Archive for Maupassant

Tales from the Loop

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2020 by xi'an

Yet another indulgence during the coronavirus quarantine was watching the series Tales from the Loop (on Amazon Prime), a science-fiction show mixing the mundane with the supernatural, as far as space opera as one can imagine. No superheroes or super-villains, but simple glitches in an otherwise sleepy Midwest small town, operating a synchrotron that opens possibilities beyond the rules of physics, especially about time. A sort of minimalist dystopia. Some critics complained at the pace or the lack of plot, which is completely beyond the point imho, as the inner life of the characters overwhelms the need for action, if any, and leaves one with bittersweet regrets in the same way closing a Maupassant or a Brontë novel makes one feel sorry for the characters and their lost opportunities. Amazingly, the idea for the show started from the eerily beautiful digital paintings of Simon Stålenhag, where he inserted rusting robots and other futuristic but decaying elements in otherwise old-fashioned (I mean from the 1980’s!, with floppy disk computers!) semi-urban landscapes. The main characters are often children and teenagers, who either perceive better than their elders the surreal capacities of their environment or are yet able to question reality into a learning experience. Rarely a happy one, although the episode corresponding to the above painting is a moving exception. Each episode is directed by a different person, including Mark Romanek (who filmed the dystopian Never let me go) and Jodie Foster for the last one. Which explains for different moods from one to the next although there is never a discontinuity in the narrative. And the hauntingly beautiful music is from Philip Glass. Highly recommended!

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

do novel writers need to make exceptional beings of their characters?

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by xi'an

In the French literature part of the baccalauréat exam my daughter (and 170,000 other French students) took on Tuesday, the essay was about the above. It was quite a congenial theme and she seems to have enjoyed the opportunity to review her favourite books to argue the point. (She however declined to write a shorter version for the ‘Og, even in French..!) I wish I had time to expand on this, as it is a fairly rich field for arguing both ways, from Rabelais’ Gargantua and Dumas’ D’Artagnan to Melville’s Bartelby and Raymond Carver‘s characters (who often even remain unnamed). Opposing Flaubert’s Emma Bovary and Maupassant’s Jeanne for instance. Although my daughter considered Emma was in the “ordinary” camp… And discussing the characters in The Grapes of Wrath since this was one of the included texts. In my conclusion, despite advices not to answer the question in a definitive manner, I would however lean towards the quantum physics analogy that writers impact on the exceptional nature of their characters, since they become exceptional if only by appearing in the novel… (Check a mediocre online correction.)

More of my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2009 by xi'an

books4In continuation of the previous post, here are the other books on the pile, which—by a coincidence due to the way books are ordered on my bookshelves—are predominantly 19th century French novels:

  • Maupassant’s Bel Ami, for his precursor style in psychological novels that somehow prefigures Joyce—although many may prefer Joyce!—as well as the narrative power of his short stories—that involves Norman peasants as well as Parisian courtisanes—, and for his description of the Belle Epoque;
  • Mérimée’s Chroniques du Règne de Charles IX, which is a Romantic [genre] novel, both for its historical aspects (Saint Bathelemy’s massacre) and its tale of tolerance versus fanaticism. Although I could have instead put Dumas’ La Dame de Monsoreau in the list, since it describes the same period and I like it very much, I think Mérimée goes further and deeper;
  • Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme, maybe the Romantic novel. It was certainly my preferred book as a teenager and I still enjoy very much this description of (post-)Napoleonic Italy and the intricate love triangles that multiply throughout the novel;
  • Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties, because of its poignant and dark beauty and of its minimalist style;
  • Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, another strong psychological portrait at the turn of the (xxth) century, full of Wilde’s witicisms, with a touch of gothic fantasy;
  • Dickens’ Dombey and Son, as, for all his defaults, Dickens remains one of my favourite authors. Actually, I could not find [on my shelves] David Copperfield, a book I read almost every year from a very early age and which remains my top novel from Dickens (if only for Mr Micawber!), but Dombey and Son has an additional darkness that makes it a major novel as well;
  • Borgés’ Fictions, unclassifiable and sublime existentialist tales of the absurd that have so much appeal for mathematicians;
  • Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Une vieille maîtresse. While considered a minor 19th century writer, I really enjoy this author his nostalgic description of the upper Norman peninsula and of a provincial nobility erased by the French revolution.