- Author: Annie Ernaux
- Title: Les années
- Published: 2008, translated 2017 (English)
- Genre: novel…but heavily autobiographical
- Contents: 256 pages, no chapters!
- Language: French
- le prix Marguerite-Duras
- le prix François-Mauriac de la région Aquitaine
- le prix de la langue française
- le prix Strega européen.
- I will use a quote by a
- reader Susan Clark Germaine on Goodreads.com
- who just finished the book yesterday.
- She took the words right out of my mouth:
- “…very long and tedious, and I had to force myself to continue to read it.”
- There were some strong points (see review) and
- …some memorable quotes but all in all this book was
- …not worth the effort it took to read it in French.
- All credit to Ms Ernaux for creating such a complex book.
- There is so much reality (politics, philosophy, literature) mixed into her memoires
- …it is just a bit too much to take in.
- She overwhelmed this reader to the point that
- …I was struggling to finish the book.
- But….at least I’m reading again!
Strong point: Nice feature of Ernaux’s writing
…she takes the reader into a shoebox of photographs
…of the past and guides us with her memories.
Book is filled with….
“…les sentiments, images et sensations…”
1940s – The book spans the time frame from the author’s birth in 1940 up to 2006,
and moves from her working-class upbringing in Normandy to her years teaching French literature in a lycée….living in the Parisian suburb of Cergy, raising two sons and eventually divorcing.
1950s – Ernaux writes both personally and collectively, situating
her own story within the story of her generation,
without ever confusing the two.
There is no “I”…..only “one” and “we”.
1960s – emphasis of politics and how the younger generation will
be able to create a better future
1970s – the ideals of May ‘68 convert themselves into
objects (fridge, Hi-Fi music player, color TV), entertainment and starting families.
1980s – the desire to vacation without the husband and children
Fluctuating between the desire and fear of losing everything.
Wife and mother contemplating….divorce.
Ready for anything to regain, find the desire of a future.
Weak point: Difficult to stay engaged with this book.
There is not really a traditional story.
It is just a continuous summation of life lived
1940s-2000 with some ah-ha moments:
1980s deaths of Barthes, Satre, Beauvoir, assassination attempt Pope John Paul II
Surprised Chernobyl is cover in one sentence…this was a major incident!
1990s – Mitterrand dies, Marguerite Duras dies….mobile telephones.
‘Elle’ …her last lover…her last retreat.
Note: this is NOT a ‘touchy-feel-ly’ fictive memoir….it is filled with
references to literature, philosophy, existentialism, politics, protests, sit-in, gender issues, French Algeria (Harkis, Pied-noirs)
revolution/liberation (May ‘68 in Paris, Chili, Cuba, Vietnam, Czechoslovakia)
Strong point: page 166 Ms Ernaux describes the moment she decided to write this book.
A book like ‘Une Vie’ 1940-1985….’le destin ( the fate) de la femme’
She wants to re-live the passage of time in and around her in the
dispossession of (freeing oneself) people, things and events.
I have been taking photos during my daily walks during the COVID Lockdown.
It was a way to enjoy life that is still within a 5 km radius from my home.
The last sentence in this book reminded met of the importantce of photos:
“Sauver quelque chose du temps, où on ne sera plus jamais.”
Save something of time….where we will never be again.
- Author: Delphine de Vigan (1966)
- Genre: novel (pg 347)
- Title: Les enfants sont les rois
- Published: 2021
- This is an account two children, Kimmy and Sammy, whose parents film and share
- every moment of their days on the internet.
- The parents are influencers who are exploiting their children.
- Social media, You Tube channels and Instagram
- ….product placement is big business.
- Melanie en Bruno earn an enormous amount of money by advertising for brands
- …until the “fairy tale” comes to a shocking end.
- The deep sense of emptiness
- …in this family is overwhelming.
- The social media friends/community distributing
- “like”s and comments filled with
- “bisous d’étoiles” (see Google) seem
- more important to Melanie than her real family!
- I missed Ms. de Vigan’s sensitive writing style
- that was such a success in her book
- Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit (2011).
- Les enfants sont les rois is simply a factual statement of
- what is happening without any added value.
- Actually, nothing much really happens in the book!
- Author: Jacques Roumain (1907-1945)
- Genre: novel (pg 210)
- Title: Gouverneurs de la rosée
- Published: 1944
- Trivia: On 18 August 1945 3 days after returning from Cuba
- Jacques Roumain dies at the age of 37 years old.
- Cause of death….unknown but it is whispered
- …that he was poisoned by the powers that be.
- If book is on Edwidge Danticat’s top 10 list…time to read it!
- Gouverneurs de la rosée by Haitian writer Jacques Roumain.
- They say it’s a masterpiece!
- The novel centers on Manuel, a Haitian peasant forced to find work
- at a U.S. sugar plantation.
- Returning to Haiti, Manuel tried to i
- instill in his fellow peasants
- a sense of their role modern capitalism.
- They need only realize their own collective power
- …to end their exploitation.
- …Caribbean version of Romeo and Juliet
- …Manuel and Annaīse.
- This book is difficult to review.
- Weak point: pace
- Roumain opens the book with a lyrical snapshot
- of the flora and fauna of Haiti.
- Beautiful as it is….this continues in each chapter.
- I know more names for hillocks, shrubs, slopes, thistles
- …wood pigeons, pebbles, mango trees in French than is needed!
- Strong point: sense of place
- I’m sure this nostalgic look at Haiti had a purpose
- ….it was to help people who have left this Caribbean island
- …return home even if it is just in a book.
- Weak point: conflict
- A reader needs some action to push the story along.
- After 54% of the book we finally see a
- “forbidden” love story beginning
- ….and a quest that the main character intends to complete.
- Strong point: social commentary
- Jacques Roumain was a political activist.
- His participation in the resistance movement against the
- United States’ occupation, and most notably,
- his creation of the Haitian Communist Party.
- He was arrested and finally exiled
- Roumain laid bare many problems facing Haiti:
- deforestation, drought,
- tribalism (people are overly loyal to their own group)
- resource control by the elite class
- feeling of resignation in one’s fate
- …encouraged by religion and voodoo.
- This is not a masterpiece that would sweep you off your feet
- but a gentle, simple story about the resilience of a proud Haitian village.
- Sadly this book written in 1944 is visionary.
- Haiti has less than 1% of its original primary forest and is
- therefore among the most deforested countries in the world.
- In 1923 60% of the island was forests.
- Haiti’s literacy rate of about 61%.
- That is well below the 90% average literacy rate for
- Latin American and Caribbean countries.
- 2019: corruption, foreign mercenaries
- Two former Navy SEALs, a former Blackwater employee, and two Serbian mercenaries
- were tasked with protecting the former head of the National Lottery.
- He intended to transfer US$80 million from a PetroCaribe bank account
- to a bank account solely controlled by President Jovenel Moïse
- 2021: coup, assassination of the President Moïse.
- Author: Françoise Frenkel
- Genre: memoir
- Title: Rien où poser sa tête
- Published: 1945
- Again, I was seduced by the cover and
- …the English title A Bookstore in Berlin.
- I remembered the old adage,
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- The book did have:
- Strong point: conflict in the form of a harrowing journey
- Strong point: structure chronological…very easy to follow
- Strong point: universal theme persecution of ethnic group (Jews)
- Weak point: as others have noted….the omission of any mention
- of the author’s husband! That’s not something you would forget.
- Weak point: Ms Frenkel is not a professional writer and it shows.
- Weak point: the ‘hook’ in the first chapters, her bookstore in Berlin
- …just disappeared.15% about the store 85 % about the author’s
- journey through occupied France hoping to reach Switzerland.
- I was not swept away by a combination of great story and great writing
- …but flattened by facts and the mediocre.
- Recommendation: leave this book on the library shelf and do yourself
- a favor and search for
- A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary.
- I read the French version….and it STILL lingers in my mind!
- Une femme à Berlin
- Author: Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987)
- Genre: historical novel
- Title: Mémoires d’ Hadrien
- Published: 1951
- I was a little disappointed with this book.
- I had the impression I was reading pages from an
- encyclopedia in the first person.
- Strong point: I did learn a lot about Hadrian and the people around him.
- Weak point: Most of my knowledge was gleaned from wikipedia!
- Yourcenar’s writing style is dense and her rich
- vocabulary weighted down the narrative.
- I had to look up so many words.
- I missed an easy reading flow I expected in a historical novel.
- The book was a bit too philosophical for my taste.
- Best chapter: unfortunately it was the last one
- …so it took me 7 days to reach this point!
- Hadrian feels his health is rapidly failing and he
- walks the reader through his choices for succession
- …and thoughts about his approaching death.
- It was quite moving.
- Will read M. Yourcenar again?
- ….I think not, this was enough for me.
- Author: Emile Zola
- Title: Thérèse Raquin
- Published: 1867
- Language: French
- List of French Books Read
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly plan
- A cross between a crime fiction and fantasy novel
- Characters: Zola portrays an icy ménage à trois:
- Thérèse…her husband Camille and lover Laurent.
- Mme Raquin is Camille’s mother.
- Timeline: 6 years
- Plot: “Crime passionnel” that changes the lovers
- ..and drives them into madness!
- Characters change:
- Laurent: heavy, hot-headed –> gets nervous, fearful, violent and criminal
- Thérèse: nervous, unsatisfied, passive –> strong and sensual woman
- Madam Raquin: apathetic, quiet –> desperate and vengeful woman
- Camille: alive –> dead….killed in the water.
- The book is very easy read.
- So easy that I could skim parts when
- Zola uses long-winded descriptions (signature style of his writing)
- …. and not miss a beat.
- It is a tale of fiery passion, obsession, and
- the psychological aftermath of an unforgivable deed.
- Several steamy chapters about the secret affair
- between Thérèse and Laurent leading up to the wedding night.
- Then the guilt sunk in and they both felt
- ….repelled by each other!
- Zola knows what kind of books sell!
- …but it is #GoodNotGreat
- The narrative reminded me of movies
- “The Post Man Always Rings Twice”
- and “Body Heat”.
- Thérèse Raquin felt less ‘polished’ compared
- to Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series.
- If you read any french books…start with
- this series of 20 books.
- You won’t be disappointed!
- Author: A. Camus
- Title: L’Été (essay)
- Published 1939
- I must channel my thoughts into a French book.
- It is the only way I can stay focused during Corona lockdown.
- Reading a third language (…Dutch is my second)
- will make reading interactive
- …the words on the page vs the words I have to look up!
- The book wasn’t difficult but I should have read an
- ..ol’ fashioned crime fiction to kick-start my French reading.
- Oran Algeria is nice….but I wouldn’t want to live there.
- My last French book was in July 2019
- …so my vocabulary was a little rusty.
L’Été by Albert Camus
- Albert Camus compares Oran Algeria to a labyrinth in this essay.
- It is a closed space in which people go around in circles.
- Their lives are filled with boredom and futility.
- All beauty (man-made or natural) has been eliminated.
- Oran is a a place “sans âme et sans recours”. (no soul, no refuge…just stone)
- The Minotaur in this labyrinth is boredom,
- “Le Miontaur dévoure les Oranais: c’est l’ennui.”
- Oran: the streets – descriptions of the men/women of Oran
- …having shoes shined, flirting and their nicknames Clarques (men) -Marlènes (women)
- Clark Gable-Marilyn Monroe….les voluptés (sensual pleasures)
- Oran: the desert of Oran..…compares Oran to Florence, Athene and other cities.
- Oran: the games – description favorite sport in Oran….boxing.
- BEST CHAPTER: This boxing section was wonderful
- …no deep philosophical thoughts…just a great sportscast!
- Oran: the monuments….about Maison de Colon municipal building opened in Oran 1930
- Oran: the monuments….about Hôtel de Ville with 2 bronze lions by Auguste Cain in 1889
- Oran: Ariane’s stone (mythology)
- …Oran is made of stone and Camus uses a stone in his essay
- … instead of the string. Ariane used a string to help her
- …lover retrace his way out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur.
- Camus will use a stone …to show the people that
- …they too can escape boredom (Minotaur) in Oran.
- If the Oranais find a balance between
- …their suffering and what nature can give them
- …they will be spared a life of futility.
- “Il faut dire “ oui” au Minotaur.”
Author: Alain-Fournier (1886 – 1914)
Title: Le Grand Meaulnes
Contents: 200 pages (3 parts)
Trivia: Le Grand Meaulnes was shortlisted for Prix Goncourt 1913 but lost by 1 vote.
Trivia: Today the book is nr 9 on Le Monde’s list 100 best books of 20th C.
Trivia: …and the Prix Goncourt winner “Le peuple de la mer’ has been long forgotten!
Available in English “The Lost Estate”
- Le Grand Meaulnes is the only novel by French author Alain-Fournier.
- Fifteen-year-old François Seurel narrates the story of
- his relationship with seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaulnes
- as Meaulnes searches for his lost love.
- Impulsive, reckless and heroic,
- Meaulnes embodies the romantic ideal,
- the search for the unobtainable, and
- the mysterious world between childhood and adulthood.
1. Explain the title. In what way is it suitable to the story?
Augustin Meaulnes, called ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ fascinates the students with his mysterious personality.
2. What is the predominant element in the story?
Setting: (estate) The setting is the central focus of the book . The village of Sologne and its school, the mysterious ‘domain’/chateau with the surrounding paths , ponds, slopes, reeds, marshes. The characters are running away from the village school (Augustin), running away from the ‘domaine’ (Frantz), running away from village where young Yvonne waits for her new husband (Augustin).
3. Who is the single main character about. whom the story centers?
Main character is Augstin Meaulnes.
There are friendships: Augustin/François and Augustin/Frantz
There are loves: Augustin/Yvonne – Frantz/Valentine – François/Yvonne
4. What sort of conflict confronts the leading character or characters?
a. External – Augustin discovers an ‘enchanted forest’ meets a ‘princess’ (Yvonne). They part abruptly.
b. Internal – Augustin moves from childhood to adulthood, but never stops looking for his vanished beloved.
5. How is the conflict resolved?
Frantz: finds his ‘amour absolu’ (Valentine)
Augustin: finds his ‘amour libertine’ (Valentine) and ‘amour idéal’ (Yvonne)
François: finds his ‘amour impossilble’ (Yvonne)
7. Who tells the story? What point of view is used?
François is the narrator of the book. His parents are the teachers at Sainte Agathe in Sologne.
8. Where does the primary action take place?
Village of Sologne, Vierzon, Vieux-Nancay
9. How much time does the story cover?
I estimate that the story takes place over 10 years. It begins when Augustin arrives as a boarder with the Seruel family in Sologne. It ends as Augustin returns from a long trip.jaar.
10. How does the story get started? What is the initial incident?
Augustin arrives at the school. His arrival is going to change François’s calm and lonely life.
11. Briefly describe the rising action:
Augustin loses his way during a walk, discovers a beautiful estate, pre-wedding party and the love of his life.
12. What is the high point, or climax, of the story?
The writer uses language to indicate that Meaulnes and the ‘bohémien’ finally trust each other: (pg 92)
“Puis cessant d’ employer ce <vous> insolite chez des écoliers de Sainte-Agathe.”
Stop using ‘vous’ …unusual for students
The writer uses a mini-climax at the end of each part to move the story along. Part 1 gunshot in the forest; Part 2 letter from Augustin to François. The main climax in on page 104-105.
The illusions and pantomime disappear. Frantz removes the scarf. We see the scare of his attempted suicide. The tone in the book swings from an enchanted world of youth to harsh word of adulthood. “…enlève son bandeau pour être reonnu de nous.”
13. Discuss the falling action or close of the story.
François, Augustin and Frantz try to put the pieces of their ‘past youth and lost loves’ back together ‘…perhaps everything will be as in earlier times. Can the past return? Who knows! (Mais le passé peut-il renaítre? Qui sait!) (pg 159)
14. Does this story create any special mood?
Alain-Fournier creates through his atmospheric images a feeling of:
nostalgia: – tormented and cherished days ebb and flow against the rocks like waves, our adventures. (pg 11)
eeriness: – you hear the whistles and moans of the shipwrecked in the attic. (pg 164); “un vent noir et glacé soufflait dan le jardin mort” (pg 36)
enchantment: – I’m looking for something very mysterious. This passageway mentioned in books, the ancient hidden path, the one the exhausted prince was too tired to find. (pg111) (..famous quote from the book)
15. Is this story realistic or true to life?
We know that Alain-Fournier grew up far from the sea but had a life long desire to join the navy. The sea was his ideal and he used many nautical images in the book. Mysteriously he changed the little houses in the village of Sologne into ships, boats and sails. On page 57 the author describes men at the festive meal, freshly shaven who could have been ex-sailors. But he tells us they never sailed the seven seas…..only weathered rains and wind while making furrows in the fields and returning home in their carts. These are only a few nautical descriptions of the villages and people where the story takes place.
Yvonne de Quiévrecourt was born in 1885 in Paris.
In 1905 Alain Fournier was suddenly faced with the girl of his dreams.
This encounter changed Fournier’s life and provided the basis for Le Grand Meaulnes.
16. What is the structure of the book?
Part 1: (30%) Meaulnes’s arrival and departure in the village Solonge + strange adventure.
Part 2: (22%) Gypsy ‘Frantz’ – Meaulnes’s departure for Paris
Part 3: ( 37%) Wedding – Journal intime – lost happiness
The last chapter which reveals the intrigue, secret and its impact is only 3 pages!
17. What is the general theme of the story?
Adventure and discovery: Meaulnes and Yvonne after their wedding are ready to set out on an adventure. Like two passengers adrift in a boat (nautical image), in the winter wind, two lovers enclosed in happiness. (pg 170)
“Comme deux passagers dans un bateau à la dérive, ils sont dans le grand vent d’hivier, deux amants enfermés avec le bonheur.”
18. Did you identify with any of the characters?
François Seurel: Despite his unwavering loyalty to Augustin, his support of the abandoned Yvonne, his care of a nameless young child….he is left with nothing at the end. In ch1 we read of François’s sad and lonely days in the village. Augustin came and brightened his life. But after losing his best friend and the girl he had secretly fallen in love with (Yvonne) his days were again…sad and lonely.
19. Does this story contain any of the following elements?
Metaphor: sea, boats, sails, anchors, waves used to enhance the theme of an ‘adventure’.
The classroom is like a ship. (pg 23)
The village houses are boats anchored with their sails ready to be unfurled. (pg 142)
Symbol: Meaulnes is Robinson Crusoe on the brink of an adventure.
“Peut-être le gout des aventures plus fort que tout…” (pg 183)
The taste for adventure….stronger than everything.
Meaulnes reminds his young friend of Crusoe in the basket shop. (pg 22)
The title of ch 3 part 1 is a quote from Robinson Crusoe:
“Je fréquentais la boutique d’un cannier” .
Simile: Meaulnes is like a sailor keeping watch at night. (pg 36)
“comme ces marins qui n’ont pas pu se déhabituer defaire le quart…”
He is like a soldier on alert sleeping in his clothes. (pg 35)
“soldat au cantonnement d’ alerte”
All these actions increase the adventurous feeling of the book.
20. Does the story contain a single effect or impression for the reader?
Sadness: François is carrying Yvonne’s dead body. The only time he held her in his arms as the bridegroom he longed to be. “ Je baisse la tête sur la tête de celle que j’emporte, je respire fortement et ses cheveux blonds aspirés m’entrent dans la bouche, ces cheveux morts qui not un goût de terre.”
I lowered my head onto the head of the one I was carrying,
I breathed deeply and inhaled her blond hairs into my mouth,
these dead hairs that have a taste of the earth.
This book is more about rich images than tense action.
Because of author’s poetic style the words seem to float over the pages.
Weak point: part 2 the pantomime, band of roaming gypises….
This was diffcult to place in the narrative. I needed some help to understand why
Alain-Fournier included it. It is a mise-en-abyme, (frame story).
Pierrot struggling to grow up. (keeps falling and speaking in cries and hoots).
This parallels the struggle of the three main characters
…Francois, Augustin and Frantz – moving from youth to adulthood.
This is a very easy book to read, vocabulary is not difficult.
Strong point: I learned some beautiful words and wonderful expressions!
à la cornette! – a mock directed to a nun in reference to her headgear!
- Time for some bistro food….but this year
- I’m NOT making a main course.
- I have chosen to make a “to die for dessert“
- Mousse au chocolat!
- Cookbook: Petite Cuisine à Paris
- Rachel Khoo
- Crème pâtissière (pg 274)
- Mousse au chocolat (pg 222)
- Note: For more instructions how to share your posts go to Thyme for Tea.
Follow these steps:
- make crème pâtissère (let cool for one hour in fridge)
- make meringue au chocolat
- (60 gr egg whites, 1/3 c confec sugar, drops lemon juice, dash salt, 1 Tbs cacao)
- melt dark chocolate au bain maire (150 gr)
- whip heavy cream (200 ml)
- fold all ingredients together in a large bowl
- fill glasses decorated with chopped nuts
- cool in fridge at least 2-4 hours
- Bon Appétit!
Cool crème pâtissère between sheets of saran wrap...cool for 1 hour
A good chef …..always cleans up her own mess! (…this was the rule in my house growing up!)
Chop nuts to decorate the glasses!
Fold together and add melted chocolate…..
Author: S. Chaladon
Title: Return to Killybegs
Language: I read it in French…but it is available in English.
Trivia: Awarded the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française 2011.
Le Grand Prix du Roman is a French literary award, created in 1918, and given each year by the Académie française. Along with the Prix Goncourt, it is one of the oldest and most prestigious literary awards in France.
Return to Killybegs is a novel about a traitor to Belfast’s Catholic community
during the war in 1970s and 1980s in Northern Ireland.
The narrative is inspired by the 2006 murder of Denis Donaldson.
He was a senior Sinn Féin member who was revealed as a British secret agent.
Chalandon had befriended Donaldson while working as a journalist in Belfast.
Chalandon attempts to understand the reasons for
Donaldson’s (character: Tyrone Meehan) betrayal of the IRA.
Perhaps Chalandon wanted to give his friend a chance to explain his side of the story.
24 December 2006 – 04 April 2007 (narrator is now 81 years old)
” I have often returned to my father’s house
…but I came here four days ago…..to die.”
Best chapters – 18, 21, 22, 23 (suspense)
The writing is remarkable, compact and to the point.
Chalandon manages a journalistic style
yet breathes life into characters that leave the reader riveted.
Suspense builds while Chalandon alternates the past with the present.
Past: childhood, WWII, entrance into IRA, prison sentences and contre-espionage
Present: visit 2006 in Belfast for a wedding and confrontation with ex-IRA members
Despite the cease-fire, peace negations, destroyed arms caches
…the IRA is still there.