supposed knowledge also allows him to pull her strings in ways that rile her up or soothe her down for his own purposes. But in the end, knowledge and love are two different beings, and one cannot help the other:"That last thought suddenly revealed a reality I hadn’t even considered before. The deepest understanding, that understanding which I’d always considered as the very foundation of love, is useless. There’s nothing to be gained from understanding people. Understanding, no matter how profound, adds nothing to love." p. 165While I’m sharing quotes, here’s another:"When I’m feeling discouraged, it dawns on me that nothing matters in life, that all our feelings, be they grand or vile, will end up being swept away in a similar fashion." p. 144I wonder if the original French also played on this wording, i.e. 'grand or vile' = Grandeville. But these words sum up the narrator perfectly. For all the explaining of other’s motives, Grandeville is rarely in control of his own (though always aware and even able to say exactly why he has lost control). He vacillates between grand gestures of generosity and vile acts of cruelty. He seems unable to help himself from doing that which he doesn’t want to do. In this way, the quote above can be carried further: his knowledge of himself is also helpless, in that he is like an astute but impotent observer, understanding all the causes but unable to change anything.

Afterword

There is a very long (over 50 pages) afterword by Keith Botsford. It concerns itself with why Bove has been so ignored, his biography, and what his place in literature is. I found some of his arguments very interesting and others less so.even Bove's most popular book, Mes amis, met with critical silence: "Not the shadow of a thesis or an idea. A volume without ideas to agree with or argue over, critics find difficult; they don't know how to deal with it, what to write about it" What he means is, the critic can't shine talking about Bove. ... Bove just represents the world: a man without theories.This reminds me of this quote by Robert Musil, in [b:The Man Without Qualities|191940|The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1 A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails|Robert Musil|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1320542642s/191940.jpg|1915946]:Hardly anyone still reads nowadays. People make use of the writer only in order to work off their own excess energy on him in a perverse manner, in the form of agreement or disagreement.It's so true, and true only because criticism rarely does its job. Instead, it latches onto ideas and trends that it wants to espouse. What reading this essay made me realize was that Bove is completely impervious to externals... his writing is apolitical, his life was devoid of fanfare or drama, or if there was, he never talked about it, he was polite to everyone. That can't bode well for one's writing career!

I thought Botsford focused a little too much on Bove's biography as a way of explaining his motivations for writing. I think that's always a dangerous proposition, and one can easily fall into the trap of reading too much into an abandoned father or a childhood in poverty. The other thing is that I'm not sure Botsford understands the humor in Bove, or if he does, he doesn't seem to write about it at all:Reading him, I am reminded of the painter Felix Valloton, whose mournful, gray interiors depict a Bovian world. His own life, Valloton once said, had been "extremely solitary and disenchanted" and this "no doubt explains the acerbity and lack of joy in my painting."I don't see Bove as lacking any joy. Certainly the two books I've read have been sad ones, but sad with a perverse form of joy, a joy on the surface of melancholy, almost. And the humor that Bove writes into almost every page is really hard to pinpoint, and something that seems to have gone unnoticed in this essay. Still, a pretty interesting afterword, and I learned a lot about Bove by reading it. ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
Bove's narrator, Louis Grandeville, speaks to us through 4 months of journal entries, mostly obsessing about his wife’s latest mood swings. He loves his wife, or perhaps it's just an infatuation, an irrational need to possess and control her. At first, I believed his wife to be rather mad, but as the book progressed, I realized that the narrator was perhaps equally if not way more mad.

Whereas Victor (in [b:My Friends|1571607|My Friends|Emmanuel Bove|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1185348788s/1571607.jpg|1564319]) notices odd details, Louis Grandeville notices everything under the surface. He understands (or thinks he understands) everybody’s psychology and motivations for doing what they do, and tells us the exact twisted, often contradictory logic behind the smallest facial movement. The pinnacle of this obsession is of course with his wife; he is convinced he knows her inside and out and therefore can explain exactly why she acts the way she does. Often when reading his explanations of his wife, I imagine a farmer explaining why (psychologically speaking) his pig just snorted a certain way. This supposed knowledge also allows him to pull her strings in ways that rile her up or soothe her down for his own purposes. But in the end, knowledge and love are two different beings, and one cannot help the other:"That last thought suddenly revealed a reality I hadn’t even considered before. The deepest understanding, that understanding which I’d always considered as the very foundation of love, is useless. There’s nothing to be gained from understanding people. Understanding, no matter how profound, adds nothing to love." p. 165While I’m sharing quotes, here’s another:"When I’m feeling discouraged, it dawns on me that nothing matters in life, that all our feelings, be they grand or vile, will end up being swept away in a similar fashion." p. 144I wonder if the original French also played on this wording, i.e. 'grand or vile' = Grandeville. But these words sum up the narrator perfectly. For all the explaining of other’s motives, Grandeville is rarely in control of his own (though always aware and even able to say exactly why he has lost control). He vacillates between grand gestures of generosity and vile acts of cruelty. He seems unable to help himself from doing that which he doesn’t want to do. In this way, the quote above can be carried further: his knowledge of himself is also helpless, in that he is like an astute but impotent observer, understanding all the causes but unable to change anything.

Afterword

There is a very long (over 50 pages) afterword by Keith Botsford. It concerns itself with why Bove has been so ignored, his biography, and what his place in literature is. I found some of his arguments very interesting and others less so.even Bove's most popular book, Mes amis, met with critical silence: "Not the shadow of a thesis or an idea. A volume without ideas to agree with or argue over, critics find difficult; they don't know how to deal with it, what to write about it" What he means is, the critic can't shine talking about Bove. ... Bove just represents the world: a man without theories.This reminds me of this quote by Robert Musil, in [b:The Man Without Qualities|191940|The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1 A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails|Robert Musil|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1320542642s/191940.jpg|1915946]:Hardly anyone still reads nowadays. People make use of the writer only in order to work off their own excess energy on him in a perverse manner, in the form of agreement or disagreement.It's so true, and true only because criticism rarely does its job. Instead, it latches onto ideas and trends that it wants to espouse. What reading this essay made me realize was that Bove is completely impervious to externals... his writing is apolitical, his life was devoid of fanfare or drama, or if there was, he never talked about it, he was polite to everyone. That can't bode well for one's writing career!

I thought Botsford focused a little too much on Bove's biography as a way of explaining his motivations for writing. I think that's always a dangerous proposition, and one can easily fall into the trap of reading too much into an abandoned father or a childhood in poverty. The other thing is that I'm not sure Botsford understands the humor in Bove, or if he does, he doesn't seem to write about it at all:Reading him, I am reminded of the painter Felix Valloton, whose mournful, gray interiors depict a Bovian world. His own life, Valloton once said, had been "extremely solitary and disenchanted" and this "no doubt explains the acerbity and lack of joy in my painting."I don't see Bove as lacking any joy. Certainly the two books I've read have been sad ones, but sad with a perverse form of joy, a joy on the surface of melancholy, almost. And the humor that Bove writes into almost every page is really hard to pinpoint, and something that seems to have gone unnoticed in this essay. Still, a pretty interesting afterword, and I learned a lot about Bove by reading it. ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
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