Book Review #3 – A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

I read Hemingway for the first time when I was quite young, starting with The Old Man and The Sea. I do not have a lot of memories of that novel, except that I loved it at the time. Since then, the name of the author stayed somewhere in the back of my head until a few months ago when a friend of mine offered me a copy of A Moveable Feast.

If you have read the other reviews I made, you are already aware that I am not very good at them, and that I just like to talk about why I liked something and how it inspired me. (If you have any ideas to make them better, feel free to comment) So, here we go !

I cannot talk about Hemingway without refering first to the Lost Generation. So, for those who wouldn’t know, after WWI, a group of writers, poets, painters and art collectors would gather at Gertrude Stein’s apartement to talk about life, art and literature. Among them, Ernest Hemingway. Of course, the Lost Generation is more than that, but I could write an entire article on the people who were part.

The memoir tells different stories about the author’s life in Paris in the 1920s. His description of Parisian life in the early 20th century is excellent : it is as if Hemingway was describing photographs. But the best thing about the narration is that the book was written in the 1950s, and old Hemingway comments on his younger self actions. This gives us a pretty good insight of the evolution of the writer’s nature.

There is one place in Paris which I am obsessed with : the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop. Like Stein’s place, the bookshop was a meeting point for many writers (James Joyce, Ezra Pound, among others) and, even though it has become very touristic, I still glorify it. In A Moveable Feast, I loved reading about Sylvia Beach’s shop and how she was very welcoming (the people who work there now are brilliant too). For someone like me who dreams of becoming a writer, it is the perfect place to get inspiration.

I don’t know if it is important to know someone to appreciate their art, but I feel like it can help. Two authors I love are present in Hemingway’s memoir : Fitzgerald and Joyce. I found it interesting to meet a younger Fitzgerald, as he was writing The Great Gatsby : confident, yet uncertain about his talent at creating a whole novel. A Moveable Feast reminded me that before becoming the greatest American authors of the 21st century, Fitzgerald and Hemingway were sometimes struggling.

Talking about struggling is a good transition to the next theme I liked in the memoir : drinking. If you are, like me, a big fan of wine and beer, this is the perfect book. I could just imagine Hemingway in a Parisian troquet, writing and drinking, and it definitely made me want to do the same. Fortunately, I prefer coffee when I write, which prevents me from being an alcoholic. Anyways, when the title was chosen, moveable was about having Paris in your pocket wherever you were, and feast, I believe, represents everything that happens in Paris : its people, its streets and restaurants. But for me, feast is more about drinking : because that’s the image I have of Hemingway in the capital. Also, I am not sure about this fact as it is just a memory, but I think that in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Hemingway only appears in a bar. Did Allen give me a wrong image of the writer ?

I’m sure I could talk more about the book and the author’s style, but I think I will end this review now with a quote from the memoir :

We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.

For this is the dream : books, a lover, the comfort of your bed, and stars to make you dream of the world that surrounds you.


I am currently reading The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt, and I could write a review about her next time (I LOVED The Goldfinch and The Secret History). She’s an amazing writer, full of suprises!

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The Anonymous Inspiration

And again it happened
Drowned in the depths of my sorrows,
The darkest,
I contemplated my soul.

Lulled by the music of my thoughts
I let them fall, tears
Tears of sadness, tears of bliss.

And Death noticed them and came,
Her cloak dancing with the wind
And there was nothing else I could do
But wait.

Wait for the Angel,
The Angel of Death.

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 fête), by Ernest Hemingway and I will next be writing about this book and the Lost Generation in general (which I love love love).

 

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 gères, et sur la deuxième partie, quand elle te voit détendu et désarmé, elle repasse les plats et te défonce.”

 

NB : next review will be on the work of Kundera

Art & Literature in Paris (or, Three good reasons to read this article)

No need for me to tell you that Paris is an amazing city if, like me, you love art, architecture and literature.

I only spent a weekend there recently and I thought I should talk about some discoveries that I made, as well as publish some pictures (I lost my memory card so I used my phone, low quality..).

Literature:
If you love English books, Shakespeare and Co is the perfect place to find them. The bookshop has a great collection of classics, including stories and poems from the Beat Generation (which I love), contemporary literature and non-fiction books. The staff is welcoming and very helpful.

You might even find yourself there at a time when someone is playing the piano. Surrounded by all those books, and knowing a little bit about the history of the bookshop, I felt like I had gone back in time to the beginning of the 20th century.

Art:
There are so many museums in Paris that if you are there for a weekend only, you will have troubles choosing the right one to visit. I hesitated between the Louvre (I’m French and have never visited it) and the Musée Pompidou. Because it was its 40th anniversary, I decided to visit Pompidou.

If you have never seen the architecture of the building, it is worth having a look! It is very modern (considering its age), and whether you like the style or not, the museum is very impressive among the Parisian buildings.

I loved the exhibition on Russian artists, especially the work of Vladimir Yankilevsky (click here for his website). Among other works, we were able to discover his “Anatomy of feelings” collection. It is definitely an exhibition that I would advise anyone to see.

There were so many artists that I liked, some I have written down the name but haven’t had time to look closely at their work, that it would be hard for me to tell you about them all. I can only advise to go and check them for yourselves.

Photography:
Like I have said before, I did not use my camera but my phone. The pictures aren’t perfect but they can give you an idea of what I saw (especially the view from the top of the Pompidou museum).

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!

Bittersweet Lullaby

Intoxicated, I love you.
Deception sobers me                                                                                            Up, and down
I find myself

Again.

The jingling of glasses,
Your voice echoing,
murmuring:

Tick-tock
Tick-tock
Tick-tock

This infinite second                         Gone
Yet so extant.

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.

Creative Writing Story #2

The sound of freedom

We had to choose a piece of music we liked or a food that was linked to a memory and write somthing about it.

Worried, Jack looked around him in search of his parents. All he could see instead was a crowd of tourists in a hurry that were coming and going by the carousel. Nobody seemed to notice that he was alone, they were all obsessed with their cameras, trying to find the perfect angle for the perfect souvenir photo.

On most other days, he loved Montmartre, its old merry-go-round and he loved to watch the crowd walking by the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. But it was different this time, he was lost. His parents had disappeared.

Jack decided that he should sit on a bench to wait for his parents. They would soon realize he was missing, wouldn’t they? He approached a bench on which an old lady was sitting. With a surprising energy, she was throwing breadcrumbs to the famished pigeons around her. Jack became quickly angry against everyone around him when he realized his parents were not part of the crowd.

The sun was shining in a cloudless sky and a chilly wind was blowing away the few leaves that had already freed themselves from the trees. It was a common weather for a day of October. The wind made Jack shiver. He had hardly protected his hands in his pockets when he realized that he still had biscuits his mother had given to him. In fact, he was starving.

The biscuits were envelopped in some silver foil, as his mother would do on a school day. Jack loved the texture of the foil and the delicious perfume of the chocolate that flew away up to his nose when he would unwrap the biscuits.

When he was sure that the old lady was gone, and so were the pigeons, he softly unwrapped his snack. He approached the chocolate biscuits to his nose to feel the perfume but he felt nothing. The magic was gone. Even the music arising from the carousel, that sweet music of his childhood, started to annoy him. Undoubtedly, Jack was angry.

He put the biscuits back into the foil and squeezed them so strongly that he could feel them break into crumbs. The ball he was holding in his hand gave him an idea. Since his parents were probably on their way to find him, he should have some fun in the meanwhile.

He stood up and walked to the carousel. Some mothers were placing their children on the fake horses of the merry-go-round. Jack waited for the carousel to start turning and he quickly jumped on it. Nobody noticed him. He took hold of a steel bar that was holding a white wooden horse. Again, he unwrapped the biscuits that were now in shreds and placed them with the foil on the back of the animal. Then, with a loud and childish laugh, he started throwing the crumbs on the tourists that were innocently walking by the attraction.

The show was hilarious. The confused tourist, hit by the biscuit, were glacing around in search of the guilty of the attacks. Jack was taking malicious pleasure in throwing his snack on them. The music of the carousel was resounding in his ears so loudly that he could no longer hear the voices of the people around him.

Jack was about to throw the last crumb he had to an Asian tourist when he felt a pressure on his arm. Suddenly, the carousel and the music stopped. Jack turned around to see who had ended his game. What he saw terrified and comforted him. He was not lost anymore, but it was an angry and ashamed father that had found him.