Archives de catégorie : What I have read

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.

What I’ve read : Karl Ove Knausgaard : A death in the family

Nelson, winter 2021, Sylvie GE

A new author, about whom some claim that he is the discovery of the 21st  century: Karl Ove  Knausgaard, from Norway, best known for « My Struggle » (a title inspired by « Mein Kampf », that  seems  unrelated to the German publication (but so far I have only read two of the six volumes under this title)  ). I do not know what aroused my curiosity for this author, who recounted in six volumes his daily  and inner life from all angles, but there we are.  He had previously published other  titles very well received by the critics, crowned with  various awards, but it was « My Struggle » that made him known worldwide. In principle,   what I thought was a kind of autofiction with narcissistic flavors would not appeal to me. And yet. I first read « Spring », which is I believe its penultimate title, when I did not know where to start  (it  seemed more logical to me, but I had  to start with « A death in the family », which recounts, unsurprisingly, the death of his father, but also his adolescence in a very detailed way)  .  In this book, he recounts  insignificant details or important moments, which makes some passages boring  (I don’t always have the patience to read them all). The publisher presents it  as « an emotional journey of absolute fidelity », a very accurate description, in my opinion, of the author’s adolescence with an exceptional memory. He remembers   colors, flavors, moments, noises with an accuracy that leaves me speechless and that I would probably not be able to reproduce. Beyond this literary detail,  and even if some moments are long, I am not sure I can put my finger on the precise reason for  what  touches me so deeply. Perhaps it is his total fidelity to his memories, without any complacency  and hi   honesty. I find  in him no desire to present himself in a favorable light, to autofiction in order to glorify himself or complain, as is often the case in this kind of work. I’ve read a few reviews where it’s mentioned that you hate it or love it, I can imagine both reactions quite easily. As for the author himself, he confessed  that he began to write what would become a monumental work, when he had difficulty writing, that he first did it to grasp the present moment, what was happening in his head, and that he   had no intention of publishing what he wrote, which I find easy to  believe  given what he projects in the eyes of the readers,   a quite ordinary human being  struggling with   a world  he does not always understand. Elsewhere, he confesses that he is  a shameful individual, from whom he tried to free himself by recounting what he considered shameful. It is, I think,  another sign that literature, as well as poetry (which I explore in a very humble way here) is always in movement, always changing, this is such a mysterious and fascinating process at the same time. His family and friends  also appear  in his books and they  do not necessarily appreciate what he has to say about them. It  has led of course  to the questioning  of  his version of the facts  and confirms that any event is experienced in a unique way. He must also live with what he has honestly admitted,  and the possibility that his children will one day read his books (not particularly pleasing). So,  maybe to read or not, it really depends on what you are looking for in a book. As for me, I intend to continue reading  and discover more about him. Will I be able to go to volume 6 or not? To be continued.

What I have read (Crime and punishment)

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (his best-known book). A book that goes well with short and dark  winter days in  the Antipodes (434 pages of very small print, bought at the annual book fair in  Nelson). The title Journey to the End of Conscience, Guilt and Remorse would also suit this book very well. The story revolves around the main character, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikoff, a student who coldly murders the money-lender with whom he has dealt, but is  gripped with remorse afterwards. The remainder of the book is an unparalleled introspection of the human mind that has not aged in any way since its publication in 1866. After a certain number of pages, I had the impression that he had said everything there had to say on the matter and was wondering what was to come next, and that's what impressed me the most, he uses a seemingly minor detail or character that he introduced previously to resume his thinking and continue the examination from all possible angles of guilt, remorse and conscience in 19th century Russia. If the depths of the human soul seem universal, certain aspects of the behavior of the characters, on the other hand, seemed very different to me, in particular the sense of honor or the way of interacting and of gauging (or judging) each other the others, which portrays better the century and the country of the author. A very good reading choice for those who want to read a classic, but avoid it  if you want something light. It took me several weeks to read it, because of the heaviness of the reflexion (and also because I read less quickly in English).

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!