- 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: 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.
- Oh, is it July already?
- Let’s have a glass of wine and
- think of some things to do for…
- Paris in July Food Journal
- Crème du Citron
- French Wine
- Biscuits Breton
- Cocktail: Kir Royale
- Cocktail: Soixante-quinze ’75’
- Cocktail: What do I do with Campari, Marguerite Duras?
- Cocktail: Who Pays the Bartender?
- Biography: Berthe Morisot
- Quiche Lorraine
- List of French Books
- Retour à Killybegs – S. Chalandon (2019)
- Mousse aux éclats de chocolat (2019)
Paris in July
- Paris in July is a French themed blogging
- …experience running from the 1st – 31st July this year.
- The aim of the month is to celebrate our French experiences through
- actual visits, or through reading, watching, listening,
- observing, cooking and eating all things French!
- For more instructions how to share your posts go to Thyme for Tea.
- There will be no rules or targets …just blog about anything French
- …and you can join in! Some ideas might include;
- reading a French themed book – fiction or non-fiction,
- watching a French movie,
- listening to French music,
- cooking French food,
- experiencing French, art, architecture and travel.
- Author: Phillipe Lançon
- Title: Le Lambeau
- Published: 2018
- Trivia: Awarded Prix Fémina 2018
- Trivia: Awarded a ‘special’ Prix Renaudot 2018
- Language: French (translation in English 12 November 2019)
- List Reading Challenges 2019
- Monthly reading planning
- List of French Books.
- January 7 2015 during a editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo
- terrorists entered the room and killed 12 people and injuring 11.
- Phillipe Lançon, journalist, was shot in the face left in critical condition.
- Lançon reveals that he did not write the book in order to surivive.
- He wrote it years later when he felt his life was settled.
- The surgeon adviced him to ‘revenir à la normale’
- ….but that is easier said than done.
- The title says it all: Le Lambeau
- “All that is left of me is shreds”
- 30% of the book is a description of the days before the attack
- …the attack itself and how his brother took charge and
- helped him pick up the pieces.
- 30 % is about the long and painful
- reconstruction of his face.
- 40% is about Lançon’s physical and mental decline
- …balanced between healing and hope.
- The first 8 chapters are gripping.
It is surreal to read the dream like quality of if
- Lançon’s first impressions after the attack as he
- …lay in a swamp of blood.
The text is so emotional.
- The second half of the book concentrates on
- the reconstruction of the author’s jaw
- …and the close connection he feels for his surgeon Cholé.
- An important part of the book is Lançon’s style of
- interlacing his life after the attack with literature.
- He often refers to Proust, Kafka and Shakespeare
- …and several books that are important for him.
- This book reminded me of
- …Dante’s journey into the inferno:
- “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
- I wouldn’t say a hospital is comparable to Hell
- …but no one likes going there.
- The book is draining because you follow
- the author in a labryinth of his PTSS mind.
- There is a mixture of facts, hallucinations and dreams.
- He sees his parents suffer
- …but he does not suffer.
- He is the suffering.
- …very existential at times.
- Because Lançon shares so much with the reader
- ..the book is long.
- You have to persevere to finish it.
- The epilogue….was confronting.
- The Bataclan attack occured only 10 months
- …after Charlie Hebdo on 13 November 2015
- This event shook Lançon to the core.
Phillipe Lançon.…after the trauma of the attack and jaw recontruction.
- Author: M. de Montaigne (1533-1592))
- Title: The Complete Essays
- Published: 1580
- Edition: Penguin Classic (1344 pages) + audio book 49 hrs 56 min
- List of Challenges 2019
- Monthly plan
- Classic Club Master list
- Michel de Montaigne explores the human condition
- …in a very personal and clever manner.
- His essays chart the course of 20 yr of self-investigation.
- He pretends to most of the vices.
- If there be any virtue in him, he says, it got in by stealth.
- I enjoyed the most personal essays:
- Book I
- This selection of essays is ‘the hook’.
- They are personal and frank.
- Unfortunately there are also many essay in
- book II and III …. I consider ‘duds’.
Happiness not be judged until after our death
- …including 140 pages entitled “Apology for Raymond Sebond’
- The “Apology for Raymond Sebond” is
- three times as long as any other essay that Montaigne wrote
- The essay has been seen as an attack on authoritrian religion and
- a covert threat to Christian faith.
- It was a slog to listen to….and
- I just started to do some household chores
- …and let the words go in one ear and out the other!
- This essay sticks out like a sour thumb
- If you encounter this essay and feel as I did
- …just skip it!
Affection of fathers for children
On resemblence of children to fathers
Book III (…there were only 3 essays I liked)
- Montaigne is the frankest and honestest of all writers.
- He does have opinions that still ring true today.
- Strong point: Montaigne writes about themes that charm the
- reader ( see my list of favorites).
- We relate to them.
- Strong point: Montaigne’s style is not dry….but daring
- …filled with depth and witty observations.
- Weak point: don’t approach these essays expecting
- that they are an easy read (21st C standard)…they are not!
- The book was published 1580 and
- …written to one sex only.
- A certain nakedness of statement was permitted
- …which our manners of a literature addressed
- …equally to both sexes, do not allow.
- Montaigne could have used the advice of one of his
- favorite authors:
- “The eloquence that diverts us to itself harms its content.” (Seneca)
- Author: M. Balzano
- Title: Je reste ici
- Genre: historical fiction
- Language: French (translated from Italian)
- Published: 2017
- Trivia: Shortlisted for the Italian literary prize LXXII Premio Strega 2018
- Trivia: Longlisted for the French literary prize Prix Fémina 2018
In 1939 South Tyroleans were faced with the ‘Grand Option’ of remaining at home and becoming entirely Italianised, thereby relinquishing their German culture, or of moving into the German Reich. Initially the majority of South Tyroleans opted for emigration. This ‘Option’ went down as one of the greatest traumas in the history of the South Tyrolean people.
Society was divided, families split up and those who opted to stay behind were branded as traitors. Here begins the core of the story.
If I had to find a ‘hook’ that kept me reading was the the mother daughter bond described in chapter 1. The main character, mother Trina, reflects on her daughter’s (Marcia) childhood. Their relationship ended abruptly when the daughter was taken to Germany by her aunt 20 years ago. This hook was big enough to get me asking questions:
- Was the daughter forced to flee….or did she go willingly?
- How will the mother-daughter relationship develop…or not?
- What conflict will the main character go through?
- How does the main character change in the course of the story?
- Are mother and daughter ever reunited?
Well, you will have to read the book to see if these answers were answered!
- This book is very easy to ready in French
- ….all things chronologically presented.
- There were no surprises and
- …Balzano gives us no great depth of character.
- The historical backround is “ripe for the picking”.
- It is a period of history that I rarely read about.
- Unfortunately the book is “un’occasione sprecata” (wasted opportunity)
- …in the hands of M. Balzano.
- Although the book is poorly written
- …it is does tell a sympathetic and original story.
- It is a pity that Balzano’s writing style is not up to the level
- …with his imagination.
- In short…”tutto viene detto, pochissimo viene mostrato“
- …all is told, very little is shown!