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Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou
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Broken Glass (2005)

by Alain Mabanckou

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English (7)  French (2)  Italian (1)  All (10)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Good fun - chaotic, rude and silly. Read it in one sitting I think. ( )
  sometimeunderwater | Aug 5, 2016 |
Set in Congo-Brazzaville (homeland of the author), all the non-action takes place in a bar entitled Le Credit a voyage (Credit has gone on a journey), where the bar owner L'Escargot Entete (the stubborn snail) gives a blank notebook to the bar's longest term habitue, Verre Casse (broken glass). He demands that Verre Casse write down the story of the bar, that is, the stories told to him by other patrons of the bar, those, like the man who wears Pampers & the man who once lived in France & worked at the print shop that produced the magazine Paris Match, who are as at the end of the line as the narrator himself. The narrator lives up to his nickname. He is truly a broken glass that can be neither emptied nor filled. He was once an elementary school teacher, one who as we might say "went off his rocker" & was finally fired for his bizarre behavior. He's an inveterate drunk. In his sixties, he seems to have spent the past several decades as a permanent fixture of the bar, drinking several bottles of plonk each day, staggering out to piss (& speak affectionately to)an old mango tree in the yard. One of the most bizarre scenes entails a pissing contest between a woman named Robinette & a man named Casimir (not one of the regulars). This is truly a battle of the titans. Robinette loses the contest, as is appropriate in a novel in which a certain misogyny underlies all. This version of misogyny couples with sanctification of the narrator's own mother who jumped into the river & drowned. The author references French & world literature throughout. Reading was the road the narrator chose as a young boy. But this path, at the end of the day, only leads him to Le Credit a voyage bar & perhaps his own last day, his own trip to the river to drown. The novels of Albert Camus came to mind repeatedly while I was reading Verre Casse, especially The Fall, with its fog-enshrouded Amsterdam bar & its judge-penitent. Both novels feature unreliable narrators. In fact, all who tell their stories, both the narrator & those who confess / protest to him are unreliable. Camus's The First Man is also evoked; Camus's own impoverished childhood in the streets & schools of Algiers & his own intense love for his silent, illiterate mother. I suspect that allusions to the social & political history of Congo-Brazzaville are also embedded in the novel. As I am completely uninformed about the country (other than knowing that it was once a French colony)I am unable to discern what these might mean. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
novelist Alain Mabanckou is a wonderful writer who captures the voice of his narrator, Broken Glass, and the people whose stories he tells, and whose language flows, and this is true even though he has an unusual way of writing, using only commas as punctuation, so there are in effect no sentences, just paragraphs, and even those "sentences" as paragraphs have no capital letter at the beginning and no period at the end, yet there is never any trouble following along with what Mabanckou is saying, although it may take a little getting used to, and it surely must have been difficult to write that way, as I am finding as I write this paragraph, and equally if not more difficult for the translator to convey the feeling of this writing style in English, so now, because this is not an easy way for me to write, even though I often write long run-on sentences myself, I'm going to stop and write the rest of this review in a more comfortable, for me, style

This is the second book by Mabanckou that I've read, although he wrote it first, and I didn't warm to it quite as much as I did to Memoirs of a Porcupine, although it did grow on me as I was reading it. It is narrated by Broken Glass, a 60-something alcoholic former teacher who now spends nights and days at Credit Gone West, a bar run by his friend, the Stubborn Snail, who has visions of fame and grandeur for what is in essence a dive. Stubborn Snail, because he worries about Broken Glass and because he is seeking publicity, gives Broken Glass a notebook to record the story of the bar. At first, Broken Glass tells the stories that some of the habitués of Credit Gone West feel compelled to tell him, and these stories are generally crude, and often scatological, but nevertheless humorous and understanding of the frailties of humanity and the harshness of life. In the second part, Broken Glass moves into his own story, writing more or less backwards in time, and the reader learns how he wound up losing his job and his wife and ending up more or less broken down hanging out in a seedy bar, despite his love of language and his familiarity with the great works of literature of the world.

For one of the fascinating things about this novel is the way Broken Glass weaves the titles of novels into his narration, as well as references to what happened in some of those novels. To give a feel for this, here is an example:

"they swore he'd be eating boiled potatoes, become a beggar, one of God's bits of wood, sleeping in a barrel, like a certain ancient philosopher, and still the Stubborn Snail stood firm, determined as a chess player, and the years went by in dubious battle, till his envious components got bored of nitpicking, he resisted the confederacy of dunces, and the other barkeepers all called him names . . ." p.19

One of the things I liked about this novel is that it seems that Broken Glass himself got more insight into his life as he wrote about his history -- the same experience the reader is having -- and begins to see that some people, such as the woman who sells him his bicycle chicken, actually care about him (not that this changes the decision he makes towards the end of the book). This is a much more clever and complicated book that it seems at the beginning
5 vote rebeccanyc | Sep 10, 2013 |
New purchases this week.....

[English Voices] - Peter Ackroyd - I'll be reading this for my Reading the Prime Meridian challenge
[A Lifetime's Reading: An Introductory Guide to Five Hundred Great Classics of World Literature for a Private Library] by Phillip Ward. Have just skimmed the intro and its a bit of an odd book. Ward is a librarian so this is his list of books everyone should read. It's organised by year - you're supposed to read 10 a year....

Two I picked up from a charity shop....at bargain price
[Sovereign] by C J Sansom. This is the third in the series featuring the lawyer Matthew Shardake. I read the first [Dissolution] earlier this month and enjoyed it hugely. So I just have to get book 2 now.

[Alexandria Quartet] - one of the books in Anthony Burgess's [Ninety Nine Best Novels] ( )
  Mercury57 | Jan 22, 2013 |
This book is written as the book the main character is writing as he sits in a bar in the Congo. With that in mind there are two things to remember. Firstly you may not like the writing style- huge paragraphs full of single sentences broken up with commas. This is jarring at first but you will get used to it and find the strange rhythm at the heart of this book. Was that pretentious enough for you? Secondly there are some surprisngly graphic and some might say vulgar episodes described here which may shock. That said this is a rare slice of life from a country we rarely get to glimpse in the Western world and for that it should be applauded. ( )
  polarbear123 | Sep 15, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alain Mabanckouprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bragg, BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, HelenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Pauline Kengué, my mother
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let's say the boss of the bar Credit Gone West gave me this notebook to fill, he's convinced that I - Broken Glass - can turn out a book
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A novel by the Congolese author.

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