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October 2017 Snapshot

October snapshot (1)Let’s get the good news out of the way first. Last month you may remember I said that, because I’d broken my upper humerus, I had limited movement in my arm. Good progress has been made in the past month and I no longer walk like a penguin. I can do pretty much most domestic and social activities unaided now, including drive my car. Freedom at last!!! I even managed a three hour baking class last week where we were throwing around a heavy batch of bread dough (I did it left handed just to be on the safe side).

Apart from trying to coax my damaged wing back into health, what else was I up to on October 1, 2017?

 Reading now

Vernon_god_little I’m not one of those people who makes a habit of simultaneously reading multiple books. Two I can manage providing they are in vastly different genres (a crime novel say and a more literary novel, or a novel and a short story collection) but unusually I have three books on the go at the moment.

The first is my 44th Booker Prize winner – Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre which won the prize in 2003.  This is not one I was looking forward to read and it seems I am not alone. Although some reviewers thought it highly comic, others hated it and didn’t feel it deserved to win the prize. It’s set in a town in Texas in the aftermath of a mass shooting of students at the local school. One student, Vernon Little, is taken in for questioning and gets caught up in the legal and media circus. I’ve not yet read far enough to judge whether this will be one I enjoy but it certainly has a unique style.

By contrast on my e-reader is a psychological story that became a cinema classic when it was adapted  by Alfred Hitchcock with the leading roles taken by James Stewart and Kim Novak. The film was Vertigo and the book was D’entre les morts (From Among the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. It was published in English as The Living and the Dead in 1956 and now re-issued under the new Pushkin Vertigo imprint. Apart from re-locating the action from Paris to San Francisco, Hitchcock seems to have stayed fairly close to the original story of a former detective asked to help an old schoolfriend who is concerned about the increasingly strange behaviour of his wife.  Interest in his quarry becomes a dangerous obsession however.

My third book is a re-read. It’s a novella which has become a stable of the school syllabus in the UK for 14-16 year olds. I’d never read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck until four years ago when it was chosen by the book club I belonged to at the time but loved it (my review is here). Now I’m re-reading it to help coach a young girl in my village who is being bullied at school so studying on her own until a solution can be found.

Reflecting on the state of my personal library

One of my goals for 2017 is to enjoy the books I already own and to reign back on acquiring yet more. I started 2017 with 318 unread books.  I’m holding steady to last month’s total at 274. I bought just one book in September:  The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) by Emile Zola published in 1883 as part of his Rougon-Macquart cycle. This one focuses on the world of the department store, a form of retail outlet that is very familiar to us today but was an innovative concept in the mid-nineteenth century. Until then, shoppers had to visit separate establishments for different items but with  Le Bon Marché (the model for Zola’s store) they could find all their purchases under one roof. The book was adapted by the BBC for a costume-drama series The Paradise broadcast in 2012 and 2013.

Thinking of reading next…

I don’t know what I’ll be reading later in the month other than one of the remaining six Booker prize titles from my list. It’s a long time since I read any of the Louise Penny novels I bought on my last trip to the USA ( I much preferred the covers of the US editions to the British ones) so a return to her fictitious village of Three Pines could be on the cards. I also found a little collection of Penelope Lively books when I was hunting through the shelves recently and its ages since I read anything by her. As always there are too many choices!

Watching:  I read Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time at the time it was published which is now about 30 years ago and went on to read and enjoy many more of his novels (his early output is, with the exception of the magnificent Atonement, superior to his more recent work.). The recent BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch was a reminder of just how powerful a study of loss and grief The Child in Time is and of McEwan’s versatility as an author.

Required viewing in our house at the moment is The Great British Bake Off.  I’m frustrated by the intrusions of the commercial breaks but other than that the series hasn’t seemed to have suffer much by it’s move away from the BBC ( I never did like the Mel and Sue double act). There’s a new series of The Apprentice starting I think this week – this is a show that is probably on its last legs. The last few series they seem to have scraped the barrel and found the most inane and useless candidates possible. They talk a lot about how great they are but I wouldn’t let them anywhere near any business of mine. It’s good for a laugh though.

And that is it for this month. I hope by this time next month the arm will be back in operation again. Until then, happy reading everyone.

Book series on my radar

This week’s Top Ten topic (as hosted by Broke and Bookish) is “Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning To Start But Haven’t.”  This could turn out to be a very short post in that case since I don’t tend to be a reader of series. Or at least I didn’t think I was until I took a look at my reading over the last few years and the list of books I own but have not yet read. It seems I am already part way through a few series. So let’s talk about those first.

Current Series Reading

L'AssommoirThe Rougon-Macquet cycle by Emile Zola: a sequence of 20 novels written by the French author between 1871 and 1893. Subtitled Histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le Second Empire (Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire), the novels follow the lives of the members of two branches of a fictional family. Zola planned in this sequence to “study in a family the questions of blood and environments.” In other words, he wanted to advocate his theory of naturalism by demonstrating how people are heavily influenced by heredity and their environment.  So far I’ve read four of the 20 and each one has been excellent. I have another title on my 20booksofsummerreadinglist which will get me quarter of the way through the collection. That’s fine, I’m in no hurry. If you don’t know Zola’s work and want to get more familiar with it, take a look at the superb readingzola blog  created by Lisa and Dagny.

Dr Thorne by Anthony TrollopeChronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope: a sequence of six novels set in the fictitious English county of Barsetshire and its cathedral town of Barchester. The novels concern the political and social dealings of the clergy and the gentry but don’t imagine that means they are rather dull – the novels are full of power struggles, social class clashes, financial disasters and frustrated affairs of the heart. They also contain some of the most magnificently rendered characters I’ve come across in literature. I’m half way through the series – next up in my Anthony Trollope project is Framley Parsonage which was published in 1861 and features a young vicar whose aspirations to move up in the social circle make him vulnerable to the machinations of a Member of Parliament with a reputation for debt. More info about Trollope can be found at the Trollope Society website

great-reckoning

Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny

We’re now at book twelve in a series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Head of Homicide at the Sûreté du Québec.  Louise Penny’s protagonist is a man of great integrity, a man who refuses to shirk from uncomfortable truths or to turn a blind eye when he senses corruption and wrong-doing even at the heart of the police force. But he’s also thoughtful, gentle and warm – not only to his wife and son in law but to the inhabitants of a small community in the province of Quebec called Three Pines that he discovers during the course of one of his investigations. Three Pines is a superb created fictional place; it’s so small it doesn’t even show up on maps, yet it is home to Gabri who runs the bistro, the acerbic poet Ruth, Myrna who owns the bookstore and the artist Clara Morrow. Each book that takes us back to Three Pines means we get a chance to meet up with these old friends.  I’ve read six of the books published so far (a new title is due out this August) but I didn’t read them in sequence. Penny has said each novel is meant to be self-standing but to get the full effect of the character development they are indeed best read in order. So that’s what I’ve now started to do.  You can find more about Louise Penny at her website

Series I may not finish

LamentationsThe Shardlake novels by C. J Sansom. I’ve enjoyed a few of this historical crime series which feature a laywer called Shardlake who takes on the role of the ‘detective’. Sansom is a historian by training which enables him to bring the Tudor period to life with all its political machinations, religious upheaval, sounds and smells (he does smells rather well). There are six in the series starting with Dissolution which was the first I read. I’ve read four now – the last one being number 5 in the series; Lamentation (reviewed here) – and though I’ve enjoyed them, the level of enthusiasm has begin to wane. If I wasn’t so close to finishing I probably would give up now, but it seems as Macbeth said

I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er. (Act 3, Scene 4)

Future Series to Read

Palliser Novels by Anthony Trollope: Once I finish the Chronicels of Barsestshire I’m planning to move onto the Palliser novels. This is a series of six novels written between 1864 and 1879 which feature a wealthy aristocrat and politician Plantagenet Palliser, and his wife, Lady Glencora (although they don’t play major roles in every title). The plots involve British and Irish politics in varying degrees, specifically in and around Parliament. There is a bit of a cross-over of characters with those in the Barchester Chronicles – Plantagent Palliser has a small role in The Small House at Allington for example and he has an unwise flirtation with the daughter of Dr Grantly and granddaughter of the Reverend Mr Harding, characters who appear in The Warden and Barchester Towers. The Victorian Web considers the Palliser novels to be superior to the Barchester Chronicles

strangers and brothers

Strangers and Brothers by C. P Snow: This series of 11 novels, published between 1940 and 1970, is one that has been on my radar screen for about 30 years. So keen was I to read them that I made my husband trek from bookshop to bookshop in Hay on Wye just so I could get all of them in the same Penguin livery.  All the novels are narrated by a character called Lewis Eliot whose life we follow from humble beginnings in an English provincial town, through to a reasonably successful career as a London lawyer. In future years he becomes a Cambridge don, and sees wartime service in Whitehall as a senior civil servant. They deal with – among other things – questions of political and personal integrity, and the mechanics of exercising power. This series may not be familiar to you but you’ll possibly have heard the expression Corridors of Power – this is the title of book number nine but was referred to in an earlier title in the series. The term went on to become a household phrase referring to the centres of government and power. Its still in use today though the name of its originator has faded from the public’s mind. What constituted ‘required reading’ in earlier decades is barely heard about now. I’m just hoping that when I do start reading the series, that trek around Hay will prove to have been worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

Looking ahead to 2017

toptentuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday hosted by the Broke and the Bookish asks for 10 books I’m most looking forward to in the first half of 2017.

Since I am planning to put a temporary halt on my book buying habit for those months, (out of necessity) the books I am looking forward to reading all come from my TBR.

In no particular order here is a selection.

1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
2. Border Country by Raymond Williams
3. A tale for the time Being- Ruth Ozeki
4. The Murder of Halland, Pia Jul
5. The Kill, Emile Zola
6. The Cheltenham Square Murder, John Bude
7. Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata
8. A Brief history of Seven Killings, Marlon James
9. True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Cary
10. Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth

As you can see this is a mixture of Booker prize winners ( I am determined to finish this project!) and some novels in translation. I’ve also given myself an indulgence in the form of The Cheltenham Square Murder. The Kill is the second in Zola’s Rougon-Marquet series which is another little project of mine. I bet few – if any of you – will recognise the second book on my list…. Border Country is by a Welsh author who when he wasn’t writing fiction was one of the leading literary academics in the 1970s and 80s.Among his most important  academic works is The Country and The City  in which he used alternating chapters on literature and social history to consider perceptions of rural and urban life. Border Country  was first published in 1960, then re-issued in 2005 as one of the first group of titles in the Library of Wales series, having been out of print for several years.

Those are the books on my radar screen. How does your wishlist for next year look?

Day 3 of #12Days of Christmas book game

3-french-hens

 

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French Hens

Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas game and giveaway.

Our task today is to come up with book titles that match the third line of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. This means yet more birds but hopefully slightly easier than day 2. Remember you can try to stick to the prompt of ‘french hens’  for titles of books or authors (??) or cover images though other than a cookery book I’d be struggling with this. OR you can go off piste and be creative.

Booker Talk Titles for Day 3

I failed even more miserably with French Hens than with yesterday’s prompt of turtle doves, so I have had to think more broadly. I don’tt know that these qualify as hens since the authors are not all female, but here are three French titles from my TBR list.

The Kill by Emile Zola: I became enamoured with Zola when I read Germinal so have been slowly reading other titles from the Rougon-Marquet series. It’s a long term project since there are twenty books in the cycle. Here’s the status of my Zola project so far.  I’ve picked The Kill (in French this book is known as La Curée) because it’s book number 2 in the series. Apparently this is a different kettle of fish to the predecessor  La Fortune des Rougon that I read last year – The Kill is a study of the next generation of the Rougon family and the wealth they acquire but it also a plot involving sexual and political intrigue.

Candide by Voltaire:  I’ve never read anything by Voltaire so when I saw this – the only title of his I’ve heard of – in a secondhand charity shop I snapped it up but in three years I’ve never felt compelled to open it. All I know is that its a satire first published in 1759 which features the young man, Candide, who lives sheltered life in which he is indoctrinated by his mentor, Professor Pangloss. This lifestyle comes to an abrupt end and Candide then begins a painful process of disillusionment. The philosophical content is putting me off rather – have any of you read it? If so, would you recommend it?

My third title is another classic – this time by Balzac who I read for the first time in 2015 and loved. La Cousine Bette. This is an 1846 novel set in Paris which tells the story of an unmarried middle-aged woman who plots the destruction of her extended family.  The book is part of the Scènes de la vie parisienne section of Balzac’s novel sequence La Comédie humaine (“The Human Comedy”).

Now over to you – here’s How to Play:

Come up with book titles or book images or anything book related (could be the name of a location mentioned in the book or a character) that matches with either ‘French’ or ‘Hens’ or both if you are feeling adventurous. Let’s see how creative you can be. I’m looking ideally for 3 titles/images etc . You can mix and match your nominations.

Put your titles into the comments field of that day’s post. Don’t just give me the name since you could easily get that from a Google search – tell us something about the book itself. Why did you choose these titles – are they from your TBR or ones you’ve seen mentioned on a blog. Please try not to just use lists from Goodreads etc.

Feel free to blog about this on your own site or via Twitter using the #12days hashtag

The Giveaway

There’s an incentive to play along with this which is a giveaway of a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository

To participate, your list of books must be in the comments field by 10pm GMT/5pm Eastern Standard Time on Sunday Dec 4.

Day by Day Prompts

Day 1:   Partridge in a Pear Tree
Day 2:   Turtle Doves
Day 3:    French Hens
Day 4:   Calling Birds
Day 5:    Gold Rings
Day 6:   Geese a-Laying
Day 7:   Swans a-Swimming
Day 8:   Maids a-Milking
Day 9:   Ladies Dancing
Day 10:  Lords a-Leaping
Day 11:   Pipers Piping
Day 12:   Drummers Drumming

Rules of the Game

1.Each day a post will go live on booker talk.com matched to the task for that day. All you to do is post a comment with your list of books on the page

2. Each day try to come up with 3 titles. No need to think of 11 books featuring pipers or eight with maids in them. This is meant to be fun not mission impossible…..

3. Participants are encouraged to be creative with the names of titles matching each day. But the books do need to be in existence – no scope here for making up your own titles.

4. The number of contributions per person will be totalled and the one with the highest number will win the prize. So if you post three titles for day 6 and 5 on day 11, that gives a total of 8 points.

5. Contributions should be entered on the page within the time limit stated each day – typically I will give 48 hours between the time I post the day’s challenge and when comments will be closed.

6. You don’t need to play every day in order to be entered for the prize. Some days will be easier than others – and anyway you have all that shopping and packing still to do

7. There is only one prize – available internationally. The Prize winner will be announced on the blog around about the 15th of December.

6. The prize is that you get to choose a book up to the value of $20 USD from the Book Depository that I will arrange to ship to you. This will probably not arrive until next year given the last postage dates for international mail.

 

Top ten Tuesday: book club recommendations

The Broke and Brookish this week is looking for suggestions for book club reading.

This wouldn’t be an easy one for me since our book club has rather wide ranging tastes – each person chooses a book so it reflects their taste rather than necessarily what the club as a whole likes. We went down the path of chick lit for a while turned me off but I’ve been introduced to some new authors in other month so it’s almost balanced out. For me a good book club read is one that has plenty of issues and dimensions that can lead to a good discussion – I want more than someone saying “I picked this because I thought it would be fun” and that’s all they can say about the book (believe me it has happened). The book choice doesn’t have to be particularly weighty but something to at least get your teeth into.

If I had my wishlist it would include:

book-club-recommendations

I’ve gone for a mixture of styles, subjects and country of origin of the author (too many book clubs seem to focus only on Western literature).

  1. The Many by Wyl Menmuir reviewed here. A Booker long listed title from 2016 that I thought superb. It keeps you guessing about what the main message is.
  2. Another Booker 2016 candidate – and one I would dearly have loved to see win – is Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which traces the effect of Communist rule on three musicians. It’s an epic that stretches across centuries and countries. Not always easy to grasp it had tremendous emotional power. Reviewed here 
  3. The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw. Set in Japan, a wonderful elliptical story in which a professor of law tells a story about his father’s fascination with traditional Japanese jigsaw puzzles.It’s a metaphor for how our lives are constructed by fragments. Reviewed here 
  4. The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien. Set in a remote Irish village it examines what happens when a dictator on the run from atrocities he committed in his country attracts the attention of a lonely housewife. This book will have you thinking about actions and consequences and forgiveness.  Reviewed here 
  5. From Korea comes a book that was a knock out bestseller and not just in Korea. Please Look After Mom  by Shin Kyung-sook looks at the mother-child relationship which is thrown into question when an elderly mother goes missing in an underground station while on her way to visit her children. As they search for her they discover secrets about her life and uncomfortable truths about their own attitudes.Reviewed here 
  6. Possession by A. S Byatt was my choice when I joined the book club. I wasn’t sure I had make the right choice until the meeting but surprisingly we had a great discussion about the different forms possession can take -whether for artifacts f the past or for another individual. Reviewed here
  7. Holiday by Stanley Middleton.Who is he I can hear you asking. Not surprised really.Despite having written more than 40 novels he has more or less disappeared from our radar. A pity. This is a short novel from 1974 in which a middle aged man facing a crisis is his marriage takes a spur of the moment holiday at the seaside. It’s the same resort he visited year after year as a child when his parents took him for their annual holiday. Reflections of those times  days mingle with more recent and more bitter memories. Good for discussions around nostalgia and relationships. Reviewed here 
  8. L’Assommoir by Emile Zola. It’s not the first book in Zola’s Rougon-Marquet series of 20 titles but this doesn’t matter too much. Read it for its superb rendition of life on the breadline in nineteenth century Paris. You can, if your book club is of an academic mind, get into all kinds of discussion about Zola’s theory of naturalism and inherited conditions. Reviewed here
  9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Chances are that your club has already read Half a Yellow Sun which is an earlier novel by Adichie. Americanah gives a view of life for a girl who leaves Nigeria – one of the people who achieves the dream – only to find its not what she expected. Can she make a new life or do the ties that bind back to the homeland prove stronger? It’s a novel about choices you make to fit in with a new way of life and how experience changes you. It might sound rather sombre but there are some outstandingly funny scenes in a hairdressing salon. Reviewed here
  10. Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: We hope this never happens to anyone. But it does. What if you were one of the passengers in a ferry or cruise liner that is sinking. You’ve got yourself into a lifeboat and are now waiting for rescue. But days go by, water and food supplies dwindle. Who gets to live in those circumstances?  Who deserves to die?  And who has the right to make those decisions?  Those questions lie at the heart of Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel. This isn’t the best written novel I read in 2013 but it was one that stimulated a lot of discussion in our book club meeting. Reviewed here 

Those are just some of the books I’d suggest. What would your recommendations be?

New acquisitions – aka “I can’t stop buying”

NewpurchasesWith 168 unread books on my shelves you’d think there was no need for me to go looking for anything new. Strictly speaking that’s true – I don’t actually ‘need’ any more books. It’s more a case of I just love the thrill of buying/borrowing/acquiring.  Which is how these  newcomers are now gracing my bookshelves. There would have been one more except that the only bookshop in the centre of Cardiff had sold out of Wyl Menmuir’s The Many  clearly they hadn’t expected it would get long listed for the Booker prize. Good news for the author and for the publisher but not so good for readers. I’m not sure whether this is significant but they had plenty of copies of all the other long listed titles…

Anyway this is what I’ve bought recently….

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell:  This is the choice for the next book club meeting middle of August. It’s set in the 18th century on a tiny island in the bay of Nagasaki and thus midway between east and west. A young Dutch clerk arrives to make his fortune and experiences the clash of cultures, corruption and passion. I bought it knowing I probably wont get to read it in time for the discussion (already over committed with #womenintranslation month and #allAugustallVirago) but the shop that hosts the club is a small independent and they need our support.

Breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes: This is the first time I have ever ordered a book before it was even published. Pereine announced last year they had commissioned two writers to visit the Calais refugee camps (often referred to as The Jungle) and use this as a source of inspiration for a collection of short stories. The eight pieces now publishedare about escape, hope and aspiration told through the eyes of the refugees themselves, and also volunteers and local citizens.

The Complete Guide to Contemporary World Fiction by M. A Orthofer: I received an e-copy of this for review earlier in the year and found it a rich source of information about writers from different parts of the world. But the e version isn’t easy to navigate and this book is one I know I will want to refer to again and again. My review of the book is here.

The Kill by Emile Zola:  I’m gradually acquiring titles in Zola’s Rougon-Marquet series as part of a project to read all 20. I have a few I bought many years ago but they are not Oxford World’s Classics editions which I like for the  introductions which give helpful context about the historical context of each title. Some of the titles seem harder to get than others so when I see any of them I grab it immediately. The Kill was the second novel in the series and is set against the background of the massive redevelopment of Paris and the birth of the modern city. Zola used a story of a woman driven into a scandalous affair to portray  French society at the height of decadence.

I’ve also downloaded e-reader samples of all the Booker long listed titles so I can get a taste of the style though it’s unlikely I’ll get to read any of them other than The Many before the shortlist is announced in mid September.

What have you all been buying/acquiring recently or are you reigning back on the purchases for a while?

 

 

 

 

 

A reader’s bad habit

Seeing that comment in  Simon Heffer’s column in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph column, I nodded in agreement and also felt it was a bit of an obvious comment. Who but a fool (or maybe people with compulsive buying habits) would fork out to buy something they wouldn’t use?

Unless they are someone who buys a book with very good intentions of reading it even though there is that voice in their head muttering “don’t kid yourself you’ll get round to reading this.” Someone like me in fact when the transaction involves the purchase of non fiction books.

Which is why I have a large stack of them. Unread. Not even opened.

Sure I have a large pile of unread fiction titles but I do pick some out and read them (doing pretty well on that front so far this year in fact).

But the non fiction titles? Forget it.

Some date from at least 10 years ago when I thought I should learn more about the sustainability issue than I could glean from newspapers. Others were bought in a vain attempt to keep up to date with the latest business theories (I did manage three chapters of Jim Collins’ Good to Great and about the same with The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen). But some books about the political changes in China remain undigested beyond about page 3.

The only non fiction titles I’ve read in recent years have been either book related like the World Guide to Literature  or craft related. I’ve not read a history book in easily 20 years. And yet I still buy non fiction. Last year I bought:

beard-classics-cov_2508344a

Zola victorians

Both seemed eminently readable – I scanned them in the shop to make sure they were not top heavy factual tomes.

Have I read them? Er, no.

Will I do so soon? Er, not likely

And yet what did I do just last week? Why of course, I went and bought some more non fiction. Namely The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer and Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind ( oh the irony of that purchase).

Most likely they will still be sitting in the same place on the shelf this time next year.

Don’t ask my why I do this. I have no idea. But I know its a bad habit I need to get out of.

 

BBC Radio adapts Emile Zola

la bete humaineNovember has suddenly become rather attractive. Lovers of Emile Zola’s novels will want their ears glued to BBC Radio later this month when the Beeb begins their new new series, Emile Zola: Blood, Sex and Money. It’s a 27-episode “mash-up” of adaptations from the Rougon-Macquart novel sequence, which traces the fortunes and fates of the Rougon, Macquart and Mouret families. the cycle presents its readers with unflinching stories about power, lust, crime and addiction.

The BBC has adapted the novels into three series. The first instalment will be broadcast every day over an “intensive” week on Radio 4 in November. One of the episodes draws on La Bête humaine (The Beast Within) the 17th book in Les Rougon-Macquart series. It’s a superb psychological thriller about insanity and murder in Paris.

Blood, Sex and Money will witness the return of twice Oscar-winner and former MP Glenda Jackson to acting for the first time in 20 years as well as Robert Lindsay and Georgina Campbell. There will be an accompanying documentary, Blood, Sex and Money: The Life and Work of Emile Zolabroadcast on Radio 4 at 4–4.30pm on 16th of November.

You’ll find some additional info here:

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/jul/01/glenda-jackson-acting-bbc-radio-4-zola-adaptation 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/glenda-jackson-to-return-to-acting-in-radio-4-emile-zola-drama-after-standing-down-as-mp-10355116.html

The Fortunes of the Rougons by Émile Zola

RougonsWith The Fortunes of the Rougons, Émile Zola embarked on an ambitious project to write a comprehensive fictional history of the social, sexual and moral landscape of his era. By examining in minute detail the “natural and social history” of two branches of the same family, he intended to demonstrate his theory that character was inescapably determined by the twin forces of heredity and the environment.

In his preface to The Fortunes of the Rougons, Zola commented that the book could just as appropriately have been entitled Origins. It’s a reflection  of the fact that as the first of his 20-book Rougon-Macquart cycle, much of this novel is concerned with introducing the members of the respective family branches.  The Rougons are the legitimate side, loyal supporters of the Royalist cause who rise to occupy commanding positions in government and finance. On the opposite side of the political fence are the illegitimate disreputable Republican Macquarts. Both branches are descended from the strange and “quite mad”Adelaide Fouques who twice shocked the fictitious Provençal town of Plassans: first when chose as her husband a peasant by the name of Rougon and then, on his death, when she shacked up with an unsavoury poacher called Macquart

The fortunes and misfortunes of these families are set against the background of Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’état in 1851 which resulted in the Second Empire under Napoleon III. As the novel begins, Republican opposition to the coup is gathering pace in Provencal. Idealism sweeps through the Var region. The region’s woodcutters and peasants begin to march towards Plassans, intent on seizing control of the town. In their midst are Silvère and Miette, two young lovers who get caught up in the patriotic fervour and join the march, a decision which ends in tragedy.

The novel isn’t really about these ill-fated lovers although it’s their moonlight assignation in a deserted cemetery with which the book opens. What Zola is really focused on is depicting how the imminent crisis exacerbates the tendencies in the Rougon and Macquart family to greed, treachery and murder.

The insurgents’ march provides Pierre Rougon and his wife Félicité, with the perfect opportunity to achieve their ambition of power and influence. They calculate the fortune that will be showered upon them by a grateful Emperor if they can rally the loyalists and hold the town for his cause. They set about ingratiating themselves into the bourgeoisie of Plassans, using their “yellow drawing room” as a meeting place for the conservatives who support Louis-Napoleon. But their manoeuvring is threatened by the activities of Antoine Macquart, the illegitimate son of Adelaide, who sees the Republic as a way “to fill his pockets from his neighbour’s cashbox and even strangle his neighbour if he objected in any way…”

Zola’s portrayal of the clash between these characters, none of whom can be considered remotely sympathetic, is superb. Zola exposes them as manipulative, avaricious individuals whose desire for fortune becomes tainted with blood. In one key passage as Pierre and Félicité lie in bed and she explains her plans for the conquest of Plassans bring together themes of blood, greed and money.

They kissed each other again and fell asleep. The patch of light on the ceiling now seemed to be assuming the shape of a terrified eye, staring unblinkingly at the pale, slumbering couple, who now reeked of crime under their sheets, and were dreaming that they could see blood raining down in big drops and turning into gold coins as they landed on the floor.

As that passage shows, there is nothing very subtle about this novel. Each member of the Rougon family has blood on their hands by the end of the novel, laying the foundations for the family’s future as “a pack of wild, satiated appetites in the midst of a blaze of gold and blood.”

It is a thrilling story. Fast-paced with some glorious set pieces in which Zola satirises and parodies, the extreme provincialism of Plassans, and the lack of principle in its inhabitants. Although the political dimension is central to the plot, it doesn’t require an exhaustive knowledge of the period (my Oxford World Classic edition contained a very useful summary plus family tree) to understand the issues which divide the Rougon-Macquart family and the citizens of Plassans. Zola’s writing, if not as powerful in The Fortune of the Rougons as in the later novels (particularly Germinal and La Bete Humaine), is still completely engrossing.

End Notes

The Fortune of the Rougons was published in 1871, serialised in the newspaper Le Siècle. Émile Zola went on to publish a further 19 novels in the Rougon-Macquart series under the sub title of Histoire natural et social dune famille sous le Second Empire. 

The sympathetic portrait of the insurgents seen in The Fortune of the Rougons stems from Zola’s own opposition to the Empire he once referred to Louis-Napoleon’s coup as a bloodstain that could never be washed away — although he abhorred violence and did not believe in violent action.

Home again

Rain and grey clouds were not quite the welcome home I was hoping for yesterday. After three weeks of blue sky and warmth, it was a shock to the system to arrive in Southampton in drizzle and winds. Tomorrow will be an even greater shock though when I have to go back to work. Goodbye lazy breakfasts and even lazier days reading in the sunshine; hello household chores, emails and teleconferences.

helicopterStill, we have some wonderful memories of our week in Zambia, walking through the falls, seeing the sun set over the Zambezi river and taking an old steam train across to Zimbabwe. Pride of place however goes to an exhilarating helicopter ride right over Victoria Falls and then swooping over the rim and down into a gorge to follow the twists of the river. Since I was the smallest passenger I got the premium seat right up front next to the pilot. Simply breathtaking!

Library on Queen Mary 2

The library on Queen Mary 2 – more than 9,000 titles available

After that excitement we got a chance to catch our breath with the two weeks it took us to cruise up the coast of Africa back to the UK. We’d never been on a cruise before but everyone told us the Queen Mary 2 is one of the best afloat. I loved the art deco theme throughout all the public rooms and the formal nights where tuxedos and cocktail gowns were required.

 

View from library of Queen Mary 2

View from the library of Queen Mary 2

In between listening to classic recitals and lectures I found plenty of time to just laze on the deck, watch the ocean go by and catch up on some reading. I tried to synchronise the books with some of the countries we visited or sailed past:

  • Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)
  • We Need New Names by No Violet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe)
  • Fiela’s Child by Dalene Matthee (South Africa)
  • The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain (France)
  • The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola (France)
  • Read all About It by Paul Cudahy (England)
  • The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (England)

I also finished Life of Pi by Yan Martel that I was half way through when we left for our trip and am part way through Mansfield Park (not one of my favourite Austens but I decided to give it another go).

Pretty impressive eh?

The cost of internet access meant I couldn’t post very often – I did manage to do a review of The Old Curiousity Shop and posted a few general pieces:

 

Kafka’s views on reading

Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield

Choosing an author to represent England

Books from Indonesia

I’ll get around to posting my reviews eventually and will also do my best to catch up on all the blog sites I follow.

 

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