Home

Looking forward into 2019 – some bookish non-resolutions!

57 Comments

The start of a new year is traditionally a time when we book bloggers start looking ahead and making plans and deciding what challenges to participate in and what projects to undertake. When I first began the Ramblings I was well into that kind of thing and used to fling myself into numerous commitments – usually to fail.. I think I know myself better as a reader nowadays, and for the last few years I’ve kept things light; I dip into challenges and projects as the mood takes me, and apart from our Club weeks I commit myself to pretty much nothing! This seems to work well and I can see no need to change things for 2019. 😀

Some post-Christmas book piles…. =:o

However, there are certainly a few aims I have for 2019, so time for some gratuitous book pictures and resolutions that probably will go very much awry!

LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group reads

The lovely LT Virago group plan some wonderful group reads every year; most recently focusing on specific authors every month, and I did dip in last year. 2019 is to be dedicated to reading books written in, or set in, the 1940s, with a particular theme every month. January is ‘family’, and there are a number of books from either Virago or Persephone I could choose from, and as I already have several on the shelves it’ll be a choice from these if I decide the mood is right!


I must admit that “Dimanche” and the Attia Hosain are both calling strongly; I was late to Nemirovsky’s writing but do love it; and I read “Sunlight on a Broken Column” back in 2014 and was transfixed. Watch this space to see if I *do* actually join in!

Penguin Moderns

As I mentioned yesterday, I was very fortunate to receive this box set from my lovely Offspring on Mothers’ Day, and although I was happily reading my way through it I kind of got sidetracked towards the end of the year. Hopefully, I can climb back on the wagon soon…

Poetry

2018 was a year with an increasing amount of poetry in it, particularly Russian but latterly French. I’ve been loving dipping into big collections, and I need to keep myself in the mindset that I don’t need to read a collection in one go; I *can* just dip and enjoy as the mood takes me.

The rather large Elizabeth Bishop collection requires attention, as does the lovely French book I got for my birthday from Middle Child; and I really must finish Baudelaire…

Self-imposed Challenges!

I set myself up for failure, don’t I? I get all enthusiastic about something, put together a large pile of books on the subject, read one if I’m lucky and then instantly become distracted by another subject/author/shiny new book. The curse of the grasshopper mind, I fear.

There’s the French Revolution. There’s Utopia. There’s those lovely London area books Mr. Kaggsy got me. There’s two huge volumes of Sylvia Plath’s letters and all of Katherine Mansfield’s notebooks. Any of these would be project enough for a good few months, but will I stick to anything? Not very likely…

Clearing the decks and reading more

I think ultimately that’s my aim this year. I’m not going to impose a book buying ban, because I would fail instantly, but I *am* going to try not to amass quite so many books, and to pass on a book quickly after reading it unless it moves and shakes me, or I think I want to read it again at some point. I’ve been clearing out books I’ve had for decades and either not read or only read once. I’ve hung onto them out of some kind of sentimentality perhaps, but I’ve taken a long hard look and decided in many cases that I actually don’t want to read a particular book or two, and they will go. Which will make room for the recent incomings…

Plus I need to waste less time on YouTube and mindlessly looking at social media, and simply focus on reading more. I *will* continue to enjoy good documentaries when they turn up (as I mentioned yesterday, I’m very much looking forward to Richard Clay’s forthcoming prog on viral memes) but aside from these I want to give more of my time to reading. Currently, I’m deeply involved in this chunkster for a Shiny New Books review and it’s proving completely absorbing.

Whether I can keep up this level of involvement when I go back to work remains to be seen, but I shall try! What reading plans do you have for 2019? 😉

Advertisements

It’s December – so that means more books…

22 Comments

There is an inevitability about the arrival of new books in December; as well as Christmas, there is also my birthday which occurs about a week beforehand. As my friends and family know me well, there will always be book gifts and this year is no exception. So I thought I would share them as usual – well, why break a habit?? ;D

First up, this little pile arrived from various sources on my birthday (and I did share an image on Instagram):

A fascinating selection! The top four are from Mr. Kaggsy – three wonderful books from the British Library focusing on my favourite areas of London, and a period crime novel set in the Jazz Age – I’m intrigued, and with the London books there’s another risk of a reading project… “Nihilist Girl” came from a Family Member after instructions were issued, as did “At the Existentialist Cafe” after a link was sent to my Little Brother! French Poetry came from Middle Child and the Beverley is from my BFF J. who is a great Nichols enabler…

There was a late arrival courtesy of Eldest Child in the form of this:

I follow the Bosh! boys on YouTube as they come up with some marvellous (and relatively easy-seeming!) Vegan recipes, and I’m always keen for new foodie ideas – so this will be just the ticket!

Next up, some arrivals from my Virago Secret Santa; this is a tradition we have on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group and it’s such fun to take part! My Santa this year was the lovely Lisa from the USA, and by some weird trick of randomness, I was *her* Santa. Needless to say, I was spoiled….

The two Mrs. Oliphant books complete my set of the Chronicles of Carlingford – I’m very keen to get to read these all at some point. The Nemirovksy is short stories and I’ve not read any of these. And a lovely hardback of “Golden Hill” which sounds fascinating! Thank you Lisa! 😀

Then there are the Christmas arrivals! Some of these were requests/instructions and some of them my friends and family improvising.

The second volume of Plath letters was from Middle Child; the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks from Youngest Child. I long to sink myself in both…. The beautiful first edition of Beverley’s “Sunlight on the Lawn” (with dustjacket!!) is from my dear friend J. – just gorgeous…. “Sweet Caress” is from my old friend V. and I don’t think I’ve read any Boyd so I’m interested in taking a look… The rest are from Mr. Kaggsy who has been as inspired as ever. The John Franklin Bardin omnibus is a particularly intriguing; I’d never heard of the author but he seems to have been a highly regarded and very individual crime writer so I can’t wait to explore. However, Mr. Kaggsy excelled himself this year with this:

“But, Kaggsy!” I hear you cry, “you already have so many copies of The Master and Margarita!” Yes, I most certainly do, but I’ve always wanted a copy of the Folio Society edition. It seems to have been spiralling upwards in price to dizzying heights, but amazingly Mr. Kaggsy managed to track down a Reasonably Priced copy and snapped it up! Grinning like the Cheshire Cat here….

Finally, some review books have snuck in (as they say); I can’t share most of them, as the publication dates are a little way away, but one I can is this beautiful volume from Notting Hill Editions:

I love their books, and as an inveterate walker, the content looks just perfect for me. I want to get reading this one soon, so look out for a forthcoming review.

So as usual I have been utterly spoiled with new books and my only issue, as usual, is what to pick up next? Never an easy decision… Which would you choose??

The Nature of Terror

10 Comments

The Courilof Affair by Irene Nemirovsky

The final story in the volume of novellas by Irene Nemirovsky – a book that’s been much absorbing me in recent weeks – is a little different to the other ones I’ve read. “The Courilof Affair” ventures into territory that’s dissimilar to her other works, telling a story of Russian revolutionaries; in particular one Leon M, who we meet initially in the South of France where he’s living out his last days in post-WW1, post-Russian revolution Europe.

nemir

Leon encounters a man who recognises him from the past, and this sets of a train of recollection whereby he writes down the story of the Courilof Affair – an event in which he was pivotal and because of which the stranger recognised him.

Our narrator grew up as the son of a pair of revolutionaries and it was inevitable he would follow in their footsteps. After they died he was brought up in Geneva and when fully grown, it was here that he was given his task – to assassinate the Minister for Schools, Valerian Courilof. Posing as a Swiss doctor, Leon worms his way into the family and confidence of Courilof, preparing all the time for his revolutionary act. However, Leon finds that things are not as black and white as he had been brought up to think, and that the assassination may not be as simple as it seems.

“The Courilof Affair” was a fascinating novella, exploring the nature of terror and the need for revolutionaries to kill; in fact, it’s a remarkably prescient work, showing that the terrorists don’t simply want to kill the target concerned, but want to make a spectacular statement, a kind of dramatic gesture. Leon finds himself questioning this aspect of his chosen path, as he could have easily murdered his target discreetly at any point while acting as his medic. But the revolutionaries want to make a big display of strength and it is this element of terror that occupies much of the book.

“Each of us has his weaknesses. Human nature is incomprehensible. One cannot even say with certainty whether a man is good or evil, stupid or intelligent. There does not exist a good man who has not at some time in his life committed a cruel act, nor an evil man who has not done good, nor an intelligent man who has never been foolish, nor a fool who has never acted intelligently! Still, that’s what gives life its diversity, its surprises.”

Leon comes to find that there are no real absolutes in life and that he doubts all the certainties of his revolutionary parents and colleagues. It’s only by distancing yourself from your target that you can really carry out a successful, dramatic assassination – if you are too close to your object it becomes impossible.

Irene_N

As we know, the fortunes of those involved in revolutionary actions rise and fall, ebb and flow, and the life of Leon M. is no different. His past is gradually revealed as the novella goes on; from small-time rebel to powerful commissar to ousted official, nothing was certain in the early 20th century. Nemirovsky is clever enough to draw discreet parallels between the rise and fall of Courilof’s career and that of Leon M., as if to say that whatever your creed or belief, the vagaries and shifts of control of power will allow you no rest.

Nemirovsky was a fine writer, and I very much enjoyed this novella which took me outside of the world she normally writers of, and instead into something more like that in Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent”. I’m so glad I decided to pick this volume up in the Samaritan’s Book Cave – my discovery of Irene Nemirovsky’s work has been a joy!

Discovering a lost masterpiece – at last!

18 Comments

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Well, what to say? After my rediscovery of Irene Nemirovsky’s wonderful writing recently through her novellas, I figured that now was the time to have another attempt at “Suite Francaise”, the book which brought her to the attention of most modern readers. So I rescued my copy from the charity box and took it with me when I was rushing about, organising things for the Aged Parents. And it proved to be the ideal read!

SF was of course never completed, as Nemirovsky was taken to Auschwitz and murdered by the Nazis. So what we are left with is two sections of a projected five-part work, the surviving ones being “Storm in June” and “Dolce”. The first tells of the fall of Paris in June 1940, following a broad cross-section of the populace as they flee the city; the second focuses on a small village after the occupation by the Germans, showing how the various people cope with the presence of the enemy in their midst.

suite

There are connections between the two parts, with certain characters featuring more in “Dolce” than others, though we still see glimpses of all. And what a range of characters they are too: including the Pericands, a large and prosperous family, running away with as many possessions as they can carry; the writer Gabriel Corte and his mistress; Charles Langelet, an aesthete whose only concern is his works of art; and the Michauds, lowly bank employees who are desperately worried about their son, who is off fighting and has gone missing.

Frankly, the majority of the characters are unpleasant and it’s obvious that Nemirovsky is intent on showing the various French people, most of whom are monied, in a very unfavourable light. Only the Michauds are sympathetically portrayed as genuine, ordinary working people simply happy to be together and hoping for the return of their son. In fact, Jean-Marie Michaud is alive and being sheltered at the farm of the Sabarie family near Bussy, where the action of “Dolce” will take place.

When it becomes clear that the Occupation has begun and there is no point in fleeing, many of the refugees in fact return to Paris, and we are left to follow the action in Bussy when the German forces arrive. We see much of the action through the eyes of the Angellier family, particularly Lucille (whose husband is a prisoner of war) and her rather nasty mother-in-law, with whom she doesn’t really get on. The other major events take place on the Sabarie farm where tensions are high because of the fact that a German soldier has been billeted there. Similarly, a German Commander, Bruno von Falk, is staying with the Angelliers and inevitably Lucille is attracted to him – in the main because he is an intelligent and cultured man, in contrast to her husband, and her attraction to the enemy is reflected in much of the behaviour of the village women, with much fraternisation taking place. Events come to a head on the Sabarie farm; Lucille struggles to hide her feelings from herself, her mother-in-law and Bruno; and the village people try to get on with a normal life in very extraordinary circumstances. The book ends with the troops being withdrawn to fight on the Russian front.

nemirovsky

What a remarkable work this is, and what a tragedy that Nemirovsky never came to complete it! It’s utterly compelling and full of the most thought-provoking writing. She deals with very deep matters, touching many nerves that are still sensitive amongst the French when it comes to the subject of collaboration; with astonishing clarity for someone who was actually in the middle of the conflict. I believe the book provoked strong reactions in France when it was finally published, which I can understand, as Nemirovsky doesn’t hold back any of her criticism: she is particularlyscathing about the behaviour of the monied and the upper classes, fleeing selfishly and giving more care to their possessions than to fellow human beings. She also explores thoughtfully the situation of those in the occupied village and their behaviour; it’s very easy to condemn but do we really know how we would behave in a similar situation?

By the time she was writing this work, Nemirovsky had lived a dramatic life: after a comfortable upbringing, fleeing the Russian Revolution and Civil War, she had settled in France and (she thought) become assimilated, often ignoring or denying her Jewish roots. However they, and the Nazis’ Final Solution, caught up with her and she was unable to survive the death camps. “Suite Francaise” is a remarkable work; an insider’s view of France during pivotal moments of WW2 and a breathtaking portrait of its people under extreme circumstances. Although the work was never finished, we are indeed lucky that at least this much survived.

*******

Without getting too much on my high horse, I had a look at the back of the new film tie-in edition and, guess what?? It’s completely different to my version, focusing on the love affair and nothing else. I rather think that this will be case, once more, when the book is definitely better…..

Haunted by the Past

14 Comments

Snow in Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky

Last to the party – that’s me! Of course, people have been raving about Irene Nemirovsky since “Suite Francaise” made its appearance in English in 2006, but although I tried to read that work when it came out, I got stuck halfway. It’s taken me until now to really start to get to grips with her books – and I’m *so* glad that I have! Following on from “The Ball” (which I reviewed here), I started the next novella in the Everyman collection I picked up, “Snow in Autumn” – and what a wonderful work it turned out to be.

the ball

“Snow in Autumn” was published in 1931, a year after “The Ball” and at a time when Nemirovsky’s star was in the ascendant; she and her family had settled safely in Paris, following the uproar and displacement of the First World War and the Russian Revolution; her works were selling and she was becoming a popular author; and the shadow of Nazism had not yet touched the family. This novella focuses on the Karine family, an old Russian one, and opens with war – one of the sons of the family, Youri, is leaving to fight and the family nanny Tatiana Ivanovna (the central character in the book) is grieving. Having brought up the young of the family for over five decades, she has seen much change – though nothing like what is to come. As the story steps forward in time, we see Tatiana holding the fort at the old house during the Civil War, the family having fled into exile; Youri returns and she tries to hide him; eventually she follows the family, taking with he whatever valuables she can; and they all wash up in Paris, exiled from their native land and trying to come to terms with their new home. But for Nanny, this is not so easy…

It’s hard not to see this novella in terms of autobiography, bearing in mind how events in it seem to mirror Nemirovsky’s life. And it’s a beautifully written, very evocative piece of writing, conjuring up the lost world of the Russian house, the confusion of the Civil War, the cold crisp snow in the woods. In fact, the snow is a recurring motif, representing all that Tatiana has lost, and its lack is a poignant reminder of how different the world the family has moved into is from that of their homeland.

nemirovsky

In the end, the Karine family start to adjust to their new surroundings; they find work, assimilate into Parisian life and throw off the memories of the past. It is only Nanny who is unable to do this – her visions of her past life are too strong and in many ways she holds the family back, as a reminder of all they left behind. As Tatiana waits for the snows of the autumn, her life will reach a turning point…

“Snow in Autumn” is a wonderful novella, with a brilliantly realised cast of characters, utterly believable settings and wonderful writing. Irene Nemirovsky’s prose is beautiful; eminently readable and elegant, she can evoke a mood and a place so well, and her works are proving unputdownable. In some ways I really wish I’d *got* Nemirovsky’s writing before now, but at least it means I have so much to discover. The trouble is, I just keep wanting to read her works and nothing else…. 🙂

A Coming of Age Tale

11 Comments

The Ball by Irene Nemirovsky

For many readers, the name of Irene Nemirovsky first came to their notice with the rediscovery of her lost work, “Suite Francaise” (now being turned out as a blockbusting feature film). However, during the inter-War years of the 20th century, she had a flourishing career as a novelist, publishing books regularly during the 1930s. However, during WW2 her Jewish ancestry became an issue within Paris and she was eventually deported to Auschwitz, where she died of typhus. Her husband was sent there shortly afterwards and gassed. It was not until the late 1990s that Nemirovsky’s daughter realised that the notebooks her mother had left behind were the unfinished novel “Suite Francaise”, and publication of this brought Nemirovsky back into the public eye.

the ball

I read “David Golder” some years ago, and enjoyed it. However, I struggled with SF, and never finished it, though people have been telling me ever since that I really should try again. But I picked up a lovely hardback collection of four shorter works recently in the Samaritans Book Cave, and decided that some shorter works might be a good way to rediscover Irene Nemirovsky.

And “The Ball” is certainly brief – halfway between a short story and a novella, it tells of Antoinette Kampf, a 14-year-old living in Paris with her mother and father. The family is nouveau riche – the father has made money out of business and the mother is from a somewhat dubious background, with pretensions to mixing in higher society. To this end, she’s decided to hold her first ball, with all the complex planning that goes with it. Of course, young Antoinette is desperate to attend, but that’s unlikely, as her relationship with her mother is not a good one.

I’ve read that Nemirovsky is particularly adept at portraying hideous mother-daughter relationships, and the one here is a doozie! Madame Kampf is the mother from hell – harsh, uncaring, cold and domineering, she leads her daughter a dog’s life. The poor girl is farmed out to a governess, a nanny and an unpleasant piano-teaching relative, with no love or warmth from her parents. She’s obviously reaching that sensitive adolescent age, neither child nor adult, and there is no-one to help her through this time. Instead, she’s scolded, disciplined and forbidden to take part in the ball. So it’s no surprise that when the chance comes for devastating revenge, Antoinette takes it…

“The Ball” is a powerful little tale and it’s convinced me of the strength of Nemirovsky’s writing. Her portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship is convincing and very chilling. In beautiful prose, she lays bare the pretensions of the mother and her underlying weakness; the pomposity and uncertainty of the couple; and the anguish and anger of teenage years. The resolution of the story is entirely convincing and it’s a testament to Nemirovsky’s skill that she manages to pack so much into such a short but impressive story. As the excruciating events take their course and a kind of role-reversal occurs, it’s hard to read on…

I’m *so* glad I picked this one up in a whim in the Samaritans, as it’s really rekindled my interest in Nemirovsky’s writing – and I’m now very much looking forward to the other stories in the book!

More Little Black Lovelies – and cautious optimism…

20 Comments

I suppose it was a given that I would feel inclined to add a few more Little Black Classics to my stacks, bearing in mind how well I’ve got on with the Russians so far (review to follow!)  Fortunately, Waterstones still had their lovely display (though they had moved it) and I decided to come home with these beauties:

lbcs

Sappho, Katherine Mansfield, Kate Chopin, Marx and Engels plus H.G. Wells – what fun! It’s yonks since I read The Communist Manifesto so I rather fancy a revisit, and the rest are all authors I’m fond of, and here they are in bite-size chunks. I think these LBCs are definitely the most successful of the Penguin special editions I’ve experienced!

I thought these would be enough for one day, but the charity shops had other ideas…. I blame Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book for this first one, actually, as he was singing its praises on Vulpes Libris this week and so I couldn’t ignore it in the Oxfam:

guest cat

This next lovely book was from the Samaritans Book Cave – a beautiful Everyman hardback collection of four of Irene Nemirovsky’s novellas – “David Golder”; “The Ball”; “Snow in Autumn” and “The Courilof Affair”. I need to read more of this writer (I’ve only read “David Golder” so far) so this is an ideal way to do it – and a rather luxurious hardback for only £2.50 is not to be sneezed at.

nemir

My final find was an original green Virago in wonderful condition from the Crack On charity shop:

holtby

I own several Holtbys, but not this one – so it was worth 75p of anyone’s money!

As for the cautious optimism – well, I’ve read all 6 of the Russian Little Black Classics I picked up last week, and they’re all wonderful, particularly the Dostoevsky, which was stunning. I felt so uplifted after successfully reading them that I plunged into “The Leopard” and am a chapter in with no sign of stopping. So maybe the reading crisis is over – fingers crossed….. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: