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review 2017-05-07 22:40
Toni FGMAMTC's Reviews > Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman - Lindy West

4.5 stars

 

A lot of the material in this really hit home for me. She talks about feminism and body image issues in a way that I completely get. I think she gets the point across in a positive and interesting way also. She isn't preachy or attacking. She's honest and humorous. She gives some important points so I recommend this to everyone.

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review 2017-04-23 21:19
gripping fantasy
Morgan - Lavinia Collins

A totally immersive experience, all three books of the Morgan Trilogy by Lavinia Collins, following one of the lesser known women in Arthurian legend.

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review 2016-10-06 11:00
The Decomposition of a Musical Brain: Ravel by Jean Echenoz
Ravel - Jean Echenoz,Linda Coverdale
Ravel - Jean Echenoz
Ravel - Jean Echenoz

There are melodies so unique that it’s enough to hear their first notes to know what is coming. Without doubt the Boléro by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) is such a memorable piece of music. Although it’s a classical orchestra tune and not actually new – it premiered as a ballet in November 1928 –, virtually everybody knows it at least partly; most people will even remember the name of its French composer notwithstanding that they may never have heard any other work of his. After all, Ravel was celebrated already during his lifetime and his fame hasn’t faded since his tragic death following the desperate attempt to stop or even reverse his mental decline with brain surgery. But what kind of a man was Maurice Ravel apart from his compositions? In his short critically acclaimed biographical novel Ravel, which first appeared early in 2006, the French author Jean Echenoz evokes the last decade in the life of the musical genius starting with his 1928 grand tour of America.

 

Actually, Jean Echenoz set his unusual as well as comical opening scene of Ravel in the world-famous composer’s house in Montfort-l’Amaury that inspired him to write this almost completely fact-based biography in the first place. More precisely he shows the celebrated star in his bathtub on the morning of his departure for the USA on one of the last days of 1927 musing whether he should venture out of the warm water. It quickly becomes clear that Ravel is a bachelor who attaches such great importance to his appearance that it’s almost an obsession… and that it’s difficult for him to ever get ready on time. Moreover, his behaviour marks him as eccentric and inconsiderate. On this particular morning, for instance, he leaves his friend Hélène Jourdan-Morhange waiting for him outside in her cold car for almost an hour and it doesn’t once occur to him that he could invite her in to warm up. When he finally emerges from the house, he is neat like a pin, the spit image of a – rather short and slightly old-fashioned – dandy in his early fifties on his way to the racecourse. Hélène takes him to Paris to make sure that the always-confused musical genius catches the special train to Le Havre where the steamer SS France is waiting to take him along with about two thousand others to New York. He is tired and grumpy because as so often insomnia has plagued him during the night, but he hopes that the six-week passage will be as good as a holiday for his strained nerves. Unfortunately, people recognise him, ask him for autographs or to play something. And insomnia doesn’t spare him, either. In New York begins an exhausting four-month concert tour crisscross America that Jean Echenoz skilfully traces without deviating unnecessarily from known facts. By the middle of the novel it’s late in April 1928 and the composer returns to France and his life continues as ever. He travels, attends concerts and mundane parties, smokes without end, but most importantly he writes the Boléro and the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major. All the while, Ravel struggles with insomnia, boredom and indolence as the author shows at length and with the sly wit characteristic of him. After a car accident in October 1937, however, the humorous tone of the novel changes from major to minor key. Although the composer isn’t very seriously hurt, it’s from this moment that his mind increasingly fails him until he no longer knows how to write or to read and he not even recognises his own music. Doctors recommend a craniotomy as last treatment option. Ten days later the musical genius is gone.

 

Having read only a German edition of Ravel, it would be preposterous of me to comment on Jean Echenoz’s language and style although I think that unusually much of the original wit shines through in the translation by Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel at my hand. Certainly, it’s a succeeded biography that makes skilful use of dry facts from the composer’s life setting them against the backdrop of his time to show the unique character of Maurice Ravel as his contemporaries have known and loved him. Moreover, the gifted narrator doesn’t depend on dialogue or extensive stream-of-consciousness to make the celebrated star appear as a human being with odd edges like everybody else instead of some kind of unearthly genius. It’s definitely a worthwhile read – not just for lovers of classical music.

 

 

Ravel - Jean Echenoz,Linda Coverdale 

Ravel - Jean Echenoz  

Ravel - Jean Echenoz  

 

 

If you’d like to read a work of fiction from the pen of Jean Echenoz, I recommend his 1999 novel Je m’en vais available under the English title I’m Off, but also brought out as I’m Gone. Click here to read my review on Edith’s Miscellany.

 

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review 2016-05-20 21:56
A beautiful, contemplative and touching novel that brings to live Provence and Van Gogh’s paintings.
Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew - Susan Fletcher

Thanks to Virago and to Net Galley for providing me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

 There are historical (and artistic in this case) figures that set imaginations alight. When I read the description of the book I liked the premise. Rather than being a straight biography of Vincent Van Gogh this novel is built around one episode of Van Gogh’s life, his stay at Saint-Paul-de Mausole, an old-monastery converted into a home for the mentally ill. The story, a third person narrative, is not told from the point of view of the painter, but of Jeanne Trabuc, the wife of the warden, Major Charles Trabuc. She’s the mother of three boys and two girls, but her surviving sons (the girls died at birth) are now grown-ups and have left the family home. Her husband is busy most of the day trying to run the hospital that’s slowly decaying, and her life has become routine and tedious. There have been no new patients for years and she is intrigued by the painter since she first hears about him.

The novel isn’t full of action. Jeanne observes the world around her, and from her thoughts we know she’s always been curious and a woman whose life has spread outside of the boundaries of her everyday life thanks to her imagination. The arrival of the painter brings back memories of her childhood and her dreams of exploring and doing things that others might view as inappropriate or daring. She ignores her husband’s rules and the small town’s gossips and conventions in order to get to know this man. In the process, she learns not only about herself, but she also gains a new understanding of her husband and their marriage.

The Van Gogh we meet in this novel is a man consumed by his art, fond of his brother, seriously ill, but hopeful, at that point, that his illness will improve and he’ll be cured. He is eager to record not the important people and the pieces considered of historical or architectonic interest, but the landscape, the flowers, a moth, olive trees, and everyday people. He finds value and beauty in all things. He only offers Jeanne brief snippets of his life before. The odd mention of flat landscapes in Holland, streets in Arles, a woman he loved, and the incident that brought him there. He paints; he suffers several bouts of his illness and eventually leaves to be closer to his brother and his new-born nephew and under the care of a new doctor. He dies shortly after leaving the monastery of a self-inflicted wound.

The descriptions of the landscape, the seasons, the hospital, and the interactions between the characters are beautiful and poetical. You feel the heat, smell the lavender and the paint, caress the stones and the silk of the yellow dress, listen to the cicadas, and above all, understand this woman’s feelings and experience her emotions. Although I’ve never visited Saint-Paul-de Mausole, now a museum, I felt as if I had, and it is clear that the author is very familiar with the place and has lived and breathed the environment she describes.

I loved the lyrical writing, the feeling of being immersed both in the place and inside Jeanne’s brain and even her body. The characters are consistent, believable and complex human beings. My only doubt was how well Jeanne’s subjectivity, as described on the page, fits in with the background provided. She is a woman who left school at a young age and spent most of the time in the company of a servant with limited social graces and of her father. Her only other contact with the outside world was with the clients of her father’s shop and the people she might meet in her lone walks. She has little formal education (Van Gogh tells her off for leaving school at such a young age, as it was her own choice) although knows how to read and write. But the story, as mentioned before, is not written or told by her in the first person and the author is, in a manner similar to Van Gogh, highlighting that poetry, inspiration and beauty can grow and be found anywhere.

Fletcher acknowledges in a note that she did plenty of research on the subject and tried to be accurate with regards to Van Gogh’s illness and his work whilst at the monastery, but although Jeanne Trabuc and her husband existed (as do their portraits by Van Gogh), the rest of details about their lives are part of her creative (and indeed poetic) license.

Although this is not a book for lovers of action and plot, it is not a difficult or slow read. This is a beautiful, contemplative and touching novel, and a pleasure to read and savour.

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review 2016-03-03 11:00
The Person Beyond the Mother: A Woman’s Story by Annie Ernaux
A Woman's Story - Annie Ernaux,Tanya Leslie
Une Femme (Poche) - Annie Ernaux
Gesichter einer Frau - Annie Ernaux

There will be very few who deny that the mother has a very special place in the heart of a person and that when she dies, it uses to be a particularly painful loss in most cases even if she has been suffering for a long time. It means the irrevocable end of an era – of “childhood” in a wide sense – since even the last remaining bond is cut and we can no longer submit like a child to her loving care if we feel like it. After the death of her mother, the renowned French author of autobiographical prose Annie Ernaux (born 1940) set out to trace the course of life of the woman who brought her into life and raised her. The result is A Woman’s Story first published in 1989, a touching literary portrait of a strong and powerful woman who was more than just the author’s mother.

 

The slim book begins in the morning of 7 April 1986, when Annie Ernaux receives a phone call from the nursing home of the hospital in Pontoise where her mother has died after breakfast. Although her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1980s and her condition has been constantly deteriorating since moving her to the nursing home became inevitable, death arrives unexpected. Now the author’s last living connection with her childhood is gone which makes her feel as if her roots had been cut off. Only after a first period of shock and mourning, she finds the strength to sit down and pay her literary tribute to her mother as she did for her late father before (»»» read my review of award-winning A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany).

 

Skilfully combining biographical and historical facts, anecdotes passed on in the family, own memories, conclusions and contemplations the author resurrects the picture of a woman born as forth child of six into a poor, but proud working-class family in the small town of Yvetot in Normandy in the early years of the twentieth century. She leaves school aged eleven and works in the factory always dreaming of a better life. Then she meets her future husband originating from a humble family like herself and working in the same factory. She gets married, has a first daughter and saves money to make her and her husband’s dream of a little café and grocery shop come true. This is in the 1930s and great grief is around the corner. Her little girl dies from diphtheria, Nazi-German troops occupy France, war rages in the country. Then a ray of light: another daughter – the author – is born to her in 1940. Things change for the better after the war, but she and her husband need to work hard to give their daughter a better start into life than they had. The girl studies at university, becomes a teacher, marries a bourgeois… and moves away. In 1967 her husband dies suddenly. Three years later she goes to live with her daughter’s family first in Annecy, then in Paris. But eventually, she feels the urge to return to Yvetot which she does in the mid-1970s.

 

The book isn’t a biography in the strict sense nor a memoir, but an homage to an exceptional woman and the different sides of her character that the daughter hardly noticed while she was alive. Moreover, it’s just the simple, even ordinary story of the ups and downs of a French mother’s life in the twentieth century that Annie Ernaux retells with great sensitivity and a certain nostalgia blending with the inevitable sorrow of a person who writes about a loved one who just died. This doesn’t mean that the tone of the book is whining or depressing – not at all! It goes without saying that it’s not a cheerful read either, but it’s quiet and contemplative as befits this kind of text. Highly recommended for reading!

 

English edition:

A Woman's Story - Annie Ernaux,Tanya Leslie 

 

Original French edition:

Une Femme (Poche) - Annie Ernaux 

 

German edition:

Gesichter einer Frau - Annie Ernaux 

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