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“…frequently contradictory interpretations…” #novnov #gilbertadair #thedeathoftheauthor

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November is a month bursting with challenges, and as I said in my October round-up post, I hope to take part at least in Novellas in November and German Lit Month and maybe even Margaret Atwood Reading Month. But we shall see – I know bad I am about sticking with plans. However, let’s start off the month in a positive way with a novella! “The Death of the Author” by Gilbert Adair is 135 pages in my edition, so the perfect candidate – and it’s a most unusual and thought provoking read. I picked the book up earlier in the year, and as usual can’t recall what prompted me to do so (my memory seems to get more sieve-like by the day…) However, I’ve seen the book described as a satirical look at literary cults, and it’s apparently based on a real person, so I felt inclined to explore…

My second hand copy of the book with an interesting ‘inclusion’ – would love to know the history behind this!

The book is narrated by Leopold Sfax, a critic, theorist and philospher. As the book opens, he’s approached by a woman who plans to write his biography and this throws up a number of problems. Sfax is a emigre Frenchman with an aristocratic background and a hidden history of collaboration in Paris during WW2. Having escaped his country post-War, he’s made a new life in the USA and managed to keep his past buried, while carving out fame as an academic for his “Theory”. A pompous and self-important man, his narrative style and use of language certainly remind this reader a little of Nabokov…

Sfax is reluctant to reveal much of his past, but then doubles back and repeats himself and then expands. Gradually his story is exposed, and the risk is that the facts will become widely known. However, shocking murders occur which shake his academic setting – are these deaths connected with Sfax, and will a solution be found?

Words are far older and fickler and more experienced than the writers who suffer under the delusion that they are ‘using’ them. Words have been around. No one owns them, no one can prescribe how they ought to be read, and most certainly not their author.

That little summary makes the book sound a lot more straightforward than it actually is, because there’s so much going on beneath the surface here. The ‘death of the author’ is of course a concept explored by Roland Barthes in a 1967 essay, where he in effect says that the text must be considered as completely separate from whoever wrote it to avoid limitation of the text. It’s an influential idea which has been discussed, explored, accepted and rejected over the decades, and when I finally get round to reading it I’ll let you know what I think…

Anyway, Adair, takes things a step further with what is perhaps the ultimate unreliable narrator; this text is apparently written by Sfax, existing on his computer, but as we are faced with potentially the literal death of the author, who is writing the text? Is it pure fantasy? Will his secrets ever be publicly known? Did Sfax ever really exist? And so on! It’s a fascinating concept which makes really interesting reading, even if it does boggle your head a bit at times!

As I mentioned earlier, the character of Sfax is apparently based on a real person, the Belgian critic, Paul de Man, who died before knowledge of his past escaped. This adds another layer to the reading of this text, as the fictional Sfax (a Nabakovian name if ever I heard one) and the real de Man could well be considered one and the same. As for the actual ‘death’ of the author, or even his existence, that’s left unresolved at the end of the book and the conclusion may well have you nipping back to the start of the book to reconsider what you’ve read! Whatever else it may be – literary spoof, Nabakovian satire, ripost to Barthes – “The Death of the Author” is a clever and memorable book about which I’m still thinking – and about which I may never be able to draw any concrete conclusions!

November – a month with lots of reading events…..

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It seems impossible somehow that we’re up to November; it has been a manic year for me, and October was a particularly tricky month, dealing with frantic times at work and also sorting out stuff around the health of my Aged Parent. Books have therefore been something of a refuge again, and these are the ones I read during the previous month:

As you can see I am even further behind with my reviewing than usual! But it was a good reading month with only one book which didn’t inspire, and so I’m happy with that.

However, as I mentioned in my heading to this post, November is a month with many, many reading events – some of which I shall be taking part in, although I have mostly read the books in question in advance! Here are some of the events I know about!

Those are just a few – I think there are more – and I have read a little for these so I can take part. As for the rest of the month, as usual I’ll let my mood take me where it will, and I do have plenty of choices! There are a good number of review books pending, and here’s just a selection:

Then there are other lovely books on the immediate TBR, and I’d happily pick up any of these next:

I’ll also be taking part in a blog tour for the British Library Women Writers series, and I’ll be covering a book I love – “A Pin to See the Peepshow” by F. Tennyson Jesse. It’s a compelling, powerful and absolutely marvellous read, and so I’m very happy it’s being brought back into print!

Apart from those – well, who knows! Watch this space (plus my Twitter and Instagram) to see what I read next! 😀

“There is really nothing that people get used to so readily as miracles…” #GermanLitMonth #NovNov

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Well, astonishingly enough, not only have I read some non-fiction for November, I have also managed to read a book which ticks two boxes at once for this month’s challenges! The work in question is “The Legend of the Holy Drinker” by Joseph Roth (translated by Michael Hofmann) – a contender for not only German Literature but also for Novellas in November! Truth be told, at 49 pages of reasonably large sized type, “Legend…” could almost qualify as a short story! But as my copy is published in a separate volume on its own, we’ll count it as a novella, won’t we? ;D

Roth is an author who’s made a number of appearances on the Ramblings; as well as reading his works “The Hotel Savoy” and “Confession of a Murderer (told in one night)“, he also featured in “Summer Before The Dark” and of course has connections with both Irmgard Keun and Stefan Zweig. I have several other works of his lurking on the TBR, but “Legend…” intrigues for a number of reasons. Firstly, its brevity (many of the Roth books are quite long); then there’s the fact that it was Roth’s last work, written just before his death in May 1939. Add to this the fact that the story seems to draw from Roth’s own alcoholism and it becomes irresistible!

The holy drinker of the title is Andreas, a homeless alcoholic living in poverty under the bridges over the Seine in Paris. One evening, a well dressed gentleman presents him with a gift of 200 francs; why, we never know, although the benevolent man seems to be a recent Christian convert. He asks nothing of Andreas except that he repay the debt if he can by returning the money to the Chapelle de Sainte Marie des Batignolles; here, there is a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux, instrumental in the well dressed gentleman’s conversion. This single act of charity seems to transform Andreas’s life; and every time it appears he has lost his money, or is in a difficult situation, a small miracle will save him. Remembering his beneficiary’s kindness, he does indeed try to turn his life around and return the money, although events intervene at every point. Andreas’s life may be edging closer to its end, but at least his last days will be happier ones…

“Legend…” is a quick read, but one which certainly raises more questions than it gives answers! Really, you could interpret the story however you want, because Roth gives no hard and fast explanations for what happens, nor the motivation of Andreas’s benefactor in choosing who to gift the money too. At times it seems that the fates (or the angels or luck or whatever you happen to believe in) are watching out for Andreas – and it was lovely to see him taking joy from his experiences – but nothing is spelled out. Whether these events really *were* miracles, or whether they’re being related by a drink-fuddled unreliable narrator isn’t really clear; but the story certainly makes fascinating reading.

I was left pondering for a long time after reading this; about luck and fate, whether we should try to take control of our lives or just go along with the route events send us on, and whether it’s better to live fast and burn out young. “The Legend of the Holy Drinker” is a fascinating story, particularly as it’s the work Roth chose to spend his last few months writing and refining; and I’m drawn now to explore some of the other books of his I have on the shelf. A fascinating read and I’m glad I picked this up for these two November challenges!

A complex study of the morality of survival @ShinyNewBooks @classicpenguins

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Penguin Classics has lately taken to issuing some wonderful new translations in very pretty editions; slightly taller than normal paperback format, with coloured card covers and French flaps, they *look* nice and *sound* absolutely fascinating! So I was very happy to have the opportunity to review one of them for Shiny New Books: “The Memoir of an Anti-Hero” by Kornel Filipowicz.

Highly regarded in his native Poland, Filipowicz has never been translated into English before – which is pretty shocking, particularly on the evidence of this novella. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking and in places chilling piece of work which considers the nature of survival under occupation, and how humans can and should behave when faced with oppression. There are certainly no easy answers, but the books exposes much hypocrisy and leaves the reader unsettled and uncertain (well, this one was, anyway!). You can read my review here – and hey! this counts as a Novella in November, so I’ve managed to take part in one of this month’s challenges anyway! 😀

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