Archives par mot-clé : reading

#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’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 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!