Archives de catégorie : What I have read

#4022What I have read : Deborah Levy

But before I get to Levy, a few other books I have read in the last few months 
David Lodge: Paradise News (1991), bought at last year's Nelson second-hand book fair. The back cover presents the book to us with a reflection on the notion of paradise, a description that is quite accurate. I know the author for his books on academia and he always makes me laugh or smile. Even in this book, which takes place a long way from the academic world (Hawaii, in this case), he manages to infiltrate an academic who reflects on mass tourism and its evils. I liked the book even if the last part is a bit lost.

Isabelle Allende: Violeta (2022), offered by LG. A book that examines the life of a centenarian, Violeta Del Valle, born in 1920. It begins with the description of the Spanish flu and one really wonders if it is 1920 or 2020. It then guides the reader in the intricacies of the story of a woman, her emotions and her country, wealth, poverty, the loss of loved ones and love. I liked the book, but now I don't know if I want to read any more. Not for the moment. 
John Banville: The lock-up (2023), courtesy of LG. This book is part of the Detective Benjamin Black series, which Banville first wrote under a pen name, before reverting to his own. I had read April in Spain (the previous one, published in 2021), but his most recent one is more successful in my opinion. For lovers of detective stories seasoned with the best Banville has to offer. 

As for Deborah Levy's book, What I don't want to know 2018 (borrowed from Nelson's library, now 70% open!), it is the first volume of an autobiographical trilogy by the author from South Africa living in Britain since the age of nine. She wrote this book to answer the question about why she writes. It was during a trip to Mallorca that she seems to have found the answer to this question. As soon as she arrived, she started remembering her childhood in South Africa, her father imprisoned for three years because he supported the ANC, which forced the family to emigrate to Britain when he was released from prison, after he was no longer able work. I appreciated her beautiful writing more inspiring when she leaves the facts behind, and found the beginning and the end  particularly powerful. I still want to read the following two books of the trilogy and maybe some of her fiction as well. The following sentence touched me deeply: "The way we are wired to kill. Ourselves”. 

#3050 what I have read (Ernest Hemingway)

Photo: Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). There are already many scholarly reviews of this book by Hemingway, considered by some to be his best, strongly inspired by his work as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War,  atmosphere of which he recreates with great conviction. I will content myself with sharing my impressions of Robert Jordan, an American university professor, joining the International Brigades, on a mission to blow up a bridge. We follow him for three days as he lives with a group of anti-fascist supporters to prepare for his offensive, falls in love with Maria and does not survive the attack.

It took me a long time to finish this book, I could only read a few pages at a time, probably because of its density. I was interested in learning more about Hemingway's "iceberg" style, where one mentions  only a small part of one's characters, while one must,  according to Hemingway, know them thoroughly. His advice suggests that the quality of a book comes from the capacity of its author to cut long passages, which he definitely did not hesitate to do, with great success. I feel like I know Robert Jordan, Maria and the others, even if the author only introduces us to certain aspects of their lives. I did not ask myself, while reading this book, as I have often enough in my recent readings, why the editor had not suggested cutting certain passages (must one nowadays have enough pages for one's money? am I wondering). Despite what one might call, a lack of detail, I found a lot of humanity, love, suffering, pain, violence, as well as  reflections on the value of life and death, deep questions that touched me a lot.
Obviously, there will surely be someone, somewhere, who will find, sooner or later, that this book is too much  this or not enough that, that it does not reflect our times, because the words or the story do not suit  our way of thinking, to which I would reply that therein lies the interest of the book, because it allows us to paint  an era, to which we can compare ourselves to measure the progress made, the evolution (or lack of it, for that matter) of values ​​and  more. Words, stories that were written at a certain time, reflect the mentality of the time and that's it. There is nothing to add or take away, and changing a story to appeal to today's readership, as some editors have done recently, seems unacceptable to me.

What I have read: Ishiguro, de Vigan, Mazzeo

What I read in bulk, Kazuo Ishiguro, Nobel Prize in Literature (2017) as well as Booker (1989) for The Remains of the Day, which I read a few years ago and which impressed me a lot. When I saw Nocturnes (2011), at Nelson's second-hand book market, I thought maybe I'd like it, even if it was five short stories, a genre I don't  usually like. And what had thrilled me in The remains of the day, the subtlety of the subject, the delicacy of the writing, bored me in these short stories having music as a common theme, with a similar subtlety, but without depth, or it's just that I don't like short stories. The Sunday Times reviewer actually summed it up nicely: 

Closing the book, it's hard to recall much more than an atmosphere or an air; a few bars of music, half-heard, technically accomplished, quickly forgotten. 

Maybe that's what he liked about the book, whereas for me, that's what bored me.
Delphine de Vigan. Nothing holds back the night (2011). Well,  I'm a little behind on new stuff, but it's too expensive to bring French books to New Zealand and I can't access Kindle or other electronic platforms either, which don't allow buying books from other countries (I don't understand why). But, I'm quite happy to have found five or six books in French at the Nelson second-hand book fair, including this one, by an author I had already read Based on  a true story (2017) , a kind of autofiction that I talked about in the blog (in French). In Nothing holds back the night, she reflects on the life of her mother, who suffered from mental illness, the silence of the family, its effect on herself and her sister, in an authentic way, where one can feel her tenderness. Many questions, a few answers, in short, she revisits in an original way, the bottomless subject of the past, the family, the origins and the reliability of memory.

The Hotel on Place Vendôme, by Mazzeo Tilar J. (2014). Basically, it's more or less the story of the Ritz hotel in Paris, through its famous patrons, since the late nineteenth century, including Proust, Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Ingmar Bergman, Arletty, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but also  the German Occupation and war journalists. The author knows her subject well and the historical context surrounding particular events are well documented. A light way to understand history.

what I have read : Isabel Allende : Ines of my soul

Atacama desert, Chile, 2018, Sylvie GE

Isabel Allende, Ines of my soul, Fourth Estate, 2006, 313 p. I found this book at the Nelson second hand book fair last year. This is the first book by Isabel Allende that I read. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by her skill in telling this particular story. It remains to be seen if her other books are just as well written. I felt a real affection from Allende for Inès de Suarez, a seamstress born in Plasencia, Extramedura, Spain in 1507, who embarked for the New World at the age of thirty to join her husband, whom she never found. She instead became a conquistadora who was able to earn the respect of those she met. In 1538, she moved to Cuzco where, as a soldier’s widow, she received a piece of land and « Indians », as the natives of South America were called in those days. Shortly after, she met Pedro de Valdivia, the conquistador of Chile. She becomes his mistress and accompanies him in his long campaign of conquest.

Reading this book, I remembered the beautiful times I spent in South America. In fact, I would have liked to have read this book before travelling there, because Isabel Allende explains quite well the dynamic existing at the time, between the local populations and the Spaniards, the motivations of the conquistadores, their behavior towards « Indians « . One can feel the great respect she feels for the values ​​of the peoples of the territories where she lived, their absolute desire for freedom, their contempt for pain and death, their total incomprehension of the concept of land or human property, their understanding of nature, and many other things. She tells in details the story of Lautaro, of the Mapuche people who, according to what we know of him, would have been captured by the Spaniards when he was very young to take care of the stables and the horses of Valdivia. . After escaping, he led the charge with the Araucanians against the Spaniards. He later captured Valdivia, which he executed a month later. As for Inès Suarez, she was the mistress of Valdivia until the day he had to undergo a trial in Lima, at the end of which he agreed to drop Suarès (and find her a husband) in exchange for his own freedom. In 1549, Suarès married the captain of Valdivia, Rodrigo de Quiroga, with whom she then spent happy days devoting herself to charitable works until her death. We feel Isabel Allende’s affection for all the characters appearing in the 313 pages of her fictionalized story, but based on true documents, which she knows very well. I liked this book enough to make me want to go to the library to see if I could find another Allende book there.

what I’ve read : Jonathan Franzen

Nelson, summer 2022, Sylvie GE
Jonathan Franzen made a name for himself with The Corrections, which I read several years ago and greatly appreciated. While reading Crossroads, I remembered that I went to one of his public readings of a book whose title I have forgotten, when I was living in Christchurch, probably because the event was somehow  surreal. Very unlikely event in Christchurch (it is Auckland which generally hosts this kind of literary guests), hardly publicized, I had noticed it by chance. I found myself in a small dark room, with two other people (including somebody who looked like his wife). The author did not take offense of the size of the audience and went on with what he was paid to do, because he perhaps knew that it would allow him to come to the South Island to observe the birds, a passion of his meaning, according to my unscientific criteria, that he must be a decent human being (that being said, a recent poll mentioned in The Guardian, claims that bird watchers are amongst the most boring people, a group I must confess, I am proud to be part of, although in a very amateur way).

Obviously, once one has read a book that struck a chord, the risk of being disappointed by the following one  is high. However, I cannot say that Crossroads disappointed me: it reads well and I could read  substantial passages every evening with pleasure. Franzen masters his writing, his characters are well presented, his reflections on an American family of the 70s, which he observes with acuity and empathy are relevant, but started to get a little tired after 400 pages, which isn't too bad (the book is almost 600 pages long), because I see less need to write really long novels in the times we live in. However, I could not help comparing this very American novel in its form and in its subject (which is not a negative observation) to that of Karl Ove Knaussgaard, another very long book, which contains boring passages which I simply skipped over, but which disturbed me much more than  Franzen's opus (it seems to me moreover that he  has been influenced by  Knausgaard, in the meticulous descriptions of certain moments). The difference between the two lies, I believe, in the fact that Knaussgaard goes further into the entrenchments of literature, whereas Franzen is very classical in his approach to the novel. Neither has more merit than the other, but right now, Knausgaard seems to appeal to me more than Franzen. Worth reading anyway, for all sorts of other reasons.