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what I have read

I  have  discovered this year ( totally banal)  is that the impression I get from reading a few paragraphs of a book varies greatly depending on my state of mind. Until  recently, I thought that the variation in my reactions (often initially negative, then positive) came from the evolution of my literary tastes (which became more refined over time, or at least that is what I thought), but I realized that it is simply the state of mind I am in when I read a few paragraphs from a book (usually from an author I know little or nothing about).

Toni Morrison. The bluest eyes. The story of a young black girl  dreaming  of having blue eyes, but also the history of an entire community. Published in 1970, Morrison’s first novel is a masterpiece, which has not aged a bit. The way in which she controls the narrative makes it  hard to believe it’s a first novel, . Of note is the documentary on Netflix, about Morrison, who was also the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. Just loved it !

Anne Enright. The Actress. Published in 2020, the Irish author’s latest book didn’t bring me as much joy as The Gathering  and The Green Road (winner of the Man Booker). In her latest book, she tells the story from the point of view of  an actress’ daughter, who is looking back at her flawed mother and the influence it had on her life. It is very well written and there are some moments of joy,  but I had a harder time getting interested in it. I usually find the Irish cultural context very interesting and, like many Irish authors, Enright  knows how to tell a story, but I prefer when she delves into family stories, where she is unbeatable.

Hilary Mantel. The Mirror and the Light. It is the third  installment of the trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, published in 2020.  I thought this book,  that impressed me even  more than the first two would not only be in the running for this year’s Booker, but would win for the third time (which would have been unprecedented), but it did not happen. I read her latest book after reading  Giving up the ghost (2003), Mantel’s memoir. Is it the reason I had  the impression I was reading about Cromwell through a medium ? Maybe, but  it really felt  like I was being taken inside Cromwell’s head, and that’s her greatest talent.  Anyway, a masterpiece  again. It was her writing that fascinated me this time, rather than the character. I must admit, however,  that there was a little too much torture towards the end, which nonetheless   did not spoil my pleasure.

Ian McEwan. Solar . This is McEwan’s second or third book that I read, the one I remember is  Atonement, which became a film starring Keira Knightley  and James  McAvoy  (not as good as the book, but my male friends tell me it doesn’t matter because Knightley is soooo beautiful {difficult to say otherwise}) and  Amsterdam  (which I vaguely remember). According to The Guardian, McEwan specializes in one-dimensional, often scientific, characters. In this book published in 2010, the British author puts himself in the shoes of a man who obtained a Nobel Prize in Physics at a young age, which serves as a pretext to do almost nothing for  the rest of his life, except womanising, drinking and eating at the expenses of others. McEwan seems to take pleasure in portraying an abject and grotesque personality, describing at length  his concerns about chips and alcohol, in short, this book did not particularly interest me, although McEwan convincingly demonstrates  his understanding of physics (not enough to grab my attention). Luckily I bought this book at the used book fair!

Dylan Thomas’s country

_mg_2908_1-2A stay in Tenby seems incomplete if it does not include a visit (a pilgrimage might be a fairer term) to the country of Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, where he lived and wrote for a significant part of his life. Everything contributes in Thomas’s magic, the winding road leading to it, the peninsula, the Norman castle, the house where Dylan lived, the little boathouse where Thomas wrote (photo), or the pub where he spent perhaps a little too much time. This time, I wanted to visit him at the cemetery (where he is buried near his wife Caitlin), his grave marked with a simple white wooden cross (I expected nothing less from him). I am reassured to see that it still has a beautiful view of the hills. I then return to the boat shelter, which I had not been able to photograph last time because of the reflections. The visit of course must end at the pub with friends, where everything recalls his presence. I guess in the summer the place is invaded by visitors, but today it’s only us and a few local. A truly perfect and inspiring day.

Au pays de Dylan Thomas

_mg_2908_1-2Un séjour à Tenby semble incomplet s’il n’inclut pas une visite (un pèlerinage serait peut-être un terme plus juste) au pays de  Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, où il  a vécu et écrit pendant une bonne partie de sa vie. Tout participe à la magie de Thomas, de la route en lacets y menant, la péninsule, le château normand, la maison où Dylan vécut, le petit abri à bateau où Thomas écrivait (photo), jusqu’au pub où il passa peut-être un peu trop de temps. Cette fois-ci, je tenais plus particulièrement á lui rendre visite au cimetière (où il est enterré auprès de sa femme Caitlin), sa tombe marquée d’une simple croix de bois blanche (je n’attendais rien de moins de lui). Je suis rassurée de voir qu’il a toujours une belle vue sur les collines. Je retourne ensuite à l’abri à bateau, que je n’étais pas arrivée à photographier lors de ma visite précédente, en raison des reflets. La visite bien sûr  se doit de se terminer au pub Brown avec des amis, où tout rappelle sa présence. Je suppose que l’été l’endroit est envahi par les visiteurs, mais aujourd’hui, il n’y a que nous et quelques gens de l’endroit. Une journée parfaite et inspirante.

What I have read : Virginie Despentes

 Vernon Subutex
I have not read a lot in the last few months as  I’m finishing The Grey Country, my novel about language and identity and I do not have a lot of  time, but I wanted to go back to a book (actually two) from Virginie Despentes  I read last autumn.


Virginie Despentes made her debut as a writer with Fuck me , a book I did not read,  but saw its film version in Christchurch at the Film Festival many years ago (but I left before the end). This book tells the story of a girl raped by three men and her revenge (mostly). Virginie Despentes herself was a victim of rape in her youth (but instead of feeling victim, she  rather felt anger). She has been a prostitute for a while, was  a porn film reviewer, and identifies as a lesbian and a feminist.


Vernon Subutex (spoilers alert !!) was released in 2015 as a  part of a trilogy. I read the first volume in English (a good translation) and the second in French. This is the story of a record store owner who  becomes homeless (volume 1) then guru (more or less, in volume 2), as well as the story of  people around him. I wanted to read the first volume, because it was  talked a lot when it came out and polarised opinions.


In French,  reviewers  who liked the book focused on  her  style (which is sometimes compared to that of Balzac) and the authenticity of the voices. I quite agree with these critics. I rather liked reading the first volume. The pace is sharp and the characters compelling (except the final delirium of Vernon Subutex). I enjoyed it  enough to continue reading the second volume, where the density is lost, the characters are less convincing,  and the story drags. The episode of the girl who « tattoos » the man  she believes to be responsible for the death of her mother is a little too much like the scene from The Girl with a golden tatoo to convince me.

Those who did not like the book  found the thread of the story a little thin (I quite agree with them, but that was not the goal of Despentes, I think) and did not like the characters animated by hatred and power struggles (and I quite agree with them too), which is true but probably corresponds to a certain humanity, probably far from ideal but perhaps a more realistic one. English language reviewers seemed to  like it more, perhaps because, for once, they are presented with something other than the Parisian intelligentsia and a France, which perhaps corresponds more to the one they know. And perhaps for the same reason,   some Parisian intelligentsia did not like Despentes’s book. Or it depicts human beings who are rather ordinary, from the point of view of their character, who may look a little too much like we are : not always noble, sometimes mean, etc. This is probably not the book to read for those who need to regain confidence in humanity. The Irish Times particularly liked Vernon Subutex 1 and even goes so far as to say that Despentes leaves Houellebecq far behind, quite a compliment, given his international prestige. As for me, the second volume disappointed me enough not to make me want to read the third right now, but I may  come back to it one day or the other.