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Category Archive for 'France'

In one of the wildest, most creative, and surprising literary novels of the year, French author Camille Laurens plays with reality and virtual reality on all levels and involves the engaged reader in the action as it occurs. The novel opens with a mysterious two-page Prologue, written in stream-of-consciousness style, a deposition from the Police Headquarters archives of a city in France, by a woman claiming to be an academic with a background in women’s issues and history. Her stream of consciousness raving has no context for the reader just beginning the novel (though it makes sense when re-read after the conclusion). The opening chapters of the book, not in stream of consciousness, begin with interviews between Claire Millecam and Dr. Marc B., as she reveals her academic background and her experience in the theatre. Though Dr. Marc B. is new to her, she has been “here” for two and a half years, and she, now almost fifty, tells him that “it’s his job to resuscitate me to rewire my circuits.” The doctor wants her to talk about “Christophe, the corpus delicti or rather the corpus so delectable he broke my heart.” She made Chris her Facebook Friend because he was the roommate of her former lover with whom she thinks she is still in love. Soon, however, she is falling in love with Chris and he with the persona of the 24-year-old girl whose photo she posted online. The reader is soon involved in a complex play of various types of reality: the reader’s reality; the reality of the main character, Claire; the reality of the action as it unfolds, and the virtual reality of Facebook. Surprises galore as the author involves the reader in drawing conclusions.

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One of tcover coelho spyhe legends of World War I, Mata Hari has been, for over a hundred years, a symbol of mystery, excitement, and danger. Her exotic life and her eventual fate – an early morning execution by a firing squad of French soldiers on October 15, 1917 – has always felt somehow “deserved” by a woman who so craved attention that she publicly flouted every norm of society in order to develop a reputation as an erotic dancer and lover, and who was finally declared a spy by the French government. Fearless in her private life and pragmatic enough to realize, as she was approaching age forty, that she was not as supple – or as slim – as she once had been, she eventually accepted a six month contract to perform in Berlin in 1916, seeing this change of location as an opportunity for new rewards and wider opportunities. The big question raised by this novel is whether her various liaisons in Germany and France provided her with opportunities to share real secrets or whether she was merely a scapegoat, conveying the society gossip of the day, as she has claimed. When she left Germany precipitously in an attempt to return to Paris in 1917, the French declared her a German spy trying to re-enter. Whether this is true has never been fully answered, though this author has some suggestions.

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In an unusual twist, author Patrick Modiano uses Therese, a young woman, as his main character in this intense and totally seductive novel of identity. Few readers of his novels, however, will notice much difference in her thinking from that of the young men who are also searching for identity in many of his other novels. Her isolation from her parents is like theirs – and like that of Modiano himself as he has described his childhood and early teens. Therese, who is about nineteen as this novel opens, was put on a train, as a six-or-seven-year-old child, alone, with a sign around her neck, directing those in charge to take her to a woman in the countryside for care. There she was abandoned by her mother, leaving behind only a portrait of herself and a small metal box containing a diary, a notebook of contacts, and a few jottings on paper. Periodically, Therese would look through this assortment of “stuff,” but the only news she ever heard of her mother was a long-ago report that she had died in Morocco. The layers of reality (or fantasy) here quickly begin to accumulate. When Therese eventually gets a job as a babysitter for a lonely young girl, the overlaps between the early life of Therese and the life of the unnamed child begin to combine and blur. Without a trace of sentimentality, Modiano creates one of the most revelatory of all his novels, one that shows the possibilities of redemption, even for those who have always been alone.

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Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) was already recognized as one of the most important impressionist painters in the world by the time this study of his work begins in 1914. At seventy-four, he still worked outdoors, painting in his garden at Giverny, his rural home forty miles northwest of Paris. He was impatient to keep working, with many more paintings to go, many more milestones to reach. The word “impressionistic,” a pejorative term when it was first applied to the work of Monet and others at their group exhibition in Paris in 1874, refers to their seemingly spontaneous and unstructured style, a marked contrast to the smooth, elegantly formal paintings of the Salon of Paris, the official style of the French Academie des Beaux Arts. The impressionists’ light-filled paintings and their ability to achieve a new depth and immediacy in their work by superimposing colors upon colors in short brush strokes, gradually won over patrons, and over the next twenty-five years, artists like Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt became both famous and successful. Concentrating on the last years of Monet’s life, as he begins his massive “Grande Decoration,” a series of fifty water lily paintings, each one measuring fourteen feet by six-and-a-half feet, the reader shares Monet’s frustration and even anger as he must also deal with serious vision problems.

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As the novel opens, Jean B. is in Milan. An explorer and maker of documentary films, he has become disenchanted with his job, and his private life is falling apart. His wife is having an affair with Cavanagh, his friend and partner in the film business. Privately, the discouraged Jean B. has decided to stage his own disappearance, instead of taking his scheduled flight to Rio to begin a new documentary. Flying to Milan instead of Rio, he takes off from Orly, but upon arriving in Milan, he never leaves the airport. Having convinced his family and fellow filmmakers that he has left on the announced flight for Rio, he turns around and secretly flies back to Paris, planning to stay in a Paris hotel, not at home, and to change hotels regularly so that he will not be discovered. At some point he plans to tell his wife what he is doing – but not yet. The superimposition of past and present, so often featured in the work of Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick Modiano becomes not only the primary aspect of the plot of this narrative, written in 1990, but also a controlling idea in its structure. Jean B., the main character, appears in episodes from the age of twenty through his late forties, as the narrative switches back and forth among time periods. Modiano writes spare prose with little lyricism, but he evokes emotions so real that many of us have become addicted to his writing, perhaps in the hope that what he discovers about life will be applicable to our own. As Modiano says, “ Circumstances and settings are of no importance. One day this sense of emptiness and remorse submerges you. Then, like a tide, it ebbs and disappears.”

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