Book Review #2 – Farewell Waltz, by Milan Kundera

I have read many of Kundera’s works and it was difficult to choose one of his novels for a first review, so I decided to just pick the one I just finished reading : Farewell Waltz (La Valse aux Adieux in French – I read it in French 😉 )

The first Kundera I read was Slowness, and I remember that at the end of the book, I thought that the title was well-chosen. I had read the book very quickly, focusing on the plot rather than on Kundera’s prose. I later read in the introduction of one of his works that it was a remarkable characteristic of a Kundera novel to be read fast.

Anyways, Slowness aroused my curiosity and I started looking at some of the author’s other works. I fell in love with every title of his books, and later with every story. Let’s have a deeper look into Farewell Waltz now.

“I am not in favor of imposing happiness on people. Everyone has a right to his bad wine, to his stupidity, and to his dirty fingernails.”

Plot

The story takes place during 5 days. 5 single days that will change the lives of the characters. Klima, a famous trumpeter, receives a phone call and learns that a mistress he had for one night is now pregnant. Although certain that he is not the father, he goes to meet her in order to convince her to have an abortion (which at the time in Prague was not as easy). The spa where his mistress works as a nurse will then become the stage of a dark comedy, in which a handful of characters will meet.

Prose

As I said before, when I read Slowness, I focused on the plot. However, with Farewell Waltz, I knew a bit more about the author to look at his writing. Some stories can be read for the sake of the plot but I feel that with Kundera, there is more than the events themselves.  In many of his books, he manages to offer character developments without expanding on physical and mental descriptions. He focuses on the essential, and every given detail is a detail that will help you understand the characters and their relationships.

What I love more about Kundera is the narrative. Most of the time (if not all of the time?), the narrator seems to be an observer of the scenes, a shadow, maybe one of the readers. I remember that in one of his works, the narrator stops the story in the middle of the book, and asks the reader whether they thought about the same plot but with a different point of view. And for one chapter, the “observer” spies on a secondary character and then goes back to the main plot. In Farewell Waltz, the omniscient narrator helps us understand the thoughts of the different people, and allows us to enter each character’s life and past.

I saw this novel as a play, with a very dark humoured director pulling the strings of eight puppets, a play in which all characters play a role for five days. It also has some characteristics of the thriller genre and at the end of the novel, I was really excited to have a resolution.

As I’m just starting on this journey of book reviewing, I do not know how to continue and/or end this article. I hope the little information I gave about the book and the author makes you want to read it.

What I can say is that I am very easily influenced and when I like an artist, I want to learn more about their country. Kundera managed to make me like Czech Republic before I even went there, and when I did, I kept thanking him for writing as he does because his country is amazing, and I maybe would not have been there if I had not read his work.

I am currently reading A Moveable Feast (Paris est une fĂȘte), by Ernest Hemingway and I will next be writing about this book and the Lost Generation in general (which I love love love).

 

Advertisements

Book review #1 – The Vernon Subutex Trilogy

I first discovered the crude language of Virginie Despentes on some TV Talk Show. I knew nothing about her, except that she was a writer and filmmaker, and that I had been advised before to check her work out. So I kept watching the interview, slowly but deeply falling in love with her words. By the end of the show, I knew that I would love her prose and I decided to give it a try. That was about two years ago!

The second experience I had with Despentes was in a bookshop. I usually spend a lot of time wandering among the different sections, looking at book covers, reading back covers, and trying to decide what books to buy. This process can take hours. So I was in that bookshop, looking for a gift for a friend and after what seemed like decades, I was attracted to a yellow cover (a gut feeling of some sort). This was when I discovered Apocalypse Bébé. I knew that it would be the perfect gift for my friend or, at least, I trusted the idea I had of Despentes from the interview. I also knew that it was time I read something from Despentes.

Among the many books she wrote, I chose Vernon Subutex (VS) for two reasons : I liked the name and the book cover (Grasset Editions). I had had a similar experience with Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower so I decided to buy the first VS.

640_subutex

I have felt an incredible amount of different emotions during my readings. Some books I have finished with the mouth wide open, overwhelmed with shock and excitement. Yet, I had never had goosebumps before reaching the end of Subutex.

So, what’s the story about anyways? The book follows the adventures of its eponymous hero Vernon, a middle-aged Parisian man, ex-record shop owner, who finds himself homeless and travels through the streets of Paris, crashing at friends and basically just surviving. No need to tell you more…

In the story, Despentes explores many themes which show some of 20th and 21st centuries’ lifestyles in the worlds of prostitution, trading and most importantly, music (among others). Subutex constantly moves from places to places and by doing so, discovers a lot about human nature. Spirituality and religion play an important part in the series, especially from the second work.

Despentes’ prose really helps the reader relate to the different characters. Our ideas and believes are continuously challenged as we encounter new characters. Every chapter is written with a first-person narrator and every character (many outcasts) has a right to tell the story of the life of Vernon Subutex. I was referring earlier to the crudeness of Despentes’ language. Well, what I love about this series is that it seems that the author really worked on each character’s way of speaking.

I absolutely love stories which are told with a stream of consciousness voice, and Vernon Subutex is a great example of this style of prose. Thanks to this process, we learn so much about the characters’ visions of the world, they speak with no hypocrisy and we have an exceptionally realistic portrait of 21st-century Paris.

This is my first book review and I am afraid to say too much about the story or the book. I do believe that everyone should read these books, in French if possible, as it is a great social and spiritual journey. I will end this with a quote from the first book which I really liked.

“La vie se joue souvent en deux manches : dans un premier temps, elle t’endort en te faisant croire que tu gĂšres, et sur la deuxiĂšme partie, quand elle te voit dĂ©tendu et dĂ©sarmĂ©, elle repasse les plats et te dĂ©fonce.”

 

NB : next review will be on the work of Kundera

New project : Book Reviews

Coming soon! Because I like to write but I do not find ideas for non-fiction stories and because I love to read, I have decided that writing reviews of the books I’m reading could be a good practice.

I have studied English literature for the past 6 years so I do know a little bit about novels, short stories and poetry. Yet, I have always found it hard to express my opinions concerning the stories I was reading. By forcing myself to write on this blog, I can get better at writing and of course, expressing feelings.

And at the same time, it could give you ideas for your next book to read! I also hope that it will be an opportunity for you to give me advice on what to read.

The books I read are essentially French and English literature. The first review I am going to write will be of “Vernon Subutex”, volumes 1 & 2, written by Virginie Despentes. (I am still reading the second book at the moment and it’s really exciting).

I hope you’ll like this new topic on the blog!

Creative Writing Story #3

Enchanted forest

The exercise was to use a usual environment (here a library) and to transform it into a “beast”, through the eyes of the main character.

It was a dangerous place to live in, dangerous but exciting. The hall was giant and you could hardy see the other side of the room when you stand at the door. The ceiling was high and the many humidity stains on it looked like stars in a cloudless sky. The room was filled with hundreds of books, it could have been thousands, all stacked up like giant sequoias, trying to reach the sky. Right in the centre of the room, a leak from the broken ceiling let the rain form a swamp and some frogs had made it their home.

I had lived there for a couple of months, maybe more. I had become an adventurer, a savage, and I was back in time when there was no electricity. I had built a shed for myself, and whenever I was hungry, I would hunt in the neighbouring forest called supermarket. I was fine in my magical forest for a while. I would climb the trees to observe nature, I would stare at the stars, lying among the sequoias, thinking of the past and dreaming about the future. I was fine, believe me, until it happened.

I remember it was during the night because I could barely see the stars in the sky – they only appeared during the day, and the trees had turned dark. I had built a fire to lighten the room and I needed more wood to make it last for the night. There was a tree called Shakespeare I was bored of, I thought it would resuscitate the fire for a long time. It was on the other side of the forest, across the swamp in an area known as the drama woods. I needed a torch so I lit a stick that was called Hemingway and I hoped it would last long enough. I was not scared because I was the only inhabitant of the land, apart for the frogs. It did not take me long to cross the forest but when I arrived in the drama woods, the sun was already rising because the stars appeared in the sky. I wondered why I should still find wood for the fire now that it was day again, and I decided I should build a stock.

It was not before I started to search for the Shakespearean tree that I realised there was something wrong. A nauseating smell was filling the area, as if there had been a dead carcass lying there for a month. I found it strange since I knew there was no animal in the forest, except for the few frogs croaking at night. The forest had become quiet. I crossed the drama woods towards the edge of the forest – I had never gone there before, and this is where I found her. I thought at first it was a trunk, but I quickly realised it was a fairy, a princess from a children’s story. She had stopped breathing.

I felt everything turning around me, I almost vomited. I was crying. I sat on the floor and trying to comfort myself by looking at the stars but reality was overwhelming. Instead of a sky full of stars, all I could see was a bunch of stains. I tried to sit against a tree but they had all disappeared. I was left in a creepy room full of books, with the corpse of my late wife.

Sharing your books

Yesterday, a local newspapers from the north of France published an article on a movement that has existed for a long time : bookcrossing. 

The concept : if you want to sort out your bookcase, whether you throw the books away (which is not really useful) or you give them to libraries, friends or strangers. If you want to follow the “trip” of your books, the international website bookcrossing gives you the opportunity to see where your babies are, who’s reading them. Some people like to place the book in a public area, offering it to the first stranger curious enough. The website allows you to print a sticker you can put on the book, which explains that it is not a lost property and that it can be taken home. 

Unfortunately, in the north of France, the cold and humid climate prevents us from abandoning the books on a bench. Therefore, we have taken advantage of a café to keep the books (and this is why the article exists).

The article is in French and it explains the procedure you can find on the bookcrossing website. 

Facebook page I created for the movement (in French) : https://www.facebook.com/levoyagedeslivres

ImagePublished in La Voix du Nord on Feb. 26th 2013, written by Céline Rudz